Mermin replies: The Matthew effect only comes into play when one possible source is overwhelmingly more distinguished than any other. Richard P. Feynman and N. David Mermin constitute a fine example. The evangelists do not. Matthew did not tower head and shoulders above his colleagues. One might argue that we should call it the Mark effect, since the Gospel of Mark was the earliest, but this would make the term “Matthew effect” a simple misattribution of priority, and not an example of the effect itself, as Douglas Brewer incorrectly maintains.

Merton and the Fiesers are another matter. While the Fiesers are overwhelmingly the more distinguished chemists, Merton is overwhelmingly the more distinguished sociologist. Since the Matthew effect is a sociological and not a chemical phenomenon, if the Fiesers really did introduce the terminology in 1944, its widespread attribution to Merton (1968) is indeed an example of the Matthew effect. I suspect that the author of On the Shoulders of Giants would have greatly enjoyed this delicious twist.

Hoping to learn more, I dug Fieser and Fieser out of the library. But the index was of no help in hunting down Sam Silverman’s citation, and I’m ashamed to say I lacked the patience to search for it page by page. Stephen Berry’s memory of long-ago organic chemistry classes certainly lends credence to Silverman’s claim. But the question of whether the Fiesers, as amateur sociologists, have indeed been matthewed (or matthewed, marked, luked, and johned, as Brewer would have us say) by Merton himself remains open, as far as I’m concerned. Perhaps some reader of Physics Today can supply the missing citation.

While on the subject, I would like to report here that I received more than 40 e-mails in response to my request for evidence that Feynman had used “shut up and calculate” to characterize the Copenhagen interpretation. While these contained many delightful anecdotes and personal reminiscences, nobody could cite a Feynman text in which the phrase appears or recall ever having heard him say it or anything I judged to be very much like it.