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Robert Silverberg’s Reflections: May 2013

‘Where Silverberg goes today, the rest of science fiction will follow tomorrow’

Isaac Asimov




Reflections is a regular column by multi-award-winning SFWA Grandmaster Robert Silverberg, in which he will offer his thoughts on science fiction, literature and the world at large.

This month: ‘. . . Not Even Wrong’

My favorite scientific putdown — one that I often use myself, in various contexts not necessarily scientific — was the work of the Austrian-born theoretical physicist Wolfgang Pauli (1900-1958), a Nobel Prize winner with a wicked and widely feared sense of humor. Pauli had a particular loathing for sloppy scientific thinking. His own thinking was coolly precise. Pauli was a severe critic of badly done work, a perfectionist who was able to put his finger immediately on a flaw in a theory’s chain of reasoning and pronounce it, scathingly, as ganz falsch, “totally wrong.”

But I would give Pauli’s Nobel Prize citation a special footnote for his even more devastating response at one of those times when a fellow physicist showed him the paper of a colleague on which he wanted Pauli’s opinion. Pauli read through the paper and said, looking up disdainfully, Das is nicht nur nicht richtig, es ist nicht einmal falsch: “Not only isn’t this right, it isn’t even wrong.”


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