6. HUBBLE AND THE DISCOVERIES OF OTHERS
Hubble's name comes up frequently in discussions about
the appropriation of discoveries by others (see M. Way's talk at this
meeting) and it is interesting to ask why. I am aware of at least four
examples involving Hubble:
At this meeting, we are concerned with the lack of recognition of
Slipher's redshift achievements until long after the event. His work did
have impact on the community at the time, but later it did not get the
recognition it deserved in the context of Hubble's expanding universe.
- The issue with the Hubble redshift-distance law
and Lemaître's contribution has been much discussed
recently. Lemaître's discovery of the law a few years earlier was
not recognized properly. A translation of Lemaître's paper into
English omitted an observational section that described what later
became known as the Hubble law and included Lemaître's derivation
of the Hubble constant.
Mario Livio (2011)
has argued convincingly that this omission was Lemaître's
- In a recent book
(Block & Freeman
David Block and I identified two other incidents involving Hubble and
the UK astronomer John Reynolds. The Hubble classification of galaxies
was basically invented by Reynolds. Hubble knew about Reynold's work,
and their correspondence about galaxy classification around 1919 is in
the RAS archives.
- The other Hubble law. The same Reynolds
discovered that the surface brightness distribution in elliptical
galaxies can be represented by a simple law of the form
I(R) = I∘(1 + R /
a)−2 where R is the projected radius on
the sky and a is a scale length. This law became known as the
Hubble distribution but more recently as the Hubble-Reynolds law.
There is a view that Hubble was not generous in acknowledging the
contributions of others. Some who knew him regarded him poorly in this
respect. On the other hand, some of us are careless about picking up
ideas and forgetting where they came from. It still happens. Geography,
institutional rivalry and culture may also be significant elements in
this behaviour. For others, modesty is more important than credit.