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Sunday, May 08, 2011
 
New blog
This blog is moving to blog.darkbuzz.com.

This blog has been powered by software that I wrote myself. It has served well, but it does not allow comments, and I want to allow more reader feedback on my postings and my new book. Please update your bookmarks and blog readers.


Saturday, May 07, 2011
 
Trust in science
Virginia psychology professor Daniel T. Willingham writes in SciAm:
A friend of mine has long held that a vaccination his son received as an infant triggered his child’s autism. He clings to this belief despite a string of scientific studies that show no link between autism and vaccines. When the original paper on such a link was recently discredited as a fraud, my friend’s reaction was that it will now be more difficult to persuade people of the dangers of vaccination. He is not alone: nearly half of all Americans believe in the vaccine-autism link or are unsure about it.
His friend's reaction is not so bad. After all, discrediting a 15-year-old paper says nothing about whether there is a link between autism and vaccines. That paper was just a provisional report on about a dozen cases. Scientific knowledge comes from positive studies, not by exposing bogus papers.

It will be more difficult to get physicians to report vaccine concerns, because those who do are subject to getting pilloried.

Asking science teachers to impart enough content to understand all the issues may be unrealistic, but they might be able to improve people’s appreciation for the accuracy of scientific knowledge. Through the study of the history of science, students might gain an understanding both of their own motivations for belief and of science as a method of knowing. If a student understands how a medieval worldview could have made a geocentric theory of the solar system seem correct, it is a short step to seeing similar influences in oneself.
I get the impression that he thinks that medieval geocentrists were irrational and narrow-minded, and that one can become more enlightened about science by repudiating Christianity.

The point of the article is to teach kids to trust scientists more. This guy is on the wrong track.

Another SciAm essay says:

Now the U.K. government, represented by the Government Office for Science, has produced its own response. In a May 5 memo to Parliament, the government wrote: "After two independent reviews, and two reviews by the Science and Technology Committee, we find no evidence to question the scientific basis of human influence on the climate." ...

Ultimately, it is doubtful that the governmental proclamation will have any significant influence on the debate. Those who believe the planet is warming are already supported by scientific consensus and by a wealth of climate data, and those who believe a conspiracy is afoot to suppress conflicting data will hardly be swayed by a formal statement to the contrary from a government body.

This silly proclamation should not have any significant influence. I am convinced that human-generated CO2 has caused some warming, but it is ridiculous to say "no evidence to question". There is certainly evidence to question the consensus. The consensus may be correct, but having an official govt body say that there is "no evidence to question" is not something that should persuade anyone of anything, except that there is a political push to suppress criticism of certain ideas.

Friday, May 06, 2011
 
Lousy selection arguments
I have commented before on the group/kin selection dispute among evolutionists. A psychiatrist writes:
2. The rebuttals to Nowak and Wilson are almost all of the form, “you’ve misunderstood kin selection theory,” or, said generally, “that’s not what we meant!” They resort to ad hominem attacks and appeals to authority (“evolutionary biologists know…”) These are typically the defenses of a paradigm unable to critique itself from the outside. The result in these cases (when/if they happen) is not the gradual modification of theory (e.g. scientific method) but a full fledged Kuhnian shift. ...

Nowak and Wilson seem to be writing a paper about bugs, they are, in fact, not writing a paper about bugs:

We have not addressed the evolution of human social behaviour here, but parallels with the scenarios of animal eusocial evolution exist, and they are, we believe, well worth examining.
That’s the game. Wilson is talking about humans. Is human altruism and cooperation understandable and predictable as a function of genetic relatedness, or is relatedness the result of group dynamics, of competition between groups?
I am going to track this. My gut feeling is that Nowak and Wilson are right, and that Dawkins and the other mainstream evolutionists have been getting the subject wrong for decades.

NewScientist mag announces a computer simulation that takes the side of Dawkins:

Virtual robots have "evolved" to cooperate – but only with close relatives. The finding bolsters a long-standing "rule of thumb" about how cooperation has evolved, and could help resolve a bitter row among biologists. ...

Nowak's criticism has now been answered, argues Keller. "We show that the rule works very well," he says. "But I'm sure some people won't change their minds."

Indeed, Nowak remains unconvinced, saying that the simulation's design forces it to obey Hamilton's rule. "It is no surprise that Hamilton's rule holds in a system that is designed to validate it," he says. "It tells us nothing about whether Hamilton's rule makes a correct prediction for actual biological systems."

A computer simulation of robots eating virtual food is not going to resolve this. Either type of selection could be simulated on a computer. The question is what happens in nature. This should be easily settled for ants and bees. It could get a lot uglier when then get to human beings, as a lot of prominent evolutionists get queasy whenever anyone talks about apply evolution to people.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011
 
Natural selection was never a hypothesis
The leftist-atheist-evolutionist Jerry Coyne is upset today about a newspaper article:
Tam Hunt, ... His particular beef was natural selection, which he sees as “little more than an assumption that evolution has resulted from natural causes rather than supernatural causes. As such, the theory of natural selections explains nothing in itself – it is a very loose framework that needs filling in rather substantially.” ...

He then characterizes natural selection as tautological, because it’s “survival of the fittest,” and the fittest are defined as “those who survive. This, of course, is an old creationist canard, which completely ignores the fact that hundreds of biologists are trying to understand those particular traits that promote survival and reproduction.

Yes, I agree that hundreds of biologists are trying to understand those traits. I sometimes post links to stories about progress that they are making. But I also agree with Hunt that natural selection is just a trivial and tautological assumption that explains nothing.

Coyne goes on to cite this Gould essay for explaining the point:

I am a strong advocate of the general argument that "truth" as preached by scientists often turns out to be no more than prejudice inspired by prevailing social and political beliefs.
Gould goes on to say that Darwin got natural selection wrong because Darwin's concept included progress and "improved design".

Only one of these die-hard evolutionist ideologues like Gould and Coyne could deny that evolution has brought progess.

A hypothesis is defined by M-W.com:

2: a tentative assumption made in order to draw out and test its logical or empirical consequences
This M-W dictionary defines empirical as "3: capable of being verified or disproved by observation or experiment". These are reasonable definitions, altho I also like this: hypothesis - A guess made by someone with a PhD.

Wikipedia explains:

A hypothesis is a proposed explanation for an observable phenomenon. The term derives from the Greek, ... For a hypothesis to be put forward as a scientific hypothesis, the scientific method requires that one can test it. Scientists generally base scientific hypotheses on previous observations that cannot satisfactorily be explained with the available scientific theories.
M-W.com also defines Darwin's natural selection as:
a natural process that results in the survival and reproductive success of individuals or groups best adjusted to their environment and that leads to the perpetuation of genetic qualities best suited to that particular environment
I ask whether this should be called a hypothesis. It was a tentative assumption, but to be a scientific hypothesis, it should also have some testable consequences.

This essay tries to explain Darwin's theory:

Charles Darwin was missing a mechanism for the inheritance of beneficial traits when he published the Origin of Species in 1859. Darwin had amassed a huge amount of evidence that supported some type of adaptive process that contributed to the evolution of new species, much like Wegener had for Continental Drift. He argued that with the natural variations that occur in populations, any trait that is beneficial would make that individual more likely to survive and pass on the trait to the next generation. If enough of these selections occured on different beneficial traits you could end up with completely new species. One major flaw in Darwin's theory was that he did not have a mechanism for how the traits could be preserved over the succeeding generations. At the time, the prevailing theory of inheritance was that the traits of the parents were blended in the offspring. But this would mean that any beneficial trait would be diluted out of the population within a few generations. This is because most of the blending over the next generations would be with individuals that did not have the trait.

In spite of the lack of a mechanism for the preservation of traits, Darwin's theory quickly came to dominate. Within 5 years, Oxford University was using a biology textbook that discussed biology in the context of evolution by natural selection. The textbook stated,

"Though evidence might be required to show that natural selection accounts for everything ascribed to it, yet no evidence is required to show that natural selection has always been going on, is going on now, and must ever continue to go on. Recognizing this is an a priori certainty, let us contemplate it under its two distinct aspects."
At Oxford, evolution by natural selection had gone from hypothesis to a priori certainty in the space of 5 years.
This shows that natural selection was never a scientific hypothesis; it was just a new term for a commonly understood truth. It had been published before Darwin, and before Wallace's letters to Darwin. Darwin was the third to give a written explanation of natural selection, at best.

Darwin's assumption was that evolution by natural selection could explain biological features such as the long necks of giraffes. Testing this (for giraffes) does not mean verifying that evolution has occurred or that natural selection has applied. As the textbook said, those are obvious truths.

Explaining the giraffe necks would mean to give some hypothesis about why giraffe ancestors split into short-necked and long-necked species, and then to show how that same hypothesis predicts splits in other species. Those predictions could be tested by examining the fossil record, along with other evidence of the ancient environment. Natural selection does not do that at all, and apparently that was well-understood in Darwin's day.

Wikipedia tries to explain the giraffe's neck:

For example, an incorrect way to describe giraffe evolution is to say that giraffe necks grew longer over time because they needed to reach tall trees. ... Tall trees could not cause the mutation nor would they cause a higher percentage of animals to be born with longer necks.
This is a bad example. It is not known that the evolution of giraffe necks has anything to do with tall trees, and there are experts with different opinions on the subject. But if it were shown that giraffes survived because they could reach tall trees, then it seems reasonable to me to say that the tall trees caused the predominance of long necks.

This is another example of how our leading evolutionists get hopelessly hung up on some ideological argument about some basic scientific point, and be confusing and misleading.


Tuesday, May 03, 2011
 
Detecting quantum entanglement
Anil Ananthaswamy reports in the 03 May 2011 NewScientist magazine:
"They are different sides of the same coin," says Busch. Where two particles are perfectly entangled, spooky action at a distance calls the shots, and uncertainty is a less stringent principle than had been assumed. But where there is no entanglement, uncertainty reverts to the Maassen-Uffink relation. The strength of the Berta interpretation is that it allows us to say how much we can know for a sliding scale of situations in between, where entanglement is present but less than perfect. That is highly relevant for quantum cryptography, the quantum technology closest to real-world application, which relies on the sharing of perfectly entangled particles. The relation means there is an easier way to test when that entanglement has been disturbed, for example, by unwanted eavesdroppers, simply by monitoring measurement uncertainty.
I don't know how any modern writer could say that quantum cryptography is "the quantum technology closest to real-world application". Quantum mechanics was invented in the 1920s, and is essential to all 20th century physics and chemistry. Your cell phone uses the theory in dozens of different ways.

Quantum cryptography is a speculative technology that has never been shown to work, and would not have any real-world usefulness even if it did.


Monday, May 02, 2011
 
Leftist attack on science and positivism
The Nation, a leftist magazine, writes a long attack on Sam Harris, new/gnu atheists, and positivism:
More a habit of mind than a rigorous philosophy, positivism depends on the reductionist belief that the entire universe, including all human conduct, can be explained with reference to precisely measurable, deterministic physical processes. (This strain of positivism is not to be confused with that of the French sociologist Auguste Comte.) The decades between the Civil War and World War I were positivism’s golden age. Positivists boasted that science was on the brink of producing a total explanation of the nature of things, which would consign all other explanations to the dustbin of mythology. Scientific research was like an Easter egg hunt: once the eggs were gathered the game would be over, the complexities of the cosmos reduced to natural law. Science was the only repository of truth, a sovereign entity floating above the vicissitudes of history and power. Science was science.
No, this is an inaccurate definition of Positivism. Positivism is a philosophy that believes in what can be positively demonstrated with empirical science. Logical positivism adds what can also be proved with reason and logic. But it does not assume that everything is precisely measurable, or deterministic, or reductionist. It would be contrary to postivitism to assume those things, unless they could be positively demonstrated.

Positivism is out of favor among philosophers. It died about 50 years ago, they say. I think that philosophy died about then. Positivism is much better than its replacements.

Though they often softened their claims with Christian rhetoric, positivists assumed that science was also the only sure guide to morality, and the only firm basis for civilization. ...

Every schoolkid knows about what happened next: the catastrophic twentieth century. Two world wars, the systematic slaughter of innocents on an unprecedented scale, the proliferation of unimaginably destructive weapons, brushfire wars on the periphery of empire —- all these events involved, in various degrees, the application of scientific research to advanced technology.

Wow, this is wacky. Christian rhetoric about morality is not positivist. Christians believe in a morality based on the Gospels, faith, tradition, and church teachings. They are informed by empirical science, but do not rely on it.

The view of the 20C is even more bizarre. Yes, the 20C advanced science and technology, but that made the world a much better place. You would have a hard time finding anyone who wants to live under 19C conditions.

I am not defending Harris here. He is neither a positivist or a Christian. His morality does not make much sense to me. The Nation does point out some of his screwy opinions, while giving its own screwy opinions. I am defending logical positivism. It is a perfectly legitimate view of scientific knowledge. It says nothing about morality.


Sunday, May 01, 2011
 
The latest evolutionist boycott
Here is the latest evolutionist dispute with alleged creationists:
It's more than a bit depressing to report that Synthese, a journal that has published classic papers by Carnap and Quine, among many others, and has been a major scholarly forum for philosophy informed by the sciences, should now have caved in to the major enemies of science education in the United States, the Creationist/Intelligent Design lobby.
It published a rant by Barbara Forrest against Francis Beckwith for supposedly supporting ID while having some religious motivations, and the editors attached a disclaimer about "the usual academic standards of politeness". Now the evolutionists want to boycott the journal for publishing the disclaimer.

I think that a philosophy journal ought to be apologetic about publishing ad hominem attacks on the religious motivations of others. Would they publish a paper attacking relativity based on Einstein's Jewish motivations?

There is no "Creationist/Intelligent Design lobby", as far as I know. The creationists say that the Earth is less that 10k years old, and the ID proponents say that it is billions of years old.

Beckwith says that he made a legal argument:

I argue that it is constitutionally permissible to teach intelligent design in public schools, ... I'm not an intelligent design advocate, and I don't think it should be required in public schools.
He also says:
I am not, and have never been, a proponent of ID. My reasons have to do with my philosophical opposition to the ID movement ...
Forrest and her evolutionist supporters are what Dilbert would call smooshers. They have a lot of difficulty compartmentilizing information, and they confuse legal, philosophical, and scientific arguments.

Saturday, Apr 30, 2011
 
Killing the king
Here is a story from Felix Frankfurter Reminisces (1960):
On Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. and Ralph Waldo Emerson, p. 59.

Emerson said to him, "Young man, have you read Plato?" Holmes said he hadn't. "You must. You must read Plato. But you must hold him at arm's length and say, 'Plato, you have delighted and edified mankind for two thousand years. What have you to say to me?'" Holmes said, "That's the lesson of independence." So off he went and read Plato for a few months or a year, and then wrote a piece doing in Mr. Plato in one of those ephemeral literary things at Harvard. He laid this, as it were, at the feet of Mr. Emerson and awaited the next morning's mail, hoping to get a warm appreciation from Emerson. And the next day and the next and the next — no sign of life. No acknowledgment from Mr. Emerson. Holmes didn't see him again for about a year. When he saw him, this, that, and the other thing was again talked about. Emerson said, "Oh, by the way, I read your piece on Plato. Holmes, when you strike at a king, you must kill him." Holmes said, "That was the second great lesson — humility."

Likewise, critcisms of Pres. Barack Obama have to show that he is unfit for the office, or they do no real damage. The birth certificate had to show that he was not an American, or else it is insignificant.

Info about Obama's past does tell us more about who he is. His decisions as President continue to baffle those on the right and the left. We know less about him than we do about any American president in decades. His parents are dead. He has little contact with family and friends. We knew Bush, McCain, Kerry, Gore, Clinton, Dole, etc. much better.


Friday, Apr 29, 2011
 
Max Born on Einstein
It is easy to find glowing praise for Einstein's famous 1905 paper. Max Born wrote:
A long time before I read Einstein’s famous 1905 paper, I knew the formal mathematical side of the special theory of relativity through my teacher Hermann Minkowski. Even so, Einstein’s paper was a revelation to me which had a stronger influence on my thinking than any other scientific experience… Einstein’s simple consideration, by which he disclosed the epistemological root of the problem… made an enormous impression, and I think it right that the principle of relativity is connected with his name, though Lorentz and Poincare should not be forgotten.
But no one said anything so ridiculous (publicly) during 1905-1908. The most credit Einstein ever got was to have relativity called the "Lorentz-Einstein" theory.

The Born story is told a little differently in Einstein: the life and times By Ronald W. Clark. There seem to be some inconsistencies in the stories Born told about learning relativity.

Born's 1921 book on "Einstein's Theory of Relativity" said:

Only the reader who has made this view really his own will be able to folow the later development of the doctrine of space and time. Different people find progressive abstraction, objectivation, and relativization easy or difficult, as the case may be. The older peoples of the Continent, Dutch, French, Germans, Italians, Scandinavians, are most susceptible to these ideas, are the most deeply engaged in elaborating this system. Englishmen, who incline to concrete ideas, are less readily accessible. Americans are fond of attaching themselves to pictures and models. [p.190-191]
He later wrote to Einstein:
It is my belief that when average people try to get hold of the laws of nature by thinking alone, the result is pure rubbish.
Born, who was considered Jewish by Nazi Germany because of his ancestry, also wrote privately about Jewish physics:
Ohanian (who may be Jewish himself) gives the background to this phrase ("Einstein's Mistakes" p. 97). He first attributes it to Sommerfeld (an admirer of Einstein), who wrote (approvingly) of "the conceptually abstract nature of the Semite". Ohanian goes on to interpret this remark repeating the wide-spread view (at that time) that "Jews are intellectually inventive & inclined to abstruse, convoluted arguments". Max Born (another Jewish physicist & very good friend of Einstein) described Jewish physics as "an attempt to find the laws of nature just by thinking". Einstein agreed with him when he wrote to Born "I am confident that 'Jewish physics' is not to be killed." To which, Born replied "I have always appreciated your good Jewish physics". All of these quotes are referenced in the text.
The book also says that Sommerfeld complained about Einstein's "nonconstructive and nonvisualizable dogmatics", and it says that the comments were "on target".

My problem with this is that Born's 1921 book shows only a limited understanding of relativity. He says very little about electromagnetism or gravity. He does not mention covariance or recognize the concept. It is central to both special and general relativity. I realize that he got a Nobel Prize for quantum mechanics, but I am unimpressed with his relativity.

It is wrong to say that Einstein "disclosed the epistemological root of the problem". You cannot get to the root of the problem without covariance. Covariance is what makes electromagnetism a spacetime theory. Einstein did not have a spacetime theory. Born credits Minkowski for making it a spacetime theory, and describes the spacetime metric, but does not explain that physical quantities are transformed by purely geometric considerations.

My other problem with Born is that he is emphatic about crediting his friend Einstein for relativity, but he admits that it is possible that Poincare had it all first, in a 1969 essay in the book Physics in my Generation:

The reasoning used by Poincaré was just the same as that which Einstein introduced in his paper of 1905 … Does this mean that Poincaré knew all this before Einstein? It is possible … [Einstein's paper] gives you the impression of quite a new venture. But that is, of course, as I have tried to explain, not true.
I don't know what to make of this Jewish physics stuff. The term seems to be mostly used in connection with German physics, and various Nazi controversies in the 1930s. Germany dominated physics at the time, and according to Wikipedia, the Jewish physics presented an excuse to resist an ideologically unwelcome scientific "paradigm shift". Some of this was aimed at relativity, as you can read in Criticism of relativity theory.

Jewish physics also relates to various ethnic stereotypes. The Half Sigma blog writes:

Both Jains and Jews are tiny minority religion with onerous dietary rules and other restrictions on the enjoyment of life, and both have disproportionate economic success. This leads me to a new theory of why Jews evolved to be smarter than gentile whites. It has to do with the religion sucking really bad. You would think that this would work in the opposite manner. A really smart Jew or Jain would realize how dumb it is that they can’t eat any good foods, and they would be the most likely to jump ship. But such thinking would be based on a misunderstanding of the psychology of high-IQ people. The higher a person’s IQ, the more they follow the rules they are taught. Within the orthodox Jewish or Jain subcultures, the moral thing to do is obey the rules of the religion. It’s the least intelligent Jews or Jains who are most likely to be tempted by the forbidden joys of tasty food and stray from the religion. In this manner, over the centuries, the least intelligent Jews and Jains are most likely to have been culled from the religions’ gene pools.
I guess the idea is that Jewish rabbis are fond of arcane, tricky reasoning about artificially imposed rules that have no obvious relevance to real-world purposes, and that Jews are accustomed to admiring that. The religious Jews stick to the Talmud and religious reasoning, but the non-religious Jews try to apply the reasoning elsewhere.

The Paradigm shift was popularized by a man named Kuhn. That is often a Jewish name, and often not. I don't know whether he was Jewish or not. There are lots of Jews and non-Jews on different sides of the issues.


Thursday, Apr 28, 2011
 
Why science is the source of all progress
David Deutsch David Deutsch is plugging a new book with this:
What is the secret of science's success in understanding our world? It's to do with the quality of its explanations – though there is a twist in the tale

Evidently we do know: look at the remarkable changes to our society that have come from science. Progress rapid enough to be noticed, and that has continued over many generations, has been achieved only once in the history of our species. It began at roughly the time of the scientific revolution, a period that included improvements in technology, political institutions, moral values, art and every aspect of human welfare.

We call this the Enlightenment, a term that historians use to denote a variety of trends, some of them violently conflicting, but all of them rebellions against authority. But mere rebellion- a common event in history- cannot explain how science provided a stream of ever truer explanations. In my new book, The Beginning of Infinity, I offer a new answer to this question.

For thousands of generations, we were in the dark. Our ancestors gazed at the night sky wondering what stars are- which was exactly the right thing to wonder about- using eyes and brains anatomically indistinguishable from ours. In every other field too, they tried to observe the world and to understand it. Occasionally they recognised simple patterns in nature, but when they tried to discover the underlying features of reality they failed almost completely. At the time of the Enlightenment they mistakenly believed that we "derive" knowledge of these features from the "evidence of our senses", or "read" it from the "Book of Nature" by making observations, the doctrine called empiricism.

But science needs more than empiricism. ...

Sustained progress through alternating guesswork and criticism requires a tradition of criticism. Before the Enlightenment, that was a very rare sort of tradition. Usually, the whole point of traditions was to maintain the status quo and to defer to authority.

His previous book was filled with speculative opinions about how the universe. This one seems to be a continuation.

I am skeptical about the importance of "rebellions against authority" to the history of science. Most of the great advances of science had the explicity approval of the authorities, as far as I know. I guess I will have to read the book to find out.

The New Yorker also has an article about Deutsch.

David Deutsch, who believes in multiple universes and has conceived of an as yet unbuildable computer to test their existence. ...

With one millionth of the hardware of an ordinary laptop, a quantum computer could store as many bits of information as there are particles in the universe. It could break previously unbreakable codes. It could answer questions about quantum mechanics that are currently far too complicated for a regular computer to field.

I bet that none of this ever happens. He has a wrong idea of quantum mechanics.

Wednesday, Apr 27, 2011
 
The evolutionist split on religion
The leftist-atheist-evolutionists have split into two factions. There are the new/gnu atheists (like Dawkins, Coyne, Myers, Hitchens) who hate all religion and view the Darwinist cause as inseparable from the effort to stamp out religion. And there are the accommodationists (like Scott, NCSE, BCSE, Mooney) who insist on saying that some religions are better than others, and who try to make allies with the ones who accept evolutionism.

Eg, Myers and Coyne rant here.

It seems to me that all of the prominent evolutionists have some sort of disease where they cannot stop picking fights over religion. I think that it ought to be possible to teach evolution in school without picking fights with Christianity, but the evolutionists cannot be trusted to do it. They insist on attacking the fundamentalists, and then arguing about whether all Christians must be attacked.

I could understand if the evolutionists wanted to speak out against Islam. Prominent Moslems receive death threats if they support evolution. But fundamentalist Christians do not go around killing people for their beliefs.


Tuesday, Apr 26, 2011
 
Einstein on the aether
Here is how Einstein described Lorentz's belief in the aether:
In view of his unqualified adherence to the atomic theory of matter, Lorentz felt unable to regard the latter as the seat of continuous electromagnetic fields. He thus conceived of these fields as being conditions of the aether, which was regarded as continuous. Lorentz considered the aether to be intrinsically independent of matter, both from a mechanical and a physical point of view. The aether did not take part in the motions of matter, and a reciprocity between aether and matter could be assumed only in so far as the latter was considered to be the carrier of attached electrical charges.
This is from A Brief Outline of the Development of the Theory of Relativity (1921), by Albert Einstein, translated by Robert William Lawson, Nature, 106 (No. 2677); February 17, 1921; pp. 782-784.

All of this seems correct to me. It is widely believed that Einstein invented relativity by abolishing the aether that Lorentz foolishly believed in. But in fact Lorentz's beliefs were completely reasonable, and Einstein never disputed them.


Monday, Apr 25, 2011
 
Oppenheimer was crazy
A Wikipedia article about J. Robert Oppenheimer drew this comment:
''In the fall of 1925, Oppenheimer poisoned an apple with chemicals from the laboratory and put it on Blackett's desk ... As Robert's parents were still visiting Cambridge, the university authorities immediately informed them of what had happened. Julius Oppenheimer frantically - and successfully - lobbied the university not to press criminal charges. After protracted negotiations, it was agreed that Robert would be put on probation and have regular sessions with a prominent Harley Street psychiatrist in London. This Freudian analyst diagnosed dementia praecox, a now archaic label for symptoms associated with schizophrenia. He concluded that Oppenheimer was a hopeless case and that "further analysis would do more harm than good".''

The story about the apple needlessly besmirches JRO's reputation. It should be removed. The London psychiatric analysis possibly revealed that he merely suffered from an eating disorder and was known to leave uneaten apples behind him when he left a room.

Needlessly besmirches JRO's reputation? Read the rest of the article. He was a no-good commie with an assortment of character defects. His reputation is only propped up thru the work of commie sympathizers.

Sunday, Apr 24, 2011
 
42 Nobelists oppose teaching critical thinking skills
The Wash. Post reports:
A 17-year-old Baton Rouge high school senior is leading the fight to repeal a Lousiana law that gives teachers license to equate creationism with evolution -- and now he is doing it with the support of more than 40 Nobel laureates.
Zack Kopplin's letter and 42 Nobel prizewinners are here. Only 8 of them got prizes in physiology or medicine, and only about half of them are American. The letter says:
As Nobel Laureates in various scientific fields, we urge you to repeal the misnamed and misguided Louisiana Science Education Act (LSEA) of 2008. This law creates a pathway for creationism and other forms of non-scientific instruction to be taught in public school science classrooms. ...

Louisiana’s students deserve to be taught proper science rather than religion presented as science. Science offers testable, and therefore falsifiable, explanations for natural phenomena. ...

Scientific knowledge is crucial to twenty-first-century life. Biological evolution is foundational in many fields, including biomedical research and agriculture. It aids us in understanding, for example, how to fight diseases like HIV and how to grow plants that will survive in different environments.

So why are physicists, chemists, and foreigners expressing an opinion about fighting HIV and growing plants? This is way out of their expertise. You must be thinking that the La. law is really terrible.

Here is the official description of the bill to repeal the LSEA:

Present law, the "Louisiana Science Education Act," requires BESE, upon request of a local school board, to allow and assist teachers, principals, and other school administrators to create and foster an environment within public elementary and secondary schools that promotes critical thinking skills, logical analysis, and open and objective discussion of scientific theories being studied including evolution, the origins of life, global warming, and human cloning.

Requires that assistance include support and guidance for teachers regarding effective ways to help students understand, analyze, critique, and objectively review such scientific theories being studied.

Requires that a teacher teach material presented in the standard textbook supplied by the school system and thereafter may use textbooks and other instructional materials to help students understand, analyze, critique, and review scientific theories in an objective manner, as permitted by the local school board unless otherwise prohibited by BESE.

Present law specifies that the Louisiana Science Education Act shall not be construed to promote any religious doctrine, promote discrimination for or against a particular set of religious beliefs, or promote discrimination for or against religion or nonreligion.

Proposed law repeals these provisions.

I do not see the problem with the LSEA. It does not promote creationism, religion, or supernatural beliefs. It only supports the "open and objective discussion of scientific theories". No real scientist should be afraid of that. So why are so many agitated about this harmless law, if no religion is involved?

It appears that the evolutionists want to force the schools to teach that evolution explains all life on Earth, and to prevent them from teaching that there is very little scientific knowledge about the origin of life.

This is crazy. Science classes should teach the limits of scientific knowledge. The Noble prizewinners have taken a very anti-science position.

Tennessee is considering a similar law to the LSEA.


Saturday, Apr 23, 2011
 
MacDonald on Einstein
A recent Christian blog post has been criticized for being anti-Jewish for comments like this:
Further reading of MacDonald’s The Culture of Critique extensively documents the academic fraud of Freud, Boas and the Frankfurt School (especially the “authoritarian personality” studies). All of these movements were led by Jews who expressly saw their work as an attack on the West, particularly Christianity, on behalf of Jews. MacDonald goes through pains to document this with their own words, that they were not Leftists who “happen to be” Jews, but rather Leftists who saw their Jewish identity as an integral motivation and justification for their work.
This refers to Kevin B. MacDonald, a California professor who wrote some controversial books Jews and group strategies.

I am skeptical about evolutionary psychology, so I would not take this too seriously. MacDonald seems to carefully document everything he says, but that does not mean that he is necessarily right. He has been widely criticized for discussing a taboo subject, as explained at the above links. Some of his more outrageous claims are listed here, such as:

(7) who suggests that European-Jewish intellectual prominence is genetically based and the result of eugenic processes within traditional Jewish communities; (8) who argues that Jewish intellectuals such as Franz Boas, Felix Frankfurter, Harold Laski, Max Lerner, Morris Cohen, and Robert Merton, accelerated the 'deChristianization' of America's public life by selectively promoting as cultural heroes Gentiles who advanced their goals, such as Margaret Mead, John Dewey, and Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes; (9) who agrees with T. S. Eliot's most famous anti-Semitic statement, that any large number of free-thinking Jews is undesirable if one wants to maintain or develop a society in which a Christian, ethnically homogeneous tradition can flourish.
MacDonald has a theory about 20th century Jewish intellectuals, but he says that Einstein does not fit in:
Similarly, 20th-century theoretical physics does not qualify as a Jewish intellectual movement precisely because it was good science and there are no signs of ethnic involvement in its creation: Jewish identification and pursuit of Jewish interests were not important to the content of the theories or to the conduct of the intellectual movement. Yet Jews have been heavily overrepresented among the ranks of theoretical physicists.

This conclusion remains true even though Einstein, the leading figure among Jewish physicists, was a strongly motivated Zionist (Fölsing 1997, 494-505), opposed assimilation as a contemptible form of 'mimicry' (p. 490), preferred to mix with other Jews whom he referred to as his 'tribal companions' (p. 489), embraced the uncritical support for the Bolshevik regime in Russia typical of so many Jews during the 1920s and 1930s, including persistent apology for the Moscow show trials in the 1930s (pp. 644-5), and switched from a high-minded pacifism during World War I, when Jewish interests were not at stake, to advocating the building of atomic bombs to defeat Hitler. From his teenage years he disliked the Germans and in later life criticized Jewish colleagues for converting to Christianity and acting like Prussians. He especially disliked Prussians, who were the elite ethnic group in Germany. Reviewing his life at age 73, Einstein declared his ethnic affiliation in no uncertain terms: 'My relationship with Jewry had become my strongest human tie once I achieved complete clarity about our precarious position among the nations' (in Fölsing 1997, 488). According to Fölsing, Einstein had begun developing this clarity from an early age, but did not acknowledge it until much later, a form of self-deception: 'As a young man with bourgeois-liberal views and a belief in enlightenment, he had refused to acknowledge [his Jewish identity]' (in Fölsing 1997, 488).

In other words, the issues of the ethnic identification and even ethnic activism on the part of people like Einstein are entirely separate from the issue of whether such people viewed the content of the theories themselves as furthering ethnic interests, and, in the case of Einstein, there is no evidence that he did so. The same cannot be said for Freud, the New York Intellectuals, the Boasians, and the Frankfurt School, in which 'scientific' theories were fashioned and deployed to advance ethnic group interests. This ideological purpose becomes clear when the unscientific nature of these movements is understood. Much of the discussion in CofC documented the intellectual dishonesty, the lack of empirical rigor, the obvious political and ethnic motivation, the expulsion of dissenters, the collusion among co-ethnics to dominate intellectual discourse, and the general lack of scientific spirit that pervaded them. In my view, the scientific weakness of these movements is evidence of their group-strategic function.

The references are to Albert Einstein: A Biography, by the German physics journalist Albrecht Fölsing, an Einstein idolizer.

That is, the theory of relativity is not a theory designed to promote Jewish interests. I assume that MacDonald knows about the criticism of relativity theory, where some people tried to relate relativity to Jews, particularly during the Nazi era. Apparently some were proponents of the so called German Physics, which only accepted scientific knowledge based on experiments, and which is accessible to the senses. They preferred this to the alleged formal-dogmatic "Jewish physics", such as relativity.

According to Wikipedia, the 1931 German book, Hundred authors against Einstein, was not anti-Semitic. Opposition to relativity had very little to do with Einstein being Jewish.

MacDonald lists differences between Albert Einstein and other scholars who led unscientific movements. These differences are not so great. Relativity was scientific, but most of Einstein's later work on unified field theories was not. Einstein certainly lacked intellectual honesty and empirical rigor, as I explain in other posts. MacDonald seems to be overly impressed with the Einstein myth.

Scientific weakness is critical to MacDonald's theory, and no accuses Einstein of scientific weakness. Einstein is supposed to be the world's greatest scientist. But Einstein's scientific reputation is primarily based on his relativity work from 1905-1915. His later work on quantum mechanics, cosmology, and unified field theory was almost entirely worthless. And his relativity work is vastly overrated.

I don't know what the "obvious political and ethnic motivation" would be for either relativity or Einstein's theories. Einstein was involved in some academic battles, but I am not sure that he was always allied with Jews, and his enemies allied with non-Jews. So I am assuming that Einstein does not fit into MacDonald's theory, but I do not know enough about the subject. Someone should do a scholarly examination of this issue.


Thursday, Apr 21, 2011
 
Restoring humanity's rightful place in the universe
A physicist and philosopher (husband and wife) say:
That's the picture that Santa Cruz's Nancy Ellen Abrams and Joel Primack are drawing in their new book "The New Universe and the Human Future: How a Shared Cosmology Could Transform the World." While the rest of us are paying attention to the iPad, "American Idol" and Donald Trump, Abrams and Primack are making a spectacular claim -- that the most significant moment in human history may be ... right now. ...

"There have been only two changes in cosmology until today," said Abrams. "The first one was when the Greeks realized that the Earth is not flat. It's round and things go around it. And the second one was the Copernican Revolution, when Copernicus said that the Earth may not be the center of the universe. This today is the equivalent of the Copernican Revolution. It's that big. It's a picture that's stunning and hardly anyone knows it."

The picture has to do with the nature of the universe. The prevailing "double-dark theory" asserts that the visible universe is about one half of one percent of the whole universe, which consists largely of two mysterious forces known as "dark matter" and "dark energy." What's more, said Abrams and Primack, is that the double-dark theory restores the human as the central player in the universe. What's needed now is a new origin story that will reflect the new science and provide a way out of the cultural impasse between science and religion.

"What we're trying to do is to present a coherent picture of reality that is not just intellectually convincing, but feels good to be part of," said Abrams. "If we start thinking of ourselves as beings with a cosmic role -- which we actually are, if we understand what the cosmos is -- then it's a kind of spiritual awakening, too."

According to them, we earthlings really are at the center of the universe.

Wednesday, Apr 20, 2011
 
Mooney argues that Republicans are stupid
Chris Mooney writes in a Mother Jones article:
"A MAN WITH A CONVICTION is a hard man to change. Tell him you disagree and he turns away. Show him facts or figures and he questions your sources. Appeal to logic and he fails to see your point." So wrote the celebrated Stanford University psychologist Leon Festinger (PDF), in a passage that might have been referring to climate change denial—the persistent rejection, on the part of so many Americans today, of what we know about global warming and its human causes. ...

And since Festinger's day, an array of new discoveries in psychology and neuroscience has further demonstrated how our preexisting beliefs, far more than any new facts, can skew our thoughts and even color what we consider our most dispassionate and logical conclusions. This tendency toward so-called "motivated reasoning" helps explain why we find groups so polarized over matters where the evidence is so unequivocal: climate change, vaccines, "death panels," the birthplace and religion of the president (PDF), and much else. It would seem that expecting people to be convinced by the facts flies in the face of, you know, the facts. ...

Republicans who think they understand the global warming issue best are least concerned about it; and among Republicans and those with higher levels of distrust of science in general, learning more about the issue doesn't increase one's concern about it. What's going on here? ...

Science denial today is considerably more prominent on the political right ...

Mooney's examples are not very convincing. It just seems like elaborate name-calling for people with a political disagreement.

For example, he starts off citing a study about people not accepting arguments about whether Pres. Obama is a Moslem.

It seems rational to me for someone to say that Obama is a Moslem, even after been told some (fictitious) quote of him denying it.

People usually attribute religion based on religion of the parents, unless there is an overt conversion or repudiation. In Obama's case, he has a Moslem name, his father and step-father were Moslems, he lived as a kid in Moslem country, he claims that he belonged to a Christian church in Chicago but seemed to have very little knowledge of what went on there, he goes out of his way to praise Islam, such as saying that the Koran is a holy book, his profession of Christianity is particularly unconvincing compared to other presidents, and we normally discount self-serving claims from politicians.

So I don't think that the Obama study really shows that people refuse to accept facts. It assumes that we are supposed to accept some politician's description of his own beliefs. Some people do and some don't. If a Jewish politician suddenly announced that he was not a Jew, some people would still call him a Jew. They are not stupid; they just define Jew differently.


Monday, Apr 18, 2011
 
Free Lorentz essay on Kindle
An Amazon review of Lorentz's 1920 relativity book begins:
Albert Einstein is rightly considered one of the greatest scientists of all time, and his two theories of relativity - special and general - are the crowning glory of his scientific oeuvre. They have fundamentally reshaped our thinking of the most fundamental concepts - space, time and matter. These two theories have also withstood the test of time, and a century after they had been formulated they are still almost entirely used in their original formulations.

H. A. Lorentz was a distinguished physicist in his own right, and one of Einstein's closest scientific and personal friends. ...

The review drew this reply:
Chauncey Zalkin writes: one of the? i'm asking without sarcasm here because this is not my field but wasn't he the greatest scientist of all time?
Apparently people are so accustomed to over-the-top praise for Einstein that anything less is considered an insult.

Only the free Kindle edition of this book gets gushing reviews, while the $4 paperback it is really just a poor reproduction of a short essay in the public domain. It is easily found online as The Einstein Theory of Relativity by Hendrik Lorentz.

The forward recites the myth of the 12 men:

WHETHER it is true or not that not more than twelve persons in all the world are able to understand Einstein's Theory, it is nevertheless a fact that there is a constant demand for information about this much-debated topic of relativity.
Lorentz says that the difficulty is exaggerated:
I cannot refrain, while I am mentioning it, from expressing my surprise that, according to the report in The Times, there should be so much complaint about the difficulty of understanding the new theory. It is evident that Einstein's little book "About the Special and the General Theory of Relativity in Plain Terms," did not find its way into England during wartime. Any one reading it will, in my opinion, come to the conclusion that the basic ideas of the theory are really clear and simple; ...
That's right. The theory of quantum mechanics turned out to be much more difficult to understand.
 
Leakey on human evolution
Famed African paleontologist Richard Leakey was just interviewed on NPR Science Friday. Leakey says that man is an ape, and:
People didn't like the idea that the world was not at the center of the universe. People didn't like the idea that the world wasn't flat. Given time and evidence, people have learned to accept these things if they are true, and I think that there is no question about the truth of human evolution, none at all. [at 26:25]
Leakey also said that he has doubted that Lucy was a human ancestor, even tho that is claimed by other big-shots.

It is amusing that whenever a scientist wants you to believe something just because others scientists say so, he frequents makes some silly comparison to the Myth of the Flat Earth or Geocentrism. Both, in this case.

It is a big myth that people didn't like those ideas. Scientists discredit themselves when they give such phony arguments, and act as if they are common knowledge.

In Leakey's case, someone could argue that Leakey himself just didn't like the idea of being a descent of a small-brain ape like Lucy.


Saturday, Apr 16, 2011
 
Galison on Einstein thinking pure thoughts
Harvard historian Peter Galison writes in 2003:
The Einstein we know today is mostly based on Einstein’s later years, when he prided himself on his alienation from practically everything sociable and human, projecting an image of himself as a distracted, other-worldly character. We remember that Einstein who said that the best thing for a theoretical physicist would be to tend a lighthouse in quiet isolation from the world in order to be able to think pure thoughts. We have this picture of the theoretical physicist, and project it backwards to Einstein’s miraculous year, 1905. It is easy enough to think of him as working a day job in a patent office merely to keep body and soul together, while in actuality his real work was purely cerebral.
Yes, Einstein projected that image, but no progress in physics was ever accomplished that way.

Galison goes on to say:

Poincaré and Einstein, who had two of the largest scientific correspondences of the 19th and 20th centuries, including thousands of letters to and from other people, never exchanged a single postcard over the entirety of their overlapping lives. They met once, towards the end of Poincaré’s life, when Poincaré presided over a session at a vitally important physics conference where Einstein was talking about his new ideas about the quantum of light. At the end of this session, Poincaré said that Einstein’s presentation was so different from what physics should be — namely that it could be represented with causal interactions, with good differential equations, with clear presentations of principles and consequences — that he simply found it unbearable, and ended by making it clear that what Einstein was saying was so contradictory that anything could follow from it. It was a disaster for science, he thought. Einstein for his part went home and scribbled a note to a friend in which he recounted the wonderful work that had been done by various colleagues, how much he admired, even loved, the physicist Hendrik Lorentz, but disparaged Poincaré who simply seemed to understand nothing. The passed like ships in the night, each, on relativity, unable to acknowledge the other’s existence.
Causality was a major factor in Poincare formulating his theory of relativity, and I am not sure that Einstein ever understood it. I would not be surprised if Poincare had a low opinion of Einstein.

Friday, Apr 15, 2011
 
Bohr compares himself to Bruno
From a Niels Bohr interview in 1962:
So, therefore, the relationship between scientists and, philosophers was of a very curious kind. First of all I would say — and that is the difficulty — that it is hopeless to have any kind of understanding between scientists and philosophers directly. It has to go over the school. I don't know exactly how it is, but let us say, if you go back to ... the Copernican system, then some scientists they thought that it also was beautiful. But they were killed. Bruno was absolutely killed, and Galilei was forced to recant. But in the next generation, the school-children did not think it was so bad, and thereby a situation was created where it belonged to common knowledge or common preparation that one had to take that into account. I think it will be exactly the same with the complementary description.
Exactly the same? Who was killed over Complementarity?

It is true that physicists have debated Wave–particle duality for centuries, and many, such as Einstein, did not accept it. Some still don't.

Giordano Bruno was a Catholic monk who was burned at the stake for stubbornly denying the divinity of Jesus Christ. The closest he got to science was to speculate that there could be crucifixions on other worlds.

Bohr was brilliant, but he could be incoherent at times.


Thursday, Apr 14, 2011
 
Tegmark on teleportation
In the podcast for this 2008 NY Times article about teleportation in the movies, MIT physicist Max Tegmark says:
It is very important to realize that even tho it might sound totally useless to think about fundamental physics questions like how space and time work. It was precisely because Einstein was thinking about the nature of time that he figured out that mass equals energy times the speed of light squared, and this gave us nuclear power. [at 5:10]
No, that is all wrong. Even the formula is wrong.

What he says about quantum teleportation is even worse. He praises Quantum cryptography and Quantum computation as if these had proven validity. They do not, as noted below.


Tuesday, Apr 12, 2011
 
Stories about Professor Paradigm
This guy:
Errol Morris is a filmmaker whose movie “The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons From the Life of Robert S. McNamara” won the Academy Award for best documentary feature in 2004
tells this story about famous Princeton philosopher Thomas Kuhn:
It was April, 1972. The Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N. J. The home in the 1950s of Albert Einstein and Kurt Gödel. Thomas Kuhn, the author of “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions” and the father of the paradigm shift, threw an ashtray at my head. ...

“Under no circumstances are you to go to those lectures. Do you hear me?” Kuhn, the head of the Program in the History and Philosophy of Science at Princeton where I was a graduate student, had issued an ultimatum. ...

Kuhn in those days was an incredible chain-smoker. First Pall Malls and then True Blues (a low tar and low nicotine alternative). Alternating. One cigarette lighting another. Matches were irrelevant. Maybe six, maybe seven packs of cigarettes a day. All that was essential was burning and smoke. And a massive cut-glass ashtray filled with the debris of an endless series of burnt-out butts. ...

I had written a paper on James Clerk Maxwell’s displacement current for Kuhn’s seminar on 19th century electricity and magnetism. The paper might have been 30 or so double-spaced pages. Kuhn’s reply, typed on unlined yellow paper, was 30 pages, single-spaced, with Courier marching all the way from the left to the right side of the paper. No margins. He was angry, really angry.

He had written at the very end of his comments, “You have long since passed the end of the road on which you began.” I asked, “What is that supposed to mean? I’m 24 years old.” He said that I was a “good” first-year graduate student but would become “less good” in subsequent years. ...

The conversation took a turn for the ugly. Were my problems with him, or were they with his philosophy?

I asked him, “If paradigms are really incommensurable, how is history of science possible? Wouldn’t we be merely interpreting the past in the light of the present? Wouldn’t the past be inaccessible to us? Wouldn’t it be ‘incommensurable?’ ” [8]

He started moaning. He put his head in his hands and was muttering, “He’s trying to kill me. He’s trying to kill me.”

And then I added, “…except for someone who imagines himself to be God.”

It was at this point that Kuhn threw the ashtray at me.

For that he got kicked out of Princeton philosophy grad school. (In fairness, Kuhn's daughter denies the ashtray story in a comment. Maybe Kuhn wasn't trying to hit Morris, but Morris says that it was thrown at his head.)

Statistics professor A. Gelman tells this:

I was looking through the course catalog one day and saw that Thomas Kuhn was teaching a class in the philosophy of science. Thomas Kuhn -- wow! So I enrolled in the class. I only sat through one session before dropping it, though. Kuhn just stood up there and mumbled.
Morris continues to rip Kuhn:
As John Burgess, a professor of philosophy at Princeton, told me in an interview: “Kuhn speaks one way when speaking to historians, and another way when speaking to philosophers. The trouble begins when he starts talking about things being socially constructed. ..."
The trouble begins when anyone starts talking about things being socially constructed. It is the first sign of a reality-denier.
Steven Weinberg has written eloquently in The New York Review of Books about Kuhn and paradigm shifts. A Nobel Prize-winning physicist was outlining the difference between “Kuhnian science” (that is, science as Kuhn imagined it) and actual science. And argued that Kuhn’s theories did not characterize science as Weinberg knew it. Weinberg wrote, “What does bother me on rereading Structure and some of Kuhn’s later writings is his radically skeptical conclusions about what is accomplished in the work of science…conclusions that have made Kuhn a hero to the philosophers, historians, sociologists, and cultural critics who question the objective character of scientific knowledge, and who prefer to describe scientific theories as social constructions, not so different from democracy or baseball.”

Or not so different from parapsychology, astrology or witchcraft.

He was also bothered by Kuhn’s arguments against progress. “[Kuhn] went on to reason that… there can be no sense in which theories developed after a scientific revolution can be said to add cumulatively to what was known before the revolution… More recently, in his Rothschild Lecture at Harvard in 1992, Kuhn remarked that it is hard to imagine what can be meant by the phrase that a scientific theory takes us ‘close to the truth.’”

And yet, Weinberg fails to drive the stake through the heart of the vampire. If paradigms are incommensurable how can we talk about their incommensurability? ... The devaluation of scientific truth cannot be laid on Kuhn’s doorstep, but he shares some responsibility for it.

Yes, that is right. Weinberg's article is here, with excerpts here. Somebody does need to drive that stake through the heart of the vampire. Kuhn is dead, but his followers dominate academic philosophy and their views are even more ridiculous. The vampire is the academic anti-science view of science.

Monday, Apr 11, 2011
 
Tennessee favors science
The Bad Astronomer says:
A bill clearly intended to promote and protect antiscience passed in the Tennessee State House yesterday, by a vote of 70 – 23.
The bill says:
Toward this end, teachers shall be permitted to help students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories covered in the course being taught. ...

(e) This section only protects the teaching of scientific information, and shall not be construed to promote any religious or non-religious doctrine, promote discrimination for or against a particular set of religious beliefs or non-beliefs, or promote discrimination for or against religion or non-religion.

This bill is pro-science, not anti-science. Learning science always means learning the strengths and weaknesses of the theories. It ought to, anyway.

I have become convinced that the real anti-science folks in our society are scientists like the Bad Astronomer who try to force their bad science on the rest of us.


Sunday, Apr 10, 2011
 
Hamming on mathematical physics
James Gleick has a new book, The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood. One of the famous information theorists is R. W. Hamming . He wrote in 1980:
The fundamental role of invariance is stressed by Wigner. It is basic to much of mathematics as well as to science. It was the lack of invariance of Newton's equations (the need for an absolute frame of reference for velocities) that drove Lorentz, Fitzgerald, Poincare, and Einstein to the special theory of relativity. ...

In recent years it was Einstein who most loudly proclaimed the simplicity of the laws of physics, who used mathematics so exclusively as to be popularly known as a mathematician. When examining his special theory of relativity paper [9. G. Holton Thematic Origins of Scientific Thought, Kepler to Einstein, Harvard University Press, 1973.] one has the feeling that one is dealing with a scholastic philosopher's approach. He knew in advance what the theory should look like, and he explored the theories with mathematical tools, not actual experiments. He was so confident of the rightness of the relativity theories that, when experiments were done to check them, he was not much interested in the outcomes, saying that they had to come out that way or else the experiments were wrong. And many people believe that the two relativity theories rest more on philosophical grounds than on actual experiments.

Of course Einstein knew in advance what the theory looks like. It had been published by Lorentz and Poincare! It already had been experimentally confirmed, and Lorentz received the Nobel Prize. Einstein did not even need to learn about the details of the experiments; he just had to write up the Lorentz-Poincare theory.

There is more discussion of the applicability of mathematics on the article on Wigner's Puzzle.


Friday, Apr 08, 2011
 
More on Darwinian epicycles
I mentioned the group/kin selection controversy in evolutionism last year and last month

Wired reports:

In the Aug. 26 Nature, Wilson and two Harvard colleagues argue that the concept of kin selection is “limited” and “unnecessary.” And they propose steps for the evolution of ants, honeybees and other highly social species with such altruistic behaviors by just the broad “survival of the fittest” forces of natural selection without specifically invoking the power of kinship.

In recent years, Wilson has argued that the close family ties in ant colonies and other highly social groups may be consequences, rather than causes, of the evolution of such extreme social forms. In the new paper he combines his perspective with two co-authors’ mathematical critique of the methods used to calculate kinship effects, arguing that the techniques are as unnecessarily complicated as Ptolemaic astronomy.

“Babylonian astronomers look up in the heavens, and they see the planets moving in ‘epicycles,’” says paper co-author and mathematical biologist Martin Nowak. “But if you put the sun in the center, there are no epicycles.”

Ptolemy lived in Egypt, in around AD 0150. He was not a Babylonian. The Babylonians did not have the invention of geometry, and are not known to have used epicycles. Putting the Sun in the center does not eliminate the need for epicycles.

Saying that the world is simpler without epicycles is like saying that the atmosphere is simpler without clouds.

The Rousset and Leon rebuttal says:

When they ask falsely evident rhetorical questions,1 liken inclusive fitness theory to geocentrism, or claim without justification that their approach is ‘common sense’ (their Appendix, p. 20), NTW are a long way away from what is generally expected of scientific discourse. In particular, it is troubling to see the authors turn to the argument of geocentrism and its unfalsifiable epicycles to discredit inclusive fitness (their Appendix).

The allusion to ‘Darwinian epicycles’ is indeed a typical rhetorical trick used to attack evolutionary biology.

Both sides of this debate are scientifically illiterate. There is nothing wrong with using a common sense argument that unfalsifiable features are an unnecessary complication. Except that is not really what epicycles were.

Apparently the phrase ‘Darwinian epicycles’ hit a nerve. The kin selection advocates do not think that such dispectful language should have been allowed into a journal like Nature.

Here is what Nowak el al say in their Nature supplement:

Inclusive fitness is just another method of accounting. The fact that an inclusive fitness calculation works for a particular model does not necessarily imply that ‘kin selection is at work’. ...

Of course, theoreticians are free to use any method of calculation as long as they employ it correctly and do not make unjustified statements claiming a ‘general principle’ for the evolution of cooperation (Lehman et al 2007a,b, Wild et al 2009, West et al 2008, Gardner 2009, West and Gardner 2010). A method of calculation which is arguably more cumbersome and confusing is not a general principle, much like the ptolemaic epicycles in the solar system were not a general principle either and became superfluous under Newtonian mechanics.

We have a similar situation in this debate. The epicycles of inclusive fitness calculations are not needed, given that we can formulate precise descriptions of how natural selection acts in structured populations.

No, the ptolemaic epicycles did not become superfluous under Newtonian mechanics. They got identified with the Earth's orbit, in the cases of Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. For Venus, Mercury, and the Moon, they are used for the orbits of those bodies.

Here is more complete quote from the kin selection folks. It is unusually nasty. I cannot explain why people hate E. O. Wilson so much. Once someone dumped a pitcher of water on him at conference.

Nowak, M.A. et al. (2010) The evolution of eusociality. Nature, 466, 1057-1062.

Eusociality, in which some individuals reduce their own lifetime reproductive potential to raise the offspring of others, underlies the most advanced forms of social organization and the ecologically dominant role of social insects and humans. For the past four decades kin selection theory, based on the concept of inclusive fitness, has been the major theoretical attempt to explain the evolution of eusociality. Here we show the limitations of this approach. We argue that standard natural selection theory in the context of precise models of population structure represents a simpler and superior approach, allows the evaluation of multiple competing hypotheses, and provides an exact framework for interpreting empirical observations. ...

The rhetoric of social evolution

We think the publication of this article in a high-profile journal, along with the large media coverage it received, is an illustration of some serious shortcomings in current scientific practice. Arguably, the impact of NTW's paper reflects to a large extent the rhetorical ability of the authors, rather than the scientific value and novelty of the paper.

The format of the paper itself is an obstacle to scientific communication. The article has two parts: a short illustrated essay for the general reader and a 43-page online mathematical Appendix. Readers who are not mathematically inclined or simply short on time may be tempted to simply trust the authors and gauge the scientific value of the paper based on the ‘weight’ of the supplementary material or on the prestige of the authors. But as we have just shown, there is no significant mathematical novelty in this work. This latter point is best illustrated by the fact that their asserted main result is only the starting point of a recent paper by Taylor et al. (2007), although NTW do not cite this paper in regard to it.

Stylistically, the paper often departs from the neutrality of scientific prose, using a variety of rhetorical tricks typically found in the discourses of politicians or the writings of polemists, rather than in academic articles. When they ask falsely evident rhetorical questions,1 liken inclusive fitness theory to geocentrism, or claim without justification that their approach is ‘common sense’ (their Appendix, p. 20), NTW are a long way away from what is generally expected of scientific discourse.

In particular, it is troubling to see the authors turn to the argument of geocentrism and its unfalsifiable epicycles to discredit inclusive fitness (their Appendix). The allusion to ‘Darwinian epicycles’ is indeed a typical rhetorical trick used to attack evolutionary biology.2 Rhetoric aside, NTW are confused about epicycles in a way that is revealing about the utility of inclusive fitness theory. Epicycles are not specific to geocentrism: they were needed in Copernicus’ heliocentric theory as well, because it still rested on circular orbits, and it was not until Kepler's theory of elliptic orbits that epicycles were laid to rest. As Poincaré (1905) emphasized, geocentrism and heliocentrism are logically equivalent ways of accounting for celestial motion. The value of heliocentrism is that it makes sense through one factor (Earth's rotation) of phenomena that appear as coincidences in the geocentric perspective. Hamilton's rule (whether in the inclusive or neighbour-modulated perspectives) has the same value, in revealing common features of individual fitness across a range of biological scenarios.

The fragility of scientific publishing

We think the wide impact of an article that rests on such fragile foundations calls into question the efficiency of the editorial process in the most famous scientific journals. Nature's extravagant editorial characterization of the paper as ‘the first mathematical analysis of inclusive fitness theory’ recklessly tramples on nearly 50 years of accumulated knowledge. It is often said that science is self-correcting, but this can be so only if authors are engaged by the validity of what they are writing, if reviewers are engaged in the same way, and if science, rather than only media buzz, impact, and citations, matters to editors. These conditions are not necessarily fulfilled. Part of the problem lies in the increasingly specialized nature of science, and the increasing number of techniques that scientists have to handle. Students of ant societies, for example, may have to spend substantial effort in the field, yet they also have to care about possible artefacts of molecular markers, to understand the limits of various statistical methods, to understand some of the mathematical theory of evolution and to navigate through an increasingly large literature. Faced with such burden, both readers and journal editors have growing incentives to abandon critical thinking for more social considerations such as the prestige of the authors. Sometimes, the prospect of a ‘hot’ controversy seems to be enough to lure the editorial board into accepting a manuscript. Despite their claims of novelty and the media frenzy, NTW's article is actually a collection of worn-out arguments and thus represents a conceptual and technical step backward. Importantly, it does not provide any new theoretical tools or concepts to address the many exciting biological questions for future research on social evolution and structured populations.

No, the Earth's rotation has nothing to do with the coincidences; it is the Earth's revolution about the Sun that gives the coincidence between the Mars and Jupiter epicycles. Kepler did not lay the epicycles to rest, as they are logical equivalencies in heliocentrism (as Poincare emphasized). What Kepler did do was to show that the Mars and Jupiter epicycles were really the same and not a coincidence. The epicycles have nothing to do with elliptical orbits. It appears that these authors are agreeing that Hamilton's Rule is like the geocentric epicycles, but they are all hopelessly confused about what that means.

Thursday, Apr 07, 2011
 
Gould defines a fact
In connection with the Kansas evolution controversy, I ran across this 1999 Stephen Jay Gould op-ed in Time magazine:
Second, evolution is as well documented as any phenomenon in science, as strongly as the earth's revolution around the sun rather than vice versa. In this sense, we can call evolution a "fact." (Science does not deal in certainty, so "fact" can only mean a proposition affirmed to such a high degree that it would be perverse to withhold one's provisional assent.)
I really disagree with this. First, evolution is a theory that includes some facts, such as gene frequencies varying from one generation to the next, and hypotheses, such as a universal common ancestor. The theory is certainly not a fact.

Second, the Earth's motion depends on the frame of reference, and is not a fact according to relativity theory.

Third, by comparing evolution to something that is demonstrably a subjective opinion, he undermine his whole argument for teaching standards that forbid an alternative view to evolution. He effectively concedes that science depends on your point of view.

Fourth, science does deal in certainty. His definition of a "fact" is bizarre.

Gould died in 2002, but in 2000 he was elected president of the AAAS and leading the charge to tell Kansas how evolution should be taught.

Gould also argues:

Should I believe Julius Caesar ever existed? The hard bony evidence for human evolution, as described in the preceding pages, surely exceeds our reliable documentation of Caesar's life.
That is true, but irrelevant. Nobody cares about Caesar. If it turned out that Caesar did not exist, and maybe the historical accounts of him were really a composite of two other men, it would not affect our knowledge or worldview in any significant way.

OTOH, some people believe that evolution contradicts religion, and that would affect a lot of people, if accepted.

Gould goes on:

Third, no factual discovery of science (statements about how nature "is") can, in principle, lead us to ethical conclusions (how we "ought" to behave) or to convictions about intrinsic meaning (the "purpose" of our lives).
I doubt that very many people believe this, on either side of the evolution debate.

Wednesday, Apr 06, 2011
 
Religion prize goes to atheist multiverse believer
Templeton announces
LONDON, APRIL 6 – Martin J. Rees, a theoretical astrophysicist whose profound insights on the cosmos have provoked vital questions that speak to humanity’s highest hopes and worst fears, has won the 2011 Templeton Prize.
Woit says:
Rees does seem to believe in something that the Templeton people are willing to take as a replacement for belief in God: belief in the Multiverse. He has been one of the leading figures promoting the Multiverse and anthropic explanations, even before the recent string theory landscape pseudo-science made this so popular.
He is also a global warming alarmist.

Leftist-atheist-evolutionist Jerry Coynes calls the prize a travesty because "Templeton's mission is a serious corruption of science." and because it promotes a dialogue between science and faith. Rees says that he is not religious, but I guess that he is not atheist enough for Coyne.


Tuesday, Apr 05, 2011
 
New attempts to verify quantum mechanics
AAAS Science magazine (Science 18 March 2011) has an article on Quantum Mechanics Braces for the Ultimate Test. It tries to justify Quantum cryptography by doing experiments to close Loopholes in Bell test experiments. Previous experiments have fallen short, as explained in the 2004 paper, Bell's theorem and the experiments: Increasing empirical support to local realism.

I think that this research is based on a profound misunderstanding of both quantum mechanics and cryptography. No useful results will come of it.

Abner Shimony gives a conventional explanation of Bell's Theorem.

Discussion of whether the Principle of locality (or Non-locality) can be consistent with the Interpretation of quantum mechanics is discussed in these recent papers: The EPR paradox, Bell's inequality, and the question of locality by Guy Blaylock, and EPR, Bell, and Quantum Locality by Robert B. Griffiths. If these papers are correct, then a lot of popular explanations of quantum mechanics are wrong. Some of these points are also explained by Lubos Motl's Delayed choice quantum eraser.

The problem with quantum cryptography is that it claims to use proven physics to solve a cryptographic problem. However, it does not do anything cryptographical useful because it cannot use a convention communication channel like the internet, and it cannot authenticate messages.

It also does not use proven physics. Many aspects of quantum mechanics have been proven by very convincing experiments, but not the features that are needed for quantum cryptography. As the above article explains, all those necessary arguments have loopholes, and no one has been able to close the loopholes. The article quotes researchers claiming that the loopholes will be closed any day, but they have been claiming that for 40 years. There are laws of physics that suggest that those laws will never be closed.

The AAAS Science does not explain these controversies, or why there are good reasons to believe that the quoted researchers are pursuing a dead end. Popular explanations of these subjects almost never get it right.


Monday, Apr 04, 2011
 
Boy smarter than Einstein
The UK Daily Mail says: Autistic boy,12, with higher IQ than Einstein develops his own theory of relativity, and Time magazine says: 12-Year-Old Genius Expands Einstein's Theory of Relativity, Thinks He Can Prove It Wrong.
A 12-year-old child prodigy has astounded university professors after grappling with some of the most advanced concepts in mathematics.

Jacob Barnett has an IQ of 170 - higher than Albert Einstein - and is now so far advanced in his Indiana university studies that professors are lining him up for a PHD research role.

The boy wonder, who taught himself calculus, algebra, geometry and trigonometry in a week, is now tutoring fellow college classmates after hours.

Gifted: Jacob Barnett is so far ahead of his age group he is now leaving university he is developing his own theory on how the universe came into being

And now Jake has embarked on his most ambitious project yet - his own 'expanded version of Einstein's theory of relativity'.

The video is gibberish, of course. It looks as tho he is playing a joke on naive reporters.

Saturday, Apr 02, 2011
 
Fictional plot to kill Copernicus
I just saw Lawrence Goldstone on C-SPAN2 Book-TV promoting his 2010 book, The Astronomer: A Novel of Suspense. It is about a fictional 1534 Christian plot to kill Copernicus before he can publish his ideas about the Earth's motion.

One reviewer says that he got suspicious of the factual background when the characters ate potatoes! Potatoes were a New World food that had not yet spread to Europe. Another says that he teaches the Scientific Revolution, and was excited by the realism.

No, the book is not realistic. The Catholic Church had no quarrel with Copernicus when he published his 1534 book, and has never opposed the publication of scientific ideas. It certainly did not hire killers to murder scientists.

Goldstone is a Jewish name, and this is a bigoted anti-Christian book. I wonder how people would react if someone with a Christian name wrote a book claiming to be a historical novel about how Jews drank the blood of Christian babies, or some such nonsense.


Friday, Apr 01, 2011
 
Turtles all the way down
A variant of the Myth of the Flat Earth is the myth that the Earth is held up by turtles. The Evolving Thoughts blog tells this old story:
One day when the philosopher William James, who had a liking for scientific popularization, had just finished explaining in a small American town how the earth revolved around the sun, he saw, according to the anecdote, an elderly lady approaching with a determined look. Apparently, she strongly disagreed, expressing herself in the following terms: no, the earth does not move, because, as is well known, it sits on the back of a turtle. James decided to be polite and asked what, according to the hypothesis, the turtle rested on. The old lady replied without hesitating” But on another turtle, of course.” And James persisted: “But what does the second turtle rest on?” Then, so the story goes, the old lady triumphantly exclaimed: “It’s no use, Mr James, it’s turtles all the way down.” [From Isabelle Stenger's book, Power and Invention. However, in similar form, the story is widely found ascribed to James.]
While this story is commonly used by atheists to make fun of religious believers, the original usage appears to be from an 1854 debate in which a Christian was making fun of an atheist. A comment cites this:
[at the end of night #2 of a public debate between a Christian and a skeptic of some sort in 1854]

It is singular, that what I said about the ever-present agency of Providence in the affairs of this world, should have driven my opponent into the dreary regions of atheism. He discards a particular superintending Providence, and represents this world as governed by laws that change not. But did these laws make themselves? Did they make the world? Are they entirely independent of God? Do they need no one to superintend their operations? Will he pretend that God lives insulated from the creatures of this hands, from the world he made? What abominable folly of atheism. (General applause.) In what he said of plagues, did he not avow his unblushing atheism? (Enthusiatic applause.) And the marshes? (Renewed applause.) Agues come from marches, do they? But who fixed the law which makes auges come from marshes? (Applause.) My opponent’s reasoning reminds me of the heathen, who, being asked on what the world stood, replied, “On a tortoise.” But on what does the tortoise stand? “On another tortoise.” With Mr. Barker, too, there are tortoises all the way down. (Vehement and vociferous applause.)

p. 48, Great Discussion on the Origin, Authority, and Tendency of the Bible, between Rev. J. F. Berg, D.D., of Philadelphia, and Joseph Barker, of Ohio. Boston, J.B. Yerrington & Son, printers, 1854.

Barker & Berg discussion & Four sermons by T. Parker: A collection of 12 pieces By Joseph Barker, Joseph Frederick Berg, Theodore Parker

Bertrand Russell wrote, in Why I Am Not a Christian:
If everything must have a cause, then God must have a cause. If there can be anything without a cause, it may just as well be the world as God, so that there cannot be any validity in that argument. It is exactly of the same nature as the Hindu’s view, that the world rested upon an elephant and the elephant rested upon a tortoise; and when they said, “How about the tortoise?” the Indian said, “Suppose we change the subject.” [p.7]
Wow, I wonder if anyone really believed these elephant and turtle myths. My guess is that it is like the flat earth and stationary earth myths, and mainly used to make fun of scientific ignorance.

A related myth is that the Earth rests on an elephant. Both seem to have occurred in various cultures. The earliest reference seems to be 1690, according to this Hindu world tortoise article:

The combination of tortoise and elephant is present in John Locke's 1690 tract An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, which references an "Indian who said the world was on an elephant which was on a tortoise".
What I don't see is where any Hindus or anyone took these myths seriously. The myths seem to be repeated primarily to make fun of people. That is what Hawking does, at the beginning of his famous 1988 book, A Brief History of Time.

