Public intellectuals have been the bedrock of Western Democracies for thousands of years, starting with Socrates during the Classical Greece and Leonardo de Vinci during the Renaissance, to now with the many that have made up the Intellectual Dark Web (IDW). It can be argued that intellectuals have never been so important to society as they are now.
In his book Intellectuals and Society, Thomas Sowell said:
There has probably never been an era in history when intellectuals have played a larger role in society than the era in which we live. When those who generate ideas, the intellectuals proper, are surrounded by a wide penumbra of those who disseminate those ideas – whether as journalists, teachers, staffers to legislators or clerks to judges, and other members of the intelligentsia – their influence on the course of social evolution can be considerable, or even crucial
We may live in the age of information, but it can also be said that now is the time of information overload. Thanks to the rise of social media, the Internet is a trove of user-generated data. This may seem like a good thing for anyone hoping to become smarter and more informed, but do not be fooled; not all of the information is clear.
Some information is simply someone’s opinion. Some information is factual. Unfortunately, the lines between fact and opinion are blurred. Many marketers and politicians take advantage of this situation to portray false information as facts. When you throw in the possibility of propaganda campaigns, the act of separating objective truth from fiction becomes much more difficult.
How do we sort through information when the Internet is filled with so many facts, lies, and half-truths?
Public intellectuals are idea-brokers and truth-finders, who are adept at sorting through complicated sets of information to find the truth. An intellectual is a professional thinker and idea-dealer who can provide a critical analysis of current events without falling prey to misinformation. For example, economists and quantitative professionals have methods to test biases and assumptions that get in the way of truth.
You are probably wondering why we should trust the experts. Will intellectuals intentionally misinform us to reach some goal? The possibility of this situation certainly exists. Fortunately, the reputation of public intellectuals depends on their honesty. Public intellectuals are often critiqued by their peers. If an intellectual starts lying, other experts are quick to point out factual errors.
Reading the expert opinions of intellectuals is the best way to filter good information out of a ever-growing Internet. The intellectuals on this list will give you thoughtful and critical analyses of issues in a variety of fields.
This is a live list so the site will attempt to add to the list frequently.
1. Dan Carlin
Dan Carlin is an American Podcaster and political commentator. He began his career in Los Angeles in the 1980’s as a television news reporter and later worked as a radio show host from 1994-2004. In 2005, he began hosting the popular internet podcast, Common Sense where he skeptically evaluates political trends and current affairs. In his other podcast, Hardcore History, Carlin engages in colorful narratives about world history that have reached downloads in the millions. His outspoken opinions on free speech, education reform, civil liberties, and more have gained him notoriety for communicating complex issues in a simple way to an ill-informed public. Ever controversial, his critics admire his style while simultaneously critiquing his approach as too simplistic. This doesn’t bother the 52-year-old public figure at all and in his self-deprecating commentaries, he often refers to himself as a pragmatist, radical, and political martian.
2. Douglas Murray
Douglas Murray is a British Born author and political commentator. He is the author of several books including Neoconservatism: Why We Need It, Bloody Sunday, and more. His most recent book, The Strange Death of Europe: Immigration, Identity, Islam, was published in May of 2017 and remains a best-seller. In the book, he documents his travels to the points of entry for immigrants and reports on the European migrant crisis. He is the founder of the Centre for Social Cohesion which became the Henry Jackson Society in 2011, a neoconservative British think tank that focuses on foreign policy. Raised in Hammersmith London, he published his first book at the age of 19. He often appears in British media as a frequent critic of Islam.
The Strange Death of Europe
Neoconservatism: Why We Need It
3. Jordan Peterson
Jordan Peterson is a clinical psychologist and a professor at the University of Toronto. He is the author Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief which discusses the psychology or religion. His latest work, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos was released in 2018 and has become an international bestseller. Dr. Peterson has a Youtube channel which features, among other lectures, a 15-part biblical series on the book of Exodus. His channel has over 1.2 million subscribers, and his podcast often ranks number 1 in Higher Education in iTunes. He is known for a self-help program called the Self Authoring Suite which has been used by thousands of people to resolve issues in their lives.
12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos
Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief
4. John McWhorter
John McWhorter is an American linguist and author of the book The Power of Babel: A Natural History of Language and The Word on the Street, a book on dialects and Black English. He currently serves as the Associate Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University. He is also a contributing editor at the Atlantic. He was born in 1965 in Philadelphia and graduated from Stanford in 1993. A self-described “liberal democrat,” he is a talented lecturer and course developer who frequently appears on American media.
