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FEATURE ARTICLE

In Defense of Robert Andrews Millikan

The creator of the famous oil-drop experiment for measuring the electron's charge has been criticized for his treatment of students, women, Jews--and even data

David Goodstein

Robert Andrews Millikan earned the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1923 for his pioneering measurements of the charge on the electron. He was one of the most famous scientists in America before World War II. Yet in recent decades, his reputation has suffered from allegations that he "cooked" the data in his famous experiment, which used the motion of oil drops within an electric field to estimate the fundamental unit of charge. Millikan's critics have also accused him of mistreating students, women and Jews. The author argues that although Millikan's character was not without flaw, the accusations leveled against him are unreasonably harsh.


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