Preposterous Universe

Thursday, April 21, 2005
The once and future Einstein

You have no idea how shocked we professional physicists were when one of our own was named Person of the Century by Time magazine. Of course, it was Einstein, who is something of a unique figure. Now we are celebrating the World Year of Physics in honor of the centenary of Einstein's Miraculous Year in 1905, when he wrote a handful of papers that turned the world of physics upside down.

Alan Boyle has written an enjoyable overview of what Einstein accomplished, and what it means for us today, over at MSNBC. By "enjoyable" I mean "quotes me a lot." At first I couldn't remember ever actually being interviewed by Alan, but then I remembered the press conference at the AAAS meeting, which I think is where these nuggets of rich wisdom were mined. (It has been suggested that I use this blog as a forum for puffing myself up. And?)

Another fun article by Alan is on Einstein's successors, specifically that an increasing number of them are women. Anecdotal evidence and individual stories don't prove anything, of course, but it's nice to see talented people overcoming the obstacles that are strewn in their way.

Update: In the original version of this post, I remarked on how female physicists tended to be more attractive than their male counterparts. It's been pointed out that discussions of this sort can serve to undermine women's status as talented scientists. Which is, of course, true. My hope was to be sufficiently clear that I meant to do nothing of the sort, and that we needn't be so deadly earnest all the time. But perhaps such nuance is impossible to convey in this kind of medium, or perhaps just impossible period, or perhaps the intentions are not the point. So either I am being pilloried on the basis of an ungenerous misreading, or I am unwittingly contributing to a very real problem. In either case, not what I intended, and it's better not to run the risk of exacerbating the obstacles women face in this field.

Now, of course, reactionaries will accuse me of buckling under to the pressure of political correctness. But that I don't mind at all. Henceforth I'll just stick to less controversial topics, like basketball and religion.

Ideas on culture, science, politics.
Sean Carroll

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