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Wednesday, Sep 30, 2009
Nobel Prizes for Relativity
If you are asking the question of who should be credited for some 20th century Physics breakthru, you can consult the Nobel Prize record. So who got the prize for Relativity?

Einstein got the prize in 1921 after he had become world-famous for relativity, but the citation did not mention relativity. It appears that there was substantial resistance to giving Einstein a prize for relativity because some people said that Einstein was not the inventor, and because some preferred to give prizes for more empirical work. However it is fair to say that Einstein's fame over relativity theory was a huge factor in him getting the prize.

Prizes were also given to Dirac in 1933 and Hulse and Taylor in 1993 for work in relativity.

What I don't know is whether relativity was a factor in Lorentz getting the prize in 1902. The citation was "in recognition of the extraordinary service they rendered by their researches into the influence of magnetism upon radiation phenomena". Wikipedia says:

In his recommendation of Lorentz for the Nobel Prize in 1902, Poincaré argued that Lorentz has convincingly explained the negative outcome of the aether-drift experiments by inventing the "diminished time", i.e. that two events at different place could appear as simultaneous, although they are not simultaneous in reality.
Lorentz's theory of "diminished time" was perhaps the most startling prediction of special relativity. It is the idea that moving clocks slow down. Poincare credited Lorentz for the idea in 1904 and said, "The most ingenious idea has been that of local time." Einstein first published the idea in 1905.

I think that it is possible that the Nobel committee did not want to give the prize to Einstein for his 1905 work on relativity because they thought that they had already given the prize for those ideas in 1902.

No one ever considered giving Einstein another prize for relativity after 1921, even tho the 1921 citation did not mention relativity. People would have said that he got his prize, and that his relativity reputation contributed to that prize even if it wasn't mentioned, and therefore there is no reason to give him another prize. It seems to me that the same could be true about Lorentz.

Tuesday, Sep 29, 2009
Non-mathematicians on Poincare
Henri Poincaré was primarily a mathematician, not a physicist, and the Einstein fans are usually non-mathematicians who misunderstand basic math terminology and methods.

Arthur I. Miller complains

As we might expect, to the end of his life Poincare maintained the necessity of an ether in electromagnetic theory. If he had not then we may well have expected him to be a convert to Einstein's special relativity. That Poincare continued to take for granted the existence of the ether is well demonstrated by the fact that in a 1912 lecture "Relations Between Matter and Ether," the ether is nowhere mentioned.
No, I don't think that Poincare ever maintained the necessity of an ether in electromagnetic theory. Miller's proof of this is that Poincare gave a lecture without mentioning the aether? The argument does not even make any sense.

Miller goes on:

Moreover, Poincare commences a series of lectures presented in July 1912, "La Dynamique de l'Electron,' with the statement: "Let us assume an immobile ether. .. ".
Math lectures start with statements like that all the time. It does not mean that an immobile aether is physically observable, or that it is necessary for electromagnetism. Poincare always said that the aether was undetectable and unnecessary.

If mentioning the aether means that Poincare did not understand Special Relativity, then Einstein didn't understand it either, as he argued for an aether in 1920.

In his 1902 book, Science and Hypothesis, Poincare wrote:

Does our aether actually exist? We know the origin of our belief in the aether. If light takes several years to reach us from a distant star, it is no longer on the star, nor is it on the earth. It must be somewhere, and supported, so to speak, by some material agency.
It seems to me that Poincare is defining the aether to be whatever medium transmits light from the stars to us. You might say that no medium is needed because light can be transmitted thru a vacuum. But according to our best theory of light, quantum electrodynamics, light never goes thru empty space. It goes thru some sort of quantum vacuum state that actually includes a sea of virtual particles. Poincare didn't know that in 1902, but it is still reasonable to define the aether as whatever transmits light, and then investigate whether the aether is observable or has any observable properties.

The word aether was also used to describe the frame of reference in which Maxwell's equations were written. Mathematicians later figured out how to write the equations without choosing a frame, but they were always written in terms of a chosen frame in Poincare's lifetime.

To a mathematician, there is nothing the slightest bit unusual or unorthodox in defining a mathematical construct that may or may not have physical significance. Poincare sometimes used the aether in the same way that Einstein used the term "stationary system" in his famous 1905 paper.

Thursday, Sep 24, 2009
Marxists on Einstein
The folks who are really preoccupied with revolutions in history are the Marxists. I don't know much about Marxism, but Marxist philosophy is based on a dialectical and materialist concept of history, The critique of capitalism, and a theory of revolution. They even like revolutions in science, and the Marxists are big fans of Einstein because they perceive him as a revolutionary. Eg, this Marxist page says:
In the last century, Marxists debated the revolutionary work of Albert Einstein and the Big Bang theory of the universe, with its origins in the observations of Edwin Hubble. Einstein’s theory of relativity and the Big Bang theory combined to overturn every last remnant of the old Newtonian science, which was saturated with the belief in the "absolute immutability of nature", as Engels emphasises. It is these two revolutionary theories, the theory of relativity and the Big Bang, ...

For two-and-a-half millennia, many philosophers have supported the view that infinity is an imaginary concept which has no actual existence. Hegel arrived at a dialectical proposition which can be expressed like this: you can always imagine an unending series of galaxies following one after another, but in concrete reality, at a certain point, quantity turns into quality and a new phenomenon emerges.

I don't even know what this means, or if the Marxists have any political influence. But there are a lot of academics who subscribe to a Marxist revolutionary view of science history. Most of them do. According to Wikipedia, only a minority don't:
In the history of ideas, the continuity thesis is the hypothesis that there was no radical discontinuity between the intellectual development of the Middle Ages and the developments in the Renaissance and early modern period. Thus the idea of an intellectual or scientific revolution following the Renaissance is —- according to the continuity thesis —- a myth. ... Despite the many points that have been brought up by proponents of the continuity thesis, a majority of scholars still support the traditional view of the Scientific Revolution occurring in the 16th and 17th centuries ...
The academics usually also subscribe to the closely related Paradigm Shift theory of scientific revolutions. (A notable dissent is this Steven Weinberg essay, but he is the exception that proves the rule.)

I agree with the continuity thesis. The invention of the printing press certainly radically improved the dissemination of knowledge, but I think that science had been progressing continually for thousands of years. But I am in the minority and, as the above suggests, no set of facts will convince the Marxists and other revolutionaries.

Apparently the Marxists idolize Einstein as a revolutionary scientist, but not Poincare. They like Einstein's socialist political views also.

I am not sure how much this Marxist/revolutionist view accounts for Einstein's fame, but nearly all of Einstein's fans will make a point of saying that Einstein was a revolutionary while his contemporaries (Lorentz, Poincare, Planck) were not. Such views seem to be entirely based on misunderstandings, as the work of those contemporaries was much more original than Einstein's.

