Skepchick Quickies 5.22


Amanda works in healthcare, is a loudmouthed feminist, and proud supporter of the Oxford comma.

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  1. I find it hilarious that geeks grovel at the feet of Nikola Tesla and view Thomas Edison as an evil usurper that stole everything he was ever credited with inventing, while at the same time worshipping Steve Jobs who did EXACTLY WHAT EDISON DID!

    Tesla was no doubt a talented man but he was beyond unfocused, to the point that if others hadn’t followed up on his ideas they would be lost to history. He did not get the rewards he deserved but he also was not the victim that he often painted as.

    1. Except that I hate Steve Jobs, Apple and all they represent; ditto with Bill Gates, Steve Ballmer and Microsoft. For the exact same reason I hate Edison.

      I do agree that Tesla was no god, though. But Edison surely was a devil.

      1. I find it hard to hate Bill Gates, knowing just how much good he’s done in this world, by eradicating (literally!) disease in third-world countries and giving 34+ BILLION dollars (half of his current net-worth) away, which is the only reason he’s the *second* richest man in the world instead of the first.

        Regardless of how you feel about his business/corporate practices (and they are all really the same when it comes right down to it), he’s done a lot of damn good in this world.

          1. Yeah, I get that, but I still feel like the good they’ve done far outweighs any bad. The thing is, private companies are the ones that tend to do this sort of stuff, not governments. It’s just the way it is. Makes for an imperfect system.

            But he’s one of those rare rich guys that doesn’t just toss his money to a few charities and call it good. He and his wife actually work with his charities. I have mad respect for that.

  2. It’s almost like history is too complex to express clearly and unbiasedly in either a short comic or a two-page article. Whodathunkit?

  3. It is true that Edison didn’t pay Tesla for his work (which would be cause for outrage these days), kept patents that his employees should have kept, and electrocuted animals to make an opponent look bad. I don’t recall Jobs ever killing animals to make Microsoft look bad.

    Edison tried to destroy Westinghouse through politics, and I will never respect him because of how he handled that whole situation. http://blogs.smithsonianmag.com/history/2011/10/edison-vs-westinghouse-a-shocking-rivalry/

    Was Tesla a god? No, but he was certainly a genius and didn’t deserve the shitty treatment he got. If there was someone like him today, I would hope it’s much less likely they’d end up dying alone and penniless, unless they wasted their money on their own.

    Someone else also linked The Oatmeal’s response above, which I think has some good points as well.

    1. Nobody is asking you to respect Edison, from all accounts he was a jerkass businessman (imagine that), but please don’t perpetuate the myths about the history between these two men.

      *Edison didn’t pay Tesla a promised $50,000. – According to Tesla since this was never documented, doesn’t make it true or false but simply unknown, but yet it is seen as absolutely true.

      *Edison kept patents for things his employees invented. – Yeah, right or wrong this is SOP even today, some have even gone so far as to become patenet trolls. I agree that inventors should get better recognition but I’m not sure how a company would rationalize spending any money on R&D if the resultant patents would be awarded to their employees, it’s not an easy answer.

      *Edison electrocuted animals to discredit his competitors. – Yep, he did that. Like I said, jerkass. (I’m not sure about the stealing local pets part though) And I’m not suggesting that Jobs did this, just that he hired smart people and took credit for their work, just like Edison did. No judgments BTW, it was always thus.

      As for the shitty treatment Tesla got I believe that had more to do with how society treats the mentally ill (a problem that is still with us) than some sort of grand conspiracy toward the man who invented teh everything.

      The Tesla worship starts to, at some point, resemble the Chuck Norris internet meme except that people actually believe it. It’s too bad really since the truth is fascinating without embellishment.

      1. I have no objection to companies getting money from what is invented while people work for them, however, I do seriously have an issue when those inventors lose out dramatically in comparison. I think that Edison boned a lot of people out of well-deserved money. Westinghouse managed to share out many patents without going broke (in large part because Westinghouse created a lot of his own inventions, so he didn’t really need anyone else’s).

        The only one of those that is really mythic at all is the one about Tesla not being paid – and in all honesty, it is mostly that it is so completely unsurprising of Edison that makes it likely to me, so I’m leaning towards the “until it’s disproved” on this one.

        And yes, it was due to the stigma of mental illness in large part. As someone who suffers from mental illness, I know that it is still an issue – but that doesn’t make it any less likely that the fact that he had a mental issue was exploited.

        I have no problem with corporations or with a large focus on earning money. However, I do have a problem with being without ethics in pursuit of money (which involves killing animals just to make someone look bad), and with ignoring scientific contributions because another man bought his fame.

