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Heroes

Where have all the real heroes gone? It’s a refrain you find in articles on our celebrity culture, movie reviews wondering why modern…By Michael Segal

Where have all the real heroes gone? It’s a refrain you find in articles on our celebrity culture, movie reviews wondering why modern superheroes need to be so flawed, and in our own private conversations. When I asked people in our office to name three real-life heroes, and three real-life villains, the second list came much faster.

Heroes are a fraught topic in science, too: Few scientific heroes enter public awareness, and christenings inside science often spark debate. From the 2010 Nobel Prize for graphene to an article this year by prominent geneticist Eric Lander called “Heroes of CRISPR,” outrage over selective interpretations of research history have bedeviled even our most august institutions and scientists.

It’s why people say you shouldn’t meet your heroes: They are a useful construct, but one that can dissolve on close examination. It happens to the best of us. In this issue, we learn how even the archetype of scientific heroes, Albert Einstein, struggled with surpassing and then discarding the thinking of his own hero, the philosopher and scientist Ernst Mach. Before that happened, though, Mach helped inspired the theory of relativity.

Just another flawed superhero story.

Welcome to “Heroes.”

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