A recent article in Science documents what the authors call “antisocial punishment“. Specifically, they demonstrated that society punishes those who contribute the least or try to abuse the system, but also that there is a tendency to punish those who contribute the most.

This will not come as a surprise to anybody who remembers Honore de Balzac stating that Behind every great fortune, there is a crime. For the curious, the actual quotation in French is from Le Père Goriot:

Le secret des grandes fortunes sans cause apparente est un crime oublié, parce qu’ il a été proprement fait.

which I could translate approximately into:

The secret of great fortunes without apparent cause is a forgotten crime, because it was nicely done

This reminds me of the debate about whether Poincaré or Einstein invented relativity. According to Jules Leveugle, this was nothing less than a “german conspiracy” to promote “german science” at the expense of Poincaré. I don’t have enough data at that point. But even if Leveugle seems to have some information to back his claims, he asserts a number of things about the motivations of people a century ago that are quite hard to prove one way or another. Anyway, if the conspiracy theorists are right on this one, Poincaré would have been a victim of exactly the kind of antisocial punishment the Science article demonstrates…

As an aside, while everybody nowadays agrees that Poincaré published the core of special relativity and even invented the term “relativity” shortly before Einstein, Leveugle’s assertions that Poincaré also invented general relativity before Einstein is much less widely believed. He mentions some document having been more or less willfully damaged by later scientists, this becomes a little bit harder to prove. In any case, I could not find references on the web.


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