The Calculus Competition

In science, there’s no glory for second place. So when it came to claiming priority on the discovery of calculus, one of the key tools of modern mathematics, it’s little surprise that a dispute developed between Wilhelm Leibniz and Isaac Newton, both of whom had discovered methods of calculus independently, as to who had been first. But what is surprising is the dirty tricks both men stooped to. By the time the dispute broke into full force, in 1711, Newton was President of the Royal Society, the world’s oldest scientific institution. The Royal Society published an investigation into the question of who had invented calculus that roundly proclaimed Newton its originator and Leibniz a fraud. The impartiality of this report was somewhat compromised when it was revealed that Newton had written the conclusion. As for Leibniz, he was not above altering the dates of his letters and notes to back up his claim. Now it is generally accepted that both men independently invented calculus, although it is Leibniz’s notation that has become the standard way of doing calculus. Looking at the dispute is a reminder that two of the most intelligent men in history may still stoop to lies, evasions and slander to do down an intellectual rival: a playground spat between two superbrains.


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