The Power of Babel: A Natural History of Language and The Word on The Street
Talking Back, Talking Black: Truth About America’s Lingua Franca
5. Glenn Loury
Glenn Loury was born in Chicago in 1948 and is the Merton P. Stoltz Professor of the Social Sciences and Professor of Economics at Brown University. He was the first black professor of economics to be tenured in the history of Harvard University at the age of 33, and he hosts the Glenn show on blogggingheads tv where he is a frequent contributor.
6. Nassim Nicholas Taleb
Nassim Nicholas Taleb is the author of the 2007 book The Black Swan. The book was once described by The Sunday Times as one of the “twelve most influential books since World War II.” Born in 1960, Taleb is a Lebanese– American who has taught at several Universities. As a prominent statistician, his work focuses on probability and randomness. He graduated with a Master of Science degree from the University of Paris and has had careers in hedge fund management, derivatives trading, mathematical finance, and more.
7. Ben Shapiro
Ben Shapiro is a conservative American political commentator who became the youngest nationally syndicated columnist in the country at the age of 17. He served as the editor-at-large of Breitbart News from 2012 to 2016 He is the editor-in-chief and host of his own political podcast The Ben Shapiro Show. The show, which is broadcast every weekday is downloaded 10 million times a month. As an orthodox Jew and Trump critic, he has been the frequent target of anti-Semitism. He lectures at many college campuses throughout the country.
8. Eric Weinstein
Eric Weinstein is an American author, economist and the managing director of Thiel Capital. He coined the term “intellectual dark web” which he semi-ironically used to refer to a particular group of prominent intellectuals and podcast hosts who publish on the fringe and outside of mainstream media. The phrase received much attention and was the subject of a Column in the New York Times in May of 20118. He has a Ph.D. in mathematics from Harvard University, and his theories on 14-dimensional space and dark matter have gained attention among physicists worldwide.
9. Brett Weinstein
Brett Weinstein was born in 1969 and served the majority of his career at Evergreen State College in Washington. As a professor of biology. He became embroiled in a controversy over Evergreens “Day of Absence” when he raised objections to the event, calling it racists. The subsequent fallout from that situation resulted in him and his wife resigning from the College and receiving an out of court settlement. He has been included as one of the intellectuals referred to in his brother Eric Weinstein, “Intellectual Dark Web.” A term coined to describe a group of academic podcasters who operate outside of the mainstream media.
10. Heather Heying
Heather Heying is an evolutionary biologist and former professor at Evergreen State College in Washington. She is the wife of Brett Weinstein. Both her and Weinstein were embroiled in a controversial on campus battle regarding race, and both resigned from the college and received a settlement after the ordeal. She describes herself as a “professor in exile” and is the author of a book titled Antipode Seasons With The Extraordinary Wildlife and Culture of Madagascar.
11. Christina Hoff Sommers
Christina Hoff Sommers was born in California in 1950. She graduated with a Ph.D. in philosophy from Brandeis University and is an author who specializes in ethics. She is perhaps best known for her books Who Stole Feminism? and The War Against Boys. She is the owner of a video blog called The Factual Feminist. Her writing has been described as classical-liberal feminism, libertarian feminism, and equity feminism. She is the author of several writings, and her work focuses mainly on gender equality and feminism.
12. Charles Murray
Charles Murray is a political scientist, columnist, and author who co-authored a well known and controversial book called The Bell Curve, published in 1994. In it, he argues that intelligence is a better predictor of success than socioeconomic factors and that welfare programs are mainly a waste of resources. He has published dozens of books and articles and is a fellow at the conservative think tank called the American Enterprise Institute, based in DC. He is a recipient of the Irving Kristol Award and has received an honorary doctorate from Universidad Francisco Marroquín.
13. Andrew Sullivan
Andrew Sullivan is a conservative English born blogger and political commentator who has authored and edited six books. In 2015 he retired from blogging and is a writer at large for New York magazine. In 1990 He received his Doctor of Philosophy degree in government from Harvard. He was denied United States citizenship for many years because of his HIV status. He eventually became a naturalized citizen in 2016. He is a self-proclaimed conservative, yet the media seems to see him as otherwise. In 2009, he was ranked number 19 on a list of “The 25 Most Influential Liberals in the U.S. Media” by Forbes.
