My Moment’s More Exciting Than Your Moment

By Amos Zeeberg (Discover Web Editor) | July 17, 2007 11:53 am

The German Beer Purity Law
has been on the books
for 500 years. Thank God.

Last Thursday we published an article about the 7 Most Exciting Moments in Science. Since then a number of readers have written in to point out (politely) that I missed the boat on a bunch of fantastically exciting moments on the list, such as Neil Armstrong’s one small step, Watson and Crick’s double helix and (my favorite) the German Beer Purity Law. What I maybe should have disclosed were the three criteria we used to judge the reputed exciting moments:

First, the stories couldn’t be of dubious veracity. That excluded Isaac Newton staring up at the moon through the boughs of an apple tree and Kary Mullis’s PCR epiphany while driving down Highway 1. (One should be skeptical of anyone who converses with glowing raccoons.)

Each discovery had to be a bolt from the blue. This excluded situations where years, and even decades, of hard work culminated in one shining moment, like the moon landing or the invention of the radio.

Finally, we gave extra credit to discoveries proven in the real world as opposed to just theoretical ones. Einstein’s theory of general relativity was exciting, fast, and important, but it wasn’t confirmed in the real world until 14 years later, when Arthur Stanley Eddington showed that the Sun bent the light of stars behind it. Einstein lost some points because the excitement of that moment was split in two.

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