Highlights From The Comments On Great Families

...

Thanks to everyone who commented on last week’s post Secrets Of The Great Families. Some highlights:


Many people knew of interesting families I’d missed. Stephen Frug brings up the Jameses:

Any short list of the great families (or at least the great American families) should include the James's: Henry James is one of the perennial candidates for the greatest American novelist, and his brother William James is one of the perennial candidates for the greatest American philosopher. Their sister Alice James got a posthumous reputation as a diarist. (There were two other brothers who never became famous. Their father, Henry James Sr., had some reputation as a theologian, although not in the Henry (Jr)/William James league.

Kalimac writes:

Another member of the Darwin family who achieved fame in a different area was the composer Ralph Vaughan Williams, who was on a slightly different branch but was 4 generations down from both Erasmus Darwin and Josiah Wedgwood.

Watch out, too, for other cases where the surnames differ. I like to offer the story of Stanley Baldwin, Prime Minister and a leading figure in British politics in the 1920s and 30s. He had a particular ability to deliver powerful and effective speeches, which is perhaps partly explained by some of them having been written for him by his cousin, whose name was Rudyard Kipling.

Phi writes:

Also: John Baez (mathematical physicist), Albert Baez (physicist, co-inventor of X-ray microscope) and Joan Baez (folk musician).

John Baez is Joan Baez’s cousin?! Somehow I had never made that connection.

Greg writes:

A couple more families to ponder: The Wojcicki sisters, with Janet a professor at UCSF, Susan the CEO of YouTube, and Anne the founder of 23andme.

Also the Emanuels, with Rahm former chief of staff to Obama, Ari the founder of the Endeavor talent agency (they own UFC now, among other things), and Ezekiel, an oncologist and academic.

The Wojcickis had the unfair advantage that Google was founded in their garage, which gave them some pretty great networking opportunities. For the record, the sisters’ father is a Stanford physicist, and their mother is an educator who has leveraged her childrens’ fame into a book How To Raise Successful People. Not gonna lie, I’m pretty tempted to read this.

KailorTheDestroyer from the subreddit writes:

Juneau, Alaska is named after the gold miner, Joe Juneau. His [cousin] Solomon Juneau founded Milwaukee Wisconsin.

Dave92f1 writes:

Bernoulii family! Just some of them (hacked from Wikipedia):

Jacob Bernoulli (1654–1705) mathematician after whom Bernoulli numbers are named

Johann Bernoulli (1667–1748), mathematician and early adopter of infinitesimal calculus

Nicolaus I Bernoulli (1687–1759) mathematician - curves, differential equations, probability

Daniel Bernoulli (1700–1782) "Bernoulli's principle' [which explains how planes fly] [and] originator of the concept of expected utility

Johann II Bernoulli (1710–1790) mathematician and physicist

Johann III Bernoulli (1744–1807) astronomer, geographer and mathematician

Jacob II Bernoulli (1759–1789) physicist and mathematician

Kenny Easwaran writes:

Just thinking of Nobel prizes, there are two more relevant families to consider:

Jan Tinbergen won the first Nobel prize in Economics in 1969, and his brother Niko Tinbergen won the Nobel in medicine in 1973. (Both of them working on topics relevant to this blog, about individual and group behavior in economics and ecology.) Their brother Luuk Tinbergen committed suicide at a somewhat young age, but had two children that are both moderately prominent ecologists.

Another relevant family that doesn't have the heredity explanation - Gunnar Myrdal won the Economics Nobel in 1974 (partly for work that influenced the US Supreme Court in Brown v Board of Education), and his wife Alva Myrdal won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1982 (the only married couple to win separate Nobels). Their daughter, Sissela, is a moderately known philosopher, who married the President of Harvard, Derek Bok. Their daughter Hilary Bok is another philosopher, who also had a bit of fame with the political blog Obsidian Wings a decade or so ago.

