The Einstein myth: Why the cult of personality is bad for science | Michelle Thaller
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The Einstein myth: Why the cult of personality is bad for science | Michelle Thaller


So Jonathan you ask a question that actually
gets to the heart of a lot of my ideas about science and culture. And you ask about the celebrity culture. We hear about these famous scientists, it
goes Albert Einstein or Stephen Hawking or Neil deGrasse Tyson; we know of these wonderful
kind of larger than life personalities, and does that really reflect what the practice
of science is? And in fact to me this is actually a deeper
question, because I think it’s one of the ways that people are kept out of science. We hold up examples about these incredible,
heroic, sort of seemingly perfect people, and then we compare ourselves to them. And this is exactly the same as comparing
ourselves to supermodels and then looking at the way we look, or comparing ourselves
to athletes or to incredibly famous rock stars. So much of our world right now seems to be
set up to keep you dissatisfied with who you are and keep you feeling insecure. And in science I keep being asked by people,
is it possible that I am smart enough to be a scientist? Do I have what it takes to be a scientist? And there’s also this sad corollary of all
of the people who contact me and say, “Well I see you on television, you must be brilliant. I couldn’t possibly do what you do. I wasn’t good at math. I don’t have the sort of brain that you
have.” All my life this has made me feel different
and strange and not right. The very moment that I started to get interested
in science I was a very small kid. I was just very curious about space, about
geology and rocks, I started to be told, “Wow you’re really different, you’re not the
same as all of us,” and “You’re a girl; Wow, that’s even stranger!” Even when people we’re trying to be kind,
what they were doing was telling me that in some way I wasn’t right. The celebrity culture of science and the idea
that you need a special personality, a special type of brain to do science, are some of the
most harmful ideas about science that our culture has come up with. I often have to deal with – for example
the idea of Albert Einstein: Albert Einstein was incredibly brilliant and he revolutionized
our understanding of the universe. But there’s a myth about him—and you may
be familiar with it—that Albert Einstein “wasn’t really part of the scientific
establishment,” he was “just working in a patent office,” “he just pulled all
of this out of his brain,” “it was just him working alone.” And that wasn’t true at all! Albert Einstein was in fact part of science. He was a professor, he was finishing up his
doctorate when he was working in the patent office. He was part of a culture and the establishment
of science. And he wasn’t working alone. Some of the major parts of his theory, for
example the special theory of relativity that deals with how time and slows down when you
go close to the speed of light, had been largely been formalized and set up before by people
like Lorentz, and even parts of general relativity, his idea about gravitation and the curvature
of space, had been done by people like LeMaitre and others. Einstein was absolutely brilliant at seeing
that different theories that people were working on could come together into a wonderful coherent
whole. Even he admitted he wasn’t particularly
great at the mathematics and he had other people that assisted him with actually formalizing
the mathematics of how gravity could work. So Albert Einstein himself would’ve said
that he was brilliant in collaboration, that he actually pulled lots of things together. He wasn’t just a lone person pulling stuff
out of his head from first principles just by magic. The idea that “science is done by brilliant
people who are different than you” is just a way to keep people OUT of science. There is nothing more difficult about learning
science than there is about learning anything. It takes years to learn all the physics you
need, for example, to get a doctorate in physics, but I always looked at it like learning a
foreign language: you learn things slowly step-by-step, you practice; it’s difficult,
but you keep going. I don’t know why we set science as something
different than learning a language. Nobody would say to you “you simply do not
have the mental capability to learn French.” Everybody can. There are some people that are naturally brilliant
at languages, it may come faster to them, it may be something that they don’t have
to work on as hard as other people, but there’s nobody that can’t learn a language, and
there’s nothing magical about science. I have a brain that tends towards the creative
and the imaginative, I’m not very linear, I’m not very logical, I’m not very organized,
and I kept being told I didn’t have the “right personality to do science.” And there’s nothing about what science actually
is that demands any type of personality. You can learn something in many different
ways, and honestly you can learn anything if you take the time and if you practice. Science can be taught in a very intimidating
way, and I suffered from that. I spent most of my college years so scared
and confused I wouldn’t even ask the professor a question because I felt so much shame that
I basically hadn’t understood anything the whole semester, but you take things over and
over again, and slowly they build up. The idea that we are led by single, brilliant
people is an idea that, I think, has at its core privilege and exclusion. And it’s time for us to take back science,
imagination, creativity. You are enough, right now, to do this. You are smart enough, you are brilliant enough,
you have everything you need. You can be a scientist if you want to, you
don’t need me to actually turn something on inside your mind, you don’t need to have
been born with something magical. You’re a scientist, and you can just ask
a question.