Thursday, Mar 31, 2011
 
Smolin defines science
In the recent string theory debate mentioned below, Lee Smolin defines science this way:
Science is not about what's true, or what might be true. Science is about what people with originally diverse viewpoints can be forced to believe by the weight of public evidence. [at 01:19:30]
The definition of science can be controversial, as noted below and here. I wonder how many people would go along with this one.

Smolin's book, The Trouble with Physics, has a chapter on the question of defining science. He gives some other definitions, including this, attributed to Feynman:

Science is the organized skepticism in the reliability of expert opinion.
Smolin's book supports the view of philosopher Paul Feyerabend, and says that there is no such thing as science, except as the opinions of the community of scientists.

Physicist Lawrence M. Krauss has a new book, Quantum Man: Richard Feynman's Life in Science (Great Discoveries). But you have to wait until Feb. 2012 to his next book, on the subject of his video, A Universe from Nothing.


Tuesday, Mar 29, 2011
 
137 authors against an evolution opinion
Greg Mayer re-posts these comments:
The list of authors and their institutions, which occupies two pages of the three-page letter, reads like a Who’s Who of social evolution.  It’s telling that nearly every major figure in the field lined up against Nowak et al.

I’m confident that you’re on the right side of this dispute, but still, that argument is uncomfortably reminiscent of an infamous book titled “Hundert Autoren gegen Einstein” (Hundred authors against Einstein) [1931.]

Supposedly Einstein retorted, "If I were wrong, one would be enough."

I had thought that the 1931 German anti-Einstein book was some sort of Nazi or anti-Jewish propaganda, but according to Wikipedia, that is not true. It says that "no antisemitic expression can be found in the book", and portrays the authors as being older scholars who either misunderstood relativity or had some philosophical objections to it.

The issue in the new evolution article is whether kin selection is better explained by gene selection or group selection. Richard Dawkins and many others have staked their reputations on there being no such thing as group selection. I think that they are probably wrong, and are desperately trying to silence an alternate view.


Monday, Mar 28, 2011
 
Discover on Einstein
Discover magazine has a special issue on 47 great minds of science. Einstein is on the cover, and dominates about half the pages. Many great scientists are just there for what they have to say about Einstein.

Darwin is the "genius of the 19th century". Rachel Carson is the "crusader". Tesla is the "mad scientist".


Sunday, Mar 27, 2011
 
Greene on Einstein
Brian Greene's new book, The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos, says:
Nobel laureate Steven Weinberg once wrote, "Our mistake is not that we take our theories too seriously, but that we do not take them seriously enough. ..." ...

Although the details are of historical interest, I'm describing this episode for the larger point: everyone had access to Maxwell's mathematics, but it took the genius of Einstein to embrace the mathematics fully. And with that move, Einstein broke through to the special theory of relativity, overturning centuries of thought regarding space, time, matter, and energy. [p.319,320]

He uses this false account of Einstein as one of his main arguments for the multiverse.

Einstein did not embrace Maxwell's mathematics any more fully than Lorentz and Poincare had years earlier. Not in any sense. Greene's story is bogus, as is his whole argument for the multiverse.

Greene was on C-SPAN2 Book-TV today pushing his book and the idea that following the mathematical pattern of Copernicus can lead us to the multiverse without bothering with observational evidence.


Saturday, Mar 26, 2011
 
Is the theory at the heart of modern cosmology deeply flawed?
The current SciAm cover story is about cosmic inflation:
Thirty years ago Alan H. Guth, then a struggling physics postdoc at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, gave a series of seminars in which he introduced “inflation” into the lexicon of cosmology. The term refers to a brief burst of hyperaccelerated expansion that, he argued, may have occurred during the first instants after the big bang. ... To this day the development and testing of the inflationary theory of the universe is one of the most active and successful areas of scientific investigation.

Its raison d’être is to fill a gap in the original big bang theory. The basic idea of the big bang is that the universe has been slowly expanding and cooling ever since it began some 13.7 billion years ago.

The article says that inflation theory is being taught as fact, but there is really no empirical evidence that it is any better than the alternatives, and there may never be.

Every year Guth is talked about as a possible Nobel physics prize candidate. I don't see how they can give him a prize unless there is some demonstrable merit to his inflation theory, and there appear to be none. It is an intriguing idea, but that's all.

Meanwhile, a NY Times article on Clovis people ends with:

“The last spear carriers will die without changing their minds,” Dr. Adovasio said.
This seems to be based on the philosophy that the theory of pre-Clovis American people should be accepted because the opponents are dying off. Kuhnian science philosophy describes new ideas being accepted like fads, and not by rational argument.

In the string theory debate, mentioned below, the anti-string-theory position was represented by Lee Smolin. But he is a Kuhnian who believes that string theory should be accepted as true if merely the physics establishment accepts it, and does not believe that there is really any objective truth in the matter. So he only gave minor criticisms of string theory.

Inflation theory seems to be an example of a physics theory that has become accepted without any good evidence. Nobody can when the inflation started, when it ended or even whether it ended, what caused it, or anything like that. It is just an unsupported idea that happens to be popular.


Friday, Mar 25, 2011
 
Math society credits Einstein for new mechanics
A math society reprinted some old math articles in 2000, with these Introductory comments:
Poincaré's 1904 appraisal of the challenges faced by twentieth-century mathematical physics describes, in part, the then hot topic of relativity, ending with the challenge that perhaps we shall have to construct an entirely new mechanics," a challenge met the following year by A. Einstein. Indeed, the fourth article is Einstein's 1934 Gibbs Lecture about the equivalence of mass and energy.
If he had just finished the sentence in the quote, he would see that Poincare had already related mass to energy in 1904. Here is Poincare's essay from that St. Louis lecture:
The principle of relativity, according to which the laws of physical phenomena must be the same for a stationary observer as for one carried along in a uniform motion of translation, so that we have no means, and can have none, of determining whether or not we are being carried along in such a motion. ...

And then experiment, too, has taken upon itself to refute this interpretation of the principle of relativity; all the attempts to measure the velocity of the earth relative to the ether have led to negative results. ...

Their task was not easy, and if Lorentz has succeeded, it is only by an accumu- lation of hypotheses. The most ingenious idea is that of local time. ...

Perhaps too we shall have to construct an entirely new mechanics, which we can only just get a glimpse of, where, the inertia increasing with the velocity, the velocity of light would be a limit beyond which it would be impossible to go. The ordinary, simpler mechanics would remain a first approximation since it would be valid for velocities that are not too great, so that the old dynamics would be found in the new.

I don't see how this math society could fail to know that Poincare published that new mechanics himself the next year in 1905. He already had the relativity principle and the idea of local time in this essay, and those are the main ideas in Einstein's 1905 paper. Einstein just had part of the new kinematics, not the new mechanics.

Tuesday, Mar 22, 2011
 
New string theory debate
MSNBC reports on a recent string theory debate:
NEW YORK — Einstein died before completing his dream of creating a unified theory of everything. Since then, physicists have carried on his torch, continuing the quest for one theory to rule them all.

But will they ever get there? That was the topic of debate when seven leading physicists gathered here at the American Museum of Natural History for the 11th annual Isaac Asimov Memorial Debate.

Mutually exclusive theories

Two of the most celebrated, successful theories in physics are contradictory.

The theory that describes very big things – general relativity – and the theory that describes very small things – quantum mechanics – each work amazingly well in their own realms, but when combined, break down. They can't both be right. And we can't just sweep that fact under the rug and continue to use them each as they are, because there are some cases in which both theories apply – such as a black hole.

"Its size is small in terms of length; its size is large in terms of mass. So you need both," explained Brian Greene, professor of physics and mathematics at Columbia University.

There is no such conflict, because the inside of a black hole is unobservable.

Greene prefers to say that he has "confidence" instead of "belief" (at 20:30), because belief is a murky word:

"There's been an enormous amount of progress in string theory," said Greene, a proponent of string theory whose 2000 book "The Elegant Universe" described the theory in layman's terms. "There have been issues developed and resolved that I never thought, frankly, we would be able to resolve. The progress over the last 10 years has only solidified my confidence that this is a worthwhile direction to pursue." ...

Greene admitted that string theorists have not produced testable predictions that experiments can confirm, but said it wasn't time to give up.

"As long as progress is carrying forward, you keep going," he said. "To say there's no progress, come on man, that's just not right!"

The theory is so complex, he charged, and deals with such fantastically small scales that are inaccessible to experimental data, that no wonder it's taking a while to crack.

This wasn't much of a debate, or someone would have challenged Greene on his claims of progress. Tyson asks him about it at 1:10:20, and his first response is that string theory should only be judged by string theorists, not others. Why Tyson persists, he makes (at 1:11:25) an assortment of grand claims, such as unifying all the 4 forces and solving quantum gravity. None of that is true.

The audio is here.

Here is another new Greene interview where he says similar things and plugs his new book on multiple universes. This time he says that string theory has made progress in doing computations, because ten years ago they had to use approximations. But he admits that there has been no progress relating the theory to experiment.

Update: There is also a SciAm article.


Saturday, Mar 19, 2011
 
Of course Einstein did not understand relativistic measurement
Those who credit Einstein are emphatic that his famous 1905 relativity paper was a work of great genius, but there explanations are confusing and unintelligible. NY Times science editor Dennis Overbye is an Einstein idolizer, and his explanation follows this pattern.

I posted below about Overbye's Einstein book, but I include here a more complete quote to show that I am quoting him fairly:

In Albert's hands, however, the meaning of these equations had changed completely. Lorentz believed the transformations were real electrodynamic effects, caused by forces created by the passage of objects through the aether. In the new relativity theory, however, they were purely intrinsic to the nature of motion, a consequence of nature's presumed desire to keep the speed of light constant. In this new universe, exceeding the speed of light was not so much impossible as meaningless. If we could exceed the speed of light, Albert later remarked, we could send telegrams to the past. Moreover, since there was no aether, there was no absolute rest frame, just as there was no real time. Any observer could view himself as being at rest and everybody else moving. Two physicists sailing past each other could look out and each see the other as shortened and moving in slow motion, and they would both be right.

But in Einstein's formulation did objects actually shrink? In a way the message of relativity theory was that physics was not about real objects; rather, it concerned the measurements of real objects. And each of those measurements included time as well as space. Relativity was not an expla-nation of nature at all, but of how we know about nature. In that sense it has sometimes been claimed that relativity is not a theory at all, but a lan-guage or a convention, a set of rules for how to talk about the universe. Af-ter relativity, no law could claim to be a law of nature that did not speak its language, that could not be expressed in a form that was true for observers moving at any constant speed -- so-called inertial observers. Although Al-bert spent the last half of his paper solving problems in optics and electro-magnetism, he knew that the relativity principle, as he called it, transcended any particular problem.

No such declarations of grandeur, of course, intruded on the flat and somewhat brisk tone of the paper. Albert simply presented his argument and in many cases left it to the reader to fill in the gaps and to realize the implications. Unlike most scientific papers, it did not specifically refer to any other scientist or body of experimental data and contained no foot-notes. This, remarks Galison, may be a reflection of Einstein's experience in the patent office, since footnotes, suggesting that somebody else has been there first, are anathema in a patent application. At its end Einstein listed no references, but only a brief acknowledgment. "In conclusion," he wrote, "let me note that my friend and colleague M. Besso steadfastly stood by me in my work on the problem here discussed, and that I am indebted to him for many a valuable suggestion." [p.138-139]

What he is saying here is that there are two interpretations of special relativity, Lorentz's electrodynamic interpretation and a measurement-theory interpretation. Einstein did not cite Lorentz, so he could have disagreed with Lorentz. Maybe he did not cite Lorentz because he was mimicking a fraudulent patent application, where an applicant tries to claim credit for something that someone else invented. But Einstein did not claim to have any interpretation different from Lorentz.

Einstein's paper did have declarations of grandeur. Just read the first three paragraphs. He just didn't have any of the sort that would define a new interpretation to Lorentz's relativity.

The striking phrase here is "of course". Overbye implies that it is obvious that Einstein was not smart enough to give the measurement-theory interpretation. And if he was unable to give it, then he certainly did not understand it either, as everyone agrees that the paper was his entire understanding of special relativity. Even when Einstein wrote expository articles about special relativity years later, he stuck to what he wrote in 1905.

So what exactly was Einstein's innovation? By Overbye's account, it was not the mathematical formulas, as Lorentz had them all before. It was not a new interpretation of those formulas either, as Einstein did not state or understand any such interpretation. At best, by this account, his paper had gaps that allowed others to realize the implications of Lorentz's theory. And "of course", Einstein was unable to realize those implications himself.

This is one of many descriptions of the origin of special relativity that make Einstein sound like a great genius, but if you read it carefully, there is no clear statement of Einstein having done anything original. All of those great ideas were from others, not Einstein.


Thursday, Mar 17, 2011
 
Most important equations in physics
Nature magazine tells us that this month is the 150th anniversary of Maxwell's equations:
Exactly 150 years ago, the Scottish physicist James Clerk Maxwell showed that three apparently separate phenomena — electricity, magnetism and light — are different aspects of one phenomenon, today known as electromagnetism.
Maxwell was just trying to explain experiments, and not unify anything. Today it is the reverse:
But even if the Higgs boson is discovered as predicted, physicists will not be satisfied. The ultimate goal is a unification theory that would reveal how all observed particles and forces are just different manifestations of a single underlying system, which can be expressed within a common mathematical framework. ... Although physicists agree that some kind of larger unification is needed, they don't know what form that should take.
The editorial continues to celebrate Maxwell. It credits him with the aether, without mentioning the word:
It is not only in materials that these equations can be applied. Empty space was also illuminated by Maxwell.
Maxwell's theory was the first fully relativistic theory. He did more to create relativity theory than Einstein.

Wednesday, Mar 16, 2011
 
Early attacks on relativity
NewScientist has a Nov 2010 article about early attacks on relativity:
These objections were first raised in scholarly journals, with discussion restricted to academia. But after a key prediction of general relativity was confirmed during an eclipse in 1919, Einstein was transformed into a media star and the debate acquired a much broader public impact. In 1919, The New York Times published an article headlined "Lights all askew in the heavens. Men of science more or less agog over results of eclipse observations", while a German magazine celebrated Einstein as "A new giant of world history". In the years that followed, the newspapers reported on everything from his clothing and Jewish background to his affection for music. ...

Another motivation was more noble. Einstein's opponents were seriously concerned about the future of science. They did not simply disagree with the theory of general relativity; they opposed the new foundations of physics altogether. The increasingly mathematical approach of theoretical physics collided with the then widely held view that science is essentially simple mechanics, comprehensible to every educated layperson.

This way of thinking can be traced back to the 19th-century heyday of popular science, when many citizens devoted their leisure to the pursuit of scientific understanding, and simple theories of gravity or electricity were widely discussed in scientific magazines. Relativity represented a quite different way of understanding the world. It was a theory that "only 12 wise men" could comprehend, The New York Times declared in 1919. ...

Aware of their marginalised position, many of Einstein's opponents turned to anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. "Our trouble in America is that all scientific journals are closed to the anti-relativists through Jewish influence. The daily press is almost entirely under the control of the Jews," Reuterdahl wrote in 1923. From this position, it was easy for Einstein's opponents to see themselves as victims rather than aggressors. In their interpretation of reality, the mere existence of relativity theory and the non-acceptance of arguments against it qualified as an attack on them.

The article is mirrored here, and behind a paywall here. There is also info in Criticism of relativity theory on Wikipedia.

This portrays the opposition to relativity as being mainly academic, and not based on Jewish or other issues.

The NY Times was idolizing Einstein with absurd statements, such as the one about "only 12 wise men". The article does not say whether Reuterdahl was correct about Jewish motivations at the NY Times. The newspaper was owned and edited largely by Jews, and I have never heard of the paper giving so much over-the-top favorable publicity to a non-Jew.

I think that the article is correct that the main issues with Einstein had nothing to do with with Jewishness. There were many reasons to dislike Einstein, and to be skeptical about what he did.

But Einstein himself had another view. According to this April 3, 1921 NY Times article, Einstein said that opposition to his relativity theory was "entirely anti-Semitic":

No man of culture or knowledge has any animosity toward my theories. Even the physicists opposed to the theory are animated by political motives.
A 1923 NY Times article had the headlines, "Einstein Describes His Newest Theory -- Unintelligle to Laymen". [as quoted in Isaacson, 2007, p.339] The news story was largely about his support of Zionism.

Other news stories mentioned Einstein's Jewishness. A 1929 Time magazine cover story said that he was sickly and noted "Dr. Einstein, like so many other Jews and scholars, takes no physical exercise at all." [quoted in Isaacson, p.342]

Physics is still divided between those who are trying to explain the natural world, and those who propose abstract and untestable ideas. There are plenty of Jews and non-Jews on both sides of the divide, as far as I know. The Jewish issue is a distraction from the science.


Monday, Mar 14, 2011
 
Pursuit of New Physics
The Toronto Sun (from Reuters) reports:
New Physics, the motto of the LHC, refers to knowledge that will take research beyond the “Standard Model” of how the universe works that emerged from the work of Albert Einstein and his 1905 Theory of Special Relativity.

“We will be focusing this year on super-symmetry, extra dimensions, how black holes are produced, and the Higgs boson. We expect some first results by the summer,” said Buchmueller.

The Standard Model has nothing to do with Einstein's 1905 work. The LHC is not going to get any of those results, except maybe the Higgs.

The Michelson–Morley experiment is the world's most famous failed experiment. The LHC will be the second most famous failed experiment.

The current Wikipedia article on Albert Einstein starts:

Albert Einstein (14 March 1879 – 18 April 1955) was a German-born theoretical physicist who discovered the theory of general relativity, effecting a revolution in physics. For this achievement, Einstein is often regarded as the father of modern physics. He received the 1921 Nobel Prize in Physics "for his services to theoretical physics, and especially for his discovery of the law of the photoelectric effect".
This suggests that general relativity was his greatest accomplishment. That may be correct, but I don't think that is why he is "often regarded as the father of modern physics." He is primarily idolized among physicists for his 1905 special relativity paper. That is what is said to have revolutionized physics. A century later, physicists still can't stop talking about it when asked about how the LHC is going to find new physics. The above quote is an example, as it suggests that our understanding of the universe emerged from that paper.

Wikipedia also recommends pronouncing the name in German as OL-bairt INE-shtine. Americans pronounce it Al-bert INE-stine.

Today is Pi day, because it can be written 3.14. It is also Einstein's birthday.


Saturday, Mar 12, 2011
 
A Universe from Nothing
Here is a video A Universe from Nothing - Talk by Lawrence Krauss, from last year. Krauss is introduced by R. Dawkins. Krauss argues that the net energy of the universe is zero, so it should not be surprising that it could be created out of nothing in the big bang. In answer to a question, Krauss says:
What is true, and is interesting, ... is that general relativity unfortunately gives people the wrong picture about science. I get a lot of letters from crackpots because of it. Everyone imagines that Einstein sat in a room, closed doors, and thought of this picture, and came up with this beautiful theory, independent of reality (like string theorists). That is not true at all. Einstein was guided by experiment, was guided deeply by experiment. And not just thought experiments. [at 56:10]
That is correct. The wrong picture was promoted by Einstein himself, historians, biographers, philosophers, and string theorists. And yes, this wrong picture promotes bad physics.

Einstein wrote in 1938:

The deviation of the motion of the planet Mercury from the ellipse was known before the general relativity theory was formulated, and no explanation could be found. On the other hand, general relativity developed without any attention to this special problem. Only later was the conclusion about the rotation of the ellipse in the motion of a planet around the sun drawn from the new gravitational equations. [p.254
Einstein's work on general relativity was a collaboration with many others, with most of the original and difficult ideas coming from others. A goal all along was to improve the relativistic explanations of the Mercury orbit anomaly. There were partial relativistic explanations from Poincare and DeSitter before Einstein.

Thursday, Mar 10, 2011
 
Does nature play dice?
The 2005 Einstein Symposium has this homepage:
Due to circumstances beyond our control, we have had to postpone the "Einstein II" conference entitled "Does nature play dice?" until further notice.
Funny. Einstein was a determinist who did not believe that there were any random circumstances beyond our control. It sounds like the cancelation was caused by nature rolling the dice.

This sounds like a joke. Or like last month's story, Psychic Joe Power's Performance Canceled Due To Irony. There were unforeseen circumstances.

Meanwhile, the current no. 1 bestseller on Amazon is Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything. It is about memory competitions, and not Michael Jackson or Albert Einstein.


Wednesday, Mar 09, 2011
 
Film on Kansas evolution hearings
An 82 minute film on the Kansas evolution hearings is available (for streaming) free until March 14. Here is how the film was promoted:
Even before they took place, the 2005 Kansas school board hearings on evolution were recognized as a pivotal battle in America's ongoing war over teaching evolution in the public schools. Organized by believers in Intelligent Design and convened by creationists, the hearings provided a testing ground for the successful legal and political tactics that drive today's ongoing actions by anti-evolution organizations in the US and around the world. On the pro-evolution side, they inspired a worldwide boycott of the event by mainstream science.
It starts with this made-up quote:
"There are two kinds of people in the world: those who crave certainty, and those who seek understanding." -unknown
That quote is supposed to represent the Religion v. Science dichotomy, with scientists being the ones seeking understanding. But the evolutionists who boycotted the hearings seemed like the ones who crave certainty to me.

Whenever the NY Times has article on evolution, it nearly always makes a point of saying that we are certain that evolution is correct. I pointed this out yesterday and previously.

At 21:40, the film makes fun of the Kansas education leaders for not being likely to understand string theory! Nobody understands string theory, or can explain what it has to do with the real world. And yet our leading physicists have a dogmatic certainty that it is correct.

The string theorists all emulate Einstein, and he was famous for craving certainty. He hated quantum uncertainty, as shown in the Bohr–Einstein debates. He is also widely praised for ignoring experiment, such as here and here.

The Kansas hearings were about changing the definition of science. I think that the evolutionists were embarrassments to science.

The film has no scientific content. It tries to ridicule some religious folks for not being very knowledgeable about evolution. One witness was berated for only reading the documents related to his intended testimony. Others gave conflicting answers for the age of the Earth, with some saying 10K years and some 4.5B years. The purpose of this question was explained as driving a wedge between evolution skeptics. The question reveals something about where the witnesses were getting their info, but none of them gave any reasoning anyway. So it did not distinguish between those who crave certainty, and those who seek understanding.


Tuesday, Mar 08, 2011
 
Darwin wrong about invasive species
The NY Times reports that Darwin was wrong:
He may, however, have been wrong about invasive species, at least where amphibians are concerned. Darwin believed that when an invasive species entered a region where a closely related species already existed, it would most likely be unsuccessful because of a competition for resources.

“Instead, we found the opposite pattern with amphibians,” said Reid Tingley, a biologist at the University of Sydney. “When frogs and toads and salamanders invade an area where a similar species exists, they are more, not less, likely to establish themselves.” ...

This is the first study that contradicts Darwin’s invasive species hypothesis using animals.

The article does not explain the error in Darwin's reasoning. He presumably said that animals thrive and succeed by adapting to their environment, and a native species would be better adapted than an invasive species.

So where is the error? Can an animal gain an advantage by adapting to harsher conditions? That would go against a lot of Darwinian thinking. The researchers only say that the aliens may be preadapted, but that does not explain anything.

The article is careful not to give encouragement to Darwin skeptics:

Charles Darwin has had a remarkable record over the past century, not only in the affirmation of evolution by natural selection, but in the number of his more specific ideas that have been proved correct.
I think that Darwin would have said that his naturalization hypothesis was a consequence of evolution by natural selection. So it does not make much sense to say that it was affirmed and disproved at the same time.

Friday, Mar 04, 2011
 
Overbye on Einstein
NY Times science editor Dennis Overbye wrote the 2000 biography, Einstein in Love: (A Scientific Romance). In the epilogue, Overbye writes:
HENDRIK LORENTZ continued to cling to his beloved aether after the advent of general relativity, and Albert humored him to the extent of titling a talk he gave in Leiden in 1920 "Aether and Relativity Theory.” The postwar years Lorentz campaigned to get German scientists readmitted to international scientific organizations. When he died, in 1928, the Dutch telegraph and telephone services were suspended for three minutes in his honor. His funeral was attended by government and scientific dignitaries from around the world, including Einstein, who called Lorentz "the greatest and noblest man of our times." [p.379]
Einstein did not just favor the aether in that 1920 title; after the advent of general relativity in 1916, all of his comments favored the aether. Lorentz and Einstein were in complete agreement on this point after 1916.
HENRI POINCARE' died unexpectedly in 1912, after a supposedly successful operation, never having accepted Einstein's version of relativity. "What shall be our position in view of these new conceptions? Shall we be obliged to modify our conclusions?" he asked rhetorically in a lecture the end of his life. "Certainly not ...," he concluded. "Today some physicists want to adopt a new convention. It is not that they are constrained to do so; they consider this new convention more convenient; that is all. And those who are not of this opinion can legitimately retain the old one in order not to disturb their old habits. I believe, just between us, that that is what they shall do for a long time to come." [p.380]
What the book omits is that those 1912 remarks about "new conceptions" were not about Einstein's version of relativity. It was about Minkowski's version. And Poincare was not saying whether or not he accepts it; he was only predicting that some physicists will prefer other interpretations.

As Overbye explains on p.103, Poincare had a conventionalist philosophy that recognized the possibility of differing mathematical structures being consistent with experiment. Choosing one is a matter of convenience. Poincare was demonstrating the point again in 1912.

These biographical snippets are obviously chosen to show the superiority of Einstein's relativity over Lorentz and Poincare. However, they do not show that at all.

In the prologue, Overbye calls Einstein "the cosmic saint, whose only peer is God." [p.xi] Here is how special relativity is credited in the book:

Lorentz's theory worked, but in its final form it embodied eleven different fundamental assumptions. [p.128]

Poincaré ... regarded these inverse transformations as mere mathematical artifacts with no physical significance. [p.129]

Albert's results were identical to those of Lorentz and Poincaré. ...

In Albert's hands, however, the meaning of these equations had changed completely. Lorentz believed that the transformations were real electrodynamic effects, ...

But in Einstein's formulation did objects actually shrink? In a way, the message of relativity theory was that physics was not about real objects, rather, it concerned the measurement of real objects. ... Although Albert spent the last half of his paper solving problems in optics and electromagnetism, he knew that the relativity principle, as he called it, transcended any particular problem.

No such declaration of grandeur, of course, intruded on the flat and somewhat brisk tone of the paper. Albert simply presented his argument and in many cases left it to the reader to fill in the gaps and to realize the implications. [p.138-139]

This is crazy. The book credits Lorentz for saying that the transformations were real, and it describes another interpretation, but it says that Einstein did not gave the other interpretation. So what's the difference?

The part about Poincare is hopelessly confused. I guess the book is trying to say that Poincare thought that the transformations were real, but the inverse transformations were not. But that does not make any sense, as Poincare proved that the transformations form a group, and there can be no distinction between the transformations and the inverses.

While Einstein did not make that declaration of grandeur, Poincare did in 1905:

This state of affairs may be explained in one of two ways: either everything in the universe would be of electromagnetic origin, or this aspect — shared, as it were, by all physical phenomena — would be a mere epiphenomenon, something due to our methods of measurement.
Or in another translation:
Either there would be nothing in the world which is not of electromagnetic origin. Or this part which would be, so to speak, common to all the physical phenomena, would be only apparent, something which would be due to our methods of measurement.
If this is really the crucial "message of relativity theory", then it is unmistakable that Poincare said it in 1905, and Einstein did not.

The comment about Lorentz's 11 assumptions is one of the few things not footnoted, but I happen to know that it comes from Holton. I have mentioned him before here and here. The count is unfair. Most of the assumptions are used to prove what Einstein just postulated, and so they are not really comparable to Einstein's assumptions.


Wednesday, Mar 02, 2011
 
More supersymmetry bad news
Nature magazine reports:
"Wonderful, beautiful and unique" is how Gordon Kane describes supersymmetry theory. Kane, a theoretical physicist at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, has spent about 30 years working on supersymmetry, a theory that he and many others believe solves a host of problems with our understanding of the subatomic world.

Yet there is growing anxiety that the theory, however elegant it might be, is wrong. Data from the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), a 27-kilometer proton smasher that straddles the French-Swiss border near Geneva, Switzerland, have shown no sign of the "super particles" that the theory predicts.

It is not so wonderful or unique either. Supersymmetry (SUSY) would introduce about 100 new unknown parameters, and we would not have much hope of determining them. The arguments for SUSY seem bogus to me, and I bet that it is not found. Kane is also a string theory promoter, who claims that it is testable, but believes in it regardless.

Here is an explanation of why the string theorists believe in SUSY, regardless of the facts.


Tuesday, Mar 01, 2011
 
Famous in 10 kiloyears
Marginal Revolution blog writes:
Who do you think will still be famous in 10,000 years? ... I'll go with the major religious leaders (Jesus, Buddha, etc.), Einstein, Turing, Watson and Crick, Hitler, the major classical music composers, Adam Smith, and Neil Armstrong. (Addendum: Oops! I forgot Darwin and Euclid.)
These choices seem to be based on their symbolic value, rather than actual accomplishments. Einstein symbolizes relativity and other physics, Turing symbolizes computability, Watson and Crick symbolize advances in biochemistry, and Armstrong symbolizes space exploration.

Surely Kurt Goedel was more important than Turing, and Linus Pauling was more important than Watson and Crick. And Maxwell, Lorentz, Poincare, Minkowski, Bohr, Hilbert, and Weyl were more important than Einstein.

Einstein's fame seems safe for a few decades. But someday, his fans will die out, and people will have to look up what he actually did. And then they will find that his accomplishments were minor.


Monday, Feb 28, 2011
 
Bethell on Einstein's relativity
The net is fully of Einstein idolizers, and a few skeptics. One of the more prominent skeptics has written a book, and now a new article. Tom Bethell writes:
A major turning point in the public’s understanding of science came about a century ago, with the introduction of Einstein’s special and general theories of relativity. Before then, educated laymen were expected to and usually could understand new developments in science, at least in outline. After Einstein this changed. Science moved beyond the ken of educated laymen. ...

Special relativity theory (1905) has a special difficulty. It baffles almost everyone, yet nothing more than high school algebra is involved. So it’s not the math. It’s that we must accept something that is impossible to believe – except on Einstein’s authority. If Petr Beckmann is right, we should reject that authority, as indeed we should reject authority in all fields of science. ...

It was the Michelson-Morley experiment of 1887 that launched special relativity. It involves only unaccelerated, linear motion. If curved motion, acceleration, or gravity, are involved, then we must turn to general relativity (1916), where the math gets much more difficult. ...

Einstein postulated – assumed – that the speed of light is a constant irrespective of the motion, ...

Petr Beckman made a different claim. He argued that the ether is equivalent to the gravitational field, which of course is non-uniform. It is denser at the earth’s surface than it is near the moon, for example. The Sun’s gravitational field is much denser near the Sun than it is in outer space (where it is still not zero). The light medium, then, is non-uniform. ...

Beckmann’s theory gives the same results as Einstein’s general relativity, but by a far simpler method. For various reasons, Einstein’s special relativity should be discarded. ...

At present, the world of orthodox physics is unwilling to reexamine Einstein’s relativity, whether special or general. It would fall apart if subjected to real scrutiny, I believe. But in science (and perhaps everything else) the simple should always be preferred to the complex – all else being equal. Such a revision, if it ever came to pass, would also constitute a serious challenge to the priesthood of science. Perhaps that’s why the relativists are hanging tough.

Bethell is not a scientist, and he relies mainly on Beckmann, who is now dead. You don't need to know any physics to understand how unlikely his story is.

First, special relativity is a special case of general relativity. Special relativity is much more widely accepted and confirmed than the general theory. But Bethell claims that the general theory is true, but he special theory is false. How is that even possible?

Second, Beckmann published many things, but never his theory that is supposedly somehow better than Einstein's. Why not?

Third, he complains that we accept the constancy of the speed of light because of Einstein's authority, but he also admits that the Michelson-Morley experiment of 1887 already found that, before Einstein. Which is it?

I am all for simplicity, but how is Beckmann's non-uniform gravitational aether simpler than a uniform aether?

Some of this is the fault of the popular relativity books. Einstein denied that he used the experimental evidence, and claimed that he just applied pure thought. So in the process of fully crediting Einstein, the experimental evidence for special relativity is downplayed. Instead of saying that we know the speed of light is constant because of experiments like Michelson-Morley, the books say that Einstein postulated.

In fact, the Einstein postulates were ideas that were previously proved by theory and experiment. Acceptance of relativity had very little to do with Einstein's paper.

Update: I learned that Wikipedia has a page on this stuff, called Criticism of relativity theory.


Sunday, Feb 27, 2011
 
4 reasons to hate string theory
Phil Gibbs gives Four reasons why he likes string theory. They are:
(1) the inclusion of gravitons
(2) supersymmetry is a natural byproduct of string theory and if it does exist in nature at scales currently being probed by the LHC then it can explain several mysteries
(3) a holographic principle to avoid the paradox of thermodynamic information being lost inside a black hole
(4) I am comfortable with the platonic view that all mathematically consistent universes exist and we just inhabit some part of that realm ... the laws of physics are somehow selected to promote intelligent life ... string theory ... can be realized in many forms in lower dimensions ..., plenty enough to account for anthropic reasoning. In my view it is the perfect outcome.
Only reason (2) has any relation to experiment. However the latest evidence is against it:
The first results on supersymmetry from the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) have been analysed by physicists and some are suggesting that the theory may be in trouble. Data from proton collisions in both the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) and ATLAS experiments have shown no evidence for supersymmetric particles – or sparticles – that are predicted by this extension to the Standard Model of particle physics.
See also Woit's comments. Supersymmetry was invented before string theory, and most of the reasons for and against it have nothing to do with string theory.

Reason (1) is based on the conjecture that gravity is transmitted by spin-2 bosons. Gravitons, if they exist, would be trillions of times harder to detect than gravity waves, and all attempts to detect gravity waves have failed. It is not even certain that they would have spin 2. (I think Pauli said that they would have spin 2, based on the field equations using rank 2 tensors, and gravity waves having 2 helicity states.) Reasons (3) and (4) are unobservable by definition.

Conspicuously absent in the reasons for liking string theory is any agreement with experiment. The guy doesn't seem to even have any interest in the physical world, or in experimental science. His view is that it is a "perfect outcome" to have a theory that says that anything is possible and predicts nothing except to say that we are here to observe whatever happened.


Friday, Feb 25, 2011
 
Most moral acts of that time
Harvard professor Gerald Holton is an Einstein idolizer. Besides being a physicist and an Einstein biographer, he is on the List of American philosophers. He got a prize named for a fellow Einstein worshipper. He said:
“During that war when much of humanity devoted itself to senseless destruction,” Holton has said, Einstein “revealed the outlines of the grand construction of the universe. That must count as one of the most moral acts of that time.”
Wow. Einstein wrote a 1916 paper on general relativity that was about 90% a recapitulation of the work of others, but did not reference a single paper. I guess that is supposed to make him more moral than those who were fighting World War I, but "most moral"?

This is absurd. The Einstein biographies are written by people like Holton. They are all unreliable idolizers.


Wednesday, Feb 23, 2011
 
How Einstein got famous
I posted below about Einstein and the twelve men. The newspaper hype about that had a lot to do with Einstein's fame.

Michael Madow writes on publicity law, and explains how Einstein got famous, including the 12 men story:

Consider, for starters, the case of Einstein. Why did he, alone among theoretical physicists in this century, achieve worldwide recognition and commercially marketable fame? Why has his name, rather than Bohr's or Schrodinger's, become virtually synonymous in our vernacular with "genius"? Why is it his face, rather than Heisenberg's or Pauli's, that today stares out at us from advertisements, T-shirts, posters, greeting cards, and even party favors? n283 Why, in short, is his face a "sign," while theirs are not? Our first instinct may be to reject these questions as [*186] somewhat foolish. Einstein, we may think, was a great scientist, probably the greatest scientist of the century, and a "great soul" to boot. Surely, neither his renown nor his cultural significance needs explanation: things could not have turned out otherwise.

Yet a recent article by the historian Marshall Missner casts doubt on this easy answer. Missner has marshalled impressive evidence that Einstein's fame, in America at least, was "by no means inevitable." n284 The process by which Einstein became a celebrity in America in the years immediately after World War I was instead "a tale of serendipity -- a publicity campaign run by an invisible hand." n285 Although it is a long way from Einstein to Madonna and Vanilla Ice, and from the 1920s to the 1990s, Missner's study can teach us something about the mechanisms of renown and popular meaning-making in our society -- about the ways in which fame is generated and specific public images are formed in an era of mass communications. For that reason, I will set out a brief summary of his findings.

Missner suggests that the first puzzle to be explained is why the theory of relativity itself attracted so much public attention. The theory, put forward by Einstein in 1905, "did not have any obvious technological consequences at the time." n286 Nor did it conflict, in any obvious way at least, with religious dogma. True, it was a great theoretical achievement, but the achievements of Bohr and Heisenberg "were of at least similar magnitude" and yet "did not gain any public recognition at all." n287 Why, then, did Einstein's theory cause a public sensation, both in Europe and America, while their work did not? The initial factor, Missner claims, was the dramatic way in which the theory was confirmed: by observation of the deflection of light during the solar eclipse of May 1919. n288 This confirmation was announced, with great fanfare, at a scientific conference held in London in November of the same year. n289 Subsequent newspaper and magazine accounts did much to fuel public interest in the theory, trumpeting it as a "revolutionary" discovery that upset common sense assumptions about time and space. n290

[*187] According to Missner, however, the primary reason the theory aroused intense interest in the United States was its political and ideological resonance. n291 The period immediately after World War I was a time of intense xenophobia; there was widespread fear of social revolution and alien, antidemocratic conspiracies. The theory of relativity, at least as presented by the popular press, struck many Americans as elitist, sinister, and subversive. n292 Revealingly, a story somehow took hold after 1919 that only "twelve men" in the entire world (all foreigners, presumably) really understood Einstein's theory. n293 Editorialists voiced concern that this elite might ultimately use their knowledge of the theory to alter basic aspects of reality -- to "bend" space and time, to enter a "fourth dimension," and so on -- and thereby achieve world dominion. n294 Even the sober editors of The New York Times railed against the theory's antidemocratic implications. n295

In April 1921, Einstein himself paid his first visit to this country as part of a Zionist delegation led by Chaim Weizmann. The American mainstream press misinterpreted the tumultuous welcome that New York City's Jews gave to the delegation, and to Weizmann in particular, as a "hero's welcome" for Einstein. The Washington Post, for example, headlined its account of the arrival: "Thousands at Pier to Greet Einstein." n296 The New York Times misreported the event in similar fashion. n297 These erroneous reports helped to generate keen curiosity about Einstein as a person. Reporters who sought him out for interviews were relieved to find that he was not a "haughty, aloof European looking down on boorish Americans," n298 but a modest, humorous, and informal man, who "smiled when his picture was taken, and produced amusing and quotable answers to their inane questions." n299 The fact that Einstein wore rumpled, ill-fitting clothing, played the violin, and smoked a pipe seemed particularly reassuring. He simply did not look like "the 'frightening Dr[.] Einstein,'" the "destroyer of space and time." n300

Before very long, the press coverage turned sharply in Einstein's favor, and less was heard about his theory's sinister implications. Einstein had come to America in April 1921, as the somewhat obscure originator of a frightening and "un-American" theory. He left, two months later, a person revered in the American Jewish community and [*188] widely admired in the general populace, well on his way to secular sainthood and cultural iconization. n301

Yes, Einstein was lucky, the eclipse was dramatic, the press exaggerated the profundity of his ideas, and the Zionists made a hero out of him. But there is much more to the story.

Einstein was an egotistical publicity seeker. His 1905 relativity theory did not just fail to have any obvious technological applications at the time, it did not have any substantial original content at all. A lot of people cooperated to portray him as something that he was not.

I don't know why someone would say that Einstein was not a "haughty, aloof European looking down on boorish Americans". On that trip he said that American men are toy dogs for women.

Einstein certainly got a lot of lucky breaks.

I do wonder whether anyone told the newspapers that there were other physicists who were more important than Einstein. Since Einstein had enemies, it seems likely that they did. But didn't anyone explain it in detail? Surely a lot of people knew the truth about Einstein and kept quiet.

At any rate, a lot of people are lying about Einstein today. The truth is readily available.


Monday, Feb 21, 2011
 
The essence of atheistic evolution is that it is unsupervised
The leftist-atheist-evolutionist Cosmic Variance blog complains about compromising with theologians on the definition of evolution:
Apparently the National Association of Biology Teachers used to characterize the theory of evolution in the following way:
The diversity of life on earth is the result of evolution: an unsupervised, impersonal, unpredictable and natural process of temporal descent with genetic modification that is affected by natural selection, chance, historical contingencies and changing environments.
That’s a good description, because it’s true. But some religious thinkers, along with their enablers within the scientific establishment, objected to the parts about “unsupervised” and “impersonal,” because they seemed to exclude the possibility that the process was designed or guided by God.
The leftist-atheist-evolutionist Jerry Coyne agrees, and adds:
And, indeed, this is what I teach—that natural selection, and evolution in general, are material processes, blind, mindless, and purposeless. ...

As one Christian said to me, defining evolution as “unsupervised” and “impersonal” implied to many Americans that “God had nothing to do with it and life has no meaning.” ...

After all, Darwin’s greatest achievement was the explanation of organismal “design” by a completely naturalistic process, replacing the mindful, purposeful, and god-directed theory that preceded it.  That was a revolution in human thought, and students should know about it.  (This achievement is also why Dawkins claimed, in The Blind Watchmaker, that “Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.”  Perhaps Darwin did not mandate that evolution ineluctably proves the absence of God, but he kicked out the last prop supporting the action of a deity in nature.)

Evolution and selection lack any sign of divine guidance.  ...

Actually -— and I thought this was implicit in my piece -— I don’t think it’s a good tactical move, for to strip those words from the characterization of selection is to rob it of its essence and intellectual (and biological) importance.

One comment asks:
Gravity, the electroweak force, the strong force, the Standard Model, both theories of relativity, among countless others are all considered “unsupervised” and “impersonal”. Nobody wrote letters about their characterizations as “unsupervised” and “impersonal”, and nobody has bothered with surveys, focus groups, etc to determine what “sells best” to the public. Why should the theory of evolution be any different?
No, the physics textbooks do not explicitly say that gravity is unsupervised. The physicists are not always trying to impose their atheism on their students. Saying that it is unsupervised, impersonal, and natural is just a gratuitous attack on religion.

I do not see any purpose to calling evolution "an unsupervised, impersonal, unpredictable and natural process", except to attack religion. Saying that evolution is "unpredictable" is what robs it of its scientific importance. If it is unpredictable, then it is unscientific. Science is all about making hypotheses, predicting the outcome of experiments, and observing those outcomes.

Carroll and Coyne are happy to disclaim any scientific content to the theory of evolution as long as it is declares that God had no part in life on Earth.

Yes, chance has a role in the theory of evolution, but the same is true about quantum mechanics. But no physics book would characterize quantum mechanics as "an unsupervised, impersonal, unpredictable and natural process". It is predictable, and there is scientific merit to considering it a personal and unnatural process. See the Copenhagen interpretation for details.

Another comment adds:

But Dr. Scott is not really interested in speaking for “S”cience: “Nobody speaks for capital ‘S’ science, neither people of faith nor atheists,” she said. “Science is religiously neutral. Whether you’re religious or not, you use the same method and rationale in the way you do science, and if you don’t, then you’re stepping outside of science.”
Coyne tries to speak for Science, and he mainly attacks religion when he does.

Notes: The history of the NABT is that it adopted the original statement in 1995, and was eventually persuaded to remove "unsupervised, impersonal" in 1998. The revision is here and here. The current abbreviated NABT statement drops the whole sentence. NABT Statement on Evolution Evolves by Eugenie C. Scott says that "The strong position of evolution in biology and other sciences was not compromised by removing two adjectives that miscommunicated NABT's meaning.", but has removed her statement from her own web site. One of Coyne's critics says:

You guys are sneaking metaphysics into science class. The logical support that biology lends to atheism is no stronger than that between, say, meteorology and atheism, yet for basically historical reasons we have some evolutionary biologists who consider it part of their job to issue rulings on imponderable cosmic matters, whereas such things are very rare elsewhere in science (excepting perhaps cosmology itself).
I agree with that. These evolutionists are constantly picking unnecessary fights with religion. It would not be so bad if they were at least defending science in the process. But they push a horrible idea of what science is all about.

Sunday, Feb 20, 2011
 
Ardi and Africa theories doubted
From yesterday's Razib Khan and Milford Wolpoff video podcast, I learned that the multiregional human evolution theory is in sharp contrast to the Out of Africa theory, that both theories cannot be true, that the Out of Africa theory dominated public opinion because of the prominence of fossil finders but profession opinion has been split, that many experts do not believe that Ardi was a hominid (ie, in the human line from the human-chimp split), and that the professors promoting the idea that Ardi was a hominid are sufficiently powerful that a young scholar would be foolish to question it.

I have expressed doubts about the out-of-africa and Ardi-hominid theories on this blog. I was suspicious because the announcements were so conveniently aligned with the career goals of those making the claims, because the press had so uncritically accepted the claims, and because of the lack of hard evidence supporting those claims.


Friday, Feb 18, 2011
 
Einstein's wandering mind
SciAm has a new slideshow on great breakthrus, and Einstein leads the show:
Delivered in a Daydream: 7 Great Achievements That Arose from a Wandering Mind [Slide Show]

Daydreaming and downtime can lead to solutions for difficult scientific problems and provide inspiration for creative works. Some of history's best-known scientific and literary achievements grew out of such mental meandering

Relativity Revelation

Albert Einstein's unleashed imagination was an important ingredient to his success. After months of intense mathematical exercises he homed in on the gist of his special theory of relativity while taking a break from his work "and let his imagination wander about the concepts of space and time," wrote Guenther Knoblich and Michael Oellinger in the October 2006 Scientific American MIND. In his mental meanderings Einstein imagined two bolts of lightning striking the front and back of a moving train at the same instant. He realized that those strikes would not seem simultaneous to a person standing next to the track even if they did seem so to an individual on the moving train. Einstein described his moment of insight in 1924: "After seven years of reflection in vain [1898 to 1905] the solution came to me suddenly with the thought that our concepts and laws of space and time can only claim validity insofar as they stand in a clear relation to our experiences; and that experience could very well lead to the alteration of these concepts and laws."

Einstein gave interviews all his life, and always told a story about how he invented special relativity all by himself in a flash of brilliance. But FitzGerald proposed altering our concept of space in 1889, and Lorentz proposed altering time in 1892. It was old news by 1898. Even Einstein's biograhers and defenders admit that he read Lorentz's 1895 paper and Poincare's 1902 book. Lorentz got his Nobel Prize for his electrodynamics in 1902. Einstein spent his whole life pretending that he did relativity on his own.

It is often remarked that Einstein's 1905 relativity paper did not cite any previous work. That was irresponsible enough, but it could have just been laziness, and not dishonesty. But nobody has ever been able to give an explanation to justify all these phony stories that Einstein gave in his later life.

This false Einstein story is used today to justify elite physicists daydreaming about new theories that have no scientific merit. They argue that they are just following Einstein's example.


Thursday, Feb 17, 2011
 
Claiming that gross evolution that has stopped
Dr. Neandertal complains about physicist Michio Kaku saying that human evolution has stopped.

Kaku is just reciting what the evolutionists said themselves, just a few years ago. The NY Times reported in 2005:

It had been widely assumed until recently that human evolution more or less stopped 50,000 years ago.
This was proved wrong in 2007.

My guess is that many of the leftist-atheist-evolutionists are still saying that human are not evolving, but the subject of human diversity is unpleasant for them. They have hated the subject ever since Darwin described the widening gap between humans and apes.

I have criticized Kaku for saying kooky things about physics many times, such as here:

Einstein said that the harmony he sees could not have been an accident. ... I work in something called String Theory which makes the statement that we are reading the mind of God. ... We physicists are the only scientists who can say the word “God” and not blush.
and here:
Einstein’s Cosmos: How Albert Einstein’s Vision Transformed Our Understanding of Space and Time. By Michio Kaku. ... As Kaku writes, “crumbs that have tumbled off Einstein’s plate are now winning Nobel Prizes for other scientists.”
No, no Nobel Prize has ever come out of Einstein's crumbs. Some have been given for relativity-derived work, but not based on Einstein's contributions. None will ever be given for string theory.

Tuesday, Feb 15, 2011
 
Relativity is easy
The Cosmic Variance blog today agrees with DeLong:
My point is that Relativity is easy, intuitive, and consonant with every day human experience when compared to Quantum Mechanics, which is the other branch of twentieth-century physics. Quantum Mechanics is genuinely mind-bending, is genuinely incomprehensible in a way that Relativity is not. It is so incomprehensinblr that physicists' standard advice to their students when they try to make sense of Quantum Mechanics is that they should stop: instead they should just "shut up and calculate."
and Carroll agrees with Feynman who said:
There was a time when the newspapers said that only twelve men understood the theory of relativity. I do not believe there ever was such a time. There might have been a time when only one man did, because he was the only guy who caught on, before he wrote his paper. But after people read the paper a lot of people understood the theory of relativity in some way or other, certainly more than twelve. On the other hand, I think I can safely say that nobody understands quantum mechanics.
Those newspapers were in New York and London. The 1955 NY Times obituary said:
The scientific fraternity in the world of physics, particularly the leaders of the group, recognized from the beginning that a new star of the first magnitude had appeared on their firmament. But with the passing of time his fame spread to other circles, and by 1920 the name of Einstein had become synonymous with relativity, a theory universally regarded as so profound that only twelve men in the entire world were believed able to fathom its depths.
(It was tricky to find the above text. The NY Times Einstein page only has a link to a scanned newspaper image.)

Why 12 men? Relativity was surely more widely understood than quantum mechanics. It appears that the NY Times wanted to portray him as the new Messiah, with 12 enlightened followers just as Jesus had 12 disciples.

Next, I will explain about how the "12 men" story goes back to 1919, when Einstein became a world-wide celebrity. And it continued for decades, even while quantum mechanics was being developed in the 1920s, and never got these stories. The newspapers should have been able to ask any physicist and learn that quantum mechanics was where the action is. Yet they continued with these crazy stories about Einstein and the 12 men.

This sounds like a Jewish story, because Albert Einstein was Jewish, because of the religious overtones of the "12 men" story, and because the NY Times was a Jewish newspaper. But many of the pioneers of quantum mechanics were also Jewish (or of Jewish descent), including Niels Bohr, Wolfgang Pauli, Max Born, John von Neumann, Eugene Wigner, and Richard Feynman. Hermann Weyl had a Jewish wife. Their work was more important than Einstein's, but they never got he royal treatment that he got.

Update: A physicist writes:

Relativity is “hard” because there’s like one million books full of confusing stories about spaceships and lasers and somebody observing somebody’s something, which is all completely irrelevant decoration. As a teenager I read a whole stack of these books and failed to make much sense out of them because one starts asking all sorts of questions about the construction of clocks and what it means to actually ‘see’ something etc. Then, hallelujah, somebody handed me a book in which it said the Poincaré-group is the symmetry group of Minkowski-space.
That understanding of relativity in terms of the symmetry group is due to Poincare and Minkowski, not Einstein. Einstein's view of symmetry was slightly improved over Lorentz, in that he seemed to have understood that if there are two moving frames A and B, then transforming from A to B has to be to inverse of transforming from B to A. But he did not have the concept of a group, or have a formulation in terms of the symmetries of spacetime. He really did not have what has been considered the core of relativity since 1910.

Monday, Feb 14, 2011
 
When do anomalies begin?
Alan Lightman and Owen Gingerich wrote in 1992 (behind AAAS Science paywall here, and summarized here):
As our final example, we consider the equality of inertial and gravitational mass. The first mass resists a body's change in motion whereas the second determines its gravitational force. It is the equality of these two masses that causes bodies of different masses or different materials to fall with the same acceleration in a gravitational field, a long-observed fact. Indeed, in 1592 Galileo wrote in his De Motu (12, p. 48): ...

In Newtonian physics, the inertial mass and gravitational mass are regularly canceled against each other. Newton himself was perplexed by this extraordinary equality between quantities that seemed conceptually very different, and he went to considerable lengths to establish their experimental equivalence. ...

It was not until Albert Einstein's new theory of gravity, general relativity, that a fundamental explanation was given for the equality of inertial and gravitational mass. Indeed, Einstein saw this equality, which was a part of his "equivalence principle," as a profound statement about the nature of gravity, and he constructed his entire theory around it. In the resulting theory, gravity is understood as a geometrical phenomenon, with the equality of the two masses a fundamental and necessary part of that picture.

It seems a little strange to say that Einstein discovered an anomaly, when he just said the same thing that everyone else said for 300 years. The Equivalence principle is no big deal, and general relativity is no more founded on it than Newtonian celestial mechanics was.

A better example is the finite propagation speed of gravity. Newton had identificd the apparent action-as-a-distance as an anomaly. The speed was not identified until the discovery of relativity in 1905. No, Einstein had nothing to do with it.

Apparently the article examples were chosen to support Kuhnian Paradigm shift theory, where the emphasis is on anomalies that are not really anomalies. I don't see much merit to this. Just about anything could be called an anomaly, if the method of the article is applied.


Saturday, Feb 12, 2011
 
Evidence that Lucy walked upright
I have been skeptical about the 3 million year old missing link Lucy here, here, and here. The NY Times reports some evidence that I could be wrong:
Lucy may well be the world’s most famous fossil hominid. She is the best-known specimen of the species Australopithecus afarensis, and her partial skeleton, found in 1974, revealed that she and her kin could walk upright.

But because of a lack of foot bone specimens, scientists have long debated how well she walked — that is, whether A. afarensis also used a grasping movement with the feet, as apes do when they grab tree branches.

Now, a fossilized foot bone from Hadar, Ethiopia, reveals that A. afarensis had arched feet, as do modern humans, and was fully committed to walking upright. The species lived between 3.7 million and 2.9 million years ago.

This is still just one lousy footbone. It is the long bone leading to the fourth toe. I am still not convinced that this is so significant. Supposedly this proves that walking upright is the essence of being human.

The new bone suggests that Lucy's foot was slightly arched. But many modern humans have flat feet with no ill effects, so I am not so sure why an arch is so important.

There are apes today who walk upright:

Orangutans, gorillas and chimpanzees do it. Bonobos seem to love doing it. Apparently gibbons do it really well. Indeed, bipedalism is not unique to humans and is quite common among apes. Apes are known to walk upright once in awhile, although bonobos seem to do it more frequently than other apes. Bipedalism is just one of the natural repertoire of ape locomotion.
There are videos to prove it. So maybe Lucy was just an ape that could walk upright as well as the gorilla in the video. If so, then it is no big deal. If not, then some scientific paper ought to say so.

Friday, Feb 11, 2011
 
Climate change not causing extreme weather
A WSJ op-ed reports:
As it happens, the project's initial findings, published last month, show no evidence of an intensifying weather trend. "In the climate models, the extremes get more extreme as we move into a doubled CO2 world in 100 years," atmospheric scientist Gilbert Compo, one of the researchers on the project, tells me from his office at the University of Colorado, Boulder. "So we were surprised that none of the three major indices of climate variability that we used show a trend of increased circulation going back to 1871."

In other words, researchers have yet to find evidence of more-extreme weather patterns over the period, contrary to what the models predict. "There's no data-driven answer yet to the question of how human activity has affected extreme weather," adds Roger Pielke Jr., another University of Colorado climate researcher.

We do know that carbon dioxide and other gases trap and re-radiate heat. We also know that humans have emitted ever-more of these gases since the Industrial Revolution. What we don't know is exactly how sensitive the climate is to increases in these gases versus other possible factors -— solar variability, oceanic currents, Pacific heating and cooling cycles, planets' gravitational and magnetic oscillations, and so on.

This seems correct. There is some reason to believe that most of the warming in recent decades is attributable to gas emissions of man-made processes. But there is no reason to believe that weather variability is increasing.

Thursday, Feb 10, 2011
 
Evidence from climate science
Here is a new open letter from climate skeptics to Congress:
Do the 678 scientific studies referenced in the CO2 Science document, or the thousands of studies cited in the NIPCC report, provide real-world evidence (as opposed to theoretical climate model predictions) for global warming-induced increases in the worldwide number and severity of floods? No. In the global number and severity of droughts? No. In the number and severity of hurricanes and other storms? No.

Do they provide any real-world evidence of Earth's seas inundating coastal lowlands around the globe? No. Increased human mortality? No. Plant and animal extinctions? No. Declining vegetative productivity? No. More frequent and deadly coral bleaching? No. Marine life dissolving away in acidified oceans? No.

Quite to the contrary, in fact, these reports provide extensive empirical evidence that these things are not happening. And in many of these areas, the referenced papers report finding just the opposite response to global warming, i.e., biosphere-friendly effects of rising temperatures and rising CO2 levels.

The letter makes some good points, and responds to this letter:
We want to assure you that the science is strong and that there is nothing abstract about the risks facing our Nation. ... increasingly vulnerable to drought ... massive flooding ... extreme storms ... increasing frequency ... direct security implications for the country ... Climate change poses unique challenges to human health. ...

He testified that the scientific process “is inherently adversarial – scientists build reputations and gain recognition not only for supporting conventional wisdom, but even more so for demonstrating that the scientific consensus is wrong and that there is a better explanation. That’s what Galileo, Pasteur, Darwin, and Einstein did. ...”

Sounds like a recitation of absract risks to me, with no solid evidence to back them up.

When did Einstein ever demonstrate that the scientific consensus was wrong? Certainly not with relativity, as his papers were squarely in support of the most respected theories at the time. His special relativity papers never said that the earlier Lorentz theory was wrong, and only had favorable comments about it. His theory was contrary to the aether drift theory and Max Abraham's 1902 theory, but neither was a scientific consensus, and Einstein made no direct attempt to demonstrate that they were wrong.

Einstein did say that Planck's particle model of light was a useful heuristic, and that could be seen as contrary to the Maxwell wave theory. But he never said that the Maxwell theory was wrong, and he continued to write papers about the Maxwell theory as if it were correct.

Einstein did attempt to prove quantum mechanics wrong. But he was the one who was proved wrong. He was wrong about a lot of other things also.

There are better examples of demonstrating that the scientific consensus is wrong. One is Alfred Wegener. In relativity, George FitzGerald went against the consensus by proposing the length contraction. He said that everyone laughed at him for years. Hendrik Lorentz proposed that motion could alter time. Henri Poincaré advocated the relativity principle when no one else believed in it. They all openly criticized other physicists, such as those supporting aether drift theories. Einstein never did anything so original and correct and contrary to consensus.


Tuesday, Feb 08, 2011
 
Evolutionist intolerance
Leftist-atheist-evolutionist Jerry Coyne writes:
While the Catholic church officially accepts evolution, it accepts theistic evolution, in which God guided the process and casually slipped an immortal soul into the hominin lineage.  And theistic evolution, in which God has a role in the process, is not acceptance of evolution as we biologists understand it.  So yes, the true biological view of evolution as a materialistic, unguided process is indeed at odds with most religions.  Organizations that promote evolution, such as the National Center for Science Education (NCSE), prefer to avoid this critical point: all they care about is that evolution get taught in the schools, not whether believers wind up accepting the concept of evolution as it’s understood by scientists.
Whether "God guided the process" is not a scientific hypothesis, as far as I know. That is, there is no scientific evidence for or against it, and no known way to collect such evidence.

Coyne's point is that the schools should teach kids atheistic evolution, as long as the elite scientists understand evolution as atheistic. He hates all religion.

Many Christians have complained for years that they are happy with the science of evolution being taught, but they object to atheism being taught along with it in science classes. Coyne makes it clear that his real objective is to promote the atheism.

The NY Times reports:

Einstein is a household name today. But at the end of the 19th century, it was Poincaré, a mathematician, physicist, philosopher and member of national academies, who was the famous one …

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.

This is false. Poincare denied the aether more forcefully than Einstein. But even if it were true, why would anyone care so much about the aether if it were invisible and undetectable?

My objection here is to scientists claiming that there is some scientifically correct position on some issue, when there is no actual scientific evidence. At least the Catholic church does not claim that its theological beliefs are scientific, and does not insist that they be taught in public schools.

Coyne and the Einstein fans are not being scientific when they make these arguments. They are just pushing their pseudo-religious beliefs in the non-existence of God and the aether.


Saturday, Feb 05, 2011
 
Lorentz invented relativistic mass
Lorentz invented relativistic mass in this 1899 paper:
Since k is different from unity, these values cannot both be 1; consequently, states of motion, related to each other in the way we have indicated, will only be possible, if in the transformation of S0 into S the masses of the ions change; even, this must take place in such a way that the same ion will have different masses for vibrations parallel and perpendicular to the velocity of translation.

Such a hypothesis seems very startling at first sight. Nevertheless we need not wholly reject it. Indeed, as is well known, the effective mass of an ion depends on what goes on in the aether; it may therefore very well be altered by a translation and even to different degrees for vibrations of different directions.

He introduced new terminology for it in this 1904 paper:
Hence, in phenomena in which there is an acceleration in the direction of motion, the electron behaves as if it had a mass m1, those in which the acceleration is normal to the path, as if the mass were m2. These quantities m1 and m2 may therefore properly be called the "longitudinal" and "transverse" electromagnetic masses of the electron. I shall suppose that there is no other, no "true" or "material" mass.
Einstein addresses the subject in the final section of his famous 1905 paper:
Taking the ordinary point of view we now inquire as to the ``longitudinal'' and the ``transverse'' mass of the moving electron.
Einstein has no references, but he appears to be referring to Lorentz's work. The wording is strikingly similar. Lorentz is using quote marks because he is explicitly defining new terms, but why is Einstein using quote marks if not to quote Lorentz?

The trouble is that Einstein claimed all of his life that he had seen Lorentz's 1895 paper, but not the 1899 and 1904 papers. When Einstein's 1905 paper was reprinted in 1923, Sommerfield inserted a footnote explaining Einstein's story that "The preceding memoir by Lorentz was not at this time known to the author."

Einstein's claim is farfetched. The main purpose of his 1905 paper was to improve Lorentz's 1895 paper, and Lorentz was one of the most famous physicists in Europe. Lorentz had received a Nobel prize in 1902 for his electrodynamics work. Einstein had access to the later papers, and he would surely have checked before trying to publish an update on a 10-year-old paper. Einstein even wrote reviews for a journal that published a review of Lorentz's 1904 paper.

The only reason for believing Einstein is that Lorentz got the mass formulas correct, and Einstein did not. If Einstein were just plagiarizing Lorentz, then he should have gotten the formulas correct.

My guess is that Einstein had trouble understanding Lorentz's papers because they were in English and his English was poor. But he certainly got the main ideas, and may have thought that Lorentz's mass formulas were wrong but did not have the guts to say so. When it turned out that Einstein published incorrect formulas for something that Lorentz had already published correctly, he was too embarrassed to even admit that he read Lorentz's paper. Einstein also had a hard time explaining what was original about his 1905 paper. So he lied about it all of his life.

If you don't think that Einstein could keep a secret like that, then read about Lieserl Einstein. Einstein spent his entire life denying the existence of his illegitimate daughter.

Lorentz's prediction of relativistic mass was observed in 1901, and Lorentz got a Nobel Prize in 1902. This is the origin of the famous mass-energy equivalence of relativity, as energy used to accelerate an electron gets turned into mass.


Wednesday, Feb 02, 2011
 
Gravity is no incompatibility
The current Scientific American Magazine (February 2011) reports:
A magazine news story on the unification of physics usually begins by saying that Einstein’s general theory of relativity and quantum theory are irreconcilable. The one handles the force of gravity, the other takes care of electromagnetic and nuclear forces, but neither covers all, so physicists are left with a big jagged crack running down the middle of their theoretical world. It’s a nice story line, except it’s not true. “Everyone says quantum mechanics and gravity don’t get along -— they’re incompatible,” says John F. Donoghue of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. “And you still hear that, but it’s wrong.”
That's right, there is no known incompatibility at any observable scale. For details, see Effective field theory or Donoghue's paper.

This alleged incompatibility is the justification for String theory. Here is a recent Brian Greene interview on NPR:

GROSS: Okay. Let's backtrack just a little bit. So the unified theory that Einstein sought and never found, that's a theory that would explain both subatomic particles but also explain, like, the laws of gravity and speed and light and the cosmos and make the large coincide with the small.

Prof. GREENE: That's exactly right. What we have found is that in the 20th century there are two major developments in physics. One as you mentioned, general theory of relativity, Einstein's theory of gravity. It does a fantastic job for big things, stars and galaxies and so forth. The other development we were talking about, quantum mechanics, and it does a fantastic job at the other end of the spectrum for small things -- molecules, atoms and subatomic particles. The big problem for 70 years is that each of these theories does fantastically well in its own realm, but whenever these theories confront one another, they are ferocious antagonists. The math completely falls apart.

Now you might say when would they ever confront each other, one's for the big, the other is for the small? But there are realms in the cosmos, such as at the center of a black hole, where an entire star is being crushed to a very small size. A star is big and heavy. You need the theory of gravity. It's being crushed to a fantastically small size. You need quantum mechanics. In that domain you need both of these theories and when you bring them both to bear, everything falls apart.

GROSS: So - yeah.

Prof. GREENE: String theory is an attempt to fix that.

So if a star collapses down to the size of an atom, then all of the known laws of physics break down. That is true, but we could never observe any such thing anyway. The Schwarzschild radius for any star large enough to collapse is at least five miles. That means that any star that small will be a black hole, and no light or other information can escape. (This is due largely to work of Chandrasekhar in 1931, and Lemaître in 1933. I knew that Lemaître discovered the big bang, but I didn't know that he had a role in black holes also. Einstein did not believe in black holes at this time.)

Quantum mechanics is a theory about observables. It does not, and cannot, have anything to say about the interior of a black hole. The whole subject of quantum gravity is bogus, as it aims to solve a problem that has already be solved to the extent that it is solvable.


Saturday, Jan 29, 2011
 
Hindering scientific literacy
Here is evolution teaching news:
High school biology teachers refuse to teach evolution

That's the conclusion of Penn State scientists, who discovered that most are reluctant to teach evolutionary theory in class. ...

Indeed, 13 percent of biology teachers 'explicitly advocate creationism or intelligent design by spending at least one hour of class time presenting it in a positive light', they say. ...

Others undermine the whole curriculum and "tell students it does not matter if they really 'believe' in evolution, so long as they know it for the test," the researchers say.

Finally, many teachers expose their students to all positions, scientific and otherwise, and let them make up their own minds. But while this approach might at first seem reasonable, say the team, "this approach tells students that well established concepts can be debated in the same way we debate personal opinions."

In other words, we don't encourage children to make up their own minds about whether the world orbits the sun or vice versa.

And it's these 60 percent that most worry the scientists: "They may play a far more important role in hindering scientific literacy in the United States than the smaller number of explicit creationists," they say.

So the Penn State scientists are most worried about the teachers to tell kids to make up their own minds, because that hinders scientific literacy. Or so they say.

According to General relativity, it is completely legitimate to to make up your own mind about whether the Earth orbits the Sun or vice versa. These Penn State scientists say that they are promoting scientific literacy, but their science is a century out of date.

It is also revealing that the Penn State scientists are upset that students can pass the tests without believing in evolution. That tells me that the purpose is more indoctrination than learning knowledge. In most subjects, the teachers are happy to have the students learn and understand the subject matter, and do not insist on uniformity of ideological beliefs.

For example, a student should be able to take a class in the American Civil War, without necessarily agreeing with the teacher about whether the Southern (Confederate) states should have seceded. He should be able to take a class in black holes without necessarily believing in singularities.

