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Topic: This Week's Finds in Mathematical Physics (Week 112)
Replies: 9   Last Post: Nov 29, 1997 6:06 PM

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John F Harper

Posts: 214
Registered: 12/3/04
Re: most famous codiscoverer gets credit (Matthew Effect) [was: This Week's Finds in Mathematical Physics (Week 112)]
Posted: Nov 27, 1997 7:51 PM
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In article <y8zoh36n2z1.fsf_-_@berne.ai.mit.edu>,
Bill Dubuque <wgd@berne.ai.mit.edu> wrote:

>Also keep in mind the Matthew Effect, which says that attribution
>tends towards the most famous of codiscoverers


Sometimes attribution goes to the more effective exploiter of the
result, irrespective of fame. The classic example is Stokes's Theorem,
discovered by Kelvin: K was probably more famous than S.
K told S about the theorem but seems to have thought of it purely as an
exercise in calculus. Four years later, when K had still not published
it (!), S needed a question for an exam he was about to set (I think M
axwell was one of the students: he would presumably have been up to
proving the theorem having never seen it before), and it was S who
realised that curl v was a useful vector function of position if v was.
When I teach vector analysis I tell this story: it must be non-obvious
if K and S failed to see the use of "Stokes's" theorem for four years.

John Harper School of Math+Comp Sci Victoria Univ Wellington New Zealand
john.harper@vuw.ac.nz phone (+64)(4)471 5341 fax (+64)(4)495 5045







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