If you’ve ever walked through a museum like LACMA or the Norton Simon, it’s likely you’ve run into art objects from antiquity. These objects are not signed. There’s no clue as to the artisan’s name. They are of anonymous origin.
And yet the objects are undeniably true works of art, representing aesthetic sensibilities and skills requiring years to develop.
I was reminded of this anonymous creativity when I saw the recent paper confirming the existence of gravity waves. The actual 16-page paper of the observational results was published in Physical Review Letters, the most prestigious of all physics journals in the United States. The paper describes signals detected to a precision of 1 part in 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 (which is like measuring the age of the universe to within half of a thousandth of a second) resulting from two objects, each roughly 30 times the size of the sun, moving at relative velocities of half the speed of light. (I’ll wait while you attempt to absorb that picture – because I sure can’t.) It’s a monumental piece of science and will likely be one of the most cited experimental papers in cosmology for years to come. Fact is, it’s a work of a lifetime and probably the most important paper any of the authors will ever publish (especially for the three who are deceased). Yet this is how the authors are listed on the first page:Do you see it?
B.P Abbott et al.*
That is all there is to the front page author list. And the asterisk guides the reader to the end of the paper where there is an alphabetical list of the 1015 contributors to this mind-boggling experiment.*
Lucky B.P. Abbot. He beat out second author, R. Abbot, by a mere 17 character places. Even the three scientists who are most closely identified with the project, the co-founders of the experimental facility which measured the waves, Rainer Weiss, Kip Thorne, and Ronald Drever, are buried deep in the alphabetical mix in much the same way as the Ark of the Covenant is buried in a government warehouse somewhere in Washington, DC. Or Omaha.
That’s pretty close to anonymous creativity. But there are techies out there who are even more anonymous and unsung. Like whoever figured out how to build the Giza pyramids (and to such tight tolerances). And whoever figured out the axle-and-wheel system – an innovation so revolutionary that metallurgical and agricultural technologies were developed before it.
In today’s society, however, naming is akin to marketing. It is therefore vitally important to assign names to creations. A name puts a face on a corporation, anthropomorphizing the entity. As a result, people develop cultish feelings of loyalty about SpaceX over NASA (thinking of Elon Musk), Apple over Google (thinking of Steve Jobs), and Disney over Paramount (thinking of… well…).
Naming is also branding. A Steven Spielberg Film is very different than a Stanley Kubrick Film and we have a sense of what to expect before we even step into the movie house. Some actors can “open” a film. Their participation in a project can guarantee an audience which, in turn, alleviates funding risks and allows the project to actually happen. The audience is guaranteed because the actors are known with a built-in fan base. When you are in front of the camera, it’s easier to be a known brand.
The anonymous creator has no brand. Except for Banksy – where being anonymous becomes the brand.
But branding can also be a form of intimidation. For example, in scientific peer-reviews, only the reviewers are anonymous; the paper’s authors are known. And when the paper’s author is a well-respected, lauded scientist, it’s a bit more daunting to criticize or reject that paper compared to one written by a young postdoc.
What’s in a name? If the name is Shakespeare, quite a bit. Just try to criticize his work in erudite company without looking uneducated. On the flip side, without name branding, classics can become less classic. In 1982, Chuck Ross famously found that when he sent the script of the film Casablanca around to agents – minus the original title and authors – nearly half of those who read it (41 out of 85) rejected it for reasons of quality. So, if it were Ben Johnson who had written Titus Andronicus, would we be seeing productions of it today?
Paradoxically, the more good work a known creator has produced, the more bad work they can get away with. When creators are forced to be anonymous, we are left to judge the work based on its inherent merits alone.
Assuming that artists get compensated for their work, is their name an important part of the creation? Can their anonymous creation stand alone? Economics aside, is the placement of the name on the art for the audience’s elucidation – or the artist’s ego?
Perhaps it’s strange for a theater program website to contain a piece questioning the need to identify creators. After all, the program’s reason for existence is to credit the theater creators.
And perhaps it’s even stranger to attach my name to such a piece.
