No, Einstein Did Not Get Bad Grades at School

Albert Einstein

We all know that Albert Einstein, one of the great geniuses of history, had bad grades as a teenager. It's one of those motivational stories that every kid struggling at school has been told. Some have theorised that perhaps because he was such a genius, he was bored at school and thus didn't put in the effort required. The problem with such theories? Einstein was actually almost a straight-A student.

There is no shortage of myths and misconceptions in the fields of both science and history. From the oft-repeated canard that medieval people thought the world was flat, through to the misconception that water drains from a sink in opposite circular motions in the northern and southern hemisphere (though to be fair, it is based loosely on scientific reasoning).

In Einstein's case, the myth about his poor grades apparently resulted from a misreading of his Swiss report card by German authors. In an article in Viewpoint (PDF), the magazine of the British Society for the History of Science - titled "Myths, Zombies and History of Science Story Telling", science historian Thony Christie explains how the myth began:

Einstein was actually almost a straight-A student with an excellent school report. Strangely enough, it is this school report that is the origin of the myth. In Germany, students are not graded by letters but by the numbers one to six, with one being the equivalent of an A-grade and six the equivalent of an F. However Einstein took his high school diploma in Switzerland, where the grading system was, in his times, the exact reverse of the German one, with six at the top and one at the bottom: Einstein’s high school diploma is full of sixes!

German authors, assuming the German grading system, thought that he had failed nearly all his subjects! And so a myth that refuses to die was born through a simple but understandable error.

Here's the school report in question:

Einstein's report card

Christie mentions a number of other historical myths in his short article - including the suggestion that Copernicus didn’t publish his De revolutionibus (promoting the 'heretical' theory that Earth revolved around the Sun) for many years because he feared the reaction of the Church - that appear to have their basis in a historical fiction about the conflict between science and the Church that was largely created by two authors in the late 19th century:

The geocentric contra heliocentric mythology is a core argument in a much bigger history of science myth that there has been some sort of fundamental existential battle between science and religion through the ages. Actually, this myth is a product of the 18th and 19th centuries, which interestingly is when the flat earth myth first emerged.

Its two most well know-proponents were the Americans John William Draper, with his History of the Conflict between Religion and Science (1874), and Andrew Dickson White, with his A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom (1896).

The flat earth myth was most widely propagated by another American, Washington Irving, in his largely fictional but purportedly factual biography of Christopher Columbus, A History of the Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus, published in 1828. Irving also presented his Columbus as butting heads with a bigoted Catholic Church: a piece of pure fiction.

The Draper-White (or conflict) thesis, as it is generally known by historians of science, has become deeply ingrained in the fabric of Western culture over the last two hundred years. One can often find even leading intellectuals expounding it as gospel truth and also accusing historians of science, who try to correct them, of being religious apologists.

Link: Thony Christie's "Myths, Zombies and History of Science Story Telling", in Viewpoint

(via @rmathematicus and @PHalpern)

News Briefs 10-04-2017


Quote of the Day:

They are dismantling the sleeping middle class. More and more people are becoming poor. We are their cattle. We are being bred for slavery. We could be pets, we could be food, but all we really are is livestock.

'They Live'

News Briefs 07-04-2017

Please fasten your seatbelt, we appear to be entering some turbulence...

Quote of the Day:

What will we get for bombing Syria besides more debt and a possible long term conflict? Obama needs Congressional approval.

Donald Trump in 2013

Bonus Bipartisan Quote of the Day:

I really believe that we should have, and still should, take out [Assad's] airfields and prevent him from being able to use them to bomb innocent people and drop sarin gas on them.

Hillary Clinton, today

Cassini's Grand Finale

While I'm not exactly in the mood to marry a robot, if ever there was a machine that I could love it is the Cassini probe. After almost 20 years in space on its mission to investigate Saturn and its moons, later this month the probe will begin a five month approach that will see it eventually destroyed as it descends into the cloudy atmosphere of the ringed planet.

To commemorate Cassini's two decade-long mission, NASA and JPL have released the short video above.

The final chapter in a remarkable mission of exploration and discovery, Cassini's Grand Finale is in many ways like a brand new mission. Twenty-two times, NASA's Cassini spacecraft will dive through the unexplored space between Saturn and its rings. What we learn from these ultra-close passes over the planet could be some of the most exciting revelations ever returned by the long-lived spacecraft. This animated video tells the story of Cassini's final, daring assignment and looks back at what the mission has accomplished.

For more detailed information about Cassini's 'grand finale', head over to the NASA website.

News Briefs 06-04-2017

Feel the love, fam.

Quotes of the Day:

Therefore the death of man, and of beasts is one, and the condition of them both is equal: as man dieth, so they also die: all things breathe alike, and man hath nothing more than beast: all things are subject to vanity.

Ecclesiastes 3:19

Nobel Prize-Winning Physicist Says He is 99% Sure That ESP is Real

Nobel Prize-winning theoretical physicist Brian Josephson is one of the most high-profile academics to have voiced support for the 'heretical' science of parapsychology. So I was thrilled to see that the always excellent Closer to Truth had interviewed him about the topic, and uploaded some of the chat - titled "Is ESP a Window on a Larger Reality?" - to YouTube (embedded above).

If ESP can claim some kind of truth, the implications would be profound. The confirmation of any ESP, no matter how minor, would challenge the materialism-physicalism structure of the world, built over centuries by science. Reality itself would expand.

Closer to Truth also asked theoretical physicist Fred Alan Wolf, and psychologist/skeptic Bruce Hood, the same question - I've embedded their interviews below.

To download episodes and complete seasons of Closer To Truth, head over to their website where you'll find information on each season, and links for purchasing. Some fantastic discussions in there!

News Briefs 05-04-2017

Walking on water...

Quote of the Day:

Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.

Martin Luther King Jr.

Movie From a Parallel Universe: Found Footage of 'Non-Existent' Film "Shazaam" Puts the Mandela Effect Front and Center

Screenshot from Shazaam

Remember when Nelson Mandela died back in the 1980s? Or your favourite children's book was the Berenstein Bears, and you loved that 90s movie with the comedian Sinbad in it, titled Shazaam? If you do, you might be a victim of the 'Mandela Effect', the strange phenomenon where you clearly remember a certain thing, but it turns out you are incorrect. Because Nelson Mandela died just a few years back, in 2013; that book series was actually the Berenstain Bears, and Sinbad never was in a movie titled Shazaam.

Well, that's how it is in this version of the multiverse at least - because one suggested explanation for the Mandela Effect is that we are experiencing memories that have somehow crossed over from timelines in parallel universes.

So imagine everyone's surprise when just a few days ago, footage turned up on YouTube of a portion of Sinbad's supposedly non-existent movie Shazaam!

Before anyone starts worrying about whether reality is beginning to collapse and parallel universes are becoming confused with ours, I should point out that "a few days ago" was of course April 1st, and the clip of Shazaam (featuring a distinctly older Sinbad) was posted by College Humor...

There's a lot to love about the spoofed clip though, as the creators put some real effort into paying homage to the Mandela Effect. From the dialogue ("We have our memories, they're real, no-one can take that from us"), to the various props (including a newspaper report on Nelson Mandela dying, and a Berenstein Bears book), there's a bunch of easter eggs in there for those Mandela Effect aficionados who want to have some fun hunting all the references down (I haven't mentioned all of them). Feel free to post what you find in the comments!

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