September 1999
Amanda Fortini
Photographed by Mary Ellen Mark

To determine the twenty-five smartest women in America, we developed a sophisticated quadratic equation, one that employs such variable as IQ, SAT scores, parallel-parking skills, and, of course, the ability to calculate the tip in a restaurant and program the clock on a VCR. (And if you believe that, you are officially not eligible for next year’s selection.) The truth is. We used this simple criterion: Who are the women who are making the world a far more interesting place to live? What we arrived at, after months of consideration and debate, is a diverse list that includes several CEOs, an astronomer, an architect, a kindergarten teacher, various authors, and one evil genius. But she’s an excellent parallel parker.



Rhonda Roland Shearer, Judith Rich Harris, Ofra Bikel

Anyone can join the debate, but fashioning a completely new paradigm requires an exceptional combination of nerve, intellect, and analytical derring-do. The unorthodox theories of (left to right) Shearer, Harris, and Bikel have forced us to reevaluate some of our most cherished cultural beliefs. Harris, a former textbook writer, formulated a highly controversial theory (detailed in her book The Nurture Assumption) that peers, not parents, have the greatest influence on a child’s development. Bikel’s frontline documentaries have taken on such incendiary topics as the federal government’s use of dubious snitches in the war on drugs and therapy’s repressed-memory frenzy. And Shearer is currently applying the scientific method to the work of Marcel Duchamp in an effort to prove that the artist was not, in fact, a conceptualist who plucked his mass-produced readymades from a store but rather a cryptographer who fabricated his objects and planted them as physical “clues” to his own mathematical system. The academic establishment has called her nuts, but Galileo took the same rap. She and her fellow mavericks just might be on to something.