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Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann : biography

19 December 1916 - 25 March 2010

Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann (19 December 1916 – 25 March 2010) was a German political scientist. Her most famous contribution is the model of the spiral of silence, detailed in The Spiral of Silence : Public Opinion – Our Social Skin. The model is an explanation of how perceived public opinion can influence individual opinions or actions.

Elisabeth Noelle was born to Ernst and Eve Noelle in 1916. First Elisabeth went to several schools in Berlin and then switched to the prestigious Salem Castle School, which she also left one year later. She earned her Abitur in 1935 in Göttingen and then studied philosophy, history, journalism, and American studies at the Friedrich Wilhelm University, and the Königsberg Albertina University. When she visited Obersalzberg, she by chance had an encounter with Adolf Hitler, which she later called "one of the most intensive and strangest experiences in her life".Markus Clauer: Zwischen Prognose und Macht. Zum Tode von Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann. In: Die Rheinpfalz. 26 March 2010. She stayed in the USA from 1937 to 1938 and studied at the University of Missouri. In 1940 she received her Ph.D. concentrating on public opinion research in the USA.

In 1940 she briefly worked for the Nazi newspaper Das Reich. On 8 June 1941 Das Reich published Noelle-Neumann's article entitled "Who Informs America?" in which she propagated the myth that a Jewish syndicate ran the American media. She wrote, "Jews write in the paper, own them, have virtually monopolized the advertising agencies and can therefore open and shut the gates of advertising income as they wish." She was fired when she exchanged unfavourable photos of Franklin D. Roosevelt for better looking ones. She then worked for the Frankfurter Zeitung until it was banned in 1943.

In 1947 she and her first husband Erich Peter Neumann founded a public opinion research organization—the Institut für Demoskopie Allensbach, which today is one of the best known and most prestigious polling organizations in Germany.

From 1964 to 1983 she held a professorate at the Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz.

Noelle-Neumann was the president of the World Association for Public Opinion Research from 1978 to 1980 and worked as a guest professor at the University of Chicago from 1978 to 1991.

Selected work

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Allegations of anti-Semitism

In 1991, Leo Bogart criticized Noelle-Neumann, accusing her of anti-Semitic passages in her dissertation and articles she wrote for Nazi newspapers. As a young woman, she had "superb credentials as an activist and leader" of Nazi youth and students organizations, he wrote.Leo Bogart, Commentary, August 1991, pp. 47-49. In fact, when she published in Germany her 1940 dissertation entitled "Opinion and mass research in the USA", having spent a year at the University of Missouri to research George Gallup's methodology, Joseph Goebbels called the 24 year-old woman as an adjutant and intended for her to build up, for the ministry of propaganda, Germany's first public opinion research organization. She declined, falling sick, and angering Goebbels; she later became a newspaper journalist with Nazi publications where she wrote some articles on Jewish influence over U.S. news and elite opinion.

Bogart’s article appeared just weeks before Noelle-Neumann took up a visiting position in the Political Science Department at the University of Chicago, where she had held similar appointments since 1978. Michael Kochin, a graduate student at the university, noticed the article and circulated it on campus prior to her arrival,Douglas Wertheimer, "Noelle-Neumann cancels U of C talk," Chicago Jewish Star, March 27, 1992, p. 3. igniting a vigorous debate on Noelle-Neumann’s past.Andrea Wood, "Professor rebuts Nazi charges," Chicago Maroon, October 25, 1991, p. 1; Andrea Wood, "Professors challenge Noelle-Neumann," Chicago Maroon, November 1, 1991, p. 1; New York Times, November 28, 1991; Associated Press, "U.C. prof’s Nazi-era writings bring call for a wider apology," Chicago Sun-Times, November 30, 1991, p. 14. While the administration and students at the university,Ethan Putterman, "U of C silence a 'moral failure,'" Chicago Maroon, December 3, 1991; Jacob Dallal, "Noelle-Neumann’s explanations troubling," Chicago Maroon, November 1, 1991; Shoshannah Cohen, "Charges against professor draw little student response," Hyde Park Herald, December 11, 1991, p. 1; Douglas Wertheimer, "Controversy surrounds U of C prof. accused of denying Nazi past," Chicago Jewish Star, November 15, 1991, p. 1. the local Jewish defense groups,Douglas Wertheimer, "Jewish, university groups are silent on prof. at U of C with alleged Nazi past," Chicago Jewish Star, December 20, 1991, p. 1; students on campus could be engaged in Holocaust issues: Douglas Wertheimer, "'Maroon' rejects Holocaust denier's ad," Chicago Jewish Star, March 27, 1992, p. 2. and Chicago newspapersLetter, D. Wertheimer, Chicago Reader, January 10, 1992, section 1, page 2; Michael Miner response, p. 34. remained disengaged from the issue, John J. Mearsheimer, then chairman of the university’s political science department, spoke with Bogart, met for over three hours with Noelle-Neumann,D. Wertheimer, Chicago Jewish Star, November 15, 1991, p. 2. and called a departmental meeting about her on October 16.Douglas Wertheimer, "Jewish, university groups are silent on prof. at U of C with alleged Nazi past," Chicago Jewish Star, December 20, 1991, p. 19 Some at the university claimed Noelle-Neumann was being slandered, and Mearsheimer's colleagues were not of one opinion about the case. Mearsheimer, however, widely publicized his views concerning the allegations themselves and as they related to academic freedom and opposition to bigotry. "I believe Noelle-Neumann was an anti-Semite," Mearsheimer stated, "and was not forced to write the anti-Semitic words she published. Moreover, I believe that the anti-Semitic writers and publicists of Germany – to include Noelle-Neumann – jointly share some responsibility for the Holocaust. For this she owes an apology."John J. Mearsheimer, "Noelle-Neumann was a willing anti-Semite," Chicago Maroon, November 12, 1991, pp. 17-18. "The thing to remember about the killing of the Jews," he said, "is that it was not done by a handful of people. … It was also a result of the Reich of normal – or of average – German citizens. Like Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann."John J. Mearsheimer, quoted in Chicago Jewish Star, November 15, 1991, p. 2.

Living octopus

Living octopus

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