“For a theory of the universe as successful as the Big Bang, it may come as a surprise to realize how many complications its promoters had to stumble through.”

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Friedmann’s 1922 paper fell dead-born from the press. But Einstein, once he got around to reading it a year later, was so disturbed that he hastily wrote a rebuttal in which he claimed Friedmann had made a mathematical error. But as Friedmann made clear in his own reply, it was Einstein who had made the miscalculation. Einstein retracted his claim, yet nevertheless maintained his opinion that universes like Friedmann’s could only be mathematical constructs or “curiosities,” as he said, never true descriptions of reality.

But again, as with Friedmann and Lemaître before them, Gamow, Alpher, and Herman’s paper, published in 1948, was ignored.

What does appear certain is that, even when the grandest theories of science are beset with unpredictable obstacles, sooner or later someone new comes along to carry forward the torch. It’s just too bad that, so often, it’s those who carry it across the finish line that seem to get all the credit. But history shows how the route to Penzias and Wilson’s recognition was littered with others’ bad luck.

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