Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Mystery of the Scientific Innovators Photo

You may have read my earlier post, Freedom, Time, and Proximity -- the Nexus for Sustained Creative Innovation at Bell Labs, in which I wrote about The New York Times article, True Innovation, by Jon Gertner.

In my post, I spoke about the photo that appeared as an accompaniment to the article and which I saw in my hardcopy of The Times, and which I was told (and updated my original post accordingly) by a retired Bell Labs employee, who sent me an email message afterwards, that the photo had been taken down from the online version by The Times, and that he did not think the photo was of Bell Labs employees, as implied.

As a researcher and educator, I solve puzzles and I like mysteries (figuring out solutions is like solving mysteries) so I resurrected my hardcopy of the article from the recycling bin (just in time), took a photo of it, and it is featured above.

We know who took the photo -- the credit was: Elliott Erwitt/Magnum photos, but where was it taken, if not at Bell Labs? Frankly, my husband voiced his suspicions to me, as well, when he saw it and said that (he has a PhD in low temperature physics) that such lab coats (he noticed that some had sharp creases and looked like they had just been taken out of a package) were probably worn by chemists or maybe biologists but, most likely, not by physicists (or mathematicians) so he doubted that the photo was of Bell Lab employees in their natural dress.

My fellow blogger and colleague in Operations Research, Professor Laura McLay of VCU, brought last year to our attention some photos (with a lot of females) that were taken at Bell Labs in the 1960s. The attire was certainly not dress-down.