Is Stephen Hawking overrated?

I think so.

Anyway, the point of the thread is that I want to know, in your humble opinion, what do you think of him as a scientist and author?

AFAIK He made a wild claim that was widely accepted and gained him much fame but slowly scientists chipped away at it to the point that he had to admit he was wrong and had to come up with another theory.

He claims, though bound in his physically body by disease, he is free in his mind. And he is gifted to be able to understand much of the physical universe and it’s beauty beyond most people. In that he states he sees no reason that there is a God, I understood what he saw in the universe and knew that he was looking directly at God and was just not able to see that, so sad - such a gifted visionary yet so blinded to the obvious.

I do have hope that he will one day see God in what he sees and proclaim that. but all in all it does not matter. yes he is overrated,but there is still time.

He’s able to do tensor math and complex GR computations…using one muscle in his cheek.

That’s a triumph of the human spirit.

Every notable, highly public figure is overrated. It promotes the idea that history, science, politics, and everything else is driven by a small amount of great people that stand over everyone else. It makes for a great movie, but it’s just not so.

It may be slightly more true in politics, where a great diplomat can really swing things disproportionately to their true importance, but in science? Every major, revolutionary discovery is really just an incremental improvement. Well, at least the discoveries people know about, it’s probably easy to make a game changing discovery in really tiny specific subfields, but those don’t make good headlines.

Also, I think you kind of missed the point about his books. Your complaint is that his books are pop science books not meant for hardcore physicists. Which is… kind of entirely the point. That’s their importance. To allow people with a cursory interest to get an intuitive understand of complex topics. That doesn’t mean they suck, it means they’re working as intended.

I don’t understand why you would want to personally attack him.

He’s no Newton or Einstein, but he is a living legend.

Which claim was this?

Yes, he’s overrated, but he should still be rated highly. He’s not the smartest physicist alive, but he probably is in the top 10 or so. People think of him as the smartest because the image of a guy who’s basically nothing but brain appeals to the imagination.

And no, his most recent work hasn’t really been all that impressive, but his older work is still quite enough to earn him his place.

I understand that. However, the books are still not well written. I try to but I can’t like them. Stephen Hawking simply isn’t a writer. He can be good with Math and Cosmology but the English language isn’t something he dominates

Yellow Kazooie, you have put your website in 3 of the last 6 posts you’ve made. Although you’ve made many other (on topic) regular posts, this is still spamming, especially from someone who just joined very recently.

Do NOT spam your website again or you may be banned as a spammer.

I think the most interesting part of your article is this:

Is it your belief that the only people we should hold in high esteem are those that come by their accomplishments without putting any effort into them? I tend toward believing the opposite. Someone working single-mindedly on something for forty years is crazy impressive. Though I’m pretty sure that Mr. Hawking has involved himself with other matters from time to time.

Also, I think the biblical prescription to remove the beam from one’s own eye to be applicable to the first point you raise in your article.

First, the website isn’t mine. Also, they are different articles, not the same one.

anyway, thanks for the warning

I don’t recall when but I believe physicists rated their own profession and looked for the 100 top people in their field. Hawkings wasn’t on the list. However he does have mass cultural appeal which is something valuable in and of itself since he can translate science for amateurs. Plus he did all those calculations in his head which is impressive.

I’m going to address the points in your link.

First, whether or not he’s a bad writer. Unless you have read his technical papers as well as his popular science books you are not qualified to judge him. As far as his pop sci books, you have to consider the target audience, which are the scientifically uninformed general public. In order to convey his subjects to that audience he has to “dumb down” the writing. You are criticizing what, in fact, made the books effective for this audience.

If you don’t like the writing style that’s your opinion. Unless you can point to factual errors, gross grammatical screw-ups, or other objective bad writing I think your dislike is actually your opinion, not fact.

Second, your statement “he’s not that smart”. I’m not sure, exactly, how one effectively judges the intellect of someone so clearly above the average human being. He would have not been offered the Lucasian Chair if he’d been simply coasting. Is he the smartest person in the world? No. But he’s pretty damn smart.

