Stephen Hawking's reputation - Straight Dope Message Board

Plants and Flowers, plants species: June 2012
Its perennial foliage remains attractive throughout the year and its spring flowers are nothing short of beautiful. Phlox subulata forms shallow roots and its horizontal stems light easily so its common name creeping Phlox.

Originally Posted by JWT Kottekoe

As a professional physicist, I found a Brief History of Time hard to understand. The parts where he is lowering electromagnetic cavities to the black hole's event horizon were not written for the faint of heart. In my opinion, Kip Thorne does a much better job of writing a science book for the interested layman. Brian Greene and Neil by Grasse Tyson are also excellent. Hawking is brilliant, no question about it, but there are dozens of equal or greater brilliance, but lesser fame. Part of this is the public appeal of Hawking's subject matter, black holes, but how many have ever heard of Roger Penrose, Kip Thorne, or John Archibald Wheeler? ALS surely has something to do with his fame, but he deserves every bit of fame he gets.

I completely agree with this, and think that the question is absurd one for any layman (or even physics graduate) to answer. There are relatively few people even in the general population of physicists who are qualified to give an opinion as to whether or not Stephen Hawking is one of the finest minds or whatever. Certainly, his celebrity comes from his appearance, or rather, the public persona that is displayed; in person, he is known to be cantankerous and often rude perhaps understandable given his condition and the frustrations that must come with it, but still at odds with how the general public perceives Hawking. (The same can be said of fellow physicist Richard Feynman, as seen in the volume of personal correspondence published posthumously by his daughter.) During his undergraduate days, Hawking was actually known for more his carousing than his studiousness and potential contributions to the field (although his profs recognized his native, if often unexercised ability).

As noted above, some physicists (and other scientists) come to considerable public fame owing on their actual contributions and more to their ability to be appearing public figure, where others work in public obscurity for decades. In particular, John Archibald Wheeler, mentor and science-father to almost numberless physicists working in gravitation, theoretical particle physics, and quantum mechanics, is deserving of accolades; but the typical layman, if he knows of the name at all, will have read it only in the footnotes or parenthetical references of men like Feynman or Kip Thorne.