Another tone-deaf post (now taken down)* related to women and science from Scientific American Blogs sparked a great disturbance in our little corner of the internet around the question of whether or not we should care that Richard Feynman was both a genius and really creepy. Our friend, Matthew Francis has an excellent, thoughtful reply to this discussion.
He starts with a particularly important point about the perils of creating a moral equivalence between personality quirks and serious character flaws in our heroes:
Very few heroes can survive scrutiny unscathed. They all have flaws, by virtue of being human. However, hero-worship blurs those flaws, leveling them: truly nasty aspects of a person’s personality or behavior become on par with little quirks and eccentricities. In that way, we justify our worship.
–Dr. Matthew Francis
Another friend, Janet Stemwedel has an excellent post** on the ethics of evaluating our heroes as individual components, the sum of their parts, or something in between, which should inform all our thinking on individuals like Feynman, or anyone else you think is a great [insert profession], but kind of a dick.
Before you remind me that I should be grateful that individuals of such staggering genius with intellects that cast mine in deep shadow have walked among us, I will remind you that it is a virtual certainty that for every Feynman or Einstein, there are several individuals with greater creativity and intellect who have lived under less fortunate circumstances and who we would be praising today but for the fact that they were not given the same opportunities.
*I have some thoughts on the editorial & perception difficulties of being Scientific American Blogs as currently structured.
**Hat tip to Matthew Francis.