14. Naval Ravikant
Naval Ravikant is an entrepreneur, author, and the founder of AngelList, a massive compilation of every known startup and angel investor in the world. He has served as an advisor to many silicon valley companies including Foursquare, Twitter, and Stack Overflow. He graduated from Dartmouth College with a Bachelor in Computer Science and Economics. Born in India, He moved to New York with his family when he was nine years old.
15. Tim Ferris
Tim Ferris is an entrepreneur, public speaker, and author of the successful book, The 4-Hour Workweek. He grew up in East Hampton New York and received a degree from Princeton in East Asian Studies in 2000. In September 2013, by forming a syndicate on AngelList, He raised a quarter of a million dollars in less than hour to invest in Shyp. The New York Times has listed him as one of the most notable angel investors. He is the host of the TV show Fear(Less) with Tim Ferriss which first aired in 2017.
16. Niall Ferguson
Niall Ferguson was born in Glasgow, Scottland in 1964. A historian and political commentator, he speaks and writes about American and British imperialism and other moments in history. He is known for having contradictory viewpoints. He has been a columnist for Newsweek, a contributing editor at Bloomberg TV and an advisor to John McCains Presidential Campaign. In 2013 he received the Ludwig Erhard Prize for Economic journalism.
17. Neil Degrasse Tyson
Neil Degrasse Tyson is a science commentator, author, and astrophysicist. He is also the director of the Rose Center for Earth and Space and the Hayden Planetarium in New York City. In 2017, he published Astrophysics for People in a Hurry, and before that, Death by Black Hole in 2007. He was awarded the NASA Distinguished Public Service Medal in 2004 and the Public Welfare Medal in 2015 for his role in science education. He grew up in the Bronx and then in Riverdale and began giving Astronomy lesson as at the age of 15 years old. He attended astronomy courses at the Hayden Planetarium during high school and was greatly influenced by what he learned there. He attended Harvard, Columbia, Princeton and the University of Texas.
18. Richard Dawkins
Richard Dawkins is an evolutionary biologist, English ethologist and author. He became known from his book titled The Selfish Gene, which he wrote in 1976. The book discusses evolution from a gene-centered point of view. Dawkins is known for his outspoken atheism/agnosticism and his staunch viewpoint of reason over faith. His arguments against creationism and intelligent design go against the watchmaker analogy, the belief that the very complexity of organisms points to the existence of a supernatural being who created them. Some of his other works include: Climbing Mount Improbable, The Extended Phenotype, The Ancestor’s Tale, An Appetite for Wonderand The God Delusion.
19. David Frum
David Jeffery Frum is known as the author of the first book written about the Bush presidency by a former member of the administration. He is a contributor of MSNBC and senior editor at The Atlantic. Frum is originally from Canada and is of Jewish descent. He is a conservative Republican and authored the book Trumpocracy: The Corruption of the American Republic. The former speechwriter for the Bush administration has authored several other books including Dead Right, an ideological work on the corruption present in nearly all Republican politicians. Other works include How We Got Here and What’s Right, both of which discuss post-WWII America.
20. Jonathan Haidt
Jonathan Haidt is an American social psychologist and is a professor at the Stern School of Business of New York University. He received his degree in psychology from the University of Pennsylvania in 1992 and studied cultural psychology at the University of Chicago under the supervision of Jonathan Baron, Alan Fiske and cultural anthropologist Richard Shweder. He is one of the pioneers of “positive psychology,” the study of positive moral emotions. His work led him to write two books titled Flourishing and The Happiness Hypothesis, the latter of which introduces the relationship between conscious reasoning and the automatic and intuitive thought process. His current research focus on moral psychology and its relation to business ethics.
21. David Autor
David Autor works at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where he is a professor of economics. He is also a co-director of the School of Effectiveness and Inequality Initiative. He has contributed to a wide variety of economic topics with a specific focus on labor economics. He received his Ph.D. in public policy from the John F. Kennedy School of Government in 1999. His research can be broken into various groups including technological change and globalization; disability and labor force participation; neighborhoods and housing market spillovers; and the impact of wrongful discharge on the labor market.
22. Noam Chomsky
Noam Chomsky was born December 7, 1928 and is described as the “father of modern linguistics” for his work in psychology, history and American linguistics. He is one of the founders of the cognitive science field which examines cognitive function in humans and how it relates to intelligence, behaviors and mental processes. He began his studies at the University of Pennsylvania at the age of 16 and took courses in linguistics, math and philosophy. While at Harvard University, he developed his theory of transformational grammar. An outspoken critic of the Vietnam War, Chomsky was arrested several times during his protest of the war in 1967 during which period he write an anti-war essay titled “The Responsibility of Intellectuals.” Chomsky is one of the most widely celebrated historical scholars and has had an influence in many fields.
