Respected but Not Loved: Four Scientists Who Were Terrible People


By Amanda Ojeda

Thomas Alva Edison (February 11, 1847, October 18, 1931)

After building a chemistry lab in his mother’s basement, which ended explosively, both literally and metaphorically, Edison stopped inventing for the sake of inventing. Instead, he pursued projects from a business-like perspective, by pursuing whatever was more profitable and practical. This led to him refining other scientists’ ideas, thus giving him the reputation of being unoriginal. Despite this, that isn’t the reason he made this list.

In July 1888, an electrician named Harold Brown electrocuted a Newfoundland dog with alternating pulses of AC and DC current, emphasizing the dangers alternating current. The dog died after an alternating current pulse. Brown was ecstatic since he knew it was the result the person sponsoring this demonstration, and many other demonstrations with several types of animals, wanted. That person was Thomas Edison.

He was desperate to prove direct current was better than alternating current (the side Nikola Tesla supported). One of the more famous demonstrations has to be of Topsy the circus elephant, who died in 1903. Topsy alongside others were all victims of Edison’s electrocutions in the so-called “war of currents”.

Alexander Graham Bell (March 3, 1847, August 2, 1922)

Popularized by his invention of the first practical telephone, many do not know that Bell had a great interest in deaf education. He even opened up a school for the deaf. However, his intentions were not all that pure.

Bell was one of the earlier fans of the eugenics movement. This combined with his view of deafness as a curse (mind you his mother and wife were both hard of hearing), led to him forcing deaf students to learn only oral communication in his school. He also tried his best to stop the teaching of ASL in schools, which to an extent worked.

He strongly believed the deaf should stop proliferating their “variety” and influenced others to fear a world where they kept communicating in a language only they understood. Due to his efforts in eliminating ASL in schools, the National Association of the Deaf produced 18 films in the hopes of preserving sign language.

Erwin Schrodinger (August 12, 1887, January 4, 1961)

You may know him as the guy obsessed with an imaginary cat, an experiment made in 1935 that gave him the name of the “Father of Quantum Physics”. What you probably didn’t know was his mistreatment of women, and grooming of several young girls.

He kept “little black books” with lists of women whom he had affairs with, three of which resulted in offspring. One of his most notable affairs was with the wife of his assistant, Arthur March. A daughter was born from that affair, and March took her in as his own. However, Schrodinger and March’s wife fled to Ireland, where Schrodinger had many more affairs. He even dubbed himself as the “happiest man in Dublin, probably in Ireland, probably in Europe!

Despite all of this, the worst of his actions has to be his pursued “relationships” with young girls, whom he disgustingly referred to as his “unrequited loves”. Schrodinger worked as a tutor to twins Withi and Ithi Junger. Records show he was prone to fondling 14 year old Ithi while working on her math lessons. Three years later she was pregnant with Schrodinger’s child and was left sterile by the botched abortion of that pregnancy. Schrodinger himself later admitted to impregnating Ithi when she was 17, while he was in his mid-forties.

James D. Watson (April 6, 1928, Present)

Considered one of the founders of the helical structure of DNA, whether he should be credited to this name is a topic long debated. It is suspected he stole a photograph of DNA’s structure from Rosalind Franklin, although this is largely disputed. He, alongside others won a Nobel Prize for this discovery, while Franklin didn’t since posthumous awards weren’t allowed at the time.

Additionally, Watson has a long history of making very public racist, homophobic, and sexist comments. Most of which follow the lines of certain races being superior, and utilizing eugenics to make peoples (especially women) prettier. In 2003 he added, “People say it would be terrible if we made all girls pretty. I think it would be great.” In 2012 he stated, “I think having all these women around makes it more fun for the men but they’re probably less effective.” An only 4 years ago, he stated, “There’s a difference on the average between blacks and whites in IQ tests, I would say the difference is genetic.” I believe the quote’s speak for themselves.

Overall, this goes to show that just because someone has contributed much to a certain field, doesn’t mean we should glorify them as much as we typically do.