Rand writes:

Moses Mendelssohn was a philosopher called the "father of the Haskala" or Jewish enlightenment. I don't know how impressive he was as a philosopher, but he did beat out Kant for a big philosophy prize. Also, Kant was quoted as saying "Mendelssohn is an awesome-cool philosopher".

Moses' son Abraham doesn't seem to have done anything impressive except become very rich and host parties where all the cool people would hang out and Felix and Fanny Mendelssohn would play music.

Felix Mendelssohn was a legendary pianist and composer.

Fanny Mendelssohn was an extraordinary pianist and composer but also a woman: She was discouraged from devoting her energies to music and largely published under her brother's name.

Rebecka Mendelssohn may or may not have been a cool person, but she married Dirichlet, which is pretty cool. Dirichlet was very smart and very cool.

Nirvana writes:

The only two Indian physicists to win a Nobel Prize (CV Raman and Subrahmanian Chandrasekhar) came from the same family (Raman was Chandrasekhar's paternal uncle)

The Chaostician writes:

There's really weird families, like the Hintons. James was a surgeon and prominent advocate for polygamy. His son Charles was a mathematician who worked on intuitive understanding of higher dimensions. He coined the term "tesseract", he was a polygamist, his first wife was the daughter of Boole, and he invented the first automatic baseball pitching machine (using gunpowder). His son Sebastian invented the jungle gym. I don't know if this is a selection for excellence, but it's certainly a selection for something.

And just when you thought that story couldn’t get any more interesting (h/t Peter Lund):

One of Charles [Hinton]'s descendants is Geoffrey Hinton who won a Turing Award a couple of years ago. He is also a descendant of George Boole and George Everest (Surveyor General of India) after whom the mountain is named. He is not descended from the jungle gym guy. The jungle gym guy had two crazy Communist children who were big fans of Mao.

LowHangingFruit writes:

A good recent example is Larry Summers who is nephew to Kenneth Arrow and Paul Samuelson who both won Nobel Memorial prizes in Economics. Also Janet Yellen's husband just so happens to have one a Nobel Memorial prize in Economics as well.

He’s…both of their nephews? Apparently yes - Paul on his father’s side and Kenneth on his mother’s! Man, Ashkenazi Jews are great.


Mark Roulo writes:

I don't know how to do the math, but I'd expect SOME clustering just by chance. Anyone want to take a crack at calculating the odds for "eminence clustering" by chance alone?

Many people had this objection; I don’t think it stands.

Seven parent-child pairs have won Nobel Prizes, a nice well-defined metric of extreme success. About a thousand Nobel Prizes total have been awarded in history, so about 1% of Nobelists were the child of a previous Nobelist.

I’m guessing about 10 billion people total have lived since the first Nobel was given out in 1901, so only 1/10 million people should have a Nobel-winning parent by chance (yes, there are many reasons this estimate is slightly off, but it’s order of magnitude correct). So Nobelists are about 100,000x more likely to have a Nobel-winning parent than the average person.

But First Worlders and rich people are more likely to win Nobels than Somalian peasants, so maybe the real denominator is the ~10% of the population in the First World. In that case it’s only 1/10,000x more likely than chance. You can multiply further if you have stronger opinions about the class background of Nobelists, but it’s pretty clear you’re not going to make this nonsignificant.

Another way of thinking about this is: the Huxley brothers (Aldous, Julian, and Andrew) are such a great example that I probably would have included them even if they’d had no other interesting relatives, so they’re hardly cherry-picked. But in fact, there are two more famous Huxleys: Thomas Huxley (two generations away) and Matthew Arnold (also two generations away). Suppose that there are about 100 people who are at most two generations away from Aldous on the Huxley family tree. Should we expect by chance that they include two famous geniuses? I think that’s a lot even for upper-class Victorian Britain.

interstitial_love has a different version of the calculation, based on thinking of an extended family as a hundred person cluster:

There are 7 billion people, but only about 1000 Nobel winners. Moreover, a cluster with 3 Nobel laureates is the same as a cluster centered around one Nobel laureate with two more laureates in the fringes.