Wednesday, Sep 23, 2009
Relativity and the Copernican Revolution
The Einstein fans are always talking about how his 1905 papers created a revolution in physics and even in human thought. I call such people paradigm shifters. As early as 1909, Max Planck already compared the discovery of special relativity to the Copernican Revolution in 1543. Here is a typical philosophical essay discussing the analogy.

Kevin Brown uses this analogy to explain why Poincare is not credited with special relativity, even tho he made all the breakthrus. He says:

In a sense, the failure of Poincare to found the modern theory of relativity was not due to a lack of discernment on his part (he clearly recognized the Lorentz group of space and time transformations), but rather to an excess of discernment and philosophical sophistication, preventing him from subscribing to the young patent examiner's inspired but perhaps slightly naive enthusiasm for the symmetrical interpretation, which is, after all, only one of infinitely many possibilities. Poincare recognized too well the extent to which our physical models are both conventional and provisional. In retrospect, Poincare's scruples have the appearance of someone arguing that we could just as well regard the Earth rather than the Sun as the center of the solar system, i.e., his reservations were (and are) technically valid, but in some sense misguided.
Brown goes on to explain:
The novelty of Einstein’s interpretation was in the idea that the evident relativity of all physical phenomena transcended the properties or behavior of any substance (aether), and was instead a consequence of the structure of space and time.
So Brown is saying that Poincare and Einstein created essentially identical theories, and correctly understood what they were doing, but they differed on an obscure philosophical point. They both give the exact same formulas for the relations between space and time, and they both give dynamical theories that have all the same physical consequences. The difference is that Einstein attributed space-time relations to some unseen structure to space and time, while Poincare attributed it to some undetectable aether.

Got that? I don't. In modern terminology, Relativity is characterized by spacetime being a pseudo-riemannian manifold. As I read Poincare and Einstein, I think that Poincare is much closer to that concept than Einstein. Poincare clearly describes the symmetry group action, the pseudo-riemannian (Lorentz) metric, and uses 4-vectors in his 1905 paper. Einstein doesn't have any of that until many years later. Einstein (with co-author Laub) even wrote a paper in 1908 where he rejected the idea of using 4-vectors in a 4-dimensional spacetime.

Even if Brown is right, it means that Poincare invented all of special relativity, and Einstein reformulated it with some slightly different terminology. Einstein gets the credit, according to him, in the same way that the astronomy of the solar system is credited to Copernicus, and not Ptolemy. Poincare is somehow correct and misguided at the same time, he says. This is really wacky. It is like rejecting a scientific result because the author prays to the wrong God.

The Einstein fans are going to be disappointed to learn that Poincare discovered special Relativity, and Einstein's novelty was to replace the term "aether" with "stationary system".

It turns out that Poincare was the first to make this analogy between the discoveries of relativity and heliocentrism. His big 1905 paper on special relativity discusses Lorentz's definition of the equality of two lengths, and says:

Maybe it would suffice to give up this definition, to turn upside down the theory of Lorentz as completely as the Ptolemaic system has been turned upside down by Copernicus. If this happens one day, this will not mean that the efforts of Lorentz had been vain; because, whatever one might think, Ptolemy has not been useless to Copernicus.
He is saying that his new theory of special relativity is a new point of view towards spacetime, and differs from the Lorentz aether theory in a way that is analogous to Copernican theory having a different point of view from Ptolemaic theory.

Ptolemaic and Copernican theory had similar observational consequences, and the Lorentz aether theory and special relativity theory also have similar observational consequences.

Poincare is not saying this to brag about the great significance of his accomplishment; he saying it to credit Lorentz for producing the forerunner theory.

This is heresy to the Einsteinians. They will babble at great length about how Einstein proved that there was no aether, and that his relativity is a great and profound truth on the level of Copernicus discovering that the Earth revolves around the Sun. Ptolemy and Lorentz were dead wrong, they'll say, and their work was an obstruction to scientific progress.

They view is crazy. It is precisely because of relativity theory that 20th century physics considers the Copernican theory no more true than the Ptolemaic theory. Relativity teaches that all coordinates frames are valid, and the laws of physics are the same in each, when properly expressed.

Maybe this gives another reason people have credited Einstein instead of Poincare. They subscribe to a philosophy that says that the essence of science is to knock man off his pedestal. Those folks idolize Copernicus, Galileo, Darwin, Freud, and Einstein. Poincare does not fit the pattern because he was not claiming to have found a radical new discovery based on some untestable hypothesis.

The paradigm shifters don't really believe in scientific progress in the sense of better understanding the world. They have some sort of Marxist belief in analyzing history thru revolutions. Each revolution is some sort of political and social shift to a different paradigm, but not a rational switch to a theory that is demonstrably superior. The new theory must be one that has adherents who dogmaticly assert faith in its truth, but does not necessarily have any experiment that proves it to be true. And if the new theory devalues Man, so much the better.

Poincare would have thought this philosophy to be nonsense. He presented relativity as an incremental improvement of existing theories by Newton, Maxwell, and Lorentz. He acknowledged that experiment could prove the theory wrong. He was in his 50s and too old to be considered a revolutionary.

Einstein was different. He had the potential to be an icon and a cult hero. By pretending to have done radical new work, he was happy to play the role of someone leading a revolution in physics.

I am not sure Einstein ever even intended to deny the aether. His 1905 paper does not say that there is no aether. It only says that the aether is superfluous to his derivation. But he must have quickly figured out that Poincare had scooped him with the theory, and he would have to distinguish himself somehow. Poincare was associated with the aether because Lorentz used the aether and Poincare credited Lorentz. Einstein could deny the aether and be different.

The aether is undetectable anyway in both Poincare's and Einstein's version of Relativity, so you would think that no one would pay much attention to it. But the aether is a metaphor for God. By denying the aether, Einstein became an inconoclast.

You may think that this is a farfetched explanation for idolizing Einstein. I am not sure I believe it myself. But the majority of academic philosophers of science really are paradigm shifters as I have described here. I don't think that most scientists are, but they sit quietly while others spout this nonsense.

Most people who credit Einstein today are just reciting what they learned in their textbooks and on the Discovery Channel. Those who have carefully studied Poincare and Einstein either say that Poincare was the true inventor of Special Relativity, or they say that Poincare and Einstein discovered essentially the same thing, but that Einstein boldly declared that there was no aether while Poincare merely said that the aether was perfectly undetectable if it even exists. Somehow that difference allows them to say that Einstein was the greatest genius of all time, and Poincare was just a misguided and clueless dope. There must be some reason why taking sides on such an abstract, unscientific, and untestable hypothesis would excite people so much. I am becoming convince that science has been infected with a truly horrible philosphy.