100 thoughts on “The Einstein myth: Why the cult of personality is bad for science | Michelle Thaller

  1. This is BS. Einstein wasn't "finishing up his doctorate while working at the patent office".
    He was not even a student. His doctorate was honorary and was given only after he had been awarded the Nobel prize on the basis of plagiarized work that he presented as his own.

    And the fix was in, just as it was for Sigmund Freud. Same crowd of hoaxsters, same type of BS, same motivation.

  2. She’s so awesome! I felt the same way she described while going through my college years taking challenging physics and math courses. But still got it done despite people telling me that I couldn’t.

  3. Her final sentence "you're a scientist if you can just ask a question." I agree with that completely. If the human species as a whole where to put all our minds into science we could transform every society in the entire world for the better. Science is the most powerful tool ever created buy humans. All of us are scientists. You don't have to be smart, you just have to be able to ask a question. If all humans were working at science I bet we could make discoveries that would completely change all of our lives and possibly even figure out what death is.

  4. What's wrong with you? neil degrasse tyson is lower than my dick, he's not a scientist. Also, Albert Einstein is very much overrated. If you want to think of the greatest physicists and engineers, think of late Stephen Hawking or Nikola Tesla, the greatest mind of all times.

  5. lets skip over the man with a greater intelligence than anyone you named right? Mr Einstein what is it like to be the smartest man in the world? "why don't you ask nikola tesla".

  6. Oh come on… give awkward nerds a break. Enough with the pop-science. There has to be something among the things I can do that makes me exceptional 🙂

    Seriously though. We have to think more deeply about this issue. On the one hand. It's true. Science should be an inclusive welcoming community. On the other hand, there is nothing wrong woth praising people that are smart and work hard. Not everyone can do everything equally well. STEM fields are hard. You have to be smart. And it takes a lot of hard work and discipline and sacrifice. You need both of those components for success in STEM. It has nothing to do with other traits for which people have been excluded in the past. For example being a woman, or sexuality, or ethnicity… but it does require being smart and being hard-working. And not everyone is that. And we need to acknowledge that.

    By the way science is a very creative field that reauires the kind of lateral thinking that she described. Being told that she doesn't have "the right kind of personality for science" was probably just a case of good old sexism.

  7. Hawking, Einstein, and Tyson have always embodied truth and dignity, and also shown the fragile sides of their character. They show us that there are real ppl in the labs, no matter how awkward and clever they are. that's why we like them so much.
    There are other ppl that aren't good for science, that also have celeb status – most are celeb doctors though, or scientists paid off my big pharmaceutical or oil companies. Ppl get licences when they really shouldn't, or use labcoats as costumes… I think celeb scientists and doctors are ok so long as they actually communicate fact, rather than relying on their sociopathic and narcissistic ppl playing talent to rise to fame. Einstein, Hawking, and Tyson have the brains to back up what they say and they've proved it many times – other celebrities just rise to fame my climbing social rungs while barely achieving anything academically except for perhaps a basic degree… no original thought, and even the PhD if there is one is mediocre at best. It's difficult for the public to weed through the quacks because if you're not in the industry you don't know the language, so I encourage ppl to find non-celeb reputable professionals in the relevant field to reflect on the celeb in question.

  8. Michelle speaks and sounds exactly like Elizabeth Montgomery. I feel like Samantha from the old Bewitched TV series is teaching me things.

  9. She's right in saying that we can all learn science but the sad truth is in a competitive world with finite resources, smarter learners will beat you to your scholarship and research positions.

  10. Some excellent points here. And yet … There is such a thing as aptitude and overall intellectual ability. Some people DO have to work harder than others to learn a language, or learn calculus, or learn a musical instrument, etc … I'm all for demystifying science and setting aside the mythology of scientific genius, but I don't think I could go as far as saying that everyone is equally capable of it.

  11. Not to be a downer but realistically I highly doubt that I could ever be a scientist. I've tried and failed college twice now. It just took me way too long to learn anything and I couldn't keep up. I'm not intelligent enough that way for it.

    Most people though do underestimate themselves rather than overestimate themselves and so if you think you're not intelligent enough for it then you're more likely wrong than right. But for some people at least they would be right and it would be cruel to give them any false hope about it.

  12. I firstly have to say that I love your videos. I also now realise the not so much of a myth that every person to his science . Im a human biologist and totally disagree with what you have said. if you think we all possess the same cognitive abilities you are truely mistaken.

