Friday, April 27, 2007

letter to the new york times

Dear Sirs,

Thomas Friedman is naive in the title of his piece:

China Needs An Einstein. So Do We.’

A few details need putting in order here. Contrary to popular thought, Einstein did not receive the Nobel prize for his work on Relativity. This was awarded to him for the discovery of the photoelectric effect.

In 1916, when Einstein expanded his Special Theory to include the effect of gravitation on the shape of space and the flow of time, science itself was conducted very differently than it is today.

While the cosy image of a lone scientist battling alone trying to resolve difficult problems may be a romantic throwback to bygones past, but when it comes to tackling cutting-edge problems at the forefront of today’s world, that simply doesn’t exist in the modern framework of the scientific community, nor has it done so for some time. When Mr. Friedman writes an article for the New York Times, there are any number of people that are involved in the production before that newspaper arrives at its destination. Quite a few more than I would imagine than in 1916, and the New York Times to my knowledge, isn’t in the business of solving the deepest fundamental answers in explaining natural phenomena and developing rigorous mathematical proofs.

No, scientists today work as teams, sometimes numbering in the hundreds or greater depending upon what is being studied, collaborating their ideas, much like any other business might, although instead of profits being churned out, together they combine their knowledge, through collaborative research, often across countries, and often spend years, sometimes dedicating their entire careers in the aim of furthering our understanding of the world we all see around us and yet individually know so little about.

While it is not impossible for anything to happen (quantum mechanics), to expect another Einstein is living in the past, and yet i'd be happy to wager a small bet that Mr. Freidman himself has moved on from using the typewriter…

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