22 votes

Is Millikan's famous oil drop experiment a fraud?

Note: I present here some information defending Millikan, but please note that I do not necessarily agree with the article it came from. From the feature article "In Defense of Robert Andrews ...
  • 824
20 votes
Accepted

What were 12 year old Pitts' objections to Principia Mathematica?

This story bears characteristic signs of a tall tale, although in this case one can identify the origin. It appears to be an amalgamation of two anecdotes, neither of which is itself very credible. ...
  • 69k
19 votes
Accepted

Pythagoras vs. the idea of Pythagoras

Yes the stories of Pythagoras that were common a few decades ago have all been been disproved, largely by Walter Burkert in Lore and Science in Ancient Pythagoreanism (1972). In short, Pythagoras ...
15 votes
Accepted

In a popular anecdote, who took 20 minutes to decide that a thing was obvious?

The closest to an attribution that I could find is by Matt Calhoun on Math SE, who claims "it was personally told to me" by "my mechanics professor (G. Horton) [who] took lectures from Pauli..." G. ...
  • 69k
14 votes

Hawking on Newton and the famed apple

Of course, the naive description as many heard it (which includes Newton having an apple fall on his head) is not true. There also does not exist any known source where Newton discusses anything about ...
  • 3,803
13 votes
Accepted

Did light bulb companies commission Planck to study black body radiation?

Sounds like we're all on the same page. But FWIW: In all my research for that Planck book (2015), I found no evidence that he was commissioned, contracted or paid by light bulb (or similar) companies ...
13 votes

Is Spivak right in what he says about Galileo?

Yes, indeed when trying to obtain the law of falling bodies, Galileo's first conjecture was that the speed is proportional to the distance traveled. After some contemplation, Galileo understood that ...
12 votes

What is the original source for Abel's quote about Gauss:"He is like the fox, who effaces his tracks in the sand with his tail"?

Bjerknes cites a letter from Abel to Christopher Hansteen, a fellow professor of Bjerknes at Christiania/Oslo, who had put up and mentored Abel in the beginning of his career. Den omgangskreds af ...
  • 1,331
12 votes
Accepted

Did Isaac Newton burn Robert Hooke's picture?

The question is whether there ever existed a portrait of Hooke. There is very little evidence to support this: 1) Hooke mentions a certain 'Mr Bonust' in his diary. In an entry for 16 October 1674 he ...
  • 321
12 votes

When did the people start using the portraits of the two Euclids interchangeably?

This is almost certainly intended to be an image of Euclid of Alexandria, not of Euclid of Megara. The image was painted by Justus van Gent, who lived in the 15th century. Among his most famous works ...
  • 2,732
12 votes

Did Einstein say "We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used to create them"?

I am afraid there is no original source. Wikipedia has talk pages where sourcing is discussed, and its editors did extensive searches on this one and its variants. It is listed under the heading ...
  • 69k
11 votes
Accepted

When did the people start using the portraits of the two Euclids interchangeably?

We have very few information regarding the author of the Elements, called Euclid of Alexandria. See Euclid, The Thirteen Books of the Elements, Vol. 1 : Books 1-2 (ed. T.Heath, Dover reprint), page 1-...
11 votes
Accepted

Did Cauchy forget or lose mathematical papers aside from Abel's and Galois's?

Apparently, Cauchy did not even forget or lose at least the papers of Galois. This is yet another example of how E.T. Bell and his Men of Mathematics, for all its literary virtues, are unreliable ...
  • 69k
10 votes
Accepted

Question on "What St. Augustine didn't say about mathematicians"

From the article "Astrology", by Sheila J. Rabin, in Encyclopedia of the Scientific Revolution from Copernicus to Newton, p.77: In fact, astrology was part of the mathematics curriculum of every ...
10 votes
Accepted

Did Gauss say "there have been but three epoch-making mathematicians, Archimedes, Newton and Eisenstein"?

Wikipedia also says:"this is not a quote by Gauss, but is (a translation of) the end of a sentence from the biography of Eisenstein by Moritz Cantor (1877), one of Gauss's last students and a ...
  • 69k
10 votes

Is the "ques­tions that can’t be an­swered over an­swers that can’t be ques­tioned" quote by Feynman authentic?

This is all I have found for now: “You see, one thing is, I can live with doubt, and uncertainty, and not knowing. I think it’s much more interesting to live, not knowing, than to have answers which ...
10 votes
Accepted

Is the anecdote about Niels Bohr keeping a horseshoe on his door true?

One can spot a fabricated story by a number of tells: absence of the original citation, shifty dates (in Heisenberg's version, Bohr was telling it in 1927), proliferation of mutually exclusive details ...
  • 69k
10 votes
Accepted

What exactly was the Rutherford model of the atom?

"The Rutherford planetary model" was not exactly... anything, it was a vague umbrella term. The inspection of Rutherford's 1911 paper shows that Rutherford did not propose even one of the ...
  • 69k
9 votes

Question related to the legitimacy of a certain portrait of Christian Goldbach

Our recent edition of Christian Goldbach's correspondence with Leonhard Euler (Leonhardi Euleri Opera Omnia, series IVA, vol.4, Springer: Basel, 2015) has a short biography of Goldbach (Introduction 1....
9 votes

Did Kronecker attribute immutable origin to the integers?

Weber was a pretty reliable witness. Probably Kronecker did tell the 1886 Berliner Naturforscher-Versammlung something like "the whole numbers were made by dear God (der liebe Gott), the rest is the ...
9 votes
Accepted

Beware the Ides of March!

No, I assure you, this nonsense was not taught at schools, at least in Soviet Union (I am not sure what is possible in Russia now). This is just a typical Russian "pop historian" interpretation, a ...
9 votes
Accepted

What is the origin of the Chinese Stick Multiplication method?

It is a fun method but it appears to be very recent. It is characterized as Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Indian, or even Mayan method in various internet posts, all of them recent, and without ...
  • 69k
8 votes

Gauss accused of witchcraft: apocryphal?

It seems incredibly unlikely that Gauss was (in a serious way) accused of witchcraft for his contributions to linear algebra. Instead of trying to look for anecdotal evidence, we can reason from ...
  • 3,803
8 votes
Accepted

How did Newton guess that the answer to the 3-dimensional "kissing problem" is 12?

"In 1694, a famous discussion between two of the leading scientists of the day - Isaac Newton and David Gregory - took place on the campus of Cambridge University. Their dispute concerned the "kissing ...
  • 69k
8 votes

Did light bulb companies commission Planck to study black body radiation?

After looking into more reputable sources it seems that the "commissioned by electricity companies" is a confabulation, and the "commissioned by the German Bureau of Standards" is ...
  • 69k
8 votes

Has Chinese Remainder Theorem ever been used by Chinese military?

Is it possible that "Chinese remainder theorem" was used by the Chinese military? Who knows. But we know that the proliferation of Chinese generals and soldiers in connection with it comes from late ...
  • 69k
8 votes

Is Spivak right in what he says about Galileo?

Yes, Galileo made that error (and so did Descartes). Only later did he realise that the speed is proportional to the time ellapsed, not to the distance already covered. I suggest that you read The new ...

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