The survey was actually in 2007.

AAAS Science magazine adds:

Defeating Creationism in the Courtroom, But Not in the Classroom

Just over 5 years ago, the scientific community turned its attention to a courtroom in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Eleven parents sued their Dover, Pennsylvania, school board to overturn a policy explicitly legitimizing intelligent design creationism. The case, Kitzmiller v. Dover, ... Many scientists cheered the decision, agreeing with the court that the school board displayed “breathtaking inanity” [p. 765 (1)]. We suggest that the cheering was premature and the victory incomplete.

The article argues for educating the public on this issue, but it is behind a paywall so I cannot read it. I am always amused when someone makes a big self-righteous stand about education, and then blocks its own article.

It is worse for scientists to complain that legal actions in court have not successfully censored a contrary view.

Nature magazine writes:

These “cautious 60 percent” generally teach a watered down version of evolution ...

Some of these teachers avoided teaching the more controversial macroevolution, which describes new species arising from old ones, while still describing microevolution, which can explain how bacteria develop antibiotic resistance. Others taught evolution in order that their students could pass standardized tests, though they did not believe in it unequivocally. Finally, a large number of this group exposed students to all positions in the hopes that they could make up their own minds.

Actually, I am surprised to see Nature say this, as many evolutionists deny that there is any difference between macroevolution and microevolution.

The main point of this study is to say that the biggest threat to teaching evolution is the high schools is not the creationists, but the teachers who allow students to make up their own minds, and who do not insist that the students believe in it unequivocably. In other words, the teachers are not the sort of true believers who will brainwash a new generation of true believers in evolution.

As the Penn State press release says:

Berkman and Plutzer dubbed the remaining teachers the "cautious 60 percent," who are neither strong advocates for evolutionary biology nor explicit endorsers of nonscientific alternatives. ...

Finally, many teachers expose their students to all positions, scientific and otherwise, and let them make up their own minds. ...

As a result, "they may play a far more important role in hindering scientific literacy in the United States than the smaller number of explicit creationists."

I do not think that it hinders scientific literacy to let students make up their own minds. Science is all about making deductions from evidence, not rote memorization of facts and blind acceptance of authority.

Friday, Jan 28, 2011
 
Einstein hated the Germans
Time magazine reports:
In 1939, when Einstein's fellow refugees Leo Szilard and Eugene Wigner learned that German scientists had managed to split the atom, they sought Einstein's help. Einstein himself may have had only the faintest idea of the recent progress in nuclear physics, but after a briefing by Szilard and Wigner he agreed to write a letter to President Roosevelt alerting him to the possibility that the Nazis might try to make an atomic bomb. That letter is popularly credited (though its precise effect is unclear) with helping to persuade Roosevelt to order up the Manhattan Project, which produced the first atomic weapons.

Later, when A-bombs exploded over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Einstein expressed deep regret. After the war, he apologized personally -— and in tears -— to visiting Japanese Physicist Hideki Yukawa. On another occasion, he said, "Had I known that the Germans would not succeed in developing an atomic bomb, I would have done nothing for the bomb."

In his final years Einstein was an outspoken foe of McCarthyism, which he felt was an echo of the turbulent events that had preceded the downfall of Germany's Weimar Republic. He urged intellectuals to defy what he considered congressional inquisitions, even at the risk of "jail and economic ruin." He was widely denounced, and Senator Joseph McCarthy called him "an enemy of America." In his last public act, Einstein joined Bertrand Russell and other scholars in a desperate plea for a ban on all warfare. [Time mag, Monday, Feb. 19, 1979, cover story]

Einstein hated the Germans. He renounced his German citizenship twice, once to avoid the military draft and once to avoid the Nazis, and according to this Einstein-hater, he said the following about Germany after World War II:
The nation has been on the decline mentally and morally since 1870. Behind the Nazi party stands the German people, who elected Hitler after he had in his book and in his speeches made his shameful intentions clear beyond the possibility of misunderstanding. The Germans can be killed or constrained after the war, but they cannot be re-educated to a democratic way of thinking and acting.
I cannot confirm this, but he did advocate building atomic bombs only for bombing Germans, and not commies and other enemies.

Thursday, Jan 27, 2011
 
Why philosophy is dead
Philosopher Chris Ormell argues against reliance on math:
take physicist Stephen Hawking's claim that philosophy is dead. The reason he gave was that philosophers have stopped bothering trying to understand modern mathematical cosmology. This cosmology is based on current mathematical physics, most of which has been in place for less than 100 years.
He is living proof, because he does not understand cosmology:
Instead it was discovered that light does not travel in absolutely straight lines, but bends slightly due to the Earth's gravitation. It is a minute effect and detectable only with great difficulty, but its consequences are deadly. If this degree of bending occurred in outer space, the light from the nearest star would have completed a circular trajectory on its way from its source to our telescopes. Nothing in the Universe would be where it appears to be.
No, that is completely wrong. Light travels in straight lines in all of the theories, including general relativity. He seems to be referring to an effect of the Sun's gravity, not Earth's. There is no circular trajectory, except maybe near a black hole.

He goes on to attack math:

So how has it happened that for a hundred years, the mathematical establishment has swallowed the idea of transfinite sets? Georg Cantor produced an argument that seemed to point to transfinite immensities, but that was before we realised that mathematics was incompletable. In effect Cantor's argument showed that the set of real numbers was incompletable. It did not (could not) show that there were more mathematical objects than an ordinary infinity.
This is just gibberish. Of course the real numbers are complete. He is innumerate.

Wednesday, Jan 26, 2011
 
String theory and the real world
Lubos Motl has the link for Gordon Kane's nice November 2010 article in Physics Today. It promotes String theory and says:
Some books and popular articles have claimed that be- cause string theories are naturally formulated at such high energies or small distances, they cannot be tested. ...

Of course, a theory needs only to be falsifiable in one way to be testable. Some compactifications have generated wrong predictions. In those cases, we have successfully im- plemented a test, but the theory failed. I give specific exam- ples of tests below; ...

I realized that a particular compactified string theory had been studied so well ... that we could identify all the particles that could be neutrinos. We showed that in no case could the theory generate light but not massless neutrinos. That work represents a clear example of a test of string theory. Although the particular compactifi- cation we studied did not yield the desired neutrino masses, different compactifications may allow for neutrino masses consistent with experiment and offer explanations of ob- served neutrino properties.

Just to be clear, there are no massless neutrinos in the real world. Kane's idea of a test of string theory is to give argument for nonexistent particles!

At the end, Kane has references to his own articles, but not to the "books and popular articles" that he criticizes.

Kane concludes:

Some of those who talk about testing string theory, and most critics of theory, are assuming the 10D or 11D approach and want somehow to test the theory without applying it to a world where tests exist. That is analogous to asking a La- grangian to be falsifiable without applying it to any physical system. Is 10D string theory falsifiable? That is not the rele- vant question. What matters is that the predictions of the 10D theory for the 4D world are demonstrably testable and falsi- fiable. If no compactified string theory emerges that describes the real world, physicists will lose interest in string theory. But perhaps one or more will describe and explain what is observed and relate various phenomena that previously seemed independent. Such a powerful success of science would bring us close to an ultimate theory.
Again, he is attacking an anonymous straw man that probably does not exist. He seems to concede that no testable string theory has emerged yet. That is what the critics are really saying -- that no testable theory has emerged.

Note that his goals do not include discovering or explaining new phenomena, as is the traditional purpose of physics. He wants to get closer to an "ultimate theory", whatever that is, and hopes that physicists will not lose interest in the meantime. I think that the real physicists have already lost interest.

Motl tries to answer What experiment would disprove string theory? His examples are things like proving that 2+2=5, or proving that the information is lost in the black holes. These are not even testable hypotheses.

His main argument is philosophical:

In science, one can only exclude a theory that contradicts the observations.
There has never been one observation that has been shown to be consistent with string theory. Not one. Motl would say gravity, and argues that string theory could be disproved "By experimentally proving that the world doesn't contain gravity". But it is not even known that string theory can accommodate gravity. String theorists just assume a gravitationally empty space, and gravity plays no role. See string theory background dependence for details.

He concludes:

But even if such a new surprising observation were made, a significant fraction of the theorists would obviously try to find an explanation within the framework of string theory, and that's obviously the right strategy. Others could try to find an explanation elsewhere. But neverending attempts to "get rid of string theory" are almost as unreasonable as attempts to "get rid of relativity" or "get rid of quantum mechanics" or "get rid of mathematics" within physics. You simply can't do it because those things have already been showed to work at some level.
In other words, he will continue to believe in string theory regardless of the facts.

Monday, Jan 24, 2011
 
Ethnocentric Jew claims Jews invented modernity
Jeffrey Goldberg writes for The Atlantic:
It's become clear to me that the Fox commentator Glenn Beck has something of a Jewish problem. Actually, he has something of a modernity problem, and people with modernity problems tend to have problems with Jews, who more or less invented modernity (Einstein, Marx, Freud, Franz Boas, etc.) ...

This is a post about Beck's recent naming of nine people -- eight of them Jews -- as enemies of America and humanity. He calls these people prime contributors to the -- wait for it -- "era of the big lie." The eight Jews are Sigmund Freud; Edward Bernays, the founder of public relations, and a nephew of Freud's (which Beck discloses as if this had previously been a secret); [George] Soros, of course; Cass Sunstein, now of the White House; the former labor leader Andy Stern; Walter Lippman, who is no longer here to defend himself; Frances Fox Piven, who Beck believes is "sowing the seeds" of revolution; and, of all people, Edward Rendell. ...

My modest suggestion to those Jews who fear the building of mosques in American cities is that they look elsewhere for threats that seem to be gathering against them.

Steve Sailer doubts whether those 8 are really Jewish, (see also this), and writes:
Extremely ethnocentric Jews like Jeffrey Goldberg (born in Brooklyn, he joined the Israeli Defense Force after graduating from the Ivy League) vastly overestimate how much gentiles pay attention to the Is-he-a-Jew? questions that obsess them. Further, the media has done a really good job of persuading the average American that even noticing the ethnic patterns that personally preoccupy leading members of the media like Goldberg is a mark of lack of gentility, so most of them don't.
I have no idea about Fox Piven and most of the others. Beck seems to attack Woodrow Wilson more than anyone, and he was certainly not Jewish.

I agree with Sailor. Some of those Jews are really atheists who never practiced any of the Jewish religion, and non-Jews do not care whether they had some Jewish ancestry or not.

It is really nutty to claim that Jews invented modernity, and to point to Einstein, Marx, and Freud. Marx's influence was almost entirely destructive. There was no scientific merit to anything Freud said, as far as I know, and he even faked much of his work. Einstein's work and influence has been greatly exaggerated, as I have documented on this blog.

I don't know much about Frank Boas, but he has also been called a liberal icon and scientific fraud. His student Margarent Mead was a similar fraud, altho not everyone agrees.

I do wonder how much the reputations of these folks are propped up by Jews like Goldberg who make wildly exaggerated claims about how great they were, and then accuse critics of being anti-semitic. I have seen a lot of articles claiming that Nazis and others attacked Einstein because he was Jewish, but not on how he has been promoted by Jews. He has surely been unfairly promoted far more than he has been unfairly attacked.

Goldberg would probably just call me anti-semitic, and not address anything that I have to say.


Friday, Jan 21, 2011
 
Why Einstein lied about Michelson-Morley
The textbooks say that the crucial experiment for special relativity was the Michelson–Morley experiment, but there is some question about whether Einstein even knew about it when he wrote his famous 1905 paper.

Kevin Brown writes in his book:

Einstein’s own recollections on this point were not entirely consistent. He sometimes said he couldn’t remember if he had been aware in 1905 of Michelson's experiments, but at other times he acknowledged that he had known of it from having read the works of Lorentz. ...

One possible explanation for Einstein’s reluctance to cite Michelson, both in 1905 and subsequently, is that he was sophisticated enough to know that his “theory” was technically just a re-interpretation of Lorentz’s theory - making identical predictions - so it could not be preferred on the basis of agreement with experiment. ...

This is not to suggest that Einstein was being disingenuous, because it’s clear that the principles of special relativity actually do emerge very naturally from just the first-order effects ... It seems clear that Einstein’s explanations for how he arrived at special relativity were sincere expressions of his beliefs about the origins of special relativity in his own mind.

No, this cannot be a correct explanation. Here is what Einstein said about M-M in his 1909 paper:
This contradiction was chiefly eliminated by the pioneering work of H. A. Lorentz in 1895. Lorentz showed that if the ether were taken to be at rest and did not participate at all in the motions of matter, no other hypotheses were necessary to arrive at a theory that did justice to almost all of the phenomena. In particular, Fizeau's experiments were explained, as well as the negative results of the above-mentioned attempts to detect the Earth's motion relative to the ether. Only one experiment seemed incompatible with Lorentz's theory, namely, the interference experiment of Michelson and Morley.

According to Lorentz's theory, a uniform translational motion of the apparatus of optical experiments does not affect light's progress, if we ignore second- and higher-order terms of the quotient (speed of apparatus)/(speed of light). The Michelson and Morley interference experiment showed that, in a special case, second-order terms also cannot be detected, although they were expected from the standpoint of the ether-at-rest theory. To include this experiment in the theory, Lorentz and FitzGerald introduced the postulate that all objects, including the parts of Michelson and Morley's experimental set-up, changed their form in a certain way, if they moved relative to the ether.

So by 1909, Einstein understood the importance of M-M to relativity. Lorentz's 1895 theory explained all the first order experiments, but not M-M. That is why Poincare criticized Lorentz, and why Lorentz and Poincare produced theory for all orders in 1904.

Later, Einstein denied being influenced by M-M, or that M-M had any role in the foundation of special relativity, as documented here and here. How could he deny what he said in 1909? No, he did not forget. He was just leaving out the part where he himself had no role in the foundation of special relativity.

In 1905, Einstein reproduced the Lorentz-Poincare theory to all orders, but only mentioned the first-order experiments. This simple fact has puzzled scholars for a century. Why didn't Einstein mention M-M in 1905? How is it that he could write a paper that solves a problem created by M-M, and not even seem to know about M-M? And why did he tell so many inconsistent stories about M-M? Doesn't he know how he came to write his greatest paper?

Philosophers and historians have given various explanations, but I think that it is very simple. Einstein only partially understood the Lorentz-Poincare papers, and did not understand why M-M was so important until sometime between 1907 and 1909. When asked about M-M, he just egotistically said whatever would enhance his reputation the most. After he learned about M-M and while Lorentz and Poincare were alive, that meant admitting that M-M was the crucial experiment. Later, when he could get away with claiming to have invented relativity out of pure thought, he downplayed the role of any experiment.

Einstein did not invent relativity, he got it from Lorentz and Poincare, and he did not understand some aspects of it when he wrote that 1905 paper.


Thursday, Jan 20, 2011
 
Christian astronomer wins settlement
I mentioned before that an astronomer blackballed for Biblical beliefs. The university has now paid:
The University of Kentucky has settled a religious discrimination lawsuit with C. Martin Gaskell, a former University of Nebraska astronomer whom Kentucky declined to hire as director of its Lexington-based observatory.

After being snubbed for the directorship in 2007, Gaskell alleged that Kentucky officials had passed on him because of his Christian views -- a claim his lawyers say is supported by e-mails sent by members of the search committee, as well as sworn testimony given by the panel's members and other Kentucky faculty. The university will pay the spurned astronomer $125,000 -- roughly the equivalent of the extra money Gaskell would have made if he had held the directorship for two years, according to Francis Marion, a senior trial lawyer for the National Center for Law & Justice, which worked the astronomer's case pro bono. A district court judge had denied motions for summary judgment from both parties. ...

But Paul Z. Myers, an associate professor of biology at the University of Minnesota at Morris (and keeper of the popular blog Pharyngula), said the Kentucky search committee was within its rights to consider how members of the biology faculty would feel about the university hiring to a high-profile position an astronomer whom they considered hostile to their views and methods. “I wouldn’t want to hire a biologist that’s going around on the side saying that the world is flat,” Myers said. “...Collegiality is a significant factor in employment decisions here.”

Myers is a good example of the intolerant narrow-mindedness of the leftst-atheist-evolutionists. They are the only ones who talk about a flat earth, and the only ones who want to censor the views of others at universities.

As pointed out below, many modern physicists devote a lot of energy theorizing about unobservable phenomena. It should not be any more objectionable for Gaskell to theorize about the Bible. The lawsuit turned up this university document:

“It has become clear to me that there is virtually no way Gaskell will be offered the job despite his qualifications that stand far above those of any other applicant,” Troland wrote. “…[T]he real reason we will not offer him this job is because of his religious beliefs in matters that are unrelated to astronomy or to any of the duties that are specified to this position.”
Much goofier and unscientific beliefs are very common, even in astronomy departments.

Wednesday, Jan 19, 2011
 
Slandering Neanderthals
I like the John Hawks blog because he is one of those academic anthropologists who tries to be scientific. He quotes:
The early theories of human evolution are really very odd, if one stops to look at them. ... here were theories about human evolution that one would think would require some fossil evidence, but in fact there were either so few fossils that they exerted no influence on the theory, or there were no fossils at all. ... Even so, the Neanderthals were described as "uncouth, repellent, unattractive, incapable of fine coordination of the fingers, and certainly belonging to a different species." This is science derived directly from bones -- "uncouth, repellent, and unattractive"? Who felt this way about the skeletons?
Hawks also posts this:
A new paper in PNAS by Erik Trinkaus covers the mortality patterns of old versus young adults in Neandertals, early modern humans in the Levant and early Upper Paleolithic people of Europe [1]. The paper has gotten a lot of attention from the press, including the NY Times: "Life Span of Early Man Same as Neanderthals’". Reporters worldwide (so far, 30 articles in Google News) were relying on a press release issued from Trinkaus' university. ...

NAS members can submit papers to PNAS directly, relying on reviews from peers that they select themselves. The editorial policy of the journal makes it very difficult to reply to these papers, and certainly no reply could gain the attention that this paper has already received.

Lucky for me, I just happen to have a blog for such occasions.

He goes on to demonstrate that Trinkaus deliberately ignored that the same work had been already done five years earlier, with the only excuse being that PNAS had allowed the citation to be omitted.

Wow. I used to think that it was a good think that we had a nationally-sponsored prestigious journal that permitted big-shots to publish with only minimal peer review. NAS members have already proven themselves worthy.

Now I see this. Erik Trinkaus denies that he even has any responsibility to cite the previous (and nearly identical) work. This guy is supposed to be one of our leading experts in missing link human evolution, and he appears to be a plagiarist. That is, he published ideas about Neanderthals that had been previously published by others, he knew that they had been previously published, and he deliberately avoid citing the earlier work.


Tuesday, Jan 18, 2011
 
Age of Aquarius
Astrologers are upset:
A spokeswoman for the American Federation of Astrologers, Shelley Ackerman, said she'd been swamped with e-mails from worried clients. She advises them not to overreact.

"This doesn't change your chart at all. I'm not about to use it," she said. "Every few years a story like this comes out and scares the living daylights out of everyone, but it'll go away as quickly as it came."

That should make one demographic pretty happy—people who have zodiac tattoos.

Sam Bielinski, who owns Atomic Tattoos in Milwaukee, estimated that one in five customers asks for a zodiac tattoo, making the art among the most popular requests.

The news is that the signs of the Zodiac are changing. You can find your true sign there.

The precession of the equinoxes was discovered by by the Greek Hipparchus in 130 BC. Our view of the stars is changing on a 26,000 year cycle. We are now entering the Age of Aquarius, as was popularized by the New Agers in the 1960s.

I am not sure who is worse, the astrologers who are not even following the correct stars, or the "majority of scholars" who say that science was invented in the Scientific revolution of 1543. How do they think that the ancient Greeks figured out a 26K-year star cycle before science had been invented? The ancient astronomers understood science better than the modern philosophers.

Update: I watch Comedy Channel's Jon Stewart cover this issue, and he was making fun of other programs for playing the song, "Age of Aquarius". He obviously did not understand the point of the story at all, because he did not see how the song related. He said that they should have been able to think of other songs to play. However, it is the only song about the precession of the equinoxes, as far as I know.


Monday, Jan 17, 2011
 
Darkness on the Edge of the Universe
I previously criticized a NY Times op-ed by physicist Brian Greene about string theory. He mentioned Einstein 11 times.

Greene now has another NY Times op-ed, and he again mentions Einstein 11 times. The points to these articles don't really have much to do with Einstein, except that any wacky idea has to be rationalized as being something that Einstein would have wanted somehow. Greene says:

Were Einstein still with us, his discovery that repulsive gravity lies within nature’s repertoire would have likely garnered him another Nobel prize.
No, Einstein did not even get a Nobel prize for relativity, and he did not even believe in the expansion of the universe, so he would surely not get one for the discovery that the expansion of the universe is accelerating.

It is not really correct to credit Hubble for the expansion of the universe, as I have noted here and here.

Greene's main point seems to be to plug his new book, The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos, and argue for the study of unobservable physics. A review says:

The book devotes considerable time to the critical question of whether the universe is finite or infinite in size, something which has profound scientific and philosophical implications. ...

Greene discusses all of the current hot topics in cosmology: brane-worlds, the multiverse, the holographic universe, unseen parallel worlds in dimensions separated by millimeters, our universe as a super-advanced computer program, the essentially hidden nature of reality.

No, I do not believe that unobservable phenomena have any profound scientific or philosophical implications. I guess that makes me a positivist.

Greene's stuff just seems like a religion to me. He has his idol worship of Einstein, his belief system about how the universe ought to be, his grand declarations about unobservables that have to be taken on faith, and some occasion facts thrown in to make himself sound scientific.

A 2008 NY Times article on this subject of dark energy mentions Einstein 14 times.

Greene's attitude is exactly what is wrong with physics. It is scientific to observe the acceleration of the expansion of the universe. But he leave science when he starts talking about things that can never be observed or tested.

Lubos Motl already has an opinion about Greene's new book:

The third book will be dedicated to cosmology - especially to the multiverse and eternal inflation. While many ideas attached to this topic are demonstrably wrong while others are arbitrary i.e. probably wrong and the anthropic people are spreading lots of defeatist emotions, I am confident that the new book will be very good and will present a convincing picture. ...

After all, the main "critic" who is the informal king of this whole aggressive crackpot movement is employed as a useless shameless parasite ...

In other words, the book is wrong but he will launch an ad hominem attack against anyone who says so. Woit responds here.

Update: Here is an NPR interview.


Sunday, Jan 16, 2011
 
Coriolis effect found 184 years before Coriolis
New Scientist magazine reports:
While trying to prove that the Earth is fixed in space, an Italian priest described something similar to the Coriolis effect – the slight deflection experienced by objects moving in a rotating frame of reference – nearly 200 years before mathematician Gustave Coriolis worked it out in 1835.

In 1651, Giovanni Riccioli published 77 arguments against the idea that the apparent motions of the heavens were due to the Earth's rotation and orbit around the sun. These included claims that Hell would be in the wrong place, aesthetic concerns over proportion and harmony, and more scientific approaches. ...

Riccioli argued that if the Earth were rotating, the speed of the ground at different latitudes would be different, so cannon shots fired due north or south from near the equator would show a slight deflection east or west as the ground moved beneath them during flight. No such effect was known at the time, so he wrongly concluded that the Earth must be stationary.

The paper is The Coriolis Effect Apparently Described.

This was indeed a legitimate reason for doubting the motion of the Earth. Even in World War I, British artillery gunmen missed targets because they failed to compensate for the Earth's motion and the Coriolis effect.

The best scientists are not the ones whose hunches turn out to be correct. They are the ones who properly analyze the available data, and formulate reasonable hypotheses. Riccioli should be credited for figuring out a way to test for the motion of the Earth. My guess is that no one will want to credit him because he was on the wrong side of the Galileo debate.


Saturday, Jan 15, 2011
 
Getting energy from relativity
The Economist magazine credits Einstein for ordinary lead-acid car batteries:
Without the magic of relativity, a car’s starter motor would not turn

ALBERT EINSTEIN never learned to drive. He thought it too complicated and in any case he preferred walking. What he did not know -— indeed, what no one knew until now -— is that most cars would not work without the intervention of one of his most famous discoveries, the special theory of relativity.

Special relativity deals with physical extremes. It governs the behaviour of subatomic particles zipping around powerful accelerators at close to the speed of light and its equations foresaw the conversion of mass into energy in nuclear bombs. A paper in Physical Review Letters, however, reports a more prosaic application. According to the calculations of Pekka Pyykko of the University of Helsinki and his colleagues, the familiar lead-acid battery that sits under a car’s bonnet and provides the oomph to get the engine turning owes its ability to do so to special relativity. ...

As the one Einsteinian equation everybody can quote, E=mc2, predicts, the kinetic energy of this extra velocity (ie, a higher E) makes lead’s electrons more massive than tin’s (increasing m) -— and heavy electrons tend to fall in and circle the nucleus in more tightly bound orbitals. ...

And so it turned out. Dr Pyykko and his colleagues made two versions of a computer model of how lead-acid batteries work. One incorporated their newly hypothesised relativistic effects while the other did not. The relativistic simulations predicted the voltages measured in real lead-acid batteries with great precision. When relativity was excluded, roughly 80% of that voltage disappeared.

So E = mc2 explains atomic bombs and car batteries? A down-to-earth application of relativity has finally been found?

Actually, I think that it is pretty crazy to suggest that there is any such thing as a non-relativistic electron theory. At one time, the term "electron theory" was pretty much synonymous with "relativity theory". Without the magic of relativity, no electrical device of any kind would function.

The electron had been conjectured for a long time, but the first really good evidence for it was discovered in 1896. At that time, the dominant theories for it were Maxwell's equations and Lorentz's electron theory, and they were fully relativitistic. A non-relativistic quantum theory for it was developed in 1926, but it was made relativistic in 1928 with the Dirac equation. This new research is based on that equation, and the chemistry derived from it.

The paper is Relativity and the lead-acid battery. I guess that they have an argument that a particular non-relativistic approximation does not work when showing that lead works better than tin in batteries. It says that the 1928 theory gives a good explanation, and the 1926 theory does not. Einstein had nothing to do with any of this, as far as I can see. He lived until 1955 and wrote many papers on the subject all his life, but as far as I can tell, he never showed any understanding of that 1928 theory. He repeatedly proposed alternatives that did not work and did not solve the problems that were already solved in 1928.


Friday, Jan 14, 2011
 
How Lorentz credited Einstein
Some people say that Lorentz deserves no credit for special relativity because he credited Einstein.

Lorentz's 1904 paper was published in English, and a German translation was published in 1913. Lorentz added a footnote 11 to the translation crediting Einstein for (1) correcting the transformation of charge density, and (2) expressing the relativity principle as a general strict and exactly valid law. This is used to argue that Einstein is the true discoverer of special relativity.

Poincare had just died in 1912, but it is strange that Lorentz did not credit him on both of these points. Lorentz wrote that 1904 paper partially in response to Poincare expressing that principle. Lorentz says so in the paper. And soon after that paper appeared, Poincare wrote to Lorentz praising the paper, but telling him that the transformation formula for charge density was incorrect.

It is to Einstein's credit that he got the charge density transformation correct in 1905, but he also got the mass transformation wrong, and Lorentz had published the correct formula in 1904. On balance, Einstein was no better, and he was a year later.

Poincare got all of the formulas correct, and did them before Einstein.

Lorentz's 1913 footnote is inadequate, but the next year he published a paper crediting Poincare over Einstein, as explained here.

Lorentz was a generous and honorable man. No one ever said a bad thing about him personally. He could have demanded credit for special relativity, but he did not. He credited FitzGerald for the contraction, even tho a letter from FitzGerald said that no credit was necessary. He credited Einstein for the charge density transformation, even tho he certainly could have used the opportunity to gloat that Einstein got the mass formula wrong. Einstein was never so generous with the credit.

The right way to judge the scientific contributions of Lorentz and Einstein is by the content of their physics papers, not what they said about each other. Only one of them was honest.


Tuesday, Jan 11, 2011
 
Failing to resolve a dispute
I mentioned that math is unique because it resolves all of its disputes, and that anthropologists are not sure that they even want to be considered scientists. Here is an example of a failure to resolve a dispute:
So which is it? The Mead vs. Freeman controversy doesn’t look like it has much room for an in-between answer. Either Samoan teenagers of that time were free and easy with their sexuality or they were hemmed in by a social system that strongly repressed pre-marital sexual activity.

Anthropology as a science ought to be able to answer such a straightforward question. It says something about anthropology that the issue is still controversial 27 years after Freeman declared that Mead was provably wrong.

Maybe fields like anthropology should split into those who are scientific, and those who don't even want to be.

Monday, Jan 10, 2011
 
How Einstein makes $20M per year
The CBS TV 60 Minutes news show reports:
No other agent in the world represents more famous people than Mark Roesler: stroll down Hollywood Boulevard with him and he'll point out 62 of his clients who are immortalized with their own stars on the "Walk of Fame," stars such as Errol Flynn, Gloria Swanson, and Marilyn Monroe.

His client list includes some of the biggest names of the 20th century: actresses like Ingrid Bergman and Bette Davis, baseball legends Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, and singer Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday. ...

The photo archive Corbis, owned by Bill Gates, has branched out from photo and film rights to representing the deceased people who appear in them.

The agency, called "Greenlight," was run until recently by Martin Cribbs. ...

And Cribbs has a name for his deceased clients: "delebs," as in dead celebrities.

He said their biggest "deleb" is Albert Einstein. "He's our number one man."

"Bigger than Marilyn Monroe and James Dean?" Kroft asked.

"Huge, huge, the biggest in the world. Albert Einstein was Time Magazine's person of the century," Cribbs said.

Every 12-year-old in the world recognizes Einstein's picture and instantly equates it with genius. Einstein's beneficiary, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem has earned millions and millions of dollars from Baby Einstein videos and Nike commercials featuring Kobe Bryant, executing a genius move as the late Princeton professor.

I don't know why this same info is on a Sept. 2009 page. Maybe last night's show was a rerun.

Info on Cribbs is here. The UK Guardian says Einstein makes $20M per year.

This story says:

Polsky Films has licensed film rights to the life story of Albert Einstein and signed biographer Walter Isaacson ("Einstein: His Life and the Universe") as a consultant.

Banner announced the deal Monday with Corbis, which reps the Hebrew U. of Jerusalem, the beneficiary of Einstein's intellectual estate and owner of Einstein's rights. Pact provides for consultation with experts from the Albert Einstein Archives of the Hebrew U., which holds the late scientist's personal and professional papers.

Polsky Films, headed by Alan and Gabe Polsky, plan to focus on Einstein's personal triumphs in understanding space and time along with his struggles, such as being forced to flee Nazi Germany. Although Einstein became a global icon and was recognized as Time's "Person of the Century" in 2000, he was reluctant to acknowledge his own legend and once quipped, "I am no Einstein."

It does not mention that Isaacson was the Time editor chiefly responsible for Einstein being named "Person of the Century". And now Isaacson and the owners of Einstein's name are making a lot of money off of it.

Promoting Einstein is big business. The next time you hear someone say how great Einstein was, remember that he might be brainwashed by profiteers.


Sunday, Jan 09, 2011
 
The Scholar and the Caliph
Physics World has just published this:
In 11th-century Egypt a man named Ibn al-Haytham became the stuff of science legend. Jennifer Ouellette tells his story

N.B. This is a fictionalized account – see author's note below ...

Never again will the Scholar blindly accept assertions made by the Ancients, however revered; he vows to test and question everything. ... He tilts his head back, raises his palms, and embraces the light.

Weird. I guess that she is trying to portray him as some sort of Moslem Galileo. Unusual for a physics journal to publish a fictionalized story.

Saturday, Jan 08, 2011
 
Lorentz accepted relativity
Kevin Brown writes:
Still, it's clear that neither Lorentz nor Poincare ever whole-heartedly embraced special relativity, for reasons that may best be summed up by Lorentz when he wrote
Yet, I think, something may also be claimed in favor of the form in which I have presented the theory. I cannot but regard the aether, which can be the seat of an electromagnetic field with its energy and its vibrations, as endowed with a certain degree of substantiality, however different it may be from all ordinary matter. In this line of thought it seems natural not to assume at starting that it can never make any difference whether a body moves through the aether or not, and to measure distances and lengths of time by means of rods and clocks having a fixed position relatively to the aether.
This passage implies that Lorentz's rationale for retaining a substantial aether and attempting to refer all measurements to the rest frame of this aether (without, of course, specifying how that is to be done) was the belief that it might, after all, make some difference whether a body moves through the aether or not. In other words, we should continue to look for physical effects that violate Lorentz invariance (by which we now mean local Lorentz invariance), both in new physical forces and at higher orders of v/c for the known forces.
I do not agree that this quote implies that Lorentz did not accept special relativity.

A famous physicist, J.S. Bell, wrote a 1976 article saying that Lorentz's approach is a better way to teach relativity. He was not refusing to accept relativity.

(Well, actually I do think that Bell was not fully accepting relativity. But my reasons have nothing to do with the aether or the above criticism of Lorentz. They have to do with quantum field theory and nonlocality, where Bell had some funny ideas.)

Likewise, Lorentz is only describing how he "presented the theory". He is not saying that he presented a different theory, or that he did not believe in the theory. His simply presented the ideas in a different order. The above quote is from 1906 lectures at Columbia University that were later published. The context is instructive. In the previous paragraph, he says, "the chief difference being that Einstein simply postulates what we have deduced". See Lorentz's The Theory of Electrons (1916) or my earlier quote. [p.230, sec.194] Those are not the words of someone who is rejecting Einstein's theory. Lorentz is clearly agreeing with what Einstein postulated, and only saying that another presentation also has merit.

In spite of Bell's opinion, Einstein is widely credited with presenting relativity more clearly and simply than Lorentz. Many eminent physicists have said so. But the argument is meaningless unless you recognize the fact that Einstein simply postulated what Lorentz and Poincare had deduced from more elementary premises several years earlier. I show below where Einstein assumed that postulate.

Any comparison of electromagnetic relativity should recognize the fact that Lorentz proved his theorem of the corresponding states, Poincare proved covariance of Maxwell's equations (a stronger statement), and Einstein merely assumed Lorentz's theorem as a postulate, and did not prove covariance. Once you grasp these essential points, it is difficult to see how Einstein could have said anything conceptually superior to Lorentz or Poincare. Einstein did not reject any part of what Lorentz said when assuming his theorem as a postulate.

I have read many books and articles on the history of relativity, but I have yet to see anyone address this essential difference between the works of Lorentz, Poincare, and Einstein. The above Lorentz quote alludes to this difference. If you look at what they said about each other, you have to find that quote. It only has one meaning, and it is at the heart of what special relativity means. Any book that ignores it is ignoring the essential facts.

Gerald James Holton (a big Einstein fan) wrote a book on Thematic origins of scientific thought: Kepler to Einstein, and complains of two mistakes in Lorentz's 1904 paper. The first involved the transformation of charge density, as found by Poincare.

The recognition of a second flaw in Lorentz's work, one that now strikes us as even more serious than the first, is implied in another typically generous comment by Lorentz in 1909 in The Theory of Electrons.
The comment is the one about how "Einstein simply postulates". It is not Lorentz's flaw, it is Einstein's!

Thursday, Jan 06, 2011
 
Common misconceptions exposed
The current xkcd comic recommends this list of common misconceptions. Most of these are good examples, such as the Myth of the Flat Earth, which is mentioned 3 times. I have heard people argue for many of these demonstrably false beliefs. Most of the items are informative, and some of them are silly.

The items on evolution are a little strange:

The word theory in the theory of evolution does not imply doubt from mainstream science regarding its validity; ... Evolution is a theory in the same sense as germ theory, gravitation, or plate tectonics.

Evolution does not claim humans evolved from monkeys

Evolution is not a progression from inferior to superior organisms

The rigid hypothesis -> experiment -> conclusion model of science is ... not the only way to perform genuine science.

Maybe these are simplifications, but they are not wrong.

Nobody says that the word theory implies doubt. What they say is that a scientific theory is subject to testing and verification, and they would say the same about germ theory or gravitation.

Evolution does teach that human evolved from animals that looked like monkeys. And some of us do believe that it was progress to something superior.

The model of the scientific method is very useful and essentially correct. The main dissent comes from those who promote ideas that are not testable. There are philosophers who deny objective reality, and argue that science changes by irrational Kuhnian paradigm shifts. They like to deny the scientific method, but it is still a useful description of what real scientists do. Some of those philosophers cite Einstein, and that is one reason I blog about what Einstein really did. For example, Wikipedia explains:

Critics of Popper, chiefly Thomas Kuhn, Paul Feyerabend and Imre Lakatos, rejected the idea that there exists a single method that applies to all science and could account for its progress. ... As Kuhn put it, "a new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it."
Kuhn thought that we believe Einstein's relativity because the opponents died. His argument is absurd, as I show on this blog. He also used an evolution analogy to argue that science does not make progress. He has made a monkey out of all of us!

Update: The attention from the comic caused this section to be deleted:

Science and religion

* No scientist ever lost his life because of his scientific views, at least to the knowledge of historians of science.[citation needed] It is true that the Italian Inquisition incinerated the sixteenth century Copernican Giordano Bruno, but it happened also for his heretical theological notions,[178][179] such as his denial of the divinity of Christ.[180]

* Claims that "the medieval Christian church suppressed the growth of science"[citation needed], or that "the rise of Christianity was responsible for the demise of ancient science"[citation needed] are widely popular[citation needed] myths[citation needed] that still pass as historical truth[citation needed], although they are not supported by historical research[citation needed]. Assertions that "the Church prohibited autopsies and dissections", and that "the medieval Christians thought that the world was flat" are also common errors.[178][181]

* The popular notion[citation needed] that science and religion "had been in a state of constant conflict" was spread in the 19th century, but is rejected by current scholarship on the history of science.[182] For instance, studies have shown that Christianity has often nurtured and encouraged scientific endeavor, while at other times it coexists with new scientific views without either tension or attempts at harmonization. Instances of conflict are actually the exception, not the rule.[183]

These are indeed common misconceptions.

Update: (Feb. 9) The evolution section has gotten worse, and has drawn this comment:

I contest almost everything what is described as "common misconceptions" in evolution. Most of these are definitely not common misconceptions but rather religious-like beliefs by certain groups in the U.S. only.

Tuesday, Jan 04, 2011
 
Zahar on Einstein
Philosopher Élie Zahar wrote Why did Einstein's Programme supersede Lorentz's? (II), saying: (pdf)
Einstein asserted that all physical laws are Lorentz-covariant whereas Lorentz restricted his attention largely to electrodynamics (and did not fully establish the covariance of Maxwell's equations). [p.237,fn.5]

Einstein based his heuristic on the requirement that all physical laws should be Lorentz-covariant; i.e. all theories should assume the same form, whether they are expressed in terms of x, y, z, t or in terms of x', y', z', t'. [p.243]

No, this is not correct. Lorentz covariance is not just the idea the equations have the same form. The equations have to be the same as a consequence of applying the Lorentz transformations to the spacetime variables.

This concept was invented by Henri Poincaré in 1905, popularly explained by Hermann Minkowski in 1908, and has been in all the better relativity textbooks ever since. It was not known to either Hendrik Lorentz or Albert Einstein in 1905, and they showed no sign of understanding it until many years afterwards. They just had the simpler notion of the theories having equations of the same form. Lorentz proved that Maxwell's equations had the same in 1895 (to first order) and 1904 (to all orders). Einstein just assumed this in 1905, without crediting Lorentz, and did not even claim anything stronger.

It is also not true that Lorentz restricts his theory to electromagnetism. In sec. 91 of his 1895 Versuch paper, he applies his transformations to molecular forces even if they are not electromagnetic. In Considerations on Gravitation (1900), he tries to apply them to gravity.

Meanwhile, Einstein's famous 1905 paper only considers electromagnetism, and not gravity or any other forces. Here is how he states his assumption of Lorentz's theorem:

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. We will raise this conjecture (the purport of which will hereafter be called the ``Principle of Relativity'') to the status of a postulate, ...
Zahar goes on with a lot of nonsense about relativity that is too silly to refute. But the following is revealing because he actually quotes what Lorentz said about the aether in 1895:
Hence, if he was to assume that the ether was anything like an ordinary substance, he would have also to suppose that it was in constant motion. But this contradicted his original assumption of an ether at rest. He concluded 'that the ether is undoubtedly widely different from all ordinary matter' and that 'we may make the assumption that this medium, which is the receptacle of electromagnetic energy and the vehicle for many and perhaps for all the forces acting on ponderable matter, is, by its very nature, never put in motion, that it has neither velocity nor acceleration, so that we have no reason to speak of its mass or of forces that are applied to it'. In other words Lorentz had reached a point where the behaviour of the electromagnetic field dictated what properties the ether ought to have, no matter how implausible these properties might be: for example the ether was to be both motionless and acted upon by non-zero net forces. The ether was nothing but the carrier of the field. This involved a reversal of the heuristic of Lorentz's programme instead of learning something about the field from a general theory of the ether he could only get at the ether post hoc by way of the field. [p.242-243]
It is often said that Lorentz assumed that the aether was at rest. But what Lorentz really meant was that (1) the term aether is a way of expressing the concept that space is a receptacle for electromagnetic fields, and (2) there is no aether velocity.

About 30 years later, Einstein adopted a view of the aether that was nearly identical to Lorentz's. See Einstein's views on the aether.

Zahar later wrote Poincaré's Philosophy. From Conventionalism to Phenomenology (2001), where he says that Poincare discovered relativity independently from Einstein. Perhaps he did not know about Poincare when he wrote the above article on Lorentz and Einstein.

Needless to say, Zahar's question is bogus. Einstein's special relativity programme never did supersede Lorentz's. As Zahar admits, they were functionally equivalent, and his alleged differences are mostly from his misunderstandings about covariance.

Part I of Zahar's paper (pdf) concludes:

What I have established so far is that one cannot explain the success of Einstein's Special Relativity Theory in terms of the demerits of Lorentz's rival theory. Lorentz's programme was non ad hoc in all senses of the term. The adjustments to the theory in the 1890's were not made in the light of Michelson's result and thus were not ad hoc relative to it. The adjustments were both theoretically and empirically progressive and they were made in conformity to the heuristic of the classical programme. Thus if the eventual acceptance by the scientific community of Einstein's theory in preference to Lorentz's was rational (i.e. if there are acceptable general criteria according to which Einstein's theory was objectively better than Lorentz's), that rationality must lie in the extra merits of Einstein's theory. I now turn to the Einsteinian programme and a consideration of its merits. Let me say that I shall argue that the acceptance of Einstein's programme was rational, although, given that Lorentz's and Einstein's theories were anno 1905 'observationally equivalent', my claim may well appear doubtful at this stage.
Much of the paper is concerned with the logical relation between the Lorentz-FitzGerald Contraction and the Molecular Forces Hypothesis "which can be loosely formulated as follows: 'Molecular forces behave and transform like electromagnetic forces.'" Zahar's main concern seems to be that an idea is not really scientific if it is ad hoc.

I think that it is a little bizarre for philosophers to analyze a great scientific discovery, and claim that it is not scientific for some obscure philosophical argument about whether it was properly inductivist. If it was not, then they should revise their philosophical definitions.


Monday, Jan 03, 2011
 
Third elephant species named
Evolutionist Jerry Coyne says that a new species of elephant was named for political reasons, not scientific reasons:
But biologists often have to hide this motivation: we must pretend that we’re saving populations because we need to retain genetic diversity, or prevent inbreeding, or save rare alleles that could bring back a larger species.  We can never divulge the real reason why many of us want to save things like the elephants—because they have inherent value as organisms, and because they’re fascinating. That’s why many conservation biologists are busy worrying about the species and subspecies status of plants and animals: they secretly treasure them for their own qualities, but have to make a different case to the government and public about why they need to be saved.

This isn’t just a theory of mine: I’ve talked to many conservation biologists who admit that the real reason they want to save species differs from the rationale they must offer the public and the government. ...

What a shame, though, that we have to manipulate biological nomenclature, and dissimulate about our motivations, to keep other species alive! Shouldn’t we name species based on biology rather than politics?

Unfortunately, this is a problem with a lot of scientists. They will support the global warming alarmists because they think it will force energy resource conservation. They will promote evolution because they think it will undermine religion. They will support embryonic stem cell research because they opposed Bush policies. They will support all sorts of other causes that are perceived to be in alignment with environmentalism. I would prefer if they separated their science from their politics.

Thursday, Dec 30, 2010
 
Weyl invented gauge theory
Physics World, September 2007, published this start to an article by a couple of philosophers of science:
String theory under scrutiny

One of the main charges against string theory is that it cannot make specific predictions that may be checked against an experiment. But as Nancy Cartwright and Roman Frigg explain, other criteria should be taken into account too when evaluating scientific research

Ever since antiquity, attempts have been made to reduce an apparently complex re- ality to a few elementary building blocks from which everything else is constructed. This project – now called reductionism – has a long history of failures. One example is the 200-year-long attempt to describe all phys- ical processes in terms of mechanics, such as James Clerk Maxwell’s mechanical mod- els of the electromagnetic field. Another is Hermann Weyl’s failed attempt to unify electromagnetism and gravity in a single theory shortly after Einstein had introduced special relativity.

I think it meant to say, "after Einstein had introduced general relativity."

No, the Maxwell and Weyl theories were not failures. A physics journal should be embarrassed about this.

Hermann Weyl's 1918 paper invented gauge theory as a way of combining electromagnetism with general relativity. He successfully combined it with quantum mechanics in 1929. You can read the details here (with a copy also here), and many other places.

The 1918 paper is famous among physicists because it was published with an appendix written by Einstein arguing that the theory was wrong. Pauli also attacked the 1929 paper, and told Weyl to stick to math.

And yet these two papers were two of the most important papers in 20th century theoretical physics. The ideas in them have become essential to all high-energy physics. They were more important than any papers that Einstein ever wrote. Today's textbooks explain nuclear and electromagnetic interactions in terms of gauge theories.

So how is it that a major physics journal could badmouth a major physics breakthru as a failure? How could they not know that about ten Nobel prizes were given for work in gauge theory, and that Weyl invented gauge theory with these papers?

My explanation is that it is part of the evil of Einstein's influence. Einstein attacked the paper, and everyone assumes that Einstein knows everything. But Einstein was the failure on this subject. He spent the next 35 years of his life trying to do what Weyl did in that 1918 paper, and he never wrote another paper that was even 1% as good as that Weyl paper.


Monday, Dec 27, 2010
 
Evolving idiocracy
Razib Khan cites evidence that we are slouching toward idiocracy by evolving smaller brains. He also says that some subpopulations are evolving taller, and others shorter.

The North Magnetic Pole is moving from Canada to Siberia.

The 2006 movie was a comedy about how humans are evolving towards stupidity.

Funny how the global warming alarmists are not eager to stop any of these changes.

Update: Brain size is not just correlated with IQ, but with other mental traits as well:

Controlling for age, sex, and whole-brain volume, results from structural magnetic resonance imaging of 116 healthy adults supported our hypotheses for four of the five traits: Extraversion, Neuroticism, Agreeableness, and Conscientiousness.

Sunday, Dec 26, 2010
 
The Danger of Cosmic Genius
An environmentalist site says:
An article entitled “The Danger of Cosmic Genius” appearing in the December 2010 edition of The Atlantic, authored by Kenneth Brower, refers to the brilliant physicist Freeman Dyson, and his “dangerous” skepticism regarding climate change. As Brower puts it, “Among intelligent nonexperts who have weighed in on climate change, Freeman Dyson has become, now that Michael Crichton is dead, perhaps our most prominent global-warming skeptic.”
I previously commented on Dyson's climate views, and pointed out his Kuhnian views on Einstein. He has some other unusual views also, such as on ESP.

Brower says:

For whatever reason, he is emotionally incapable of seeing the true colors of the rampant ingenuity of our species and calculating where our cleverness, as opposed to our wisdom, is taking us.
This sort of mindreading is useless. If Dyson is wrong, then just show how he is wrong.

If you have a Kuhnian view of science, then scientific knowledge is defined by the dominant paradigm, and not by objective reality. That is the problem with both Brower and Dyson.


Saturday, Dec 25, 2010
 
Obama fails to change science policy
After two years of study, the White House science advisor has announced in 4-page letter that he favors shielding scientists from "inappropriate political influence". Yawn.

In other words, the Obama policy is the same as the Bush policy.

I would have liked to see some more scientific procedures for the scientific advisory panels. The vaccine panels do not have open meetings, do not have clear objectives, do not avoid conflicts of interest, and do not have a diversity of members.


Friday, Dec 24, 2010
 
Lorentz's assumptions
There is now a complete English translation of Lorentz's 1895 electromagnetism and relativity book. It is modestly titled, "Attempt of a Theory of Electrical and Optical Phenomena in Moving Bodies", but it was good enough to win him the 1902 Nobel Prize in physics.

I previously discussed how this paper is the basis of the Lorentz aether theory, but it really has almost nothing to do with the aether. Wikipedia says:

Einstein identified two fundamental principles, each founded on experience, from which all of Lorentz's electrodynamics follows:

1. that the laws by which physical processes occur are the same with respect to any system of inertial coordinates (the principle of relativity), and
2. that light propagates at an absolute speed of c in terms of any system of inertial coordinates ("principle of the constancy of light“)

Taken together (along with a few other tacit assumptions such as isotropy and homogeneity of space), these two postulates lead uniquely to the mathematics of special relativity. Lorentz and Poincaré had also adopted these same principles, as necessary to achieve their final results, but didn't recognize that they were also sufficient, and hence that they obviated all the other assumptions underlying Lorentz's initial derivations (many of which later turned out to be incorrect [C 4]).

[footnote C4] The three best known examples are (1) the assumption of Maxwell's equations, and (2) the assumptions about finite structure of the electron, and (3) the assumption that all mass was of electromagnetic origin. Maxwell's equations were subsequently found to be invalid and were replaced with quantum electrodynamics, although one particular feature of Maxwell's equations, the invariance of a characteristic speed, has remained. The electron's mass is now regarded as a pointlike particle, and Poincaré already showed in 1905 that it is not possible for all the mass of the electron to be electromagnetic in origin. This is how relativity invalidated the 19th century hopes for basing all of physics on electromagnetism.

It is false to say that Einstein did not need to assume Maxwell's equations, or that Einstein had any better understanding about the sufficiency of assumptions. Einstein explicitly said in 1905 that he was relying on Maxwell's equations for his derivations.

Einstein also assumed that Maxwell's equations hold in both the stationary and moving systems, and in the same form. Lorentz and Poincare did not assume this -- they proved it, based on other assumptions. Einstein's assumptions are much more complex than Lorentz's and Poincare's. Modern textbooks follow Poincare, not Lorentz or Einstein. And those two fundamental principles were not "founded on experience", either. They were based on Lorentz's interpretation of the Michelson–Morley experiment and other experiments.


Thursday, Dec 23, 2010
 
Out-of-Africa debunked
For 25 years, the evolutionist consensus has been the Out of Africa theory, that we are all descended from a small group of Africans, including the "Mitochondrial Eve", 200K years ago. This was predicted by Darwin and confirmed by DNA, we were told.

Now we learn:

An international team of scientists has identified a previously shadowy human group known as the Denisovans as cousins to Neanderthals who lived in Asia from roughly 400,000 to 50,000 years ago and interbred with the ancestors of today’s inhabitants of New Guinea.
Separate DNA research has shown that we have Neanderthal genes as well. Razib Khan has much more info, and John Hawks has a Denisova genome FAQ.

I am not sure what to make of this, but it seems to be the biggest anthropological discovery in decades. First, I'd like to find out how the evolutionists could have been so wrong.


Wednesday, Dec 22, 2010
 
Name-calling by string theorist
A prominent string theorist complains about skeptics:
Science sceptics
08 December 2010
From Michael Duff, Abdus Salam Professor of Theoretical Physics, Imperial College London

I enjoyed Milena Wazeck's analysis of the thought processes of those who denied Einstein's relativity (13 November, p 48). Yet it all sounded eerily familiar.

Phrases such as "when people don't like what science tells them, they resort to conspiracy theories, mud-slinging and plausible pseudoscience" and "the increasingly mathematical approach of theoretical physics collided with the then widely held view that science is essentially simple mechanics, comprehensible to every educated layperson" call to mind the modern-day ramshackle alliance between unqualified scientists, the blogosphere and many science journalists when confronted with the academic consensus of superstrings and M-theory as the most promising candidates for unifying gravity with the other forces of nature. These people are quick to cry "this is not science", while themselves resorting to pseudoscientific alternatives.

The letter responds to this:
I discovered (http://www.mpiwg-berlin.mpg.de/en/research/projects/DEPT1_Wazeck-GehrckeCollection) that the group opposing relativity was much broader than many historians believed till now, and that their tactics had much in common with those used by creationists and climate-change deniers today. Their reasons for countering relativity were also more complex and varied than is usually thought. Even Einstein misjudged the motivations of many of his opponents.
In this interview, Duff says that M-theory just has two problems, finding a theory and finding an experiment:
What is the greatest challenge at the moment?

I think there are two. One on the theoretical side, and one more on the reality side. The theoretical one is to pin down exactly what M theory is. ... That’s the theoretical challenge: to rigorously pin down what this all-embracing theory really is.

The other challenge is to make contact with experiment.

Any allegedly scientific theory with those two defects is pseudoscience.

Duff likes to align himself with Einstein, and badmouth any skeptic as being a pseudoscientist or like those who refused to accept Einstein's theories. The analogy to relativity is bad. Relativity never had those two challenges, and always had experimental evidence.

Duff once debated string theory, and spent a lot of it attacking his opponent for quotes from a pre-publication draft, even tho the quotes had been changed for publication in the book.

Duff shows how low the theoretical physicists have gotten. He is a big-shot with a high-status job. And yet he is very insecure about the pseudoscientific nature of his own research that he launches into these vague and unsubstantiated attacks on others.


Tuesday, Dec 21, 2010
 
Four in 10 Americans Believe in Strict Creationism
A new Gallup Poll gave these choices:
Which of the Following Statements Comes Closest to Your Views on the Origin and Development of Human Beings?

1) Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God guided this process, 2) Human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God had no part in this process, 3) God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so.

A small minority of Americans hold the "secular evolution" view that humans evolved with no influence from God -- but the number has risen from 9% in 1982 to 16% today. At the same time, the 40% of Americans who hold the "creationist" view that God created humans as is 10,000 years ago is the lowest in Gallup's history of asking this question, and down from a high point of 47% in 1993 and 1999. There has been little change over the years in the percentage holding the "theistic evolution" view that humans evolved under God's guidance.

My problem with this is that the standard evolutionist view is that human beings developed only 50k years ago, not millions of years ago. We split from the Neanderthals in the last 600K years or so, but they are not considered human.

Furthermore, the standard evolutionist dogma is that apes are no less advanced than humans, and that humans did not evolve from from less advanced forms of life. All life forms are equally advanced in that they are adapted to their environments. That is what they say, anyway. In particular, they say that there is no such thing as devolution.

So while answer (2) is supposed to be the scientific answer, it is not really what the leading evolutionary scientists say. If the experts do not agree on these statements, then how can we expect the general public to answer correctly?


Monday, Dec 20, 2010
 
New value for fine structure constant
The latest value of the fine structure constant has been found in France to be about 1/alpha = 137.035999, with theoretical and experimental errors of about 1e-7. Thus there is eight-digit agreement between theory and experiment.

Some famous physicists have looked for numerological significance of this number, especially when it was thought possible that it was exactly 137.

The fine structure constant is the most fundamental of all the coupling constants. It defines the coupling between electrons and photons. In other words, it defines the interaction between electric charge and the luminiferous aether.

The calculations involve assuming that empty space is not really empty, and that electron-positron pairs are being spontaneously created and annihilated throughout the universe. Even some exotic particles such as muons have such a fleeting existence. Such is the nature of the modern aether. We have no other way to understand electricity to such high precision.

A 2005 SciAm article starts by saying:

When Albert Einstein proposed his special theory of relativity in 1905, he rejected the 19th-century idea that light arises from vibrations of a hypothetical medium, the "ether." Instead, he argued, light waves can travel in vacuo without being supported by any material--;unlike sound waves, which are vibrations of the medium in which they propagate. This feature of special relativity is untouched in the two other pillars of modern physics, general relativity and quantum mechanics. Right up to the present day, all experimental data, on scales ranging from subnuclear to galactic, are successfully explained by these three theories.
This is a very odd description of modern physics. Einstein denied in 1920 that he rejected the aether. Special relativity is a special case of general relativity, and they cannot be seen as two separate theories. Quantum mechanics is not really separate either, as special relativity has been fully incorporated in it to turn it into quantum field theory, as of about 1930. Modern physics says that light cannot travel in a vacuum unless it is supported by a pervasive structure of virtual electrons, muons, and other particles. That is what you get when you combine relativity and quantum mechanics, and there has been no other high-precision understanding of light since about 1950.

The above 8-digit agreement, and similar confirmations of quantum electrodynamics, are among the greatest achievements of modern science. It is simply not possible to get such agreement between theory and experiment if you assume that "light waves can travel in vacuo without being supported by any material". SciAm is decades out of date when it says that.


Sunday, Dec 19, 2010
 
Astronomer blackballed for Biblical beliefs
The NY Times reports:
In 2007, C. Martin Gaskell, an astronomer at the University of Nebraska, was a leading candidate for a job running an observatory at the University of Kentucky. ... Whether his faith cost him the job and whether certain religious beliefs may legally render people unfit for certain jobs are among the questions raised by the case, Gaskell v. University of Kentucky.

With his faith, Dr. Gaskell, who now works at the University of Texas but has accepted a job in Chile, does embrace views that most of his peers find indefensible. In a 1998 survey, 7.5 percent of physicists and astronomers in the National Academy of Sciences said they believed in God — and many of the believers would still concede that science explains the universe better than a reading of Genesis.

It appears to me that Gaskell also believes that science explains the universe better than Genesis. Here is what he says:
I list, and briefly discuss, some of the main theological interpretational viewpoints of the creation stories in Genesis. It is explained that there are more than just two extreme views on the origin of the universe and that the majority of scientists who are Christians adhere neither to the view that the Bible is irrelevant to the earth's origin (which exponents of atheistic evolution claim) nor the view that God made the earth essentially as it now is in six 24-hour periods about 6000 years ago (the “young earth creationist” position.) ...

What I've sketched above is just a series of possible interpretations of Genesis 1 & 2. The main point that I'd like to get across from doing this is that given that there is a possible scientific explanation of most things, one cannot say “science disproves Genesis”. Another point is that we do not have to take Genesis as something “just theological”. It is quite likely that Genesis is describing physical things that happened in space and time in the history of our universe. ... I personally am not going to be the least bit surprised if someone proves that the age of the universe is outside that “± 0.01” billion year range (for example, if it is only 13 billion years or more than 14 billion years).

My views are more like what Gaskell calls the extreme views of the atheistic evolutionists, but his views are not demonstrably wrong. They are no more wrong than those who believe in extraterrestial life, evaporating black holes, or extra dimensions or universes. He accepts that science determines the age of the universe, not Genesis.

Here is the latest evidence on some of those goofy theories:

The Large Hadron Collider has not yet seen any of the microscopic black holes that inspired numerous scare stories in recent years.

Many theorists actually hope the collider, based near Geneva, Switzerland, will create short-lived, miniature black holes. These would not pose a threat to Earth, but they would provide evidence for hypothetical extra dimensions that might lie beyond the 3D world we normally experience.

Not just scaremongers. The string theorists were predicting mini black holes. I don't see where any of them are being blackballed for being proven wrong.

The University of Kentucky should be embarrassed for this. Not just for practicing religious discrimination, but for making an unscientific rejection of an astronomer's speculations. If Gaskell said something that is demostrably wrong, then his critics should prove it, instead of censoring him. The anti-Genesis astronomers already have 99% of their colleagues on their side, and they should not be threatened by Gaskell.

The godless liberal PZ Myers complains that "Gaskell himself is quite clear that he isn't going to confine himself to talking only about his field". Fellow religion-hater Jerry Coyne complains that mainstream Christians are just as bad as Gaskell.


Saturday, Dec 18, 2010
 
Climate science regresses
The current AAAS Science magazine has a special on the Insights of the Decade. The accompanying podcast says:
Host – Sophia Cai
So what does the coming decade look like for climate science research, Dick?

News Writer – Richard Kerr
Well, there's going to be another report assessment from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. They last came out with an assessment in 2007, made a very big splash. The next one, due I think 2013, could be a difficult report to present to the public; there's a real possibility that as climate scientists get more deeply into the climate system, they get more realistic models, that things are going to get more complicated, and therefore less certain. And so they may be having to present results with more uncertainty that they'd been talking about before, so that should be a challenge. And their last remaining question – just how bad could the warming get? – looks like a very tough nut to crack, and there may be very limited progress on that front.

This is an amazing admission from a leftist journal. Climate science must be the only science that advances by more realistic models and more uncertain results. In every other science, more realistic models reduce the uncertainty in the predictions.

Kerr is saying that new research is going to show that the global warming scare stories are unlikely, and that we are not able to make long term climate predictions nearly as well as our leaders have pretended. Selling the public on the scare stories is going to become more challenging, as the research proves the alarmists wrong.

As noted below, AAAS is a leftist organization. If it were objectively seeking the truth, wherever it might lead, then it would not be complaining that more realistic climate models would soon be available to the public.


Friday, Dec 17, 2010
 
Conflict between science and religion
Jason Rosenhouse responds to this book on science and religion:
Historians have shown that the Galileo affair, remembered by some as a clash between science and religion, was primarily about the enduring political question of who was authorized to produce and disseminate knowledge. [Thomas Dixon's book]
by saying:
Why was Pope Urban VIII so threatened by Galileo's ideas? Why didn't the church simply laugh at Galileo, and tell him condescendingly to go keep playing with his telescope while the grown-ups talked about more serious things? The reason was that the Pope's authority was based entirely on the idea that he stood in a privileged relation to God, uniquely able to interpret scripture. If someone like Galileo could use science to challenge his claims, then the entire basis for the church's power would be seriously weakened. ...

Young-Earth creationists believe the Bible constitutes a source of evidence that trumps anything a scientist might discover. Furthermore, failure to recognize that fact places your eternal soul in danger.

No, he is completely wrong. Mainstream Christian denominations do not even believe in Young-Earth Creationism (YEC). The minority that do believe in YEC all say that your eternal soul is saved by belief in Jesus, not YEC, as under John 3:16.

At the time of Galileo, the Pope was fighting against the Protestant Reformation, where Martin Luther and others were arguing for more literal interpretations of the Bible. Luther objected to Church theology that was influenced by Aristotelian reason. As a comment says:

To say “The Galileo affair was primarily about religion vs. science” misses that Galileo was as deeply religious as his opponents, that his opponents were motivated by Aristotle's philosophy rather than Biblical literalism, and that the evidence that would eventually show Galileo's heliocentrism to be far superior was not yet available, and some of Galileo's “best arguments” (e.g. from the tides) were wrong, and visibly so, as his opponents noted.
This is correct. Galileo only got into trouble when he started giving theological arguments for heliocentrism that contradicted official Church position. The Church was trying to maintain its authority over theological teachings.

Leftist-atheist-evolutionist Jerry Coyne cites this false Rittenhouse argument to prove that there can be no accommodation between science and religion. But the Galileo trial proves no such thing.

Coyne spends most of his energy promoting his idea of science, and how it disproves religion and it is based on false premises.

I am not arguing that there is no conflict between science and religion. There is. A famous and influential 11th century Islamic theology book, The Incoherence of the Philosophers, said:

our opponent claims that the agent of the burning is the fire exclusively ... This we deny, saying: The agent of the burning is God ... Indeed, the philosophers have no other proof than the observation of the occurrence of the burning, when there is contact with fire, but observation proves only a simultaneity, not a causation, and, in reality, there is no other cause but God.
This is the sort of thinking that made Islam hostile to science. The Islamic world did some great science until these anti-science attitudes took over.
 
Biology journal invites evolution controversy
Leftist-atheist-evolutionist Jerry Coyne praises Behe’s new paper on the observation of evolutionary mutations. But he is unhappy about the inferences that others have drawn, and blames Behe's motivations:
This distortion is hardly news, of course -— I’m completely confident that Behe not only expected it, but approves of it -— but I feel compelled to highlight it once again. ... So typical of these clowns to ignore the insuperable problems with extending Behe’s limited conclusions to evolution as a whole.  But I’m absolutely sure that Behe intended his paper to be distorted in this way.
The same journal with Behe's paper also has a paper attacking his earlier work as pseudoscience. The paper complains about the motives of the advocates of the Intelligent Design Creationism (IDC), and says that they keep "moving the goalposts". Eg, it says:
As was apparent from its conception, the rapid success of the IDC movement was never driven by its arguments but by its religious ideology, which was epitomized in the so-called Wedge document of IDC’s home base, the Discovery Institute (Forrest and Gross, 2007b).
I think that it is funny how these evolutionists devote so much energy in mindreading Behe and others, and in using name-calling attacks. Behe says that he is not a creationist, and that he believes that we descended from apes. I see no reason to doubt Behe's sincerity. Even if he does have some religious motivations, a real scientist would address what he actually says, and not the religion of someone quoting him.

It is strange for a biology journal to publish one scientific article by Behe, and then in the same issue accuse him of pseudoscience because he was moving the goalposts by making slight changes to a technical definition.

Update: Behe replies to Coyne. Behe responds to the substantive comments, and ignores the ad hominem attacks. I don't know who is right, but Behe is certainly more rational and professional than Coyne.


Wednesday, Dec 15, 2010
 
Fake scientist joins geology board
War On Science activist Chris Mooney was appointed to a geology board. Since he is a non-scientist known mainly for leftist partisan political opinions about science-related issues, he is criticized in the comments above, and here.

I have previously criticized the Mooney war on Science here and here. He is an atheist, but he is a proponent of using Christians to support his leftist-evolutionist causes.

This is another example of a previouly-scientific organization putting politics ahead of science. The next time it puts out a statement on global warming or some such issue, I will have to assume that it is driven by politics, not science.


Monday, Dec 13, 2010
 
Einstein and GPS
Physics professor (of relativity) Clifford M. Will explains the need for relativity in GPS:
But in a relativistic world, things are not simple. The satellite clocks are moving at 14,000 km/hr in orbits that circle the Earth twice per day, much faster than clocks on the surface of the Earth, and Einstein's theory of special relativity says that rapidly moving clocks tick more slowly, by about seven microseconds (millionths of a second) per day.

Also, the orbiting clocks are 20,000 km above the Earth, and experience gravity that is four times weaker than that on the ground. Einstein's general relativity theory says that gravity curves space and time, resulting in a tendency for the orbiting clocks to tick slightly faster, by about 45 microseconds per day. The net result is that time on a GPS satellite clock advances faster than a clock on the ground by about 38 microseconds per day.

To determine its location, the GPS receiver uses the time at which each signal from a satellite was emitted, as determined by the on-board atomic clock and encoded into the signal, together the with speed of light, to calculate the distance between itself and the satellites it communicated with. The orbit of each satellite is known accurately. Given enough satellites, it is a simple problem in Euclidean geometry to compute the receiver's precise location, both in space and time. To achieve a navigation accuracy of 15 meters, time throughout the GPS system must be known to an accuracy of 50 nanoseconds, which simply corresponds to the time required for light to travel 15 meters.

But at 38 microseconds per day, the relativistic offset in the rates of the satellite clocks is so large that, if left uncompensated, it would cause navigational errors that accumulate faster than 10 km per day! GPS accounts for relativity by electronically adjusting the rates of the satellite clocks, and by building mathematical corrections into the computer chips which solve for the user's location. Without the proper application of relativity, GPS would fail in its navigational functions within about 2 minutes.

