Do you think Einstein's genius is overrated?

Posted In: n/a    Posted on: 2016-09-02 09:32:56    Posted By: ituglobal   

I am a professor and each year I am required to produce an annual report on which decisions like promotion, tenure and pay get made. On this report, I list my publications from the previous calendar year. Often articles submitted to leading journals will undergo an extensive review process and the delay between submission and publication can be quite long.


Here is the sort of publication list that Einstein would have had in 1906 (for the previous year, 1905). They were all published in the leading physics journal of the day Annalen der Physik, and he was the sole author of each. The titles (in English):


"On a Heuristic Viewpoint Concerning the Production and Transformation of Light," (received March 18/published June 9) wherein Einstein explained the vexing photoelectric effect, His proposed idea of energy quanta points to wave-particle duality and the eventual development of quantum mechanics. For his trouble, Einstein received the dismissal of no less a physicist than Niels Bohr ("The hypothesis of light-quanta is not able to throw light on the nature of radiation."), but the Nobel Committee thought otherwise and he received the Nobel Prize for his work on photoelectricity in 1921.


"On the Motion of Small Particles Suspended in a Stationary Liquid, as Required by the Molecular Kinetic of Heat." (received May 11/published July 18). I'm not a physicist and don't know that much about this paper and so am tempted to say, on the basis of my ignorance, that this piece may have been the least of his 1905 pubs. Alternatively, with this article he may have swatted away the so-called anti-atom school by essentially providing empirical proof for the atom's existence.


"On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies" (received June 30/published September 26). This is the piece that put special relativity on terra firma. While most academics pride themselves on lengthy, jargon-filled literature reviews and extensive footnotes and bibliography, Einstein mentions but five other scientist in this article - but all from the physics pantheon: Isaac Newton, James Clerk Maxwell, Heinrich Hertz, Christian Doppler, and Hendrik  Lorentz. He is obviously playing in some pretty tall grass with this piece.


"Does the Inertia of a Body Depend Upon Its Energy Content" (received September 27/published November 21). If you don't have the time or inclination to go back and read it in the original German, then let me answer his titular question for you. Yes, it does. Want to know more? Then consider this compact equation: E = mc^2. Yeah, thought you probably had seen that.


So Einstein's annual report for 1905 would have been, I'll say, strong. In fact, I'm not really sure how a year like that could be "overrated." Genius does indeed seem to be an appropriate moniker. Of course, let's recall, too, that at that time he would not have been an academic professor, but rather have had a day job as an examiner in the Patent Office in Bern Switzerland. No internet, in fact, probably no easy access to a decent set of scientific reference material.





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