Tuesday, Sep 22, 2009
Wikipedia on Einstein
I tried to correct some of the Wikipedia pages on Relativity, but the Einstein fans have reverted most of my edits.

Wikipedia philosophy is to prefer secondary sources over primary sources, and the majority of historians credit Einstein for Special Relativity. According to the historians, the editors argue, Poincare published all the equations for Relativity but he never really understood them. The proof that he never understood them was that he continued to write about apparent time and absolute time, even after Einstein proved these concepts wrong in 1905.

I challenged the Wikipedia editors to show me where Poincare used these terms, and they could only find where he used "local time", "apparent mass", and similar terms.

Here is what Poincare said in his popular 1902 book:

There is no absolute time. To say that two durations are equal is an assertion which in and of itself has no meaning, and can acquire one only by convention.
These seems clear to me, and correct. Poincare did favor the term "local time". His famous 1904 lecture said:
The most ingenious idea has been that of local time.
The only mention of "real time" is later:
The watches adjusted in that manner do not mark, therefore, the true time; they mark what one may call the local time, so that one of them goes slow on the other.
The WP editors say that this proves that Poincare believed in the false concept of real time. I say the opposite. The Poincare sentence says that watches measure local time and not true time. The sentence does not say anything about whether true time exists. If I say, "the animal in the picture is a gorilla and not a bigfoot", then the statement says nothing about whether bigfoot exists. If anything, it is a denial of evidence for bigfoot.

The editors say that this sentence proves that Poincare believed in the false concept of "apparent velocity":

Nor for an observer carried along himself in a translation he did not suspect could any apparent velocity surpass that of light; there would then be a contradiction, if we recall that this observer would not use the same clocks as a fixed observer, but, indeed, clocks marking "local time”.
Again, I say that they are misreading Poincare. The sentence does not endorse any concept of "apparent velocity" that is different from ordinary velocity. What he is saying here is that no observer could measure a velocity that is faster than the speed of light. He uses the word "apparent" to mean that nothing can appear to an observer as going faster than light. This is all rock-solid correct relativity.

The criticism of Poincare for using the terms "apparent mass" and "apparent inertia" is also strange. I don't think that there is agreement even today about what is the best terminology, and people continue to use terms like "relativistic mass" and "rest mass". Some people say that mass increases with velocity, and some don't. They agree on the physics, but not the terminology. See this John Baez essay for an explanation.

It is surprising that the Einstein fans cannot find more actual mistakes in Poincare's papers. Pioneering work is nearly always sloppy. There is a whole book on mistakes in Einstein's papers. But the alleged Poincare mistakes are completely correct statements.

In spite of the bias, the Wikipedia articles on Relativity are quite good. For material related to my recent postings, see History of special relativity and Relativity priority dispute.

Monday, Sep 21, 2009
Olivier Darrigol on Einstein
One of the stranger aspects of the history of special relativity is that many people concede Poincare developed the theory before Einstein, and that Einstein almost certainly got the key concepts from Poincare, but that Einstein should get the credit for inventing the theory anyway for various bizarre reasons. One of those is Olivier Darrigol who wrote The Mystery of the Einstein–Poincaré Connection in 2004 and The Genesis of the Theory of Relativity in 2005.

Darrigol gives Einstein the major credit:

Most of the components of Einstein's paper appeared in others' anterior works on the electrodynamics of moving bodies. ... None of them fully understood the physical implications of these transformations. It all was Einstein's unique feat. [Darrigol, 2005]
He concedes that Poincare had all those components, and published them first:
By 1905 Poincaré's and Einstein's reflections on the electrodynamics of moving bodies led them to postulate the universal validity of the relativity principle, according to which the outcome of any conceivable experiment is independent of the inertial frame of reference in which it is performed. In particular, they both assumed that the velocity of light measured in different inertial frames was the same. They further argued that the space and time measured by observers belonging to different inertial systems were related to each other through the Lorentz transformations. They both recognized that the Maxwell-Lorentz equations of electrodynamics were left invariant by these transformations. They both required that every law of physics should be invariant under these transformations. They both gave the relativistic laws of motion. They both recognized that the relativity principle and the energy principle led to paradoxes when conjointly applied to radiation processes. On several points - namely, the relativity principle, the physical interpretation of Lorentz's transformations (to first order), and the radiation paradoxes - Poincaré's relevant publications antedated Einstein's relativity paper of 1905 by at least five years, and his suggestions were radically new when they first appeared. On the remaining points, publication was nearly simultaneous. [Darrigol, 2004]
So somehow Poincare did all that, and did not understand what he was doing? Bizarre.

Darrigol explains that Poincare and Einstein presented their theories differently, but they were equivalent:

These differences between the two theories are sometimes regarded as implying different observable predictions even within the domain of electromagnetism and optics. In reality, there is no such disagreement, for Poincaré’s ether is by assumption perfectly undetectable, and every deduction made in Einstein’s theory can be translated into a deduction in Poincaré’s theory ...
He does not have the nerve to accuse Einstein of plagiarism, in spite of the circumstantial evidence:
In sum, then, Einstein could have borrowed the relativity principle, the definition of simultaneity, the physical interpretation of the Lorentz transformations, and the radiation paradoxes from Poincaré. ... The wisest attitude might be to leave the coincidence of Poincaré’s and Einstein’s breakthroughs unexplained, ...
To argue that there is a significant difference between Poincare's and Einstein's versions of relativity, Darrigol recites a Poincare synchronization argument, and then says that the reasoning is "very odd" because it uses the local time of one frame to do a computation in another frame. Darrigol says that this sort of computation is a "mathematical fiction", concludes:
This means that the conceptual basis of Poincare's theory is not compatible with Einstein's, even though both theories are internally consistent and have the same empirical predictions (for the electrodynamics of moving bodies).

[Footnote] The empirical equivalence of the two theories simply results from the fact that any valid reasoning of Einstein's theory can be translated into a valid reasoning of Poincare's theory by arbitrarily calling the time, space, and fields measured in one given frame the true ones, and calling all other determinations apparent.

Darrigol is arguing that Poincare developed a complete theory of special relativity that could do everything that Einstein's theory could, and did it before Einstein, but Einstein should get the credit because Poincare sometimes gave a mathematical argument that seems odd to physicists.