This is correct. Light travels at a speed a one foot per nanosecond. So the clocks on the space satellites must be accurate to one nanosecond in order to get one foot accuracy on the ground. They are accurate to about 40 nanoseconds, so we get about 40-foot accuracy on the ground.

But the space clocks run faster than Earth clocks, accumulating what would be errors of about 40 microseconds per day, ie, 40,000 nanoseconds per day. That would give an error of about 40,000 feet (ie, several miles) after one day of space clocks getting de-synchronized.

Everyone who tells this story gives the impression that we could never have had GPS without Einstein. But the story does not show that at all. If we knew nothing about relativity, the GPS engineers still would have recalibrated the clocks after launching them into space. They would have been mystified as to why the space clocks needed a 38 millisecond per day adjustment, but they would have done it anyway. No one would have seen the several mile long errors that Will describes. There would be a bunch of silly papers about how maybe cosmic rays were slowing down atomic clocks, but we would still have a GPS system.

Einstein said in 1905 that moving clocks slow down, but that was not new. It had already been part of Lorentz's theory years earlier. He may have been the first to say that gravity slows down clocks in his 1908 paper. His argument was that gravitational acceleration is just like other forms of acceleration, so gravity will affect clocks just like accelerated motion.

The Newtonian mechanics had already said that such accelerations were the same, and the Hungarian physicist Loránd Eötvös published a pretty good experimental confirmation in 1908. Nevertheless, Einstein is credited with being the first to apply this idea to the slowing of clocks. The effect was not observable until the invention of electronic clocks and artificial satellites, about 50 years later.

I previously mentioned Will here and here. Will has a lecture on Einstein here.

Will is a big Einstein idolizer, and wrote this in 2005:

A hundred years ago, Einstein laid the foundation for a revolution in our conception of time and space, matter and energy. In his remarkable 1905 paper “On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies” [1], and the follow-up note “Does the Inertia of a Body Depend upon its Energy-Content?” [2], he established what we now call special relativity as one of the two pillars on which virtually all of physics of the 20th century would be built (the other pillar being quantum mechanics). ...

Strangely, although general relativity had its crucial successes, such as the bending of starlight and the explanation of the advance of Mercury’s perihelion, special relativity was not so fortunate. Indeed, many scholars believe that a lack of direct experimental support for special relativity in the years immediately following 1905 played a role in the decision to award Einstein’s 1921 Nobel Prize, not for relativity, but for one of his other 1905 “miracle” papers, the photoelectric effect, which did have direct confirmation in the laboratory.

No, that is not the correct explanation for Einstein not getting a relativity prize. There was a lot more experimental support for special relativity than general relativity. The mass increase with velocity was predicted in 1899 by Lorentz, and observed in 1901. But Einstein could not be credited with this, because he did not write anything on the subject until 1905.

Will is using some tricky language when he says, "lack of direct experimental support for special relativity in the years immediately following 1905". The most dramatic experimental confirmations of special relativity were the Michelson-Morley and relativistic mass experiments, and those were before 1905 and before Einstein. They confirmed special relativity as much as the 1919 eclipse confirmed general relativity. Einstein did not get the Nobel prize for relativity because the consensus was that he did not invent relativity.

Sometimes people say that general relativity was tested, and not special relativity. Tom Bethell argues:

Most people know little about relativity theory, but we recognize that it was highly influential and that Einstein's theory somehow rewrote the laws of physics. It is divided into two parts, the special theory (1905) and the more difficult general theory (1916). The generally accepted view is that the special theory has been proven over and over again, while the general theory perhaps can be questioned and retested. In Beckmann's theory, this is more or less reversed. The general theory gives the right answers but by a complicated and roundabout route. Meanwhile a simpler path lay at hand. But the special theory may have to be discarded because the logical consequences of its postulates do not correspond to experimental results.
This is nonsense, of course. Special relativity is the infinitesimal version of general relativity. There is much more evidence for the special theory.

There is also a myth that Einstein discovered relativity with pure thought, and without paying any attention to experiment. He himself promoted this myth in his later life, and others cite this argument in order to undermine the scientific method. In fact, the discovery of relativity was directly designed to explain experiments.


Sunday, Dec 12, 2010
 
Faulty Nobel physics prize
I previously commented that last year's Nobel physics prize went to wrong guys. See also Controversy raised about 2009 Nobel Prize in Physics.

Now there is a similar problem with this year's prize. Nature magazine reports:

A high-profile graphene researcher has written to the Nobel prize committee for physics, objecting to errors in its explanation of this year's prize. The award was given to Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov of Manchester University, UK, for their work on graphene, a two-dimensional carbon structure that has huge potential in the field of electronics.
There are, of course, many other Nobel Prize controversies.

Saturday, Dec 11, 2010
 
Leftists took over scholarly organizations
Daniel Sarewitz writes in Slate:
A Pew Research Center Poll from July 2009 showed that only around 6 percent of U.S. scientists are Republicans; 55 percent are Democrats, 32 percent are independent, and the rest "don't know" their affiliation.

This immense imbalance has political consequences. When President Obama appears Wednesday on Discovery Channel's Mythbusters (9 p.m. ET), he will be there not just to encourage youngsters to do their science homework but also to reinforce the idea that Democrats are the party of science and rationality.

Not exactly. The poll was not of scientists but of members of the left-wing organziation American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). They are the ones who just pubished the bogus claims about arsenic-based extraterrestrial life, and their editorial opinions are always left-wing. Leftists are also the ones who have just taken over the major American anthropology organization in order to drive out the scientists.

Pres. Obama's appearance on Mythbusters was remarkably silly. He just asked them to redo a previous experiment on whether Sun-reflecting mirrors could be used as a defensive military weapon. He added no new ideas, and they just did the same experiment and got the same results. What was the point? I really doubt that it convinced anyone that Democrats were scientific and rational.

My guess is that Obama's choice of topic was intended as propaganda that the Strategic Defense Initiative would not work.

Support for Einstein is largely driven by leftist politics. He was an avowed socialist, Communist fellow-traveler, and Stalinist apologist.

Ideally, the politics of a scientist should be irrelevant. They should be seekers of truth, wherever that leads. But you do not see that among the leading leftist advocates of evolution, global warming, stem cells, conservation, etc.


Friday, Dec 10, 2010
 
Anthropology abandons science
The NY Times reports:
Anthropologists have been thrown into turmoil about the nature and future of their profession after a decision by the American Anthropological Association at its recent annual meeting to strip the word “science” from a statement of its long-range plan. ...

He [Peter Peregrine] attributed what he viewed as an attack on science to two influences within anthropology. One is that of so-called critical anthropologists, who see anthropology as an arm of colonialism and therefore something that should be done away with. The other is the postmodernist critique of the authority of science. “Much of this is like creationism in that it is based on the rejection of rational argument and thought,” he said.

Here is the old statement, supporting the advance of science. On anthropologist says:
They are happy not to be held to a high standard of rigor in their research and writing and pleased to be judged by the more open-ended and subjective standards of humanistic research.
Many academic soft science departments suffer from this split between the scientific and the anti-science. The unscientific ones just hate it when they get proved wrong, over and over. The problem is especially bad in anthropology because it studies people. Politically correct academics tend to get excited when you talk about human biodiversity, and give scientific data to back up observed differences.

Leftist-atheist-evolutionist Jerry Coyne responds to The Truth Wears Off, where Jonah Lehrer explains The Mysterious Decline Effect:

I tend to agree with Lehrer about studies in my own field of evolutionary biology. Almost no findings are replicated, there’s a premium on publishing positive results, and, unlike some other areas, findings in evolutionary biology don’t necessarily build on each other: workers usually don’t have to repeat other people’s work as a basis for their own. ...

In many fields, especially physics, chemistry, and molecular biology, workers regularly repeat the results of others, since progress in their own work demands it. ...

Lehrer, like Gould in his book The Mismeasure of Man, has done a service by pointing out that scientists are humans after all, and that their drive for reputation -— and other nonscientific issues -— can affect what they produce or perceive as “truth.” But it’s a mistake to imply that all scientific truth is simply a choice among explanations that aren’t very well supported.  We must remember that scientific “truth” means “the best provisional explanation, but one so compelling that you’d have to be a fool not to accept it.”  Truth, then, while always provisional, is not necessarily evanescent.  To the degree that Lehrer implies otherwise, his article is deeply damaging to science.

Coyne is actually one of the more scientific evolutionists. He is willing to criticize the work of others when he thinks that it is correct, and he tries to limit his arguments to what the data actually prove. But he also show how evolutionists devalue science as anthropologists do. To them, Truth is just what they and their elite buddies say is the truth. To that end, they have to carry on a campaign of ridicule in order to convince the public that other views are foolish. That is why you see arguments for mainstream anthropology, evolution, global warming, etc. that are not based on any hard science, but rather ad hominem attacks on those not conforming to the supposed consensus of the elites.

Real scientists use data and logic to back up their arguments.

It is telling that Coyne relies on The Mismeasure of Man for his view of science. That book has been discredited. It promotes entirely false ideas based on ad hominem attacks on the supposedly sloppy work of scientists a century ago, while ignoring recent experiments that replicated the older work. The book was extremely popular among leftist academics for political reasons, not scientific reasons. The book was an inspiration to those anthropologists who want to disassociate themselves from science.

Gould was the world's most famous evolutionist. The scathing criticisms of his book were published in peer reviewed scientific journals, and he never attempted to rebut them. He was an embarrassment to science. His followers are the one who are deeply damaging to science.


Thursday, Dec 09, 2010
 
The Truth Wears Off
Jonah Lehrer writes (copy here) in the New Yorker:
THE TRUTH WEARS OFF
Is there something wrong with the scientific method?

The test of replicability, as it’s known, is the foundation of modern research. It’s a safeguard for the creep of subjectivity. But now all sorts of well-established, multiply confirmed findings have started to look increasingly uncertain. It’s as if our facts are losing their truth. This phenomenon doesn’t yet have an official name, but it’s occurring across a wide range of fields, from psychology to ecology. ...

Mentions John Ioannidis. In the late nineteen-nineties, neuroscientist John Crabbe investigated the impact of unknown chance events on the test of replicability. The disturbing implication of his study is that a lot of extraordinary scientific data is nothing but noise. This suggests that the decline effect is actually a decline of illusion. Many scientific theories continue to be considered true even after failing numerous experimental tests. The decline effect is troubling because it reminds us how difficult it is to prove anything.

He acts as if the truth-wears-off effect is analogous to the placebo effect, where sugar pills appear to improve medical conditions. The truth-wears-off effect keeps good science papers from being replicated.

No, there is nothing wrong with the scientific method. There is something wrong with the way the soft sciences are preoccupied with p-values as being the main criterion for publication.


Wednesday, Dec 08, 2010
 
More on bogus alien life claims
I criticized the recent NASA claims for the possibility of extraterrestial arsenic-based life. It was one of the most heavily hyped scientific papers promoting space alien life in years. Carl Zimmer writes in Slate that others have now made sharper criticisms, and the authors are refusing to respond:
As soon Redfield started to read the paper, she was shocked. "I was outraged at how bad the science was," she told me. ...

That was about as positive as the critics could get. "This paper should not have been published," said Shelley Copley of the University of Colorado. ...

I asked two of the authors of the study if they wanted to respond to the criticism of their paper. Both politely declined by email.

"We cannot indiscriminately wade into a media forum for debate at this time," declared senior author Ronald Oremland of the U.S. Geological Survey. "If we are wrong, then other scientists should be motivated to reproduce our findings. If we are right (and I am strongly convinced that we are) our competitors will agree and help to advance our understanding of this phenomenon. I am eager for them to do so."

"Any discourse will have to be peer-reviewed in the same manner as our paper was, and go through a vetting process so that all discussion is properly moderated," wrote Felisa Wolfe-Simon of the NASA Astrobiology Institute. "The items you are presenting do not represent the proper way to engage in a scientific discourse and we will not respond in this manner."

The proper way to engage in a scientific discourse? What she did do was to issue exaggerated and misleading press releases, and to give friendly press interviews such this NRP Science Friday interview where her claims went unchallenged.

I have no respect for scientists who refuse to respond to public criticisms. Any real scientist would either defend a published paper, or withdraw it. Instead these authors are hiding behind nameless faceless editors.

NASA and the leftist-atheist-evolutionists would very much like to demonstrate the possibility of life in outer space. NASA would get more funding, and the others consider any such evidence as an endorsement of their worldview. As a result, a lot of bogus arguments are used.

Update: Zimmer has posted responses. Some are scathing. And even if the microbes are really using arsenic, there are very good reasons for believing that other planets will have a lot more phosphorus than arsenic, so the experiment has nothing to do with extraterrestrial life. See also Scientists poke holes in NASA’s arsenic-eating microbe discovery.


Tuesday, Dec 07, 2010
 
Wrong scientific beliefs
The Edge asks this question of various experts:
The flat earth and geocentric world are examples of wrong scientific beliefs that were held for long periods. Can you name your favorite example and for extra credit why it was believed to be true?
Other answers are here and here.

The answers are disappointing. Some people seem to have funny ideas about what it means for a scientific idea to be proved wrong. Here is a bad answer:

Caloric, phlogiston, and ether immediately come to mind, but I'm particularly fond one consequence of Aristotelian mechanics: the assertion that there is no such thing as a vacuum.
These theories were improved, but they are not really wrong. A lot of useful scientific work came out of those theories. All theories get improved. The question calls for examples of theories which are dead wrong.

Actually, the question is confused, because the flat earth and geocentric world are not good examples of wrong scientific beliefs.

Here is a much better answer:

1. Stress theory of ulcers — it turns out they are due to infection with Heliobacter pylori. Barry Marshall won Nobel Prize for that.

2. Continental drift was proposed in the 1920-30s by Alfred Wegner, but was totally dismissed until the 1960s when it ushered in plate tectonics.

3. Conventional belief was the eye evolved many, many times. Then they discovered the PAX genes that regulate eyes and are found throughout the animal kingdom — eyes evolved ONCE.

4. Geoffrey St. Hillare was a French scientist who had a theory that invertebrates and vertebrates shared a common body plan. He was widely dismissed until the HOX genes were discovered.

Nothing good ever came out of that stress theory of ulcers. People suffered useless psychobabble when they could have been cured with antibiotics. Likewise, Wegener was right about continental drift, and nearly everyone else was wrong.

The final answer is from someone who was brainwashed with anti-science in grad school:

My favorite example is about science itself. For the longest time scientists didn't believe that their own discipline followed rules, per se, but then Imre Lakatos, Thomas Kuhn, Karl Popper and, my favorite, Paul Feyerabend showed how science was sociology, was prone to enthusiasms, fashions, and dogma, and so on. It was one of the most important realizations of my doctoral program.
He got that Ph.D. in the economics of technology, whatever that is.

I wonder how so many people can fail to grasp the simple point that science is all about proving hypotheses true or false. It is not just sociology and fashion. Even grade school kids learn about the scientific method.

Kuhn and Popper based some of their (different) philosophies on faulty accounts of the history of relativity. I post here about relativity to correct some of those errors.

Physicist Lee Smolin wrote:

Perhaps the most embarrassing example from 20th Century physics of a false but widely held belief was the claim that von Neumann had proved in his 1930 text book on the mathematical foundations of quantum mechanics that hidden variables theories are impossible. These would be theories that give a complete description of individual systems rather than the statistical view of ensembles described by quantum mechanics. In fact de Broglie had written down a hidden variables theory in 1926 but abandoned work on it because of von Neumann's theorem. For the next two decades no one worked on hidden variables theories.

In the early 1950's David Bohm reinvented de Broglie's theory. When his paper was rejected because von Neumann proved what he claimed impossible, he read and easily found a fallacy in the von Neumann's reasoning. Indeed, there had been at least one paper pointing out the fallacy in the 1930s that was ignored. The result was that progress on hidden variables theories in general, and de Broglie and Bohm's theory in particular, was delayed by several decades.

Whether or not von Neumann's reasoning is convincing, the impossibility of a sensible hidden variable theory was proved by Bell's theorem and subsequent experiments validating quantum mechanics.

Physicist David Deutsch writes:

Surely the most extreme example is the existence of a force of gravity. ... Since 1915 we have known the true explanation, namely that when you hold your arm out horizontally, and think you are feeling it being pulled downwards by a force of gravity, the only force you are actually feeling is the upward force exerted by your own muscles in order to keep your arm accelerating continuously away from a straight path in spacetime.
You might think that Deutsch is making a joke, but he wrote a whole book, The Fabric of Reality, where he explains more fantastic ideas from physics.

From a psychologist:

The psychologist Tania Lombrozo has shown that even Harvard undergraduates who endorse evolution consistently interpret evolutionary claims in a teleological rather than mechanistic way (eg giraffes try to reach the high leaves and so develop longer necks). And we have shown that six year olds develop a notion of fully autonomous "free will" that is notoriously difficult to overturn.
Wow. There are fully grown intelligent adults who also believe in free will.
In the 17th century, that led skeptics to scoff at Newton's theory of gravity. Proper science was supposed to map how matter pushes against matter to cause various effects. Yet in this theory there was no physical contact, just spooky action at a distance. Almost a century after Newton, rival theories of gravity were still being proposed to remedy this defect.

Similarly, many scientists (including Newton) long theorized about aether, the substance that carries light, in part because, well, if light arrives, it must be borne by something.

Similarly? Those views, action-at-a-distance and aether theory, were opposite alternatives. Those who believed in the aether theory justified it by arguments against action-at-a-distance, and those who believed in the action-at-a-distance theory justified it by arguments against the aether.

It is also odd to say that rivals were still trying to correct Newton a century later. As Deutsch explains above, they corrected him 250 years later with general relativity.

Some of the more commonly heard false theories are the extreme views of the nature versus nurture debate. In psychology, it is nativism v tabula rasa (blank slate).

For decades, theoretical physicists have promoted various unified field theories which were disproved by the failure to find proton decay.

Physics textbooks in my lifetime were also proved wrong by the discovery of neutrino mass.

Someone found a cure for phantom limb pain 15 years ago, but apparently physicians have trouble accepting it, and continue to prescribe useless painkillers instead.

I guess scientists have a long way to go when it comes to convincing people that hypotheses are right or wrong.


Monday, Dec 06, 2010
 
New Bush-hater movie
There is a new movie, Fair Game, about Valerie Plame, and a Wash. Post editorial attacks it:
The movie portrays Mr. Wilson as a whistle-blower who debunked a Bush administration claim that Iraq had tried to purchase uranium from the African country of Niger. In fact, an investigation by the Senate intelligence committee found that Mr. Wilson's reporting did not affect the intelligence community's view on the matter, and an official British investigation found that President George W. Bush's statement in a State of the Union address that Britain believed that Iraq had sought uranium in Niger was well-founded.

"Fair Game" also resells the couple's story that Ms. Plame's exposure was the result of a White House conspiracy. A lengthy and wasteful investigation by a special prosecutor found no such conspiracy - but it did confirm that the prime source of a newspaper column identifying Ms. Plame was a State Department official, not a White House political operative.

Funny how the editorial just refers to itself as "a newspaper". The newspaper is most famous for relying on leaks from unnamed govt officials, so I guess that it is sensitive to the accusation that it is being manipulated for political purposes.

The Plame story was never the scandal that it was supposed to be. Scooter Libby was convicted of lying to the feds by claiming to have lied to Tim Russert about what he knew about Plame. Libby said that he denied knowing about Plame and the CIA to Russert, and Russert testified that Plame was not discussed. I don't know why anyone would care about that, as it did not result in any classified info being leaked or any stories being printed. I have discussed the Libby case before, such as here and here.


Sunday, Dec 05, 2010
 
Atheist bus signs
The Vancouver Canada Sun reports (also here):
The atheist group behind last year's controversial bus ads suggesting "there's probably no God" is rolling out a provocative new set of posters on buses across the country that places Allah beside Bigfoot and Christ beside psychics.

The new posters bear the slogan: "Extraordinary Claims Require Extraordinary Evidence" with "Allah, Bigfoot, UFOs, Homeopathy, Zeus, Psychics, Christ" listed below.

They will hit Toronto streetcars in January, pending final approval from the Toronto Transit Commission, said Justin Trottier, national executive director of the Centre for Inquiry, an atheist organization.

These atheist groups seem to like bus signs. Their web site, www.extraordinary-claims.com, attacks various pseudo-scientific beliefs, and includes this attack on geocentrism:
Modern Geocentrism is a belief mostly held by religious groups adhering to the Abrahamic tradition (Judaism, Islam, Christianity) that Earth is the center of the universe while the Sun and the rest of the solar-system fully revolve (as a static assembly) around it in one day. Geocentrics believe the stars are closer to us than current measurements indicate and that they are embedded in a rigid substrate called the aether. The aether with the stars is supposedly also rotating around the earth in a sidereal day. ...

Much of physics, such as the theory of general relativity, would have to be discarded if we were to apply the geocentric model to the universe.

No, geocentric models do not contradict relativity. In fact the site links to the Bad Astronomer, who explains that there is no such contradiction:
I have two things to say that might surprise you: first, geocentrism is a valid frame of reference, and second, heliocentrism is not any more or less correct.

Surprise! Of course, the details are important.

Look, I’m human: I say "The Sun rose in the east today", and not "the rotation of the Earth relative to the rest of the Universe carried me around to a geometric vantage point where the horizon as seen from my location dropped below the Sun’s apparent position in space." To us, sitting here on the surface of a planet, geocentrism is a perfectly valid frame of reference. Heck, astronomers use it all the time to point our telescopes. We map the sky using a projected latitude and longitude, and we talk about things rising and setting. That’s not only natural, but a very easy way to do those sorts of things. In that case, thinking geocentrically makes sense.

However, as soon as you want to send a space probe to another planet, geocentrism becomes cumbersome. In that case, it’s far easier to use the Sun as the center of the Universe and measure the rotating and revolving Earth as just another planet. The math works out better, and in fact it makes more common sense. ...

So geocentrism is valid, but so is every other frame. This is the very basis of relativity! One of the guiding principles used by Einstein in formulating it is that there is no One True Frame. If there were, the Universe would behave very, very differently.

In other words, geocentrism is not wrong; it is just sometimes inconvenient.

I am all in favor of scientific skepticism, but I don't see these bus signs convincing any Christians because (1) they believe that the message of the Gospels is extraordinary, (2) they want skepticism about alternative mystical ideas that undermine Christianity, and (3) they do not reject their core beliefs because they are inconvenient.

Christianity tolerates dissenting views. You will not see these bus signs in a Mohammedan country.


Saturday, Dec 04, 2010
 
The sorry state of psychology science
There is a split among psychologists between those who try to be scientific, and those who don't. The split is particularly apparent in court testimony.

Psychologist Bram Fridhandler defends the use of unscientific court testimony in this paper:

ABSTRACT. In response to statements that child custody evalua- tions violate the accepted definition of science in psychology and are therefore unethical in their current form, the evolving definition of science in psychology and the position of the American Psychological Association on evidence-based practice are reviewed. ...

Thomas Kuhn’s influential The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Kuhn, 1962), fundamentally critiquing the positivist model of scien- tific activity, became influential in psychology, giving voice to the growing uncertainty about the adequacy of the positivist model. Building on Kuhn’s analysis, psychologists discerned the operation of sociological processes of power and influence within their field, a fundamental violation of the positivist assumption of an objective, ‘‘data-driven’’ process. Gergen’s (1973) critical argument questioning social psychology’s claim to scientific status in view of the historically shifting, culturally contingent nature of its subject matter galvanized these doubts and hastened the dissolution of the previous consensus. Sigmund Koch, who chronicled the history of psychology in a monu- mental study, became increasingly dismayed by its overemphasis of positivism, ultimately driving him to the conclusion that ‘‘much of psychological history can be seen as a form of scientistic role- playing’’ with far too little genuine knowledge to show for many years of research (Koch, 1981, p. 257). Prominent observers called on psychology to recognize that ‘‘in recent decades, a virtual Copernican Revolution has taken place in the philosophy of science, a radical change that has profound implications for the human sciences’’ (Manicas & Secord, 1983, p. 399).

Currently, the definition of science in academic psychology can best be described as pluralistic. Empirical evidence remains central to the endeavor, and data-gathering and analytic strategies have, if anything, become more elaborate in recent decades. However, the range of acceptable research designs has broadened considerably. Controlled experiments no longer hold pride of place and, corre- spondingly, methods such as correlational techniques, naturalistic studies, and systematic qualitative observation are in wide use. For example, a perusal of recent articles in the Annual Review of Psychology (e.g., Tyler, 2006) reveals wide methodological variety. The relationship between theory and research is also more fluid than it was in the early period of the field.

Kuhn's book was actually only about the hard sciences like physics, and not the soft sciences like psychology. When confronted with silly arguments like the above, he would deny that he is a Kuhnian.

Fridhandler is correct that Kuhn's book did influence a lot of academic philosophers and others that science was not really scientific. This trend allowed other sloppy pseudo-scientists to pretend that there is no meaningful definition of science, that flawed methodologies are acceptable if practiced by others, and that the theory is too fluid to actually say that anyone's work is wrong. Anyone who does not agree can just be ridiculed as someone not accepting the Copernican Revolution.

I have posted dozens of messages on this blog explaining what is wrong with this Kuhnian thinking. No good has ever come from it. Kuhn denies that science has progressively found better and better explanations of an objective reality, and portrays the history of science as a bunch of paradigm shifts in which scientists jump from one theory to another as if they were clothing fashions.

Those who credit Einstein for relativity nearly always rely on Kuhnian arguments, as in this Dyson example.

People like Fridhandler are doing real harm to real people with this bogus analysis. I plan to detail some of that damage later.


Friday, Dec 03, 2010
 
Finding a microbe that uses arsenic
This NASA announcement got a lot of press:
Scientists said Thursday that they had trained a bacterium to eat and grow on a diet of arsenic, in place of phosphorus — one of six elements considered essential for life — opening up the possibility that organisms could exist elsewhere in the universe or even here on Earth using biochemical powers we have not yet dared to dream about. ...

Phosphorus is one of six chemical elements that have long been thought to be essential for all Life As We Know It. The others are carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, hydrogen and sulfur. ...

By labeling the arsenic with radioactivity, the researchers were able to conclude that arsenic atoms had taken up position in the microbe’s DNA as well as in other molecules within it. Dr. Joyce, however, said that the experimenters had yet to provide a “smoking gun” that there was arsenic in the backbone of working DNA.

So how does this relate to extraterrestial life? Are there planets with a lot of arsenic and no phosphorus? No, there are not. The abundances of these elements are determined by the nuclear physics of supernova explosions. Those six chemical elements are on every rocky planet, as they formed from the debris of such explosions. There is no planet with arsenic but not phosphorus. The paper does not show that phosphorus is unneeded anyway. Nothing here makes E.T. life more likely.

Others are also skeptical. The paper itself ends with:

We report the discovery of an unusual microbe, strain GFAJ-1, that exceptionally can vary the elemental composition of its basic biomolecules by substituting As for P. How arsenic insinuates itself into the structure of biomolecules is unclear, and the mechanisms by which such molecules operate are unknown.
So some microbes were poisoned with arsenic, and the surprise is that they did not die as rapidly as other microbes poisoned with arsenic. That's all.

Here is some WSJ hype:

"This will fundamentally change our definition of life and how we look for it," said astrobiologist Pamela Conrad at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. "This is a huge deal."

Their finding comes as the hunt for Earth-like planets accelerates. With 22 space-based observatories and 100 ground telescopes, researchers are scanning tens of thousands of stars for evidence of a planet that could support life like that on Earth.

But it also admits:
The researchers weren't able to entirely eliminate all traces of phosphorus, leaving open the possibility that these bacteria were still eking out their existence in a normal way, the researchers said. "There does seem to be a low level of impurity," Dr. Wolfe-Simon said.
It was known that arsenic could substitute for phosphorus. That is why arsenic is poisonous. They have not proved much.

Update: There is more scathing criticism here:

And the paper simply does not include the controls to show that arsenate has been taken up as part of the DNA. All the other claims in the press accounts of the discovery -- for example, the idea that the organisms could substitute arsenate for phosphate in ATP -- were complete fiction.

Wednesday, Dec 01, 2010
 
Claiming that Kepler killed Tycho
John Tierney writes on the effort to find how Tycho died:
What killed him? At the time of Tycho’s death, in 1601, the blame fell on his failure to relieve himself while drinking profusely at the banquet, supposedly injuring his bladder and making him unable to urinate. (Danes still sometimes invoke Tycho when they explain their need to excuse themselves during a meal.) Later medical experts discounted that and said some kind of kidney problem was more likely. ...

As an assistant living at Tycho’s home, Kepler had access to toxic mercury compounds in Tycho’s alchemical lab and could have poisoned him at the time of the banquet, the Gilders write. When Tycho began to recover 10 days later, they reason, Kepler could have administered a second dose because he was one of the few people at the home who saw Tycho the evening before his death.

A devoutly religious scholar may not sound like a good candidate for murderer, but the Gilders argue that Kepler was an unhappy, temperamental zealot. In an astrological self-analysis, he described his “eagerness for trickery” and his plots against his “enemies,” and said he was under the influence of Mars’s “rage-provoking force.” In his furious arguments with Tycho, he called himself an “uncontrollable spirit” and once told a friend that he felt like attacking Tycho with a sword.

Kepler resented Tycho’s higher status and, above all, his refusal to allow access to the full log of observations, including the records of Mars’s movements that Kepler considered essential to demonstrate the validity of his own model of the universe. Kepler tried several schemes to see Tycho’s data — to sneakily “wrest his riches away,” as Kepler put it — but Tycho resisted and forced Kepler to keep working on calculations aimed at supporting the Tychonic cosmology.

“Kepler’s ambition was to prove his vision of the divine architecture of God’s universe,” Mr. Gilder says in an interview. “Every time he feels Tycho is getting in the way, he blows up at him. Is it plausible that Kepler would kill for a vision? I look around the world and see it happening all the time. Kepler had felt himself despised and outcast his whole life. This would make him famous.”

This seems very unlikely to me. Tycho had a gold nose from losing his real nose in a duel. Maybe he got mercury poisoning from his nose.

The Tycho-Kepler collaboration was surely the greatest collaboration in the history of astronomy, if not all of science. Their contributions to astronomy were vastly greater than those of others of that era, including Copernicus, Galileo, and Newton.


Sunday, Nov 28, 2010
 
Most accepted theories
I am wonder what is the most accepted theory today.

It would not be Evolution or the Big Bang, in spite of overwhelming evidence, because of widespread skepticism that goes to the root of what these theories mean. It also would not be gravitation, even tho we have a very good theory and universal agreement about the basics, because it has an assortment of anomalies such as dark energy that are not understood and have competing explanations. And heliocentrism is not even considered correct according to modern thinking. Quantum mechanics ought to be on the list, but confusion about the interpretations of quantum mechanics causes many doubters.

In ordinary conversation, people often ridicule others for believing in some outmoded theory, or failing to believe in some universally accepted theory. Eg, people get made fun of for believing in the Flat Earth, or in geoocentrism, or not accepting the Germ theory of disease. These are bad metaphors for various reasons.

I want theories of hard science (or hard math) where one anomaly would be deadly.

Here is my list of the top contenders for the most accepted theory.

These theories are vitally important for the progress of science, I don't think that they have any anomalies or substantive objections.

Aether theory is sometimes considered a superseded scientific theory because Michelson-Morley experiment. failed to detect any aether velocity. But everyone agrees that it is pervasive, uniform, measurable, and essential to our understanding of the propagation of light and electricity. Calling it obsolete is about like calling the proton obsolete. It has a structure that is different from what was expected a century ago, but the same basic concept remains.

Causation is sometimes said to be violated by quantum nonlocality, which some people believe in, but it does not because correlation does not imply causation. I don't think that anyone claims that quantum nonlocality is observable, if there is even any such thing. So I include aether theory and causality theory because no one is really objecting to the underlying theory.


Thursday, Nov 25, 2010
 
When Man Invented Science
The leading view of the history of science is that science was invented in 1543. Scott Locklin writes that it was 300 years earlier:
What we refer to today as “science” is something which was invented by humans, rather than springing forth from Jove’s forehead in some ancient time before time. There is a definite date before which there was no science and a date after which there was science. This isn’t controversial or mysterious: We know exactly when it happened, and some of the original manuscripts which invented science and modern thought still exist.

Science was invented in the “High Middle Ages.” This was an era of great prosperity in Europe (and everywhere else, really). It was warmer than it is now: Grapes grew in Northern England. Since Europe was an agricultural economy, this meant much more prosperity than in years previous. During this era, Europe was wealthy enough to fund the Crusades, something we arguably can’t afford today.

The Black Death ended this era. Had this disease not spread to Europe in the 1340s, we might have had a different world. ...

History’s first scientist was Robert Grosseteste, although his work is little known in popular education today. He was born in 1170 or so to a humble Suffolk family. He found his calling in the Catholic Church, as important a source of social mobility then as the university system is now. It was Grosseteste who formulated the first description of the scientific process. He was the first European in centuries to study Aristotle’s works and the first to study Arab natural philosopher Abu Ibn al-Haytham’s writings. From these thinkers he developed the idea of “composition and resolution,” which is the scientific method in itself. He advocated using mathematics to learn about reality. He also developed the idea of peer review. He built upon the notion that one could learn natural law’s general principles by studying specific examples. He developed the all-important idea of falsification, to separate true from false ideas. ...

Roger Bacon could probably be considered the great systematizer of Grosseteste’s work. He put science in the form and words we know now. He used the terms we know today: observation, hypothesis, experimentation, and independent verification.

This proves that science was invented centuries before Nicolaus Copernicus and the Age of Enlightenment, and that science was active during the Middle Ages. But I also think that it is pretty silly to say that science was invented in 1200.

The first Egyptian pyramids were built in around 2600 BC. We are still not sure how, but we can be sure that the builders had processes to separate true from false ideas. They had scientific methods. They had to. The Greek Thales predicted a solar eclipse in 585 BC. Eratosthenes uses shadows to determined the diameter of the Earth in 200 BC. Hipparchus is credited with discovering precession of the equinoxes in about 130 BC. The suggestion that any of these folks lacked science is just chronological snobbery.

Nature magazine has a new article about the Antikythera mechanism. It is an ancient Greek astronomical calculator from over two millennia ago. It used about 30 gears and was more sophisticated than any mechanical device made in the following millennium, and there is a debate over whether it was based on Babylonian or Greek astronomy. The story claims that maybe it explains the invention of epicycles:

"Perhaps a mechanic tried to represent the variations in the Moon's speed according to the Babylonian theory using gears," he says — and hit upon an epicyclic arrangement.

In other words, epicycles were not a philosophical innovation but a mechanical one. Once Greek astronomers realized how well epicyclic gearing in devices such as the Antikythera mechanism replicated the cyclic variations of celestial bodies, they could have incorporated the concept into their own geometrical models of the cosmos.

"It is a new possibility," says Jones. "I am quite attracted to it." There is little evidence for who came up with the idea of epicycles, although it is often ascribed to third-century-BC Greek geometer Apollonius of Perga. Intriguingly, gears and epicycles seem to have arisen at about the same time, with gears perhaps a little earlier.

The claim seems unlikely to me, but an intriguing possibility. Regardless, this device was made by men who knew about the invention of science, and a lot more.

The Armarium Magnum blog explains:

As mentioned above, no manifestation of "the Myth" is complete without the Galileo Affair being raised. The proponents of the idea that the Church stifled science and reason in the Middle Ages have to wheel him out, because without him they actually have absolutely zero examples of the Church persecuting anyone for anything to do with inquiries into the natural world. The common conception that Galileo was persecuted for being right about heliocentrism is a total oversimplification of a complex business, and one that ignores the fact that Galileo's main problem was not simply that his ideas disagreed with scriptural interpretation but also with the science of the time. Contrary to the way the affair is usually depicted, the real sticking point was the fact that the scientific objections to heliocentrism at the time were still powerful enough to prevent its acceptance. ...

I love to totally stump them by asking them to present me with the name of one - just one - scientist burned, persecuted or oppressed for their science in the Middle Ages. They always fail to come up with any.

I previously cited this blog for its excellent review of the movie Hypatia.

Tuesday, Nov 23, 2010
 
Debating atheism
Christopher Hitchens debates William A. Dembski on Does a Good God Exist? They seem to be similarly controversial characters for various reasons. In Part 2 at 3:00 he says:
As you know, the Church did not want Galileo to look thru a tube and make the disconcerting discovery that the Sun does not go around us, we go around the Sun. I presume now that no one is going to give me an argument about that.
I would have argued about that. The statement is completely false. The Church never discouraged Galileo from looking thru a telescope, and Galileo never had any telescopic evidence that we go around the Sun.

This is important to his atheism argument because it (supposedly) shows that the Catholic Church was anti-science, and that we are not at the center of the universe.

Hitchens is a typical leftist-atheist-evolutionist. Those folks have leftist politics, and support causes like socialized medicine. They support atheism as not just a denial of God, but a belief that all of organized religion is backwards and harmful. And they are evolutionist in that they actively promoting beliefs in evolution. And not just the science, but an evolutionist worldview that goes far beyond what any science has demonstrated.

My main complaint with these folks is how they mix these views. They will take some completely bogus science argument, and use it to support some bogus political or religious argument. Galileo is just one example. Most of Hitchin's bogus science arguments have to do with evolution.

MIT physicist Max Tegmark doesn't mind saying that we are at the center of the universe:

Our entire observable universe is inside this sphere of radius 13.3 billion light-years, with us at the center.
Of course he is a big proponent of multiple parallel universes, so don't get too excited. He also says that all mathematically structures must exist physically, as some sort of alternate universes. We are allowed to think that we are the center of ours because of the anthropic principle.

Monday, Nov 22, 2010
 
Father of modern physics
Biographer Dava Sobel writes:
Posterity agrees that Galileo's great genius lay in his ability to observe the world at hand, to understand the behavior of its parts, and to describe these in terms of mathematical proportions. For these achievements, Albert Einstein dubbed Galileo "the father of modern physics -— indeed of modern science altogether."
Galileo is most famous for his astronomy, but that work was not very mathematical at all. It was his contemporary, Kepler, who solved the big mathematical astronomy problems of the day. Galileo was not even a player.

The Wikipedia article on Einstein says:

A German-Swiss Nobel laureate, he is often regarded as the father of modern physics.
It is very misleading to call Einstein "German-Swiss" in the opening paragraph. Einstein was more American than Swiss. Einstein was born in Germany, spoke German, and got famous as a German professor. He also renounced his German citizenship twice, once to evade military service and once to escape the Nazis. His primary ethnic identification was that of a German Jew.

Here is the source:

The source cited by this wikipedia article is an article on Poincare, not Einstein, and actually says "together with Einstein, Poincare can therefore be regarded as the founding father of Modern physics".
I don't know how Einstein could be the father of modern physics when he did not even believe in quantum mechanics. And I don't know how he can be lumped in with Poincare, as Poincare's relativity papers were vastly superior to Einstein's.

The parallels are curious. Kepler was the genius who was way ahead of Galileo on modeling the solar system, and it is doubtful that Galileo even understood his mathematics. Likewise, Poincare was the genius who was way ahead of Einstein on creating relativity, and it is doubtful that Einstein even understood his mathematics. It is not that Kepler and Poincare were obscure, or failed to publish their ideas, or were poor at explaining to the general public. Their works were brilliant masterpieces, and they were appreciated at the time.

So why are Galileo and Einstein idolized so much? I think that the reasons are primarily ideological. They are both leftist icons, and symbols of anti-Christian beliefs.


Saturday, Nov 20, 2010
 
The latest unification theory
SciAm magazine has a new article on A Geometric Theory of Everything. It says:
Modern physics began with a sweeping unification: in 1687 Isaac Newton showed that the existing jumble of disparate theories describing everything from planetary motion to tides to pendulums were all aspects of a universal law of gravitation. Unification has played a central role in physics ever since. In the middle of the 19th century James Clerk Maxwell found that electricity and magnetism were two facets of electromagnetism. One hundred years later electromagnetism was unified with the weak nuclear force governing radioactivity, in what physicists call the electroweak theory.

This quest for unification is driven by practical, philosophical and aesthetic considerations. When successful, merging theories clarifies our understanding of the universe and leads us to discover things we might otherwise never have suspected.

The proposed unification is nothing like those previous ones. This one is a vastly more complex theory with dozens of new particles and forces that no one has ever seen. The previous unifications were simplifications. I think that it is very strange that so many physicists find such a unified theory philosophically desirable.

This theory appears to be contrary to known physics, and does not have much of a following. But belief in this sort of a unification is much of what drives string theory and related theories.


Thursday, Nov 18, 2010
 
Higgs alternative looks like epicycles
Physicist Steven Weinberg says in this NASW2009 lecture and in this SciAm podcast, about the possibility that the European CERN LHC will discover the Higgs particle:
In that picture, there really isn't a Higgs. ... That's a possibility ... first suggested by Leonard Susskind and myself, independently. I don't think it's likely that that's what's going to be found because it leads to problems. There are observations that you could only understand by tinkering carefully with the theory so that it begins to look like Ptolemaic epicycles, and I don't find it as attractive as the original simple picture. But it's a possibility. ... That's why it is not sure thing that the Higgs will be found, but it is highly likely.
So one of the world's most famous physicists rejects a theory because it looks like Ptolemaic epicycles. It would make more sense to reject a theory because of Copernican epicycles.

The history of science should be a simple an uncontroversial subject, but educated people continually draw incorrect lessons from the great events in science history. Ptolemaic epicycles were not wrong, and mathematically equivalent formulations continue to be used today when one circular orbit is observed relative to another circular orbit. An epicycle is nearly always used to describe the Moon's orbit, for example.

If the Higgs boson is found, there will be a fight for the Nobel prize. Peter Woit writes:

What Philip Anderson realized and worked out in the summer of 1962 was that, when you have both gauge symmetry and spontaneous symmetry breaking, the Nambu-Goldstone massless mode can combine with the massless gauge field modes to produce a physical massive vector field. This is what happens in superconductivity, a subject about which Anderson was (and is) one of the leading experts. His paper on the subject was submitted to Physical Review that November, and appeared in the April 1963 issue of the journal, in the particle physics section. It explains what is commonly called the “Higgs mechanism” in very much the same terms that the subject appears in modern particle physics textbooks ...
There is also a genius named Ernst Stueckelberg who published a similar idea many years earlier. He apparently has a priority claim on several other Nobel-prize-winning discoveries.

Wednesday, Nov 17, 2010
 
Lucy did not use tools after all
I was skeptical before about a highly publicized claim that human ancestors used tools 3.4M years ago. Now some experts are skeptical as well:
Manuel Dominguez-Rodrigo, writing with my University of Wisconsin colleagues Travis Pickering and Henry Bunn, has challenged the interpretation that two bovid bones from Dikika bear cutmarks made by hominins [1].
The news media is always making exaggerated claims about apes and alleged missing links showing human behavior. It is all part of a leftist-atheist-evolutionist plot to dehumanize people. Lucy was just an ape.

Meanwhile, even Louisiana endorses the teaching of evolution:

A state advisory panel Friday voted 8-4 to endorse a variety of high school science textbooks that have come under fire for how they describe evolution.
Evolution is taught as the only scientific theory of life on Earth in all 50 states.

Tuesday, Nov 16, 2010
 
Testing whether Tycho was murdered
The BBC News reports on one of the greatest astronomers of all time.
The body of a 16th Century Danish astronomer is being exhumed in Prague to confirm the cause of his death.

Tycho Brahe was a Danish nobleman who served as royal mathematician to the Bohemian Emperor Rudolf II.

He was thought to have died of a bladder infection, but a previous exhumation found traces of mercury in his hair.

A team of Danish and Czech scientists hope to solve the mystery by analysing bone, hair and clothing samples. ...

He lost the bridge of his nose in a duel, while at the University of Rostock in 1566, and wore a metal prosthetic for the rest of his life.

Another story widely told about Brahe was that his bladder exploded at a royal banquet.

When Galileo had his famous dispute with the Catholic Church, some Church scholars supported the Tychonic system that Tycho developed many years years. It was better than what Galileo supported, by any objective measure.

Kepler worked for Tycho. The Tycho-Kepler work was not just an astronomical breakthru, it was one of the great scientific achievements in human history.

George writes:

You write "Tycho-Kepler" as if it were joint work. In fact they were completely opposed. Tycho advocated a stationary Earth, while Kepler advocated the Copernican system. Besides, Kepler may have murdered Tycho.
It was joint work. Tycho collected the data, and figured out that the orbit of Mars was not spherical. Astronomers had been watching Mars for millennia, and no one else figured it out. He sold Kepler on the idea, and Kepler modeled it with an ellipse. Kepler completed Tycho's work on the Rudolphine Tables. The idea that Kepler murdered Tycho is ridiculous.

The motion of the Earth was just one detail in the Tycho and Kepler models. Those same tables could be used for either. The essential science of the work of Tycho and Kepler were consistent.


Monday, Nov 15, 2010
 
NPR blames Church for genocide
NPR radio Science Friday refused to apologize (listen at 11:00) for anti-Catholic comments the previous week (listen to Sam Harris at 15:40). Harris accused the Catholic Church of favoring genocide and of being against "human flourishing" in other ways. The other panelists did not disagree. NPR read a letter objecting to Harris's remarks, but refused to read any of the letters that explained why Harris was wrong.

Harris says that scientists can come to moral conclusions better than theologians. But he is on thin ice talking about genocide. The great genocides of the 20th century were done by leftist-atheists like himself, and opposed by the Catholic Church.

This is the same NPR that fired Juan Williams for saying on another network that he gets nervous on airplanes when he sees those who "identify themselves first and foremost as Muslims."

Apparently NPR supports the most bigoted and false comments about Catholics, but cannot tolerate any criticism of Muslims.

Here is a list of aircraft hijackings. Check it out yourself. The hijackers are not Catholics. Sam Harris and NPR are the bigots, not Juan Williams. It is a sad day when govt radio has to criticize Catholics as a proxy for others who might kill us.


Sunday, Nov 14, 2010
 
Pres. Wilson preferred Darwin over Newton
Glenn Beck says that Woodrow Wilson was one of our worst American presidents. A recent NPR interview interview accused Beck of being an "extremist" for having this opinion, and here was the historian-guest's best example of Beck being wrong about something:
Particularly troublesome, Wilentz says, are the gross historical inaccuracies Beck makes on his Fox show, which now reaches more than 2 million people each day.

"On one of his shows, for example, he pulled out a 'Mercury' dime. On the back of [the dime] is the fasces, which is the symbol of fascism," Wilentz says. "So [Beck] says, 'Aha! Who brought the dime in? It was Woodrow Wilson. We've been on the road to fascism for a long time.' [But he's] neglecting the fact that fasces didn't become a fascist symbol until well after that dime was made and designed — and the man who designed it [knew that] fasces was a design of war and balanced it off with an olive branch. Those are the facts. It has nothing to do with the coming of American fascism under Woodrow Wilson."

Huhh? That's it? Beck is on the air for an hour a day, so you would think that the NPR leftists could find a better example than that. Supposedly Beck is wrong because Wilson put the symbol on the dime in 1916, and the Italian fascists did not adopt it until 1919. I thought that Beck was making a joke, but if the Wilson and the fascists adopted the symbol only three years apart, then a relationship seems possible.

If you want to know why Beck hates Wilson, just tune into his show on FoxNews, or check thingsglennbeckhasblamedwoodrowwilsonfor.com. Wilson was a progressive, a racist, and a warmonger. He left us with the income tax, the Federal Reserve Bank, and something similar to the United Nations. These things helped cause the Great Depression, World War II, and many other evils.

I think that the root of Wilson's evil is his philosophy of science. You have to read it here, because Beck won't talk about it. Wilson was a leftist-evolutionist who cited Darwin to justify undermining the US Constitution.

Wilson in The New Freedom, 1913, wrote:

For example, after the Newtonian Theory of the universe had been developed, almost all thinking tended to express itself in the analogies of the Newtonian Theory, and since the Darwinian Theory has reigned amongst us, everybody is likely to express whatever he wishes to expound in terms of development and accommodation to environment.

Now, it came to me, as this interesting man talked, that the Constitution of the United States had been made under the dominion of the Newtonian Theory. You have only to read the papers of the The Federalist to see that fact written on every page. They speak of the "checks and balances" of the Constitution, and use to express their idea the simile of the organization of the universe, and particularly of the solar system, -— how by the attraction of gravitation the various parts are held in their orbits; and then they proceed to represent Congress, the Judiciary, and the President as a sort of imitation of the solar system.

They were only following the English Whigs, who gave Great Britain its modern constitution. Not that those Englishmen analyzed the matter, or had any theory about it; Englishmen care little for theories. It was a Frenchman, Montesquieu, who pointed out to them how faithfully they had copied Newton’s description of the mechanism of the heavens.

The makers of our Federal Constitution read Montesquieu with true scientific enthusiasm. They were scientists in their way -— the best way of their age -— those fathers of the nation. Jefferson wrote of "the laws of Nature" -— and then by way of afterthought -— "and of Nature’s God." And they constructed a government as they would have constructed an orrery [planetarium] -— to display the laws of nature. Politics in their thought was a variety of mechanics. The Constitution was founded on the law of gravitation. The government was to exist and move by virtue of the efficacy of "checks and balances."

The trouble with the theory is that government is not a machine, but a living thing. It falls, not under the theory of the universe, but under the theory of organic life. It is accountable to Darwin, not to Newton. It is modified by its environment, necessitated by its tasks, shaped to its functions by the sheer pressure of life. No living thing can have its organs offset against each other, as checks, and live. On the contrary, its life is dependent upon their quick cooperation, their ready response to the commands of instinct or intelligence, their amicable community of purpose. Government is not a body of blind forces; it is a body of men, with highly differentiated functions, no doubt, in our modern day, of specialization, with a common task and purpose. Their cooperation is indispensable, their warfare fatal. There can be no successful government without the intimate, instinctive coordination of the organs of life and action. This is not theory, but fact, and displays its force as fact, whatever theories may be thrown across its track. Living political constitutions must be Darwinian in structure and in practice. Society is a living organism and must obey the laws of life, not of mechanics; it must develop.

All that progressives ask or desire is permission -— in an era when "development" "evolution," is the scientific word -— to interpret the Constitution according to the Darwinian principle; all they ask is recognition of the fact that a nation is a living thing and not a machine.

This is from 1912 campaign speeches that were published in a 1913 book.

Physicist Frank J. Tipler says this is nonsense, (also here), and says:

This conflict is a reflection of a battle between the two greatest scientists of the past two centuries, Charles Darwin and Albert Einstein. Einstein famously claimed that “God does not play dice with the universe,” whereas Darwin claimed that God does, indeed, play dice with the universe. Codevilla pointed out the self-image of the ruling class rests on its belief that humans are the unforeseen outcome of chance mutations acted upon by natural selection. Not so. God decreed the evolution of humans before time began. The ruling class stands with Darwin. We stand with Einstein.
Wilson's essay is an example of a goofy use of science to support leftist ideas. A later version of such ideas is Prof. Tribe's Curvature of Constitutional Space, written with the assistance of Pres. Barack Obama. The point of these essays is that the US Constitution has no objective meaning that we have to respect.

Academic philosophers go further, and and say that science has no objective meaning. They say that theories get replaced because of fads among scientists. I call them the paradigm shifters, and criticize their Marxist view of history.

There are historians who rank Wilson as one of the best 20th century American presidents. The Beck fans think that Wilson is one of the worst. I am going with Beck. Wilson's statement is anti-American and anti-science. His presidency was a disaster, and this is why.


Saturday, Nov 13, 2010
 
Climate propagandists say all science was heresy
NPR radio just had a Science Friday program interviewing a panel of experts on how to best promote leftist climate policies:
Scientists and Advocacy?

A group of climate researchers has banded together to speak out on climate change, providing a unified voice against climate policy skeptics. But should that be the role for scientists? Do scientists have a responsibility to speak out on policy issues?

The host did say that he asked a couple of Republican congressmen to appear, but he did not ask any climate skeptics with expertise comparable to the leftists on the program. The Republicans probably figured (correctly) that they were being ambushed.

At 13:30 a caller Ryan from Nashville asked:

I just want to encourage these scientific folks there to really in these peoples' faces. You have to find a cross between Carl Sagan and Karl Rove and get him out there. Because what -- for 5 to 7 hundred years of our history, all science was heresy -- and imagine where we'd be if that hadn't taken place.
No one on the panel disagreed.

This is leftist-atheist propaganda. No science was ever heresy in the West. The only specific example that anyone ever alleges is the Galileo affair of 1633:

Galileo was found "vehemently suspect of heresy," namely of having held the opinions that the Sun lies motionless at the centre of the universe, that the Earth is not at its centre and moves, and that one may hold and defend an opinion as probable after it has been declared contrary to Holy Scripture.
I argue that no actual science was suppressed, or declared heretical, as explained here. Galileo was commissioned to write a scientific book, but he wrote an unscientific book making fun of the Pope instead.

Even if you disagree with me about Galileo, that was just one decision applied to one person. Every civilization has punished innocent people. How do you get to 500 years? Are there 500 other such decisions?

Nobody even argues that astronomy research was slowed down one year as a result of the Galileo trial. Galileo was already decades behind the research frontier. Even Galileo continue to publish his work.

People wonder why I write about some issue that died centuries ago. The answer is that false myths about the history of science are being used to today to trick you into accepting dubious climate policies. The proof is on yesterday's NPR science broadcast.


Thursday, Nov 11, 2010
 
How Lorentz credited Poincare
Many of those who credit Einstein for relativity draw great attention to the fact that Lorentz credited Einstein, and paid little recognition to Poincare. Lorentz appears to not have understood Poincare's papers.

However, Lorentz later in 1914 wrote a paper crediting Poincare with priority over Einstein. He wrote Two Papers of Henri Poincaré on Mathematical Physics (1921), recently translated from French to English:

The following pages cannot at all give a complete idea of what theoretical physics owes to Poincaré. ...

To fully appreciate the first of this works, I will have to enter in some details on the ideas whose development led to the principle of relativity. Thus let us speak a little about the part that I contributed to this development, I must say first that I have found a valuable encouragement in the benevolent interest that Poincaré constantly took with my studies. Moreover, we will see soon by which degree he surpassed me. ...

These were the considerations published by me in 1904 which gave place to Poincaré to write his paper on the dynamics of the electron, in which he attached my name to the transformation to which I will come to speak. I must notice on this subject that the same transformation was already present in an article of Mr. Voigt published in 1887, and that I did not draw from this artifice all the possible parts. Indeed, for some of the physical quantities which enter the formulas, I did not indicate the transformation which suits best. That was done by Poincaré and then by Mr. Einstein and Minkowski. ...

This time it was indeed an effect of the second order and it was easy to see that the hypothesis of the stationary aether alone is not sufficient for the explanation of the negative result. I was obliged to make a new assumption which consists in admitting, that the translation of a body through the aether produces a slight contraction of the body in the direction of motion. This assumption was indeed the only possibility; it had also been imagined by Fitzgerald and it found the approval of Poincaré, who however did not conceal the lack of satisfaction that the theories gave him in which one multiplies special assumptions invented for particular phenomena. This criticism was for me an additional reason to seek a general theory, in which the same principles would lead to the explanation of the experiment of Mr. Michelson and all those that were undertaken after him to discover effects of the second order. In the theory that I proposed, the absence of phenomena due to the collective motion of a system should be demonstrated for any value of speed less than light. ...

Later, I could see in the paper of Poincaré that when proceeding more systematically I could have reached an even greater [252] simplification. Not having noticed it, I did not succeed in obtaining the exact invariance of the equations; my formulas remained encumbered with certain terms which should have disappeared. These terms were too small to have an appreciable effect on the phenomena and I could thus explain the independence of the earth's motion that was revealed by observations, but I did not establish the principle of relativity as rigorously and universally true.

Poincaré, on the contrary, obtained a perfect invariance of the equations of electrodynamics, and he formulated the "postulate of relativity", terms which he was the first to employ. Indeed, stating from the point of view that I had missed, he found the formulas (4) and (7). Let us add that by correcting the imperfections of my work he never reproached me for them.

I can not explain here all the beautiful results obtained by Poincaré. Let us insist however on some points. ...

Let us pass now to the paper on the quantum theory. Towards the end of 1911 Poincaré had attended the meeting of the Council of Physique convened in Brussels by Mr. Solvay, in which we had especially dealt with the phenomena of the calorific radiation and the hypothesis of the elements or quanta of energy imagined by Mr. Planck to explain them. In the discussions, Poincaré had shown all promptness and the penetration of its spirit and we had admired the facility with which he could enter the most difficult questions of Physics, even in those which were new for him. At the return to Paris, he did not cease dealing with the problem of which he felt the high importance. If the hypothesis of Mr. Planck were true, "the physical phenomena would cease obeying laws expressed by differential equations, and it would be, undoubtedly, the greatest and most profound revolution that natural philosophy suffered since Newton". ...

That is the reasoning by which Poincaré established the necessity of the quantum hypothesis.

Einstein got his 1921 Nobel prize for a 1905 paper supporting Planck's 1900 quantum hypothesis. Here, Lorentz praises Poincare for showing the necessity of that hypothesis, without even mentioning Einstein.

Lorentz generously credits others in this paper. He refers to the "group of relativity", when Poincare called it the "Lorentz group". He admits to defects in his own work when he could be pointing out the similar defects in the work of others. But he only credits Einstein and Minkowski with doing what Poincare had already done.

Some people say that it is wrong to credit Lorentz and Poincare over Einstein, because Lorentz never claimed such credit in his lifetime. But he does here. He pretty clearly explains how he and Poincare had all of special relativity, with an acknowledgement only to Voigt and FitzGerald for priority. He only mentions Einstein and Minkowski to say that they redid what Poincare had already done. This seems to me to be about as direct a repudiation of Einstein's and Minkowski's priority as I could expect from a gentleman like Lorentz.

Lorentz is right. Everything he says here is verifiable by reading the original papers.

Lorentz's paper is in French. His other relativity papers were in Dutch (1892), German (1895), and English (1899, 1904). I guess scientists had to be multilingual back then. Einstein wrote in German, and in English after moving to the USA. He was also fluent in French and maybe Italian, as he attended college at a French-speaking University, and his family lived in Italy for a while.


Wednesday, Nov 10, 2010
 
Coyne hates science magazine
Leftist-atheist-evolutionist Jerry Coyne complains that NewScientist publishes articles casting doubt on the standard evolutionist dogma, and got this response:
Perhaps some of your ire should be turned on your scientific colleagues - if Bennett is so hopelessly wrong, why was he ever invited to give that keynote (alongside Niles Eldredge)? Why did the symposium even take place? Bennett wasn't the only one to question the primacy of natural selection in macroevolution. Why does the Royal Society support his work? Similarly, if the tree of life concept is unimpeachable, why is there such a large literature questioning its validity and a major project on it at a leading UK biology department?

As a weekly science magazine (not journal) we can only report what we see and hear going on around us. And we're always going to look for new, potentially game-changing ideas (it's the news, stupid).

I was at Bennett's talk; the room was full of learned and eminent people. He took a few questions but there were no howls of protest like yours. What am I to make of this? I'm genuinely baffled. ...

Also, please consider my invitation to write something to be an open one.

Coyne refuses by saying:
What I won’t do is help New Scientist sell magazines by fanning the flames of controversy. I wash my hands of this rag, and I’d advise readers to do likewise until it cleans up its act.
It is not that baffling. People like Coyne just hate it when anyone deviates from the party line.

Yes, the magazine overhypes new ideas. All the science reporters do. But this is not about the religion and creationism that Coyne really hates. He is complaining about ideas that have been proposed thru accepted scientific channels.


Tuesday, Nov 09, 2010
 
The embrionic stem cell fraud
Nicholas Wade reports in the NY Times:
This is why it was such a risk for California to earmark $3 billion specifically for stem cell research over the next 10 years. Stem cells are just one of many promising fields of biomedical research. They could yield great advances, or become an exercise in sustained failure, as gene therapy has so far been. By allocating so much money to a single field, California is placing an enormous bet on a single horse, and the chances are substantial that its taxpayers will lose their collective shirt.

Stem cell researchers have created an illusion of progress by claiming regular advances in the 12 years since human embryonic stem cells were first developed. But a notable fraction of these claims have turned out to be wrong or fraudulent, and many others have amounted to yet another new way of getting to square one by finding better methods of deriving human embryonic stem cells.

The major advances in stem cell biology have come from molecular biologists who study transcription factors, the master control switches that govern the cell’s operations.

The California fund was passed with heavy lobbying from scientists who stood to profit from it, and from pro-abortion groups who were making an anti-Bush political statement. Nothing good has come out of the fund and the money would have been much better spent elsewhere.

Monday, Nov 08, 2010
 
Lorentz aether theory
Lorentz's relativity is now called the Lorentz aether theory, in order to emphasize the aether and its obsolescence. But no one called it that at the time.

Lorentz is said to have believed in an immobile aether at absolute rest, and therefore an absolute frame of reference for space and time from which absolute velocities can be deduced. Eg, Einstein's 1909 paper said that Lorentz's theory "depended on a completely immobile aether." I am looking for where Lorentz actually said this.

This is from the introduction to Lorentz's 1895 paper, after reciting a couple of other competing aether theories:

Es liegt nicht in meiner Absicht, auf derartige Speculationen näher einzugehen oder Vermuthungen über die Natur des Aethers auszusprechen. Ich wünsche nur, mich von vorgefassten Meinungen über diesen Stoff möglichst frei zu halten und demselben z. B. keine von den Eigenschaften der gewöhnlichen Flüssigkeiten und Gase zuzuschreiben. Sollte es sich ergeben, dass eine Darstellung der Erscheinungen am besten unter der Voraussetzung absoluter Durchdringlichkeit gelänge, dann müsste man sich zu einer solchen Annahme einstweilen schon verstehen und es der weiteren Forschung überlassen, uns, womöglich, ein tieferes Verständniss zu erschliessen.

[4]Dass von absoluter Ruhe des Aethers nicht die Rede sein kann, versteht sich wohl von selbst; der Ausdruck würde sogar nicht einmal Sinn haben. Wenn ich der Kürze wegen sage, der Aether ruhe, so ist damit nur gemeint, dass sich der eine Theil dieses Mediums nicht gegen den anderen verschiebe und dass alle wahrnehmbaren Bewegungen der Himmelskörper relative Bewegungen in Bezug auf den Aether seien.

The book is apparently still in print, altho a modern reader would have a tough time with the terminology and notation. Here is a machine translation:
It is not my intention to enter into such speculations closer or expressing suspicions about the nature of the aether. I only wish to keep me from preconceived opinions about the substance and the same as free as possible, for example, none of the properties of ordinary liquids and gases due. If it appeared that a representation of the phenomena succeed best under the condition of absolute penetrability, then one would have to be such an assumption for the time being already understand and leave it to the further research, us, maybe open up a deeper understanding.

[4] That of absolute Rest of the aether can not be said, of course most of themselves and the term would not even make sense. When I say sake of brevity, the ether rest, so that only meant that one part of this medium does not move against the other and that all perceptible movements are relative movements of the heavenly bodies in relation to the ether.

I read this as saying that he is pointedly disavowing any aether theory. He is saying that this theory is independent of how the aether really works, and that he is denying that the aether is of absolute rest. He is mainly rejecting Fresnel's theory that parts of the aether can have velocity relative to other parts of the aether. Fresnel's believed that solid bodies like the Earth drag the aether along with it, somewhat like the way the Earth drags the atmosphere with it. He is not saying much to endorse or deny the aether, and leaves it to further research to understand its properties.

I do not agree that Lorentz's theory depends on an immobile aether. It does not depend on any properties of the aether except for Maxwell's equations.

Section 1 starts:

The equations for the aether.

§ 5 When setting up the equations of motion, we will express all quantities in electromagnetischem Maass and temporarily insert a basis of co-ordinates, the rest in the aether.

So he talks about the aether being at rest, but it is just a figure of speech, as he explains above.

Lorentz's 1904 paper first mention of the aether is:

The first example of this kind is Michelson's well known interference-experiment, the negative result of which has led FitzGerald and myself to the conclusion that the dimensions of solid bodies are slightly altered by their motion through the aether.
He mentions the aether five more times, and in each case it is just a way of talking about electromagnetic fields in empty space. When he introduces Maxwell's equations, he says, "if we use a fixed system of coordinates". He does not say "in the absolute coordinates of the aether" or anything like that.

Lorentz was not convinced by arguments that the aether should be undetectable. Long after relativity theory was accepted, he argued that the theory was the same whether the aether was detectable or not, so it was unnecessary to assume that it was not. The story is explained in Faraday to Einstein: constructing meaning in scientific theories By Nancy J. Nersessian.

A reader adds:

Roger: My German is shaky but I agree with your analysis of those German passages. Lorentz is very clearly disclaiming any broad theory of, or speculations about, aether. He declines to attribute any properties of liquids or gas to the aether. He suggests the need for more research. He denies any belief in the absolute rest or immobility of the aether. He uses the phrase "the aether at rest" only to mean that different parts of the aether don't move relative to each other; perceptible movements of heavenly bodies are movements [by those bodies] relative to the aether.

Based on those passages, Lorentz seems to assume the existence of the aether, but doesn't feel there is evidence to say much about it beyond his belief that the aether doesn't have moving parts. He thinks heavenly bodies are moving within the aether, rather than parts of the aether moving in relation to each other.


Sunday, Nov 07, 2010
 
Denouncing the progress of evolution and technology
Leading leftist-atheist-evolutionist Jerry Coyne writes:
Up at the Sunday New York Times Book Review — it appears online a day early — is “Better all the time“, my review of Kevin Kelly’s new book, What Technology Wants.

It’s not a bad book.  In fact, parts of it are really interesting: the stuff on the history of technology, for instance, including Kelly’s stint with the technology-dubious Amish. But for me What Technology Wants was seriously marred by Kelly’s relentless progressivism, including his idea that evolution “strives” for certain outcomes (complexity, beauty, specialization, ubiquity, etc.), and that technology strives for exactly the same outcomes.  His view of evolution is unidirectional and teleological, and if that’s not the case, which it isn’t, then his idea that technology and evolution both follow universal “laws” (I think Kelly, a devout Christian, sees these laws as God given) breaks down.

Coyne is hung up on Stephen Jay Gould's view that evolution does not increase complexity:
Gould [1989] felt so strongly about it he was moved to deny that, at least since the Cambrian explosion, there has been any progress at all.
The Cambrian explosion was 530 million years ago. Here is a more reasonable view of progress and direction in evolution.

Yes, of course there is direction in evolution. There is direction for some of the same reasons that there is a time direction in physics, and there is a Second law of thermodynamics. You can read about it in Entropy (arrow of time). Only a leftist-atheist-evolutionist kook like Gould would deny that there has been any progress in 500M years.

Coyne is strangely silent on the book's argument that The Unabomber Was Right:

The system does not and cannot exist to satisfy human needs. Instead, it is human behavior that has to be modified to fit the needs of the system. This has nothing to do with the political or social ideology that may pretend to guide the technological system. It is the fault of technology, because the system is guided not by ideology but by technical necessity.
I guess Coyne was more interested in making some dubious ideological point about evolution than to address the main points of the book. The Unabomber manifesto was considered the rant of a madman, but it actually had a lot of strong arguments in it.

Friday, Nov 05, 2010
 
More Neanderthal than chimp
Amazon has a book titled, What it Means to be 95% Chimpanzee: Apes, People, and their Genes, but the cover clearly says "98% chimpanzee". Which is it?

