Einstein Retains Top Billing Over Russell Crowe

Article ID: 508349

Released: 16-Nov-2004 4:10 PM EST

Source Newsroom: Joseph Henry Press / National Academies Press

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Newswise — In an informal poll taken at the National Mall in Washington, D.C., 89% of the participants, who ranged in age from 9 to 75, correctly identified Albert Einstein in a line-up. But only 53% of those polled could identify Russell Crowe. In fact, one 56-year-old woman from Florida asked whether Crowe was Jeb Bush, to which her husband replied, "Jeb Bush wishes he were that good-looking."

The poll, which asked 200 tourists a series of four questions about science, was conducted by the Joseph Henry Press to help spread the word about a new book, 'Einstein Defiant: Genius vs. Genius in the Quantum Revolution' by Edmund Blair Bolles, which chronicles a series of infamous debates between Albert Einstein and Niels Bohr about the merits of quantum mechanics.

"I was pleased to see that even 2/3 of the kids under 15 could spot Einstein," said Bolles. "It shows that he remains the enduring symbol of human genius. Einstein's name has been world famous since November 1919. By the time he appeared on a platform with Charlie Chaplin in 1931, the two men were equally famous. It's amazing how his name has persisted. Modern audiences have a much easier time recognizing Einstein in that 1931 photo than they do Chaplin. And here, they more easily identified Einstein than Crowe. Not many scientists are more recognizable than two famous Hollywood icons."


Was he a physicist? A chemist? Or a mathematician? Forty-one percent thought mathematician, and 63% said physicist. A scant 2% guessed chemist, while 7% said both mathematician and physicist.

"Einstein was unmistakably a physicist," Bolles says.

"It's interesting that people start to waiver and guess mathematics when they're asked what Einstein did," he continues. "In fact, as his work became more mathematical he hired mathematicians to help him. Bohr was even less mathematically oriented. A physicist said to me the other day that he was astounded that I had been able to explain quantum mechanics so clearly without resorting to equations. But the fact that neither Bohr nor Einstein were mathematicians indicates that something other than equations was at the core of their dispute over quantum mechanics. That's what I concentrated on."


When respondents were asked whether Einstein or Bohr would win a PWWF — Physicists World Wrestling Federation — smackdown, 62% said Einstein, 31% said Bohr, 3 people said it would be a draw, and 1 person said Hawking. (One respondent said, "Whichever one is still alive." )

The real "smackdown" in question was the series of quantum debates between Einstein and Bohr, detailed in 'Einstein Defiant.' "Here, of course we find the great contradiction of the Einstein-Bohr story," Bolles explains. "Einstein was the great symbol of genius, but Bohr won their final dispute. People hear that and say, 'How could that be?'"


Perhaps one of the most interesting results was that 50% of those polled could correctly interpret one of Einstein's most famous quotes about the lack of randomness in our Universe, which Einstein uttered during one of the Einstein-Bohr quantum debates.


One 37-year-old woman, when told that Bohr actually proved triumphant in the debates, responded: "I don't care that Bohr was supposedly right. I think Einstein was right because Einstein knew what was going on in the universe." The answer made Bolles laugh.

"Overall, the poll shows what I learned while working on 'Einstein Defiant': almost everybody recognizes Albert Einstein, and a lot of people know something of who he was, but very few people know the story of his quarrel with quantum physics," he says. "It was the most important scientific dispute of the 20th century and yet is still mostly unknown."

But perhaps now it's a little less unknown, after seven people spent two days on the Smithsonian Mall talking about it.


[Please include the following with the publication of any results: "Published with permission from the Joseph Henry Press, publishers of Einstein Defiant: Genius versus Genius in the Quantum Revolution by Edmund Blair Bolles.]

QUESTION #1: Other than Einstein and Russell Crowe, participants were asked to identify Jimmy Neutron, the boy genius cartoon figure; Stephen Hawking, the physicist who wrote A Brief History of Time; and Niels Bohr, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist. Interesting results include:

-- Stephen Hawking ranked third most identifiable with a 41% I.D. Rate. Many knew he was a famous scientist but couldn't recall his name. Two people thought he was Bill Gates-- Thirty-nine percent of those polled recognized Neutron. Seven percent thought he was Bob's Big Boy, three percent said Howdy Doody, and one participant answered Pinocchio. -- Only 7% of those polled could identify Niels Bohr-- Only 1.6% of those polled could identify all five men.-- 9.5% of those polled couldn't identify any of the five men.-- 14.5% of those polled could only identify Einstein.-- Participants in the 16-30 age group had the highest percentage of correct IDs for Crowe (88%), Hawking (50%), and Bohr (15%).-- 100% of people in the 61+ age group identified Einstein correctly.-- Participants in the 9-15 age group had the highest percentage of correct IDs for Neutron at 83%.

QUESTION #3: Why did you choose Einstein or Bohr to win the PWWF smackdown?

-- "Einstein because he has a crazy look to draw the fans." " 29-year-old male from Oakton, VA-- "Bohr knows all the basics and is a more fundamentally sound 'wrestler', but Einstein has the more glamorous finishing move." " 28-year-old male from Raleigh, NC-- "Bohr won the theoretical smackdown, but in the ring, I have to go with my wily Jewish brother...it's that Don King hair." " 28-year-old male from Fairfax, VA-- "I would say Einstein just because he would have more people cheering for him and plus he looked so crazy he would throw Bohr out of his chair." " 28-year-old from Jacksonville, FL-- "Einstein if you're talking theory; Bohr if you're talking physics." " 46-year-old from Maryland

QUESTION #5: What did Einstein mean when he said, "God does not play dice with the Universe." While 50% answered correctly, 32% got it wrong and 18% wouldn't even guess. Incorrect answers included:

-- "If God played dice, he would destroy the world." " 9-year-old boy from U.K.-- "Einstein was a devoted believer in determinism. In our case, a flight delay forced us to stay a day in Washington and we're having a great time. There's a reason for this." " 62-year-old from Amsterdam-- "God doesn't fool with the universe." " 67-year-old woman from Toronto-- "Everything is already built. You can't roll the dice and change anything." " 47-year-old woman from Columbia, SC

ABOUT THE JOSEPH HENRY PRESSThe Joseph Henry Press is an imprint of the National Academies Press, which is the publisher for the National Academies--National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council. It was created in response to rising public interest in science issues, with the goal of making books on science, technology, and health more widely accessible to the public.

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