I think that Darrigol is wrong, and that Poincare's mixed use of coordinates is no different from what Einstein did in his papers. Einstein also mixed coordinates, such as comparing time in one frame to another. But let us suppose that Darrigol is right, and that Poincare used a mathematical argument that seems odd to physicists, and that a step in that argument does not have a direct physical interpretation. Why would that be a bad thing? How is that evidence that Poincare did not understand what he was doing? Why should that be used to deny Poincare credit for what he did?

Writers on this subject seem to have a peculiar anti-Mathematics bias. Poincare gives a mathematically correct argument for something, and people say that it shows his lack of understanding. Einstein gives mathematically incorrect arguments, and people say he is the greatest genius who ever lived.

To understand this issue of who should get credit for special relativity, you do not have to read the original papers. Just read the papers of those who have and who give ridiculously strained arguments in favor of Einstein, such Miller below. The arguments do not pass the simplest critical analysis. They reveal the authors to have adopted bizarre philosophies of science in order to justify worshipping their idol Einstein. If you read Darrigol for his facts, and skip his opinions, you get a much clearer picture.

Sunday, Sep 20, 2009
Arthur I. Miller on Einstein
A 2001 NY Times book review said:
This Arthur I. Miller is the one who finally disposed of Edmund Whittaker's claim that Poincaré was the true discoverer of special relativity. His flagship of a book, ''Albert Einstein's Special Theory of Relativity: Emergence (1905) and Early Interpretation (1905-1911),'' was escorted by a convoy of scholarly articles in journals favored by professional historians and philosophers of science.
This is not the commie playwright who married Marilyn Monroe. (And Whittaker is not the Ed Whitacre who was an AT&T phone company executive until Pres. Barack Obama installed him as Chairman of General Motors.) This Miller is a historian and Einstein fan. Most of those who have actually looked at the record have concluded that all of the essential tenets of special relativity were published by Poincare before Einstein. It must be tough for someone who has spent many years idolizing Einstein to discover that Poincare was the real genius.

Whittaker was a famous mathematician who wrote a 1953 history of Physics that credited Special Relativity to Poincare. So everything I am saying here is really old news, except that there has been a resurgence of interest in this issue in just the last ten years. A 2004 article says, "the last twenty years have brought significant progress in our understanding of Albert Einstein’s and Henri Poincaré’s contributions to relativity theory."

I just got my hands on Miller's 1994 article on Why did Poincaré not formulate Special Relativity in 1905? Sure enough, it gives Einstein all the credit. It concludes:

The verdict of archival and primary historical evidence is that Einstein, and not Poincare, is the discoverer of the special theory of relativity.
The first thing that surprised me was that Miller rejects the idea that Poincare and Einstein discovered Relativity separately. Even tho Einstein denied knowledge of Poincare, the evidence is otherwise. Miller says:
Poincare's La Science et l'Hypothese? which Einstein read in 1904: and Poincare's 1900 essay "La Theorie de la Reaction et la Theone de Lorentz",' which Einstein cited in 1906, could have influenced Einstein's thoughts on simultaneity and the characteristics of light pulses. ...

The concept of an "event" is central to Einstein's analysis of time and simultaneity in 1905. In its larger sense, Einstein's event is similar to Poincare's, namely, a phenomenon occurring at a point in space and time measured relative to a reference system. Might Poincare's passage quoted above from La Science et l'Hypothese be the source for Einstein's use of the term "event," and for his focusing on the distant simultaneity of two events? The similarity between Poincare's and Einstein's conclusions on how to distinguish between local and distant simultaneity is astonishing.

... the important topic of what Einstein might have learned from Poincare's papers, particularly concerning the notion of events, distant simultaneity, the importance of attributing a physical interpretation to the local time, the structure of science, frontier issues in physics, and the physics of light pulses emitted from moving sources. This information may well have been significant to Einstein's formulation of the special theory of relativity.

Okay, Miller does not quite accuse Einstein of plagiarism, but it seems clear that Einstein was substantially influenced by Poincare's theory, and Einstein tried his best to conceal that influence, at the least. According to others, Einstein got the whole theory special relativity from Poincare.

Here are Miller's reasons for not crediting Poincare. They are really strange. You would think that he would find some aspect of special relativity that Einstein did and Poincare did not, but he does not. A Russian physicist named Logunov wrote a textbook on Henri Poincare and Relativity Theory, and he concludes that Poincare's theory is superior to Einstein's because Poincare has some great ideas that are absent from Einstein's papers. So Miller's reasons are:

  1. Einstein never wrote to Poincare, or expressed gratitude to Poincare, or engaged in debate with anyone who claimed that Poincare discovered Special Relativity.
  2. Poincare's 1900 relativity paper had much of the theory, but it had certain technical shortcomings that were not corrected until his 1905 papers.
  3. Poincare sought a more ambitious theory, including gravity, while Einstein was concerned with the electrodynamics of an electron.
  4. "Although worded similarly, the principles of relativity of Poincaré and Einstein differed in content and intent."
  5. "Poincaré never elevated the principle of relativity in the physical sciences to a convention, nor did he ever disavow the ether."
  6. Poincare ignored Einstein.
Regarding items 1 and 6, this is just what you would expect from the personalities of Poincare and Einstein, if Einstein stole Poincare's ideas. If Einstein had done anything to recognize Poincare, it would have detracted from his own ego and fame.

Regarding item 2, note that Poincare's 1905 papers still predated Einstein's relativity work.

Regarding item 3, Poincare did indeed make some useful progress on the gravity problem, and was about 5 years ahead of Einstein on that subject. How this is a black mark against Poincare, I don't know.

Regarding item 4, you can compare how they expressed the principle of relativity in my post below. Or read this, from Einstein's famous 1905 paper:

Examples of this sort, together with the unsuccessful attempts to discover any motion of the earth relatively to the ``light medium,'' suggest that the phenomena of electrodynamics as well as of mechanics possess no properties corresponding to the idea of absolute rest. They suggest rather that, as has already been shown to the first order of small quantities, the same laws of electrodynamics and optics will be valid for all frames of reference for which the equations of mechanics hold good.1 We will raise this conjecture (the purport of which will hereafter be called the ``Principle of Relativity'') to the status of a postulate, ...
As you can see, Poincare predated Einstein, Einstein read Poincare's works, and Einstein said nearly the same thing as Poincare without crediting Poincare.

You might argue that this principle is much older, as even Isaac Newton said some similar things centuries earlier. So did Galileo, I think. But most physicists had abandoned it after Maxwell's electromagnetism for some simple reasons. A stationary electric charge causes an electric field but no magnetic field. A moving charge causes a magnetic field. Therefore it appears that the laws of Physics cannot be true in both frames, because there is a magnetic field in one and not the other. (We now know that magnetism is a relativistic effect.)

