Tesla. Edison. Oatmeal vs. Forbes.

The Oatmeal published an amusing comic strip tribute to Tesla which celebrated him as a hero geek and demonized Edison as a cynical anti-geek businessman who exploited geeks. Forbes published a really interesting piece challenging The Oatmeal’s accuracy and simplistic, dualistic good vs. evil narrative. The Oatmeal replied by writing in the margins of the original Forbes piece.

So, take a look if you’re interested in the history of science and inventions. And if you can adjudicate the competing fact and value claims made by The Oatmeal and Forbes, by all means make your claims in the comments section.

Your Thoughts?

About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • unbound

    From all that I’ve read, I wouldn’t put Tesla on the same pedestal that Oatmeal has, but, overall, Oatmeal is correct when you actually dig into the history of what was really going on at the time. There were other inventors working at the same time, so it wasn’t truly a Tesla vs Edison world…but Tesla was the most prolific inventor of his age, and Edison was pretty much the boss of a company who hired workers to do the inventing.

    In the end, Oatmeal’s crucial point remains valid. Tesla was an amazing individual who’s work has been largely unsung outside of engineering disciplines (which is why I’m familiar with Tesla). There is something to be said about Edison getting the capital together and hiring the inventors to make the inventions…but is that really any different than any modern day CEO?

  • F

    I haven’t read the pieces yet, but just the way Edison did smear-marketing against Tesla-Westinghouse is enough to brand him as a disgusting creep. Let’s electrocute (Westinghouse as a verb) people and lots of animals to deride AC! (Plus his DC electric transmission scheme was hopeless.)

  • sithrazer

    The Oatmeal is an entertainer (at least, with this website of his) I expect exaggerations and stretching of reality for the sake of laughs. In that regard, I’d take any comic the Oatmeal makes with a grain of salt and a little suspension of disbelief. I love his work though, off the top of my head I can’t think of a comic of his that failed to at least make me grin.

    I had a good laugh at his side-notes response to the Forbes article as well.

    The “Tsk. Tsk. Forbes…” (cut short to avert SPOILERS. The HORROR.) line about pedantry summed it up pretty well, IMO.

    • sithrazer

      I should have read aaallll the way to the end of the Forbes reply before posting and saved myself the trouble. The Oatmeal had it all covered.

  • http://www.facebook.com/cosmicaug augustpamplona
    • F

      Lulz!

  • F

    Also, Lewis Latimer was the man who actually made Edison’s carbon filament bulbs practical. He didn’t work for Edison until ten years later. So much for Edison and his friggin’ bulbs. (Edison did not invent the tungsten filament bulb, nor did he innovate using an inert gas in bulbs to keep the filament from sublimating away.)

    BTW, Latimer was an escaped slave. He was also brilliant.

  • John Morales

    As befits an artist, the response was a work of art.

  • M Groesbeck

    It’s rather appropriate that Forbes would publish a defense of Edison. It’s really a difference in priorities. For The Oatmeal (and, I suspect, for a majority of geek-types) it’s much more appealing to associate oneself with the guy who tried far-out things in his workshop and had a few successes. For Forbes (and Alex Knapp writing for Forbes), it’s important to insist that the guy who hires other people to invent and market things is the one who’s really important and deserves all the credit for the work of the people he hires because that’s the whole rationale behind the Forbes model of value. In the corporate system, the power to hire and fire is the supreme source of moral significance; the Forbes article is a brilliant distillation of why most geeks aren’t all that enthusiastic about climbing the corporate ladder.

    (This is ignoring the factual content of the comic, the response, and the response to the response. Given how it can be taken basically as a given that hyperbole will be involved in any discussion of Tesla, I thought the differing positions on why Tesla or Edison should be considered more important were more interesting.)

    • Carla

      My thoughts exactly.

  • Carla

    Sure, the Oatmeal hyperbolized. But really, Edison was a douchbagel, plain and simple. Get a movie historian started on his role in movies, and you’ll be in for a long afternoon. And the first time I heard of Tesla was in college when I did a project on how insane he was. So yeah, I’d say he’s under-credited.


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