Estimates of how much of our genome is shared with chimps varies from 94% to 98.8%, as noted here and here. Here is an example of the confusion in an Amazon review:

Years ago a colleague who knew how fond I was of explaining our primate origins to students asked me, "Did you know we share 98% of our genes with chimpanzees"? "I'm comfortable with that", I replied, "as long as I still only share 50% with my brother", introducing a conundrum for many students that few professors can adequately resolve.
Instead of explaining these percentages, the book seems to be mostly an argument that and such data is meaning. He rejects any scientific argument that humans are similar to animals, or that human are dissimilar to other humans, based on genes. He says:
Humans are marked by a large number of physical, ecological, mental, and social distinctions from other life...what does genetics have to say about all this? Nothing. Sameness/otherness is a philosophical paradox that is resolved by argument, not by data. (p.22)
The book is attacked here for trying to deny that human racial differences exist.

I would expect this book to be praised by PC journalists for its left-wing view of science, but one of the Amazon reviews attacks it for not being suffiently critical of creationists!

Meanwhile, we are supposed to have Neanderthal genes:

The study shows that Neanderthals are not as extinct as everyone thought. Somewhere between one and four percent of the DNA in people who are ethnically non-African comes from Neanderthals. In other words, they live on in some of us.
A UK newspaper reports on the latest dubious Neanderthal research:
Neanderthals really were sex-obsessed thugs

Neanderthals really did act like Neanderthals, new research suggests, as our early relatives were found to be more aggressive, competitive and promiscuous than modern man.

Scientists examining fossils have discovered that Neanderthals were exposed to more testosterone during development which is likely to make them more unreconstructed in their behaviour.

That means they were more likely to start fights over mates and hierarchy in the group and more likely top have multiple partners.

I have omitted the evidence because the article gets it backwards.
Your article has a mistake in it.

You say, "High levels of the hormones [testosterone] increase the length of the fourth finger in comparison to the second finger".

Then you say, "The team found that the fossil INDEX fingers of Neanderthals were LONGER compared with the ring finger than most living humans, which suggests that they had been exposed to higher levels of testosterone."

Your article has a basic mistake in it which should have been spotted before you posted it for the world to see. Sloppy.

The article is anti-male propaganda. Anti-Neanderthal, also. Maybe modern men are wimps.

Thursday, Nov 04, 2010
 
Reignier on Poincare
J. Reignier writes on The birth of special relativity:
"What would have happened if Poincaré's papers of 1905 did not exist"? The answer is immediate since these papers were nearly forgotten 41 and didn't really influence the later development of physics!

[footnote] 41 Except for details like Poincaré's pressure.

"What would have happened if Einstein's original paper "Zur Elektrodynamik bewegter Körper" of 1905 did not exist"? This time, the answer is not so easy to give. On the one hand, all important formulae existed already or would have appeared at the same time in Poincaré's papers (even if some of them are there derived in a different way; see f.i. the formulae of the new dynamics).

No, this is backwards. Einstein's 1905 paper was of no long term consequence. His approach is sometimes mentioned in special relativity textbooks, but it was obsolete by 1908. By 1909, most of the relativity papers were not using his approach, and the general relativity books do not even mention it.

Maybe Poincare's papers were forgotten, but not his ideas. Those 1905 papers had several crucial ideas that were never independently discovered by Einstein or anyone else. Most of them are listed here (except that the first four were before 1905).

Presumably Poincare's ideas would have eventually been independently rediscovered, but it is not known that any of them ever were.

You can find Poincare's papers in French on Wikisource, or translated to English, and I have some previously-posted links here. Other relativity papers are on Wikisource:Relativity, including Einstein's famous 1905 paper. Einstein's most famous papers are also here.

There are some Frenchmen who credit Poincare. Eg, there is the recent book by Jules Leveugle, outlined here, and translated here. Leveugle proposes some conspiracy theories, which have been attacked elsewhere, such as by Gingras.

Other good sources include the Wikipedia article on the Relativity priority dispute and Einstein's 1905 paper (also here). Here are translations of Poincare's 1905 short and long papers.


Wednesday, Nov 03, 2010
 
Not voting for Einstein
I just voted in California, and the sample write-in was Albert Einstein! You would think that they could at least choose an American.

Einstein eventually became a naturalized USA citizen, but he was Communist fellow traveler and Stalin apologist.


Monday, Nov 01, 2010
 
Pay for your dark science
A SciAm cover story has the latest theories about dark energy and dark matter, but a reader doesn't like the paywall:
“Just like the newsstand version, the online version of the article costs money of course. But if you do read it, I hope you enjoy it.”

I will not. Paying money for knowledge is just plain idiotic. So people with money can’t have the knowledge? Are you saying that the knowledge should stay with the elite that control our world? Sorry but paying for information and knowledge is a huge peeve of mine especially this day and age.

Funny. Secret knowledge about dark matter will not let the elites control us. Nobody was even figured out how to detect the stuff! He could read the magazine in the library, if he really wants.

SciAm is a commercial magazine, owned by the British Nature magazine. It is much more annoying when academic research articles are not freely available online, even tho the researchers have that choice.

It is a nice article. Most of the articles on this subject refuse to speculate what the dark matter and dark energy really are. This article lays out the leading possibilities. The array of possibilities shows how little they know.

It is amazing how little string theory has to say about any of this. How can it be a theory of everything when it cannot even say anything about the nature of empty space?

The Dark Buzz is still free.


Sunday, Oct 31, 2010
 
Kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being
When people idolize Einstein, it reminds me of The Manchurian Candidate (1962 film):
Shaw is awarded the Medal of Honor for his supposed actions. In addition, when asked to describe him, Marco and the other soldiers automatically respond, "Raymond Shaw is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being I've ever known in my life." Deep down, however, they know that Shaw is a cold, sad, unsociable loner. As Marco puts it: "It isn't as if Raymond is hard to like. He's impossible to like!"
Since Shaw does not match the description, you eventually figure out that his colleagues have been hypnotized to praise him that way. They were brainwashed by North Korean communists.

I have been reading some of the original papers on relativity, and I find that Einstein does not match his public image at all. Nearly everyone says glowingly positive things about him. After reading the papers, it is not just hard to see Einstein as a great genius, it is impossible. His papers are shallow and derivative.

Here are podcast lectures from a UC Berkeley course on the history of physics, and it is filled with Einstein flattery. Nobody who knows Einstein's contributions could actually believe such nonsense, unless brainwashed. Perhaps the professor has been hypnotized.


Friday, Oct 29, 2010
 
No Earth-like planets
The LA Times reports:
Many Earth-like planets orbit sun-like stars

At least one in every four stars like the sun has planets about the size of Earth circling in very close orbits, according to the first direct measurement of the incidence of such planets, researchers said Thursday.

That means that our galaxy alone, with its roughly 200 billion sun-like stars, has at least 46 billion Earth-size planets orbiting close to the stars, and perhaps billions more circling farther out in what scientists call the habitable zone ...

Of course, all these planets so close to their stars are exceedingly hot and are certainly not habitable.

You have to read to the last paragraph to learn that none of those other planets are really Earth-like.

Every news article on planet discoveries outside our solar system is written with the angle that experts are trying to convince us that the discoveries mean that there is more evidence of Earth-like planets, and life in outer space. In fact, there is less reason to believe in Earth-like planets today than there was 50 years ago.


Thursday, Oct 28, 2010
 
Motl claims that Lorentz was confused
I mentioned below that some books give explanation's of Lorentz's and Einstein's special relativity that are nearly identical. Then they say that Einstein was revolutionary, and thus a great hero.

Here is another version of Einstein's superiority over Lorentz, from today's Lubos Motl blog:

Fields "couldn't be" fundamental until 1905 when Albert Einstein, elaborating upon some confused and incomplete findings by Lorentz, realized that there was no aether. The electromagnetic field itself was fundamental. The vacuum was completely empty. It had to be empty of particles, otherwise the principle of relativity would have been violated.
At least here is something that makes some superficial sense. Lorentz believed in the aether and Einstein did not, so Einstein was different. Of course there was very little actual difference between what Lorentz and Einstein said about the aether, but Motl can pretend that there was a difference. Lorentz did not say that there were particles in the aether.

So why do relativity explanations usually include a put-down of Lorentz? Even if Einstein's theory was superior somehow, why wouldn't Lorentz simply be credited for getting the breakthru that led to the better theory? We do not see people saying:

Spacetime "couldn't be" fundamental until 1908 when Hermann Minkowski, elaborating upon some confused and incomplete findings by Einstein, realized that relativity was a consequence of 4D spacetime geometry.
or:
Wave functions "couldn't be" fundamental until 1926 when Max Born, elaborating upon some confused and incomplete findings by Heisenberg and Schroedinger, realized that wave functions predict probability densities.
I say that there is some insecurity in this Einstein worship. It is not enough to just say what he did. Everyone must inject some phony argument about Einstein's superiority to everyone else.

Wednesday, Oct 27, 2010
 
Finding reality in models
Hawking's new book, The Grand Design, has a good description of Poincare's conventionalism. It says:
When such a model is successful at explain- ing events, we tend to attribute to it, and to the elements and con- cepts that constitute it, the quality of reality or absolute truth. But there may be different ways in which one could model the same physical situation, with each employing different fundamental el- ements and concepts. If two such physical theories or models ac- curately predict the same events, one cannot be said to be more real than the other; rather, we are free to use whichever model is most convenient. [p.7]

So which is true, the Ptolemaic or Copernican system? Although it is not uncommon for people to say that Copernicus proved Ptolemy wrong, that is not true. [p.41]

That's right. The book is correct that people say that Copernicus proved Ptolemy wrong, but both models are about equally valid.

Compare this to the book's comments on special relativity below, as it says that Lorentz-FitzGerald (1889-1895) and Einstein (1905) predict the same events, so one cannot be more real than the other. At best, one is more convenient.

Einstein's version is not any more convenient. The book does not even argue that it is more convenient. The only advantage it gives to Einstein is that he avoids certain speculations about the rigidity of matter. That is not really an advantage, as those speculations by FitzGerald and Lorentz proved to be entirely correct after quantum field theory was discovered decades later.

I think that the biggest difference between Lorentz-1895 and Einstein-1905 is that the latter includes a discussion of the relativity of simultaneity, as invented by Poincare in 1900. That is what the papers by Lorentz, Einstein, and others said at the time, altho they did not mention Poincare. Nobody argued that Einstein was better because he omitted a physical explanation.

In the Wikipedia article on Length contraction, someone suggested adding a physical explanation, and got this reply:

Now, the overwhelming majority of secondary sources tell me that special relativity is a kinematic theory, and length contraction is therefore a consequence of the properties of relativistic space-time (electrodynamic explanations like those of Lorentz, Larmor and Poincaré can be found in the History section).
I agree that special relativity is most commonly understood as a kinematic theory, but I think that it is bizarre to forbid a completely legitimate physical explanation. I cannot think of any other area of science where such an explanation is forbidden. It seems to be just a way of honoring Einstein for failing to give an explanation. But Einstein himself was not opposed to giving a physical explanation, and never argued that the explanation was wrong or undesirable. He just did not give one because he could not figure out how to do it.

Where the Hawking book goes wrong is by assigning reality to M-theory and other untested theories, when those theories are not successful at explaining any events. I will post later on that.


Tuesday, Oct 26, 2010
 
Hawking explains Einstein's idea
Stephen Hawking's new book, The Grand Design, tells the story of special relativity on p.95-97:
Inspired by Maxwell's speculation, in 1887 Michelson and Edward Morley carried out a very sensitive experiment designed to measure the speed at which the earth travels through the ether. Their idea was to compare the speed of light in two different directions, at right angles. If the speed of light were a fixed number relative to the ether, the measurements should have revealed light speeds that differed depending on the direction of the beam. But Michelson and Morley observed no such difference.

The outcome of the Michelson and Morley experiment is clearly in conflict with the model of electromagnetic waves traveling through an ether, and should have caused the ether model to be abandoned. But Michelson's purpose had been to measure the speed of the earth relative to the ether, not to prove or disprove the ether hypothesis, and what he found did not lead him to conclude that the ether didn't exist. No one else drew that conclusion either. In fact, the famous physicist Sir William Thomson (Lord Kelvin) said in 1884 that the ether was "the only substance we are confident of in dynamics. One thing we are sure of, and that is the reality and substantiality of the luminiferous ether."

How can you believe in the ether despite the results of the Michelson-Morley experiment? As we've said often happens, people tried to save the model by contrived and ad hoc additions. Some postulated that the earth dragged the ether along with it, so we weren’t actually moving with respect to it. Dutch physicist Hendrik Antoon Lorentz and Irish physicist George Francis FitzGerald suggested that in a frame that was moving with respect to the ether, probably due to some yet-unknown mechanical effect, clocks would slow down and distances would shrink, so one would still measure light to have the same speed. Such efforts to save the aether concept continued for nearly twenty years until a remarkable paper by a young and unknown clerk in the patent office in Berne, Albert Einstein.

Einstein was twenty-six in 1905 when he published his paper "Zur Elektrodynamik bewegter Koerper" ("On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies"). In it he made the simple assumption that the laws of physics and in particular the speed of light should appear to be the same to all uniformly moving observers. This idea, it turns out, demands a revolution in our concept of space and time. To see why, imagine two events that take place at the same spot but at different times, in a jet aircraft. To an observer on the jet there will be zero distance between those two events. But to a second observer on the ground the events will be separated by the distance the jet has traveled in the time between the events. This shows that two observers who are moving relative to each other will not agree on the distance between two events.

Now suppose the two observers observe a pulse of light traveling from the tall of the aircraft to its nose. Just as in the above example, they will not agree on the distance the light has traveled from its emission at the plane's tall to its reception at the nose. Since speed is distance traveled divided by the time taken, this means that if they agree on the speed at which the pulse travels the speed of light-they will not agree on the time interval between the emission and the reception.

What makes this strange is that, though the two observers measure different times, they are watching the same physical process. Einstein didn't attempt to construct an artificial explanation for this. He drew the logical, if startling, conclusion that the mea-surement of the time taken, like the measurement of the distance covered, depends on the observer doing the measuring. That ef-fect is one of the keys to the theory in Einstein's 1905 paper, which has come to be called special relativity.

Get that? Lorentz and FitzGerald said that the speed of light would be measured as the same in moving frames. Ten years later, Einstein published the idea that the speed of light would appear the same to moving observers. Lorentz said that clocks would slow down and distances would shrink. But it was Einstein's idea that demanded "a revolution in our concept of space and time", and he drew the startling conclusion that the measurement of distance and time depends on the moving observer.

This is a very polished and self-contained book for the general public. Can you read that and explain to me how Einstein's idea was any different from Lorentz's? The ideas are the same. They use the same words, have the same meaning, and imply the same physical consequences.

This explanation is not unusual, and is similar to that given in textbooks, such as here.

The only difference I get out of this is that maybe Lorentz had some speculation about the aether and about "some yet-unknown mechanical effect", and Einstein made no such attempt to construct an explanation. Einstein's restatement of Lorentz's idea is called a "revolution".

Based on this, I would say that Lorentz and FitzGerald discovered special relativity, and Einstein later published a partial explanation of the theory.


Sunday, Oct 24, 2010
 
Obama tries to quote Einstein
John Lott points out that Pres. Obama has misquoted Einstein:
For Democratic supporters from 2008 who are thinking about switching sides this election, Obama paraphrased Albert Einstein. “The true sign of madness is if you do the same thing over and over again and expect the same result,” he said during a rally at the University of Minnesota.

“All of you have to vote,” Obama told thousands of supporters. “There is not excuse.”

No, the quote is backwards and Einstein never said it anyway. Rita Mae Brown said, "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results." Sane people (and scientists believing in causality) expect the same results from doing the same thing. Obama essentially said that all scientists are mad.

This saying is currently all over the California TV stations:

Democrat Jerry Brown is out with a new campaign ad ... features alternating clips of Whitman and Schwarzenegger communicating virtually the same lines. ...

"Meg Whitman said it herself, 'Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and hoping for different results,'" said Steven Glazer, Campaign Manager for Brown.

At least Whitman and Schwarzenegger said it correctly. I guess the point of the ad is that if we elect Brown, then we can expect him to govern like a Democrat, and Whitman would govern like her Republican predecessor. Seems likely to me.

Update: The White House transcript has Obama saying slogan correctly. You can see the Obama video at 10:40. So his speech was reported incorrectly. USA Today got the quote right, but falsely attributed it to Einstein.


Saturday, Oct 23, 2010
 
Beck does not believe in evolution
A NY paper reports:
Glenn Beck thinks the theory of evolution is a bunch of monkey business.

The wildly popular Fox News host Wednesday called the idea that humans evolved from primates "ridiculous."

While the deeply religious Beck denouncing evolution isn't a shock, his defense was a head-scratcher: "I haven't seen a half-monkey, half-person yet. Did evolution just stop?"

Actually chimps are halfway between monkeys and humans, more or less.

Here is an explanation. See also, Why are there still monkeys? Other such questions are answered here.

I doubt that Beck would find these explanations very convincing. The problem is that no one knows how humans split from monkeys and so the explanations just cite some generalities about evolution without really answering the question.

I think that the evolutionists would be more persuasive that they have a theory with some scientific merit if they were willing to admit what they do not know. They cannot even explain why humans are not furry.


Thursday, Oct 21, 2010
 
Counterfactual
It is often said that quantum mechanics violates local causality, and hence also violates my motto above. The argument is based on Bell's theorem.

The equations for relativistic quantum mechanics respect local causality, so the paradox arises in the interpretation of quantum mechanics. Some interpetations are contrary to some notions of causality. But for the more well-accepted interpretations, the problem is with counterfactual definiteness, not local causality.

The paradoxical situations are rooted in some unrealistic assumptions, such as the electron being a particle. An electron acts like a particle, it is observed as a particle, and there is good theory for treating is as a particle. But it also has wave properties, and if you take the electron to literally be a particle, then you will get confusing situations. It is not a particle. It has particle and wave properties. You can treat it as a particle, but then you have to give up counterfactual definiteness, because as you examine possible scenarios for that electron, some of them must involve some wave-like properties that are contrary to your intuition about particles.

Consider the double-slit experiment, where a particle beam is directed at a pair of slits. They form a diffraction pattern on the screen on the other side, just as you might expect from waves. The confusion occurs when you start asking questions like, "what if a particle passes thru the first slit?". There is no definite answer. You can do a measurement and get an answer, but you can just answer hypothetical questions about definite values for particle observable unless you actually do the observation.

Yes, that is confusing. The confusion is why we have about a dozen interpretations. But it is certainly false to say that quantum mechanics violates local causality.

Meanwhile, mathematicians are fond of counterfactual thinking, as illustrated by Terry Tao in The “no self-defeating object” argument.

In case you are still wondering what "counterfactual" means, it is an adjective that means contrary to fact. When used as a noun, it is an abbreviation of "counterfactual conditional". But it does not just mean a false conditional, as false conditionals are meaningless. A philosophy site defines:

A conditional statement whose antecedent is known (or, at least, believed) to be contrary to fact. Thus, for example, "If George W. Bush had been born in Idaho, then he would never have become President." Unlike material implications, counterfactuals are not made true by the falsity of their antecedents. Although they are not truth-functional statements, counterfactuals may be significant for the analysis of scientific hypotheses.
It could also be called hypothetical reasoning.

Local causality is what makes the world amenable to analysis. It is a basic postulate, like conservation of energy. It will take some hard empirical proof before either of these is rejected. It is better to reject counterfactual definiteness, because that may be just a fault of our models, and not physical reality. So I accept counterfactual thinking, but not counterfactual definiteness in quantum mechanics.

Counterfactual definiteness also causes problems for Von Neumann–Morgenstern utility theory, as noted here. You can ask people for preferences in gambling situations, but if you try to break down their choices into counterfactual scenarios, you get paradoxes that are contrary to expected utility theory. Economists argue that these paradoxes prove that people are irrational.

Counterfactual definiteness is also at the heart of an argument by philosopher Jerry A. Fodor in the essay Against Darwinism, and book What Darwin Got Wrong. I mentioned this previously here and here. He is a philosopher, so he is hoping his colleagues will say, At least he didn't confuse his epistemology with his metaphysics. Fodor is a metaphysical naturalist and atheist, but he says that natural selection is unscientific because it fails to make any counterfactual predictions. For example, evolution claims to explain why frogs snap at flies, but cannot say how frogs would evolve if there were no flies. Therefore it is more like history than science.

The Many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics is a physical theory of counterfactuals. It postulates that each possible counterfactual scenario is a reality in an alternate universe.

A reader points out that my motto, Natura non facit saltus (Latin for "nature does not make jumps"), seems to be a grammar error, because saltus should be accusative. Darwin used saltum in his famous book, and so does Webster's dictionary. Usage on the web seems to be about evenly divided, with Mandelbrot having used it both ways. But the reader informs me that saltus is fourth declension, plural accusative, so it is correct.


Tuesday, Oct 19, 2010
 
Science of morality
There is increasing public visibility for scientists who try use science to establish Morals Without God. See also Peter Singer on morality, saying that "a new generation of scientists has emerged who seek to shed light on morality". The leader in this field got caught misinterpreting monkeys in his research, but that will not stop anyone. The new atheists are out to prove that religion is entirely useless, and that science can do anything better.

SciAm's John Horgan is skeptical about the movement. He is skeptical about everything, except maybe pacifism. About the leftist-atheist-evolutionist Sam Harris, he says:

Harris further shows his arrogance when he claims that neuroscience, his own field, is best positioned to help us achieve a universal morality. "The more we understand ourselves at the level of the brain, the more we will see that there are right and wrong answers to questions of human values." Neuroscience can't even tell me how I can know the big, black, hairy thing on my couch is my dog Merlin. And we're going to trust neuroscience to tell us how we should resolve debates over the morality of abortion, euthanasia and armed intervention in other nations' affairs?
Just listen to Harris for a while, and you will be wanting to go back to religious morality.

The trouble with these scientific morality advocates is that they mainly just just promote secular law, with a dose of egalitarianism, depending on how leftist their politics are. They sound like law professors lecturing us on the enforcibility of contracts. Anything is moral as long as it is permitted by the fine print of some contract somewhere. The only exception is when it conflicts with some egalitarian ideal. This is just not what religious folks mean by morality, as Jonathan Haidt explains.


Monday, Oct 18, 2010
 
Mandelbrot dies
The NY Times reports:
Benoît B. Mandelbrot, a maverick mathematician who developed the field of fractal geometry and applied it to physics, biology, finance and many other fields, died on Thursday in Cambridge, Mass. He was 85. ...

In the 1950s, Dr. Mandelbrot proposed a simple but radical way to quantify the crookedness of such an object by assigning it a “fractal dimension,” an insight that has proved useful well beyond the field of cartography.

The fractal dimension was invented in 1918, long before Mandelbrot.
His influence has also been felt within the field of geometry, where he was one of the first to use computer graphics to study mathematical objects like the Mandelbrot set, which was named in his honor.
People assume that Mandelbrot invented the Mandelbrot set, but he was not, and he was not even the first to plot it with computer graphics. He just popularized the work of others. I do not think that he has had any influence on geometry.
Dr. Mandelbrot received more than 15 honorary doctorates and served on the board of many scientific journals, as well as the Mandelbrot Foundation for Fractals. Instead of rigorously proving his insights in each field, he said he preferred to “stimulate the field by making bold and crazy conjectures” — and then move on before his claims had been verified. This habit earned him some skepticism in mathematical circles.
There is some polite language for an obituary. This is a way of saying that he talked big and accomplished nothing (in mathematics, anyway). His influence was almost entirely in popularizing some applications of math to other fields, such as modeling nature and finance. He wrote a couple of books with pretty pictures of mathematical patterns. He won some prizes. He wrote a popular essay on the coastline paradox and showed how the length of Britain's coast depends on the resolution. Instead of calling himself a mathematician, he described himself with, "I'm a mathematical scientist". That is more accurate as his contributions were to science, not math.

John Horgan explains why interest in Mandelbrot's work peaked in the 1980s.


Sunday, Oct 17, 2010
 
Ouwehand on Einstein and Poincare
Martin Ouwehand writes:
Why isn't the mathematician Henri Poincaré acknowledged as the true discoverer of the special theory of relativity?

because he didn't discover the theory of relativity as we now understand it.

It is true that after all the failed attempts to show the movement of the earth with respect to the aether, he and Lorentz did realise that the principle of relativity must be true and that it is impossible to detect a translation movement with constant velocity.

But despite this, Poincaré still believed somehow in the aether ...

He certainly did not explain, as Einstein did, the changes to the concepts of space and time that follow from the theory of relativity. ...

Nowhere do Lorentz or Poincaré say that the Lorentz transformation connects space-time measurements in two inertial frames in relative motion.

He gives cites to Poincare's papers, but they are refuted here.

Ouwehand has it backwards. Poincare's theory requires changes to space and time. Einstein's 1905 paper describes changes to measuring rods, clocks, and electromagnetic observables. He does not say whether the changes are to space or to the rods. For that, Einstein's view is the same as what FitzGerald published in 1889. Einstein's theory did not require space and time changes any more than what FitzGerald and Lorentz published years earlier.

Ouwehand explains:

Mathematically, the transformation (x, t) -> (x'', t'') is what we call a Lorentz transformation, but it seems clear to me that for Lorentz the transformation of space-time measurement between the two frames is (x, t) -> (x', t'), not (x, t) -> (x'' ,t''). This is what I meant by the above comment "Nowhere do they..." Poincaré's 1906 paper is silent about the space-time content of the Lorentz transformation, but as it's a follow-up to Lorentz' I take it that he agrees with him on this point.
Lorentz and Poincare were emphatic that their theory explained the Michelson-Morley experiment. To do that, Lorentz transformation had to connect space-time measurements in two different frames.

There are only two known explanations for Michelson-Morley -- special relativity and the Earth being stationary (with respect to the aether). So if Lorentz and Poincare were claiming that their theory explained it, then either they were stupid, they were advocating a stationary Earth, or they discovered special relativity. The idea that their transformations were mathematical and not physical is just nonsense. They had to be physical to explain a physical experiment.

Essentially, Ouwehand is arguing that Lorentz and Poincare got the right answer but did not understand what they were doing. You do not have to understand relativity to see that his argument is nonsense. It is like saying that Mendeleev figured out the periodic table of the elements, but he should not be credited because he had some conceptual error about elements.


Saturday, Oct 16, 2010
 
Weinberg says to learn physics history
Physicist Steven Weinberg writes in a 2003 essay in Nature magazine:
At the beginning of the twentieth century, several leading physicists, including Lorentz and Abraham, were trying to work out a theory of the electron. This was partly in order to understand why all attempts to detect effects of Earth's motion through the ether had failed. We now know that they were working on the wrong problem. At that time, no one could have developed a successful theory of the electron, because quantum mechanics had not yet been discovered. It took the genius of Albert Einstein in 1905 to realize that the right problem on which to work was the effect of motion on measurements of space and time. This led him to the special theory of relativity. ...

Finally, learn something about the history of science, ... For instance, now and then scientists are hampered by believing one of the over-simplified models of science that have been proposed by philosophers from Francis Bacon to Thomas Kuhn and Karl Popper. The best antidote to the philosophy of science is a knowledge of the history of science.

Wow, Weinberg gives some bogus history of science, and in the next paragraph, he advises to learn it correctly and not as simplified by the famous philosophers.

Lorentz did not just work out a theory of the electron. He worked out the effect of motion on measurements of space and time, in an 1895 paper. He credited FitzGerald for earlier work. Those effects are now known as Lorentz transformations, and you can read the History of Lorentz transformations to see that a lot of excellent work was done before Einstein's 1905 paper.

Einstein wrote more or less the same thing about the effect of motion on measurements as Lorentz and Poincare had previously written. It is only those oversimplified philosophical models that have (falsely) convinced people that Einstein did something different. For proof, see Dyson on Poincare and Einstein.

I do agree with Weinberg that physicists ought to learn science history correctly, so that they are not duped by the philosophers and Einstein worshipers.

You can see for yourself that physicists before Einstein were explicitly working on the effect of motion on measurements of space and time. From Lorentz's 1892 paper, translated from Dutch:

It was noted by Maxwell, that if the aether remains at rest, then the motion of earth must have an influence on the time, that was required by light to travel forth and back between two points regarded as fixed to earth. ...

But Michelson together with Morley repeated the experiment on a larger scale. ... I have sought a long time to explain this experiment without success, and eventually I found only one way to reconcile the result with Fresnel's theory. It consists of the assumption, that the line joining two points of a solid body doesn't conserve its length, when it is once in motion parallel to the direction of motion of Earth, and afterwards it is brought normal to it. ... Such a change in length of the arms in Michelson's first experiment, and in the size of the stone plate in the second, is really not inconceivable as it seems to me.

Lorentz then goes on to give an electrodynamic explanation:
Indeed, what determines the size and shape of a solid body? Apparently the intensity of molecular forces; any cause that could modify it, could modify the shape and size as well. Now we can assume at present, that electric and magnetic forces act by intervention of the aether. It is not unnatural to assume the same for molecular forces, but then it can make make a difference, whether the connection line of two particles, which move together through the ether, are moving parallel to the direction of movement or perpendicular to it. ...

Since we know nothing about the nature of molecular forces, it is impossible to verify the hypothesis. ...

Anyway, it seems undeniable that changes of the molecular forces and consequently of the body's size of order 1-v2/2c2 are possible. ... We cannot speak about the observation of a change in length of two hundred millionth when comparing meter sticks, and even if an observation method would allow this, then this method would be the juxtaposition of two sticks, but we would never detect the discussed changes, when they occur in the same way for both of them. The only remedy is to compare the length of two sticks perpendicular to each other, and if we want to do this by the observation of an interference phenomenon (with a light ray that travels back and forth along the first and the other ray along the second arm), then we would come back to Michelson's experiment.

He turned out to be completely correct that electromagnetism is the molecular force that determines the size and shape of a solid body. He was also correct that electric and magnetic forces act by intervention of the aether, altho we would use more modern terminology and say that electromagnetic forces act by perturbing the quantum vacuum state. And of course he was completely correct that motion causes a length contraction in the direction of the motion. Einstein said the same thing 13 years later, without mentioning the molecular forces.

Friday, Oct 15, 2010
 
Sparse coverage of string theory
Here is a defensive explanation of Why has Physics Today's news coverage of string theory been so sparse?

No, the real reason is that string theory has not accomplished anything. But that does not stop new book from making big claims:

The reason strings are such a hot topic nowadays, Jones explains, is that the new theory not only helps to solve some long-standing problems in physics, but it also attempts to explain other, not-yet-observed phenomena such as time travel and the possible existence of extra dimensions.

One of the great virtues of string theory is that it tries to be a theory of everything. ...

In practice, contriving a theory of everything means reconciling the two great physics theories of the previous century: quantum mechanics and general relativity. Quantum science generally deals with matter at small scales (all those nested layers of particles), while general relativity generally deals with massive things like planets and galaxies. For the past century physicists have failed to bring these two mighty theories together.

String theory, at least on paper, seems to have succeeded.

No, it has not succeeded. If it did, then there would be some paper demonstrating it, and there would be a Physics Today story about it.

Thursday, Oct 14, 2010
 
Varying time was forced by a dramatic experiment
NPR radio recently had an explanation of a new relativity experiment. From the Fri, 24 Sep 2010 NPR broadcast, downloadable at npr_130109040.mp3:
Joe Palca, at 11:40: ... the nature of time. It is hard to think of time as something that varies.

Carroll: It is just so counter-intuitive to our everyday lives.

Palca: Sean Carroll is a theoretical physicist at Caltech in Pasadena.

Carroll: The miracle is that Einstein's way of thinking about it wasn't forced by some dramatic experiment that anyone did. It was really just pure thought.

Palca: But pure thought led Einstein to the conclusion that light, not time, was the constant.

No, this is a myth that has been propagated in the latter part of the 20th century to promote Kuhnian paradigm shift theory. The decisive experiment was the Michelson-Morley experiment.

If you do not believe me, read Einstein's 1907 review paper or Einstein's 1909 paper:

This experiment demonstrated that matter does not completely carry along its ether but, in general, the ether is moving relative to matter. ... The most diverse experiments were performed without detecting the expected dependence of phenomena on orientation.

This contradiction was chiefly eliminated by the pioneering work of H. A. Lorentz in 1895. Lorentz showed that if the ether were taken to be at rest and did not participate at all in the motions of matter, no other hypotheses were necessary to arrive at a theory that did justice to almost all of the phenomena. In particular, Fizeau's experiments were explained, as well as the negative results of the above-mentioned attempts to detect the Earth's motion relative to the ether. Only one experiment seemed incompatible with Lorentz's theory, namely, the interference experiment of Michelson and Morley.

By this time, two Nobel prizes had been given for this work showing that a dramatic experiment leads to the concept of varying time. One to Michelson in 1907 for doing the experiment, and another to Lorentz in 1902 for his 1895 theory, which included varying time. Lorentz cited Michelson-Morley in his 1895 paper, and he and Poincare continued to stress its importance in subsequent papers.

Today, Einstein biographies say that Michelson-Morley had nothing to do with the discovery of relativity, because he was reasoning with pure thought. This is just one aspect of a false Einstein myth that gets perpetuated.


Wednesday, Oct 13, 2010
 
French economist opposed Einstein and his relativity
The economist Maurice Allais just died. He won the 1998 Bank of Sweden Prize, sometimes also called the Nobel prize in economics. He is famous for showing that common preferences are contrary to economic utility models.

He wrote a 2005 book saying that Einstein plagiarized the theory of relativity, and that relativity was disproved by a 1926 Dayton Miller experiment. That experiment was an attempt to detect the aether drift, like the 1887 Michelson-Morley experiment that was the main experimental support for relativity.

It is a little goofy for him to rely so heavily on a 1926 paper when dozens of others have done similar experiments, and confirmed relativity. But Allais was correct about Poincare publishing the theory before Einstein, as you can read in this blog or in Relativity priority dispute.


Tuesday, Oct 12, 2010
 
Isaac Newton, alchemist
The NY Times reports:
How could the man who vies in surveys with Albert Einstein for the title of “greatest physicist ever,” the man whom James Gleick has aptly designated “chief architect of the modern world,” have been so swept up in what looks to modern eyes like a medieval delusion? How could the ultimate scientist have been seemingly hornswoggled by a totemic psuedoscience like alchemy, which in its commonest rendering is described as the desire to transform lead into gold? Was Newton mad — perhaps made mad by exposure to mercury, as some have proposed? Was he greedy, or gullible, or stubbornly blind to the truth?

In Dr. Newman’s view, none of the above. Sir Isaac the Alchemist, he said, was no less the fierce and uncompromising scientist than was Sir Isaac, author of the magisterial Principia Mathematica. There were plenty of theoretical and empirical reasons at the time to take the principles of alchemy seriously, to believe that compounds could be broken down into their basic constituents and those constituents then reconfigured into other, more desirable substances.

Newton was second to Einstein in this poll.

Einstein wasted 30 years of his life on a crackpot search for a unified field theory. Newton's alchemy had more scientific validity.


Monday, Oct 11, 2010
 
Hockey stick graph guy hates public scrutiny
Climate professor Michael E. Mann, famous mostly for the global warming hockey stick graph, writes:
My employer, Penn State University, exonerated me after a thorough investigation of my e-mails in the East Anglia archive. Five independent investigations in Britain and the United States, and a thorough recent review by the Environmental Protection Agency, also have cleared the scientists of accusations of impropriety. ...

We have lived through the pseudo-science that questioned the link between smoking cigarettes and lung cancer, and the false claims questioning the science of acid rain and the hole in the ozone layer. The same dynamics and many of the same players are still hard at work, questioning the reality of climate change. ...

Challenges to policy proposals for how to deal with this problem should be welcome -- indeed, a good-faith debate is essential for wise public policymaking.

But the attacks against the science must stop. They are not good-faith questioning of scientific research. They are anti-science.

How can I assure young researchers in climate science that if they make a breakthrough in our understanding about how human activity is altering our climate that they, too, will not be dragged through a show trial at a congressional hearing?

I would expect most scientists to be happy to explain their breakthroughs at a congressional hearing.

Mann being cleared of impriety by a university? That is no reason to accept Mann's analysis. We should be troubled by the fact that his university finds it acceptable for him to cover up his data and methods, as revealed in those emails.

Worse, Mann says that we can question the public policy, but not the science. He is the one who is anti-science for saying this.

Also getting a lot of news is this Hal Lewis complaint about this American Physical Society policy:

The evidence is incontrovertible: Global warming is occurring. If no mitigating actions are taken, significant disruptions in the Earth’s physical and ecological systems, social systems, security and human health are likely to occur. We must reduce emissions of greenhouse gases beginning now.
Yes, you should be wary of any statements like this.

There is an APS reply.


Saturday, Oct 09, 2010
 
What is fate
I like this joke:
A priest asked the Master, "What is fate?"

The Master answered:

It is that which gives a beast of burden its reason for existence.

It is that which men in former times had to bear upon their backs.

It is that which has caused nations to build byways from City to City upon which carts and coaches pass, and alongside which inns have come to be built to stave off Hunger, Thirst, and Weariness.

"And that is fate?" said the priest.

"Fate... I thought you said Freight", responded the Master.

"That's all right" said the priest, "I wanted to know about Freight too."

I like this joke because "fate" seems like a suitably profound topic for a guru's wisdom, as opposed to "freight". But the Master's answer showed that freight can be just as profound.

The Danish physicist Niels Bohr said:

The opposite of a correct statement is a false statement. But the opposite of a profound truth may well be another profound truth.
This is also quoted to explain the half-truth. I cannot find the context for this, but he surely said something similar, because Bohr's son wrote:
One of the favorite maxims of my father was the distinction between the two sorts of truths, profound truths recognized by the fact that the opposite is also a profound truth, in contrast to trivialities where opposites are obviously absurd.
Supposedly, Heraclitus said something similar.

Many of the profound truths of 20th century physics are like that. You can say that there is no aether, that an electron is a particle, that the world is non-deterministic, that quantum entanglement requires spooky action at a distance, that gravity is quantized, that the fundamental forces are unified at the Planck scale, etc. Pick any popular explanation of quantum mechanics, and you will find that its profound truths are not really truths in the sense that the opposites are incorrect.

The next time you hear some wise guru tell you some profound truth, ask whether the opposite is incorrect.


Friday, Oct 08, 2010
 
Claiming Lorentz was opposed to relativity
Here is a typical explanation of the claim for Einstein's originality:
The mathematical work of H.A. Lorentz would prove invaluable to Albert Einstein as he attempted to work out his theory of Special Relativity.

The Dutch Physicist Hendrik Antoon Lorentz was often given credit by Albert Einstein for inspiring the notions of Time and Space Dilation. Indeed, it is the mathematical work of Lorentz which Einstein uses as a guide in determining the exact formulations of these very things. However, this credit often seems somewhat misplaced, considering the fact that Lorentz’s actual intention in creating his mathematics was to explain something very much opposing the theory of relativity.

It all started, like so many things, with the fateful experiment of Michelson and Morley in 1887, which determined once and for all the non-existence of the substance known as “ether,” which according to physicists formed the makeup of the vacuum through which light traveled so quickly. In addition, it showed that the speed of light was a constant, independent of one’s motion. As a result of this experiment, some physicists, such as Einstein, searched for entirely new laws of physics, while others, such as Lorentz, searched for ways to reconcile these findings with the existing theories, mathematically.

In other words, Lorentz’s goal was to save the theory of luminiferous ether from annihilation. As a result, he came up with some very revolutionary and very useful mathematics.

So Lorentz cited the previous work, making him opposed to revolutionary thought. Einstein built on the work of Lorentz and Michelson-Morley without citing them, making him the great genius.

Einstein never described having any intentions different from Lorentz. Einstein's 1905 relativity theory was not opposed to Lorentz's theory in any way. Neither Einstein nor Lorentz nor anyone else at the time said that it was. Lorentz lectured on the theory in 1906, and described Einstein's work as an addition to his own. Einstein did not come up with any new math -- his formulas were essentially the same as what Lorentz had already published.

People recite these silly arguments as if they mean something. Somehow you are supposed to believe that Lorentz made all the correct deductions and formulas from Michelson-Morley, but it was somehow inferior to Einstein publishing the same thing ten years later.


Wednesday, Oct 06, 2010
 
Deepak’s God 2.0 and quantum flapdoodle
Michael Shermer attacks quantum theology:
This last spring, however, I participated in a debate with a theologian of a different species—the New Age spiritualist Deepak Chopra -— whose arguments for the existence of a deity take a radically different tact. Filmed by ABC’s Nightline and viewed by millions, Deepak hammered out a series of scientistic-sounding arguments for the existence of a nonlocal spooky-action-at-a-distance quantum force. Call it Deepak’s God 2.0. ...

Deepak’s use and abuse of quantum physics is what the Caltech quantum physicist and Nobel laureate Murray Gell-Mann calls “quantum flapdoodle,” which is when you string together a series of terms and phrases from quantum physics and assume that explains something in the regular macro world in which we live. “The mind is like an electron cloud surrounding the nucleus of an atom,” Chopra writes in his 2006 book Life After Death.

Okay, but I am not sure why this is any worse than what Hawking does.

Shermer debated Chopra in a March 2010 ABC TV Nightline Faceoff. I expected the level-headed Shermer to make mincemeat out of the kooky Chopra, but I think Shermer lost. When asked about the reality of the Moon, Chopra said:

In the absence of a conscious entity, the Moon remains a radically ambiguous and ceaselessly flowing quantum soup.
Shermer just called this "woo-woo", and argued that quantum mechanics had no macroscopic significance.

Hawking co-author Leonard Mlodinow challenged Chopra to learn some quantum mechanics. But the Hawking-Mlodinow book has a chapter on the same non-locality that Chopra was talking about, and the book applies it to God just like Chopra. Here is what the book says about the Moon:

There might be one history in which the moon is made of Roquefort cheese. But we have observed that the moon is not made of cheese, which is bad news for mice. Hence histories in which the moon is made of cheese do not contribute to the pres- ent state of our universe, though they might contribute to others. That might sound like science fiction, but it isn't.
I get from this that they subscribe to different interpretations of quantum mechanics. But there is no proof that any one interpretation is any more correct than any other, and they are all leaping to unwarranted conclusions. It is science fiction. Hawking-Mlodinov have a much more sophisticated knowledge of math than Chopra, and are better at avoiding statements that are demonstrably false, but it is still just wild speculation. They are taking reasonable theories and extrapolating them far beyond where they have any experimental support. Apparently Hawking-Mlodinow think that it is okay to apply quantum non-locality to God's brain, but not to the human brain.

Tuesday, Oct 05, 2010
 
Graphene prize
Sweden just announced the Physics Nobel for graphene, a thin sheet of carbon. As usual, the predictions were for prizes in theoretical cosmology, inflation, dark matter, and string theory. All stuff that has never been substantiated. They primarily give the prizes for experimental work, not theoretical. And especially not theoretical work that has never been tested, like cosmic inflation and string theory.

The Nature magazine prediction was for a dark energy prize. I think that probably will get a physics prize in a couple of years.

Meanwhile, the Vatican is complaining about yesterday's prize for test-tube babies:

Nearly four million babies have been born using IVF fertility treatment since 1978.

Monsignor Carrasco, the Vatican's spokesman on bio-ethics, said in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) had been "a new and important chapter in the field of human reproduction".

But he said the Nobel prize committee's choice of Prof Edwards had been "completely out of order" as without his treatment, there would be no market for human eggs "and there would not be a large number of freezers filled with embryos in the world", he told Italy's Ansa news agency.

No estimate on the number of frozen or destroyed embryos.

Sunday, Oct 03, 2010
 
Truth of the Einsteinian or Minkowskian interpretations
A 2007 book, Einstein, relativity and absolute simultaneity By William Lane Craig, Quentin Smith, says about Special Relativity (SR):
It is an interesting historical fact that neither of the giants of late nineteenth century physics to whom Einstein looked for inspiration in his work on SR, H. A. Lorentz and Henri Poincare, was ever convinced, despite being fully apprised of the empirical facts, of the truth of the Einsteinian or Minkowskian interpretations of the Lorentz transformations.
The 1908 Minkowskian interpretation was that the Lorentz transformations are symmetries of spacetime, and that the relativity principle is a consequence of covariance under those symmetries. This is also the interpretation found in modern textbooks.

The 1905 Einsteinian interpretation of the Lorentz transformations is that they affect measuring rods and clocks, and that there is a way to extend them to electromagnetic variables so that Maxwell's equations take the same form in difference reference frames. Lorentz published the same interpretation in 1895, after FitzGerald conjectured a simplified version of it in 1889.

In around 1910, Einstein switched over to the Minkowski interpretation. Poincare had already made this switch in 1905. The book supplies quotes from Lorentz where he says (correctly) that both interpretations are consistent with the known experimental results.

Hawking's new book, The Grand Design, correctly says:

When such a model is successful at explaining events, we tend to attribute to it, and to the elements and concepts that constitute it, the quality of reality or absolute truth. But there may be different ways in which one could model the same physical situation, with each employing different fundamental elements and concepts. If two such physical theories or models accurately predict the same events, one cannot be said to be more real than the other; rather, we are free to use whichever model is most convenient. [p.7]
That is right. If Lorentz and Poincare understood that both interpretations predict the same events, then the choice is a matter of convenience. Poincare said similar things in his 1902 book, and he is famous for espousing this philosophy of conventionalism.

Sometimes Lorentz and Poincare are criticized for admitting that multiple interpretations are possible. They get blamed for not joining the paradigm shift. This criticism is wrongheaded. First, there are two major interpretations of special relativity. Lorentz created one, and Poincare created the other. So they were leaders in jumping to new ideas. Second, both interpretations are indeed possible.

Similar criticism has been mounted against those who have admitted the possibility of both the geocentric and heliocentric models of the solar system. Eg, Galileo argued that only one model was possible while some of his contemporaries argued that both were. But Galileo was the one who was wrong on this point.


Friday, Oct 01, 2010
 
How philosophers credit Einstein
Philosopher Marc Lange explains the discovery of relativity on a philosopher site:
I once read that, in the case of most scientific discoveries, if they hadn't been made when they were, and by who they were, the same discovery would have been made by someone else. Is this true? I also read that Einstein's general and special theories of relativity were such an original contribution that if he hadn't come up with them we would still be waiting for them. Do you think that's the case? ...

I have heard this said as well. In the history of science, there are many examples in which several researchers independently came up with the same new idea. Schrodinger and Heisenberg independently came up with the same theory (quantum mechanics) and presented it in such different forms that someone else (Born) had to figure out that they were equivalent. Darwin and Wallace (both from reading Malthus!) independently came up with the theory of natural selection. Adams and LeVerrier independently predicted the existence of the planet Neptune. Lavoisier and Priestley independently discovered oxygen. The examples are legion. These cases of simultaneous discovery are good evidence that once a problem reaches a certain point, it is widely recognized as a problem and the same solution would soon have been found even if the actual discoverer had not found it.

Einstein's theories of special and general relativity are sometimes cited as exceptions to this general rule. One reason for this view is that the "problem" as Einstein saw it was not widely recognized. Of course, many scientists knew of the Michelson-Morley experiment and realized that it was an anomaly that had to be dealt with somehow. But Einstein was motivated to develop relativity not primarily by experimental results that needed to be explained, but rather by an "asymmetry" in Maxwell's electromagnetic theory. (See the majestic opening paragraph of his 1905 relativity paper for the "asymmetry" argument.) This "asymmetry" was widely known, but very few besides Einstein regarded it as a problem of any kind.

Another reason for the view that relativity would not have been found without Einstein is that relativity was not a modest solution to a narrowly confined problem. Rather, relativity was a sharp break from all of the physics that had gone before. It dispensed with absolute time, space, and motion -- the conceptual framework of Newtonian physics as it was then understood. It is therefore more difficult to say in the case of relativity that it would still have been discovered at about the same time, had Einstein not been there to do it.

It is amazing that a university professor could say anything so silly and so wrong.

Einstein's work on relativity was not a break from previous physics. It did not reject Newtonian physics any more than papers written five and ten years before. Einstein was motivated to give an exposition of the Lorentz-Poincare theory, and that is all he did. Just look at Einstein's famous 1905 paper, and you can see that nowhere does he even claim to contradict the prevailing wisdom of the day. He only refers vaguely to previous work, and only implies an increment improvement. He says:

They suggest rather that, as has already been shown to the first order of small quantities, ... Insufficient consideration of this circumstance lies at the root of the difficulties ...
So he is only claiming to present a more precise (higher order) version of what has already been shown, and giving more consideration to foundational issues in order to clear up some difficulties. Physicists at the time considered Einstein's paper a comparatively minor philosophical gloss on Lorentz's theory.

Einstein rushed his paper into print because it was being obsoleted by papers by Lorentz and Poincare. As noted below, Watson-Crick also rushed their paper into print because they suspected that a competitor was about to publish the same thing. These two papers are credited as two of the great papers in 20th century science, but in reality, history would not be much different if these papers did not exist.

Lange also says:

Did Einstein ever engage the "scientific method" ...?

Many of Einstein's most famous papers make shockingly few references to the details of previous empirical work by other scientists. To put the same point in another way, many of Einstein's most famous arguments arise largely from "philosophical" considerations.

No, the lack of references is explained by Einstein dishonestly seeking credit for the work of others.

The myth that relativity was the result of Einstein's philosophical thought experiments is widespread. It is used to undermine science, and promote unscientific ideas that have no empirical basis.

You can see the consequences of this my in this string theory report card:

If you care, string theory gets an:

A for not being ruled out,
F for unambiguous testable predictions,
D for an LHC signal,
B for solving black hole puzzles,
A for inspiration to maths,
B for inspiration to the rest of physics,
A for unification (surely "a" solution to a previous superhard problem),
D for uniqueness,
F for solutions to the cosmological constant problem,
D for understanding of the Big Bang or the birth of the Cosmos,
A for solving Pauli's renormalizability problem of GR.

I think Andy is right that people would agree with the grades; they would disagree with whether it is a passing or failing report card. However, as Strominger emphasizes, string theory is the only student in the class. ;-) If you flunk her, you have to shut the school down.

Woit also comments on this report card.

The only reason that it has not been ruled out is that it does not make any predictions! How can a theory achieve unification without being testable?

The only reason anyone can say such nonsense with a straight face is that there is a widespread myth that Einstein invented relativity and revolutionized physics by making philosophical considerations and ignoring experimental results.

Einstein wasted the last 30 years of his life publishing unified field theories. He made no testable predictions, and his theories were garbage. He was guided only by philosophical considerations.

String theorists are doing the same thing when they say that their theory is the only only that matches their philosophical expectations, and ignore experiment.

The "cosmological constant problem" is just to explain empty space. That's right, string theory fails to say anything correct about empty space. It is said that Newtonian gravity fails to solve the 3-body problem, general relativity fails on the 2-body problem, quantum mechanics fails on the 1-body problem, and now string theory fails on the 0-body problem. Some physicists say that this is progress!


Thursday, Sep 30, 2010
 
DNA letters released
Letters about the 1953 Watson-Crick work on DNA have been released. This discovery applied Linus Pauling's methods to Rosalind Franklin's data. Watson, Crick, and Wilkins shared a Nobel prize for it. They had surreptitiously taken Franklin's ideas and data without her consent, and the letters reveal:
Dr. Bragg learned that Pauling, his longtime rival, was also hot on the trail of the DNA structure. ...

An added complication was that Pauling was about to visit London and Crick feared that Dr. Franklin, who hoped to see him, might give him her experimental data on DNA, enabling him to guess and announce the structure before the articles then in press with Nature were published.

This is an example of a couple of scientists who got fame and glory for rushing a good idea into print, and capitalizing on the work of others. The hard leg work had been done by others, and the Watson-Crick model would have been found in a few months anyway, without Watson and Crick. Pauling even had to correct an error in their model.

Wednesday, Sep 29, 2010
 
Flores Man exposed
Leftist-atheist-evolutionist Jerry Coyne complains that an open-access journal publishes too much science when it has this policy:
PLoS ONE will rigorously peer-review your submissions and publish all papers that are judged to be technically sound.
But only in that journal will you learn that Post-Cranial Skeletons of Hypothyroid Cretins Show a Similar Anatomical Mosaic as Homo floresiensis.

Razib Khan writes:

I just went back and reread some of the press when the hobbit finds were revealed. New member of the human family tree! Evolution rewritten! And so forth. If H. floresiensis turns out to be pathological, I don’t know what to think about paleontology. More honestly, I might start slotting the discipline in with social psychology or macroeconomic modeling.
I think that Flores Man is the new Piltdown Man. The evolutionists made a very big deal out this as the latest missing link, based on some very flimsy evidence.

Sunday, Sep 26, 2010
 
Chopra reviews Hawking
New Age guru Deepak Chopra writes:
Stephen Hawking occupies a position in popular culture comparable only to Einstein's eminence sixty years ago: he is our last wise man speaking with the total authority of advanced science.
Chopra has his own cult following, with goofy pseudoscience:
The word “quantum” appears frequently in New Age and modern mystical literature. For example, physician Deepak Chopra (1989) has successfully promoted a notion he calls quantum healing, which suggests we can cure all our ills by the application of sufficient mental power.

According to Chopra, this profound conclusion can be drawn from quantum physics, which he says has demonstrated that “the physical world, including our bodies, is a response of the observer. We create our bodies as we create the experience of our world” (Chopra 1993, 5). Chopra also asserts that “beliefs, thoughts, and emotions create the chemical reactions that uphold life in every cell,” and “the world you live in, including the experience of your body, is completely dictated by how you learn to perceive it” (Chopra 1993, 6). Thus illness and aging are an illusion and we can achieve what Chopra calls “ageless body, timeless mind” by the sheer force of consciousness.

It is a sad day when our leading science authority and our goofiest New Age guru are babbling the same sort of nonsense.

Einstein set the example, I am afraid. He babbled a lot of nonsense, and a lot of intellectuals ate it up.

Update: Landsburg reviews Hawking, extends the argument into believing in every mathematical possibility:

Every modern physical theory, taken literally, predicts that our universe is a mathematical object. For example, the simplest version of special relativity posits that we live in a four-dimensional geometric object called “spacetime”. More sophisticated theories posit that spacetime is part of some larger geometric object whose properties we perceive as “forces” or “particles”. According to modern physics, everything is made of math. ...

Once you believe the universe is a mathematical object, its existence ceases to be a mystery—at least if you believe, along with most mathematicians, that mathematical objects can’t help but exist.

It sounds like he believes in Simulism or the Simulation hypothesis. Or maybe the Boltzmann brain. There is a long history of such beliefs, but I doubt that Hawking would endorse them.

The Simulation Argument is promoted by Professor Nick Bostrom, who "was listed as one of the world's 100 most influential intellectuals by FP Magazine in 2009."


Saturday, Sep 25, 2010
 
We already have a theory of everything
The Cosmic Variance blog writes:
The Laws Underlying The Physics of Everyday Life Are Completely Understood

Not sure why people don’t make a bigger deal out of this fact. Physicists (and scientists more generally) are infamous for making grandiose claims about how close we are to Figuring It All Out, only to be shocked by some sort of revolutionary discoveries soon thereafter. Personally I have no idea how close we are to a comprehensive theory of absolutely everything. But I do know how close we are to having a comprehensive theory of the basic laws underlying the phenomena we encounter in our everyday lives — without benefit of fancy telescopes or particle accelerators or what have you. Namely, we already have it! That seems to be worth celebrating, or at least remarking upon, but you don’t hear it mentioned very much.

The public has been fooled by Einstein and his worshipers that we need some sort of unified field theory. The belief seems to be based on some religious belief in Monism, not physics. They say that quantum mechanics is inconsistent with relativity, and that we need quantum gravity.

But there is no contradiction between quantum mechanics and relativity in any physically observable realm. There is no observation or experiment that awaits explanation by some new quantum gravity theory. We do have some unexplained anomalies, but none of them involve quantum gravity.

Supposedly the need for quantum gravity comes during the first 10-43 seconds of the big bang. But there is so much other misunderstood physics after that point, that such speculation is meaningless.

Update: Cosmic Variance responds to criticisms.


Tuesday, Sep 21, 2010
 
Kooky birth order theories
This is from the intro to a Skeptic magazine interview:
The publicity surrounding his new book — Born to Rebel: Birth Order, Family Dynamics, and Creative Lives (Pantheon) — has been extensive to say the least. Even more striking than The New Yorker’s nine-page story about Sulloway and his theory was Newsweek’s six-page review, complete with Sulloway’s formula for calculating your own propensity to rebel. In the New York Review of Books Jared Diamond found no flaws whatsoever in the theory, calling it a “fascinating and convincing work.” PBS’s Charlie Rose and Patt Morrison each hosted Frank on their respective author talk shows. In addition he has been featured on numerous magazine television programs such as Dateline, was challenged by Bryant Gumble on The Today Show, and even appeared unopposed on Ted Koppel’s Nightline, almost unheard of for a program based on point-counterpoint confrontations. The author of the highly acclaimed and extremely controversial biography (within psychoanalytic circles), Freud, Biologist of the Mind (Basic Books, 1979), Sulloway is perhaps best known as the scholar who showed that Darwin did not convert to the theory of evolution during his five-year voyage around the world, but only after his return home to England.
I would expect Skeptic magazine to be more skeptical about Sulloway's ideas. His science is shoddy, and his work has not been replicated. He published his theory in a popular book, but it has not survived the scrutiny of peer-review journals, as far as I know.

I have criticized Jared Diamond for being unscientific before, in Dec. 2007, June 2005, June 2006, April 2009, and Dec. 2002. He has won a lot of awards, but I should would not accept his opinion on whether some research has some validity.


Monday, Sep 20, 2010
 
Early acceptance of special relativity
S. G. Brush supplies this comment on acceptance of Einstein's 1905 relativity paper in England:
derived from their adherence to the formal school of [Joseph] Larmor’s ETM [Electronic Theory of Matter]. They fully accepted the reality of the contraction of moving matter, and routinely applied the Lorentz transformations, in Lar- mor’s sense, when tackling problems in the electrodynamics of moving bodies. We should not, then, be surprised that they did not identify Einstein’s work as representing any kind of important break-through or advance in physics, but treated it rather as a comparatively minor philosophical gloss upon one of the important results of the ETM. [Stephen G. Brush, Why was Relativity Accepted?, Phys. perspect. 1 (1999) 184–214]
I think that was the view elsewhere as well. No one was so impressed with Einstein's 1905 paper until after other versions of special relativity were popularized.

Here he explains that Einstein's theory was supposed to be better because it was less ad hoc:

The preference for novel predictions is often associated or confused with the dislike of ad hoc hypotheses. For example, G. F. FitzGerald explained the nega- tive result of the Michelson-Morley experiment by postulating that ‘‘the length of material bodies changes, according as they are moving through the ether or across it,’’ by an amount just sufficient to cancel the expected differences in the times for the light beams to travel the paths along and perpendicular to the earth’s motion.7

A similar assumption was later made by H. A. Lorentz as part of his electron theory. The FitzGerald-Lorentz contraction (FLC) was considered ad hoc by physicists because it was not derived from a plausible theory. It is considered ad hoc by philosophers of science because it is not independently testable by any experiment other than the one it was invented to explain. Thus many physicists considered that Einstein’s theory was preferable to Lorentz’s because it explained the FLC by deriving it from general postulates.

No, this is incorrect. The contraction was considered ad hoc because, as of 1900, Lorentz and Larmor had only shown that it explains the first-order aether drift experiments, and not Michelson-Morley. Lorentz did not demonstrate the higher order invariance until 1904. Larmor is said to have discovered it also, but did not publish it. By 1905, it was not an issue, and Einstein's 1905 paper had no such advantage over the previous work.

Einstein once complained that Lorentz's theory was ad hoc, but Einstein was dishonestly ignoring the 1904 work.

Brush says that Einstein's theory was preferable to Lorentz's because of the use of postulates instead of an ad hoc Michelson-Morley. This idea is commonly stated by physicists and philosophers. And it is nonsense. No one ever said anything so ridiculous around 1905. This idea was only cooked up many years later in order try to find some explanation for Einstein having done something better than the previous work. But Einstein's theory was just as ad hoc as Lorentz's.

FitzGerald, Lorentz, and Einstein all deduced the length contraction in the same way -- as a logical consequence of the speed of light being constant for all observers. Einstein had no plausible theory other than what others had already published.

It is also incorrect to say that there was no independent test of Lorentz's theory. His prediction of electron mass increase with velocity was already being successfully tested in 1901, long before Einstein first said anything on the subject in 1905.

Brush goes on to kookier theories:

Why would a particular physicist tend to accept or reject an idea because it is revolutionary? We might find an answer to this question in Frank Sulloway’s study of openness to scientific innovation. Based on analysis of 308 scientists whose positions on relativity before 1930 are known, Sulloway concluded that age is a strong predictor of tendency to accept Einstein’s theories, while social attitudes and birth order are moderately good predictors: young, more liberal scientists who were the second or later child in their family were statistically more likely to support relativity. ...

Sulloway, in his analysis of the response of first-born and later-born scientists to radical innovations, found that the correlation between birth order and acceptance of relativity was much weaker after 1915 than it had been before the publication of the general theory. He suggests that ‘‘the eclipse results of 1919 caused empirical arguments to uncouple from ideological ones.’’

This article lists Poincare as someone who rejected relativity!

These folks completely misunderstand the innovation of relativity, its scientific merits, and who did what. They think that acceptance and rejection of relativity was entirely or mostly ideological. If they were deciding whether to accept or reject relativity based on ideology and birth order, then they sure were not very good scientists.

I guess the point is that science is just a big game, with scientists jumping on new ideas like fads in the world of clothing fashions. Their main example is always Einstein, because he did so little of substance. It does not matter to them what Einstein really did, because they see his role as leading an ideological shift. He is primarily credited for his ideology, not his science.

Brush also has this amazing story about letters between FitzGerald and Lorentz. FitzGerald published his famous contraction hypothesis in a leading American science journal in 1889, but it went unnoticed by relativity historians for decades. It did not even appear in a compilation of his complete works. Apparently FitzGerald's ideas spread by word of mouth in Europe in the early 1990s, and started to get cited in papers around 1992.


Saturday, Sep 18, 2010
 
Galileo was wrong
Andrew Sullivan is upset by an upcoming conference on Galileo was wrong, promoting geocentrim. The organizers have a book out on the subject, and it seems to be more theology than science.

A lot of nonsense gets said on the subject of geocentrism. It has been going on for centuries, so I doubt that it will end any time soon. Here is the scientific conventional wisdom.

The theory of relativity teaches that motion is relative, and we only know how to define motion relative to some frame of reference. Special relativity required inertial frames, but general relativity can handle any frame, including one that is rotating or revolving.

Thus you can write the laws of physics relative to the frame of the Earth, and the Earth will be stationary in that frame. That frames is as valid as any other. This view has been widely accepted for a century.

About 10 years ago, the velocity of the cosmic microwave background (CMB) radiation was measured. You can think of the CMB as being the center of mass of the big bang. The CMB is therefore a natural frame for anyone in the universe to use, and we can now give a velocity for the Earth, the Sun, the Milky Way, and other galaxies.

The Catholic Church's opinion in 1616 was that Galileo could teach geocentrism and heliocentrism, but it was incorrect to say that the immobility of the Sun had been proven. The Church was quite correct about that, as relativity shows that the immobility of the Sun cannot be proven.

Geocentric coordinates are still used today when convenient, just as they were two millennia ago. There is nothing wrong about them, either then or now.

The funny thing about this subject is how people are so eager to ridicule others as being stupid, and yet they do not acknowledge basic facts about the matter that have been known for centuries.

The Bad Astronomer makes some of these points, and says:

I have two things to say that might surprise you: first, geocentrism is a valid frame of reference, and second, heliocentrism is not any more or less correct. ...

However, as soon as you want to send a space probe to another planet, geocentrism becomes cumbersome. In that case, it’s far easier to use the Sun as the center of the Universe and measure the rotating and revolving Earth as just another planet. The math works out better, and in fact it makes more common sense.

However, this frame of reference, called heliocentrism, still is not the best frame for everything. ...

So geocentrism is valid, but so is every other frame. This is the very basis of relativity! ...

In the end, the actual evidence is totally against the Geocentrists. The only way — the only way — they can assert their idea being factual is to rely on the Bible itself, and ignore everything else.

His evidence consists of saying that geocentric calculations are more complicated for some purposes. The whol point of choosing a frame is that different frames are simpler and more convenient, depending on the purpose of the calculation.

The Bad Astronomer says that he had to consult a relativist to get this right. But really, this is has been a basic premise of relativity for a long time. Of course he attacks the Geocentrists for believing in the Bible, and for overstating their case if they say that there is physical proof of an immobile Earth.

Meanwhile, a senior Vatican astronomer says that "the idea that God could be discovered in the laws of space and time and the existence of human reason" is bad theology because "it turns God once again into the pagan god of thunder and lightning." He is open to space aliens and whatever else science may discover.


Friday, Sep 17, 2010
 
Poincaré anticipated the so-called Minkowski space-time
Jean Mawhin writes, in a 2005 biography of Poincare:
Among other things, he carefully discussed Hertz’s experiments on the propagation of elec- tromagnetic waves and the beginnings of wireless telegraphy. His books on Maxwell theory contain the germs of special relativity and led him to analyze, correct, and name the Lorentz transformations. Poincaré published in 1905 a note (followed by an extended memoir) on the dynamics of the elec- tron, containing the whole mathematics of special relativity. Historians of science still passionately discuss the priority between Einstein and Poincaré, and if one follows some recent publications, one might conclude that Hercule Poireau might be the only one able to uncover the whole story. Curiously, the mathematician Poincaré reached relativistic kinematics via Maxwell’s electromagnetic theory, while the physicist Einstein used an axiomatic method. But it is unquestionable that Poincaré an- ticipated the so-called Minkowski space-time.
This suggests that Einstein actually proved something in a mathematically rigorous way. He did not. Even tho many textbooks purport to reproduce Einstein's 1905 theory, with his postulates and deductions, none do it correctly. They rarely say that Einstein has hidden assumptions, such as spacetime being homogeneous and isotropic, and confusing reasoning. More importantly, no one correctly explains how Einstein's work is any better than Lorentz's 1895 theorem of the corresponding states. If Einstein really used an axiomatic method, then it would be clear what he had proved.

This also suggests that Poincare's assumptions were more electromagnetic than Einstein's. They were not. Einstein described his assumptions this way in 1905:

I based that investigation on the Maxwell-Hertz equations for empty space, together with the Maxwellian expression for the electromagnetic energy of space, and in addition the principle that:--

The laws by which the states of physical systems alter are independent of the alternative, to which of two systems of coordinates, in uniform motion of parallel translation relatively to each other, these alterations of state are referred (principle of relativity).

In effect, he assumed Maxwell's equations as well as the covariance of those equations.

By contrast, Poincare assumed a spacetime geometry, and proved the electromagnetic covariance.

I don't know how anyone could study this and say that there is any mystery about it. There are no significant facts in dispute. Just read the papers.


Wednesday, Sep 15, 2010
 
Einstein's philosophy of science
John D. Norton is a philosophy professor and Einstein expert, and says this:
What is less well recognized is how Einstein's work altered our understanding of the nature of science itself. ...

The most enduring change brought by Einstein's work was to shake our sense of certainty. When Einstein entered science at the start of the 20th century, there was a strong sense of its stability. ...

Later in life, Einstein came to a radical solution of the problem of responsibly practicing science while still believing that its core concepts are free inventions. Drawing on his discovery of general relativity, he concluded that the right concepts and theories could be found merely by seeking the mathematically simplest theories.

A philosophy site says:
Albert Einstein (1879-1955) is well known as the most prominent physicist of the twentieth century. Less well known, though of comparable importance, are his contributions to twentieth-century philosophy of science.
No, Einstein had no coherent philosophy of science, and no lasting influence on philosophy.

He occasionally endorsed the philosophies of others, such as Mach's and Poincare's. But he had no consistent explanation of what he meant. He gave philosophical attacks on quantum mechanics and other physical theories, but he was nearly always wrong with those arguments, and had to retract most of them. He often said obvious truisms, such as simplicity being a good property of a theory, but that has been conventional wisdom for centuries. Today, there is no Einstein philosophy that anyone uses for anything. Just read the above page.

