Albert Einstein and Marie Curie have been ignoring the haters since at least 1911. Image Credit: NobelPrize.org
In November 1911, Marie Skłodowska-Curie was weeks away from being awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. She received her first Nobel Prize in Physics in 1903, and the new award meant she was the first person ever to receive two awards. She remains the only person recognized in two different sciences. While everyone should have cared about her extraordinary work as a scientist, it seemed that many were preoccupied with her personal life.
Pierre Curie died in 1906, leaving Marie a widow. A few years later, she entered into a romantic relationship with physicist Paul Langevin, who had been a doctoral student of Pierre. Although Langevin was divorced from his wife, technically they were still married. The relationship caused trouble in Langevin’s house, but that was nothing compared to what was about to come into the public eye.
Curie, Langevin and about 20 other scientists were invited to an elite conference by invitation in Brussels in the fall of 1911. portrayed Curie as a vicious housebreaker.
If the mob continues to bother with you, just don’t read that nonsense, leave it to the reptile for whom it was made up.
Albert Einstein, November 23, 1911
When Curie returned to France after the conference, she was greeted by a mob that surrounded her home and terrified Curie’s daughters, who were then only 7 and 14 years old. Curie and her daughters moved in with a friend temporarily until the scandal subsided.
Albert Einstein – who was recently introduced to Curie at the conference in Brussels – was disgusted by the actions of the media, which prompted him to write this letter to his new friend:
“Dearly esteemed Ms. Curie,
Don’t laugh at me for writing to you without saying anything meaningful. But I’m so outraged at the vile way the public is currently daring to engage with you that I absolutely have to vent this feeling. I am sure, however, that you consistently despise this mob, whether it pays you submissive respect or tries to satisfy its lust for sensationalism!
I am obliged to tell you how much I have come to admire your intellect, your drive and your honesty, and that I consider myself fortunate to have met you personally in Brussels. Anyone who does not belong to these reptiles is certainly happy, as before, that we have among us such characters as you, and also Langevin, real people with whom you feel privileged to be in contact. If the mob continues to bother with you, just don’t read that nonsense, leave it to the reptile for whom it was made up.
Best regards to you, Langevin, and Perrin, best regards,
PS I have determined the statistical law of motion of the diatomic molecule in Planck’s radiation field by means of a comical wit, provided, of course, that the motion of the structure follows the laws of standard mechanics. However, my hopes that this law will be valid in reality are very small.”
– Albert Einstein, Nov. 23, 1911.
Translation: Haters are going to hate. Don’t read the comments.
(Sidenote: “Perrin” refers to Jean Perrin, a family friend of the Curies and Langevins, who defended Curie in the aftermath)
This letter to Curie was discovered by astrobiologist David Grinspoonwho reviewed Einstein’s thousands of papers recently made available online by the Princeton University Press.
An original version of this article was published on IFLScience in December 2017.