Albert Einstein - Scientist and Mob Idol
BY ALVA JOHNSTON,
The weekly magazine: “The New Yorker”, DECEMBER 2, 1933
The only scientists who kept the Business-as-Usual sign hanging out during the war were the mathematicians and astronomers. The other men of learning were engaged in war work. Physicists were making better range-finders, chemists were making better poison gases, and theologians were proving that their gods were in the trenches qualifying for meritorious-conduct medals and kisses on both cheeks. But the astronomers and mathematicians were not doing their bits. While the war was in progress, Albert Einstein was completing his theory at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute in Berlin, and British astronomers were working on plans to test it. It was fraternizing with the enemy. Scientists of this type have always been dangerous internationalists. They did incalculable harm to Church and State at an earlier time by casting suspicion on the Bible truth that the earth was flat and had four corners, and even today a man who meddles with the universe is regarded as unsafe. One of the organizers of the American Legion started an agitation to bar Einstein from the United States as a Red; the Woman Patriot Corporation lodged a complaint against him with the State Department; an American consular official nearly heckled the scientist into abandoning an American trip; Cardinal O’Connell denounced the Einstein theory as false, atheistic, and immoral; a religious writer charged that Einstein had cribbed the theory from the writings of a thirteenth-century saint. Nevertheless, Einstein slipped past the immigration authorities in 1930, and he did it again last October. Today, he is openly carrying on mathematical work at Princeton. The anti-nationalistic taint in astronomy manifested itself when British astronomers, even before the Treaty of Versailles had been signed, confirmed the new theory that had been made in Germany. On May 29, 1919, two expeditions under the Union Jack—one at Sobral in Brazil, and the other at Principe off the coast of West Africa—photographed an eclipse in order to discover whether starlight, as Einstein’s calculations had indicated, was twisted when it passed a massive body like the sun. They reported that Einstein was right. Since then, his theory has been retouched in detail, but its essentials have been repeatedly verified. No important scientist is to be found among the skeptics, although there is every incentive to debunk Einstein, if it can be done. Immortality awaits the man who can overthrow Einstein. The popular uproar over the theory surprised no one more than the author of the theory. He had been almost a recluse. His contacts had been with quiet, scholarly men of his own type, and his sudden glory appalled him. Interviewers, photographers, lion-hunters, cause-promoters, testimonial-seekers, and reflected-glory chasers of every kind came swarming into his life. A man of soft, plastic nature, Einstein was helpless in their hands. He was forced into the rôle of publicist, propagandist, and oracle. After fourteen years of experience with international nuisances and go-getters, Einstein has developed some resistance, but he has not yet learned how to say “No” successfully, and he is still the prey of determined busybodies. The Einstein of 1933 has become fairly reconciled to the occupation of popular idol. He has developed into a mixer, a wit, an authority on things in general, and the probable successor of George Bernard Shaw as the world’s miscellaneous consulting expert, but his countenance still reflects the bewilderment of his early years as a demigod in spite of himself. Permanent astonishment shines from his great eyes under their apprehensive brows. When he first became famous, Einstein was a strange compound of cosmic wisdom and worldly inexperience. Presented by Lord Haldane to the...
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