Albert Einstein
Albert Einstein writes out an equation for the density of the Milky Way in 1931. Image by AP

Story about Einstein’s maths mistake doesn’t add up

William Summers June 28, 2022

Albert Einstein made an intentional error on a basic maths question to teach students about making mistakes.


False. There is no evidence Einstein said the words attributed to him. Einstein experts say the story is false.

A viral Facebook post claims renowned genius Albert Einstein once caused a stir when he failed to accurately recite the nine times table to a class of his students.

The post (screenshot here) says the Nobel Prize winner, who devised the famous E=MC2 equation, made the error intentionally so he could teach the students that “the only person who never makes a mistake is someone who does nothing”.

The claim is false. Einstein experts told AAP FactCheck the story is misattributed and the celebrated physicist most likely never uttered the words. 

The fake quotes were included in the post on June 17 that has since received more than two million views. It said Einstein was writing the nine times table on a chalkboard when he wrongly calculated nine times 10 as 91.  

It goes on to claim: “Suddenly chaos erupted in the classroom because Einstein made a mistake. Obviously, the correct answer to 9 x 10 isn’t 91. And all his students ridiculed him. Einstein waited for everyone to be silent and said: ‘Despite the fact that I analyzed nine problems correctly, no one congratulated me. But when I made one mistake, everyone started laughing. This means that even if a person is successful, society will notice his slightest mistake. So don’t let criticism destroy your dreams. The only person who never makes a mistake is someone who does nothing.””

Similar versions of the story are attributed to an unnamed maths teacher as seen here, here and here

AAP FactCheck could not find any credible source linking the story to Einstein. 

The anecdote does not appear in The Ultimate Quotable Einstein, a 2011 handbook published by Princeton University Press containing about 1600 verified quotes from the great scientist.

Eight Einstein quotations that include the word “mistake” are in the book, but none relate to the story in question. 

A genuine quote in the book, for example, cites Einstein as saying his “one great mistake” was he recommended to President Franklin Roosevelt in 1939 that the US build atomic bombs

Einstein reportedly told his friend Linus Pauling in 1956: “I made one great mistake in my life – when I signed that letter to President Roosevelt recommending that atom bombs be made; but there was some justification – the danger that the Germans would make them!” (page 284).

Another quote in the book reported Einstein as saying: “A scientist is a mimosa when he himself has made a mistake and a roaring lion when he discovers a mistake of others” (page 409). 

A representative from the Einstein Papers Project, a group of international scholars who collect, transcribe, annotate and publish the scientist’s written legacy, said it is without doubt a “fake quote”.

The story does not exist in the project’s digitised collection of Einstein’s papers, which currently cover the first 48 years of Einstein’s life, up to 1927. 

The Albert Einstein Archives at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem also says the post’s attribution is likely to be false. 

“We at the Albert Einstein Archives have never heard of this story/quote and therefore it is most probably not correct,” a spokeswoman told AAP FactCheck in an email.

Einstein has regularly been misattributed with wise words he never said.  

AAP FactCheck previously debunked a 2019 Facebook post that claimed Einstein said: “I fear the day that technology will surpass our human interaction. The world will have a generation of idiots”.

Other unproven Einstein quotes have been fact-checked here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here

The Verdict

There is no evidence Albert Einstein intentionally made a simple maths error so he could teach students that “the only person who never makes a mistake is someone who does nothing”. Einstein experts told AAP FactCheck the story has been misattributed to the famous physicist. 

False – The claim is inaccurate.

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