TIM HARFORD: Late greats: why some brilliant ideas get overlooked
Stories of Jansky, Mendel and Bayes hold out hope to those thinking the world doesn’t see their brilliance
In 1928 Karl Jansky, a young radio engineer at Bell Telephone Laboratories, began researching static interference that might obscure voice transmissions. Five years later, after building a large rotating antenna and investigating every possibility he could think of, he published his remarkable conclusion: some of the static was coming from the Milky Way.
Jansky’s theory was eye-catching enough to be published in The New York Times, but scientists were unimpressed. Radio signals from outer space? Surely they were too weak to detect. Jansky’s ideas were largely ignored for about a decade. He died at the age of 44. Thankfully, he lived long enough to see his ideas blossom into the field of radio astronomy...