BBC News touts redundant analogy in report on Einstein document

Earlier this week a Jerusalem auction house sold a number of documents written by Albert Einstein.

“A letter penned by legendary physicist Albert Einstein discussing one of his groundbreaking theories sold in Jerusalem Tuesday for over $100,000 as part of trove of documents that went under the hammer.

The handwritten missive, sent in 1928 by Einstein from Berlin to a mathematician about the formalization of the “Third Stage of the Theory of Relativity,” was snapped up by an anonymous buyer for $103,700 (83,600 euros).”

The BBC News website published an article about that auction on its Europe and Middle East pages but for some reason chose to focus on one of the other documents. Readers of the BBC’s March 6th report “Albert Einstein note to young female scientist sells at auction” were told that:

“A note written by Albert Einstein in 1921 to an Italian scientist who had refused to meet him has sold for $6,100 (£4,300) at an auction in Jerusalem.

The Nobel-winning scientist, then 42, wrote to Elisabetta Piccini, a 22-year-old chemistry student.

Ms Piccini lived one floor above his sister, Maja, in Florence.

“Einstein was very interested in meeting her. [But] Ms Piccini was too shy to meet with such a famous person” Winner’s auction house said.

In the letter written in his native German, Einstein uses an idiom signalling affection.

“To the scientific researcher, at whose feet I slept and sat for two full days, as a friendly souvenir,” the note to Ms Piccini said.”

The auction house provides further background information which the BBC chose not to include in its report.

“In October 1921, Albert Einstein visited his sister, Maja, for a few days in Florence, Italy. He was already a prominent scientist at the time, worthy of receiving the Nobel Prize the following year. During his visit, he learned that one flight up from his sister’s apartment lived a young chemistry student, Elisabetta Piccini [March 19, 1899- June 18, 1990].

Elisabetta, daughter of famed Italian chemist, Augusto Firenze [1854-1905], was a researcher of physical chemistry at the University of Florence together with Prof. Luigi Mazza [1898-1978]. The next year they published a joint article in the framework of Italian national academics regarding the conductivity of nitrous sulfur. 

It’s very possible that the name of this young talented researcher was known within the physical chemistry community of researchers and Albert Einstein was very interested in meeting her. However, Elisabetta was introverted and too shy to meet with such a famous person. She refused to meet him.”

The BBC did, however choose to recycle a decidedly ridiculous statement appearing in an AP report from which this article is apparently taken.

“”You know nowadays the ‘Me Too’ campaign? Probably Einstein would have been in this campaign by leaving such a note to this lady,” Gal Wiener, chief executive of Winner’s, told the Associated Press news agency.”

Does the BBC really intend to suggest to its audiences that a sixteen-word note to a person Einstein never met is in any way comparable to the very serious issue of sexual assault and harassment that is the subject of the ‘Me Too’ campaign almost a century later?