The Sciences

Einstein's 23 Biggest Mistakes

A new book explores the mistakes of the legendary genius.

By Discover StaffJan 19, 2008 6:00 PM

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The man with the big ideas wasn't so good with the details. In Einstein's Mistakes: The Human Failings of Genius (W.W. Norton, $24.95, excerpted below), Hans Ohanian writes that Albert often let his intuition overrule flawed proofs and shaky math. Maybe you'll feel a little better about your own flubs. 

Chronology of Einstein’s Mistakes

  1. 1905 Mistake in clock synchronization procedure on which Einstein based special relativity

  2. 1905 Failure to consider Michelson-Morley experiment

  3. 1905 Mistake in transverse mass of high-speed particles

  4. 1905 Multiple mistakes in the mathematics and physics used in calculation of viscosity of liquids, from which Einstein deduced size of molecules

  5. 1905 Mistakes in the relationship between thermal radiation and quanta of light

  6. 1905 Mistake in the first proof of E = mc2

  7. 1906 Mistakes in the second, third, and fourth proofs of E = mc2

  8. 1907 Mistake in the synchronization procedure for accelerated clocks

  9. 1907 Mistakes in the Principle of Equivalence of gravitation and acceleration

  10. 1911 Mistake in the first calculation of the bending of light

  11. 1913 Mistake in the first attempt at a theory of general relativity

  12. 1914 Mistake in the fifth proof of E = mc2

  13. 1915 Mistake in the Einstein-de Haas experiment

  14. 1915 Mistakes in several attempts at theories of general relativity

  15. 1916 Mistake in the interpretation of Mach’s principle

  16. 1917 Mistake in the introduction of the cosmological constant (the “biggest blunder”)

  17. 1919 Mistakes in two attempts to modify general relativity

  18. 1925 Mistakes and more mistakes in the attempts to formulate a unified theory

  19. 1927 Mistakes in discussions with Bohr on quantum uncertainties

  20. 1933 Mistakes in interpretation of quantum mechanics (Does God play dice?)

  21. 1934 Mistake in the sixth proof of E = mc2

  22. 1939 Mistake in the interpretation of the Schwarzschild singularity and gravitational collapse (the “black hole”)

  23. 1946 Mistake in the seventh proof of E = mc2

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