Think of it this way: if such a 3-prize cluster exists, then the third person to win the Nobel in the cluster would have known what was happening, he might have remarked about it at his acceptance speech. But only 1000 such speeches have ever been given, and we can calculate the probability that anyone given winner would find themselves in that situation.

Let p be the chance of any random person being a laureate, and assume for the null hypothesis that they are independently distributed. Someone above said p was 1 in 20 million. Then the chance that a group of 100 people has two nobel lareates exactly is (100 choose 2) x p^2 x (1-p)^98 which is less than 5000 / (2x10^7)^2 = one-in-80 billion. The missing p^3 (1-p)^97 etc terms are negligible, even including the growth of the choose function.

That means the chance of a three person cluster ever existing is about 1 in 80 million

But bitterrootmtg writes:

I think this number becomes much more reasonable if we make just a few weak assumptions about environmental effects.

Let’s assume that being related to a Nobel winner confers the following benefits (and no others):

  1. You come from a family and culture that values education, so your odds of getting at least a bachelors degree are 75%. (Worldwide only about 6.7% of people have a bachelors.)

  2. You know your relative won a Nobel, so you are 25x more likely to go into their field than the average person.

  3. In your relative’s field you have some name recognition, meaning you are twice as likely to get opportunities to work on cutting edge research.

These effects don’t require any genetic heritability nor do they require any particularly strong environmental effects - you don’t even need to have met your Nobel-winning relative for these assumptions to be true.

I don’t have exact numbers but I think these almost-trivial assumptions could easily change the odds of winning a Nobel by a couple orders of magnitude. If you multiply the above three factors they imply you are something like 550x more likely than the average person to win a Nobel. So your odds shift from from 1 in 20 million to something on the order of 1 in 100k.

If we re-run your numbers assuming 1 in 100k odds of a Nobel, the chances of a three-prize family cluster are something like 1 in 20 (actually I think it’s 1 in 2000, sorry, trying to do this in my head).

So I think your analysis refutes the idea that it’s pure chance (which I don’t believe anyway) but it doesn’t refute the possibility that it’s chance plus weak environmental effects.

If genes have a really strong effect on top of this, now we have the opposite problem of explaining why these clusters aren’t more common.

I also still think we have P-hacking going on in the experimental design that is partly obfuscating the results. We didn’t pre-register anything. The criteria “family with three Nobel prizes” is something we arrived at post-hoc after observing that such a family exists in the data set.

While I assume this math is correct, it still only shows that there is a 1/2000 chance of an extended family with three Nobels existing by chance.

I agree it’s awkward that we can only do these calculations well with Nobels (and maybe Olympic medalists?). A really rigorous attempt at this would try to find some way of quantifying extreme but not Nobel-level talent. Maybe Google Trends volume or number of hits on their Wikipedia page? With some kind of scaling factor based on recency or being in fields that tend to get lots of searches and Wikipedia hits?


Lots of people had interesting examples from sports. Apparently the Bohrs weren’t the only family to produce both great scientists and Olympians. Yeangster notes that Susan Francia, two time Olympic gold medal winner in rowing, is the daughter of Katalin Kariko, inventor of mRNA vaccines. GeriatricZergling writes:

I've mentioned this before here and on the Motte, but there is a concept gaining headway in organismal biology called "individual quality" in which, for some as yet unknown reason (mutational load, developmental stability, maternal yolk provisions, etc.), some individuals are simply better at basically everything.

If I have a bunch of animals and I'm testing locomotion performance, certain individuals will always be consistently better than their peer - better top speed, better acceleration, better endurance, better maneuverability, etc., even though some of these should be conflicting (speed and endurance, due to muscle fiber types). But if you normalize means and standard deviations (so one variable doesn't dominate just by having big numbers) and do a PCA, your first axis will be "individual quality", and on the next, orthogonal axis, you'll see the expected tradeoffs between speed and endurance, etc. It's new, but it's replicated across several very different species, including human athletes.

