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Friday, April 10, 2015

Correcting History: Dyson and Einstein

World-renowned mathematical physicist Freeman Dyson recently did an interview with The Vancouver Sun regarding his views on climate change. After this interview appeared on various skeptic websites, a highly suspicious story began showing up in the comment sections regarding his interaction with Einstein at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton.
"I found this story about Dyson online earlier. When Dyson came to Princeton in 1947 he was dying to meet Einstein, so he went to Einstein's secretary, Helen Dukas, to make an appointment. In order to have something relevant to discuss, he got copies of Einstein's papers on unified field theory. Reading them that evening, Dyson decided the papers were crap. He couldn't face the great Einstein and tell him his papers were junk, so he said he cancelled the meeting and spent the next eight years avoiding Einstein."
I initially believed this story to be completely unsubstantiated but surprisingly it appears to have originated in a 2007 book, The Trouble With Physics: The Rise of String Theory, The Fall of a Science, and What Comes Next by theoretical physicist Lee Smolin. Being unable to find anything else to substantiate this story and instead only finding contradictory evidence, I decided to contact Dyson himself. As I initially suspected this story is completely false.
"This story is a flat lie. Nothing like it ever happened. I never asked for an appointment with Einstein, never cancelled any appointment, and never avoided him. Whoever invented the story should be ashamed of himself."
- Freeman Dyson (Source: Email Correspondence)
I later notified Professor Dyson of the source and he was grateful to know who originated this myth.

4 comments:

Mogumbo Gono said...

Thanks for this. That story always seemed suspicious to me. Dyson is a stand-up guy, and this characterization didn't fit him.

You did good work setting the record straight.

Decentralized Archaism said...

Lee Smolin, shame on ya.

Florifulgurator said...

Someone should ask Smolin for comment...

sykes.1 said...

Lubos Motl routinely castigates Smolin as an antiscience bigot. I have, however, read Smolin's book. I found it unconvincing.