23. Daniel Dennett
Daniel Dennett is an American philosopher whose focus is based in the philosophies of the mind, science and biology. He became the co-director of the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts University in 2017 and is a staunch supporter of the naturalist Brights movement. He is considered to be one of the “Four Horsemen of New Atheism” along with fellow atheists Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and the late Christopher Hitchens. He is currently a member of The Rutherford Journal editorial board and the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. Daniel Dennett and his wife, Susan, live in Massachusetts. They have a son, a daughter, and five grandchildren.
24. Paul Bloom
Paul Bloom is a Canadian American psychologist whose studies explore the relationships between children and adults and how they relate to the physical and social world. His areas of focus include religion, fiction, art and morality. He was born in Quebec to a Jewish family in December 1963. He attended McGill University and earned his BA in psychology in 1985. He earned his Ph.D. in cognitive psychology in 1990 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He has two sons and is married to infant researcher Karen Wynn, a professor of psychology and cognitive scientist at Yale.
25. Slavoj Zizek
Slovenien philosopher Slavoj Zizek is a professor at the University of Ljubljana as well as the international director of London University’s Bierbeck Institute for the Humanities. His works focus on subjects such as Marxism, theology, cultural studies, psychoanalyses and political theory. In 1989, he published The Sublime Object of Ideology, his first work in the English language. He is known for exploring materialist ideology that focuses more on Lacanian psychoanalysis and Hegelian idealism rather than more traditional Marxism. A self-proclaimed political radical, Zizek is against capitalism and political correctness.
26. Ayaan Hirsi Ali
Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a Dutch-American author, politician and American activist who is most widely known for her belief in the incompatibility of Islam with Western democracy, in particular with women’s rights. She has received international praise from her bestselling autobiographies that have drawn death threats from those opposed to her beliefs. Ali was born to a Muslin family in Somalia and spent her childhood in Kenya. She fled an arranged marriage to a distant cousin in 1992 and settled in the Netherlands, having successfully applied for political asylum. Ali studied at the State University of Leiden and graduated with a master’s degree in political science in 2000. She is a critic of Islam and of the Dutch immigration policies that affect the integration of refugees into society.
27. Bill Gates
Perhaps best known for his work with the personal computer, Bill Gates is on of the most influential business men in the world. In 1957, Gates and his business partner Paul Allen released Microsoft, now the world’s largest personal computer software company. Since 1987, the Forbes list of the world’s wealthiest people has included him among those whose true wealth is unknown. He held the title of the rich person in the world from 1995 to October 2017, when he was surpassed by Amazon founder and CEO, Jeff Bezos. Gates and his wife created the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation which seeks to rectify global problems that tend to be ignored by other organizations. The foundation is currently supporting the Golden Rice Project to combat global vitamin A deficiency.
28. David French
American Attorney and journalist David French is an Iraq war veteran and an Army Reserve major. He is a staff writer for National Review and has authored several books including Season for Justice and Home and Away, an in-depth look on how military life affects families. He graduated from Harvard with a degree in law and is an attorney of constitutional and armed conflict law. He has served on the counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice along with Alliance Defending Freedom. He was awarded the Bronze Star for his service in Iraq in 2007, where he served as Squadron Judge Advocate for the Second Squadron, 3rd Armor Cavalry Regiment.
29. Daniel Kahneman
Daniel Kahneman is an Israeli-American psychologist known for his work in studying the role of psychology in judgement and decision-making as well as how psychology affects current economic factors. His work in this area won him the 2002 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences, jointly won by Vernon L. Smith, an American professor of economics. His research challenges the assumption that human rationality drives the modern economy. Kahneman was ranked as the seventh most well-known economist in the world in 2015 and is a founding partner of business and philanthropic company TGG Group.
30. Geoffrey Miller
Evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey Miller was born in Ohio in 1965. He is an associate professor of psychology at the University of New Mexico. Miller authored a book in 2009 titled Spent: Sex, Evolution and the Secrets of Consumerism in which he sought to explain the relationship between marketing and consumerism and how they affect the reproductive instinct in humans. He is also known for his work in abnormal psychology in studying the genetics of persons affected by schizophrenia and other mood disorders. Miller is also a supporter of China’s one-child policy and believes that it has the potential to increase the IQ of the Chinese nation over several generations.