  13. I used to teach medical terminology to nurses in training. I always told my students that it is not like learning a new language. It IS learning a new language. They said that made it easier. We learn French in school from grade 1,so basically they became trilingual!

  14. True, some professors in fact purposely bully students for the benefit of their own inflated egos. The effect limits a student's perception of their capabilities to learn. Perceiving the professor to be SO superior can quite often leave a student with an inferiority complex. An intuitive student can both see through and cut through this crap and thus further their own self development. However, not all students possess this type of intuition or the bravery to be led by it. 5/2019

  15. How come when I Google Michelle Thaller the first two suggestions are "– measurements", and "– bikini" ?
    Edit: To be fair, it was DuckDuckGo not Google

  16. I would love to drink a pot of coffee with you. The cross pollination of empathy, love amd the scientific method eminate from you like super nova gas on the wider side of a galaxy. I would love to pick up some of that dust as we would revolve around the galaxy of conversation and create something complex and insightful that can spread like photons to all the different parts lf my brain.

  17. How about giving equal opportunity to ALL students. Let all instead of this inbread few be learned. Oh, the cover up would die, truth would be available to all. No, we can't have that, I'm a republican

  18. Haha, I'm happy that you mentioned Neil Degrasse Tyson.
    Without wanting to detract from his merits, I consider that what he is really good for is to entertain. He is an ocean of knowledge one inch deep

  19. She put in the same bag Einstein, Hawking and Degrasse Tyson, evidently with a dosis of very funny sarcasm

  20. Brilliant !
    On Einstein: you could add that he could also be (very) wrong at times (the Bohr – Einstein controversy on "realism" etc…) but that his "being wrong" also contributed to science (leading to Bell, Aspect etc)

  21. Yeah,anybody can be a scientist,if you think they can't you better check your privilege!Everybody gets a trophy.You're all special little snowflakes!

  22. The cure for cancer was discovered long ago. And it is extremely simple, and costs almost nothing. But mainstream medical science cannot recognize or acknowledge the cure due to the cult of personality, group-consensus mindset, and the profit motive, which buries information that is not monetarily profitable. The Meaning of Life, the biggest secret in this world, is fully known. But not to schooled philosophers, priests, and teachers, again, due to the cult of personality, group-consensus mindset, and the profit motive. I authored a book on the subject, published in 2013. Want to know more? Give me a "click"……

  23. Einstein was not a celebrity, to the contrary, initially he Made himself very unpopular by sticking to his ideas. He is not worshipped for his popularity but because he factually was the greatest scientist of his time by miles. Unlike Justin Bieber, Einstein was great independent of your perception. You can't argue about it.

  24. It is correct that Einstein wasn't part of the establishment but he was part of science just not part of the current consensus.

  25. Einstein was alone as a physicist in many ways, at least apart from the physics community, both as someone seen as a failure early on, and someone viewed as incorrect later on. Lorentz or Riemann might have done good math, but he was again alone when it comes to imagining the physics that he pictured.

  26. Anyone can do science. But how many can have as profoundly original and impactful ideas as Einstein or Riemann? Not many. There are only a few opportunities to do so. A few deep questions or missing points of views. And those questions are largely unanswered.

  27. "Time" does not "Slow-up" when you/an object approaches the speed-of-light. An observer, on Earth, viewing a 'Clock' on a ship traveling at the speed-of-light observes the impression that that clock has slowed because of the "Time" the light takes to get back to the observer. "Time" is a variable measurement of the duration of some process, and not a physical object that can be slowed or sped-up; except you change the variable of time used; e.g. seconds, minutes, microseconds, etc.
    As for "Gravity" it is still not defined, because space, in the presence of mass is claimed (theorized) to bend, but what bends is not defined. What about space can "Bend/Curve" in the presence of mass, and why can't this effect be demonstrated in the laboratory? Is the Earth expanding away from the Moon at the speed-of-light, because that is evidently how fast the edges of the universe are so expanding …? Or, is the curvature of space absent inside of a solar system? Then how about our expansion away from Proxima Centauri? How fast is that? What rate of expansion in our local group? Does "Gravity" travel at the speed-of-light? Evidently, its "Gravity Waves" move that fast, or slowly, but we stay glued to our Sun, somehow …
    But, I agree with Big Think, it is intimidating to have to reason the claims made by Science, and wonder at the contradictions presented by the Standard Model of Cosmological theorists: There was "Space" and when "Mass" was introduced to "Space" it caused "Space" to bend/curve to redirect light around massive objects in space … that sort of "Genius" is hard to understand; notwithstanding the circularity of logic introduced by those claims. Einstein as "God" the Creator of Space/Time Continuum … or is it "Science Fiction" which allows different kinds of "Black Holes" to exist in different kinds of "Universes" theorized for each?

