John C. Dvorak: Bogus Einstein Quotes Don’t Prove You’re Smart

einstein office john c — On an email debate with a bunch of guys recently, one guy I know justified his whole argument by quoting legendary physicist Albert Einstein and suggesting that the Einstein quote he used was even hanging in Einstein’s office.

The Einstein quote he used was: Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted. He said it was posted in Einstein’s former office at Princeton.

I found the use of that Einstein quote in an argument to be infuriating. First, the bogus Einstein quote had nothing to do with the argument in the email back-and-forth. And, anyway, slapping a quote on an argument using Einstein or any other great historical thinker doesn’t prove you’re smart or right.

First, a quick check at Quote Investigator shows there is no evidence that this quote even existed until after Albert Einstein died.

The real joke about this nonsense isn’t just that the quote itself was attributed to Einstein. That’s bogus. It was that anyone would suggest that Einstein was posting his own quotes around his own office. That’s insulting to the memory of the great man. “Hey, look what I said. I’m smart.” Please.

Life Magazine photographers in the 1950s, on the day of Einstein’s death, took pictures of his office at Princeton. In it, there was nothing but bookshelves — there were books all over the place and a slate blackboard covered with equations. Check one of the pics out below the fold.

Note there were no snow-globes. No knickknacks. No baseball team pennants. No signed footballs. No joke statuettes. No junk whatsoever. And there were none of the idiotic self affirmation signage you might find in the office of some second-rate salesman who can’t get laid as much as he’d like.

Einstein’s desk as shot after Einstein’s death in 1955: Via io9

This is Albert Einstein. Not some schmuck who thinks it is cool to post baffling posters because he wants to give everyone around him a message as well as insight into his life philosophies. It’s ludicrous. It’s Einstein. And it makes no sense.

Why do people want to believe this rubbish? Then they use it as some sort of point in a weak argument.

I personally think it is incredibly irresponsible to be passing around contrived folklore as fact. Unless, of course, you actually know this to be true. Lies stemming from wishful thinking abound in society and they do nobody any good. In fact using a bogus Einstein quote in itself is harmful because the lie becomes part of the cultural fabric and weakens it to an extreme.

Sorry, but someone has to clear out the bull. Arguing in good faith is one thing. But leave Einstein out of it. To misquote or create a quote and attribute it to Einstein gives the bogus quote gravitas so you can use it as a bludgeon — and that’s a totally unfair and dishonest way to argue, period. This is an unfair and dishonest way to argue, period.

To quote Proust, if you try things like this you are a baffling character. Enjoy life as such.

einstein photo on violin einstein quotes john c dvorak commentary
Photo of Albert Einstein on violin, credit: Wikimedia Commons

Photo at top of Einstein in his office: Wikimedia Commons.

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  • Mac McCarthy

    Har! A great tirade, John — and true, every word.

    And a great insight that Einstein didn’t have any tchochkas in his office! How interesting!

  • Gina Smith

    Unlike me, he doesn’t have an Microsoft OS/2 t-shirt hanging in a frame on the wall. LOL …

  • Jim Lee

    “To quote Proust, if you try things like this you are a baffling character. Enjoy life as such.” Irony I assume?

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