For more on this topic, see Individual Quality: Tautology Or Biological Reality? by the ominously named Bergeron et al. Getting back to sports, PeopleHaveSaid writes:

I feel like Mike Piazza is relevant here. He was drafted 1,390th out of community college as a favor to a family member, and ultimately became a HoF player. He was then moved to a new position and sent to a special training camp to learn it, before reaching the majors, where he broke out into an all time great.

While you could point to that as "genetic" evidence, it also points to how a young player with connections gets the kind of attention and opportunity that most community college players would never get.

How many Mike Piazzas without a family connection didn't get drafted out of college, shrugged their shoulders, and got a real job rather than get the opportunity to benefit from the professional training (and steroids) that turned Piazza into a star as an adult?

Speaking personally, I peaked athletically much later than most of my peers, in my late 20s. This meant that at all the times that relevant athletic selections to get to the "next level" were occurring (make the high school team in whatever sport, get a college offer, do well in college and go pro) I was an uncoordinated weak doofus who never got a second glance. Family connections often get you through those early selection phases automatically, allowing late bloomers like Mike Piazza the opportunity to show their abilities.

Steve Sailer has an interesting way to put all these Victorian geniuses in context:

Darwin and Galton were a little bit like their contemporaries in the English-speaking countries who invented most of today's major spectator sports, in that the time was right.

One of the 19th Century sports inventors, James Naismith is individually famous. But it's worth noting that Naismith's friend William George Morgan then promptly invented volleyball as a less strenuous alternative to Naismith's new basketball, so it was less that Naismith was a unique creative genius and more that the time was right for new sports.

Most of the other major sports were invented out of ancient ballgames when railroads allowed teams to travel, which required nationally-agreed upon rules. But the railroads allowed players and coaches to get together after each seasons in conventions and hash out new rules.

The English-speaking countries had more railroads and perhaps cultural advantages so they worked out most of the sports first.

He adds:

The Darwins also include a minor genius, Charles' favorite grandson Bernard Darwin, the most famous golf sportswriter ever.

I’d come across him, but dismissed him as one of the family’s rare non-geniuses, since “golf writer” sounds less impressive than “discovered the origin and driving force behind life itself”. Still, if he’s widely considered the best golf sportswriter ever, I guess I have to add him in. Take that, people who said I was just cherry-picking!


Some people got in a fight about whether Darwin was really that great. Charlie Sanders of Charlie’s Newsletter, writes:

Charles Darwin was an elite, lazy malcontent who got stuck on a world-spanning ship tour because he was from a rich family who needed to give him something to do to keep him busy. He was notably not even brought along on the HMS Beagle in a scientific capacity — he was just there so that the ship's other elite passengers would have someone to talk to. He wrote some personal notes about wildlife during his trip, but failed to publish anything of note for decades afterwards and faded into obscurity.

Alfred Russel Wallace, a commoner, did actual thorough legwork to prove the theory of evolution through natural selection. Upon realizing that a commoner might get credit for this theory, Darwin's elite friends cajoled him into writing up something that they could present as a finding alongside Wallace's. The elites then trumped up Darwin's involvement in the discovery of natural selection.

In the end, the elites won. Darwin gets remembered as a visionary genius, and bloggers now misinterpret his achievement as a result of anything other than being born an elite in a society that existed to intentionally propagate the supposed superiority of the elites over the commoners.

I'd venture to guess that status, rather than IQ, is a much better explanation for the phenomenon that Scott has identified.

Source: spent time in the Galapagos talking to naturalists who have spent considerable time studying Darwin's life.

But Phil Getz, in Darwin’s defense, elsewhere in the comments:

IQ may not be the right construct to describe his genius, but he was brilliant in every scientific activity he turned his attention to. His greatest gifts were his humility, objectivity, and his unique ability, maybe unparalleled in history, to anticipate unforeseen consequences of his ideas, and find solutions to those next-generation problems, before anybody else could even conceive of the initial ideas.