  28. The scientific community has turned into a joke. They don't do proper science half the time anymore due to having to appease whoever funds them. So results are not scientific, they are biased.

  29. I love the message here, I think it's a great, positive, inspiring message. But I'm so cynical that my first thoughts on what she's saying are, "yeah, but there are a lot of not very bright people that either can't do it or won't do it because NERDS." But then I think maybe it's that idea she poses that "science is difficult" that keeps people from trying… I dunno. I just think there are a lot of stupid people, and a lot of just average people, and they aren't very good at things that contribute to things like science.

    I also think that science attracts people with an interest in humanity as a whole, things like going to Mars are great ideas for our people, but so many people are focused on being greedy and themselves and their families. You have to be above yourself to really focus on these types of sciences.

    And to address the obvious conflict in my thoughts, yes, I think very little of people, but that's based on my current observations of how people are. That's what drives my cynicism. I wish we could come together as a species, and really work toward goals like Mars, etc. Humanity could be great. But we won't ever be. That's what I think anyway. Prove me wrong, guys and girls.

  30. On the other hand, it's personalities like Neil Degrasse Tyson that have such a wide reach they can trigger a scientific interest to so many people that otherwise would never get there.
    Awesome talk by the way!

  31. Dr Michelle Thaller: Where physical beauty, scientific brilliance, a love for teaching, an unparalleled skillset of myriad subjects, and a supernova smile that manifests when sharing joyful wonder, is only exceeded by humble kindness.

  32. Michelle is simply an amazing story teller with a lot of charm and knowledge. Can’t stop watching her clips. This one was very well done on dissecting cult from reality. Thank you

  33. I wouldn't worry what other people think. A lot of people I know think science is bad because nuclear bombs. They have a very narrow idea of what science is. I tell them it's the study of Nature, just to keep it simple. People like Neil DeGrasse Tyson (and yourself) are important not so much because they're scientists but because they can explain the workings of Nature to the public. Science videos on the internet are one of its great redeeming values. Go ahead, be a star!

  34. Like Steven Hawking. Most people would never have heard of him if he wasn't this guy frozen in position in a high tech wheelchair speaking with a computer voice. That became his trademark and pop culture media made him into a star. Had he not had that disease, he would have been an unknown to joe 6 pack.

    Much of Einstein's pop celebrity came from a couple photos of him with crazy hair. So college kids put the poster up in their rooms to be hip. The crazy hair created this mad scientist vibe. All image.

  35. Learning is the process of taking something unknown, scary, confusing, uncomfortable, and daunting, and making it clear, understood, common, & easy…
    The two elements needed are determination & effort.
    The Determination to keep asking questions…
    The Effort to keep working on getting answers…

  36. I really needed this video. I’ve always been really interested in science (especially Astronomy) but I’ve always thought that I could never be an astronomer because I’m terrible at math. This video reminded me that some people are just better at things than others naturally, but that doesn’t mean you can’t work your way up to being good at a certain skill. ❤️

  37. I'm an Artist and it's just the same. There us nothing special about art that can't be learned all that is required is persistence then people will tell you it's talent/A gift which is kind of insulting. This wasn't given to me I had to work my ass off for it. The greater my skills the less creativity is involved. No magic just hard work. Thank you for great talk.

  38. Thanks for helping us level the mental playing field! Curiosity, dedication, and humility triumph in science where we’re actively building on the knowledge of others.

  39. Albert E. and Wolfgang P. promoted false principles of physics that limit our possibilities the most, which was dictated by a very powerful elite, believe it or not.

  40. Einstein made small contributions to Science. His most important contribution was with the photoelectric effect. Relativity theory, including E=MC^2, was formulated by Henri Poincare and Hendrik Lorentz a few years before Einstein even came onto the scene. The problem with Einstein was that he used Poincare's work and never gave him credit. This is an incredibly harmful thing to do to the Science community. So then, why is Einstein so famous? Well, its mainly because of his Political ideas and Philosophical ideas. Einstein was promoted by the Media because he had a lot to say about the problems of the World and this propelled him to superstar status. Unfortunately, this has turned into a "Cult of Personality," which is very harmful to the sciences. Einstein is not "The Messiah" or some "Miracle Worker." He just borrowed from his more brilliant scientific contemporaries and took the credit for his own. Advice for young students: Don't be like Einstein. Be like Poincare.

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