In 2005, to mark the celebrations for Einstein year (marking the 100th anniversary of the publication of Einstein’s miracle year papers) The Royal Society held a poll on Albert Einstein and Isaac Newton’s contributions to science and to humankind and invited votes from both the public and fellows of the Royal Society.
The culmination was a debate held at the Royal Society and the announcement of the results. Follow this link to view the debate.
Jim Al-Khalili, an Iraqi-born British theoretical physicist, author and broadcaster and who is currently Professor of Theoretical Physics and Chair in the Public Engagement in Science at the University of Surrey supported Albert Einstein in the debate. Below are his reasons for nominating Einstein as the winner of the debate. Einstein provided:
• Mathematical proof that atoms exist. Until then scientists were till arguing over their existence.
• Proof that light was lumpy, made of small particles we call photons. It launched quantum theory. Without this work we wouldn’t have solar panels
• Two papers on special relativity giving us a new view of reality. Without relativity we could not study the building blocks of matter i.e subatomic particles
• An explanation as to why the sky is blue
• In 1915 the General Theory of Relativity, which led to a whole new field of science called cosmology and to black holes, the big bang and parallel universes
• Proof of the theory behind the laser, leading to CD’s, DVD’s.
The results? Sadly, Isaac Newton was the winner, but then with the debate being hosted by The Royal Society, Sir Isaac’s old stamping ground the result is hardly surprising.
A total of 1363 members of the public voted online and 345 Royal Society scientists responded to an email questionnaire.
The results showed Newton to be the winner on all counts, although opinion was much closer on the overall contribution to humankind. When asked who made the bigger overall contribution to science the public voted 61.8% for Newton and 38.2% for Einstein and the scientists voted 86.2% for Newton and 13.8% for Einstein.
When asked who made the bigger positive contribution to humankind the public voted extremely closely with 50.1% for Newton and 49.9% for Einstein and the scientists voted 60.9% for Newton and 39.1% for Einstein.
However, viewing the debate reveals that in the audience on the night, the debate swayed many who watched. A straw poll was taken at the beginning and the end and although there were no numbers it appeared certain that the numbers voting for Einstein were greatly increased at the end. For me this highlights that when the arguments for Einstein are actually heard, it causes a much greater acknowledgment of his contributions and influence. Everyone has heard of Einstein, but they don’t really appreciate his work and its influence, they just know the sound bites.
My hope is that this blog and Einstein day will help to correct such perceptions.
I like Professor Al-Khalili’s arguments. My vote is always for good old Albert.