Here’s what Newton himself said in a letter to Halley:

*Now is not this very fine? Mathematicians that find out, settle & do all the business must content themselves with being nothing but dry calculators & drudges & another that does nothing but pretend & grasp at all things must carry away all the invention as well of those that were to follow him as of those that went before.*

Newton here complains that Hooke claims credit for the idea (“invention”) of the inverse square law, but what really counts is his (Newton’s) proof of the connection with elliptical orbits.

The idea of the ISL was certainly “in the air”, and had been (as Thony writes) for 80 years. (Actually Gal has traced it back to Nicolas Cusanus, though not for gravity.) But showing that it was implied by Kepler’s first law, that only Newton accomplished.

A universal law of gravity is another thing, but here again the math matters, and only Newton made the grade. The apple-moon calculation only makes sense if you assume that the force on the apple is *the same* as if all the mass of the earth were concentrated at its center. But if every particle of the earth *independently* attracts the apple, this is far from obvious!

Let me propose an analogy. Lots of people have suggested that spacetime isn’t really continuous (as assumed in all our mainstream theories, including string theory). And the idea is that *somehow* this will resolve all manner of current difficulties: the self-energy problem, unification of GR and QM, maybe dark energy… The idea is “in the air”. But nobody’s been able to do anything with it compelling general assent. Just imagine someone writes a paper (or a book) that lays out a theory of discrete spacetime, and *proves* that it really does resolve all these difficulties. And makes predictions that are experimentally verified in a couple of decades.

Who gets the credit?

]]>Weiner was definitely playing up the “woman mathematician as a novelty angle”, though in his defense, he was writing to try and get funding for her position in the States after the Nazi’s came to power, and that was probably a more effective sales-pitch than discoursing on non-abelian groups or whatever.

As to the general point of characterizing her as a *woman* mathematician, I think it can be read in two ways. In a negative “pretty good…for a girl” sense, or a positive “despite the strong 19th century social disincentives to woman in intellectual fields, Noether rose to the top rank of mathematicians”. I imagine the RS meant it in the latter sense, but they could’ve been clearer (and not mangled the sense of the Einstein quote).

]]>“In the judgment of the most competent living mathematicians, Fräulein Noether was the most significant creative mathematical genius thus far produced since the higher education of women began.”

Reads to me as “She’s brilliant, male or female, and we wouldn’t have had her without giving women higher education.”

]]>Indeed, there’s your post title: “Can we please stop quoting Albert on Emmy, it’s demeaning?”

If what you actually meant was “can we please *accurately* quote Albert on Emmy, then you have the wrong title 🙂

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