CLIQUES: Human beings are gregarious by nature. They socialise largely with their own kind, bonded by some notion of a club.
If they have the same social status and standing, they tend to have similar likes and dislikes. Buying their clothes from the same boutique may be one example. This can have uncalled for consequences.
One day at a university function, two academics discovered to their embarrassment that they were wearing the same designer clothes in the same colour.
They did not sportingly say "Bingo" to each other. Instead, they rushed home to change.
They did not want to be the centre of attention for the wrong reason.
Walter Gratzer related a similar story of a Cambridge professor in his book Eurekas And Euphorias -- The Oxford Book Of Scientific Anecdotes.
The academic was invited to a party to celebrate Alexander Todd's Nobel Prize.
Suddenly it dawned on him that everyone else in the room was a Nobel laureate except him; self-conscious and chagrined, he reached for his hat and left hastily.
Even a Cambridge professor could not feel at home in the company of Nobel laureates.
According to Gratzer, he made good the mortifying deficiency by winning a Nobel Prize later.
His Nobel-winning work was done after his retirement. Winning such a prize does not automatically elevate one to be a professor at Cambridge.
Albert Einstein (right) was sure of winning a Nobel Prize that he factored the impending prize money
into his alimony to his first wife Mileva Maric . — Picture courtesy of www.maureenlang.com
This was exactly what had happened to a research fellow. So in top tertiary institutions such as Cambridge, a Nobel laureate may not necessarily be a professor and a professor is not necessarily a Nobel laureate.
Brian Pippard, a renowned Cavendish professor, was reported to have thought aloud that he might be the first Cavendish professor who did not win a Nobel Prize.
He died several years ago without winning it. Self-prophesising can be self-fulfilling.
The only scientist who was sure of winning a Nobel prize was Albert Einstein.
He even factored the impending prize money into his alimony to his first wife Mileva Maric. In his book Einstein: The Life And Times, Ronald W. Clark has this to say about their divorce settlement: "When the prize came, the cash was passed on from Sweden, via Berlin, to Zurich.
"Some was lost in movement through the foreign exchange and more by bad management.
"With what was left Mileva bought a pleasant house on the Zurichberg.
"The following year she formally obtained permission to retain the name Einstein and as Mileva Einstein she lived another quarter of century, overshadowed by illness and the worry of a schizophrenic younger son."
Einstein later married his first cousin Elsa. He outlived them all.
KOH AIK KHOON New Straits Times Learning Curve June 16, 2013