Regarding item 5, Miller is really in strange territory. He uses the word "convention" to mean some physical principle that is so fundamental that we should believe it regardless of the physical evidence. As noted below, Poincare listed it as one of the 5 or 6 most fundamental principles in Physics. But there was someone named Kaufmann (and maybe someone else) who had claimed to have done an experiment disproving it, and Poincare conceded that the theory might have to be abandoned if Kaufmann turns out to be correct. It turned out that Kaufmann's experiment was flawed.

Miller argues that Einstein was more of a believer in Poincare's relativity principle than Poincare himself, because Einstein was willing to believe it regardless of the physical evidence. Miller claims that Poincare's and Einstein's "ultimate goals" were different because of "Poincare's empirical bias".

Remember that Poincare was the mathematician and Einstein was the physicist. Usually it is the physicist who has an empirical bias, not the mathematician. Miller is completely off base here.

On the aether, Poincare said nearly the same thing as Einstein, and Poincare said it 5 years earlier, as I explain here, here, here, and here. I guess Poincare conceded the possibility that some future experiment might detect the aether, and Miller would say that Einstein's view was superior because he was so certain of his ideas that he did not admit the possibility that he might be proven wrong.

If this were really a philosophical difference between Poincare and Einstein, then Poincare's view is surely the much more scientific view. The existence or non-existence of the aether is only a meaningful question to the extent that we can do some experiment to detect it. Any physical theory is subject to experimental testing.

Poincare invented Special Relativity under the assumption that the aether was perfectly undetectable, and Einstein gave a derivation of the theory assuming that the aether was superfluous. Either way, neither of them depended on the aether, and neither supplied any proof that it does or does not exist.

The modern view of the aether is that it is one of those anachronistic words like phlogiston. Phlogiston was a word for the stuff that burns in a fire. We now have a much more sophisticated understanding of the chemistry of combustion and oxidation, and no one talks about phlogiston, but it is still correct that there is stuff that burns in fire, whatever you want to call it.

Likewise, there is an aether, whether you want to call it that or not. The famous physicist Paul Dirac, in a 1951 letter to Nature magazine, explained that quantum electrodynamics requires an aether. For electromagnetic properties of what seems like empty space, read about the Dirac sea and the Impedance of free space. (See also Zero-point energy, Vacuum energy, and Casimir effect.) The term aether could also be used for dark energy. quintessence, or CMB radiation, as explained below. If you asked me whether there is an aether, I would have to say that 20th century physics requires it, altho it is a little different from what people expected in 1900. Our concepts of atoms, light, gravity, and a lot of other things are different from what people had in 1900, so I don't see anything wrong with continuing to use the term aether.

Here is another NY Times opinion from 2003, influenced by Miller:

As a mathematician and astronomer, Poincaré helped invent chaos theory, Dr. Galison said, and as a philosopher and follower of the French Enlightenment he championed a scheme of decimalizing time.

Among his noteworthy feats now is what he did not do: he did not invent relativity, even though he had some of the same ideas as Einstein, often in advance, and arrived, with the Dutch physicist Hendrik Lorentz at a theory that was mathematically identical.

The difference was that Poincaré refused to abandon the idea of the ether, the substance in which light waves supposedly vibrated and which presumably filled all space. The ether provided a definition of absolute rest, and of "true" time -- the time measured by a clock not moving relative to the ether. "He was truly a universal man; he was one step away from relativity," said Dr. Arthur Miller, a relativity historian at the University College London.

Isn't it obvious how crazy this opinion is? Poincare is credited with inventing a theory that is mathematically equivalent to relativity, and doing it before Einstein, but there is always some sort of wacky claim that Poincare should not get credit for it.

This is a bit like saying that China invented gunpowder, but it should not get credit because the Chinese were not Christians.

No, it is more ridiculous than that. It is not just that Poincare is denied credit. Nearly every discussion of relativity goes out of its way to falsely give Einstein credit. And the comparisons to Poincare do not just give opinions; they made demonstrably false statements that anyone can check by looking at what Poincare and Einstein published. Furthermore, Einstein is not just credited; he is elevated into the world's greatest genius for (supposedly) discovering relativity. Poincare is ignored.

There are lots of examples of people who get credit that they don't really deserve. But I have never heard of any case this extreme. I would have said that it is impossible for science to such a story so completely wrong.

Saturday, Sep 19, 2009
Why are we the naked ape?
NewScientist reports:
Right from the start of modern evolutionary science, why humans are hairless has been controversial. "No one supposes," wrote Charles Darwin in The Descent of Man, "that the nakedness of the skin is any direct advantage to man: his body, therefore, cannot have been divested of hair through natural selection."

If not natural selection, then what? Despite his book's title, Darwin had little to say about human origins.

The article says this is still an unsolved problem.
One proposal which few considered worth examining came from Alister Hardy at the University of Oxford. His field was marine biology, and he had noted that human skin was not only naked but lined with a layer of fat, and that this was true of a number of aquatic mammals. His article (New Scientist, 17 March, 1960, p 642) asked simply: "Was Man more aquatic in the past?" But this was rejected out of hand, largely because the savannah theory was considered unchallengeable.

Towards the end of the century, however, doubts were raised about the savannah theory, ... That proved bipedalism did not evolve on the savannah, ...

It is funny how the aquatic ape hypothesis is rejected, even as mainstream theories get shot down. They take seriously this silly lice theory. even tho it does not really explain much.
None of this affects Hardy's theory that humans lost their body hair during an aquatic interlude. But his theory claims to offer one explanation for a whole range of enigmatic human features: bipedality, hairlesslessness, fat layer, descended larynx, loss of olfaction, and so on. If it turns out that the big two - bipedality and nakedness - arose at roughly the same time, that might shift the balance of probability some little way toward Hardy.

Only one thing is certain: the question is not going to go away.

That's right, it won't go away. If I had to bet, I would bet on the aquatic ape hypothesis. It explains a lot. Even if it turns out to be wrong, we should demand a better theory. Unless some theory explains more, then it will not be convincing.

Friday, Sep 18, 2009
Einstein ignored prior relativity work
Albert Einstein did not cite any sources in his famous 1905 papers, and there has long been speculation on how much he knew of Poincare work on Relativity. Einstein always refused to acknowledge that he knew any of it.

Einstein was almost certainly lying. Poincare wrote about simultaneity of clocks and mass-energy equivalence in 1900, and Einstein's 1905 work seems like plagiarism. Einstein's friends say that he was fascinated by Poincare's 1902 book, Science and Hypothesis, where Poincare discusses his principle of relativity. Einstein had a job writing reviews of current physics, and could not have avoided relativity papers by Lorentz and Poincare.

