It appears that getting your name attached to something early on and somehow keeping your name attached to it is the easy road to fame, perhaps fortune, and maybe even a Nobel Prize. Fame and fortune seem to go together. It turns out that early on Peter Higgs wasn’t the only person associated with the boson, and other people may have contributed to it just as much as he did, but he did write one of the early papers in which he postulated where there was a big hole in the sub-atomic theory of the time, and essentially said there was an undiscovered particle that fit that hole. It is only now, some four decades later, that the hole was filled with experimental data, and it proved to fit remarkably well the earlier speculations. But my point is that the fame coalesces around the person who gets his name publicly associated with it.
Fame is the kind of thing the Hollywood people are aware of, and they know the famous person gets 99% of the kudos and the money. Even a lot of scientists know that, and so there is a terrific struggle to gain priority for an idea. Another classic example of grabbing fame is Charles Darwin, who was the popularizer of Alfred Russel Wallace‘s idea of evolution based on the survival and propagation of the fittest members of a species. It was an obvious idea, after the fact, which Darwin supporters claim Darwin knew all along. Darwin had collected a massive amount of data, but he didn’t have any better idea of what powered evolution than his grandfather Erasmus Darwin. Unfortunately, the Darwin supporters have less evidence for their claim that Darwin discovered evolutionary theory than the Fox sisters did for their claim to be communicating with dead people’s ghostly spirits. They at least had the ghosts rapping answers (with their toes) to their audiences’ questions. Wallace did go to the trouble of trying to verify the Spiritualist claims, and even the Scientific American was publishing articles on Spiritualism until it was demonstrated, in all carefully controlled cases, to be hoaxed data. It seems foolish research, and yet it was reported last year in the Gallup Poll that 78% of people believe in angels, devils and life after death. Another Gallup Poll found only 15% of Americans believe that “Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God had no part in this process”. This is a disturbing observation as we live in a democracy where 51% of popular vote directs the government.
Wallace’s letter to Darwin explaining evolution was crystal clear and exactly right for the data available at the time. Darwin admitted in the introduction to his book Origin of Species, that his was a rush to publication to beat out Wallace. It’s another example of winner take all, in the realm of credit for intellectual ideas. There are probably millions of examples, but the basic idea, and a suggestion to the young person seeking fame and fortune:
Get famous early in your career, for doing something publicly.