*Here is the full list of the 1015 humans who directly contributed to the first detection of gravity waves (in alphabetical order):
B.P. Abbott, R. Abbott, T.D. Abbott, M.R. Abernathy, F. Acernese, K. Ackley, C. Adams, T. Adams, P. Addesso, R.X. Adhikari, V.B. Adya, C. Affeldt, M. Agathos, K. Agatsuma, N. Aggarwal, O.D. Aguiar, L. Aiello, A. Ain, P. Ajith, B. Allen, A. Allocca, P.A. Altin, S.B. Anderson, W.G. Anderson, K. Arai, M.A. Arain, M.C. Araya, C.C. Arceneaux, J.S. Areeda, N. Arnaud, K.G. Arun, S. Ascenzi, G. Ashton, M. Ast, S.M. Aston, P. Astone, P. Aufmuth, C. Aulbert, S. Babak, P. Bacon, M.K.M. Bader, P.T. Baker, F. Baldaccini, G. Ballardin, S.W. Ballmer, J.C. Barayoga, S.E. Barclay, B.C. Barish, D. Barker, F. Barone, B. Barr, L. Barsotti, M. Barsuglia, D. Barta, J. Bartlett, M.A. Barton, I. Bartos, R. Bassiri, A. Basti, J.C. Batch, C. Baune, V. Bavigadda, M. Bazzan, B. Behnke, M. Bejger, C. Belczynski, A.S. Bell, C.J. Bell, B.K. Berger, J. Bergman, G. Bergmann, C.P.L. Berry, D. Bersanetti, A. Bertolini, J. Betzwieser, S. Bhagwat, R. Bhandare, I.A. Bilenko, G. Billingsley, J. Birch, R. Birney, O. Birnholtz, S. Biscans, A. Bisht, M. Bitossi, C. Biwer, M.A. Bizouard, J.K. Blackburn, C.D. Blair, D.G. Blair, R.M. Blair, S. Bloemen, O. Bock, T.P. Bodiya, M. Boer, G. Bogaert, C. Bogan, A. Bohe, P. Bojtos, C. Bond, F. Bondu, R. Bonnand, B.A. Boom, R. Bork, V. Boschi, S. Bose, Y. Bouffanais, A. Bozzi, C. Bradaschia, P.R. Brady, V.B. Braginsky, M. Branchesi, J.E. Brau, T. Briant, A. Brillet, M. Brinkmann, V. Brisson, P. Brockill, A.F. Brooks, D.A. Brown, D.D. Brown, N.M. Brown, C.C. Buchanan, A. Buikema, T. Bulik, H.J. Bulten, A. Buonanno, D. Buskulic, C. Buy, R.L. Byer, M. Cabero, L. Cadonati, G. Cagnoli, C. Cahillane, J. Calderón Bustillo, T. Callister, E. Calloni, J.B. Camp, K.C. Cannon, J. Cao, C.D. Capano, E. Capocasa, F. Carbognani, S. Caride, J. Casanueva Diaz, C. Casentini, S. Caudill, M. Cavaglià, F. Cavalier, R. Cavalieri, G. Cella, C.B. Cepeda, L. Cerboni Baiardi, G. Cerretani, E. Cesarini, R. Chakraborty, T. Chalermsongsak, S.J. Chamberlin, M. Chan, S. Chao, P. Charlton, E. Chassande-Mottin, H.Y. Chen, Y. Chen, C. Cheng, A. Chincarini, A. Chiummo, H.S. Cho, M. Cho, J.H. Chow, N. Christensen, Q. Chu, S. Chua, S. Chung, G. Ciani, F. Clara, J.A. Clark, F. Cleva, E. Coccia, P.-F. Cohadon, A. Colla, C.G. Collette, L. Cominsky, M. Constancio, Jr., A. Conte, L. Conti, D. Cook, T.R. Corbitt, N. Cornish, A. Corsi, S. Cortese, C.A. Costa, M.W. Coughlin, S.B. Coughlin, J.