Third - yes, the “theory of everything” really is the name of a scientific theory. It’s what has been proposed of the name of whatever unifies everything else. It’s no sillier than calling sub-sub-atomic particles “quarks” with properties like “color” and “truth”.

Fourth - science standing and popularity. This is the only place your article has any merit. You’re right, his star status is not because of his scientific publications. It’s because he is capable of writing in a manner the average person can understand. In other words, we’re back to your first point.

yes he is overrated.

he can still run rings around many physicists.

He is definitely a guy who’s done a lot for his field, but as amazing as he is, he in no longer top dog. His new material on black holes is a big FU on his own ideas (which is good, BTW, science checking on its own).

He less overrated than current web favourite Neil deGrasse Tyson.

Well, as far as I know Hawking never contradicted himself.

And Neil deGrasse Tyson is a cool guy. It is fun to listen to him on StarTalkRadio

But this can be said of the vast majority of notable theoretical physicists; most of their truly groundbreaking work was done relatively early in their careers–mostly before the age of 40–and the rewards of their later work are often the mentoring, developing new facilities and opportunities for the physics community, and promoting the work of others. Einstein, Gell-Mann, Susskind, Bell, Bohm, Born, Heisenberg, Maxwell: virtually all of these did the fundamental work for which they are known before the 40th birthday. In fact, the only theoretical physicist I can think of offhand who did significant new work after the age of 40 was Steven Weinberg for his work on the modern approach to renormalization in quantum field theories, which led to major revision of how QFTs could be applied and the prediction of the particles which mediate the weak interaction (W and Z bosons). It is also noteworthy that many physicists tend to spend the waning years of their careers chasing theories that can charitably be described as fanciful or defending the now status quo (which many of them shifted in some fashion) against new challenges despite the massing of evidence in favor of revision; see Einstein’s pursuit of a Theory of Everything that would reconcile the conclusions of general relativity and quantum mechanics in a way that wouldn’t require any probabilistic mechanics or non-local connections or Bohm’s pursuit of a quantum cause for consciousness.

The topic of Steven Hawking’s ranking in the pantheon of great physicists has been previously discussed [THREAD=539813]here[/THREAD] and [THREAD=498426]here[/THREAD]. I would contend that the work that he has done certainly places him in the top tier of modern physicists, his holding of the Lucasian chair of Mathematics at Cambridge indicates that many others do as well, and nobody on this board has the depth of knowledge about his work to opine that he is “overrated” or rank him within that body (other than I’d still crown Maxwell as one of the most versatile physicists ever and whose accomplishments transcended the primitive tools and intellectual environment in which he worked).

I agree about 90% with what Jragon wrote insofar as we tend to overrate our heroes despite their flaws and amplify their accomplishments. There are, however, a few people whose work does legitimately change the field dramatically; people like Max Born or Isaac Newton had fundamental insights which radically changed the way people thought about physics and brought new tools and techniques that revolutionized the field. But even they didn’t arise from a vacuum; their work, and the work of other notables, was built upon predecessors. Einstein wouldn’t have developed the theory of general relativity without the mathematics of David Hilbert; Heisenberg, Born, and Jordan would likely have never developed the matrix mechanics approach to quantum mechanics, which directly led to Heisenberg’s statement of the indeterminacy principle (the essentially core principle of quantum mechanics) without the mentorship of Heisenberg by Bohr, and Feynman wouldn’t have done his groundbreaking work on QED without the mentorship of John Archibald Wheeler. (In fact, Wheeler should probably get the grand prize for having mentored the largest number of groundbreaking physicists throughout his career and getting them started on researching in the fields that made them so famous.)

The o.p. does get points, however, for not misspelling or mangling Stephen Hawking’s name as many people seem to do.


I didn’t read the link, which has now been removed, but: How good he is as a writer of popular science books is a perfectly legitimate question, albeit one that is separate from how good he is as a scientist.

A Brief History of Time is one of the best-selling popular science books—how much of this is because of the book’s own merits and how much because its author is famous for being a brilliant yet physically challenged scientist?

Considering he’s limited to about one word per minute, I think his prose can be forgiven for being a little plain.