What is not so clear is whether he subscribed to scientific realism or anti-realism; whether his search for a Unified field theory was a byproduct of monism; and whether he followed conventionalism or positivism.


Tuesday, Sep 14, 2010
 
SciAm trashes Hawking book
John Horgan writes for SciAm:
Actually M-theory is just the latest iteration of string theory, with membranes (hence the M) substituted for strings. For more than two decades string theory has been the most popular candidate for the unified theory that Hawking envisioned 30 years ago. Yet this popularity stems not from the theory's actual merits but rather from the lack of decent alternatives and the stubborn refusal of enthusiasts to abandon their faith.

M-theory suffers from the same flaws that string theories did. First is the problem of empirical accessibility. Membranes, like strings, are supposedly very, very tiny -— as small compared with a proton as a proton is compared with the solar system. This is the so-called Planck scale, 10^–33 centimeters. Gaining the kind of experimental confirmation of membranes or strings that we have for, say, quarks would require a particle accelerator 1,000 light-years around, scaling up from our current technology. Our entire solar system is only one light-day around, and the Large Hadron Collider, the world's most powerful accelerator, is 27 kilometers in circumference.

Hawking recognized long ago that a final theory -— because it would probably involve particles at the Planck scale -— might never be experimentally confirmable. "It is not likely that we shall have accelerators powerful enough" to test a unified theory "within the foreseeable future—or indeed, ever," he said in his 1980 speech at Cambridge. He nonetheless hoped that in lieu of empirical evidence physicists would discover a theory so logically inevitable that it excluded all alternatives.

Quite the opposite has happened. M-theory, theorists now realize, comes in an almost infinite number of versions, which "predict" an almost infinite number of possible universes.

Horgan is right. He charitably suggests that Hawking is joking with the more foolish statements in his new book.

M-theory promoter Lubos Motl responds by launching an attack on Horgan's IQ. If M-theorists really had such an IQ, then you would think that they could defend theory from criticism. But all I ever see are ad hominem attacks.


Saturday, Sep 11, 2010
 
Epicycles and electrons are real
The 1911 edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica defines:
EPICYCLE (Gr. Esri, upon, and icbsXos, circle), in ancient astronomy, a small circle the centre of which describes a larger one. It was especially used to represent geometrically the periodic apparent retrograde motion of the outer planets, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn, which we now know to be due to the annual revolution of the earth around the sun, but which in the Ptolemaic astronomy were taken to be real.
This is fine right up to the last word, "real". What does it mean?

This is like defining an electron as a negatively-charged subatomic particle which we now know to be due to the quantization of electromagnetic fields, but which in the 1913 Bohr atomic model were taken to be real.

Or like defining an elliptical orbit as an elongated circle used to represent geometrically the periodic apparent motion of the planets, which we now know to be due to the curvature of spacetime, but which in the Keplerian and Newtonian astronomy were taken to be real.

Epicycles have gotten a reputation for bad science, as I have commented before, but they were actually great scientific breakthrus. Without them, civilization would have been set back centuries.

Ptolemy also used epicycles for the Moon, Mercury, and Venus. This use of epicycles is more obviously valid, so it is not criticized so much. Criticizing Ptolemaic astronnomers for thinking that Martian epicycles were "real" is bizarre. Mars really has a periodic apparent retrograde motion as viewed from Earth, and epicycles are as real as any other geometric construction.

Hawking's new book, The Grand Design, mentioned below, has a chapter on reality. It describes the conflict between the realists, who believe that science describes an objective reality, and the anti-realists, who say that the world may all be just a figment of our imaginations.

The book tries to convince you that epicycles and the aether were not real. It blames Ptolemy and Lorentz for thinking that they were real, and praises Copernicus and Einstein as great geniuses for proposing otherwise.

Meanwhile it presents quantum mechanical arguments that seem to contradict naive ideas about reality. While it seems that the book has descended into philosophical mumbo-jumbo, it starts by declaring that philosophy to be dead, and that physicists have taken over the subject from the philosophers.

The book is still topping the Amazon top seller list. I just don't see how the arguments in this book would convince anyone. I hope to quiz people who have actually read it.

The book does have critics, such as Marcelo Gleiser who writes:

The search for an all-embracing theory of nature inspired by beauty and perfection is misguided, rooted in the monotheistic culture that has for so long dominated Western thought.

Superstring theory, and the widespread belief that it represents the truth of all existence, is the scientific equivalent of a Jewish-Christian-Muslim God that designed the cosmos, a theory based on mathematical symmetry as an expression of nature’s perfection. Even if God is hidden from the equations (and He certainly is), the mythic equivalent of “all is one” persists.

Yes, the main idea behind this book is seriously misguided.

Thursday, Sep 09, 2010
 
Evolutionists take Bible too literally
Leftist-atheist-evolutionists frequently attack a literal interpretation of the Bible. Jason Rosenhouse writes:

For example, consider the book Reading the Bible Again for the First Time: Taking the Bible Seriously but not Literally, by Marcus Borg, published in 2001. According to the back of the book, Borg is a professor of religion and culture at Oregon State University.

... Here is Borg's summary of the modern consensus among Biblical scholars:

But contemporary biblical scholarship does not read these stories as historically factual accounts of the world's beginnings. Instead, it sees them as ancient Israel's stories of the world's beginnings and interprets them as profoundly true mythological stories. ...

Second, to call these early chapters of Genesis prehistory means that they are not to be read as historical accounts. Rather, as ancient Israel's stories about the remote beginnings before there was an Israel, they are to be read as a particular kind of metaphorical narrative -- namely as myths, about which I will soon say more. For now, I simply note that while myths are not literally true, they can nevertheless be profoundly true, rich in powerfully persuasive meanings.

Finally, what really strikes me is Borg's insistence that these stories are not intended as historical narratives. This, too, is ubiquitous in the writings of Biblical scholars, ...
Borg is correct. Mainstream Christian theology has never said that a literal reading of Genesis should outweigh scientific evidence. As a comment on an evolutionist blog explains:
So there is at least some truth to the idea that fundamentalist literalism is a relatively recent development, although there were signs of it throughout the Middle Ages, often brutally suppressed. But the idea of completely literal interpretation is a fairly late development, the church reserving to itself the judgement as to which portions should be read literally, and which should be read allegorically and figuratively. ... But, of course, the whole Bible was held to be revelatory of God’s nature and purposes for mankind.
I don't mind the evolutionists attacking people for their religious beliefs. They can burn Bibles, for all I care. But they are making a silly straw man attack when they treat all Christians as believing in a literal interpretation of Genesis.

Wednesday, Sep 08, 2010
 
More reviews trash Hawking's new book
I commented before about Hawking's new book. It is getting a lot more attention. It is intended as a sequel to one of the best-selling science books of all time. The NY Times reviews it:
Many Kinds of Universes, and None Require God

Stephen Hawking, the most revered scientist since Einstein, is a formidable mathematician and a formidable salesman. ...

Mr. Hawking’s “Brief History of Time,” published in 1988, sold some nine million copies. (A typical science best seller will move a tiny fraction of that number.) It did so partly by leaning on his preoccupying personal story. ...

In “A Brief History of Time” Mr. Hawking also dabbled in what the science writer Timothy Ferris has called “Godmongering.” Mr. Hawking, a longtime professor of mathematics at Cambridge University, has hardly displayed a religious bent during his long career. (A memoir by his former wife outed him as an atheist.) But he ended “Brief History” by declaring that the discovery of a unified theory of physics could help us to “know the mind of God.” It was a line that — cynically, some thought — allowed glints of fuzzy sunshine to warm the cold blade of his thinking.

Mr. Hawking’s new book, “The Grand Design,” published on Tuesday, has already made headlines and been a trending topic on Twitter, thanks to a different sort of Godmongering. This time Mr. Hawking has, we’re told, declared God pretty much dead. ...

At its core “The Grand Design” is an examination of a relatively new candidate for the “ultimate theory of everything,” something called M-theory, itself an extension of string theory, which tries to reconcile general relativity and quantum mechanics. “M-theory is not a theory in the usual sense,” the authors write. “It is a whole family of different theories.” According to M-theory, “ours is not the only universe,” the authors say. “Instead M-theory predicts that a great many universes were created out of nothing.” The image that comes to mind here, others have written about M-theory, is of a God blowing soap bubbles.

But Mr. Hawking and Mr. Mlodinow assert that “their creation does not require the intervention of some supernatural being or god. Rather, these multiple universes arise naturally from physical law. They are a prediction of science.” Many of these universes would be quite different from ours, they add, and “quite unsuitable for the existence of any form of life,” or at least any form of life remotely like ours.

M-theory, if it is confirmed, would be “the unifying theory Einstein was hoping to find,” the authors write. But it’s a somewhat disappointing theory, a patchwork quilt rather than a fine, seamless garment.

Peter Woit's review is much more critical:
One thing that is sure to generate sales for a book of this kind is to somehow drag in religion. The book’s rather conventional claim that “God is unnecessary” for explaining physics and early universe cosmology has provided a lot of publicity for the book. I’m in favor of naturalism and leaving God out of physics as much as the next person, but if you’re the sort who wants to go to battle in the science/religion wars, why you would choose to take up such a dubious weapon as M-theory mystifies me. A British journalist contacted me about this recently and we talked about M-theory and its problems. She wanted me to comment on whether physicists doing this sort of thing are relying upon “faith” in much the same way as religious believers. I stuck to my standard refusal to get into such discussions, but, thinking about it, have to admit that the kind of pseudo-science going on here and being promoted in this book isn’t obviously any better than the faith-based explanations of how the world works favored by conventional religions.
Roger Penrose concludes his review with:
unlike quantum mechanics, M-theory enjoys no observational support whatever.
This book has been the Amazon top seller for a week. It is as ridiculous as a college class on zombies:
Students taking English 333 will watch 16 classic zombie films and read zombie comics. As an alternative to a final research paper they may write scripts or draw storyboards for their ideal zombie flicks.
The leftist-atheist-evolutionists love to go around denouncing the evils of pseudoscience, and lecturing us on the merits of the scientific method. If they really believed that, then they could start by denouncing Hawking's crackpot book.

Update: Lawrence Krauss is promoting his own book, and adds:

Physicist Stephen Hawking has done it again. This time he's sent shock waves around the world by arguing that God didn't create the universe; it was created spontaneously. Shocking or not, he actually understated the case.

For over 2,000 years the question "Why is there something rather than nothing?" has captured theologians and philosophers. While usually framed as a religious or philosophical question, it is equally a question about the natural world. So an appropriate place to try and resolve it is with science.

NewScientist says:
M-theory in either sense is far from complete. But that doesn't stop the authors from asserting that it explains the mysteries of existence: why there is something rather than nothing, why this set of laws and not another, and why we exist at all. According to Hawking, enough is known about M-theory to see that God is not needed to answer these questions. Instead, string theory points to the existence of a multiverse, and this multiverse coupled with anthropic reasoning will suffice. Personally, I am doubtful.
The Wash. Post reviews:
Deep stuff, indeed. In the first chapter, Hawking and Mlodinow launch into an accessible and elegant history of the progression of scientific knowledge from the Greeks to modern cosmology. As is customary in such treatments, the authors point out the significance of certain milestones. The first of these, the realization by the Ionian Greeks that nature could be explained by laws rather than by the whims of the gods, is really the start of modern science. The second, the discovery by Copernicus that the Earth is not at the center of the universe, opened the door for a realistic exploration of our solar system and, later, our galaxy and universe. ...

In other words, not only is the Earth just one of several planets in our solar system and the Milky Way one of billions of galaxies, but our known universe itself is just one among uncounted billions of universes. It's a startling replay of the Copernican Revolution.


Monday, Sep 06, 2010
 
Hoping for a final theory
The latest SciAm mag says:
Rummaging for a Final Theory: Can a 1960s Approach Unify Gravity with the Rest of Physics?

To unify the four forces of nature, physicists are turning to Lie groups, an approach famously resurrected in 2007 by a surfer-dude theorist

Turning the clock back by half a century could be the key to solving one of science’s biggest puzzles: how to bring together gravity and particle physics. At least that is the hope of researchers advocating a back-to-basics approach in the search for a unified theory of physics.

In July mathematicians and physicists met at the Banff International Research Station in Alberta, Canada, to discuss a return to the golden age of particle physics. They were harking back to the 1960s, when physicist Murray Gell-Mann realized that elementary particles could be grouped according to their masses, charges and other properties, falling into patterns that matched complex symmetrical mathematical structures known as Lie (“lee”) groups.

No, there is a big difference. Gell-Mann was trying to explain hadrons (protons, neutrons, and more exotic particles) that had actually been observed. His predictions were testable. He predicted a particle that was soon found.

The surfer-dude and the string theorists are not doing anything related to the real world. Gell-Mann was doing science, and these modern-day unified field theorists are not. That is the difference.


Saturday, Sep 04, 2010
 
Sponges have more genes than we do
An NPR radio blog comments:
Recently, geneticists obtained a remarkable result: sponges, the oldest form of multicellular life known, can harbor between 18,000 and 30,000 genes, a range comparable to that of humans, fruit flies, roundworms, and many other animals. Since the sponge was taken from Australia’s Great Barrier Reef and I’m presently here in a conference, I felt compelled to reflect about this. Considering that sponges have been around for over 500 million years, possibly even a billion years, many scientists believe they form the base of the evolutionary branch in the tree of life that led to animals. In other words, don’t think of humans as coming from monkeys; we, and every other kind of critter out there, came from sponges, the cousins of the porous yellowy objects you use to scrub yourself in the shower.

It may be a bit strange to think of such simple beings as our ancestors. After all, sponges don’t have skin tissue or nerve cells.

We only have about 20k genes. Some plants have a lot more.
Creationists are going to love this.

“Ha!” they’ll say with glee, “how could something like this happen without the agency of purposeful engineering? Clearly, there was some serious tweaking with primitive life forms to get to this level of complexity.” I predict that the argument for the implausibility of the eye will be taken a notch further down the evolutionary ladder.

Biologists, and I hope my distinguished co-bloggers will come in to say hi and set me straight, should easily dismiss any of this nonsense. There is something fundamentally perverse in using scientific evidence at hand as proof of a final argument.

It is funny how evolutionists get upset when their ideological opponents use scientific evidence.

Assuming that life on Earth evolved gradually from non-living chemicals, then I figure that we had an ancestor with only 10k genes, and that had one with only 1k genes, and so on down to some primitive life form with only a few genes. We should be able to find ancient life forms with very low gene counts. Apparently not. These ancient sponges have a lot of genes.

It seems also possible that we are descended from beings that did not have genes as we know them today. I have no idea how that would work.

It would be nice if the evolutionists could admit that they have no idea what early life on Earth was like, and if they were not always worrying about encouraging creationists.


Friday, Sep 03, 2010
 
Objecting to the word theory
A Slashdot comment says:
Actually, it seems to me like we don't call those grand-unified things a proper scientific theory either. As long as there are no testable predictions, and it fails Occam's Razor, it's not a theory, plain and simple. It's a hypothesis.

Yes, there is a name for a theory which hasn't yet been tested: hypothesis.

And really, as someone who's gotten tired of hearing Young Earth Creationists go "well, evolution is just a theory" and having to explain to them "yeah, but theory in science doesn't mean what you think. It means it already made testable predictions and is the best we have"... it's getting annoying to see that a whole bunch of physicists are actually using it exactly as the YECs and conspiracy theorists think: as just an untested and untestable supposition, which may or may not actually hold any water at all.

Yes, I realize that calling it a "theory" is more science-y sounding and good for your funding. But it devalues the whole idea of science for everyone. If we accept that some untested and untestable calculation is just as worthy of being called a "theory" with a straight face as GR or electromagnetism just because it's the pet supposition of some physicist, then basically why wouldn't Behe's pencils-up-the-nose ID idiocies be a "theory" too? I mean Behe _is_ a professor of biochemistry.

Call it the String Hypothesis, and you'd see a lot less complaints, basically.

No, this is not correct. A hypothesis is a scientific statement, possibly generalized from observations, which is subject to verification or falsification by experiment. There is no String Hypothesis.

This comment is an attempt by leftist-atheist-evolutionists to re-define the word theory in order to score some debating points with creationists. The word has been in common use for centuries, and there is little chance that everyone is going to change in order to justify censoring the ideas of an obscure biochemist.

Use of the word theory in string theory is consistent with many other usages of the terms, as you can see from examples in the dictionary.


Thursday, Sep 02, 2010
 
Hawking and the Big Bang machine
Stephen Hawking is promoting his new book, and says:
In 1915, Albert Einstein's general theory of relativity solved the conundrum: space and time were not fixed backgrounds to events, but dynamic entities. And, just as there is no point further south than the South Pole, time cannot exist outside the universe. But there was a problem: Einstein's idea, which describes the very large, does not fit with the other pillar of 20th century physics - quantum theory - which describes the very small.
No, Einstein thought in 1915 that the universe had no beginning or end. Theory and evidence for a finite age of the universe came about ten years later, and Einstein did not believe until after most other astrophysicists did.

Saying that "time cannot exist outside the universe" has nothing to do with relativity, or even with science at all. There is nothing that anyone can do to prove that statement true or false. You can believe it, or disbelieve it, regardless of whether you believe in relativity.

There is also no known conflict between "Einstein's idea" and quantum mechanics. In 1915, Einstein was trying to explain the planet Mercury's perihelion doing extra revolution once every million years.

Some have asked if turning on the LHC could produce some disastrous, unexpected result. Indeed, some theories of spacetime suggest the particle collisions might create mini black holes. If that happened, I have proposed that these black holes would radiate particles and disappear. If we saw this at the LHC, it would open up a new area of physics, and I might even win a Nobel prize. But I'm not holding my breath.
No, I am not holding my breath either. No one is ever going to create a black hole in a particle accelerator, and Hawking is never going to get a Nobel prize.

Hawking seems to have reversed himself about whether God created the universe. Now he says that cosmology supports atheism.

The new book is The Grand Design.


Wednesday, Sep 01, 2010
 
Quantum crypto broken again
Nature mag reports:
Quantum hackers have performed the first 'invisible' attack on two commercial quantum cryptographic systems. By using lasers on the systems — which use quantum states of light to encrypt information for transmission — they have fully cracked their encryption keys, yet left no trace of the hack.

Quantum cryptography is often touted as being perfectly secure. It is based on the principle that you cannot make measurements of a quantum system without disturbing it. So, in theory, it is impossible for an eavesdropper to intercept a quantum encryption key without disrupting it in a noticeable way, triggering alarm bells.

Vadim Makarov at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim and his colleagues have now cracked it. "Our hack gave 100% knowledge of the key, with zero disturbance to the system," he says.

You can get the details here. This sounds like a repeat from 2007, when I reported a previous break.

The claims that quantum crypto is provably secure are bogus, as I have argued here, here, here, and here. The whole field seems to suffer misunderstandings about what both quantum mechanics and cryptography are all about.

Bruce Schneier tries to explain this by saying:

Just because something is secure in theory doesn't mean it's secure in practice. Or, to put it more cleverly: in theory, theory and practice are the same; but in practice, they're very different.
No, that is the wrong lesson. There are plenty of good cryptographic methods that are secure in theory and secure in practice. Quantum cryptography only promises security in some idealized model that has no obvious applicability to the real world. Its proponents claim that it is more secure than anything else. But nobody should rely on this to protect any valuable data.

Tuesday, Aug 31, 2010
 
Renewed controversy over group selection
Evolutionists have never been able to agree on whether evolution works entirely on the gene level, as Richard Dawkins claims, or whether it also works on the group level. I've mentioned this issue before here and here.

Now the NY Times reports:

Why are worker ants sterile? Why do birds sometimes help their parents raise more chicks, instead of having chicks of their own? Why do bacteria explode with toxins to kill rival colonies? In 1964, the British biologist William Hamilton published a landmark paper to answer these kinds of questions. Sometimes, he argued, helping your relatives can spread your genes faster than having children of your own.

For the past 46 years, biologists have used Dr. Hamilton’s theory to make sense of how animal societies evolve. They’ve even applied it to the evolution of our own species. But in the latest issue of the journal Nature, a team of prominent evolutionary biologists at Harvard try to demolish the theory.

The scientists argue that studies on animals since Dr. Hamilton’s day have failed to support it. The scientists write that a close look at the underlying math reveals that Dr. Hamilton’s theory is superfluous. “It’s precisely like an ancient epicycle in the solar system,” said Martin Nowak, a co-author of the paper with Edward O. Wilson and Corina Tarnita. “The world is much simpler without it.”

No, the ancient epicycles were not superfluous, and the world is not simpler without them. The epicycles were invented to describe the apparent retrograde motion of Mars and other planets, The epicycle corresponds to the revolution of the Earth. There is no simpler system for describing that motion, than using an epicycle or something equivalent to represent the Earth's orbit.

Richard Dawkins sticks to his position:

Edward Wilson was misunderstanding kin selection as far back as Sociobiology, where he treated it as a subset of group selection (Misunderstanding Two of my 'Twelve Misunderstandings of Kin Selection': Zeitschrift für Tierpsychologie 1979). Kin selection is not a subset of group selection, it is a logical consequence of gene selection. And gene selection is (everything that Nowak et al ought to mean by) 'standard natural selection' theory: has been ever since the neo-Darwinian synthesis of the 1930s.
It is funny to see Dawkins so ideologically committed to being against group selection. He hates the theory of ethnic nepotism, for political reasons.
Richard Dawkins’ tremendous career as a science journalist has been built on his talent at translating Hamilton’s formulas into engaging prose. But he has long denied the possibility of ethnic nepotism, even though Hamilton had published an elaborate model of it the year before Dawkins published The Selfish Gene.
E. O. Wilson renounced what he previously called a paradigm shift:
I gave up. I was a convert and put myself in Hamilton's hands. I had undergone what historians of science call a paradigm shift.
Be wary of any scientist claiming to follow a paradigm shift. That means that there is no empirical proof that the new theory is any better than the old one, but he is following it like a fad anyway. In this case, he later decided that the paradigm shift was contrary to the evidence.

Monday, Aug 30, 2010
 
String theory has petered out
Amanda Peet describes string theory in this video of a lecture to a Canadian atheist group.

Her claim that string theory is falsifiable (1:20) is refuted here. She also says that they are waiting on results from the LHC, but cannot say what. She also promotes string theory in a 2003 interview.

Don't miss her arrogant answers and non-answers to questions at the end. When asked for some empirical evidence (1:21), like the starlight deflection for general relativity, she said quantum gravity and black hole entropy. She keeps asking "what's the standard of proof", even tho the questioner clearly says that he is looking for a measurement like the starlight deflection. She also made the usual ad hominem attacks against those who disagree with her.

She makes a reference to the possibility that string theory might "peter out", but it is not clear whether anyone understood this as a pun on her name. My guess is that the audience of skeptics were not too impressed, if they were really skeptics.


Tuesday, Aug 24, 2010
 
Does the past exist yet?
Robert Lanza writes:
Recent discoveries require us to rethink our understanding of history. "The histories of the universe," said renowned physicist Stephen Hawking "depend on what is being measured, contrary to the usual idea that the universe has an objective observer-independent history."

Is it possible we live and die in a world of illusions? Physics tells us that objects exist in a suspended state until observed, when they collapse in to just one outcome. Paradoxically, whether events happened in the past may not be determined until sometime in your future -- and may even depend on actions that you haven't taken yet.

In 2002, scientists carried out an amazing experiment, which showed that particles of light

I think that these articles are nonsense. It says:
It turns out that what the observer decided at that point, determined what the particle actually did at the fork in the past.
We do not know that there is any such thing as a particle. We only know that there are mysterious fields that look like particles when we make observations. Some when someone makes a claim about what "the particle actually did", he is choosing some interpretation of quantum mechanics, and not necessarily talking about reality. We are never sure that the particle "actually did" anything.

12 interpretations of QM are listed here. To say that these are interpretations means that no known experiment can prove that any one of them is more correct than any other.

So when you read some article that claims that some new experiment has demonstrated some metaphysical consequence of QM, the first question is whether the experiment proved the impossibility of any of those 12 interpretations. If so, then give that guy a Nobel prize. If not, then he is just elaborating some interpretation that is contrary to interpretations promoted by others. If the article does not even mention which interpretation it is talking about, then it may not have even considered the possibility that another interpretation might have a radically different conclusion.

As for whether others would agree with my response, I guess I am subscribing to Poincare's conventionalism. Others might be more realist, and insist that physics tell us what is really going on. They would be more likely to adopt one of those QM interpretations, and insist that the others are wrong and need not be discussed.

Einstein is supposed to be a great philosopher of science, but his opinions on thie subject are incoherent. Sometimes he claimed to be a conventionalist, and sometimes not.

The Lorentz contraction of special relativity had two interpretations -- that changes in the electromagnetic fields cause the molecules of the measuring rod to move closer together, or that space itself is contracting. I say that both interpretations are valid, and it is meaningless to say that one is more correct than the other.

In reading Einstein-related works, I have found that hardly anyone recognizes the simple fact that both interpretations are valid. Everyone acts as if it is obvious that Einstein's big breakthru was to disover the 2nd interpretation, while Lorentz had the 1st. However I say that Einstein never said anything of the kind, until well after Minkowski gave that 2nd interpretation in 1908. Furthermore, no one before about 1910 ever credited Einstein with having an interpretation of the contraction that was different from Lorentz. Einstein's famous 1905 paper talks about measuring rods contracting, but conspicuously avoids saying anything about why they contract.

NewScientist mag says

Is quantum theory weird enough for the real world?

Our most successful theory of nature is bewilderingly remote from reality. But fixing that may require a weirder theory still

Lubos Motl responds:
How it can be "bewilderingly remote from reality" if it is our most successful theory of Nature? It just doesn't make sense. A theory's proximity to reality is defined by its ability to successfully and accurately reproduce and predict the information about the relevant class of phenomena and objects. So it is just a logical contradiction for a successful theory of Nature to be "remote from reality".

Moreover, as long as one is doing science, there is no justification for attempts to "fix" a theory that agrees with all the observations and works perfectly consistently at the mathematical level, too.

He has a followup here.

Yes, the complaints about quantum reality are complaints that the theory has multiple interpretations. This much of Motl's rant is correct, altho he has his own goofy ideas about fixing quantum mechanics with string theory.


Monday, Aug 23, 2010
 
First They Came For The Climate Scientists
Nobel Bank of Sweden prize-winner and NY Times columnist Paul Krugman writes:
Everyone knows that the American right has problems with science that yields conclusions it doesn’t like. Climate science — which says that we face a huge global externality that requires not just government intervention, but coordinated international action (black helicopters!) has been the target of a sustained, and unfortunately largely successful, attempt to damage its credibility.
No, this is quite wrong. There is no climate science that requires any government intervention or international action.

The IPCC report does predict that sea level will right about two feet in the next century, in addition to the foot it rose in the last century. I accept this as a valid scientific prediction that is likely to come true, but it says nothing about the necessity of the drastic actions that Krugman supports.

An externality is economics jargon for a side effect. It means that when we buy gasoline and other fossil fuels, the price does not include the possible adverse effects of the resulting carbon dioxide. The increased CO2 will surely make some people better off and some people worse off. The statement that we face an externality has no scientific content; it is just a statement about how gasoline is priced.

But it doesn’t stop there. We should not forget that much of the right is deeply hostile to the theory of evolution.

And now there’s a new one (to me, anyway; maybe it’s been out there all along): it turns out that, according to Conservapedia, the theory of relativity is a liberal plot.

You may think that Krugman's main problem is that he expresses opinions outside of his expertise, but he says silly things in his own field of economics, as Steve Landsburg frequently points out.

My guess is that the Conservapedia editors will see this Krugman column as just another example of dogmatic knee-jerk leftists rushing to the defense of evolution and relativity, without much apparent understanding of what either theory is about. Climate science is important to justify expanded government powers and coordinated international action. But why does he care about evolution and relativity? It does not seem to be the science, so what is it?

The title is a Nazi name-calling analogy from Krugman. It is an example of Godwin's law, which points out how online discussions degenerate into Nazi analogies. As a comment points out, Krugman paraphrases a famous quote that starts, "They came first for the Communists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist.

Another comment mentions this blog.


Saturday, Aug 21, 2010
 
Get the buzz
The word buzz is one of the hardest hangman words. Only jazz and maybe some obscure words are harder, depending on how many guesses are allowed.

You can also get the hot news from Yahoo buzz, or subscribe to my wisdom on Google Buzz. The origin of dark buzz is explained here.


Friday, Aug 20, 2010
 
No way it came from an ape
The NY Times ethicist is presented with this problem:
As I was wired up and moved to the treadmill, the technician said that she was fascinated with the heart, had studied it and knew that “there is no way it came from an ape.” Then she added, “Only divine creation could have created such an organ.”
His advice is that she has an ethical obligation to report the technician to her boss!

The comment does not make much sense, as apes have hearts also. But it is a little bizarre to advocate actively trying to punish folks who don't believe in evolution.

Maybe 30% of the population does not believe that we came from apes. Get over it.


Thursday, Aug 19, 2010
 
Replace liberals with Jews
A Jewish site argues (also here) this:
Now a new generation of Einstein deniers, including some Holocaust revisionists, are launching attacks, simultaneously rejecting Einstein’s science and accusing him of stealing his ideas from others.

They point to the published work of French physicist Jules Henri Poincare and Dutch physicist Hendrik Antoon Lorentz, which preceded Einstein’s publication by several years. These men were superb physicists (Lorentz won a Nobel Prize) and they had thought about relativity, but neither made the huge leap in imagination Einstein did, although Poincare came close and probably did influence him.

Lorentz had these huge leaps: length contraction, local time, explaining Michelson-Morley with transformations of Maxwell's equations, extending that explanation to all velocities, relativistic mass.

Poincare had these huge leaps: relativity principle, relativistic clock synchronization, E = mc2, no aether, spacetime geometry, electromagnetic covariance, gravity waves.

Einstein had nothing comparable for special relativity, and just recapitulated what Lorentz and Poincare had published years earlier. I have detailed these points on this blog, such as here and here.

While there is no overt anti-Semitism in the Conservapedia entries on Einstein, the ones on relativity are redolent with the old arguments. For instance, Schlafly writes: “The theory ... is heavily promoted by liberals who like its encouragement of relativism and its tendency to mislead people in how they view the world.”

Greg Gbur, assistant professor of physics at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, argued in his blog, Skulls in the Stars, that if you “replace ‘liberals’ with ‘Jews’ in [that] sentence,” the words might as well have been written by a Nazi circa 1930s-era Germany.

Here is an example of relativity being promoted by liberals. You can also find Einstein's works on Marxist sites.

It is remarkable how strongly everyone identifies Einstein with relativity. An attack on relativity is assumed to be an attack on Einstein, and vice-versa. In reality, Conservapedia is attacking relativity and not Einstein, while I am attacking Einstein and not relativity.

There is nothing wrong with promoting relativity. I do it myself, just as I promote evolution and many other scientific ideas. There is something wrong with using it to promote a misleading world view, and to justify Nazi name-calling.

It is also very strange to see Einstein so heavily promoted for things that he did not do. The promotion is not just from Jews and liberals, but it is certainly not rooted in pure science either.

Meanwhile, physicists are expressing mixed feelings about how to react. Several refused to comment for this story because they did not want to give Schlafly credibility. But Clifford Will, professor of physics at Washington University in St. Louis, did weigh in.

“The Internet world is full of kooks and crackpots who put out all kinds of drivel. It is pointless to attempt to refute these people with evidence, because they don't believe in evidence,” Will wrote in an e-mail from Paris.

“…People may not like relativity,” he wrote, “but the experimental and observational evidence that supports it is so overwhelming that it is now a fact of the universe.”

I previously criticized Will on relativity. Will idolizes Einstein, regardless of the contrary evidence. He does not address the reasons for crediting Lorentz and Poincare, and neither do his colleagues.

The Conservapedia arguments do have some scientific weaknesses, but hardly anyone is addressing those. Mainly, liberals seem to be upset that it is challenging their cherished icon.

Another Conservapedia-hating site says this:

The page on Einstein himself also contains some amazing deprecation, mostly by Roger Schlafly, including the following astonishing paragraph:
Many ideas and quotes are falsely attributed to Einstein. He did not invent very much of we now call special relativity. The Principle of Relativity, that the law of physics should be the same in all inertial frames, had already been published before Einstein. He did not discover the Lorentz transformation, or the Lorentz invariance of Maxwell's equations for electromagnetism. He was not the first to propose that the speed of light is constant for all observers, or that the aether is superfluous and not observable. He was not the first to recognize and explain how special relativity causes an ambiguity in defining simultaneity. He did not combine space and time into a four-dimensional spacetime in his special relativity papers until others had been doing it for a couple of years.

Einstein was not the first to observe the equation E=mc2 as a consequence of special relativity, or to foresee its application to nuclear binding energies or antimatter annihilation. He did not foresee a nuclear chain reaction and had to be persuaded about the possibility of an atomic bomb.

Einstein did not originate the idea of using metric tensors to reconcile gravity with special relativity. He did not discover the Lagrangian formulation of general relativity, and was not the first to publish the field equations. He did not foresee the expansion of the universe, the possibility of black holes, or dark energy.

(In fairness, the statements in that paragraph cite (and spin) "references", which we have not included here. Feel free to look at the actual CP article [4].)

Even if absolutely true, however, one is instructed to remember that breakthroughs in science, as often as not, are in tiny increments that sometimes shift the entire course of thought in a subject, and to also remember Isaac Newton's invocation of the old statement: "If I have seen a little further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants."

I guess that he is not disputing what I say in that "astonishing paragraph". Of course it is absolutely true. If Einstein did contribute some tiny increment to special relativity, what was it? No one will say today, because his contribution was so negligible. You have to go back to the papers of 1906-09 to find physicists who tried to say accurately just what Einstein added to the theory.

Wednesday, Aug 18, 2010
 
Can quantum gravity be directly measured?
Lubos Motl says the answer is no:
Today, we still lack experimental tools to directly see some qualitative effects of quantum gravity. And chances are that we always will.
He is right. The supposed incompatibility between general relativity (gravity) and quantum mechanics is a big myth. You can say whatever you want about quantum gravity, and no experiment will test your ideas. You can test quantum mechanics, and you can test gravity. You can even test quantum effects in a weak gravity field, with effective field theory. But we cannot test the very high energy quantum gravity that the researchers are concerned with. The subject is not scientific.

Tuesday, Aug 17, 2010
 
Overselling the human genome
Here is a new interview with the man chiefly responsible for the human genome project:
In a SPIEGEL interview, genetic scientist Craig Venter discusses the 10 years he spent sequencing the human genome, why we have learned so little from it a decade on and the potential for mass production of artificial life forms that could be used to produce fuels and other resources. ...

SPIEGEL: The genome project has been called the Manhattan Project or Moon Landing of its era. It has also been said that knowledge of the genes will change the future of humanity and become a "main driver of the world economy."

Venter: Who said that? I didn't. That was the people at the consortium.

SPIEGEL: You're wrong. You made all those statements in an interview with DER SPIEGEL in 1998. ...

SPIEGEL: The decoding of your personal genome has so far revealed little more than the fact that your ear wax tends to be moist.

Venter: That's what you say. And what else have I learned from my genome? Very little. We couldn't even be certain from my genome what my eye color was. Isn't that sad? Everyone was looking for miracle 'yes/no' answers in the genome. "Yes, you'll have cancer." Or "No, you won't have cancer." But that's just not the way it is.

SPIEGEL: So the Human Genome Project has had very little medical benefits so far?

Venter: Close to zero to put it precisely. ...

We have learned a lot from the human genome, but not as much as people think.

There is still plenty of optimism:

Here's how that math works, Kurzweil explains: The design of the brain is in the genome. The human genome has three billion base pairs or six billion bits, which is about 800 million bytes before compression, he says. Eliminating redundancies and applying loss-less compression, that information can be compressed into about 50 million bytes, according to Kurzweil.

About half of that is the brain, which comes down to 25 million bytes, or a million lines of code.

This will take about a millennium, at our present rate of progress. Kurweil famously believes in the Technological singularity, where unlimited progress could occur in a couple of decades.

Meanwhile, dog breeds are determined by just few genes:

These seven locations in the dog genome explain about 80 percent of the differences in height and weight among breeds, said Carlos Bustamante, a geneticist at Stanford University and one of the study’s authors.

Monday, Aug 16, 2010
 
The cause of the pertussis epidemic
The NY Times reports:
Highly contagious, spread by coughs and sneezes, pertussis is now epidemic in California, with 2,774 confirmed cases in 2010 — a sevenfold increase from last year, putting the state on track for the worst outbreak in 50 years. Seven infants have died. ...

Another factor may be the declining use of antibiotics to treat simple coughs and colds. While doctors legitimately worry that indiscriminate use of antibiotics can lead to the development of drug-resistant bacteria, it may be that in the past the drugs inadvertently cured many cases of undiagnosed pertussis.

The rise in pertussis doesn’t seem to be related to parents’ refusing to have their children vaccinated for fear of potential side effects. In California, pertussis rates are about the same in counties with high childhood vaccination rates and low ones. And the C.D.C. reports that pertussis immunization rates have been stable or increasing since 1992.

The evolutionist and other science bloggers have been pushing pro-vaccination propaganda, and warning about the overuse of antibiotics. They even claim that people overuse antibiotics because they did not learn evolution is school. Eg, the bad astronomer says:
That’s right: an almost completely preventable disease is coming back with a roar in California.
What he does not say is that it is preventable by overusing antibiotics.

Saturday, Aug 14, 2010
 
Evidence for natural selection
Here is progress in the search for evidence of natural selection in humans:
One of the problems of these studies, as Gibbons notes, is that statistics is not sufficient to show selection: “Finally, few teams have been able to prove that a particular allele actually affects the function of a trait under selection.” I think it’s unwise to say that your case for selection is conclusive without showing that the genetic variants you’re studying make a physiological difference to their carriers. And, of course, the ultimate “proof” of selection is to connect those physiological differences to reproductive output: i.e., that there really was selection.

Gibbons talks a bit about physiological studies (there aren’t many of these), but showing that genetic variants really do affect reproductive fitness is even harder. For one thing, that selection might have occurred in our ancestors, and not be going on so much today. Or, the selection could be very weak, and, though sufficient to cause significant evolution over centuries, might be undetectable in just one or two generations of an experiment.

Note how difficult it is to prove that a specific natural selection mechanism actually happens. No one doubts that natural selection happens -- that was understood long before Darwin. The question is to determine what exactly it has to do with evolution. There is no consensus on how much evolution is caused by natural selection, and how much by genetic drift or something else.

Thursday, Aug 12, 2010
 
Conservapedia on relativity
The UK NewScientist magazine follows its previous article on relativity with this:
Despite the fact that it has passed test after test, you would be hard-pressed to find a single physicist who believes that general relativity is ultimately the correct theory of the universe. That's because it conflicts with quantum mechanics and is yet to be unified with the other three forces of nature. A theory of quantum gravity such as string theory will be needed to pick up where Einstein left off. General relativity is certainly not wrong – but it's not the whole story.
The article attacks the Conservapedia Counterexamples to Relativity:
In the end there is no liberal conspiracy at work. Unfortunately, humanities scholars often confuse the issue by misusing the term "relativity". The theory in no way encourages relativism, regardless of what Conservapedia may think. The theory of relativity is ultimately not so much about what it renders relative – three dimensional space and one-dimensional time – but about what it renders absolute: the speed of light and four-dimensional space-time. Einstein himself lamented the name "relativity", wishing instead to call his theory the theory of invariance. The name change might have avoided this whole mess.
Poincare popularized the term "relativity" before Einstein ever wrote anything on the subject. Einstein soon called it the "so-called theory of relativity" in 1909. Calling it the "theory of invariance" was not Einstein's idea either, as it was Poincare who emphasized basing the theory on the invariants of the Lorentz group, not Einstein. It was Felix Klein's suggestion in 1910. Klein was a pioneer in understanding geometry in terms of transformation groups. Poincare and Minkowski (but not Einstein) understood special relativity that way.

The name relativity is from motion being relative. A basic premise is that electromagnetic experiments were not able to detect the motion of the Earth, and that only relative motion is observable.

The theory does not encourage relativism, but non-physicists use relativity and Einstein to promote all sorts of wacky ideas, as the magazine explains:

Read further and you will find this astonishing piece of information, clearly the smoking gun of the Einsteinian liberal conspiracy: "Barack Obama helped publish an article by liberal law professor Laurence Tribe to apply the relativistic concept of 'curvature of space' to promote a broad legal right to abortion".

Wait. What? The article in question is "The Curvature of Constitutional Space: What lawyers can learn from modern physics" (pdf) by Laurence Tribe, a professor of constitutional law at Harvard Law School. Published in 1989 in the Harvard Law Review, the paper includes a "thank you" to Barack Obama in the acknowledgments, an unsurprising fact given that Obama was the journal's editor at the time.

In the article, Tribe uses metaphors of space-time curvature in the context of constitutional law, including an analysis of Roe v. Wade. "I do not address the subject because I am determined to bring science or mathematics into law," he writes. "Rather, my conjecture is that the metaphors and intuitions that guide physicists can enrich our comprehension of social and legal issues."

General relativity proposes that space-time is not an inert stage upon which the world plays out but rather a dynamic medium that is warped and curved by the presence of matter and in turn affects matter's motion. Tribe argues that constitutional law is likewise not only the backdrop against which the nation's affairs play out but a dynamic force that shapes those very affairs. In summary, Tribe writes, "The question is whether the state's combination of acts and omissions, rules, funding decisions and the like, so shaped the legal landscape in which women decide matters bearing on their reproductive lives as to violate the constitution's postulates of liberty and equality."

Articles do not usually thank the editor. I think that Tribe employed Obama to do some research for the article. The Tribe-Obama analogy is crackpot stuff, as previous theories also had gravity as a dynamic force.

The magazine also has an interview that argues for the usefulness of some creation science techniques:

Creation scientists take data from nature and try to reconcile it with a literal interpretation of the Bible, such as the creation of the world in six days. ...

Like evolutionists, creationists assess relationships between animals by comparing their morphology [physical characteristics] and their molecules. They continue to doubt the geologic timescale and that all life shares a common origin, but most creation scientists accept other evolutionary concepts such as natural selection and beneficial mutations. ...

I used a statistical technique called classic multidimensional scaling, which creation scientists use to quantify morphological gaps between species.

I guess some of them do use some scientific methods, even if their conclusions are far-fetched.

Wednesday, Aug 11, 2010
 
Lucy’s Kin Carved Up a Meaty Meal, Scientists Say
The NY Times reports:
As early as 3.4 million years ago, some individuals with a taste for meat and marrow — presumably members of the species best known for the skeleton called Lucy — apparently butchered with sharp and heavy stones two large animals on the shore of a shallow lake in what is now Ethiopia.
Look at the picture and decide for yourself. They did not find any tools or any Lucy or hominid bones. No Lucy tools have ever been found. All they found were a couple of animal bones with some scratch marks. It looks dubious to me.

Here is another opinion

Could the “cuts,” for example, be toothmarks from animal preadators and not hominins? We don’t for sure, of course, but I know that evolutionary anthropologists have spent a lot of time, including replicating the actions of hominins with stone tools, trying to distinguish between animal carnivory, natural abrasions, and real tool use. I don’t know a lot about this, but clearly these speculations were not off the cuff. The cuts certainly look real (see photo from yesterday)! But of course there is some dissent: Tim White, who has worked at the site for 40 years, observes that his team has never found a stone tool and that that the authors’ “claims greatly outstrip the evidence.”

Monday, Aug 09, 2010
 
Albert Einstein's hot new idea
The UK NewScientist magazine reports:
IT WAS a speech that changed the way we think of space and time. The year was 1908, and the German mathematician Hermann Minkowski had been trying to make sense of Albert Einstein's hot new idea - what we now know as special relativity - describing how things shrink as they move faster and time becomes distorted. "Henceforth space by itself and time by itself are doomed to fade into the mere shadows," Minkowski proclaimed, "and only a union of the two will preserve an independent reality."
No, Minkowski was not trying to make sense of Albert Einstein's hot new idea. Here is all Minkowski says about Einstein in that 1908 paper:
Lorentz called the combination t' of (t and x) as the local time (Ortszeit) of the uniformly moving electron, and used a physical construction of this idea for a better comprehension of the contraction-hypothesis. But to perceive clearly that the time of an electron is as good as the time of any other electron, i.e. t, t' are to be regarded as equivalent, has been the service of A. Einstein [ Ann. d. Phys. 891, p. 1905, Jahrb. d. Radio... 4-4-11—1907 ] There the concept of time was shown to be completely and unambiguously established by natural phenomena. But the concept of space was not arrived at, either by Einstein or Lorentz, probably because in the case of the abovementioned spatial transformations, where the (x', y') plane coincides with the x-t plane, the significance is possible that the x-axis of space some-how remains conserved in its position. ...

The fact that the world-postulate holds without exception is, I believe, the true essence of an electromagnetic picture of the world; the idea first occurred to Lorentz, its essence was first picked out by Einstein, and is now gradually fully manifest. [Indian translation]

As you can see, the credit for Einstein is fairly narrow. It is only for writing about two ideas credited to Lorentz, local time and the relativity principle (that the laws of physics are the same in different frames). Lorentz got the 1902 Nobel prize for his electrodynamics, and in part for those ideas. They were old news when Einstein first wrote about them in 1905. Minkowski denies that Einstein had the idea of spacetime.

Minkowski does not mention Poincare in that paper. His previous 1907 paper starts with Poincare's approach to 4-dimensional spacetime, and uses it for all subsequent work. When Minkowski's 1908 paper was reprinted after his death, a credit to Poincare was inserted.

The NewScientist article is about research that has nothing to do with any of Einstein's ideas. It is a common example of how he is credited for work that he did not do.


Friday, Aug 06, 2010
 
Cunningham on relativity
The English mathematician Ebenezer Cunningham wrote this in a 1909 paper:
THE PRINCIPLE OF RELATIVITY IN ELECTRODYNAMICS AND AN EXTENSION THEREOF
By E. Cunningham.
[Received May 1st, 1909]
Introductory.
1. The absence, as far as experiment can detect, of any phenomenon arising from the Earth's motion relative to the electromagnetic aether has been fully accounted for by Lorentz and Einstein, provided the hypo- thesis of electromagnetism as the ultimate basis of matter he accepted, so that the only available means of estimating the distance between two points is the measuring of the time of propagation of effects between the bodies, such propagation taking place in accordance with the equations of the electron theory. It has been proved not only within the limits of experimental accuracy, but exactly, that any actual effect is completely obscured by the fact that the observer necessarily shares in the motion of the earth, and has therefore different measures of time and space from those which he would have if he did not do so. The foundation of this theory of relativity is the set of relations subsisting between the space and time measures of two observers having a uniform relative velocity. ... [p.77]

It has been pointed out by Minkowski that in a space of four dimensions in which the coordinates are (x,y,z,ct√-1), the geometrical transform- ation employed by Einstein, is simply a finite rotational displacement of the whole space about y=0, z=0. [p.79]

Poincare pointed that out earlier in 1905, before Einstein and Minkowski had ever published anything on the subject.

I am not sure how it is possible that a leading relativity researcher in 1909 could not be aware of the leading 1905 paper on the subject. Maybe his German fluency was better and his French. But Minkowski's 1907 paper cited Poincare, so Cunningham would not have to look very hard.

More importantly, why do textbooks still get this point wrong, a century later?

Note also that Cunningham credits "Lorentz and Einstein". By 1915, he was giving Einstein more of the credit.


Wednesday, Aug 04, 2010
 
Movie celebrates ancient female mathematician
A new movie Agora tells the story of Hypatia of Alexandria. It is an anti-Christian polemic set in Alexandria, Egypt, AD 415. The Slate review says:
In the movie's most spectacular set piece, the legendary library of Alexandria is destroyed by marauding Christian hordes as the pagan scholars flee with whatever scrolls they can carry. ...

But like Spartacus, this movie is engaging because it's actually about something: the love of learning, the clash between science and religious faith, and the grim fact that political change often proceeds on the foundation of mob violence and genocide. Agora engages more effectively with this kind of big historical idea than it does with human drama. The movie's most emotionally powerful moment has nothing to do with any individual character. It's the looting of the library, the burning of all those irreplaceable documents from the early years of human history, that really makes you cry.

The movie portrays Apatia as an atheist scholar who was on the brink of discovering heliocentrism and the Earth's elliptical orbit, when the Christian authorities felt threatened by scientific knowledge, and had her murdered.

This is about 99% fiction, of course. There was a scholar named Apatia who was murdered by an angry mob, but it is not known that the reasons had anything to do with science or Christianity. Nor was the library destroyed by Christians. And Apatia had nothing to do with those astronomical ideas. Elliptical orbits were first discovered 1200 years later, without any Christian objection.

The errors in this movie are explained in May 2009 and May 2010 blog posts by someone who seems to know what he is talking about. He says:

The final major invention by Amenábar which also suits his agenda is the rather fanciful idea that Hypatia was on the brink of not only proving heliocentrism when she was murdered but at establishing Keplerian elliptical planetary orbits into the bargain. The film makes reference to the fact that Aristarchus of Samos had come up with a heliocentric hypothesis in the 300s BC, and mentions a couple of reasons it was regarded as making "no sense at all" (though doesn't mention the primary one - the stellar parallax problem). But it invents a series of scenes depicting Hypatia pressing on with this idea despite these (then) not inconsiderable objections. The whole purpose of these sequences is to make the murder of Hypatia seem like more of a loss to learning at the hands of ignorant fundamentalists. ...

One IMDB reviewer certainly got the message, writing a glowing review entitled "Atheists of the all the world unite!" Another notes " Amenábar made a statement before the screening that if the Alexandria library had not been destroyed, we might have landed on Mars already." A third declares "I hope the film is appreciated and understood, and that we learn a little bit from its depiction of history so that we can't allow the destruction of art, history, knowledge, and the respect that allows civilizations to flourish." And these comments are typical. These viewers accepted all the invented pseudo historical additions to the story without question and happily swallowed the sermon they rest on.

An atheist site says:
It has just opened in a limited number of cinemas in the US to great acclaim, but has been utterly condemned by the Catholic Church.

Just days before the release last year in Europe of Spanish director Alejandro Amenabar’s movie, religious organisations denounced the film for promoting hatred of Christians and reinforcing false clichés about the Catholic Church. ...

Amenabar insists that the film:

Is not against Christians but rather against those who set off bombs and kill in the name of God, that is, against religious fanatics.
Apparently Amenabar was inspired by some myths promoted by Carl Sagan in PBS TV Cosmos.

Christians do not set off bombs and kill in the name of God today, and they did not kill Apatia in the name of God. It is the Mohammedans who have a long history of doing that. If he really wanted to make a movie about religious terrorists, he picked the wrong target. This movie should be treated as fiction and propaganda.

George writes:

Why do you think that they call it the Dark Ages? It is because Christian superstition and intolerance suppressed Greek and Roman science and philosophy. If the Bible is the supreme authority, then there is no need to have any other book. It was not until Galileo and Copernicus stood up to the Church that Western Civilization started to recover.
No, that is not why they call it the Dark Ages. Wikipedia says this:
When the term "Dark Ages" is used by historians today, therefore, it is intended to be neutral, namely, to express the idea that the events of the period often seem "dark" to us because of the paucity of historical records compared with both earlier and later times. ...

The 2007 television show The Dark Ages from The History Channel called the Dark Ages "600 years of degenerate, godless, inhuman behavior".

The public idea of the Middle Ages as a supposed "Dark Age" is also reflected in misconceptions regarding the study of nature during this period. The contemporary historians of science David C. Lindberg and Ronald Numbers discuss the widespread popular belief that the Middle Ages were a "time of ignorance and superstition", the blame for which is to be laid on the Christian Church for allegedly "placing the word of religious authorities over personal experience and rational activity", and emphasize that this view is essentially a caricature.

For instance, a claim that was first propagated in the 19th century and is still very common in popular culture is the supposition that all people in the Middle Ages believed that the Earth was flat. According to Lindberg and Numbers, this claim was mistaken: "There was scarcely a Christian scholar of the Middle Ages who did not acknowledge [Earth's] sphericity and even know its approximate circumference".

Ronald Numbers states that misconceptions such as "the Church prohibited autopsies and dissections during the Middle Ages", "the rise of Christianity killed off ancient science", and "the medieval Christian church suppressed the growth of natural philosophy" are examples of widely popular myths that still pass as historical truth, although they are not supported by current historical research.

The Catholic Church has a long history of supporting the study of Aristotle and other classical non-Christian scholars. It never burned libraries or anything like that. The Greeks and Romans were in decline before the Christians came along.

I see that Numbers edited a new book on Galileo Goes to Jail and Other Myths about Science and Religion. The book starts with the story of Hypatia, and how anti-Christian propagandists have been distorting it since 1720.


Tuesday, Aug 03, 2010
 
Galileo was not the first observer
The NY Times reports:
Galileo’s rolling of spheres down an inclined plane four centuries ago disproved Aristotle’s notion that falling (or rolling) objects move at a constant speed. That was one of the earliest examples of using experiments to devise and test hypotheses to explain observations.
No, Aristotle never said that falling objects move at a constant speed. And ancient people were testing hypotheses 1000s of years before Galileo.

I wonder how anyone could say anything so silly. Does the reporter really think that the ancient Egyptians built those pyramids without ever testing a hypothesis?

Apparently it is conventional wisdom that Galileo was the first real scientist, and Aristotle and all those others were just inventing bogus ideas that their followers blindly accepted. That conventional wisdom is wrong.


Saturday, Jul 31, 2010
 
The quantum leap is a Marxist plot
A new BMW ad campaign says:
A quantum leap is defined as a dramatically large advance, especially in knowledge or method. ... experience this quantum leap
Not only is this not the definition, but the phrase "dramatically large advance" is nowhere on the web.

The term quantum leap comes from physics, where it is not dramatically large, and is not an advance. The earliest usage was in 1956, even tho the physics concept dates back to the 1920s. Here is a more scientific definition:

Quantum Leap: The disappearance of a subatomic particle - e.g., an electron - at one location and its simultaneous reappearance at another. The counter-intuitive weirdness of the concept results in part from the limitations of the particle metaphor in describing a phenomenon that is also in many respects a wave.
So how did the definition get so distorted? My guess is leftist propaganda. See for example this Marxist essay:
The dialectical method seeks to explain natural phenomena as the transformation of quantity into quality: a long period of slow, gradual change is interrupted at a critical point by a sudden change of state, a quantum leap, a phase transition or, to use the language of dialectics, a qualitative leap. This method of analysis was first developed by Hegel two hundred years ago and then placed on a scientific basis by Marx and Engels. But it is only in recent years, thanks to the development of chaos theory and its derivatives that it has begun to be taken seriously by scientists.
The article goes on to challenge theories for the extinction of the dinosaurs, and to argue for a crisis in capitalism.

The German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel wrote about a qualitative leap in consciousness. in the early 1800s. The German phrase was "ein qualitativer Sprung". Marx and Engels adopted Hegel's terminology about dialectical materialism. They had a pseudoscientific theory about how historical events are the dramatic and inevitable consequences of dialectical law. They used this theory to justify revolutions.

Marxists are big fans of scientific terminology, so when quantum mechanics came along they adopted the "quantum leap" to make they "qualitative leap" sound more scientific. It is not. The scientific basis for the quantum mechanical quantum leap does not support the Marxist agenda.

Suppose a BMW ad said to "experience the Marxist dialectic materialist cultural revolution" as if that were a good thing in a car. You would wonder why a German car company would misuse a bunch of commie German buzzwords to sell cars. That is what I think of the BMW quantum leap.

I previously criticized misuse of quantum leap in Feb. 2010, and noted that it was one of the top misused science cliches in July 2009, according to Wired mag readers.

Here is the opposite concept:

Natura non facit saltus (Latin for "nature does not make jumps") has been a principle of natural philosophy since at least Aristotle's time. It appears as an axiom in the works of Gottfried Leibniz (New Essays, IV, 16) and Isaac Newton, the co-inventors of the infinitesimal calculus, and is also an essential element of Charles Darwin's treatment of natural selection in his Origin of Species. The phrase comes from Linnaeus' Philosophia Botanica.

The principle expresses the idea that natural things and properties change gradually, rather than suddenly. In a mathematical context, this allows one to assume that the governing equations are continuous, and also differentiable to some degree.

It then notes that some Marxists see modern day quantum mechanics as violating the principle, with its idea of a quantum leap. But quantum mechanics is formulated in terms of differential equations, just like other forms of mechanics.

Here is what Heisenberg said in 1958, as posted on a Marxist site:

When old adage `Natura non facit saltus' is used as a basis of a criticism of quantum theory, we can reply that certainly our knowledge can change suddenly, and that this fact justifies the use of the term `quantum jump'.
Note that he is not saying that nature makes the jump, but rather that our knowledge of nature changes suddenly. We could open a box and suddenly discover that Schroedinger's cat is dead. It may be uncertain whether the cat was already dead. As Henry Stapp explains:
Let there be no doubt about this key point, namely that the mathematical theory was asserted to be directly about our knowledge itself, not about some imagined-to-exist world of particles and fields.
Ideas of sudden change in biology go under names like hopeful monster and punctuated equilibrium. Some of these were promoted by Marxist evolutionists like Stephen Jay Gould.

I say that a lot of Marxist wishful thinking has tricked us into accepting some of their propaganda with some bogus terminology.

Erwin Schrödinger wrote in Schroedinger 1952 that there is no such thing as a quantum jump. See part I and part II. Not everyone agreed.


Wednesday, Jul 28, 2010
 
Evolutionist attack on free will
William Egginton is disturbed by experiments that claim to show that we have no free will:
In one set of experiments, researchers attached sensors to the parts of monkeys’ brains responsible for visual pattern recognition. The monkeys were then taught to respond to a cue by choosing to look at one of two patterns. Computers reading the sensors were able to register the decision a fraction of a second before the monkeys’ eyes turned to the pattern. As the monkeys were not deliberating, but rather reacting to visual stimuli, researchers were able to plausibly claim that the computer could successfully predict the monkeys’ reaction. In other words, the computer was reading the monkeys’ minds and knew before they did what their decision would be.

The implications are immediate. If researchers can in theory predict what human beings will decide before they themselves know it, what is left of the notion of human freedom? How can we say that humans are free in any meaningful way if others can know what their decisions will be before they themselves make them?

Research of this sort can seem frightening. An experiment that demonstrated the illusory nature of human freedom would, in many people’s mind, rob the test subjects of something essential to their humanity.

You can read about the monkey experiment by Joshua I. Gold & Michael N. Shadlen in a 2000 abstract, a 2003 neuroscience review paper, and a 2007 paper.

Leftist-atheist-evolutionist Jerry Coyne responds:

Egginton goes on to ponder the obvious: if we don’t have free will, then not only conventional ideas about morality but also a lot of religious doctrine—especially the Christian idea of free choice between good and evil—go out the window.

He’s right, of course. ...

We simply don’t like to think that we’re molecular automatons, and so we adopt a definition of free will that makes us think we’re free. But as far as I can see, I, like everyone else, am just a molecular puppet.

Einstein was also a big believer in determinism, and that is one reason he had trouble accepting quantum mechanics.

The evolutionist logic here is that science implies determinism implies atheism. The proof is the monkey experiment.

The experiment requires the monkey to make a decision, while that decision is detected in two different ways. If the decision is detected one way a few seconds ahead of the second way, then it is assumed that the second is determined by the first. If you did not know about the first detection, then you might think that the second detection was an expression of free will. Thus something that appears to be free will is actually determined.

This reasoning is flawed, of course. It only shows that the decision making process in the monkey brain occurs earlier than you might guess. It does not say anything about free will.

Science says very little about free will. Quantum mechanics has the Free will theorem, but it does not tell us whether humans have free will.

If Prof. Coyne believes that he is just a molecular puppet, that's fine with me, but I don't think that he should be teaching that it is a consequence of evolutionist science or monkey experiments.


Tuesday, Jul 27, 2010
 
Tolman on Einstein
Here is Einstein praise from the 1917 American book, The Theory of the Relativity of Motion by Richard Chace Tolman:
Since the year 1905, which marked the publication of Einstein’s momentous article on the theory of relativity, the development of sci- entific thought has led to a complete revolution in accepted ideas as to the nature of space and time, and this revolution has in turn pro- foundly modified those dependent sciences, in particular mechanics and electromagnetics, which make use of these two fundamental concepts in their considerations. [p.5]

It was Einstein who, with clearness and boldness of vision, pointed out that the failure of the Michelson-Morley experi- ment, and all other attempts to detect motion through the ether, is not due to a fortuitous compensation of effects but is the expression of an important general principle, and the new transformation equations for kinematics to which he was led have not only provided the basis for an exact transformation of the field equations but have so completely rev- olutionized our ideas of space and time that hardly a branch of science remains unaffected. [p.195]

173. In the present chapter we shall present a four-dimensional method of expressing the results of the Einstein theory of relativity, a method which was first introduced by Minkowski, ... [p.210]

Very little of this is true. In his later years, Einstein adamantly denied that Michelson-Morley had anything to do with his 1905 work. Einstein got that "general principle" from Poincare's 1902 book, and those "new transformation equations" have always been called the Lorentz transformations since 1905 as Lorentz studied them many years before. That "four-dimensional method" was first published by Poincare, as Minkowski's earlier papers cited him.

Tolman was a little more accurate with what he co-wrote in 1909:

This possibility being excluded, the only satisfactory explanation of the Michelson-Morley experiment which has been offered is due to Lorentz,[3] who assumed that all bodies in motion are shortened in the line of their motion by an amount which is a simple function of the velocity. This shortening would produce a compensation just sufficient to offset the predicted positive effect in the Michelson-Morley experiment, and would also account for the result obtained by Trouton and Noble. It would not, however, prevent the determination of absolute motion by other analogous experiments which have not yet been tried.

Einstein[4] has gone one step farther. Because of the experiments that we have cited, and because of the failure of every other attempt that has ever been made to determine absolute velocity through space, he concludes that further similar attempts will also fail. In fact he states as a law of nature that absolute uniform translatory motion can be neither measured nor detected.

But Einstein did not go a further step at all. Here is what Poincare wrote in 1895, 10 years before Einstein:
Experiment has revealed a group of phenomena that can be summarized as follows: It is impossible to detect the absolute movement of matter, or better, the relative movement of ponderable matter in relation to the aether; all that one can find evidence of is the movement of ponderable matter in relation to ponderable matter.
The earlier post-1905 relativity papers only credit Einstein with taking an extra step, and adding to the Lorentz theory. The later papers credit him with a bold new theory.

So why did it take several years for physicists to come to the view that Einstein was boldly proposing a revolutionary idea of space and time in 1905? If he were really so bold, wouldn't they get that immediately from his paper?

I think that the answer is obvious. It is not that physicists were slow to appreciate what Einstein did. Just look at Tolman's papers. He appreciated what Einstein did. The problem is that he credits Einstein for what Lorentz, Poincare, and Minkowski did.

It is not so clear why Tolman would over-credit Einstein in this way. Tolman cites the others, and ought to have been familiar with their work. Einstein had not yet become an international celebrity in 1917. My guess is that Tolman came under the influence of Germans who were already touting Einstein as a great genius.

Regardless of Tolman's motives, it is instructive to see how he credits Einstein. He credits Einstein for things done earlier by others. Before 1909, Einstein was just credited with adding to Lorentz's theory. Only later did physicists imagine that Einstein had some bold new theory of spacetime, and attribute ideas to Einstein that he never said.


Wednesday, Jul 21, 2010
 
Great American discoveries
MSNBC lists:
Eight great American discoveries in science

The discovery team, headed by Tim White of the University of California of Berkeley, said Ardi may be ancestral to Lucy. Such findings have brought scientists closer to identifying the common ancestors of chimpanzees and humans.

Ardi was found in Africa, not the USA. What that team did was to blockade access to the scientific data for 17 years, while they built a case for Ardi being a missing link. Afterwards, others found evidence that Ardi was not a human ancestor at all.

The list also says:

Then, in 1929, Hubble announced that the universe is expanding, based on observations of starlight from distant galaxies. The finding formed the basis of inflationary big-bang theory.
The expansion had already been discovered in 1927 by LeMaitre in Europe. That discovery was the basis of the big bang, but not the inflationary hypothesis, which did not come until the 1980s.

There is no mention of great American discoveries such as the atom bomb, or the Michelson–Morley experiment showing that the speed of light is the same in different frames of reference. Einstein said that Michelson–Morley was crucial for the invention of special relativity, but admitted that it played no role in his own work on the subject.


Tuesday, Jul 20, 2010
 
Why scientific evidence is less valid in law
Vox Day argues:
For there are at least three reasons scientific evidence is not only considered less reliable by the courts than eyewitness testimony, but it is CORRECTLY considered less reliable than eyewitness testimony.

1. The dynamic nature of science.
2. Science is not scientific evidence.
3. Science is not, as actual scientists keep trying to remind the science fetishists, in the business of providing proof.

No, I don't think that those are the reasons at all. The main reason is that the American legal system is based on holding individuals personally accountable for their actions and testimony. Testimony from a live witness may be right or wrong, but it at least has the merit that it is understandable to the jury and the witness can be punished if he is lying.

The 6A in the Bill Of Rights says that a man has the right to face his accusers. He cannot be convicted solely based on disembodied scientific evidence. There are reasons for that. It is not that science changes too much, or that science cannot prove anything. If we authorized non-scientist judges and juries to imprison people based just on alleged evidence on a piece of paper, then soon corrupt officials would be faking those pieces of paper. Even with live testimony, a lot of supposedly scientific evidence given in court is not very scientific as it is.


Sunday, Jul 18, 2010
 
Draining the tub
A global warming advocate claims to debunk some myths:
1) Draining water spins differently in the Southern Hemisphere than in the Northern Hemisphere

It is true that there is an apparent force caused by the earth’s rotation called the Coriolis Force ... What is NOT TRUE is that the Coriolis Force causes rotation in a sink or toilet bowl.

I do not agree with this explanation. It is true that the sink effect was demonstrated under lab conditions in 1908. In my experience, most but not all Northern hemisphere sinks drain counter-clockwise. So either I have been lucky, or this website is wrong.

There are a lot of websites on this issue, but none answer the following empirical question: Is there an ordinary off-the-self sink or bathtub that consistently drains counter-clockwise in the northern hemisphere, and clockwise in the southern?

The magnitude of the applicable Coriolis force is small, but there is also an instability in the fluid flow equations. Only an experiment can settle this issue in a convincing manner.

The Myth No. 5 seems to be just a gripe about terminology, not science.

I am trying to get to the bottom of this bathtub issue. In the meantime, I am not impressed with these global warming blowhards who are always lecturing everyone about science. The site does not have a scientific resolution of the water draining question.


Thursday, Jul 15, 2010
 
The Greatest Physics Paper
Discover Magazine listed in 2006 the five greatest physics papers, based on a reader survey:
(1) A. Einstein, Die Grundlage der allgemeinen Relativitaetstheorie, Annalen der Physik 49 (1916), 769-822.

(2) I. Newton, Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica. 1687

(3) P. A. M. Dirac, The quantum theory of the electron, Proc. R. Soc. London A 117 610-612 (1928); The quantum theory of the electron Part II Proc. R. Soc. London A 118 351-361 (1928).

(4) A. Einstein, B. Podolsky and N. Rosen, Can Quantum-Mechanical Description of Physical Reality Be Considered Complete? Phys Rev 47, 777 (1935).

(5) E. Noether, “Invariante Variationsprobleme,” Nachr. v. d. Ges. d. Wiss. zu Göttingen 1918, pp235-257.

