For Laplace, Institutions Of Science Were Not A Meritocracy

[W]ith his eye on membership in the [French] Royal Academy [of Sciences], [Pierre-Simon] Laplace bombarded the society with 13 papers in five years. He submitted hundreds of pages of powerful and original mathematics needed in astronomy, celestial mechanics, and important related issues. Astutely, he timed his reports to appear when openings occurred in the academy's membership. The secretary of the academy, the Marquis de Condorcet, wrote that never before had the society seen "anyone so young, present to it in so little time, so many important Mémoires, and on such diverse and such difficult matters."5

Academy members considered Laplace for membership six times but rejected him repeatedly in favor of more senior scientists. D'Alembert complained furiously that the organization refused to recognize talent. Laplace considered emigrating to Prussia or Russia to work in their academies.


5. Stigler (1978) 234-35.

-- Sharon Bertsch McGrayne

from "The Theory That Would Not Die: How Bayes' Rule Cracked the Enigma Code, Hunted Down Russian Submarines, and Emerged Triumphant from Two Centuries of Controversy"

Quoted on Sun Mar 18th, 2012