Lost in Einstein’s Shadow

Tony Rothman in American Scientist:

NewyorkThe central fixture of Einstein lore is that the lowly patent clerk conjured from pure thought not only his theories but also the questions they answered. Not quite: Einstein himself helped foster this myth (more through carelessness than design, one suspects) by being less than fastidious about providing references in his papers, and since then credulous scientists have equated absence of evidence with evidence of absence. Physicists are notorious for taking history on faith, but none is required to prove this point—the evidence is in plain sight if one cares to look. The papers of Einstein and his contemporaries, as well as Einstein’s letters, are published. Anyone who reads them quickly realizes that Einstein had a very good sense of the currents of science swirling about him and once or twice relied on the insights of colleagues.

More here.