The Einstein 1916 paper is the more famous general relativity paper. It had a similar content to one that Hilbert published at the same time. I think that a much more important general relativity paper was written by Grossmann in 1913. More important cosmological models were found by Schwarzchild, De Sitter,

The Einstein 1935 paper was just a philosophical comment on an aspect of quantum mechanics. It is widely cited by people who don't believe in quantum mechanics, but it did not influence much other physics. Here is a recent video by David Gross explaining that a lot of people have done experiments over the last couple of decades trying to show that there is some merit to Einstein's 1935 argument, but all such attempts have failed. Gross got the 2004 Nobel prize in physics, but not for string theory, which is his specialty now.

I liked Lee Smolin's vote:

Its hard to disagree with the choise of Newton’s Principia, but here are two for second best:

The Astronomia Nova, by Johannes Kepler, 1609, which proposed his first two laws. This one book combined bold physical intuition and insight (including the first proposal that the orbits were the result of a force from the Sun to the planets) with painstaking calculation and data analysis, leading to momentuous and far reaching conclusions.

The Starry Messenger (Sidereus Nuncius), Galileo, April 1610 which reported on the discoveries he had just made with the telescope, including the mountains on the Moon, the phases of Venus, the moons of Jupiter and the existence of many more stars. The book is brief, written in an elegant but straightforward style, and it electrified both academics and ordinary people throughout Europe and beyond. By both introducing a new technology and giving the first convincing evidence for Copernican astronomy, this book made the Newtonian revolution inevitable.

No publication in physics, even by Newton or Einstein, has so decisively and abruptly altered the direction of physics than either of these books.

Kepler and Galileo were not at the same level. Kepler's book was hard science, while Galileo's was soft science. These two books demonstrated the biggest advance in astronomy in 1300 years, by far.

Tuesday, Jul 13, 2010
 
String theorist denies gravity
The NY Times reports on a goofy new theory of gravity:
So says Erik Verlinde, 48, a respected string theorist and professor of physics at the University of Amsterdam, whose contention that gravity is indeed an illusion has caused a continuing ruckus among physicists, or at least among those who profess to understand it. Reversing the logic of 300 years of science, he argued in a recent paper, titled “On the Origin of Gravity and the Laws of Newton,” that gravity is a consequence of the venerable laws of thermodynamics, which describe the behavior of heat and gases. ...

Dr. Verlinde is not an obvious candidate to go off the deep end. He and his brother Herman, a Princeton professor, are celebrated twins known more for their mastery of the mathematics of hard-core string theory than for philosophic flights. ...

Some of the best physicists in the world say they don’t understand Dr. Verlinde’s paper, and many are outright skeptical. ...

“We’ve known for a long time gravity doesn’t exist,” Dr. Verlinde said, “It’s time to yell it.”

The string theorists have already gone off the deep end. They are the ones who are always claiming that string theory implies gravity, but the claim is bogus. So it makes sense that one of them would deny gravity.

Monday, Jul 12, 2010
 
The Democrat war on science
Adler writes:
The Bush Administration was often accused of waging a “war on science” ... So a “pro-science,” Democratic Administration would change things, right?  Not really.  As the Los Angeles Times reports, allegations of science politicization persist.  “We are getting complaints from government scientists now at the same rate we were during the Bush administration,” says Jeffrey Ruch of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.
It will be interesting to see how the Bush-hating science activists respond to this.

Fox News reports:

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden revealed his plans to improve relations between America's space exploration agency and the Muslim world to Al Jazeera before Congress, the Washington Examiner reported.

Bolden called a couple of lawmakers with the news on June 28, after his interview with the Middle East news organization but before it aired, the newspaper reported.

"He ran down some of the things from the president's new space policy, and mentioned outreach to Muslims," Rep. Pete Olson, the top Republican on the House Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics recalled to the newspaper. "That stunned me. I didn't believe it."

Bush did not do anything like this.

Sunday, Jul 11, 2010
 
Einstein was not humble
Sepp Hasslberger writes:
A committee of scientists hailed professor Albert Einstein (1879-1955) as the most important scientist of the 20th century. Another committee of 100 humanistic thinkers and religious leaders chose Einstein's own essays on the theory of relativity as the most important humanistic work in the same century! At his death in 1955 president Dwight D. Eisenhower hailed him as the most important scientist of the century and the most humble man that ever lived, 45 years before the century was closed (1)

1. Beckhard, A. Albert Einstein. Ernst G Mortens Publ., Oslo,1962

No, Einstein was not humble. He was an extreme egomaniac. He spent his whole life seeking credit and publicity for himself, in a way that was far in excess of what was typical for scientists. This should be apparent to anyone who has read any of the Einstein biographies.

Hasslberger also has many links to people who say that Einstein was wrong because of various alleged inconsistencies in relativity. There are no such inconsistencies. Those people all have some mathematical misunderstanding. The consistency of relativity can be proved. The theory may someday proved to be inaccurate for some reason, but it will take some new experiment to prove it.

Here is a NASA page about Einstein being wrong, but it really has nothing to do with Einstein. It is only vaguely related to the twin paradox, but even that has little to do with Einstein.

Einstein is sometimes said to be humble based on quotes like this:

Every one who is seriously engaged in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that the laws of nature manifest the existence of a spirit vastly superior to that of men, and one in the face of which we with our modest powers must feel humble.
But this is just Einstein saying that he is not greater than God. What he did not do was to reasonably credit his fellow scientists and mathematicians.

He is another claim that Einstein was humble:

In his usual humble way, Einstein explained how he reinvented physics: "I sometimes ask myself how it came about that I was the one to develop the theory of Relativity. The reason, I think, is that a normal adult stops to think about problems of space and time. These are things which he has thought about as a child. But my intellectual development was retarded, as a result of which I began to wonder about space and time only when I had already grown up." On Relativity, he said: "Relativity teaches us the connection between the different descriptions of one and the same reality."
This is an attempt to get credit for what he did not do. Einstein did not invent relativity, and he had no new ideas about space and time. You can read Einstein's famous 1905 paper to see what he is claiming. He has no references to previous work. He presents the work of others as if it is his own. And he does not claim to have a new theory of space and time as Minkowski claimed in 1908. After Minkowski died in 1909, Einstein got famous by claiming to have invented what Minkowski published.

Friday, Jul 09, 2010
 
String theorists say God without blushing
Physicist Michio Kaku writes:
Einstein said that the harmony he sees could not have been an accident. ... I work in something called String Theory which makes the statement that we are reading the mind of God. It’s based on music or little vibrating strings thus giving us particles that we see in nature. The laws of chemistry that we struggled with in high school would be the melodies that you can play on these vibrating strings. The Universe would be a symphony of these vibrating strings and the mind of God that Einstein wrote about at length would be cosmic music resonating through this nirvana… through this 11 dimensional hyperspace -— that would be the mind of God. We physicists are the only scientists who can say the word “God” and not blush.
Kaku says a lot of kooky things without blushing. He is probably the leading physics popularizer today. None of this stuff has any connection with reality. Physicists should repudiate some of this nonsense because Kaku is making them look silly.

Wednesday, Jul 07, 2010
 
Natural selection has not explained giraffes
Ever since Darwin, evolutionists have cited the giraffe as proof of natural selection. But this has never been scientifically demonstrated, as pointed out here:
Most people assume that giraffes' long necks evolved to help them feed. If you have a long neck, runs the argument, you can eat leaves on tall trees that your rivals can't reach. But there is another possibility. The prodigious necks may have little to do with food, and everything to do with sex.

The evidence supporting the high-feeding theory is surprisingly weak. Giraffes in South Africa do spend a lot of time browsing for food high up in trees, but elsewhere in Africa they don't seem to bother, even when food is scarce.

SciAm blogger John Horgan writes:
The philosopher Daniel Dennett once called the theory of evolution by natural selection "the single best idea anyone has ever had." I'm inclined to agree. But Darwinism sticks in the craw of some really smart people. I don't mean intelligent-designers (aka IDiots) and other religious ignorami but knowledgeable scientists and scholars.

Take, for example, the philosopher Jerry Fodor of Rutgers University and the cognitive scientist Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini of the University of Arizona in Tucson. In What Darwin Got Wrong (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2010, reviewed here), these self-described atheists argue that the theory of natural selection is "fatally flawed." ...

I lump Darwin's secular critics into two camps: Some, such as the left-leaning biologists Stephen Jay Gould and Richard Lewontin (who are cited by Fodor and Piattelli-Palmarini), fear the political implications of Darwinian theory. If we accept evolutionary explanations of human nature, they suggest, we may come to believe that many insidious modern "-isms"—unbridled capitalism, racism, sexism and militarism—were highly probable outcomes of evolution and thus not easily subject to change. Given how genetic theories have been employed in the past, these concerns have merit.

Other critics object to Darwinism for precisely the opposite reason. They fear that evolutionary theory, even when buttressed by modern genetics and molecular biology, does not make reality probable enough. ...

Early in his career, the philosopher Karl Popper (yes, cited by F and P-P) called evolution via natural selection "almost a tautology" and "not a testable scientific theory but a metaphysical research program." Attacked for these criticisms, Popper took them back. But when I interviewed him in 1992, he blurted out that he still found Darwin's theory dissatisfying. "One ought to look for alternatives!" Popper exclaimed, banging his kitchen table.

Natural selection seems to give a satisfying explanation for giraffes, but you probe a little deeper, and you learn that it really explains nothing at all about giraffes. I agree with Popper that it is more of a metaphysical research program.

Monday, Jul 05, 2010
 
Weyl on Einstein
The great mathematician Hermann Weyl starts his 1922 book, Space-Time-Matter, with this:
EINSTEIN'S Theory of Kelativity has advanced our ideas of the structure of the cosmos a step further. is as if a wall which separated us from Truth has and greater depths are now exknowledge, regions of which we had not even a presentiment. It has brought us much nearer to grasping the plan that underlies all physical happening. ...

Space and time are commonly regarded as the forms of existence of the real world, matter as its substance. A definite portion of matter occupies a definite part of space. It is in the composite idea of motion that these three fundamental conceptions enter into inti-mate relationship. Descartes defined the objective of the exact sciences as consisting in the description of all happening in terms of these three fundamental conceptions, thus referring them to motion. Since the human mind first wakened from slumber, and to give itself free rein, it has never ceased to feel the profoundly mysterious nature of time-consciousness, of the progression of the world in time, -- of Becoming. It is one of those ultimate metaphysical problems which philosophy has striven to elucidate and unravel at every stage of its history. The Greeks made Space the subject-matter of a science of supreme simplicity and certainty. Out of it grew, in the mind of classical antiquity, the idea of pure science. Geometry became one of the most powerful expressions of that sovereignty of the intellect that inspired the thought of those times. At a later epoch, when the intellectual despotism of the Church, which had been maintained through the Middle Ages, had crumbled, and a wave of scepticism threatened to sweep away all that had seemed most fixed, those who believed Truth clung to Geometry as to a rock, and it was the highest ideal of every scientist to carry on his science "more geometrico". Matter was imagined to be a substance involved in every change, and it was thought that every piece of matter could be measured as a quantity, and that its characteristic expression as a "substance" was the Law of Conservation of Matter which asserts that matter remains constant in amount throughout every change. This, which has hitherto represented our knowledge of space and matter, and which was in many quarters claimed by philosophers as a priori knowledge, absolutely general and necessary, stands to-day a tottering structure. First, the physicists in the persons of Faraday and Maxwell proposed the "electromagnetic field", contradistinction to matter, as a reality of a different category. Then, during the last century, the mathematician, following a differ-ent line of thought, secretly undermined belief in the evidence of Euclidean Geometry. And now, in our time, there has been un- loosed a cataclysm which has swept away space, time, and matter hitherto regarded as the firmest pillars of natural science, but only to make place for a view of things of wider scope, and entailing a deeper vision.

This revolution was promoted essentially by the thought of one man, Albert Einstein.

This is exaggerated, but I guess that it reflects some of the excitement about relativity at the time. Weyl must have been a buddy of Einstein to say such silly things. The book does not mention Poincare or Grossmann. I would take his praise for Einstein more seriously if he some specific arguments as to why Einstein's relativity work was any better than that of the others. But he does not seem to make any attempt to be historically accurate.

Here is how he explains special relativity:

Lorentz and Einstein recognised that not only equation (16) [4D wave equation] but also the whole system of electromagnetic laws for the aether has this property of invariance, namely, that these laws are the ex- pression of invariant relations between tensors which exist in a four- dimensional affine space whose co-ordinates are t, xl, x2, x and upon which a metrical structure the form (17). [p.165]
But this is false. Neither Lorentz nor Einstein had 4-dimensional space, or tensors, or the metric structure. They had primitive notions of invariance, but not the notion that you would expect.

Then he gives Einstein all the credit, but acknowledges that the big ideas came from Minkowski:

The solution of Einstein (vide note 6, 1905), which at one stroke overcomes all difficulties, is then this : the world is a four-dimensional affine space whose metrical structure is determined by a non-definite quadratic form which has one negative and three positive dimensions. ... The adequate mathematical formulation of Einstein's discovery was first given by Minkowski (vide note 7, 1908) : to him we are indebted for the idea of four-dimensional world-geometry, on which we based our argument from the outset. [p.173]
This doesn't make any sense. If Minkowski discovered the four-dimensional world-geometry in 1908, then how did Einstein use it to solve a paradox in 1905? Einstein did not, of course.

Here is some more over-the-top praise for Einstein:

The physical purport of this is that we are to discard our belief in the objective meaning of simultaneity; it was the great achievement of Einstein in the field of the theory of knowledge that he banished this dogma from our minds, and this is what leads us to rank his name with that of Copernicus. [p.174]
Poincare wrote about this 5 years earlier in 1900. He credited Lorentz with the closely related concept of local time.
We are indebted to Minkowski for recognising clearly that the fundamental equations for moving bodies are determined uniquely by the principle of relativity if Maxwell's theory for matter at rest is taken for granted. He it was, also, who formulated it in its final form (vide note 12). [p.196]
Yes, Minkowski realized this clearly in 1908, as did Poincare in 1905. Lorentz and Einstein did not. Einstein's relativity was not sufficient to deduce the theory of moving bodies from the theory of matter at rest.

It is strange that Weyl never mentions Poincare. Perhaps Weyl preferred to read German papers. It is not possible that he had not heard of Poincare's contributions.

It is also strange that Weyl give Einstein so much credit for special relativity when the book's arguments come from Lorentz or Minkowski.

Perhaps Weyl is one of those responsible for falsely inflating Einstein's reputation. A lot of people read Weyl's book, and figured that he knew what he was talking about.

I edited this paragraph from the Wikipedia article on the Lorentz transformation:

The Lorentz transformation was originally the result of attempts by Lorentz and others to explain observed properties of light propagating in what was presumed to be the luminiferous aether; Albert Einstein later reinterpreted the transformation to be a statement about the nature of both space and time, and he independently re-derived the transformation from his postulates of special relativity.
It is amazing that people say such nonsense. Maybe it partially came from Weyl's book. The Lorentz transformation had nothing to do with the aether. Einstein did not make it a statement about the nature of both space and time any more than anyone else, and he did not "independently" re-derive it. By his own admission, he learned it from Lorentz, altho he denies that he read Lorentz's later papers.

Weyl was a great genius, and probably understood relativity better than anyone at the time. He is right that the key concepts are the 4D geometry, indefinite metric, and tensors. Lorentz did not have these concepts, and Einstein was no better. Weyl's comments about Einstein are historically inaccurate because it is evident from Einstein's papers that he did not understand those concepts until after everyone else did. Weyl was a mathematician and theoretical physicist, not a historian.


Friday, Jul 02, 2010
 
Fastest Case of Human Evolution
More evidence that humans are still evolving:
Tibetans live at altitudes of 13,000 feet, breathing air that has 40 percent less oxygen than is available at sea level, yet suffer very little mountain sickness. The reason, according to a team of biologists in China, is human evolution, in what may be the most recent and fastest instance detected so far.

Comparing the genomes of Tibetans and Han Chinese, the majority ethnic group in China, the biologists found that at least 30 genes had undergone evolutionary change in the Tibetans as they adapted to life on the high plateau. Tibetans and Han Chinese split apart as recently as 3,000 years ago, say the biologists, a group at the Beijing Genomics Institute led by Xin Yi and Jian Wang. The report appears in Friday’s issue of Science.

If confirmed, this would be the most recent known example of human evolutionary change. Until now, the most recent such change was the spread of lactose tolerance — the ability to digest milk in adulthood — among northern Europeans about 7,500 years ago. But archaeologists say that the Tibetan plateau was inhabited much earlier than 3,000 years ago and that the geneticists’ date is incorrect.

Just a few years ago, evolutionists said that this was impossible.

The paper is also claiming genes for long life:

Scientists studying the genomes of centenarians in New England say they have identified a set of genetic variants that predicts extreme longevity with 77 percent accuracy.
You'll want to wait for that to get replicated.

Update: (July 9, 2010) I am not the only one who is suspicious of that last study. The NY Times just reported:

A study on the genetics of centenarians that was published last week in Science, a leading scientific journal, has come under criticism from geneticists who say it has obvious weaknesses, is probably incorrect and should not have been published in a premier journal.

The study, which received broad press coverage, said that 150 genetic variants predictive of longevity had been identified among New England centenarians and that a test based on those variants could predict who would live to extreme old age.

This is a funny subject. There is wild enthusiasm for bogus results, and a strange reluctance to admit the obvious. The journals should require more evidence for these over-simplistic genetic explanations, because so many of them have failed.

Tuesday, Jun 29, 2010
 
Dirac had Einstein's disease
Scientific American magazine has temporarily reprinted The Evolution of the Physicist's Picture of Nature by Paul Dirac in 1963:
In this article I should like to discuss the development of general physical theory: how it developed in the past and how one may expect it to develop in the future. One can look on this continual development as a process of evolution, a process that has been going on for several centuries.

The first main step in this process of evolution was brought about by Newton. Before Newton, people looked on the world as being essentially two-dimensional-the two dimensions in which one can walk about-and the up-and-down dimension seemed to be something essentially different. Newton showed how one can look on the up-and-down direction as being symmetrical with the other two directions, by bringing in gravitational forces and showing how they take their place in physical theory. One can say that Newton enabled us to pass from a picture with two-dimensional symmetry to a picture with three-dimensional symmetry.

Einstein made another step in the same direction, showing how one can pass from a picture with three-dimensional symmetry to a picture with four dimensional symmetry. Einstein brought in time and showed how it plays a role that is in many ways symmetrical with the three space dimensions. ...

The special theory of relativity, which Einstein introduced, requires us to put all the laws of physics into a form that displays four-dimensional symmetry.

I am not sure which is goofier -- the Newton step or Einstein's.

Einstein missed the idea of a 4-dimensional symmetry. He used the Lorentz transformation, just like Lorentz and others years before, but he did not have the idea of a 4-dimensional spacetime or a symmetry group in 1905. He did not even understand these ideas when Poincare and Minkowski published them, and did not appreciate them until at least 1908 when lots of physicists did.

Dirac had Einstein's disease, and searched for grand top-down theories without paying much attention to experiment or the work of others:

This view provides us with another way in which we can hope to make advances in our theories. Just by studying mathematics we can hope to make a guess at the kind of mathematics that will come into the physics of the future. A good many people are working on the mathematical basis of quantum theory, trying to understand the theory better and to make it more powerful and more beautiful. If someone can hit on the right lines along which to make this development, it may lead to a future advance in which people will first discover the equations and then, after examining them, gradually learn how to apply them. It may well be that the next advance in physics will come about along these lines: people first discovering the equations and then needing a few years of development in order to find the physical ideas behind the equations. My own belief is that this is a more likely line of progress than trying to guess at physical pictures.

Of course, it may be that even this line of progress will fail, and then the only line left is the experimental one. Experimental physicists are continuing their work quite independently of theory, collecting a vast storehouse of information.

Dirac is famous for his early work, before he developed this attitude. Like Einstein, he wasted the later part of his life on dead-end ideas.

SciAm has podcasts on Dirac here and here.

Here is an amusing 1929 Dirac interview:

"What do you like best in America?", says I.

"Potatoes," says he.

"Same here," says I. "What is your favorite sport?"

"Chinese chess," says he. ...

"This is the most important thing yet, doctor," says I. "It shows that me and you are more alike than I thought. And now I want to ask you something more: They tell me that you and Einstein are the only two real sure-enough high-brows and the only ones who can really understand each other. I wont ask you if this is straight stuff for I know you are too modest to admit it. But I want to know this --- Do you ever run across a fellow that even you can't understand?"

"Yes," says he.

"This well make a great reading for the boys down at the office," says I. "Do you mind releasing to me who he is?"

"Weyl," says he.

Hermann Weyl may well have been the greatest genius actively working at the time. He produced at a higher level than Dirac or Einstein. He was primarily a mathematician but he wrote seminal books on relativity and quanturm mechanics. I will post some of his funny ideas on relativity.

Sunday, Jun 27, 2010
 
Bogus arguments for supersymmetry
Czech string theorist Lubos Motl writes:
By far the most important argument in favor of supersymmetry is the fact that it seems to be implied by string theory, the only known - and, most likely, the only mathematically possible - consistent unifying theory of fundamental forces including gravity.
No, string theory does not unify any of the forces, and has not been shown to be consistent. If that is not wacky enough, here is his second most important argument for supersymmetry:
The cosmological constant problem has often been presented as the greatest mystery of the contemporary high-energy physics. However, the role of supersymmetry has often been obscured.

In the Planck units, the observed cosmological constant is very tiny, something like 10^{-123}. An easy way to cancel the cosmological constant would be to have an exact supersymmetry. In that case, arguments showing that the C.C. is still equal to zero can work. The vacuum graphs (loops) with bosons would cancel against their superpartners.

However, SUSY is broken and the SUSY breaking scale is at least 300 GeV or so. Is that enough to make the cosmological constant tiny?

Well, it's not. The most natural value of the cosmological constant is something like 10^{-60} times the natural value that you would predict from the SUSY breaking at 300 GeV. And SUSY breaking can't be much lower than 300 GeV because the superpartners would otherwise be easily seen without big colliders - but they're not seen.

So with SUSY, the numerical problem survives. In fact, SUSY makes things more controllable so the statement that the natural value of the C.C. is different than the observed one becomes even more justifiable by mathematics.

Nevertheless, there is one point that pretty much everyone overlooks: 10^{-60} is less unnatural than 10^{-123}. By requiring low-energy SUSY, the fine-tuning problem for the cosmological constant has been reduced by 63 orders of magnitude or so. So much (10^{63} times) higher a fraction of the vacua with low-energy SUSY have a chance to predict a tiny enough vacuum energy so that it agrees with the observations.

Only a string theorist would brag about an experimental prediction that is only wrong by 63 orders of magnitude.

The Asymtotia string theorist blogger writes:

Here’s the really odd thing about all this (and an explanation of the post title): While this is a school on Quantum Gravity, after talking with the students for a while one learns that in most cases the little they’ve heard about string theory is often essentially over 20 years out of date and almost always totally skewed to the negative, to the extent that many of them are under the impression that string theory has nothing to do with quantum gravity at all! It is totally bizarre,
They are right. String theory has nothing to do with quantum gravity. I challenged him to cite the scientific paper that shows some connection, and he ignored it. There are string theorists who speculate that they may someday solve the problem of quantum gravity, but they have almost nothing so far, unless you want to count being wrong by 63 decimal places.

Friday, Jun 25, 2010
 
Stein on Poincare
Howard Stein wrote an unpublished essay on Physics and Philosophy Meet: the Strange Case of Poincaré:
Let me begin with a remark about the culminating event, Poincaré’s memoir of 1905/6 on the dynamics of the electron. I am by no means the first one to comment on that paper: there is a well known controversy over the question whether or not it de- serves to be considered as containing a statement of the special theory of relativity -- and if not, why not? -- i.e., the question, how does Poincaré’s theory differ from Einstein’s? That such a controversy should be possible at all is certainly a little odd; so prima facie, the case is strange. But I have not seen it pointed out just how strange; I know of nothing like it in the entire history of physics. There have been many instances of work inade- quately appreciated at first, on account of what might be called philosophical precon- ceptions or prejudices; but here we have to deal with a great work by a great scientist and philosopher of science whose own author failed to appreciate its true worth.
I think Stein is correct that there is no other example in the history of science like Poincare and relativity. There are lots of examples of geniuses who did get credit because their work was ignored. But Poincare was not ignored, he published more of the theory than Einstein, and he continues to be downplayed by physicists and historians to this day.

Stein goes on to discuss Poincare's physics and philosophy, and why the Poincare story is puzzling. He says Poincare did not believe in the aether, and objected to any argument depending on the aether. But "he does not suggest (explicitly, at any rate) that an electromagnetic theory of light can be formulated without an ether altogether." Stein attributes this to "Poincaré’s philosophical mistake", and explains:

And this is the crucial difference, as I see it, between Poincaré’s relation to the special theory of relativity and Einstein’s. Both of them discovered this theory -- and did so independently. So far as its mathematical structure is concerned, Poincaré’s grasp of the theory was in some important respects superior to Einstein’s. But Einstein “took the theory seriously” in the sense that he looked to it for NEW INFORMATION about the physical world -- that is, in Poincaré’s language, he regarded it as “fertile”: as a source of new “real generalizations” -- of empirically testable consequences. And in doing so, Einstein attributed physical significance to the basic notions of the theory itself in a way that Poincaré did not.
If Stein were correct, then it would indeed be puzzling that Poincare could discover relativity and not understand it. Stein justifies his conclusion by saying that Einstein found in 1915 that relativity affects the Mercury perihelion, and that Einstein badmouthed Poincare in 1911.

Stein has many references to Poincare's 1908 book, but obviously did not notice that it proposes using relativity to explain that Mercury perihelion deviation. Poincare was 7 years ahead of Einstein, even on Stein's best example.

It is absurd to suggest that Einstein took the physical applications of relativity more seriously. The best relativity experiments of the time were those of Kaufmann and others on relativistic mass. Those started in 1901, before Einstein said anything on the subject. Poincare considers them carefully in his 1905 paper, and admits that they might prove the theory wrong. Einstein ignores such matters.

Einstein badmouthing Poincare says more about Einstein than Poincare. Einstein obviously felt very threatened by Poincare, because recognition of Poincare's originality would be very damaging to his own reputation. It is bizarre for Stein to cite this Einstein remark as evidence that Einstein had some better understanding than Poincare. Stein could only say something so silly if he had a basic premise that Einstein was omniscient.

It seems to me that Stein is just applying his own philosophical prejudices. Even if he were right, he is still just saying that Poincare should be denied credit for relativity because of some obscure philosophical issues.

Much as these folks try, they are unable to give a coherent argument for crediting Einstein. Stein even has to add a footnote at the end of his essay admitting that he has had trouble convincing people that Poincare made a mistake, because there is no clear explanation of just what the mistake was.

Why would anyone be convinced by Stein's argument? Stein is essentially saying that Poincare independently discovered relativity theory and had a superior grasp of the theory, but Einstein should get the credit because of some philosphical argument that takes 24 pages to explain. Regardless of what that argument is, it would make more sense to credit Poincare with relativity, and credit Einstein with that philosophical argument, if indeed Einstein had some sort of superior philosophical view. But then Einstein would not be the world's greatest genius if all he did was to take Poincare's theory more seriously and to attribute physical significance to it.


Wednesday, Jun 23, 2010
 
The hunt for the God particle
The UK Guardian reports:
The idea of a hidden world might sound absurd, but physicists have good reason to believe it exists. Even with today's most advanced telescopes, astronomers can see only 4% of what makes up our cosmic neighbourhood. The rest is invisible to us, revealing itself only by the effects it has on the galaxies we can see. Around 70% of the unseen universe is labelled as "dark energy", a mysterious force that drives the expansion of the universe, making galaxies race away from us. The remaining quarter is chalked up as "dark matter", an obscure substance that clings to galaxies and exerts an unmistakable gravitational pull on them. The word "dark" means we cannot see it, but it also means scientists haven't the faintest clue what it is. ...

"Once you start considering these ideas actively, there's no theoretical reason to rule out a very interesting, dynamic and diverse dark or hidden world," says Neal Weiner, a physicist at New York University. "It leads to all sorts of conversations about the possibilities of dark people and dark planets. Now that is extremely unlikely, but it's something to think about. Once you open the box, it's not obvious where it will end." ...

The uncertainty over what exists in the hidden world has done nothing to dampen physicists' enthusiasm for the idea. John March-Russell, a theoretical physicist at Oxford University, says proof of a hidden world could become the central plank of a scientific revolution that rivals any in history. When Copernicus put the sun at the centre of the solar system in the 16th century, and when Charles Darwin described evolution in the 19th century, they both knocked humans down a peg or two. The discovery of a hidden world would force us to reassess our place once more. The cosmos as we know it – with all its stars and planets – might turn out to be nothing more than a mediocre microcosm of a far richer and more complicated universe.

"Just as the Copernican revolution told us that the Earth isn't special, the same could be true for everything that we've so far discovered," says March-Russell. "All of this stuff around us, the stuff of our reality, is it the dominant and most complex part of the universe? It might not be."

This nonsense about knocking human down a peg comes up a lot. I call it the Copernican-Freudian-Gouldian pedestal principle. I posted about it here, here, and here. Dark energy is probably the quantum vacuum, or what used to be called the aether. Dark matter is probably some sort of heavy neutrino. Finding these will not knock man off the pedestal.

There is an embarrassing correction at the end. The original said:

When Copernicus put the Earth at the center of the solar system in the 16th century, and when Charles Darwin described evolution in the 19th century, they both knocked humans down a peg or two.
The correction is still not right. Copernicus put the Sun near the center of the universe, but not at the center.

Tuesday, Jun 22, 2010
 
Latest Superstring Revolution
The June 2010 Scientific American Magazine reports:
"Twistor" Theory Reignites the Latest Superstring Revolution
A simple twist of fate: An old idea from Roger Penrose excites string theorists

In the late 1960s the renowned University of Oxford physicist and mathematician Roger Penrose came up with a radically new way to develop a unified theory of physics. Instead of seeking to explain how particles move and interact within space and time, he proposed that space and time themselves are secondary constructs that emerge out of a deeper level of reality. But his so-called twistor theory never caught on, and conceptual problems stymied its few proponents. Like so many other attempts to unify physics, twistors were left for dead.

In October 2003 Penrose dropped by the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J., to visit Edward Witten, the doyen of today’s leading approach to unification, string theory. Expecting Witten to chastise him for having criticized string theory as a fad, Penrose was surprised to find that Witten wanted to talk about his forgotten brainchild.

A few months later Witten posted a dense 97-page paper that tied together twistors and strings—bringing twistors back to life and impressing even the harshest critics of string theory. In the past few years theorists have built on Witten’s work and rethought what space and time are. They have already spun off calculational techniques that make child’s play of the toughest problems in ordinary particle physics. “I have never been more excited about physics in my life,” says string theorist Nima Arkani-Hamed, who recently moved to the institute from Harvard University to immerse himself in the emerging field. “It is developing at a blistering pace right now, with a group of roughly 15 people in the world working on it day and night.”

The history of string theory is marked by revolutions. There is never any progress in relating string theory to the real world or in making testable predictions. Just revolutions. I thought that the landscape was the third string theory revolution, but maybe it is twistor duality.

You know a subject is bogus when its leaders are always talking about revolutions and paradigm shifts.

One reader comments:

This is yet another instance where nonsensical speculations promoted by influential theorists fail to make connection with physical reality. There is no shred of observational evidence that what this article tries to sell has any merit whatsoever. Hypotheses that cannot be falsified belong to pseudo-science.
Another comment:
One suggestion: I would recommend referring to these various concepts which have not yet been experimentally tested as "hypotheses" or "concepts" rather than "theories", at least in public.

We already have enough trouble in the schools, with people of a certain persuasion claiming that evolution is "just a theory", and creationism is "creation science". As I said, just a suggestion.

No, it is a mistake to describe string theory as something that has not yet been experimentally tested. It has no hypotheses waiting to be tested. If this commenter is so concerned about creationism masquerading as science, why isn't he similarly concerned about string theory? The answer is that the string theorists are all atheists.

There are things that string theorists argue about, as you can see in this 2004 Smolin-Susskind debate.

For the most part, string theorists refuse to debate their critics. The popular physics preprint server has even been configured to show trackbacks to blogs supporting string, but not to the Not Even Wrong blog.


Monday, Jun 21, 2010
 
Only 20k human genes
I have commented before that the Human Genome Project vastly overestimated the number of human genes. Now Hawks explains:
While doing some other research, I ran across a remarkable short paper by James Spuhler, "On the number of genes in man," printed in Science in 1948.

We've been hearing for the last ten years how the low gene count in humans -- only 20,000 or so genes -- is "surprising" to scientists who had previously imagined that humans would have many more genes than this.

So here's the next to the last line of Spuhler's article:

On the basis of these speculations there are then some 19,890-30,420 gene loci in man.
Wow. 50 years of research, billions of dollars, many Nobel prizes, stunning technological advances, and a worse human gene count than a 1948 estimate. The project leaders should have just admitted that they were not really finding the genes.

Thursday, Jun 17, 2010
 
Wisdom of Feynman
From another blog:
"I do not understand why journalists and others want to know about the latest discoveries in physics even when they know nothing about the earlier discoveries that give meaning to the latest discoveries"

Richard Feynman (quoted by G.F.Giudice, "A Zeptospace Odyssey", Oxford University Press 2010)


Monday, Jun 14, 2010
 
No medical cures from human genome project
The popular leftist-atheist-evolutionist blog Pharyngula writes:
Nicholas Wade of the NY Times has written one of those stories that make biologists cringe — it just gets so much wrong. It's a look back at the human genome project, and I was turned off at the first paragraph. ... he makes this error-filled statement:>
The barely visible roundworm needs 20,000 genes that make proteins, the working parts of cells, whereas humans, apparently so much higher on the evolutionary scale, seem to have only 21,000 protein-coding genes.
Humans aren't high on the evolutionary scale…there is no evolutionary scale. We aren't the pinnacle of anything. It's also weird to see people still expressing astonishment that we "only" have about 20,000 genes.
What is astonishing is that evolutionist professors can deny that humans are high on the evolutionary scale.

Wade also says:

… despite all the hype, the contribution of the genome to human health has been pretty negligible. In other words, from a purely medical point of view, there isn’t much to celebrate.
The human genome project is loved and hated for the same reason -- it is a reductionist approach to the never-ending nature-nuture debate.

Sunday, Jun 13, 2010
 
Naming denialists
Megan Scudellari writes in the British journal Nature:
Scientists regularly debate hypotheses and interpretations, sometimes feverishly. But in the public sphere, a different type of dissension is spreading through media outlets and online in an unprecedented way—one that challenges basic concepts held as undeniable truths by most researchers. 'Science denialism' is the rejection of the scientific consensus, often in favor of a radical and controversial point of view. Here, we list what we see as a few of today's most vocal denialists spreading ideas that counter the consensus in health fields.
This is a scurrilous approach for a scientific journal. Some of those listed back up what they say with cites to scientific articles. They have legitimate opinions based on the research they cite. If they are wrong, then Nature could publish an article demonstrating their error. But it is not scientific to just publish an article with name-calling about how they are in a minority.

See Michael Fumento's reply.

It is true that the BMI of people who live the longest is in the overweight range, that swine flu was declared a pandemic only by changing the definitions, and the optimistic mainstream predictions for embryonic stem cell therapies have failed. We need people pointing these things out, without the science establishment branding them denialists.


Saturday, Jun 12, 2010
 
Vladimir I. Arnold dies
From Arnold's obituary:
A similar approach can also be applied to the motion of planets. If Earth were the only planet to circle the Sun, its orbit would follow a precise elliptical path, but the gravity of the other planets disturbs the motion. Scientists found that it impossible to calculate the precise motion of the planets over very long periods of time or even prove that Earth will not one day be flung out of the solar system.
Henri Poincare was the first to show the possibility of planetary orbits being chaotic.

Poincare and Arnold were geniuses. Einstein never did any mathematical physics with this depth.


Friday, Jun 11, 2010
 
String theory predictions
The June 2010 Scientific American magazine describes 12 Events That Will Change Everything. One of the 12 is possibility that the new Swiss particle collider will discover the extra dimensions of string theory. The author gives it a 50-50 chance. The online reader poll is similarly split.

But the string theory gurus are now less optimistic:

John Hockenberry, the panel’s moderator, asked Greene if he thought experimental evidence would come during his lifetime.

“I’d be surprised,” said Greene.

“And in your lifetime?” Hockenberry asked Kachru.

“…I’d be surprised,” conceded the young physicist reluctantly.

I think that the possibility is zero, as the theory has already been determined to be a big washout. But whether that is true or not, I don't see how the 6 or 7 extra dimensions could "change everything". A nuclear war or a global pandemic are 2 of the 12 things that might change everything. Those effects will be obvious to everyone. But how will anything be changed by someone saying that extra dimensions could help explain some particle collision? It is likely that someone else will find an explanation that is just as good, but does not use the extra dimensions.

The discover of quantum mechanics in the 1920s really did change everything, but most of the philosophical implications are fallacious. There are many interpretations of quantum mechanics, and not all of them are probabilistic or observer-dependent.


Saturday, May 29, 2010
 
Evolutionism requires opposition to all religion
Leftist-athiest-evolutionist Jerry Coyne (Why Evolution Is True) attacks all scientists who seek accommodation with religious believers. He writes on his blog:
Yes, one can believe in both evolution and God. Evolution is a well-confirmed scientific theory. Christians and other people of faith need not see evolution as a threat to their beliefs.
This is like saying “Gazelles and other antelopes need not see lions as a threat to their lives.”
So I guess Coyne is admitting that atheism is essential to evolutionism, and the goal of all good evolutionists is to wipe out religion.

Coyne follows up with this:

There are people of faith who see the theory of evolution and scientific cosmology as contrary to the creation narrative in Genesis. But Genesis is a book of religious revelations and of religious teachings, not a treatise on astronomy or biology.

According to Augustine, the great theologian of the early Christian church, it is a blunder to mistake the Bible for an elementary textbook of astronomy, geology, or other natural sciences. As he writes in his commentary on Genesis:

“If it happens that the authority of sacred Scripture is set in opposition to clear and certain reasoning, this must mean that the person who interprets Scripture does not understand it correctly.”

But who can say what the book of Genesis was supposed to mean?  I’ll give you ten to one that, when it was written, it was a treatise on astronomy and biology, at least as far as those things were understood by denizens of the Middle East two millennia ago.

And, frankly, I’m tired of Augustine being trotted out in these kinds of discussions, as if his interpretation of the Bible was obviously the correct one. I could trot out other theologians who would say the opposite.

The significance of St. Augustine's view is that it has been the view of the Roman Catholic Church for 1500 years, and that it is the theology of most Christians today.

The Middle East had many outstanding treatises on astronomy and biology two millennia ago. The ancient Babylonians and the Greeks could predict eclipses and the retrograde motion of the planets. They had observed and catalogued thousands of species of plants and animals. No, they did not think that Genesis was a treatise on astronomy and biology. Genesis is nothing like their scientific treatises. Coyne acts as if Darwin's book was the first scientific book ever written.

A Wash. Post book review says:

Fully half of these top scientists are religious. Only five of the 275 interviewees actively oppose religion. Even among the third who are atheists, many consider themselves "spiritual." ...

Creationist attacks on evolution "have polarized the public opinion such that you're either religious or you're a scientist!" a devout physicist complains.

I don't know whether that is true about creationists or not, but it is certainly true about the leading evolutionists like Dawkins and Coyne.

Friday, May 28, 2010
 
Schulmann on Einstein, and how Einstein still makes money
I just watched an interview of Einstein biographer and archivist Robert Schulmann by John McLaughlin. Schulmann agreed that it is "certainly true" Einstein's big 1905 papers would be rejected today. The viewer is led to believe that such radical papers would not survive the stodgy editors and reviewers of today.

In fact much more radical physics papers get published today all the time. Eg, see this.

It probably is true that Einstein's 1905 papers would be rejected, but only because the editors would require him to give references to the work in the field. Einstein describes the work of others without giving his sources. Modern papers are nearly always required to have references. Of course Einstein's papers would not seem so radical if he did that.

Apparently there is a lot of money in maintaining Einstein's legacy. AP reports:

Albert Einstein is among the world's top-earning dead people, and an Israeli university that holds rights to his image is asking General Motors Co. to pay for putting the physics pioneer in a magazine ad.

The Detroit automaker grafted the Nobel Prize-winning German scientist's head onto the body of a buff, shirtless man in a Nov. 30 ad in People magazine.

The ad had the slogan "Ideas Are Sexy Too."

On May 19, Hebrew University of Jerusalem filed suit against GM in U.S. District Court for central California. The suit quotes Forbes magazine in 2008 as saying Einstein earned $18 million a year, fourth among deceased celebrities. He died in 1955.

GM spokeswoman Ryndee Carney tells The Detroit News that GM paid for rights to Einstein's image.

It used to be that someone had to be in the business of licensing his image while he was still alive, in order for those rights to be enforceable after death. It seems crazy for some Hebrew university to be able to control Einstein's image.

With that kind of money at stake, you can be sure that someone like Schulmann will only be allowed to say positive things about Einstein. None of the official biographers and archivists will say correctly just what Einstein did that was original.

 
Ardi not a hominid
The breakthru of the year last year was a missing link named, but now it seems that Ardi may have been just an ape:
The fossil skeleton known as Ardi, hailed in some quarters as the scientific “breakthrough” of 2009, has now drawn critics who dispute claims that the species lived in dense woodlands rather than grassy plains, which have been long considered the favored habitat of early prehumans and perhaps account for their transition to upright walking.

Another scientist has stepped forward to challenge Ardi’s classification as a member of the human lineage after the divergence from African apes. Its primitive anatomy, he contends, suggests a species predating the common ancestor of the human and chimpanzee family trees.

I was suspicious when I found out that they kept Ardi secret for 17 years. I am also suspicious that they never seem to find any ape fossils. Every time they find an ape-like fossil, they claim that it is a human ancestor and get lot of publicity. No one cares about ape fossils. The researchers have too much incentive to classify the fossils as hominids.

Update: John Hawks has a discussion of some of the Ardi problems.


Thursday, May 27, 2010
 
Martínez on Einstein
Alberto A. Martínez writes:
Throughout the decades, Einstein made many comments and declarations concerning the origins of relativity theory. He was interviewed by biographers, psychologists, historians, physicists, journalists, and others. He voiced many details to friends, family members, and even to the public at large. We also have letters and recollections by his colleagues and contemporaries. Thus, we know of so many clear-cut influences that it would take us too far afield to review them here. To mention just a few as examples, some of the major influences, among many others, were: Lorentz’s work on electrodynamics, the ether-drift experiments, a key experiment by Fizeau, the admittedly crucial writings of Hume and Mach, and to some extent, those of Poincaré.
And Einstein denied that he read Lorentz's later works, that he ever read any of Poincare, and that he was influenced by Michelson-Morley.

Einstein did not just misrepresent his work in 1905, by not citing the previous work. He spent his whole life lying about it. The discovery of relativity is carefully documented as one of the great breakthrus of mankind, and yet everyone accepts Einstein's phony story about it.


Wednesday, May 26, 2010
 
Censorship is not the answer to health scares
A UK essay says:
‘How could this have happened?’ asks a splenetic editorial reflection on the MMR-autism controversy in the current issue of Vaccine, the leading scientific journal in the field of immunisation. The authors - Gregory Poland of the Mayo Clinic and Ray Spier from the University of Surrey – proceed to blame everybody but the scientific authorities for the scare that was launched in a notorious (and now withdrawn) Lancet paper by the former Royal Free gastroenterology researcher Andrew Wakefield who was finally struck off the medical register this week on charges of serious professional misconduct. ...

After a brief standoff with Elsevier, when Charlton refused to back down on his editorial independence, he was sacked this month as editor of Medical Hypotheses. Now that those who call for a clampdown on scientists who express sceptical views about global warming or the scaremongering about AIDS seek to extend the label of ‘denialism’ to include those, like Wakefield, who ‘deny’ the consensus that childhood vaccines are safe and effective, the editors of Vaccine seem to want to restrict the expression of such views in the media.

I think that the preoccupation with silencing Wakefield by the medical establishment is bizarre. Isn't it enough just to prove him wrong?

No, dissenting views on vaccines, AIDS, global warming, evolution, and a few other subjects are not tolerated. The more that certain views are censored, the more that people will legitimately complain that they are not getting the full story.


Monday, May 24, 2010
 
Astronomer Copernicus reburied as hero in Poland
AP reports:
FROMBORK, Poland — Nicolaus Copernicus, the 16th-century astronomer whose findings were condemned by the Roman Catholic Church as heretical, was reburied by Polish priests as a hero on Saturday, nearly 500 years after he was laid to rest in an unmarked grave.

His burial in a tomb in the cathedral where he once served as a church canon and doctor indicates how far the church has come in making peace with the scientist whose revolutionary theory that the Earth revolves around the Sun helped usher in the modern scientific age.

Copernicus, who lived from 1473 to 1543, died as a little-known astronomer working in a remote part of northern Poland, far from Europe's centers of learning. He had spent years laboring in his free time developing his theory, which was later condemned as heretical by the church because it removed Earth and humanity from their central position in the universe.

No, his findings were never condemned as heretical. His book was published with the endorsement of the Catholic Church. About 75 years later, it said that nine sentences had to be corrected. That's all. Catholics were always free to study his book and use its model.

The corrections were not because of a "central position" argument. The Earth was not at the center in the Ptolemaic model either. There was a medieval belief that the Earth was stationary, but not that it was at the center of the universe.


Sunday, May 23, 2010
 
Another quantum crypto break
Any proof that quantum cryptography is perfect relies on idealized assumptions that don't always hold true in the real world. One such assumption is related to the types of errors that creep into quantum messages. ... The physicists say they have successfully used their hack on a commercial quantum cryptography system from the Geneva-based startup ID Quantique.
I have noted previous breaks here.

I point this out repeatedly because the promoters of quantum crypto are always claiming that it is superior to conventional crypto because we can be more sure about the correctness of the physics of quantum mechanics, or something like that. In my opinion, just the opposite is true, and dependence on physical principles quantum crypto much more difficult to do securely. The physical dependence also makes it impractical for most applications.


Thursday, May 20, 2010
 
Holton on Einstein
The book Thematic origins of scientific thought: Kepler to Einstein By Gerald James Holton has a long argument for Einstein's originality:
6 ON THE ORIGINS OF THE SPECIAL THEORY OF RELATIVITY

Continuity or Revolution?

EINSTEIN’S work in relativity is both typical and special. The rise of relativity theory shares many features with the rise of other important scientific theories in our time. But it is of course very much more. To find another work that illuminates as richly the relationship among physics, mathematics, and epistemology or between experi- ment and theory, or a work with the same range of scientific, philo- sophical, and general intellectual implications, one would have to go back to Newton's Principia. The theory of relativity was a key develop- ment both in physical science itself and in the philosophy of science. The reason for its dual significance is that Einstein’s work provided not only a new principle of physics, but, as A. N. Whitehead said, “a principle, a procedure, and an explanation." Accordingly, the com- mentaries on the historical origins of the theory of relativity have tended to fall into two classes, each having distinguished proponents: the one views it as a mutant, a sharp break with respect to the work of Einstein's immediate predecessors; the other regards it as an elabora- tion of then current work, for example, by H. A. Lorentz and Henri Poincaré.
191

Holton is an Einstein biographer who is credited with debunking Whittaker and others who describe a continuity in the history of relativity.

No, Einstein’s work did not provide a new principle of physics, or any of those other things.

Even if you don't know anything about relativity, this must strike you as hard to believe. Some people say that Einstein's 1905 relativity paper was the most important scientific paper in two centuries, and others say that it was just a rehash of previous work

Newton's Principia was not entirely original, as the inverse square law for gravity had been published by Hooke and others previously. Leibniz discovered aspects of mathematical calculus before Newton published, but Newton claims that his books has ideas that he invented 20 years earlier, and Newton and Leibniz could have influenced each other.

Einstein claims that he wrote his whole paper in a 6-week flash of brilliance, and immediately sent it to the publisher. So the priority issues are much more clear-cut for Einstein than for Newton. So how could there be any dispute? It should be a simple matter to look and see whether the formulas were published before Einstein. If Einstein had some new and different formula, then his supporters would just point to that.

But they cannot do that. Every single formula and concept was published before Einstein. Holton cannot deny that. Instead he babbles for pages about how Lorentz and Poincare did not really understand their own formulas.

Holton's argument is that Lorentz-Poincare and Einstein separately created the greatest theory in centuries, but Einstein should get all the credit because Lorentz and Poincare did not understand what they did.

Why would anyone believe anything so ridiculous? It is as if supporters of Leibniz or Hooke argued that Newton did not really understand what he wrote in his Principia. If Newton were able to produce such a great work without understanding it, then I would think that he must be even more brilliant.

If Lorentz and Poincare really didn't understand it, then they would have some wrong formulas mixed in with the correct ones. And the criticism would be based on those errors, not guessing about what they understood. In fact Lorentz did make a couple of errors that showed limits to his understanding. So did Einstein. But nobody cares about that. Because if Lorentz gets credit for everything but his mistakes, then there is not enough credit left for Einstein. And Poincare didn't make any major mistakes.

Reading these Einstein biographers is like reading some Catholic Church scholar claiming that some other scholar made a doctrinal error. It is just not something you can understand or verify on your own. You are supposed to believe these guys that Lorentz and Poincare had figured out all the physical principles, derived all the correct formulas, and explained all the experiments properly. But somehow they just weren't as good as Einstein.


Thursday, May 13, 2010
 
Katzir on Poincare
Katzir writes:
Since Poincaré's new relativistic theory therefore depends upon the validity of Maxwell's equa- tions, it is not as general as Einstein's special theory of relativity, which assumes only the prin- ciple of relativity and the constancy of the speed of light.
No, this is backwards. Here is how Einstein described his own assumptions, in his 1905 mass-energy paper:
The results of the previous investigation lead to a very interesting conclusion, which is here to be deduced.

I based that investigation on the Maxwell-Hertz equations for empty space, together with the Maxwellian expression for the electromagnetic energy of space, and in addition the principle that:--

The laws by which the states of physical systems alter are independent of the alternative, to which of two systems of coordinates, in uniform motion of parallel translation relatively to each other, these alterations of state are referred (principle of relativity).

With these principles* as my basis I deduced inter alia the ...

*    The principle of the constancy of the velocity of light is of course contained in Maxwell's equations.

As you can see, Einstein's theory depended on Maxwell's equations, and Einstein admitted it.

Katzir gives a very good account of what Poincare did, so it is odd that he would get this wrong. Poincare applied his relativity theory in 1905 to gravity, and that did not depend on electromagnetism at all. Poincare himself later said that electromagnetism cannot account for gravity. So Poincare's relativity was more general.

Katzir knows this; he even wrote an essay on Poincaré's Relativistic Theory of Gravitation. (Behind paywall here.)


Tuesday, May 11, 2010
 
Defining a siphon
A physicist complains:
"An extensive check of online and offline dictionaries did not reveal a single dictionary that correctly referred to gravity being the operative force in a siphon," Dr Hughes said.

The most up-to-date version of the OED defines a siphon as:

"A pipe or tube of glass, metal or other material, bent so that one leg is longer than the other, and used for drawing off liquids by means of atmospheric pressure, which forces the liquid up the shorter leg and over the bend in the pipe."
I think that it is just as misleading to say that gravity is the operative force. Yes, both gravity and atmospheric pressure are needed to work a siphon. But the surprising part of the siphon is the liquid going up, and that is driven by the atmospheric at the bottom of the short leg and the lesser pressure at the top of the tube. Yes, the lesser pressure is caused by gravity, but I think that the OED definition is literally correct, and appropriately emphasizes the more subtle aspect of the siphon.

The scientific paper says:

It would be useful if someone could perform a demonstration of a siphon working in a vacuum. ...

It is hoped that this paper may assist in correcting the common misconception that the operation of a siphon is dependent on atmospheric pressure. ...

For example, the online edition (2009) of the Oxford English Dictionary quoted in the introduction could be modified to read: “A pipe or tube of glass, metal, or other material, bent so that one leg is longer than the other, and used for drawing off liquids by means of gravity, which pulls the liquid up the shorter leg and over the bend in the pipe.”

Huhh? It should not be hard to do that vacuum siphon demonstration, if he were correct.

Sunday, May 09, 2010
 
Science of ignorance
Science is not just about an accumulation of knowledge about the natural world. It is also about knowing the limits to that knowledge.

The best scientist is not the one who jumps to some conclusion on some issue like global warming, and is later proved correct. The best scientist is the one who correctly explains what is deducible from the available data, and correctly understands the limitations of the available knowledge.

The ancient Greeks understood that they could predict their view of the sky without knowing whether or not the Earth moves. Probably the Babylonians, Egyptians, and others also. Some of them, anyway.

The physics of motion was not really understood until around 1900. Until then, there were unexplained puzzles about whether the Earth moved or not. The best scientists realized this.

Here are some ignorance quotes:

Daniel J. Boorstin:
The greatest obstacle to discovery is not ignorance -- it is the illusion of knowledge.
Education is learning what you didn't even know you didn't know.

Thomas Jefferson:
Ignorance is preferable to error, and he is less remote from the truth who believes nothing than he who believes what is wrong.

Joe Theisman:
The word "genius" isn't applicable in football. A genius is a guy like Norman Einstein.

Ludwig Wittgenstein:
Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent. (Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, daruber muss man schweigen.)


Friday, May 07, 2010
 
Top 10 science and technology writers
He is a magazine's list:
1. Stephen Hawking 2. Richard Dawkins 3. Isaac Newton 4. Charles Darwin 5. Albert Einstein 6. Bruce Schneier 7. Guy Kewney 8. Isaac Asimov 9. Robert X. Cringely 10. John C Dvorak
They admit that they did not understand Hawking. Not sure about the others. The list is absurd.

Thursday, May 06, 2010
 
Europeans have Neanderthal genes
The NY Times reports:
Neanderthals mated with some modern humans after all and left their imprint in the human genome, a team of biologists has reported in the first detailed analysis of the Neanderthal genetic sequence.

The biologists, led by Svante Paabo of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, have been slowly reconstructing the genome of Neanderthals, the stocky hunters that dominated Europe until 30,000 years ago, by extracting the fragments of DNA that still exist in their fossil bones. Just last year, when the biologists first announced that they had decoded the Neanderthal genome, they reported no significant evidence of interbreeding.

Scientists say they have recovered 60 percent of the genome so far and hope to complete it. By comparing that genome with those of various present day humans, the team concluded that about 1 percent to 4 percent of the genome of non-Africans today is derived from Neanderthals. But the Neanderthal DNA does not seem to have played a great role in human evolution, they said.

Experts believe that the Neanderthal genome sequence will be of extraordinary importance in understanding human evolutionary history since the two species split some 600,000 years ago.

This is contrary to what evolutionists have been telling us for years. They have said that Neanderthals were not human, that all human have the same out-of-Africa lineage, and that there has been no significance human evolution since. I don't know how convincing this evidence is, but we shall soon see.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010
 
Paty on covariance
The French professor Michel Paty writes in a 1992 essay, Physcial Geometry and Special relativity: Einstein and Poincaré:
Poincaré's and Einstein's respective conceptions about space (properties of distances), time (relativity of simultaneity), and on velocity (relativistic addition of velocities, the speed of light as a limiting velocity), concerning the mathematical formulation and the physical interpretation of these concepts as well as their relation to dynamics, were at the same time very close and very different.

Very close, because both of them came to exactly the same formulae of transformation, with an identical interpretation as to the truely physical character of the concepts considered in any (inertial) reference frame (i.e., in the usual case of two frames in relative motion, the one taken as at rest, and the one in 30 Title of his 1905 paper simultaneous to Einstein's one (Poincaré 1905 b and c, Einstein 1905).

But their views were very different concerning the theoretical meaning of these results, and only Einstein can be credited of having developped a theory of relativity, where the idea of covariance is basic and founding. Although the word was coined afterwards, it summarizes indeed the essential of Einstein's 1905 theory (and, so to speak, the ‘object’ of this theory) : covariance, as the condition put on physical quantities so that the principle of relativity is obeyed, entails the Lorentz formulae of transformation through a redefinition of space and time, and the covariant form of (electro-)dynamical laws. Poincaré also considered covariance, but not as the founding concept. It was entailed from Lorentz formulae of transformation, and these were a consequence of electrodynamical properties as evidenced experimentally (with a particular emphasis on Michelson-Morley experiment, at variance with Einstein)34. [p.16-17]

No, that is backwards. Poincare proved covariance in 1905, and Einstein did not. Covariance means transforming spacetime vectors and tensors as a consequence of spacetime coordinate transformations. This fundamentally important concept is absent from Einstein's famous 1905 paper. Einstein does not even have the concept of spacetime, and he certainly does not have the concept of a convariant vector or tensor field on spacetime. He deduces the transformation of electric and magnetic fields by assuming that Maxwell's equations hold in different inertial frames, just as Lorentz did ten years earlier. The main difference between Einstein and Lorentz on this point was that Einstein said that he was using the equations for empty space, while Lorentz said that he was using the equations for the aether.

Poincare invented 4-vectors on 4-dimensional spacetime in 1905, gave a covariant spacetime formulation of Maxwell's equations , and proved that the equations hold in different inertial frames by applying those spacetime coordinate transformations.

It is baffling how someone can write a scholarly essay on relativity, and get this difference so wrong. It is only possible because physicists have been getting it wrong for decades.


Saturday, May 01, 2010
 
Nobel prizewinner studies the paranormal
Via Woit comes this controversy:
An extraordinary spat has broken out after a Nobel prizewinning physicist was "uninvited" from a forthcoming conference because of his interest in the paranormal.

Details of the conference in August for experts in quantum mechanics sounded idyllic. Participants were due to discuss "de Broglie-Bohm theory and beyond" in the Towler Institute, which is housed in a 16th-century monastery in the Tuscan Alps owned by Mike Towler, Royal Society research fellow at Cambridge University's Cavendish Laboratory.

The prizewinner once wrote this paper:
A model consistent with string theory is proposed for so-called paranormal phenomena such as extra-sensory perception (ESP). Our mathematical skills are assumed to derive from a special 'mental vacuum state', whose origin is explained on the basis of anthropic and biological arguments, taking into account the need for the informational processes associated with such a state to be of a life-supporting character. ESP is then explained in terms of shared 'thought bubbles' generated by the participants out of the mental vacuum state. The paper concludes with a critique of arguments sometimes made claiming to 'rule out' the possible existence of paranormal phenomena.
It sounds wacky to me, but I am not sure why it is any wackier than a lot of other string theory and other fringe physics.

Here is a current argument over some untestable ideas in modern physics:

Gross called Guth's concept of eternal inflation somewhat speculative, noting that if other universes do exist, they are causally disconnected from ours — "every goddamn one of them." As such, Gross added, talk of other universes "does bear some resemblance to talking about angels."
Guth is sometimes mentioned as a Nobel Prize candidate for his discovery of cosmic inflation theory in the 1980s. But there is still no hard evidence for inflation, and no good estimates for when it started, how big it was, or how long it lasted. It is just another goofy idea with no substantiation.

Friday, Apr 30, 2010
 
How textbooks worship Einstein
From a special relativity textbook by Claude Kacser:
The most satisfactory such theory was that developed by H. A. Lorentz between the years 1895 and 1904, since it was not ad hoc. Rather, this theory was based on Maxwell's equations, assuming the existence of an ether. Lorentz followed through in detail the changes brought about in these equations when looked at from the point of view of an observer moving ...

In its experimental consequences the theory of Lorentz as finally developed makes exactly the same predictions as the theory due to Eins-tein. However the physical models of the universe underlying the two theories are completely opposed. ... In fact all the predictions of Lorentz's theory were such that all observable effects depended only on the relative motion of different parts of the apparatus; the absolute motion of any part of the apparatus relative to the ether could never be detected.

At first Poincaré had believed in the ex-istence of the absolute ether, even though he agreed with Lorentz that its properties were such that absolute motion is undetectable in principle. In 1900, Poincaré went further and asked: "Our ether, does it really exist? I do not believe that more precise observations could ever reveal anything more than relative displacements." By 1904 Poincaré had stated the second half of the above as a postulate, the Principle of Relativity; and even went so far as to say that "from all these results there must arise an entirely new kind of dynamics, which will be characterized above all by the rule that no velocity can exceed the velocity of light." ...

It is very possible that Poincaré would himself have presented a com-plete theory of relativity had Einstein not done so. Lorentz did not see the need, and his theory should be classed as "pre-relativity." To Einstein most deservedly goes the fame for formulating the theory of relativity.

[Footnote] A much fuller historical account is given in Sir Edmund Whittaker, A History of the Theories of Aether and Electricity; Vol. II: The Modern Theories (London: Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1953; paperback edition, New York: Harper & Row, Publi-shers, 1960). Some of our quotations are taken from this work (which, however, great-ly undervalues Einstein's contributions in the development of the special theory of relativity).

It is funny how his sources all say that Lorentz and Poincare and the ad hoc theorists did it all before Einstein, but he wants to credit Einstein anyway.

The commonly recited history of special relativity is so ridiculous that it is a wonder that anyone believes it.

It is impossible to read Kacser's book and understand why Einstein is credited with relativity. Einstein's theory was just as ad hoc as the ad hoc theories, and just as dependent on electromagnetism and the aether as Lorentz's theory. Kacser says that Lorentz uses electromagnetic theory to explain how the length contraction could be a real physical contraction, but that ought to be an advantage over Einstein's theory. Kacser also has language about how an "omniscient being" with "non-material meter sticks" might detect something different in Lorentz's theory, but Lorentz himself said no such thing. Even if Einstein's description had some aesthetic or terminological advantage, it is hard to see why a later theory with the same assumptions, formulas, and physical consequences should be considered so worthy of getting all the credit. A superior theory is not given until about halfway through the book where it starts to explain the geometry of spacetime, which Kacser attributes to Minkowski in 1908.


Wednesday, Apr 28, 2010
 
Einstein worship
From a book by Samuel K. K. Blankson:
How religious scientists play down the greatest of Einstein's achievements

The mind of Albert Einstein, properly understood, is probably the most extraordinary phenomenon ever to visit the earth -- where from, no one knows. But he certainly wasn't one of us earthlings tarnished with the seven sins.

This reminds me of The Manchurian Candidate (1962 film), where fellow soldiers were brainwashed to say:
Raymond Shaw is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being I've ever known in my life.
Somehow the physicists have all been brainwashed.

Monday, Apr 26, 2010
 
Natural selection is not like the germ theory
The leftist-atheist-evolutionist prof Jerry A. Coyne writes:
So why is it contemptible to reject germ theory but socially acceptable to reject evolutionary theory?

One answer is religion. Unlike germ theory, the idea of evolution strikes at the heart of human ego, suggesting that we were not the special object of God's attention but were made by the same blind and mindless process of natural selection that also built ferns, fish and rabbits. Another answer is ignorance: ...

But then he contradicts his own answers. He goes on to review two books by well-educated scholars and avowed atheists who seem to believe that the evidence for evolution by natural selection is less than the evidence for the germ theory.

A reader notes:

The biggest difference is that scientists studying germs can conduct controlled experiments, while scientists studying human evolution can only look at the fossil record.
Scientists can also gather DNA and other evidence, but their natural selection theories are never as convincing as their germ theories. That is not to say that natural selection is wrong. Natural selection is trivially correct, and obviously explains much of the biological world. The question is how much it explains, and no one can give a good answer to that.

Sunday, Apr 25, 2010
 
Hawking warns of space alien contact
The Discovery Channel reports:
Aliens may exist but mankind should avoid contact with them as the consequences could be devastating, British scientist Stephen Hawking warned Sunday.

"If aliens visit us, the outcome would be much as when Columbus landed in America, which didn't turn out well for the Native Americans," said the astrophysicist in a new television series, according to British media reports. ...

Glowing squid-like creatures, herds of herbivores that can hang onto a cliff face and bright yellow predators that kill their prey with stinging tails are among the creatures that stalk the scientist's fantastical cosmos.

The Channel promoted this show as giving the opinion of "the greatest mind on the planet". The show presented an assortment of goofy ideas.

Thursday, Apr 22, 2010
 
Wikipedia on relativity terminology
The Wikipedia article on History of special relativity says:
However, although in his philosophical writings Poincaré rejected the ideas of absolute space and time, in his physical papers he continued to refer to an (undetectable) aether. He also continued (1900b, 1904, 1906, 1908b) to describe coordinates and phenomena as local/apparent (for moving observers) and true/real (for observers at rest in the aether).[23][52] So with a few exceptions[53][54][55] most historians of science argue that Poincaré did not invent what is now called special relativity, although it is admitted that Poincaré anticipated much of Einstein's methods and vocabulary.
I objected to this for reasons stated on the Talk page. Briefly, it attributes to Poincare terminology that he did not actually use.

The article later says that Einstein used the same terminology:

However, it was rather a dispute over words because, as Einstein and Wolfgang Pauli said, the kinematic length contraction is "apparent" for an co-moving observer, but for an observer at rest it is "real" and the consequences are measurable.
Put together, this says that Poincare, Einstein, and Pauli all used the same terminology. And yet it is because of that terminology that most historians say that Poincare should not be credited. Weird.

Even if you don't understand anything about relativity, it should be obvious that an army of Einstein-loving historians have only been able to give extremely weak arguments for Einstein over Poincare. Their main argument is a trivial gripe about terminology, and that gripe doesn't even make any sense.


Sunday, Apr 18, 2010
 
Geometry explains mechanics
Here is a review of a relativity philosophy book, mentioned below:
Physical Relativity: Space-time Structure from a Dynamical Perspective
Harvey R. Brown, Physical Relativity: Space-time Structure from a Dynamical Perspective, Oxford University Press, 2005, 240pp, $55 (hbk), ISBN 0199275831.

Reviewed by Bradford Skow, University of Massachusetts ...

The geometry of spacetime explains length contraction because it places constraints on the structure of the dynamical laws.

This last claim is key, and it is the one that Brown disputes. Among his arguments that the geometry of spacetime does not explain why the laws are Lorentz invariant are these. First, Brown catalogues several geometrical structures that play a role in some physical theory or other, and claims that no one thinks that those geometrical structures do any explanatory work. For example, no one thinks that the geometry of configuration space for an N-body system in classical mechanics plays any role in explaining why that system evolves as it does (section 8.2).

No one thinks that?! Sure they do. Whole books have been written on the subject, including ones by Abraham-Marsden-Ratiu and V.I. Arnol’d.

The geometric structures include the symmetry groups, the metric, and the symplectic structure on the cotangent bundle. The symmetries explain the conserved quantities, like momentum. The symplectic structure, along with the Hamiltonian, determines the time evolution of the system. Geometry explains just as much as it does in special relativity. Brown doesn't know what he is talking about.

Meanwhile, I found a long French essay on Poincaré's epistemological writings: Obstacles to the diffusion of relativity? My French is rusty. He seems to be arguing that Poincare's popular science books sold well but only confused the public about relativity. Weird. Maybe they confused Brown, because he objects to geometrical interpretations. It is known that Einstein got a lot of inspiration from the books, and they seem to have influenced a lot of others also. Poincare's books are works of genius.

Here is another French essay that recites some facts about the history of special relativity:

So, why the work of Poincaré in Special Relativity is so ignored?

One point is that Poincaré did not realize the revolution implied by this new theory, as he had many others topics of interest especially in mathematics. His formal (maybe too speculative) approach did not reflect the “physical reality” implied by the theory. His position on the aether remains quite ambiguous, as he did not reject definitely the concept as Einstein did (at the beginning, as later Einstein had a more ambiguous position too, aether being a “hard to kill “concept). In some following papers, he expresses some doubts about the universality of the Relativity principle. In addition, he never published a so extensive treaty than Einstein.