31. Thomas Nichols
Thomas Nichols is a professor at the United States War College at the Harvard Extension School. A senior contributor at The Federalist and author of seven books, Nichols is a five-time undefeated champion of Jeopardy!. He was a fellow at the Center for Strategy and International Studies and worked for Republican Senator John Heinz. He is considered to be one of the most outspoken critics of President Trump. During the 2016 campaign, he urged conservatives to vote for Hillary Clinton (whom he disliked) over Donald Trump, stating that Trump was not mentally able to serve as president of the United States.
32. Sam Harris
American-born author, philosopher and neuroscientist Sam Harris was born in 1967. He is known for his criticism of the Abrahamic religions Islam, Catholicism and Judaism. He touches on a wide variety of topics in his works including ethics, free will, artificial intelligence, mediation and rationality. He is considered one of the “Four Horsemen of Atheism.” His first book, The End of Faith, was published in 2004 and won the PEN/Martha Albrand Award for First Nonfiction. The title remained a New York Times Bestseller for 33 weeks. In September 2013, Harris began his Waking Up podcast where he interviews guests and discusses his worldviews.
33. Steven Pinker
Steven Pinker is a Canadian-American cognitive psychologist and author who is known for promoting evolutionary psychology. He is a Johnstone Family Professor at Harvard University and specializes in visual cognition and psycholinguistics. Ares of study include shape recognition, emotional expression, visual attention and language development in children. His books include The Language Instinct (2004), How the Mind Works (1997), The Blank Slate (2002) and The Better Angels of Our Nature (2011). In this last book, Pinker discusses the apparent decline of violence in human societies over the course of history and details six possible reasons.
34. Yuval Harari
Yuval Harari is a professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He has authored three international bestsellers titled 21 Lessons for the 21st Century (2018), Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow (2016) and Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind (2014). His books discuss free will, consciousness and human intelligence. His earlier works focus on the development of languages and societies and how relatively recent events such as the agricultural revolution shaped the course of history. His more recent books take a more cautious approach where he suggests that the people of today will be no longer in existence in 100 years.
35. Paul Wolfowitz
American political scientist and diplomat Paul Wolfowitz served as the 10th president of the World Bank and United States Ambassador to Indonesia. He is a former dean of the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University and is currently a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. His areas of focus include international economic development and public-private partnerships. He speaks five languages in addition to English including Arabic, French, Indonesian, German and Hebrew. Wolfowitz graduated from the University of Chicago in 1972 with a doctorate in political science. He served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Regional Programs during the Carter administration and as the State Department Director of Policy planning under President Ronald Reagan.
36. Jeffrey Sachs
Jeffery Sachs is an American economist and former director of the Earth Institute at Colombia University. Sachs is well known as a leading expert on economic development and the elimination of poverty. Since 2017, he is special advisor to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres regarding the Sustainable Development Goals. These 17 global goals were adopted by the United Nations in September 2015 and are related to earlier Millennium Goals, eight international goals designed to reduce disease, poverty and hunger by 2015. Sachs is co-founder of non-profit organization Millennium Promise Alliance and director of the United Nation’s Millennium project.
37. Peter Singer
Australian philosopher Peter Singer was born in July 1946 and is best known for his work in bioethics and as one of the founders of the modern animal rights movement. Singer holds the utilitarian belief that actions are either right or wrong depending whether they allow the pursuit of happiness or prevent unnecessary pain. In one of his earlier articles titled “Famine, Affluence and Morality,” he made the case that any inconvenience or hardship suffered to help another is worth the cost. Another publication titled “Animal Liberation” brought to the public attention the routine abuse of animals in feedlot farms and in research studies. Singer is one of the cofounders of Animals Australia and was recognized as the 2004 Australian Humanist of the Year.
38. Lawrence Summers
Lawrence Summers is an American economist and a current professor and director of the Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Business and Government at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. Summers became a professor of economics at Harvard University in 1983. He left this position 11 years later and became the Chief Economist at the World Bank until 1993. He played a major role under the Clinton administration in 1994 during the response the Mexican economic crisis. Following the close of Clinton’s term, Summers became the 27th president of Harvard University from 2001 to 2006. Since then, Summers has worked as a columnist in major newspapers and in the private sector.