INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
The Guardian OCTOBER 31, 2007 - by Marcel Berlins
THANKS TO LIST-MAKERS, FUTURE GENERATIONS WILL NOW BELIEVE THAT BRIAN ENO IS A MUSICAL GENIUS
I know I'm not supposed to take these things seriously - "it's just a bit of fun," people keep telling me - but this one has stirred me to unreasonable anger. It purported to be a list of the top one hundred living geniuses of the world, whatever their field of activity. Forgive my ignorance, but I never realised that two-thirds of all the world's geniuses were either British or American, and that Britain, with twenty-four of the top one hundred, was, per capita, the genius capital of the universe. How very proud-making.
I looked down the list cursorily. Fair enough, there was our own Sir Timothy Berners-Lee, a few Nobel prize winners, Hawking, the architect Niemeyer, Mandela. I raised an eyebrow at Matt Groening, creator of The Simpsons, being placed fourth, but it was at number fifteen that I realised something was seriously wrong. For there, as the fifteenth greatest living genius in the whole wide world, was Brian Eno.
Now I yield to few in my passion for Eno - no, that's not quite true, I yield to many millions - but even I can tell that he is no genius, and not the second highest-rated musical person alive in the world - only Philip Glass was placed above him. Bowie, McCartney and Morrissey are also living geniuses, the list assures me. The three genius writers of Britain are Pinter (a correct decision), the poet Geoffrey Hill and JK Rowling. Richard Branson is there, and we've even got a genius film director, Ken Russell.
You'll have gathered by now that the list is barking mad. So how was it drawn up, and by whom?
The culprit, whose name I will not reveal because it would give the company responsible even more publicity, is described as a "global consultants firm". A panel of six alleged "experts in creativity and innovation" emailed four thousand people, all of them Britons, asking for nominations. Some one thousand one hundred replied, many of them obviously deranged. I'm sure, of course, that the nationality of the consultees had nothing to do with the preponderance of British and other English-speaking geniuses in the list.
I do not accept that an exercise so crass in its conception and execution, so bereft of acceptable methodology, so biased towards reaching nonsensical conclusions, can be said to be "just a bit of fun". I'm dismayed that many newspapers reported the findings as if they came from a respectable source. I am cross that the company that concocted this rubbish has probably gained a lot of publicity. There is a more serious point. The danger is that these insane findings will soon turn into facts, cited in Wikipedia and such-like. Future generations who don't know any better - and indeed current readers - will genuinely believe that Brian Eno was a musical genius.