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Jolly Good Fellows

By Matt Wood in Miscellaneous on Sep 20, 2005 4:17PM

GeniusChicago has three new certified geniuses. Field Museum naturalist Steven Goodman, University of Chicago economist Kevin Murphy, and U of C oncologist Funmi Olopade received so-called "genius grants" from the Chicago-based MacArthur Foundation. Each of them was named a MacArthur Fellow, the coveted prize that nets them $500,000 over the next five years, "no strings attached," to continue their work. No word as to whether the prizes will be awarded by Ed McMahon in the form of giant cardboard checks.

Goodman has been called a biological Indiana Jones for his work in Madagascar over the past 18 years. He only spends a few weeks of the year away from the island to check in at the Field Museum, then it's back to studying lemurs, reptiles, and amphibians. Chicagoist would like to take credit for nominating him; we profiled him back in August when a new species of lemur discovered in Madagascar was named after him.

Murphy was until now less famous than his U of C colleague Steven Levitt, author of the bestseller Freakonomics. But like Levitt, he applies wonky economic principles to real-world problems, like his findings that more smokers would be likely to quit if they knew cigarette taxes would be higher. He took the "no strings attached" part of the award to heart, telling the Tribune that we was now taking a vacation to Las Vegas.

Dr. Olopade is originally from Nigeria, where she despaired at the many untreated cases of breast cancer she saw. She currently runs the U of C Cancer Risk Clinic, where her work identifies women at a high risk for breast cancer, and emphasizes early detection methods for women beginning at age 25.

The MacArthur Foundation gives the award with no stipulations or reporting requirements in order to foster more independence and the kind of freedom genius-level creativity requires. Potential geniuses are nominated by approximately 100 anonymous officials, a select group that constantly changes throughout the year. Winners are then chosen by a 12-member omniscient Selection Committee wearing black hooded robes and toiling in a torchlit cave. They pick between 20 to 25 winners each year. Other winners this year include a sculptor, a violin maker, a rare book preservationist, and a fisherman. Among its various grantmaking programs, the Foundation awards nearly $180 million per year.

Chicagoist wanted to make a joke about applying for one of these awards next year, but reading about what all these people do just makes us depressed. Somewhere between all the beer and video games, we forgot to punch our genius card. Here's hoping the MacArthur folks start to recognize blogging as a genius-worthy calling.