-P. Coulon, S.T. Countryman, P. Couvares, E.E. Cowan, D.M. Coward, M.J. Cowart, D.C. Coyne, R. Coyne, K. Craig, J.D.E. Creighton, T.D. Creighton, J. Cripe, S.G. Crowder, A.M. Cruise, A. Cumming, L. Cunningham, E. Cuoco, T. Dal Canton, S.L. Danilishin, S. D’Antonio, K. Danzmann, N.S. Darman, C.F. Da Silva Costa, V. Dattilo, I. Dave, H.P. Daveloza, M. Davier, G.S. Davies, E.J. Daw, R. Day, S. De, D. DeBra, G. Debreczeni, J. Degallaix, M. De Laurentis, S. Deléglise, W. Del Pozzo, T. Denker, T. Dent, H. Dereli, V. Dergachev, R.T. DeRosa, R. De Rosa, R. DeSalvo, S. Dhurandhar, M.C. Díaz, L. Di Fiore, M. Di Giovanni, A. Di Lieto, S. Di Pace, I. Di Palma, A. Di Virgilio, G. Dojcinoski, V. Dolique, F. Donovan, K.L. Dooley, S. Doravari, R. Douglas, T.P. Downes, M. Drago, R.W.P. Drever, J.C. Driggers, Z. Du, M. Ducrot, S.E. Dwyer, T.B. Edo, M.C. Edwards, A. Effler, H.-B. Eggenstein, P. Ehrens, J. Eichholz, S.S. Eikenberry, W. Engels, R.C. Essick, T. Etzel, M. Evans, T.M. Evans, R. Everett, M. Factourovich, V. Fafone, H. Fair, S. Fairhurst, X. Fan, Q. Fang, S. Farinon, B. Farr, W.M. Farr, M. Favata, M. Fays, H. Fehrmann, M.M. Fejer, D. Feldbaum, I. Ferrante, E.C. Ferreira, F. Ferrini, F. Fidecaro, L.S. Finn, I. Fiori, D. Fiorucci, R.P. Fisher, R. Flaminio, M. Fletcher, H. Fong, J.-D. Fournier, S. Franco, S. Frasca, F. Frasconi, M. Frede, Z. Frei, A. Freise, R. Frey, V. Frey, T.T. Fricke, P. Fritschel, V.V. Frolov, P. Fulda, M. Fyffe, H.A.G. Gabbard, J.R. Gair, L. Gammaitoni, S.G. Gaonkar, F. Garufi, A. Gatto, G. Gaur, N. Gehrels, G. Gemme, B. Gendre, E. Genin, A. Gennai, J. George, L. Gergely, V. Germain, Abhirup Ghosh, Archisman Ghosh, S. Ghosh, J.A. Giaime, K.D. Giardina, A. Giazotto, K. Gill, A. Glaefke, J.R. Gleason, E. Goetz, R. Goetz, L. Gondan, G. González, J.M. Gonzalez Castro, A. Gopakumar, N.A. Gordon, M.L. Gorodetsky, S.E. Gossan, M. Gosselin, R. Gouaty, C. Graef, P.B. Graff, M. Granata, A. Grant, S. Gras, C. Gray, G. Greco, A.C. Green, R.J.S. Greenhalgh, P. Groot, H. Grote, S. Grunewald, G.M. Guidi, X. Guo, A. Gupta, M.K. Gupta, K.E. Gushwa, E.K. Gustafson, R. Gustafson, J.J. Hacker, B.R. Hall, E.D. Hall, G. Hammond, M. Haney, M.M. Hanke, J. Hanks, C. Hanna, M.D. Hannam, J. Hanson, T. Hardwick, J. Harms, G.M. Harry, I.W. Harry, M.J. Hart, M.T. Hartman, C.-J. Haster, K. Haughian, J. Healy, J. Heefner,a, A. Heidmann, M.C. Heintze, G. Heinzel, H. Heitmann, P. Hello, G. Hemming, M. Hendry, I.S. Heng, J. Hennig, A.W. Heptonstall, M. Heurs, S. Hild, D. Hoak, K.A. Hodge, D. Hofman, S.E. Hollitt, K. Holt, D.E. Holz, P. Hopkins, D.J. Hosken, J. Hough, E.A. Houston, E.J. Howell, Y.M. Hu, S. Huang, E.A. Huerta, D. Huet, B. Hughey, S. Husa, S.H. Huttner, T. Huynh-Dinh, A. Idrisy, N. Indik, D.R. Ingram, R. Inta, H.N. Isa, J.