Science is a peculiar business in the modern world. It is one of the very last strongholds of a kind of “ethical code” that implies that published data is true — or at least solid within the realm of technical or biological limitations. Scientists don’t cheat. Not even on themselves. Science, the world, and the universe (as scientists like to believe) rely on scientists to be honest. That is the reason why fraud in science still causes such an earthquake, rocking the foundations of the field. The mere accusation of fraud can end a scientific career, dishonoring prior achievements, and, in the worst case, end in disaster.
The Austrian biologist Paul Kammerer, and his “case of the Midwife Toad”, is still one of the biggest unsolved mysteries of scientific fraud, in which a tragic suicide may have been a confession of guilt. It could have been, however, a final acknowledgement that his work of a lifetime will never be viewed without suspicion ever again after such calumny.
Parts of Kurt Gödel’s biography resemble the celebrity stories you find in a modern day tabloid. The Austrian mathematician rocketed to fame at a young age (completing his incompleteness theorem aged 25), hung out with other celebrities at cool places (one of his closest friends was Albert Einstein who he worked with at Princeton), rebelliously married someone of disputable reputation (a former nightclub dancer who was divorced and 6 years his major), and died under extraordinary and somewhat mysterious consequences.
Gödel’s work shook the foundations of mathematics for all time. This and his tragic biography not only make him a legend but also the topic of our second post in our series “Tragic deaths in science”.
Can a life be summed up by 𝑆=𝛋∙log𝑊? The equation is the slightly geeky inscription on the tombstone of Ludwig Boltzmann, Austrian physicist and pioneer of statistical mechanics.
The formula shows the relation between entropy and the probability of possible thermodynamic states of matter. It includes the constant 𝛋, later termed Boltzmann constant.
How can a lifetime’s achievement so fundamental (including a constant named after you for mathematical eternity) end in the tragic suicide of the name-bearer during a holiday in Italy?
Whatever you think about the year 2017, it’s safe to say it was not the year of intellectuals. So it’s comforting to know that there are still a few intellectuals out there.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably noticed that coloring is “in” again. You can find adult coloring books at nearly every book and gift shop. Skeptics might be wondering what all the fuss is about… after all, didn’t we leave this hobby behind in elementary school for a reason?