There are lots of celelbrities and famous academics on Twitter. Then there's Professor Richard Feynman. Who died in 1988.
Every so often, one of "his" pearls of wisdom is regurgitated into my Twitter feed.
When you are dead, you don't know you are dead. It's pain only for others.
It's the same thing when you are stupid.
— Richard Feynman (@ProfFeynman) February 22, 2020
Except - and I hate to be a party pooper - this is a joke by the Belgian comedian Philippe Geluck. It has nothing to do with Feynman.
(From 1995's "Ma langue au chat")
Go on. Search all of Feynman's published works. You won't find that phrase in there.
Or, take these "quotes" - which just appear to be trite "Live Laugh Love"-style clichés.
So many years of education yet nobody teaches us how to love ourselves.
— Richard Feynman (@ProfFeynman) April 6, 2020
Replacing 'Why is this happening to me?' with 'What is this trying to tell me?' is a game changer.
Learn from your experiences! 🧠
— Richard Feynman (@ProfFeynman) March 25, 2020
You are under no obligation to remain the same person you were a year ago, a month ago, or even a day ago. You are here to create yourself, continuously. 🧠
— Richard Feynman (@ProfFeynman) March 23, 2020
I can't find any evidence in Feynman's works that he said these things. So why do people follow and promote these ghoulish accounts?
When this account was created, in 2017, its first few Tweets all appear to be genuine Feynman quotes:
When you're thinking about something that you don't understand, you have a terrible, uncomfortable feeling called confusion. pic.twitter.com/r3njqsI9Hk
— Richard Feynman (@ProfFeynman) February 28, 2017
Although it occasionally veered off into pretending to be an actual person
Happy Birthday Albert Einstein!
— Richard Feynman (@ProfFeynman) March 14, 2017
At some point, the people running the account got bored of publishing the same old quotes repeatedly and started using some very dubious sources for their publication.
Now it just churns out any old inspiring rubbish - mixed with a few genuine quotations.
It reminds me of when Aaron Sorkin's "The Newsroom" started. Fans created accounts for the fictional journalists.
Why does Neal get so irrationally freaked out when he overhears personal conversations? And why isn't he on twitter?
— Maggie Jordan (@MaggieJordanACN) July 19, 2012
If I see one more so-called "news organization" talk about the "zombie apocalypse", I swear I am going to eat someone's face off.
— Will McAvoy (@WillMcAvoyACN) June 25, 2012
Then, inexplicably, those fan-accounts started tweeting about real events as though they were actual journalists.
Private Medical Staffing Companies Owned by Rich Investors Cut Doctor Pay and Now Want Bailout Money https://t.co/EHGJcy664W
— Maggie Jordan (@MaggieJordanACN) April 10, 2020
Plain Dealer Put Out to Pasture. In Final Death Blow to Plain Dealer, Remaining Reporters Given Impossible Choice https://t.co/BUtltled7H
— Will McAvoy (@WillMcAvoyACN) April 7, 2020
Do people know that those accounts aren't from real journalists? Do they care?
Similarly, do people think that Feynman account is somehow official or endorsed by his estate? Do they think it only tweets out Feynman's thoughts?
Following the "Feynman" account is like having a "quote of the day" calendar. It's a fine way to consume micro-slices of information. But in an era of fake news, we all need to be a little more careful about the sources we follow - especially when they claim to speak on behalf of others.