-M. Isac, M. Isi, G. Islas, T. Isogai, B.R. Iyer, K. Izumi, M.B. Jacobson, T. Jacqmin, H. Jang, K. Jani, P. Jaranowski, S. Jawahar, F. Jiménez-Forteza, W.W. Johnson, N.K. Johnson-McDaniel, D.I. Jones, R. Jones, R.J.G. Jonker, L. Ju, K. Haris, C.V. Kalaghatgi, V. Kalogera, S. Kandhasamy, G. Kang, J.B. Kanner, S. Karki, M. Kasprzack, E. Katsavounidis, W. Katzman, S. Kaufer, T. Kaur, K. Kawabe, F. Kawazoe, F. Kéfélian, M.S. Kehl, D. Keitel, D.B. Kelley, W. Kells, R. Kennedy, D.G. Keppel, J.S. Key, A. Khalaidovski, F.Y. Khalili, I. Khan, S. Khan, Z. Khan, E.A. Khazanov, N. Kijbunchoo, C. Kim, J. Kim, K. Kim, Nam-Gyu Kim, Namjun Kim, Y.-M. Kim, E.J. King, P.J. King, D.L. Kinzel, J.S. Kissel, L. Kleybolte, S. Klimenko, S.M. Koehlenbeck, K. Kokeyama, S. Koley, V. Kondrashov, A. Kontos, S. Koranda, M. Korobko, W.Z. Korth, I. Kowalska, D.B. Kozak, V. Kringel, B. Krishnan, A. Królak, C. Krueger, G. Kuehn, P. Kumar, R. Kumar, L. Kuo, A. Kutynia, P. Kwee, B.D. Lackey, M. Landry, J. Lange, B. Lantz, P.D. Lasky, A. Lazzarini, C. Lazzaro, P. Leaci, S. Leavey, E.O. Lebigot, C.H. Lee, H.K. Lee, H.M. Lee, K. Lee, A. Lenon, M. Leonardi, J.R. Leong, N. Leroy, N. Letendre, Y. Levin, B.M. Levine, T.G.F. Li, A. Libson, T.B. Littenberg, N.A. Lockerbie, J. Logue, A.L. Lombardi, L.T. London, J.E. Lord, M. Lorenzini, V. Loriette, M. Lormand, G. Losurdo, J.D. Lough, C.O. Lousto, G. Lovelace, H. Lück, A.P. Lundgren, J. Luo, R. Lynch, Y. Ma, T. MacDonald, B. Machenschalk, M. MacInnis, D.M. Macleod, F. Magaña-Sandoval, R.M. Magee, M. Mageswaran, E. Majorana, I. Maksimovic, V. Malvezzi, N. Man, I. Mandel, V. Mandic, V. Mangano, G.L. Mansell, M. Manske, M. Mantovani, F. Marchesoni, F. Marion, S. Márka, Z. Márka, A.S. Markosyan, E. Maros, F. Martelli, L. Martellini, I.W. Martin, R.M. Martin, D.V. Martynov, J.N. Marx, K. Mason, A. Masserot, T.J. Massinger, M. Masso-Reid, F. Matichard, L. Matone, N. Mavalvala, N. Mazumder, G. Mazzolo, R. McCarthy, D.E. McClelland, S. McCormick, S.C. McGuire, G. McIntyre, J. McIver, D.J. McManus, S.T. McWilliams, D. Meacher, G.D. Meadors, J. Meidam, A. Melatos, G. Mendell, D. Mendoza-Gandara, R.A. Mercer, E. Merilh, M. Merzougui, S. Meshkov, C. Messenger, C. Messick, P.M. Meyers, F. Mezzani, H. Miao, C. Michel, H. Middleton, E.E. Mikhailov, L. Milano, J. Miller, M. Millhouse, Y. Minenkov, J. Ming, S. Mirshekari, C. Mishra, S. Mitra, V.P. Mitrofanov, G. Mitselmakher, R. Mittleman, A. Moggi, M. Mohan, S.R.P. Mohapatra, M. Montani, B.C. Moore, C.J. Moore, D. Moraru, G. Moreno, S.R. Morriss, K. Mossavi, B. Mours, C.M. Mow-Lowry, C.L. Mueller, G. Mueller, A.W. Muir, Arunava