On the way in to work, I was listening to ESPN radio’s Mike & Mike show, and they were discussing “Mount Sportsmore,” that is, the Mount Rushmore of sports. They had two of the four spots filled with Babe Ruth and Muhammed Ali, and were debating baseball players for the other two (which is stupid– the other two are Wayne Gretzky and Michael Jordan).
This raises the question, though, of who belongs on the Mount Rushmore of Science: Who are the four most iconic scientists out there, who deserve to be memorialized in titanic stone sculptures, ideally on the Moon or somewhere similarly cool?
Three answers are in the post title, some discussion below the fold.
The first three are easy. Einstein is probably the most instantly recognizable scientist in the history of the world– all you need to do is sketch some wild hair, and people know immediately who you mean. He deserves a spot for his contributions to fashion alone, let alone his scientific brilliance.
Darwin is probably the next greatest icon of science, though he’s arguably better known for the controversy his theory continues to cause than for the success of his actual ideas. He’s also got a great look for a mountainside.
Newton is another obvious choice, as he’s simultaneously the first modern scientist and the last great alchemist. It’s almost impossible to overstate his contribution to modern science– the man had to invent a whole branch of mathematics to do what he wanted to do for physics. That’s pretty darn cool.
And then we come to the Teddy Roosevelt spot– the “one of these things is not like the others” icon. It’s really hard to come up with a fourth scientist who’s really in the same league as those three. Those guys loom so large over the scientific landscape that it’s like they’re already carved in stone.
As a physicist, I’d sort of like to see somebody up there associated with quantum theory– Einstein is, vaguely, but he eventually rejected the theory, so it’s hard to count him as a quantum physicist. The only one who really seems to have the necessary cachet, though, would be Feynman, and that would really be a Teddy Roosevelt pick. I mean, QED is a brilliant accomplishment, but he would be getting the vote as much for being a colorful guy as for doing science. And none of the other great figures of quantum theory– Bohr, Heisenberg, Schroedinger, Dirac– are people the average person could pick out of a line-up.
Alternatively, you could go old school, and pick somebody like Galileo. He’s sort of Newton Lite, though– same great historical importance, one third of the crazy mysticism. He might be the best choice of the available options, though. I’m not terribly enthusiastic about the choice, though.
(It would give a nice sort of parallel to the real Mt. Rushmore, though– two long-ago founding fathers, one sort of halfway back, and one relatively modern icon…)
I’ve got to be missing some really obvious choice, here (I’ve put a grand total of about ten mintues’ thought into this idea), but I’ll be damned if I can see who. That’s what the comments are for, though– nominations for a fourth iconic scientist to join the three above on a Mount Sciencemore are welcome. If we get enough, we can have a vote, and then we can start fund-raising and picking a site…