PCST Network

Public Communication of Science and Technology


Einstein vs. Newton
The historical influence of great scientists based on big data analysis


Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein are by far the most influential physicists. However,the debate surrounding who is more influential has been inconclusive for more than half a century. In 2005, the World Year of Physics, according to a poll conducted by the UK Royal Society, Isaac Newton was considered to have a greater influence on both science and humankind than Albert Einstein. However, the issue can now be settled quantitatively in the era of big data. This analysis, based on 36.5 million of historical books and 91.3 million of academic papers in history, shows that Einstein's historical influence may have already exceeded that of Newton since 1980 in public and since 1948 in academia. And the fact dramatically differs from UK to Germany where the two scientists were born. Einstein's main influence comes from his outstanding contributions to the theory of General Relativity and quantum physics, which lead to a new era in modern physics. Isaac Newton made a glorious peak in the 18th and 19th centuries but showed a 'long tail effect'in the 20th century, as the wheel of history is always moving forward with constantly emerging new developments and the gradual fading away of old things. The historical influence of individual indicates the contributions and footprints on human history and civilization, which is also the footprint of public understanding of great scientists in the history. Here we show a case study on Einstein and Newton to introduce a new evaluation method for judging a scientist's influence in the public by counting the frequency of the scientists' names appearing in historical archives. Our research method is based on the assumption that those who are often mentioned by the official media carriers can be regarded as the figures with great historical influence in the public.

A copy of the full paper has not yet been submitted.