Poincare did not detail his relativity theory until two papers in 1905, and only the first one was published before Einstein's 1905 relativity. So it seems possible that Einstein did not know about those two papers before his own paper.

I just ran across a translation of Einstein's 1909 review paper of his famous ideas on light and relativity. And it does not even cite Poincare! He says:

This contradiction was chiefly eliminated by the pioneering work of H. A. Lorentz in 1895. ... Only one experiment seemed incompatible with Lorentz's theory, namely, the interference experiment of Michelson and Morley.
This is really dishonest. Lorentz and Poincare had improved their theory a lot since 1895, and it was completely compatible with Michelson-Morley. Their theory was explicitly designed to explain Michelson-Morley, and there is no way Einstein could have misunderstood that.

He goes on:

This state of affairs was very unsatisfying. The only useful and fundamentally basic theory was that of Lorentz, which depended on a completely immobile ether. The Earth had to be seen as moving relative to this ether.
Poincare explicitly said that the aether was perfectly undetectable, and that the concept would probably eventually be discarded. His theory did not depend on the aether at all.
Michelson's experiment suggests the axiom that all phenomena obey the same laws relative to the Earth's reference frame or, more generally, relative to any reference frame in unaccelerated motion. For brevity, let us call this postulate the relativity principle.
Einstein acts like he invented the relativity principle from Michelson's experiment. In fact, Poincare seems to have coined the term, and had been calling it that for years. Poincare wrote an essay on relativity as early as 1897. At the time, almost all the physicists believed that more accurate aether-drift experiments would prove the relativity principle wrong.

It was Poincare, not Einstein, who wrote in 1905 about the invariance of x2 + y2 + z2 - c2t2. Einstein cites this invariance and then says, "This path leads to the so-called relativity theory." But again, no mention of Poincare.

Some of Poincare's ideas about mathematical physics were presented at the 1904 St. Louis Worlds Fair. Here is an English translation, with another copy here. He lists the 5 or 6 most important physical laws, and one is:

The principle of relativity, according to which the laws of physical phenomena should be the same, whether for an observer fixed, or for an observer carried along in a uniform movement of translation; so that we have not and could not have any means of discerning whether or not we are carried along in such a motion.
He explains, in words, Lorentz contractions and time dilations, and how they are consistent with Maxwell's equations and the principle of relativity.

This paper was published in a volume with many other distinguished lectures from the 1904 Worlds Fair, and it was considered one of the most important scientific books ever published.

It seems clear to me that Einstein is so famous today because he stole the work of others, and did not give credit. Poincare should be considered the creator of Relativity Theory, with help from Lorentz.

Wednesday, Sep 16, 2009
Say "bogus" and get sued for libel in UK
The NY Times reports on the Simon Singh case:
He wrote, “The British Chiropractic Association claims that their members can help treat children with colic, sleeping and feeding problems, frequent ear infections, asthma and prolonged crying, even though there is not a jot of evidence. This organisation is the respectable face of the chiropractic profession and yet it happily promotes bogus treatments.” ...

The case at present hinges on the meaning of “bogus.” In a preliminary hearing, the judge ruled that bogus means deliberately dishonest, rather than a lack of evidence; he also ruled that Singh had written a statement of fact, not opinion, something that will make the case much harder to defend.

Accusing chiropractors of using bogus treatments seems fair to me. If the treatment does not work, and I think that the chiropractors should know better, then I would call it bogus. It should not matter whether the chiropractors are deliberately dishonest.

It is scary to get sued for calling something bogus, as I call things bogus all the time. But Singh really did go beyond that. He implied that the chiropractors know that the treatments are bogus and they do them anyway. He is going to have a hard time proving that.

By itself, bogus does not mean deliberately dishonest. But Singh said "happily promotes bogus treatments". It is the word "happily" that suggests that the dishonesty is deliberate. It is possible that the chiropractors learned the treatments in chiropractor college, and accepted their validity on faith.

Tuesday, Sep 15, 2009
Dolphins with Conscious Metacognition
Science news:
ScienceDaily (Sep. 15, 2009) — J. David Smith, Ph.D., a comparative psychologist at the University at Buffalo who has conducted extensive studies in animal cognition, says there is growing evidence that animals share functional parallels with human conscious metacognition -- that is, they may share humans' ability to reflect upon, monitor or regulate their states of mind. ...

He says "comparative psychologists have studied the question of whether or not non-human animals have knowledge of their own cognitive states by testing a dolphin, pigeons, rats, monkeys and apes using perception, memory and food-concealment paradigms. ...

Smith recounts the original animal-metacognition experiment with Natua the dolphin. "When uncertain, the dolphin clearly hesitated and wavered between his two possible responses," he says, "but when certain, he swam toward his chosen response so fast that his bow wave would soak the researchers' electronic switches.

"In sharp contrast," he says, "pigeons in several studies have so far not expressed any capacity for metacognition. In addition, several converging studies now show that capuchin monkeys barely express a capacity for metacognition.

So hesitation is proof of a higher state of conscious awareness? Maybe the dolphin is just confused, and not showing conscious metacognition, whatever that is.

Of course I am dubious whenever comparative psychologists discuss paradigms in non-human animals. Is that just a fancy phrase for doing animal research? They have combined three bogus phrases into one sentence.

Friday, Sep 11, 2009
Skeptical about climate change
Physics World reports:
As the scientific community has moved towards a stronger consensus that man made climate change is happening, the general public must have become less sceptical about the issue - right??


Well, wrong in the case of the British public, according to social scientist Lorraine Whitmarsh, who carried out separate opinion surveys in 2003 and 2008.

Over this five year period, the number of respondents who believe that claims about the effects of climate change have been exaggerated has risen from 15 to 29 per cent.

What’s more, over half of respondents in the latest survey feel that the media have been too “alarmist” in their reporting of the issue.

Sceptics are more likely to be men, older people, rural dwellers and - perhaps surprisingly - higher earners.

No, it is not that surprising. According to the best available climate data, the Earth's climate did heat up in the 1990s, and reached a peak in 1998. Since then, the temperature has been flat. The 2000s have not been any hotter than the 1990s. See this article Richard S. Lindzen.

Maybe there is global warming, but the actual data has not matched the alarmist predictions. There is good reason for more people to be skeptical.

Tuesday, Sep 08, 2009
Ptolemy accused of fraud
The NY Times, in an article about rivals making bogus claims to have discovered the North Pole a century ago, writes:
Mr. Rawlins who is the editor of Dio, a science history journal, says he cannot think of any modern scientific fraud that has been so profitable and popular and endured a century.

The only longer-lived example that comes to mind, he says, are the second-century astronomical “observations” of Ptolemy that were apparently derived not from the sky but from his theories.