        He’s a hero to people for a lot of reasons – he was “mysterious”, he was crazy, he was alone, he was brilliant – he was a real mad scientist. It only makes it worse that a lot of his work is dismissed in history books. If we just treated him as equal to the other greats of his age (he is a great, sorry – his contributions were incredible, even if not equal to what they are lauded as on the internet), then people probably wouldn’t go so nuts over him.

  4. One thing Forbes and the Oatmeal seem to have forgotten is the essential social and economic circumstances that foster discovery and make new inventions possible. Capital must be available and money must be made in the end. So as much as folk don’t like Edison, Jobs, Ballmer, Corporation X, and Gates for their obvious shortcomings, it seems to me that it’s the big picture guys who make everything that follows possible by setting the economic table nearly every successful inventor has dined at.

    And I suppose another legacy we have from Edison v Tesla is the recurring movie theme of passive genius scientist being used by the evil corporate monster to take over the world.

  5. The Oatmeal Cartoon was amusing, but the response and the rebuttal do show things were way more complicated.

    I was most amused about how real geeks ignore women… My presumption was that Tesla was actually never interested in women. HE was a germaphobe who likely found contact gross.

    Her also wasn’t that nice… he fired a secratary for being overweight. Her beleived in eugenics.

    Although there was some thought that he felt women should run the world.. I question what he meant be this… I think he actually felt that men like himself would do all the creative thinking and woemn shoudl do the administrating.

    I’m very sad that the US does not support women’s soccer. It is one of the best sports that anyone can play indoor or out. Generally very accessible. I really enjoyed playing it when I was a kid, but sucked at it so I never was very competitive.

    1. Tesla certainly wasn’t the nicest dude, and had a lot of issues – but as for the sexism/sizism (with firing his secretary), it wasn’t that abnormal at the time, and that’s not even much of a distance from many modern men (not an excuse, more a sad comment on today’s culture). Eugenics, though. Crazytown.

      1. In retrospect given the number of serious academics and government officials in the US who supported eugenics at the time, which led to the forced sterilization of many thousands of Americans, how could we call someone who was simply agreeing with a large number of the scientists of his day crazy? Eugenics was regrettably seen as progressive at the time and most of the sterilizations took place in the forward thinking state of California. And as for women, Tesla reportedly thought that eventually women would become the dominant gender and control governments, and he didn’t apparently see anything wrong with that. Also according to wiki Tesla fired the woman for being overweight (he apparently had a lifelong disgust and aversion toward overweight people which may have been part of his broader mental health issues) not for being a woman.

        1. Sorry, I don’t mean that he was specifically crazy for agreeing with eugenics. I’m saying that eugenics are crazy.

          I mean, Tesla was technically a crazy guy, but that’s not anything I particularly have issue with.

          RE: the secretary – I wasn’t sure if there was a sexism component or not, such as being only bothered by overweight women or requiring women who worked for him to conform to the beauty and size ideals of the age. (He’s not the only person to fire a woman for being overweight.)

  6. The Oatmeal got an ACTUAL response from Forbes? For reals?

    Holy shit, they did!

    That’s kind of awesome, actually. The Oatmeal should be proud.

  7. If I had a time machine, I’d stalk Tesla. There’s a fine line between genius and madness and Tesla didn’t bother distinguishing which side he was on. Talking about him just recently (on the subject of “mad scientists”) a friend suggested he might have been aspie, in addition to OCD. Plain ol’ crazy works, too.

  8. Getting electricity for your home from the ionosphere? WTF? That only works if you are in orbit, and you don’t mind melting your tether and risking your ability to close your payload bay doors and return home.

    A lot of the common conceptions of many of Tesla’s inventions (such as the New York power tower are myths, like the idea that it can be used to produce unlimited free electricity to power the entire world. It was actually a device for transmitting power, not for producing it, and won’t work as a basis for perpetual motion machines, but don’t tell that to the cranks.

  9. Was anyone else really offended by the sexism in the Oatmeal comic itself? HUR HUR RESISTING THE TEMPTATIONS OF THE EVIL WOMEN == GEEK!! I was enjoying reading the comic until that part. (I’m not a regular reader, not sure what’s normal for them.) I do agree that Tesla should at least be MENTIONED in schools, since he isn’t typically.

    1. That wasn’t meant to be taken seriously. They poke fun of geeks and geek culture often. I am pretty sure that was supposed to be making fun of the geek culture in general. I could be wrong but the Oatmeal has always been pretty snarky.

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