Einstein’s 23 Biggest Mistakes

Einstein is probably the first image conjured in popular culture when asked to think of famous scientists, especially those that transformed the way in which we understand the world.  It has been popularly acknowledged that he failed math as a child, though this is not true:

In 1935, a rabbi in Princeton showed him a clipping of the Ripley’s column with the headline “Greatest living mathematician failed in mathematics.” Einstein laughed. “I never failed in mathematics,” he replied, correctly. “Before I was fifteen I had mastered differential and integral calculus.”

However, given the lack of the early perceived irony off one of the greatest scientists having failures, we now have a list of Einstein’s greatest mistakes to comfort our own intellectual shortcomings.  This includes several mistakes in his proof of the famous mathematical relationship.

Perhaps conferences and peer-review journals will keep our public list of academic mistakes much shorter.

Edit: Julie and I were going over an old article on Socialism by Einstein in the first issue of the Monthly Review, and she pointed out that Einstein makes an astute observation about the similarities and differences between physical sciences and the social sciences.  Not that it is a necessarily unique assertion in modern studies, but one worth shoring up from 1949:

Let us first consider the question from the point of view of scientific knowledge. It might appear that there are no essential methodological differences between astronomy and economics: scientists in both fields attempt to discover laws of general acceptability for a circumscribed group of phenomena in order to make the interconnection of these phenomena as clearly understandable as possible. But in reality such methodological differences do exist. The discovery of general laws in the field of economics is made difficult by the circumstance that observed economic phenomena are often affected by many factors which are very hard to evaluate separately.

Michael A. Allen

About Michael A. Allen

Michael is an Assistant Professor in Political Science at Boise State University with a focus in International Relations, Comparative Politics, and Methodology (quantitative and formal). His work includes issues related to military basing abroad, asymmetric relations, cooperation, and conflict. He received his Ph.D from Binghamton University in 2011.

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