Re. humility, this was a man who, while he was the talk of the entire world, spent the last years of his life studying earthworms, while being ridiculed for it by inferior scientists who would rather study "nobler" beasts. And this was in fact important work, though you rarely hear about it.

Re. objectivity, I can't recall a single instance where Darwin was wrong about something and didn't write explicitly that he might be wrong about it.

Re. foreseeing consequences, on issues like sexual selection, group selection, and the evolution of emotional expression, I think Darwin's first consideration of the topic, done before other people even understood evolution, got further on the problem than the rest of the research community combined would have in a century. Darwin has many paragraphs in his writings that are worth a Nobel prize by themselves.

A role model for us all!


SBF writes:

You're not taking all successful people at random, you're selecting for people who have successful families -- so you're probably selecting for people who don't just have high IQ, but for whom it's highly genetic/inheritable rather than random factors.

This is true! All my regression-to-the-mean calculations were wrong because of selection bias - since we’re looking specifically at geniuses who we know had talented families, we should assume their intelligence was more genetic than average.


Lots of people from high-achieving families offered their stories and advice. Toxn wrote:

I come from a relatively successful/academic family, and the biggest social contributions to my success have been:

1) That my parents were well-resourced enough and supportive enough so that myself and my siblings got to try out anything that we fancied in the full expectation that we could do it well if we tried (our family motto is that we can do anything); and

2) That my family's knowledge and connections opened doors in all sorts of unexpected places and provided advantages in all sorts of unexpected ways. At the place where I went to study a degree, my great-grandfather's photo was literally on the wall outside my future supervisor's office. People are vastly more supportive of someone that they have a connection to (however tenuous), and I've been privileged (in all senses of the word) to enjoy patient and kind tutoring by others that helped me grasp more closely to my full potential.

Ksdale:

Both of my parents were CPA's, and when I was 19, I was skeptical that someone my age wouldn't know what e.g. depreciation was. I learned a ton about accounting and taxes *purely* through the casual conversations in my house, without my parents trying to teach me anything about the profession. They made a point not to push me into the "family" profession, and I ended up there anyway just because I knew so much more about it than anything else.

Robot Elvis:

I come from a "moderately great family" (one Nobel prize, one famous politician, one founder of well known movement, other minor notables), and I'm very aware of a social expectation in my family that normal goals like "having a good career" or "making a lot of money" aren't really acceptable. Success means doing something novel and important.

The flip-side of this is that it can be really emotionally hard when I feel I'm not on a potential path to greatness, and I think it's been hard on other family members who haven't met expectations.

I can also see the connection to sports. I got good enough at a sport that a coach wanted me to go for the olympics, but I did it by wrecking my body. I don't think I'm particularly physically gifted, but I was maybe more willing to tear myself apart in pursuit of something that looked like possible greatness.

Sofia Echegaray writes:

A few generations back, my family had 3 siblings that were a Nobel prize winner, a successful playwright, and another lesser-known published writer (but she was a woman in the 19th century, so also extraordinary for her time and place). I can agree with the "assortative mating" hypothesis -- the wives chosen in the subsequent century were women of science, or Fulbright scholars, that sort of thing.

So I think the intellectual capacity traveled down the line. However, the money did Not travel down, and honestly that level of accomplishment is nearly impossible without a certain level of extended material abundance. For most of human history, most geniuses have spent their genius just in trying not to starve to death, and maybe improve things a little bit for the next generation. So privilege is a huge part, I would say the larger part.

Patri Friedman writes:

Well, I started looking for moonshots as soon as I graduated college. I spent 5 years researching and experimenting to find a huge unsolved problem I cared about, thought I could get traction on, and would enjoy tackling. When I found one I worked on it on and off for 20 years, only reaching gainful employment in the last 2.

