Here’s a 16-minute video by physicist Sabine Hossenfelder that was forwarded to me by reader Steve, who added this
Sabine leads with the contretemps between E. O. Wilson and Richard Dawkins. I found the whole video edifying, with my admiration for Thomas Edison taken down several notches.
Indeed! You will never look at Edison the same way again, especially if you go on the Internet and look for the video of the electrocution of Topsy the Elephant, promoted by Edison.
The six fights:
1.) Richard Dawkins’s scathing review of E. O. Wilson’s 2012 book, The Social Conquest of Earth, which pushed a group-selectionist origin of human behavior. (I too reviewed that book for TLS and will send a copy on request).
2.) Wilson’s riposte that Dawkins was a “journalist.” Ouch!
3.) Leibniz vs. Newton’s debate about who first developed differential calculus. Newton got discovery precedence, but was slow to publish, so both men’s work appeared about the same time. A fight ensued, with Newton beefing to the Royal Society about credit. Newton won that fight, but there were a lot of bad feelings and mutual criticism. Leibniz also cheated by changing the dates of some of his manuscripts to try establishing precedence
4.) Thomas Edison vs. Nikola Tesla over whether electric current should be delivered as direct (DC_ or alternating (AC). Edison, an advocate of DC, electrocuted animals (including Topsy the elephant, one of the most heinous acts imaginable) to show that AC was dangerous.
The Bone Wars, also known as the Great Dinosaur Rush, was a period of intense and ruthlessly competitive fossil hunting and discovery during the Gilded Age of American history, marked by a heated rivalry between Edward Drinker Cope (of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia) and Othniel Charles Marsh (of the Peabody Museum of Natural History at Yale). Each of the two paleontologists used underhanded methods to try to outdo the other in the field, resorting to bribery, theft, and the destruction of bones. Each scientist also sought to ruin his rival’s reputation and cut off his funding, using attacks in scientific publications.
6.) Fred Hoyle versus the world! Willy Fowler, Hoyle’s collaborator, got a Nobel Prize (with Chandrasekhar) in 1983. Both Hoyle and Fowler collaborated on how nuclear reactions work in stars. Why was Hoyle overlooked? Hossenfelder gives several possible explanations.
Hossenfelder’s lesson is that “competition is a good thing, but is best enjoyed in small doses”. I’m not sure I agree, as the more competition there is in science, the faster we get to the truth. Yes, it’s unpleasant to see big guns acting petty, but in the end science is the beneficiary.
Hossenfelder also mentions that the conflicts show that scientists are human, but we already know that. There aren’t really lessons here beyond those in the history of science, but there’s a lot of intriguing history in this short video