Ptolemy’s tables were used for more than 14 centuries, which seems like a hard record to beat.

I had no idea Ptolemy was thought to be such a great fraud. The International Journal of Scientific History says:
For centuries, astronomers have known that the famous ancient astrologer-mathematician Claudius Ptolemy faked observations and stole Hipparchos' star catalog — which is the main reason why the recent great modern star catalogs are named for Hipparchos (127 BC) & Tycho (1601), skipping Ptolemy (137 AD).

Ptolemy ought by now to be notorious for having insisted that the Earth was the center of a tiny universe — in stubbornly uncomprehending (DIO 1.1 [1991] ‡7 §B1) opposition to his famous predecessor, the genuinely perceptive astronomer, Aristarchos of Samos (280 BC).

Aristarchos was (among other credits) a heliocentric pioneer in promoting realization of the Earth's place in a huge universe. (Also, he evidently was aware of precession well before Hipparchos: DIO 11.2 [2003] ‡4 App.2.) He is not known to have been into astrology or theft. He bucked the establishment of his day, which threatened him for his new findings — an ancient dry run for the Galileo affair. Meanwhile Ptolemy stole, mutilated, and fabricated data in order to fake the truth of the geocentric astronomy of the governmental (Serapic) religion which employed him.

Given their relative merits, one would think that the modern science establishment would admire Aristarchos and condemn Ptolemy. One would think.

However, Ptolemy's massive (and often-valuable) Almajest has been a moneycow for certain modern academic cults.

This journal documents its arguments, but the more mainstream science press has ignored them.

I always assumed that Ptolemy's book was a compilations of the works of many others. So I am not sure it matters much that he fudged some of the figures. I guess that Rawlins is suggesting that if it were not for Ptolemy's poor behavior, Aristarchos's heliocentric model might have prevailed a millennium ahead of Copernicus.

Dawkins writes book defending Evolution
Leftist-atheist-evolutionist Prof. Richard Dawkins' new book is out, and you can read the first couple of chapters here. It is supposed to be the proof that evolution is a fact, just as his last book was supposed to be the proof that there is no God.

The book opens:

Imagine that you are a teacher of Roman history and the Latin language, ... Yet you find your precious time continually preyed upon, and your class’s attention distracted, by a baying pack of ignoramuses ... who, with strong political and especially financial support, scurry about tirelessly attempting to persuade your unfortunate pupils that the Romans never existed. There never was a Roman Empire.
When he makes analogies like this, I wonder whether he has some sort of paranoid disorder. There are anti-evolutionists in our society, but they have no significant political or financial support. Every American public school and every major college teaches evolution. None of them teach that evolution is false. Govt and universities spend billions of dollars every year in pro-evolution research and education. They don't spend anything against evolution.

A better analogy might be to conspiracy theorists who argue that we never landed on the Moon, or that the 9/11 attack was an inside job, or that space aliens have abducted humans and infiltrated our society. Yes, you can find polls showing people agreeing to these beliefs, but they are no significant political or financial support.

Dawkins goes on:

Evolution is a fact. Beyond reasonable doubt, beyond serious doubt, beyond sane, informed, intelligent doubt, beyond doubt evolution is a fact. ...

Why, then, do we speak of “Darwin’s theory of evolution”, ...? Evolution is a theory in the same sense as the heliocentric theory. In neither case should the word “only” be used, as in “only a theory”.

That is another wacky analogy. No one would say that heliocentric theory is a fact. No one with any understanding of 20th century physics anyway. That would mean that the Sun being at the center of the Universe would be a fact. But it is not even at the center of our galaxy, and it is not stationary with respect to the Big Bang radiation. Heliocentric theory remains a useful theory for calculating planetary orbits, but it is not fact.

I am surprised that Dawkins does not start the book with a careful definition of what he means by evolution. If evolution is such a rock-solid fact, then it should be stated precisely so we know exactly what is indisputable. Maybe that comes later in the book, I don't know.

My theory is that leftist-atheist-evolutionists like Dawkins deliberately do a sloppy job of explaining what evolution is, so they can trick you into believing more than what can really be proved.

A related problem occurs with quantum mechanics. People will argue that quantum mechanic is true because it has been experimentally verified to great accuracy in many ways. And yet we cannot be sure of certain commonly stated implications of the theory because those aspects of the theory have not really been adequately tested. An example is quantum computers. Conventional wisdom is that the theory shows that they are possible, but we won't know for sure until somebody builds one. A lot of people have been working on it for the last 20 years.

In Chapter 2, Dawkins presents a theory by someone named Coppinger about how dogs might have been domesticated from wolves. A related theory is in today's NY Times:

A new study of dogs worldwide, the largest of its kind, suggests a different answer, one that any dog owner is bound to find repulsive: wolves may have first been domesticated for their meat. That is the proposal of a team of geneticists led by Peter Savolainen of the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm.

Sampling the mitochondrial DNA of dogs worldwide, the team found that in every region of the world all dogs seem to belong to one lineage. That indicates a single domestication event. ...

Dr. Savolainen said wolves probably domesticated themselves when they began scavenging around the garbage dumps at the first human settlements, a theory advocated by Ray Coppinger, a dog biologist at Hampshire College in Massachusetts. As the wolves became tamer, they would have been captured and bred. Given local traditions, Dr. Savolainen suggests, the wolves may have been bred for the table.

Thus, dogs may have thus insinuated themselves into human life by means of garbage and dog meat, but they quickly assumed less demeaning roles. Once domesticated, they rapidly spread west from the eastern end of the Eurasian continent.

This is all good stuff, but it is theory, not fact. There are other hypotheses about how dogs might have evolved from wolves. If it happened by humans breeding experiments, then that would be artificial selection, not Darwinian natural selection. I suppose that dogs make a good example because everyone knows dogs, but I am not sure that the example supports his thesis very well.

Sunday, Sep 06, 2009
US Govt endorses healthy foods
The NY Times reports:
A new food-labeling campaign called Smart Choices, backed by most of the nation’s largest food manufacturers, is “designed to help shoppers easily identify smarter food and beverage choices.”

The green checkmark label that is starting to show up on store shelves will appear on hundreds of packages, including — to the surprise of many nutritionists — sugar-laden cereals like Cocoa Krispies and Froot Loops. ...

In joining Smart Choices, the companies agreed to discontinue their own labeling systems, Ms. Kennedy said.

The official web site says:
The new symbol will be allowed only on those products that meet strict science-based nutrition criteria derived from the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, reports from the Institute of Medicine, and other sources of consensus dietary guidance.
The terms "science-based nutrition criteria" and "consensus dietary guidance" are contradictory. If they really had scientific rules, then they would not have had to spend so much time collecting votes from industry lobbyists. There is no solid evidence that these foods are any healthier than any others. They have just made deals to designate certain foods that the public will accept as healthy.