So I’m definitely quite high on “obsessed with investing towards a shot at absurd success” scale. And I would directly trace it to having a famous family (though the experience was much more nuanced, and darker, than the Hero).

Maybe I would have met the right people and absorbed it over time. I think it matches my personality and values. But in most circumstances I’m sure ambition would have been much slower to develop, and much more reasonable, like “Start a unicorn company”.

So, one data point supporting Scott’s hypo about a family effect.

Carl Pham writes:

I find it curious that you left out gumption, tenacity, drive, whatever you want to call it. I've known personally about a number of Nobel laureates, mostly in physics, and when you compare them to people who don't make it nearly as far *that* is what stands out above all. They're smart, sure, and some are smarter than others, but more than anything they're driven, tenacious, energetic. They never give up, they chip away and work at where they want to go far past the point where ordinary mortals turn around in defeat. "Can't get there from here. No Thoroughfare. Not the way it's done. This will never work." The people who reach the heights, at least in science, and I kind of suspect in many other fields, are the people who pay no attention to such signs.

And (1) I suspect this *is* the kind of thing that can be strongly influenced by family culture, and (2) if it's a major component of success it would explain a slower regression to the mean than pure stats would suggest. It also (3) helps explain why it seems more common that the offspring of really *creative* people in science, math, music composition end up making their mark in fields -- like politics, music performance, or sports -- where energy and discipline can compensate to some degree for less raw talent.

I think at the highest levels - where you’re winning a Nobel or becoming President or something - to a first approximation you have to do everything right. You have to be brilliant and have a lot of drive and get very lucky and receive the best education. Otherwise, someone who has 4/4 of those things will beat you. It’s not like there’s any shortage of those people, so why should anyone else ever win Nobels? Maybe if you’re a once-in-a-generation outlier on one of those things you’ll do okay with 3/4, but otherwise Nobels are so selective that you can’t just leave desirable character traits on the ground.


Some other people from less achieving families shared their perspectives too. FLWAB writes:

I think the Hero License may have a strong effect here: when I was picking a college to attend it never occurred to me to apply to Harvard, or Yale, or any prestigious college. Perhaps I wouldn't have been able to get in regardless (having never aimed for an Ivy, my extracurriculars were almost non-existent), but I didn't dismiss them because I thought I couldn't make it. I was one of the smartest kids at my high school, and I was a National Merit Scholar (the letter they sent me claimed I was in the 99th percentile of students my age nationwide, but beats me if that's accurate or impressive). I didn't even know that it was particularly hard to get into an Ivy because it wasn't anywhere on my radar in the first place. After I had already graduated and entered the job market I realized for the first time that for some people getting into an Ivy is a big deal, and that job prospect wise it really is a big deal (when I first learned that every Supreme Court justice attended Yale or Harvard I was genuinely surprised).

Interesting story, though in some ways it seems less like hero licensing than communicating basic information, the same way rich parents teach their kids to invest in stocks and poor parents don’t. I have a friend who grew up poor and got some money. When we told her to put it in stocks, she reacted the same way I’d react if you told me to put my money in a secret Swiss bank: I know it’s a thing rich people do, it must have some advantage or they wouldn’t keep doing it, but I never even considered doing it myself. It sounds like that’s how you thought about going to an Ivy (and how some people probably think about going to college!)

Arbituram writes:

It's only very recently in my life (I'm in my 30s) that the idea of trying to accomplish something beyond being moderately comfortable even occurred to me as a real possibility, and that's been as a result of a few lucky breaks with regards to career and mentorship, and just raw exposure to ambitious/successful people.

My family is peasants all the way back (my sister was the first person in my extended family to get a degree) and I grew up in a small town; the most aspirational option available growing up was doctor, which vaguely seemed like the thing the smart kids were doing a few years ahead of me.

One element which you highlight well here, and which I think is often misunderstood, isn't that I despaired of being able to attend [top educational institution] or [achieve career milestone] - these things literally just didn't occur to me as an option I could even try and fail at.