Mukherjee, D. Mukherjee, S. Mukherjee, N. Mukund, A. Mullavey, J. Munch, D.J. Murphy, P.G. Murray, A. Mytidis, I. Nardecchia, L. Naticchioni, R.K. Nayak, V. Necula, K. Nedkova, G. Nelemans, M. Neri, A. Neunzert, G. Newton, T.T. Nguyen, A.B. Nielsen, S. Nissanke, A. Nitz, F. Nocera, D. Nolting, M.E.N. Normandin, L.K. Nuttall, J. Oberling, E. Ochsner, J. O’Dell, E. Oelker, G.H. Ogin, J.J. Oh, S.H. Oh, F. Ohme, M. Oliver, P. Oppermann, Richard J. Oram, B. O’Reilly, R. O’Shaughnessy, C.D. Ott, D.J. Ottaway, R.S. Ottens, H. Overmier, B.J. Owen, A. Pai, S.A. Pai, J.R. Palamos, O. Palashov, C. Palomba, A. Pal-Singh, H. Pan, Y. Pan, C. Pankow, F. Pannarale, B.C. Pant, F. Paoletti, A. Paoli, M.A. Papa, H.R. Paris, W. Parker, D. Pascucci, A. Pasqualetti, R. Passaquieti, D. Passuello, B. Patricelli, Z. Patrick, B.L. Pearlstone, M. Pedraza, R. Pedurand, L. Pekowsky, A. Pele, S. Penn, A. Perreca, H.P. Pfeiffer, M. Phelps, O. Piccinni, M. Pichot, M. Pickenpack, F. Piergiovanni, V. Pierro, G. Pillant, L. Pinard, I.M. Pinto, M. Pitkin, J.H. Poeld, R. Poggiani, P. Popolizio, A. Post, J. Powell, J. Prasad, V. Predoi, S.S. Premachandra, T. Prestegard, L.R. Price, M. Prijatelj, M. Principe, S. Privitera, R. Prix, G.A. Prodi, L. Prokhorov, O. Puncken, M. Punturo, P. Puppo, M. Pürrer, H. Qi, J. Qin, V. Quetschke, E.A. Quintero, R. Quitzow-James, F.J. Raab, D.S. Rabeling, H. Radkins, P. Raffai, S. Raja, M. Rakhmanov, C.R. Ramet, P. Rapagnani, V. Raymond, M. Razzano, V. Re, J. Read, C.M. Reed, T. Regimbau, L. Rei, S. Reid, D.H. Reitze, H. Rew, S.D. Reyes, F. Ricci, K. Riles, N.A. Robertson, R. Robie, F. Robinet, A. Rocchi, L. Rolland, J.G. Rollins, V.J. Roma, J.D. Romano, R. Romano, G. Romanov, J.H. Romie, D. Rosinska, S. Rowan, A. Rüdiger, P. Ruggi, K. Ryan, S. Sachdev, T. Sadecki, L. Sadeghian, L. Salconi, M. Saleem, F. Salemi, A. Samajdar, L. Sammut, L.M. Sampson, E.J. Sanchez, V. Sandberg, B. Sandeen, G.H. Sanders, J.R. Sanders, B. Sassolas, B.S. Sathyaprakash, P.R. Saulson, O. Sauter, R.L. Savage, A. Sawadsky, P. Schale, R. Schilling,b, J. Schmidt, P. Schmidt, R. Schnabel, R.M.S. Schofield, A. Schönbeck, E. Schreiber, D. Schuette, B.F. Schutz, J. Scott, S.M. Scott, D. Sellers, A.S. Sengupta, D. Sentenac, V. Sequino, A. Sergeev, G. Serna, Y. Setyawati, A. Sevigny, D.A. Shaddock, T. Shaffer, S. Shah, M.S. Shahriar, M. Shaltev, Z. Shao, B. Shapiro, P. Shawhan, A. Sheperd, D.H. Shoemaker, D.M. Shoemaker, K. Siellez, X. Siemens, D. Sigg, A.D. Silva, D. Simakov, A. Singer, L.P. Singer, A. Singh, R. Singh, A. Singhal, A.M. Sintes, B.J.J. Slagmolen, J.R. Smith, M.R. Smith, N.D. Smith, R.J.E. Smith, E.J. Son, B. Sorazu, F. Sorrentino, T. Souradeep, A.K. Srivastava, A. Staley, M. Steinke, J. Steinlechner, S. Steinlechner, D. Steinmeyer, B.C. Stephens, S.P. Stevenson, R. Stone, K.A. Strain, N. Straniero, G. Stratta, N.A. Strauss, S. Strigin, R. Sturani, A.L. Stuver, T.Z. Summerscales, L. Sun, P.J. Sutton, B.L. Swinkels, M.J. Szczepanczyk, M. Tacca, D. Talukder, D.B. Tanner, M. Tápai, S.P. Tarabrin, A. Taracchini, R. Taylor, T. Theeg, M.P. Thirugnanasambandam, E.G. Thomas, M. Thomas, P. Thomas, K.A. Thorne, K.S. Thorne, E. Thrane, S. Tiwari, V. Tiwari, K.V. Tokmakov, C. Tomlinson, M. Tonelli, C.V. Torres,c, C.I. Torrie, D. Töyrä, F. Travasso, G. Traylor, D. Trifirò, M.C. Tringali, L. Trozzo, M. Tse, M. Turconi, D. Tuyenbayev, D. Ugolini, C.S. Unnikrishnan, A.L. Urban, S.A. Usman, H. Vahlbruch, G. Vajente, G. Valdes, M. Vallisneri, N. van Bakel, M. van Beuzekom, J.F.J. van den Brand, C. Van Den Broeck, D.C. Vander-Hyde, L. van der Schaaf, J.V. van Heijningen, A.A. van Veggel, M. Vardaro, S. Vass, M. Vasúth, R. Vaulin, A. Vecchio, G. Vedovato, J. Veitch, P.J. Veitch, K. Venkateswara, D. Verkindt, F. Vetrano, A. Viceré, S. Vinciguerra, D.J. Vine, J.-Y. Vinet, S. Vitale, T. Vo, H. Vocca, C. Vorvick, D. Voss, W.D. Vousden, S.P. Vyatchanin, A.R. Wade, L.E. Wade, M. Wade, S.J. Waldman, M. Walker, L. Wallace, S. Walsh, G. Wang, H. Wang, M. Wang, X. Wang, Y. Wang, H. Ward, R.L. Ward, J. Warner, M. Was, B. Weaver, L.-W. Wei, M. Weinert, A.J. Weinstein, R. Weiss, T. Welborn, L. Wen, P. Weßels, T. Westphal, K. Wette, J.T. Whelan, S.E. Whitcomb, D.J. White, B.F. Whiting, K. Wiesner, C. Wilkinson, P.A. Willems, L. Williams, R.D. Williams, A.R. Williamson, J.L. Willis, B. Willke, M.H. Wimmer, L. Winkelmann, W. Winkler, C.C. Wipf, A.G. Wiseman, H. Wittel, G. Woan, J. Worden, J.L. Wright, G. Wu, J. Yablon, I. Yakushin, W. Yam, H. Yamamoto, C.C. Yancey, M.J. Yap, H. Yu, M. Yvert, A. Zadrozny, L. Zangrando, M. Zanolin, J.-P. Zendri, M. Zevin, F. Zhang, L. Zhang, M. Zhang, Y. Zhang, C. Zhao, M. Zhou, Z. Zhou, X.J. Zhu, M.E. Zucker, S.E. Zuraw, and J. Zweizig
Originally published March 1, 2016 in Footlights.