Saturday, Sep 05, 2009
Amazon.com Offers to Replace Copies of Orwell Book
The NY Times reports:
Jeffrey P. Bezos, Amazon’s chief executive, apologized to customers for the deletions in July. And late Thursday, the company tried to put the incident behind it, offering to deliver new copies of “1984” and “Animal Farm” at no charge to affected customers.

Amazon said in an e-mail message to those customers that if they chose to have their digital copies restored, they would be able to see any digital annotations they had made. ...

But neither the refunds nor the subsequent apology were enough for some critics, who said the incident underscored the amount of restrictions built into the Kindle. Digital books for the Kindle are sold with so-called digital rights management software, which allows Amazon to maintain strict control over the copies of electronic books on its reader and prevents other companies from selling books for the device.

Amazon appears to be keeping its remote kill switch. That is the real issue here, not the differences in international copyright law that put Orwell in the Australian public domain but not the American public domain.

The broader question is whether a company like Amazon can offer a product with a cloud computing service, without having a duty to police the cloud by mediating assorted legal claims.

Tivo has won a patent infringement lawsuit against Dish/Echostar DVR products, and an injunction against use. Dish presumably has a remote kill switch, and Tivo is trying to force Dish to use it.

I say that the public should object to these remote kill switches. When I buy a product, I expect it to work, and I don't expect the maker to remotely disable it. If they made their products so that remote kill switches were impossible, then even a court order could not force the vendor to remotely disable the products.

My guess is that the vendors like these remote kill switches because they want to be able to cut off customers who don't pay their bills, and other freeloaders. That may be worth more to Amazon than the occasional embarrassment like the Orwell incident.

Update: It turns out that Amazon and other vendors refuse to use their kill switch on thieves because they hope to sell products to the thief:

Specifically, rage at the gadget makers, which often know exactly who has a missing or stolen device, because in many instances it has been registered to a new user.

But many tech companies will not disclose information about the new owners of missing devices unless a police officer calls with a search warrant. Even a request to simply shut down service — which would deter thieves by rendering their pilfered gadget useless — is typically refused.

The public needs to wise up, and demand control over these kill switches. If I buy a gadget, any kill switch should be usable for my benefit, not against me. The gadget makers like Amazon have it exactly backwards.

Thursday, Sep 03, 2009
Refusing to debate scientific issues
The leftist-atheist-evolutionists are trying to censor alternative views again. I agree with science writer John Horgan who writes:
My attitude was that the best way to counter this stuff is to confront it, point out where it’s wrong or misleading, make fun of it, move on. I feel this way not only about religious superstition but also about homeopathy, astrology and parapsychology–not to mention psychoanalysis, psychopharmacology, multi-universe theories, string theory and the Singularity.

Well, the debate over how—or whether–to handle bad ideas has boiled over once again on Bloggingheads.tv as a result of two recent chats involving Paul Nelson, a young-earth creationist (the earth is young, not Nelson), and Michael Behe, an intelligent-design proponent (the design is intelligent, not Behe). Two regular correspondents on Science Saturday—the biology writer Carl Zimmer and the physicist Sean Carroll–were outraged that BHTV gave a platform to religious nuts. They quit after Bob Wright, the founder of BHTV, refused to promise to keep creationism and other fringe topics—not even astrology!–off the site in the future.

I watched the Behe interview, but it is hard to see what the excitement is about. His views are clearly and repeatedly labeled as being outside the mainstream. He accepts most of evolution, and is not a young-Earth creationist. He is a Christian, but does not seem to have any Christian objections to evolution. He was mainly arguing that there are limits to what evolution can explain, and pushing a book he wrote on the subject.

None of these evolutionists bothers to rebut anything Behe actually says. He has to have a disclaimer on his Lehigh web site, as well as one for the department. Weird. Even if he is entirely wrong, academia is filled with crackpots with far wackier views, and they are not censored or ostracized.

In comparison, Forbes magazine has an article on String Theory:

String theory took off in the mid-1990s, following some important insights from a physicist, Edward Witten. It quickly became the rage among the world's elite theoretical physicists. The best graduate students devoted their studies to it, and the work was profiled in books and pbs documentaries. Nobel Prizes were assumed to be waiting in the wings. ...

Peskin says he believes that, despite any current lack of progress in string theory, nature will eventually be shown to be made of strings, just as the theory predicts. But even if that doesn't happen, Peskin said, string theory will not have been in vain. "It's common in physics for people to have incredibly ambitious ideas that don't pan out but lead to rich mathematical ideas that end up being very useful," he says.

Many mainstream nonstring physicists would agree with much of Woit's critique. But they're also unwilling to engage him, for reasons having more to do with sociology than science. ...

Princeton's Witten declines to discuss Woit, saying in an e-mail that he prefers to debate these issues only with "critics who are distinguished scientists rather than with people who have become known by writing books."

That sounds like elitism.

There will not be any Nobel Prize for Witten because the theory has proved to be a total failure. It is incapable of making any predictions about the physical world. Witten is revered for his accomplishments in Mathematics, not Physics.

If scientists wanted to censor unscientific ideas, then they would censor string theory. And if Witten were a real scientist, then he would be willing to defend his work against his critics.

It should be obvious that these scientist wannabes are phonies when they claim that because their ideas have become accepted into the mainstream scientific establishment, they should not be defended or debated with critics. You hear this from the proponents of evolutionism, string theory, global warming, mandatory vaccination, water fluoridization, and a few other topics.

Update: Some other leftist-atheist-evolutionists have joined the boycott.

Environmentalist cause fires
Once again, environmentalists contribute to wildfires. AP reports:
LOS ANGELES — Federal authorities failed to follow through on plans earlier this year to burn away highly flammable brush in a forest on the edge of Los Angeles to avoid the very kind of wildfire now raging there, The Associated Press has learned.

Months before the huge blaze erupted, the U.S. Forest Service obtained permits to burn away the undergrowth and brush on more than 1,700 acres of the Angeles National Forest. But just 193 acres had been cleared by the time the fire broke out, Forest Service resource officer Steve Bear said.

The agency defended its efforts, saying weather, wind and environmental rules tightly limit how often these "prescribed burns" can be conducted. ...

"This brush was ready to explode," said Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich, whose district overlaps the forest. "The environmentalists have gone to the extreme to prevent controlled burns, and as a result we have this catastrophe today."

I am beginning to think that much of the wildfire destruction in the USA is caused by environmentalists. They oppose fire prevention strategies at every opportunity.