Also:

I thought office hours were for asking questions about the material (the textbooks and/or the internet were perfectly clear, so I didn't), and only realised towards the end that more switched-on students were using it to line up research opportunities, which an academic family would have obviously known (on the other hand, I'm personally thankful I didn't go into academia, so maybe it worked out...)

I didn’t know this until just now! So, uh, PSA to anyone reading this who wants a job in academia, I guess.


Unrelated to anything else, but Phil Getz again:

One reason that a single person rarely accomplishes anything important anymore in science is the adoption of Karl Popper's structure for research papers. He insisted, because of his fondness for good-old rationalist metaphysics, that the essence of science is rational theory, not experimentation. He dwells on this with a fanatic obsessiveness in "The Myth of the Framework". It's the only subject I know on which Popper held an obviously stupid and ideological opinion: that scientific work never, ever, EVER begins with observation. Odd, since he understood (from comparing science with philosophy) the necessity of experiment.

Anyway, Popper proposed today's research article format, which begins with a statement of some theoretical problem, does a lit survey of the problem, states a hypothesis, posits an experiment to test a hypothesis, comes up with an experimental setup and methodology, runs the experiment, draws a conclusion, and lists new theoretical problems the results have suggested. This format begins and ends in theory, thus maintaining the supremacy of theory over experiment.

The trouble is that this isn't how science worked, back when it worked. One person would notice something funny--not necessarily a theoretical problem; often a pure disinterested observation of just the type Popper claims is impossible, such as when Robert Brown published a paper basically saying "Microscopic particles in my tea keep jostling around as if they were alive". Another person might propose a hypothesis, as when Einstein proposed that this Brownian motion resulted from the random movements of atoms. Then a third person might propose a test, and a fourth might conduct the proposed experiment and report the results. This entire process sometimes took a century or more.

You're not allowed to do that today. If you notice something funny, you can't just write a note to the Royal Society describing it. You've got to find a theorist to come up with a theory, and experimentalists to devise and carry out a test, and a statistician to evaluate the test; and you have to do the whole process before you can publish anything.

(To be fair, Popper wrote that scientists should be allowed to write things up however they liked, and he was just proposing one possible way. Unfortunately, most humans for some reason find it impossible to imagine that there could be two different right ways of doing anything. I blame Socrates for this.)

At most institutions and companies, you have to round all these people up before you make your observation! Then you all write up a proposal saying what you plan to discover and how you'll discover it, along with your bioethics review, environmental impact statement, and diversity plan, and submit it to a government agency's grant solicitation. Then you wait 4 months to hear back from them. Then, if you get an award, you wait another 3 months for the kickoff meeting, at which you discover the contracting officer who gave you the reward has been transferred, and you now work with a contracting officer who isn't interested in your project and wants you to do something else.


And some odds and ends:

Bill from Glendale writes:

Gavin Newsom with Darwin, the Curies, et al.???????????

I know it’s a stretch. But I visit SF all the time and am constantly confronted by Newsom and Newsom buildings, so the fact that the governor has the same last name as these famous 19th-century people is pretty salient!

Ben Landau-Taylor:

Historical nitpick: Erasmus Darwin was not the founder of the Lunar Society, although he was a key member. The Lunar Society was very informal and didn't really have a single founder, but if I *had* to pick one, it would probably be William Small, or maybe Matthew Boulton. (I'm basing this claim on having read several books worth of the correspondence of Boulton and Watt, who were both Lunar Society members.)

And Philo of MD&A writes:

Niels Bohr was a goalkeeper on the same top club team (AB) as his brother but left after a season:

"According to AB, in a match against the German side Mittweida, one of the Germans launched a long shot and the physicist leaning against the post did not react, missing an easy save. After the game he admitted to his team-mates his thoughts had been on a mathematical problem that was of more interest to him than the game. He only played for the 1905 season."