Einstein approach more physical, more practical, was closer to the physical reality, and may be seen more striking than the Poincaré approach.

Most of this is false. Poincare described the theory as a revolutionary "new mechanics", while Einstein made no such claim in 1905. Poincare discussed the physical reality much more than Einstein, and rejected the aether more directly than Einstein. The only doubts Poincare expressed was that the theory needed to be tested by experiment, and that some experiments appeared to be contrary to the theory. Poincare published for popular and technical audiences; Einstein did not publish for a wide audience until after Poincare was dead. Einstein did not even attempt a physical explanation of what was really going on, as Poincare did.

Wednesday, Apr 14, 2010
 
TV show on Big Bang
Last night's PBS Nova on astronomy credited Hubble with discovering the expansion of the universe, when no one else believed it. Actually Hubble did not believe it either when it was discovered.

In fact Lemaitre discovered it before Hubble, as proved on the Cosmic Variance blog:

We’ve previously celebrated Father Georges-Henri Lemaitre on this very blog, for taking seriously the idea of the Big Bang. His name has come up again in the post expressing thanks for Hubble’s Law — several commenters, including John Farrell, who wrote the book and should know — mentioned that it was actually Lemaitre, not Hubble, who first derived the law. That offered me a chance to haughtily dismiss these folks as being unable to distinguish between a theoretical prediction (Lemaitre was one of the first to understand the equations governing relativistic cosmology) and an observational discovery. But it turns out that Lemaitre did actually look at the data!
Earlier Friedmann had published an expansionary model of the universe against which Einstein made a bogus attack. Einstein had to publish a correction for his error.

The Pope was ahead of the curve on this one, as reported by Discover magazine:

The Catholic Church, which put Galileo under house arrest for daring to say that Earth orbits the sun, isn't known for easily accepting new scientific ideas. So it came as a surprise when Pope Pius XII declared his approval in 1951 of a brand new cosmological theory -— the Big Bang. What entranced the pope was the very thing that initially made scientists wary: The theory says the universe had a beginning, and that both time and space leaped out of nothingness. It seemed to confirm the first few sentences of Genesis.

Eventually, astrophysicists followed the pope's lead, as evidence for the Big Bang became too powerful to ignore.

The TV show told about dark energy and dark matter. No mention of dark buzz.

Tuesday, Apr 13, 2010
 
Evolutionist tries to arrest the Pope
It seems that all the prominent evolutionists are at war with Christianity. Richard Dawkins is trying to arrest the Pope:
Leading atheist Richard Dawkins has backed a campaign to have the Pope arrested for "crimes against humanity" when he visits the UK later this year.

Professor Dawkins said he "whole-heartedly" backed the initiative led by atheist Christopher Hitchens.

Jerry Coyne has similar views, and writes:
Here’s the point. Virtually every religion that is practiced by real people ... makes claims that God interacts with the world. ...

Here is a short (and very incomplete) list of all the ways that science already has tested the supernatural assertions of faith:

* The earth was suddenly created, complete with all its species, 6,000 to 10,000 years ago. This was falsified by science. The falsification likewise goes for other religions’ creation myths, like those of Hindus and the Inuits.
* God put the earth at the center of the solar system and the universe. Also falsified. ...

No, these are not assertions of faith in the major religions. The major Christian religion is the Roman Catholic Church, and it never made these assertions of faith, as far as I know.

Even under the Ptolemaic system, the Earth was not at the center of the solar system. It was near the center, but not at the center. Medieval Church scholars subscribed to the scientific thinking of the day, and changed when new evidence was shown.

The Church has endorsed some miracles that seem very improbable to me. And it does have some unscientific assertions of faith, such as Jesus Christ rising from the dead. But those are not on Coyne's list.

I guess that there are some Christians today who are Young Earth Creationists and who believe that the Earth is at the center of the universe. But I've never met any, and these are not the beliefs of any mainstream Christian religion. Coyne makes silly straw man attacks. You can also find medieval science books that say wrong things, but that does not make all scientists wrong.

For many evolutionists like Dawkins and Coyne, evolutionism and Darwinism are inseparable from atheism and leftism.


Monday, Apr 12, 2010
 
Brown on Poincare
British philosopher Harvey R. Brown got the Lakatos Award in Philosophy of Science 2006 for his book Physical relativity: space-time structure from a dynamical perspective.

He credits Poincare for much of special relativity:

Of all the fin de siecle trailblazers, the one that came closest to pre—empting Einstein is Henri Poincaré (1854-1912) -- the man E. T. Bell called the `Last Universalist`. Indeed, the claim that this giant of pure and applied mathematics co-discovered special relativity is not uncommon, and it is not hard to see why.

(i) Poincaré was the first to extend the relativity principle to optics and elec- trodynamics exactly. 78 Whereas Lorentz, in his theorem of corresponding states, had from 1899 effectively assumed this extension of the relativity principle up to second-order effects, Poincaré took it to hold for all orders.

(ii) Poincaré was the first to show that Maxwell's equations with source terms are strictly Lorentz covariant. ...

{iii) Poincaré was the first to use the generalized relativity principle as a con· straint on the form of the coordinate transformations. He recognized that the relativity principle implies that the transformations form a group, and in further appealing to spatial isotropy. ...

(iv) Poincaré was the first to see the connection between Lorentz's `local time', (4.19) and the issue of clock synchrony. ... It is fair to say that Poincaré was the first to understand the relativity of simultaneity, and the conventionality of distant simultaneity.

[v) Poincaré anticipated Minkowski`s interpretation of the Lorentz transfor- mations as a passive, rigid rotation within a four-dimensional pseudo—Euclidean space-time. He was also aware that the the electromagnetic potentials transform in the manner of what is now called a Minkowski 4-vector.

(vi) He anticipated the major results of relativistic dynamics (and in particular the relativistic relations between force, momentum and velocity), but not E0 = mc2 in its full generality.

Taking all ofthis on board, is not the onus on the sceptic?

Sure enough, he has some convoluted explanation for why Einstein should be credited anyway!

His main beef with Poincare is that Poincare viewed relativity as a property of spacetime, instead of an artifact of electrodynamics. Actually both views are tenable, but it was Poincare's view that became adopted. Brown also says:

Although Poincaré understood independently of Einstein how the Lorentz transformations give rise to the non-Galilean transformation rules for velocities (indeed Poincate derived the correct relativistic rules), it is not clear that he had a full appreciation of the modern operational significance attached to coordinate transformations. Although it is sometimes claimed that Poincaré understood that the primed coordinates (part of Lorentz's 'auxiliary quantities') were simply the coordinates read off by rods and clocks stationary relative to the primed frame, he did not seem to understand the role played by the second-order terms in the transformation. (Note that the gammas do not appear in the velocity transformations.) Let me spell this out.

Compared with the cases of Lorentz and Larmor, it is even less clear that Poincaré understood either length contraction or time dilation to be a consequence of the coordinate transformations. Take length contraction first. in proving k = 1 for the k—Lorentz transformations in 1906, Poincaré at no point says that he has thereby shown that the deformation is indeed a longitudinal contraction. He doesn`t seem to connect the issues at all. A similar state of affairs is observed in his 1905 treatment of the deformability of the moving electron. One of the main results of his 1906 paper 'On the dynamics of the electron 85 was the demonstration that amongst the existing rival notions concerning the shape of the moving electron (assumed to take the form of a sphere at test) only the longitudinal contraction hypothesis of Lorentz is consistent with the relativity postulate. Once again, the argument made no appeal to the form of the coordinate transformations even after Poincaré had shown k = 1. The claim made hy Abraham Pais that `thc reduction of the FitzGerald—Lorentz contraction to a consequence of Lorentz transformations is a product of the nineteenth century’ in the context of Lorentz's 1899 work has been justly criticized by Janssen. 84 The claim is equally doubtful in relation to Larmor and wholly inappropriate for Poincaré. Pais himself emphasized the fact that as late as 1908, Poincaré still did not regard length contraction as a consequence of the relativity principle and Einstein's light postulate (of something close to it).85

Now take time dilation. 1t was claimed by Rindler in 1970 that Poincaré never recognized its existence, at least prior to Einstein. I have found nothing in Poincaré's writings which contradicts this claim.

This is wacky stuff. The History of Lorentz transformations goes back to 1887, long before Einstein's 1905 paper. It is true that Poincare's 1900 paper made a low velocity approximation, and the time dilation can be ignored in such an approximation. But he separately argued that the transformation was a perfect symmetry, and that is impossible unless it includes a length contraction and a time dilation.

Here is what Poincare says in his 1904 St. Louis lecture (1913 translation):

The watches adjusted in that way will not mark, therefore, the true time; they will mark what may be called the local time, so that one of them will be slow of the other. ...

Unhappily, that does not suffice, and complementary hypotheses are necessary; it is necessary to admit that bodies in motion undergo a uniform contraction in the sense of the motion. One of the diameters of the earth, for example, is shrunk by one two-hundred-millionth in consequence of our planet's motion, while the other diameter retains its normal length. Thus the last little differences are compensated.

Here is another 1905 translation:
The watches adjusted in that manner do not mark, there- fore, the true time; they mark what one may call the local time, so that one of them goes slow on the other.
And another 1905 translation:
Watches regulated in this way, therefore, will not mark the true time; they will mark what might be called the local time, so that one will gain on the other.
I read this as a reference to time dilation, but I could be wrong. Maybe I will check the original French. If he is referring to the low order approximation, then the watches get out of synchronization, but run at the same rate. With the full Lorentz transformation, they appear to run at slower rates than each other.

Anyway, Poincare is is clearly saying that the deformation is indeed a longitudinal contraction. So what is the problem? That he does not derive it from a coordinate transformation?

All of these criticisms of Poincare seem really strange to me. Poincare gives the correct equations, and gives the correct explanations. If Poincare failed to mention some aspect of the theory, isn't it more likely that he was just too busy emphasizing other aspects? If Poincare actually had some misunderstanding, isn't it likely that he would have said something that was actually wrong? Poincare's analysis is deeper and more thorough than Einstein's, and gets it all right.


Friday, Apr 09, 2010
 
Govt report drops science literacy questions
AAAS Science magazine complains:
In an unusual last-minute edit that has drawn flak from the White House and science educators, a federal advisory committee omitted data on Americans' knowledge of evolution and the big bang from a key report. The data shows that Americans are far less likely than the rest of the world to accept that humans evolved from earlier species and that the universe began with a big bang. ...

Board members say the decision to drop the text was driven by a desire for scientific accuracy. The survey questions that NSF has used for 25 years to measure knowledge of evolution and the big bang were "flawed indicators of scientific knowledge because responses conflated knowledge and beliefs," says Louis Lanzerotti, an astrophysicist at the New Jersey Institute of Technology who chairs NSB's Science and Engineering Indicators Committee. ...

"I think that is a nonsensical response" that reflects "the religious right's point of view," says Jon Miller, a science literacy researcher at Michigan State University in East Lansing who authored the survey 3 decades ago and conducted it for NSF until 2001. "Evolution and the big bang are not a matter of opinion. If a person says that the earth really is at the center of the universe, even if scientists think it is not, how in the world would you call that person scientifically literate? Part of being literate is to both understand and accept scientific constructs."

No, scientific literacy means understanding scientific constructs, but it does mean necessarily accepting them. It is a basic premise of general relativity that allows coordinate systems that put the Earth at the center of the universe, and a science literacy researcher should understand that.

In fact the surveys show that millions of Americans do have sufficient scientific literacy to understand those issues, but choose to reject certain conclusions anyway.

The 2008 NSF report says:

Americans’ responses to questions about evolution and the big bang appear to reflect factors beyond unfamiliarity with basic elements of science. The 2004 Michigan Survey of Consumer Attitudes administered two different versions of these questions to different groups of respondents. Some were asked questions that tested knowledge about the natural world ("human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals" and "the universe began with a big explosion"). Others were asked questions that tested knowledge about what a scientific theory asserts or a group of scientists believes ("according to the theory of evolution, human beings, as we know them today, developed from earlier species of animals" and "according to astronomers, the universe began with a big explosion"). Respondents were much more likely to answer correctly if the question was framed as being about scientific theories or ideas rather than as about the natural world. When the question about evolution was prefaced by "according to the theory of evolution," 74% answered true; only 42% answered true when it was not. Similarly, 62% agreed with the prefaced question about the big bang, but only 33% agreed when the prefatory phrase was omitted. These differences probably indicate that many Americans hold religious beliefs that cause them to be skeptical of established scientific ideas, even when they have some basic familiarity with those ideas.
If they really wanted to measure scientific literacy in their survey, then they would ask questions closer to observable facts, such as:
Are the stars spreading apart as if the universe has been expanding for a very long time?
I don't know why people are reluctant to accept the universe beginning with a big bang. Maybe they think that the universe existed before the big bang. Or maybe they think that it is an incredible extrapolation of current knowledge.

Scientists cannot really tell us much about the big bang anyway. There are inflationary and non-inflationary models, and they are a lot different. No one can tell which is better.

Likewise the evolution question could be replaced with something more straightforward, such as:

Humans have many genes and other hereditary traits in common with other mammals.
My guess is that the evolutionists would not be happy with this question, because it does not determine whether the person has adopted an evolutionistic worldview.

Monday, Apr 05, 2010
 
Singh on science
Simon Singh is apparently very opinionated about what is science. His book, Big Bang: The Origin of the Universe, attacks a gravitational theory with this:
Indeed, such ad hoc tinkering was indicative of the sort of blinkered logic that earlier resulted in Ptolemy adding yet more circles to his flawed epicyclic view of an Earth-centered universe. [p.128]
No, Ptolemy's epicyclic view was not false (as Singh says on p.82), and he did not add yet more circles. He only had geometrically necessary circles.

Singh has this appendix:

WHAT IS SCIENCE?

The words 'science' and 'scientist' are surprisingly modern inventions. In fact, the word 'scientist' was coined by the Victorian polymath William Whewell, who used it in the Quarterly Review in March 1834. The Americans took to the word almost immediately, and by the end of the century it was also popular in Britain. The word is based on the Latin scientia, which means 'knowledge', and it supplanted other terms such as ,natural philosopher'.

This book is a history of the Big Bang model, but at the same time it attempts to provide an insight into what science is and how it works. The Big Bang model is a good example of how a scientific idea is created, tested, verified and accepted. Nevertheless, science is such a broad activity that this book's description of it is incomplete. So, in an attempt to fill in some of the gaps, here is a selection of quotations about science.

Science is organized knowledge. HERBERT SPENCER (1820 1903), English philosopher

Science is the great antidote to the poison of enthusiasm and superstition. ADAM SMITH (1723 90), Scottish economist

Science is what you know. Philosophy is what you don't know. BERTRAND RUSSELL (1872 1970), English philosopher

[Science is] a series ofjudgements, revised without ceasing. PIERRE EMILE DUCLAUX (1840 1904), French bacteriologist

[Science is] the desire to know causes. WILLIAM HAZLITT (1778 1830), English essayist

496 BIG BANG

[Science is] the knowledge of consequences, and dependence of one upon another. THOMAS HOBBES (1588 1679), English philosopher

[Science is] an imaginative adventure of the mind seeking truth in a world of mystery CYRIL HERMAN HINSHELWOOD (1897 1967), English chemist

[Science is] a great game. It is inspiring and refreshing. The playing field the universe itself. ISIDOR ISAAC RABI (1898 1988), American physicist

Man masters nature not by force but by understanding. This is why science has succeeded where magic failed: because it has looked for no spell to cast over nature. JACOB BRONOWSKI (1908 74), British scientist and author

That is the essence of science: ask an impertinent question, and you are on the way to a pertinent answer. JACOB BRONOWSKI (1908 74), British scientist and author

It is a good morning exercise for a research scientist to discard a pet hypothesis every day before breakfast. It keeps him young. KONRAD LORENZ (1903 89), Austrian zoologist

Truth in science can best be defined as the working hypothesis best suited to open the way to the next better one. KONRAD LORENZ (1903 89), Austrian zoologist

In essence, science is a perpetual search for an intelligent and integrated comprehension of the world we live in. CORNELIUS VAN NEIL (1897 1985), American microbiologist

The scientist is not a person who gives the right answers, he is one who asks the right questions. CLAUDE LEVI STRAUSS (1908 ), French anthropologist

Science can only ascertain what is, but not what should be, and outside of its domain value judgements of all kinds remain necessary. ALBERT EINSTEIN (1879 1955), German born physicist

WHAT IS SCIENCE? 497

Science is the disinterested search for the objective truth about the material world. RICHARD DAWKINS (1941 ), English biologist

Science is nothing but trained and organised common sense differing from the latter only as a veteran may differ from a raw recruit; and its methods differ from those of common sense only as far as the guardsman's cut and thrust differ from the manner in which a savage wields his club. THOMAS HENRY HUXLEY (1825 95), English biologist

The sciences do not try to explain, they hardly even try to interpret, they mainly make models. By a model is meant a mathematical construct which, with the addition of certain verbal interpretations, describes observed phenomena. The justification of such a mathematical construct is solely and precisely that it is expected to work. JOHN VON NEUMANN (1903 57), Hungarian born mathematician

The science of today is the technology of tomorrow. EDWARD TELLER (1908 2003), American physicist

Every great advance in science has issued from a new audacity of imagination. JOHN DEWEY (1859 1952), American philosopher

Four stages of acceptance: i) this is worthless nonsense, ii) this is an interesting, but perverse, point of view, iii) this is true, but quite unimportant, iv) I always said so. J.B. S. HALDANE (1892 1964), English geneticist

Philosophy of science is about as useful to scientists as ornithology is to birds. RICHARD FEYNMAN (1918 88), American physicist

A man ceases to be a beginner in any given science and becomes a master in that science when he has learned that he is going to be a beginner all his life. ROBIN G. COLLINGWOOD (1889 1943), English philosopher


Friday, Apr 02, 2010
 
Simon Singh wins libel case
The British court quoted John Milton's Areopagitica arguing that England was freer than Italy:
There it was that I found and visited the famous Galileo, grown old, a prisoner to the Inquisition, for thinking in astronomy otherwise than the Franciscan and Dominican licensers thought.
Well, no. Galileo was never punished for thinking. He was free to publish balanced scientific arguments. He got into trouble when he put the Pope's arguments in the mouth of a fictional simpleton named Simplicio.

Singh said that the chiropractic profession ... happily promotes bogus treatments. I guess that it is safe to call chiropractors bogus in England again. The British court has struck a blow in favor of name-calling.

The Singh quote in dispute is:

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 British BBC reports:
BBC News science correspondent Pallab Ghosh says that, had Justice Eady's ruling stood, it would have made it difficult for any scientist or science journalist to question claims made by companies or organisations without opening themselves up to a libel action that would be hard to win.
No, I don't think that is correct. Anyone was always free to say that chiropractic treatment of earaches is bogus. The problem occurred because Singh made a statement that some judge interpreted as implying that the chiropractors know that the treatment is bogus.

Our society is filled with quacks giving bogus treatments. I got one myself about a month ago. For all I know, the physician may have sincerely believed what he was saying. And they chiropractors probably believe whatever they were taught in chiropractic school. Scientists and journalists are on safe ground attacking what is bogus, and skipping the mindreading.


Thursday, Apr 01, 2010
 
Higher energies at LHC
The NY Times reports:
After two false starts due to electrical failures, protons that were whipped to more than 99 percent of the speed of light and to record-high energy levels of 3.5 trillion electron volts apiece raced around a 17-mile underground magnetic track outside Geneva a little after 1 p.m. local time. They crashed together inside apartment-building-size detectors designed to capture every evanescent flash and fragment from microscopic fireballs thought to hold insights into the beginning of the universe. ...

Particle colliders get their oomph from Einstein’s equation of mass and energy. The more energy — denoted in the physicists’ currency of choice, electron volts — that these machines can pack into their little fireballs, the farther back in time they can go, closer and closer to the Big Bang, and the smaller and smaller are the things they can see.

The collider does not really get its oomph from the equation E=mc2. The velocity of the light is the limit, as Poincare explained in his 1904 St. Louis lecture:
From all these results, if they were confirmed, would arise an entirely new mechanics, which would be, above all, characterized by this fact, that no velocity could surpass that of light,
The accelerator puts energy into the protons, and the energy comes out in the collisions. That is the basic physics, and Einstein didn't have anything to do with it.

The author explains further:

The collider, which is outside Geneva, is 17 miles around. Why is it so big?

Einstein taught us that energy and mass are equivalent. So, the more energy packed into a fireball, the more massive it becomes. The collider has to be big and powerful enough to pack tremendous amounts of energy into a proton.

Moreover, the faster the particles travel, the harder it is to bend their paths in a circle, so that they come back around and bang into each other.

Again, it really doesn't have anything to do with Einstein. They need high momentum for the collisions. It takes a big force to deflect a high-momentum particle. So they need a big circle to get high momentum. That would be true with or without relativity.

Wednesday, Mar 31, 2010
 
Trying to find animal pairings
The NY Times Magazine has a long article on Can Animals Be Gay?.

People are always trying to find animal homosexuality in an attempt to prove that human homosexuality is normal. But the animal behavior they find does not resemble the human behavior, and proves nothing.

Zaotar comments:

What an overhyped and overblown article. Same-sex *asexual* pairings are not equivalent to "homosexuality" in any way that people care about. Rather the issue is same-sex *sexual* pairings. And according to the article, these albatrosses don't engage in sex between members of the same sex. The article notes that central fact, and then promptly ignores it. But why are you comparing it to homosexuality if there's no sex? It's highly misleading; the underlying facts are far more boring.

By this same absurdly overblown line of implication, everybody who keeps a pet dogs is engaging in "beastiality" because they have chosen a committed life-long interspecies relationship. Talk about missing the point. What we want to know is whether there are examples of committed *sexual* relationships amongst other animals, and if so, how they operate.

They might look for uncommitted examples also.

Monday, Mar 29, 2010
 
Physics magazine honors Einstein
The Jan. 2005 issue of Physics World (partially mirrored here and here)
Questions of precedence

In addition to allegations that he plagiarized the work of Maric´, Einstein has also been accused of stealing ideas from Hendrik Lorentz and Henri Poincaré. Elements of Einstein’s 1905 paper on special relativity paralleled parts of a 1904 paper by Lorentz and a contemporary paper by Poincaré. Although Einstein read earlier papers by the two, he claimed not to have seen these later works before writing his first paper on special relativity.

A frequent criticism of Einstein is that this paper did not contain any references,which might suggest that he was consciously hiding his tracks. But Stachel is doubtful. “At the time, I do not think it was that unusual,” he says. “There is no evidence that he ever consciously took from some source and neglected to mention it in order to get the credit himself.

Equally, there are questions over general relativity. One frequent accusation is that David Hilbert completed the general theory of relativity at least five days before Einstein submitted his conclusive paper in November 1915. There are marked similarities between the two men’s work, and they did squabble for some time over primacy. But Stachel says that he and co-workers have found evidence that the first proofs for Hilbert’s paper did not include the crucial field equations for general relativity. He says that these proofs were also based on Einstein’s earlier rejection of the principle of general covariance, a central tenet of general relativity that shows that the laws of relativity hold for any inertial frame. Einstein’s 1915 paper, in contrast, showed that relativity could be made generally covariant by adopting a new geometric model of space–time.

There is plenty of evidence that Einstein consciously neglected to credit others, in order to get more credit for himself. He did it all his life. Not only do his famous relativity papers fail to cite his sources, but he continued to do so in followup papers and interviews. He also did it in private letters. Stachel is an Einstein biographer, and he must know this. He is just an Einstein idol worshipper.

Stachel's analysis of Hilbert's paper has been shown to be wrong. That Hilbert draft does indeed have a correct covariant formulation of general relativity. It appears that the draft does not have the field equations because Stachel or someone else removed that half-page. Stachel's article on the subject dishonestly omitted the fact that a critical half-page was missing.

So why has Einstein attracted so much criticism? Stachel has identified three general reasons, the first being anti-semitism. ... Stachel also points out that in recent decades some feminist critics have picked on Einstein ... Finally, according to Stachel, there is simple iconoclasm.
Oh no, there are many more reasons for disliking Einstein. He had many character defects. He was a publicity-seeking phony who was nothing like what he pretended to be.

Thursday, Mar 25, 2010
 
Science museum decides to be scientific
The UK Times reports:
The Science Museum is revising the contents of its new climate science gallery to reflect the wave of scepticism that has engulfed the issue in recent months.

The decision by the 100-year-old London museum reveals how deeply scientific institutions have been shaken by the public’s reaction to revelations of malpractice by climate scientists.

The museum is abandoning its previous practice of trying to persuade visitors of the dangers of global warming. It is instead adopting a neutral position, acknowledging that there are legitimate doubts about the impact of man-made emissions on the climate. ...

“You can argue about how much effect the carbon in the atmosphere will have on the system and what we should do about it,” he said. “The role of the museum should be to lay out honestly and fairly what the climate science community has found out about the science.

“There are areas of uncertainty which are perfectly reasonable to raise and we will present those. For example, the extent to which the climate is as sensitive to the CO2-loading that humans have put in or not.”

This is a good sign. A museum should just show the science, and skip the leftist political messages.

Meanwhile, the hot news is a new missing link:

A previously unknown kind of human group vanished from the world so completely that it has left behind the merest wisp of evidence that it ever existed — a single bone from the little finger of a child, buried in a cave in the Altai mountains of southern Siberia.

Researchers extracted DNA from the bone and reported Wednesday that it differed conspicuously from that of both modern humans and of Neanderthals, the archaic human species that inhabited Europe until the arrival of modern humans on the continent some 44,000 years ago.

The child who carried the DNA lineage was probably 5 to 7 years old, but it is not yet known if it was a boy or a girl. ...

But they say the genetic material extracted from the bone, an element called mitochondrial DNA, belonged to a distinct human lineage that migrated out of Africa at a different time from the two known archaic human species.

So they are claiming that this tiny bone fragment is from a new human species, but they don't even know whether it was a boy or girl.

I am skeptical about this. This is just the result that evolutionary anthropologists are always hoping to find, but it might just be a contaminated DNA. I'll wait for more evidence.

The Wired mag article is titled, DNA Reveals New Hominid Ancestor. The new find is not known to be an ancestor of anything. I guess they are just desperate to make it look like a missing link.


Wednesday, Mar 24, 2010
 
Einstein not a founder of quantum mechanics
Besides relativity, Einstein is also credited with being a founder of quantum mechanics. The Nobel Prize considered giving him a prize for relativity, and rejected him eight times. Ultimately they gave him a prize for his 1905 photon paper.

In a 1949 book honoring Albert Einstein, Neils Bohr wrote:

Einstein's great original contribution to quantum theory (1905) was just the recognition of how physical phenomena like the photo-effect may depend directly on individual quantum effects. With unfailing intuition Einstein thus was led step by step to the conclusion that any radiation process involves the emission or absorption of individual light quanta or "photons" with energy and momentum E = hf and P = hs (1) respectively, where h is Planck's constant, while f and s are the number of vibrations per unit time and the number of waves per unit length, respectively.
Bohr really was a founder of quantum mechanics, so his opinion is worth something. But it was Planck who said in 1900 that light was absorbed and emitted in quanta. After all, it is Planck's constant and not Einstein's constant. Planck got a Nobel prize for it, and Lenard got one for confirming it with the photo-electric effect.

Bohr is really crediting Einstein for recognizing what Planck did. A lot of others did not believe it. Einstein went further than Planck by arguing that light is composed of quanta while it is being transmitted. (The word "photon" was invented later.)

I am just wondering what Einstein's contribution has to do with quantum mechanics. Quantum mechanics is more like what Planck said, than Einstein, because light is only quantized when it is emitted and absorbed. It behaves like a wave as it is being transmitted.

Einstein gets closer to the modern view in his 1909 paper:

When light was shown to exhibit interference and diffraction, it seemed almost certain that light should be considered a wave. Since light can also propagate through empty space, one had to imagine a strange substance, an ether, that mediated the propagation of light waves. Since light also propagates in material objects, one had to assume that this ether was also present in material objects, and was chiefly responsible for the propagation of light in material objects. The existence of the ether seemed beyond doubt. In the first volume of Chwolson's excellent physics textbook, he states in the introduction to ether, "The hypothesis of this one agent's existence is extraordinarily close to certainty."

Today, however, we regard the ether hypothesis as obsolete. A large body of facts shows undeniably that light has certain fundamental properties that are better explained by Newton's emission theory of light than by the oscillation theory. For this reason, I believe that the next phase in the development of theoretical physics will bring us a theory of light that can be considered a fusion of the oscillation and emission theories. The purpose of the following remarks is to justify this belief and to show that a profound change in our views on the composition and essence of light is imperative.

This is a change from his 1905 opinion that light was a particle. His famous 1905 paper said:
In fact, it seems to me that the observations on “black-body radiation”, photoluminescence, the production of cathode rays by ultraviolet light and other phenomena involving the emission or conversion of light can be better understood on the assumption that the energy of light is distributed discontinuously in space. According to the assumption considered here, when a light ray starting from a point is propagated, the energy is not continuously distributed over an ever increasing volume, but it consists of a finite number of energy quanta, localised in space, which move without being divided and which can be absorbed or emitted only as a whole.
This was at a time when physicists all believed that matter was made of atoms, but some were looking for better proof. So it was natural to conjecture that light was composed of some sort of atoms also.

I am questioning whether it has ever been shown that "the energy of light is distributed discontinuously in space." According to quantum mechanics (as discovered later), the energy is continuously distributed in a wave function until an observation is made. Then the light gets absorbed as a discrete photon.

Isaacson writes:

In his 1911 Solvay lecture, Einstein put these issues into the larger context of the so-called quantum problem. Was it possible, he asked, to avoid accepting the physical reality of these atomistic particles of light, which were like bullets aimed at the heart of Maxwell's equations and, indeed, all of classical physics?

Planck, who had pioneered the concept of the quanta, continued to insist that they came into play only when light was being emitted or absorbed. They were not a real world feature of light itself, he argued. Einstein, in his talk to the conference, sorrowfully demurred: "These discontinuities, which we find so distasteful in Planck's theory, seem really to exist in nature." [quote is from Einstein's 1911 paper on specific heats] [p.169]

Some physicists may disagree with me, but I would say that Planck's opinion is closer to what is accepted today.

Later in the 1909 paper, Einstein talks about relativity:

Superficial consideration suggests that the essential parts of Lorentz's theory cannot be reconciled with the relativity principle. ... the essence of Lorentz's theory ... can be reconciled with the relativity principle. These two principles lead to certain unambiguous transformation equations characterized by the identity ...
This path leads to the so-called relativity theory.
What Einstein is saying here is that Lorentz's theory is wrong, and that it can be fixed using a certain identity. What he does not say is that the identity is copied straight out of Poincare's 1905 paper, without citing Poincare. Einstein did not have the concept in his earlier papers.

Even if you think that Einstein's failure to cite Poincare in 1905 is forgivable, what possible excuse could there be for failing to cite him in 1909?

Note also that Einstein was apparently not comfortable with the name "relativity theory" in 1909. The name came from Poincare, not Einstein, and my guess is that Einstein thought that use of the name will give credit to Poincare.

I just don't see how Einstein was contributing anything to quantum theory. Physicists had debated for centuries whether light was a particle or a wave. Maxwells equations in 1870 or so provided strong evidence that light was transmitted a wave. Planck's theory of 1900 gave evidence that light was emitted and absorbed as discrete particles, with energy proportional to frequency. These were resolved by quantum electrodynamics in the 1940s. Einstein added nothing to that.


Tuesday, Mar 23, 2010
 
AGW and Copernicus
Frank J. Tipler writes:
The attacks against Copernicus are astoundingly similar to the attacks on scientists like myself who are critical of anthropogenic global warming (AGW). ... a friend of Copernicus sent a copy of On the Revolutions to Pope Paul III, the man to whom Copernicus had dedicated his great work. Paul III gave the book to his personal theologian Bartolomeo Spino who, we are told, “planned to condemn it” but died before he could do so. The task of criticizing Copernicus was transferred to Spino’s close friend, the Dominican Tolosani, who penned the following:
The book by Nicholas Copernicus of Torun was printed not long ago and published in recent days. In it he tries to revive the teaching of certain Pythagoreans concerning the Earth’s motion, a teaching which had died out in times long past. Nobody accepts it now except Copernicus. … Hence, since Copernicus does not understand physics … it is stupid to contradict a belief accepted by everyone over a very long time for extremely strong reasons, unless the naysayer uses more powerful and incontrovertible proofs, and completely rebuts the opposed reasoning. Copernicus does not do this at all. For he does not undermine the proofs, establishing necessary conclusions, advanced by Aristotle the philosopher and Ptolemy the astronomer.

Aristotle absolutely destroyed the arguments of the Pythagoreans. Yet this is not adduced by Copernicus in his ignorance of it.

Note that Copernicus was criticized was criticized on scientific grounds, not biblical. It is true that Copernicus does a lousy job of rebutting the arguments that came before him.

The current weekly (March 19) ScientificAmerican.com podcast makes an analogy between AGW and the Flat Earth of 500 years ago. (It starts about 2:20.) That was the time of Copernicus, and there was an argument about the motion of the Earth, but no one believed in a flat Earth.


Monday, Mar 22, 2010
 
Einstein on women
In a response to the protest of a women's organization against his visit to the U.S. (Mein Weltbild, 1934) Einstein wrote:
Never yet have I experienced from the fair sex such energetic rejection of all advances; or if I have, never from so many at once.

But are they not quite right, these watchful citizenesses? Why should one open one's doors to a person who devours hard-boiled capitalists with as much appetite and gusto as the Cretan Minotaur in days gone by devoured luscious Greek maidens, and on top of that is low-down enough to reject every sort of war, except the unavoidable war with one's own wife? Therefore give heed to your clever and patriotic womenfolk and remember that the capitol of mighty Rome was once saved by the cackling if its faithful geese.

Not sure what he means here, or why they were protesting. Earlier Einstein said that men are toy dogs for women.

Sunday, Mar 21, 2010
 
Wrong to say Darwin was wrong
A UK newspaper criticizes itself:
"Why everything you've been told about evolution is wrong," bellows the headline in today's Guardian. Well rest easy, my anxious science fans, it's not. ...

Alas, in his feature, Oliver Burkeman has given, in my view, an insufficiently critical airing to some specious arguments put forward in a new book entitled What Darwin got Wrong. ...

"Nobody wants to provide ammunition to the proponents of creationism," says Burkeman. But he is doing just that. Unfortunately now, many people will again assert that evolution is wrong, but very few will understand that the fact that 8% of our own genome is derived from viruses enhances evolutionary theory, rather than subverts it, as Burkeman suggests.

Their dilemma is in finding a way to tell evolution news without giving ammunition to creationists. So they don't want to contradict Darwin. But no one wants to read news stories that just repeat what Darwin knew 150 years ago.

I think that they should just print the news stories, and not worry about whether the creationists are going to like them.


Saturday, Mar 20, 2010
 
Man overpwers nature
Leftist Bush-hating physicist Lawrence M. Krauss writes in Scientific American:
I don’t know how many e-mails I have received from children who are terrified that 2012 will somehow involve the end of life as we know it, all because of an unfounded fringe religious prophecy that has received mass-market exposure with the release of a recent Hollywood movie. I have tried to reassure those children ...
I guess you get emails like that if you write books on The Physics of Star Trek.
Sarah Palin ... twittered the world with the following: “arrogant&naive2say man overpwers nature” ...

let’s consider something that is indisputable: the measured rise of carbon dioxide in the earth’s atmosphere is numerically consistent with that predicted from the output of human industrial activity.

This fact is not in dispute. What is in dispute, apparently by Palin, is whether this rise will have any effect on “nature.” It already has.

No, Palin did not dispute that. It is funny how her critics rarely criticize what she actually says, but criticize invented meanings instead.
As that pH level continues to fall on its present trajectory, it will eventually reach a point where calcium carbonate —- a dominant component of shelled animals and coral reefs —- will dissolve in seawater.
This is an outlandish prediction about the future. To be scientific, he should give some reference to the assumptions and reasoning that went into it. It is out of Krauss's expertise, so he is obviously just relying on someone else. Krauss is the one being unscientific here.

Friday, Mar 19, 2010
 
Historians refuse to examine Poincare-Einstein dispute
A Yves Gingras article on Brittanica argues that historians should not credit Lorentz or Poincare over Einstein because physicists of the day credited Einstein. It says:
The task of evaluation should be left to the actors involved as it is highly probable that what historians now see as related or even identical was not seen that way by the actors involved at the time. ...

Hence it is frequent to read that it is "puzzling" that Poincare was not often cited by Lorentz or Minkowski or others, given his contribution, or that it is "surprising" that the collection of basic papers on relativity published in 1913 did not contain Poincare's 1906 paper. ...

As late as 5 July 1909, a long-time friend of Poincare, the Swedish mathematician Gosta Mittag-Leffler, wrote to Poincare: "You undoubtedly know the pamphlet by Minkowski `Raum und Zeit' published after his death as well as the ideas of Einstein41 and Lorentz on the same question. Now M. Fredholm tells me that you have touched upon similar ideas before the others, while expressing yourself in a less philosophical, more mathematical manner."42 He asked him if he could write a paper on the subject, which he would publish in his own mathematical journal (Acta mathematica). Written in a "language comprehensible by simple geometers", it would render "a great service to everyone". ...

Poincare was never awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics.45 At about the same time, in 1912, the physicists Wilhelm Wien and Clemens Schaefer proposed that the prize be given jointly to Lorentz and Einstein for their work on relativity, a further indication that the dominant perception of physicists was that the theory of relativity originated essentially with these two.46 Following Poincare's death in July 1912, a series of eulogies were published and none of them raised the question of the lack of proper recognition for his contributions to electron theory or suggested that they were equivalent to Einstein's relativity theory, which was, by then, well known in physics. The question of `priority' was not yet an issue, not even for the French physicist Paul Langevin. In a very long analysis of "Poincare le physicien", published in 1913, ...

Gingras previously published some similar ideas here.

Yes, apparently most physicists credited Einstein for special relativity. But not everyone did, as apparently the mathematicians Mittag-Leffler and Fredholm credited Poincare for priority.

If the papers from 1910 cited both Poincare and Einstein and explained why Einstein's theory was better, then that opinion should be given some weight. But ignoring Poincare suggests that something else is going on. The above article says to accept the opinions of the time, but nobody at the time said that Einstein's theory was better than Poincare's.

Maybe most physicists did not understand Poincare's papers, until others had extracted the good ideas. Maybe some thought that Poincare's papers were wrong. Maybe the German physicists did not like the French. Maybe most physicists were just blindly following the opinions of others, as the above article suggests that we do now.

The core of special relativity theory is the spacetime geometry and electromagnetic covariance. Poincare published this, and Einstein did not. The Einstein apologists refuse to address this, and instead give kooky reasons for crediting Einstein.

There are two different views of science and scientific progress at work here. One is the view that science is the pursuit of objective knowledge about the natural world. Scientists make observations, find testable hypotheses, and test them. Scientific works can be evaluated by analyzing the reasoning, and replicating the experiments. This is how the scientific method has worked for millennia.

The other view denies this, and denies that there is any such thing as objective truth. Modern philosophers view science as a big popular contest of ideas, with no ideas being objectively better than any others. People with this view always credit Einstein because scientific correctness is defined by its popularity. Einstein is popular, so he must be a great scientist.

I think that there is overwhelming objective evidence that Poincare invented special relativity, and it can only be denied by those also deny that ideas can be scientifically evaluated.


Thursday, Mar 18, 2010
 
Kragh on the origin of relativity
Chapter 7 of Quantum generations: a history of physics in the twentieth century By Helge Kragh is on "Einstein's relativity, and others". Here is how he dismissed Lorentz:
The famous 1887 Michelson-Morley experiment was an attempt to mea- sure the motion of the earth relative to the ether by means of an advanced interferometer technique. ...

Lorentz’s first explanation of Michelson's result was clearly ad hoc and not even based on his electrodynamic theory. During the following decade he greatly developed the theory, and in 1899 the Dutch theorist ...

The Lorentz transformations make up the formal core of the special theory of relativity, and at first glance it might thus seem that Einstein's theory was preceded by the electron theories of Lorentz and Larmor. However, this was not the case at all. In spite of having obtained the same transformations as Einstein in l905. Lorentz interpreted them in a very different way. First. Lorentz's was a dynamic theory in which the transfomtations could be as- cribed a physical cause, the interaction between the ether and the electrons of the moving body. The length contraction was seen as a compensating effect arising because of the body's motion through the ether. The earth. according to Lorentz, really moved through the ether, only the ether wind was not measurable, in accordance with Michelson's result. Second, Lo- rentz`s ether was an essential part of his theory, in which it functioned as an absolute frame of reference. For example. he maintained (implicitly in 1904 and explicitly in 1906) the existence of absolute simultaneity. That this con- cept does not agree with the modem interpretation of the time transformation only illustrates the difference between the theories of Lorentz and Einstein. [p.88]

In other words, Lorentz does not deserve any credit because he attempted to give a physical explanation of relativity, and because his interpretation differs from the modern one.

Here are Lorentz's 1906 Columbia lectures (also here), and I don't read it as requiring the existence of absolute simultaneity. He talks about the aether and "effective" and "true" coordinates, whereas Einstein preferred terms like "time of the stationary system". Some people say that these terminological differences prove that Lorentz did not understand relativity, but I think that the terms are obviously equivalent and neither set of terms is any better than the other.

He also dismisses Poincare:

No sketch of the prehistory of relativity, however brief, can avoid men- tioning Henri Poincaré alongside Lorentz. Based on his conventionalist con- ception of science, around l900 the French mathematician questioned whether the simultaneity ot two events could be given any objective meaning. As early as 1898 he wrote. "Light has a constant speed .... This postulate can- not be verified by experience. ... it furnishes a new rule for the definition of simultaneity" (Cao 1997, 64). Two years later, at the Paris world congress of physics, Poincaré discussed whether the ether really existed. Although he did not answer the question negatively. he was of the opinion that the ether was at most an abstract frame of reference that could not be given physical prop- erties. In his Science and Hypothesis of l902. Poincaré declared the question of the ether to be metaphysical, just a convenient hypothesis that some day would be discarded as useless. In his address to the St. Louis congress in l904, he examined critically the idea of absolute motion, argued that Lorentz`s local time (t') was no more unreal than his general time (t), and formulated what he called the relativity principle, namely, the impossibility of detecting absolute, uniform motion. His formulation of l904 is worth quoting: "According to the Principle of Relativity the laws of physical phe- nomena must be the same for a ‘fixed' observer as for an observer who has at uniform motion of translation relative to him ... there must arise an entirely new kind of dynamics, which will be characterized above all by the rule, that no velocity cart exceed the velocity of light" (Sopka and Moyer l986, 293). Up to this point, Poincaré's intervention in the discussion had been mainly programmatic and semiphilosophical. In the summer of l905. without know- ing about Einsteins forthcoming paper, he developed an electrodynamic the- ory that in some respects went beyond Lorentz’s. For example, he proved the relativistic law of addition of velocities, which Lorentz had not done, and also gave the correct transformation formula for the charge density. Apart from restating the principle of relativity as "a general law of nature," Poin- caré moditied Lorentz's analysis and proved that the Lorentz transformations form a group with the important property that x2 + y2 + z2 — c2t2 is invariant, that is, remains the same in any frame of reference. He even no- ticed that the invariant could be written in the symmetric way x2 + y2 + z2 + tau2 if the imaginary time coordinate tau = ict was introduced. Poincaré's theory was an important improvement, a relativity theory indeed, but not the theory of relativity. Strangely, the French mathematician did not follow up on his important insights, nor did he show any interest in Einstein's simul- taneously developed theory of relativity. [p.89]
So Poincare does not get credit because he did not formulate relativity in the same way Einstein did, and because he ignored Einstein.

Poincare showed little interest in Einstein because there was no simultaneously developed theory. All of those aspects of the theory listed about were developed years ahead of Einstein, and Einstein added nothing of value. The only thing I can find that might have been independently developed is the velocity addition law. Poincare published it a few weeks before Einstein submitted his paper, but Einstein might not have read it.

Kragh goes on to propagate some Einstein myths:

Another puzzling fact about Einstein's paper is that it did not mention the Michelson-Morley ex- periment or, for that matter, other optical experiments that failed to detect an ether wind and that were routinely discussed in the literature concerning the electrodynamics of moving bodies. There is, however, convincing evidence not only that Einstein was aware of the Michelson—Morley experiment at the time he wrote his paper, but also that the experiment was of no particular importance to him. He did not develop his theory in order to account for an experimental puzzle, but worked from much more general considerations of simplicity and symmetry. These were primarily related to his deep interest in Maxwell's theory and his belief that there could be no difference in principle between the laws of mechanics and those governing electromagnetic phe- nomena. In Einstein`s route to relativity, thought experiments were more important than real experiments. [p.90]
There is a simple explanation for Einstein ignoring the experiments. He was just giving a presentation of the Lorentz-Poincare theory, which had already been built on the experiments, as Kragh described earlier.

Einstein says in his famous 1905 paper:

The theory to be developed is based -- like all electrodynamics -- on the kinematics of the rigid body, since the assertions of any such theory have to do with the relationships between rigid bodies (systems of co-ordinates), clocks, and electromagnetic processes. Insufficient consideration of this circumstance lies at the root of the difficulties which the electrodynamics of moving bodies at present encounters.
He was saying that he was giving a kinematical presentation of the Lorentz-Poincare theory. For that, there was no reason to give any lab evidence.

Wednesday, Mar 17, 2010
 
Myths about epicycles
From NewScientist mag in 2005:
Around AD 130 Ptolemy produced a hugely influential book, the Almagest, which proposed a series of circular "epicycles" operating on the circles to modify the positions of the planets.

This explained observed positions fairly well, but as the centuries went by into Renaissance times, more and more epicycles had to be added to explain the latest observations. The "dark force" of the epicycles was necessary to make an unquestioned theory work, but the reason for their existence was never explained. Even when Copernicus proposed putting the sun at the centre of the universe in the 16th century, this only reduced the number of epicycles needed from 80 to 34.

It was not until Kepler's calculations in the early 17th century that it became clear the planets were actually travelling in ellipses. Isaac Newton's theory of universal gravitation published in 1687 finally gave this mathematical and academic respectability and allowed the entire panoply of unexplained epicycles to be junked.

No, this is wrong. Epicycles did not modify the positions of the planets, they only affected their appearance from Earth. There was no unquestioned theory, as the ancient Greeks debated whether the Earth moved or not. Copernicus added epicycles and did not reduce the number of them. Kepler's ellipses did give better accuracy, but mainly because of better data.

Tuesday, Mar 16, 2010
 
Galileo misjudged stars
Nature mag reports (with full article here):
Galileo backed Copernicus despite data
Stars viewed through early telescopes suggested that Earth stood still.
Katharine Sanderson

Galileo Galilei was right: Earth moves around the Sun, just as Nicolaus Copernicus said it did in 1543. But had Galileo followed the results of his observations to their logical conclusion, he should have backed another system — the Tychonic view that Earth didn't move, and that everything else circled around it and the Sun, as developed by Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe in the sixteenth century.

This is an interesting argument about the evidence for the distance of stars in 1600, but I don't think Galileo paid any attention to the Tychonic view anyway. The Copernican system required that the stars are very far away, but Galileo got tricked by an optical effect that the stars were closer. If he had believed what he thought he saw, then he would have doubted the Copernican system.

You can find the Galileo story here, from a Catholic point of view:

At Galileo’s request, Cardinal Robert Bellarmine, a Jesuit—one of the most important Catholic theologians of the day — issued a certificate that, although it forbade Galileo to hold or defend the heliocentric theory, did not prevent him from conjecturing it. When Galileo met with the new pope, Urban VIII, in 1623, he received permission from his longtime friend to write a work on heliocentrism, but the new pontiff cautioned him not to advocate the new position, only to present arguments for and against it. When Galileo wrote the Dialogue on the Two World Systems, he used an argument the pope had offered, and placed it in the mouth of his character Simplicio. Galileo, perhaps inadvertently, made fun of the pope, a result that could only have disastrous consequences. Urban felt mocked and could not believe how his friend could disgrace him publicly. Galileo had mocked the very person he needed as a benefactor. He also alienated his long-time supporters, the Jesuits, with attacks on one of their astronomers. The result was the infamous trial, which is still heralded as the final separation of science and religion.
Galileo's book did not even mention the Tychonic system, which had been the leading geocentric system for 40 years by then. He didn't mention Kepler either, who published his system in 1609. If Galileo had written a balanced book, or if he had presented the scientific state-of-the-art, then he would have had no problem.

Sunday, Mar 14, 2010
 
Einstein says American men are toy dogs for women
More newspaper archives are online, and searchable by Google. I found this funny July 8, 1921, Friday, NY Times story about Einstein. Here is a description in a book by Lewis Samuel Feuer:
ln many ways, Einstein was not a "modern." His attitude toward women, we might note, was much like that of Freud and Schopenhauer. Like Freud, he felt America was afflicted with petticoat government, a view that involved Einstein in an unpleas- ant interchange, widely publicized, shortly after his visit to the United States. On july 8, 1921, The New York Times carried a dis- patch from Berlin with arresting headlines: Einstein Declares Women Rule Here / Scientist Says He Found American Men the Toy Dogs ofthe Other Sex / People Colossally Bored / Showed Ex- cessive Enthusiasm Over Him for Lack of Other Things / He Thinks. Among its direct quotations was one that sounded like an echo of Sinclair Lewis's then popular Main Street and Babbitt: "There are cities with 1,000,000 inhabitants, despite which what poverty, intellectual poverty! . .. Above all things there are the women who, as a literal fact, dominate the entire life in America. The men take an interest in absolutely nothing at all. They work and work, the like of which I have never seen anywhere yet. For the rest they are the toy dogs of the women, who spend the money in a most unmeasurable, illimitable way and wrap themselves in a fog of extravagance. . . now quite by chance they have thrown themselves on the Einstein fashion." "The magic power of mys- tery," “of what they cannot conceive," he thought, had an allure for them. And he concluded with the remark: "[T]o compare the general scientific life in America with Europe is nonsense."

These ungenerous remarks were perhaps just another of the anti-American deprecations customary among European visitors from Charles Dickens to the worst of them, Bertrand Russell. The New York Times firmly rebuked Einstein by writing that "it is a well-known fact that high development in one direction has underdevelopment elsewhere to balance it," that a great physi- cist could be a superficial sociological observer, and that Einstein's remark was "ludicrously and offensively false." Perhaps Einstein was irritated, the editorial suggested, because he and Weizmann had largely failed in their American mission, having indeed aroused "antagonism" rather than approval. Nonetheless, Ein- stein’s bad manners and sociological ignorance said the Times, would not make them any "less ready" to honor his scientific achievement. Especially effective in rebutting Einstein was the editor of the Popular Science Monthly, Kenneth W. Payne. Ameri- cans had a higher average education than Europeans, Germans in particular he noted, and their interest in science was much greater. Payne pointed to the “over million and a half readers of the popular scientific magazines" and the three and a half million of technical magazines: "What European nation can even ap- proach such figures showing widespread popular interest in sci- ence? . . . And where are the European papers that give the same consistent play to scientific developments that we do?" Einstein "l1as completely misinterpreted the popular sensation accom- panying his reception here," he concluded.

Most of the stories after 1923 are copyrighted, and require payment.

This Jul 13, 1924 story makes fun of Einstein for miscounting his change on a street car. November 11, 1919 NY Times story

ACCEPTS EINSTEIN GRAVITATION THEORY;
Prof. Curries of Brown University Calls Eclipse Demonstration Great Achievement.
SOME SCIENTISTS CAUTIOUS
They Want Full Reports from theObservers Before Forming Their Final Conclusions. ...

"It was not until 1915," he said, "that the four-dimensional theory of the universe, with time as a fourth dimension, was definitely conceived. This was contained in Einstein's famous relativity theory."

A Vassar professor said that she does not understand the theory, but it must be accepted anyway.

An April 5, 1922 NY Times story said that some French scientists were snubbing Einstein, altho the reasoning is not entirely clear.

December 31, 1922 NYT book review of textbook skeptical of relativity:

In one sense the London press is responsible for the tremendous exploitation of Einstein's theory. ...

We say it with regret, but it is none the less true, that mathematicians and metaphysicians in Europe and America went over almost solidly to the new cult. ...

He sees in the doctrine of relativity a happy ending of the separation of philosophy and science. They now approach each other.

The reviewer hopes the union will be long delayed.

It says that the other 98% of the books have uncritically accepted relativity.

says "Einstein has been solemnly excommunicated by the Russian Communinsts." His theory was not materialist enough, and could lead to "pure idealism".

Happy Pi-Einstein Day.


Friday, Mar 12, 2010
 
Britannica on Poincare
Encyclopædia Britannica writes:
Henri Poincaré (French mathematician):
...of mechanics —- led him to write a paper in 1905 on the motion of the electron. This paper, and others of his at this time, came close to anticipating Albert Einstein’s discovery of the theory of special relativity. But Poincaré never took the decisive step of reformulating traditional concepts of space and time into space-time, which was Einstein’s most profound achievement.
This is crazy. Poincare combined space and time into spacetime in his 1905 paper, and Einstein did not.

The heart of special relativity is the spacetime geometry and the covariance of physical laws. Poincare had these in his 1905 papers, but Einstein failed to take these decisive steps.

Roger Cerf claims that this 1908 Poincare quote proves that he did not understand the physical meaning of the Lorentz/FitzGerald contraction:

This hypothesis, formulated by Lorentz and FitzGerald, will at first seem extraordinary; all we can say in its favor at the moment is that it is only the immediate translation of the experimental result obtained by Michelson, if we define lengths by the time light takes to traverse them.
Even a century later, it is impossible to find fault with Poincare's statement.

The logic is slightly different from Einstein's. Einstein ignored Michelson, and assumed the relativity postulate and the constancy of the speed of light. He defined length using measuring rods, instead of using light. From those and some hidden assumptions, he deduced the Lorentz contraction.

Poincare is more careful about saying what is testable. Michelson had an experimental result. The constancy of the speed of light allows him to define distance in terms of time. Then the Lorentz contraction is a testable hypothesis. Poincare likes to distinguish experiment from convention.

I previously criticized Cerf here. There is something very bizarre about Einstein that drives his defenders to say nonsense.


Thursday, Mar 11, 2010
 
Einstein treated like a god
The NY Times reported:
Albert Einstein personally rewrote the laws of physics in a sparsely furnished central Berlin apartment nearly a century ago and the resulting manuscript, profoundly human and surprisingly moving to examine, has been put on display here for the first time. ...

The display of the work, which forced a redefinition of gravity, predicted the existence of black holes and illuminated how galaxies are formed, ...

“We have set it up like the Dead Sea Scrolls, to protect them but also to give the feeling of entering a kind of holy of holies, which is how we view it,” said Hanoch Guttfreund, a physics professor, former president of the Hebrew University and curator of the exhibition. “And you can actually see Einstein work as you look at the pages.”

Einstein did not even believe in black holes, and certainly did not predict them.

This is really ridiculous. The main equations for general relativity were discovered by someone else two years earlier. These papers were the result of Hilbert explaining the theory to Einstein, and Einstein did not credit Hilbert of anyone else.


Wednesday, Mar 10, 2010
 
No science theory created by conceptual clarification
Alan Sokal interview:
Conceptual clarification can be useful for pushing science ahead, ...

Certainly Einstein spent a lot of time doing conceptual clarification in his own mind, leading him to general relativity and special relativity, and that played a crucial role. You can call that philosophy or you can call it deep thinking about physics. Quantum mechanics was born mostly without that kind of conceptual clarification, so it shows that you can get instrumental physics without clarifying the concepts – it can go both ways.

Sokal subscribes to the myth that Einstein created relativity with pure thought, as argued by Polanyi below.

A lot of physicists are so gullible as to believe that Einstein had some peculiar methodology (that Sokal calls conceptual clarification) to create relativity theory, but this methodology has never successfully created any other scientific theory. What makes them think that it worked for relativity?

The simple answer is that no physical theory was created by conceptual clarification. Lorentz and Poncare created relativity, not Einstein.


Tuesday, Mar 09, 2010
 
Philosophers Rip Darwin
Philosopher and self-proclaimed evolutionist Michael Ruse writes a long attack on fellow philosophers who are skeptical about Darwinism:
Plantinga is an open enthusiast of intelligent design, the belief that at some points in life's history an intelligent being intervened to move the process along. Why does Plantinga feel this way? In his view, Darwinism implies that there is and can be no direction in life's history.

Jerry Fodor, no less distinguished than Nagel and Plantinga, is well known for his claim that the mind is composed of separately functioning modules. And he, too, has taken to criticizing Darwinian theory, first in an article in the London Review of Books and now in What Darwin Got Wrong. ...

To Fodor the notion of natural selection is flawed. He has long been on record arguing that metaphors in science are misleading, and that they must be eliminated as science matures. In the case of Darwinism, we have an analogy or metaphor at work, between the artificial selection that breeders use when they improve livestock ...

What does one say about these critics? One could certainly pick apart individual things, for instance Fodor's claims about selective breeding versus natural selection. ... But rather than work over the details, I want to draw attention to the way this crop of critics ignores evolutionary biology —- aside from the kind of cherry-picking in which Fodor engages.

And then there is Fodor. The final section of his new book is very revealing. As a dreadful warning to those who do not accept his main conclusions, Fodor prints passage after passage of claims by Darwinians that one can understand human nature and thinking as the product of natural selection: This is where we will all end up if we don't stop the rot right now. My suspicion is that Fodor doesn't really give a damn about fruit flies or finches or anything else out there. But when it comes to Homo sapiens, he wants no part of a naturalistic explanation that reduces design to the workings of blind law.

This seems weak to me. Fodor ought to be able to criticize Darwinian analysis of human nature without going into a detailed analysis of finches. And Ruse wrote a lot of words without rebutting very much.

Monday, Mar 08, 2010
 
Polanyi on Copernicus and Einstein
The Hungarian philosopher Michael Polanyi wrote the book, Personal Knowledge (University of Chicago, 1958). He was interested in the separation between reason and experience, and argued that the scientific method was overrated. He said objectivity is a delusion, and he preferred reason.

His best examples were Copernicus and Einstein. His book says this on Copernicus:

1. THE LESSON OF THE COPERNICAN REVOLUTION

IN the Ptolemaic system, as in the cosmogony of the Bible, man was assigned a central position in the universe, from which position he was ousted by Copernicus. Ever since, writers eager to drive the lesson home have urged us, resolutely and repeatedly, to abandon all sentimental ego- ism, and to see ourselves objectively in the true perspective of time and space. ...

What is the true lesson of the Copernican revolution? Why did Coper- nicus exchange his actual terrestrial station for an imaginary solar stand- point? The only justification for this lay in the greater intellectual satisfaction he derived from the celestial panorama as seen from the sun instead of the earth. Copernicus gave preference to man's delight in abstract theory, at the price of rejecting the evidence of our senses, which present us with the irresistible fact of the sun, the moon, and the stars rising daily in the east to travel across the sky towards their setting in the west. In a literal sense, therefore, the new Copernican system was as anthropocentric as the Ptolemaic view, the difference being merely that it preferred to satisfy a different human affection.

It becomes legitimate to regard the Copernican system as more object- ive than the Ptolemaic only if we accept this very shift in the nature of intellectual satisfaction as the criterion of greater objectivity. ...

It seems to me that we have sound reasons for thus considering theoretical knowledge as more objective than immediate experience. ...

Thus, when we claim greater objectivity for the Copernican theory, we do imply that its excellence is, not a matter of personal taste on our part, but an inherent quality deserving universal acceptance by rational creatures. We abandon the cruder anthropocentrism of our senses but only in favour of a more ambitious anthropocentrism of our reason. In doing so, we claim the capacity to formulate ideas which command respect in their own right, by their very rationality, and which have in this sense an objective standing.

Wow. This explains how Thomas Kuhn got some of his bad ideas. I had blamed Kuhn for a lot of this Copernican Revolution nonsense, but now it appears that much of it was stolen from Polanyi.

On Einstein:

The story of relativity is a complicated one, owing to the currency of a number of historical fictions. The chief of these can be found in every text- book of physics. It tells you that relativity was conceived by Einstein in 1905 in order to account for the negative result of the Michelson-Morley experiment, carried out in Cleveland eighteen years earlier, in 1887. Michelson and Morley are alleged to have found that the speed of light measured by a terrestrial observer was the same in whatever direction the signal was sent out. ...

The usual textbook account of relativity as a theoretical response to the Michelson-Morley experiment is an invention. It is the product of a philosophical prejudice. When Einstein discovered rationality in nature, unaided by any observa- tion that had not been available for at least fifty years before, our posi- tivistic textbooks promptly covered up the scandal by an appropriately embellished account of his discovery. ...

But the historical facts are different. Einstein had speculated already as a schoolboy, at the age of sixteen, on the curious consequences that would occur if an observer pursued and kept pace with a light signal sent out by lifm. His autobiography reveals that he discovered relativity

after ten years* reflection ... from a paradox upon which I had already hit at the age of sixteen: If I pursue a beam of light with the velocity c (velocity of light in a vacuum), I should observe such a beam of light as a spatially oscillatory electromagnetic field at rest. However, there seems to be no such thing, whether on the basis of experience or according to Maxwell's equations. From the very beginning it appeared to me intuitively clear that, from the standpoint of such an observer, everything would have to happen according to the same laws as for an observer who, relative to the earth, was at rest. For how should the first observer know or be able to determine, that he is in a state of fast uniform motion? One sees in this paradox the germ of the special relativity theory is already contained.
There is no mention here of the Michelson-Morley experiment. Its findings were, on the basis of pure speculation, rationally intuited by Einstein before he had ever heard about it. To make sure of this, I addressed an enquiry to the late Professor Einstein, who confirmed the fact that *the Michelson-Morley experiment had a negligible effect on the discovery of relativity*.
This is breathtakingly stupid. Einstein did not discover relativity, and would have just said whatever fed his ego the most.

Einstein wrote a 1909 paper saying that Michelson-Morley was crucial because Lorentz's 1895 theory explained all the other relativity experiments. It was crucial to Lorentz and Poincare in their papers during 1899-1905. So Einstein contradicted himself.

It is not too hard to explain. Einstein was telling half-truths both times. In 1909 he needed to show that his relativity was better that Lorentz's 1895 theory, so he cited Michelson-Morley. After Lorentz was long gone and was no threat anymore, Einstein could claim even more credit for himself by acting like he was divinely inspired.

Polanyi seems like a nut, but he seems to have spread his foolishness. I think that he coined the term "Copernican Revolution" to mean something other than its original meaning, which was the revolutions of the planets around the Sun.


Sunday, Mar 07, 2010
 
Rush was right about missing link
Leading evolutionist Jerry Coyne writes:
On May 20 of last year, at a remarkable press conference in New York, a group of researchers announced—with much ballyhoo—that they’d found a 47-million-year-old primate fossil named Darwinius masillae (nicknamed “Ida”). Ida, the finest fossil primate in existence, was touted loudly as the missing link between the two major branches of primates, ...

Well, a paper just out in the Journal of Human Evolution, by Blythe Williams et al. (including my Chicago colleague Callum Ross), appears to drive the final nail in Ida’s coffin—at least regarding her status as a missing link between the major branches of primates. ...

I quoted Rush Limbaugh calling this BS, on the day of the announcement. He was right.

Saturday, Mar 06, 2010
 
Albert Einstein: A Selective Skeptic
Skeptical Inquirer magazine wrote in 2007 The Myth of Consistent Skepticism (also here). Even one of their biggest heroes, Einstein, was a commie sympathizer:
Albert Einstein’s scientific contributions, like those of Charles Darwin or Isaac Newton, have shaped the way we view the universe. Einstein had a great mathematical mind, and has become a scientific icon. Einstein, most likely because of his scientific achievements, was voted one of the ten outstanding skeptics of the twentieth century ...

Einstein, a professed believer in political liberty, virtually refuses to criticize the Soviet government and justifies the murders and creation of slave labor camps. The closest Einstein comes to criticism of the Soviet government is contained in the first sentence of the following quote. However, the next sentence speaks for itself. According to Einstein in 1948, “I am not blind to the serious weaknesses of the Russian system of government and I would not like to live under such government. But it has, on the other side, great merits and it is difficult to decide whether it would have been possible for the Russians to survive by following softer methods” (Einstein quoted in Hook 1987, p. 471).

Hook responded with a lengthy letter, pointing out many inconsistencies in Einstein’s reasoning when it came to the Soviet Union:

Precisely what methods have you in mind? I am puzzled on what evidence anyone can assert that cultural purges and terror in astronomy, biology, art, music, literature, the social sciences, helped the Russians to survive, or how the millions of victims in concentration camps of the Soviet Union, not to speak of the wholesale executions, contributed in any way to the Russian victory over Hitler. The Russians defeated Napoleon who was relative to his time even mightier than Hitler. But I don’t believe you would find it difficult to decide that this in no way constituted a historic justification of serfdom. (p. 473)
Einstein did not respond to Hook’s letter.
Einstein's FBI file says:
An investigation was conducted by the FBI regarding the famous physicist because of his affiliation with the Communist Party. Einstein was a member, sponsor, or affiliated with thirty-four communist fronts between 1937 and 1954. He also served as honorary chairman for three communist organizations.
Another article is on Special Relativity after 100 Years:
One hundred years after Albert Einstein gave us the theory of special relativity, we have made good progress in applying the equations he gave us, but we have difficulty absorbing his central message about time and simultaneity.
That central message was published five years ahead of Einstein.

From a Carl Sagan interview:

Einstein had some difficulties with special relativity. His Nobel prize was not even for relativity, it was for the photoelectric effect, because relativity was considered to be worrisome. Nevertheless, there were many scientists who recognized the value of what Einstein said. He was not challenging Isaac Newton; Isaac Newton was dead. The value of what Einstein said was there plain for anyone to see; nobody had thought of it before. As soon as people had worked through the arguments on the idea that simultaneity was a nonsensical idea, many were converted on the spot. I don’t say that everybody was; I don’t say that there weren’t some problems with it, but there is a reward structure built in. And Einstein, just a few years after his 1905 relativity paper, was Full Professor and at the top of his profession.
Sagan should have known better. Einstein's ideas were not new; people had published them before. Of course they were not convinced by pure reason; they wanted to see some experimental evidence. Einstein did not get the Nobel Prize for special relativity because the committee knew that he was not the inventor of it.

From a book review:

Einstein’s Cosmos: How Albert Einstein’s Vision Transformed Our Understanding of Space and Time. By Michio Kaku.

Kaku addresses these last few decades of Einstein’s life with great sympathy and admiration. Most biographers gloss over this period as the fading glory of a once-great scientist, but Kaku argues persuasively that the groundwork for much latter-day research was laid during these years. As Kaku writes, “crumbs that have tumbled off Einstein’s plate are now winning Nobel Prizes for oth- er scientists.”

No, Einstein's later work only fueled crackpots.

Friday, Mar 05, 2010
 
Father of modern physics
Someone just edited the Wikipedia article on Einstein to say that Einstein "is often regarded as the father of modern physics." The source is a book on Poincare that says:
Together with Einstein, Poincaré can therefore be regarded as the founding father of modern physics.
The book credits Poincare with doing work on Hamiltonian mechanics that helped inspire quantum mechanics. I knew that he did some early work on quantum mechanics, but I don't know how important it was.

I'll be interested to see if the edit sticks. Einstein is only credited for relativity by those who ignore Poincare, and they might not like any comparisons. Poincare's work on relativity was much more modern and sophisticated than Einstein's.

 
Knowing the mind of God
NewScientist reports:
The "theory of everything" is one of the most cherished dreams of science. If it is ever discovered, it will describe the workings of the universe at the most fundamental level and thus encompass our entire understanding of nature. It would also answer such enduring puzzles as what dark matter is, the reason time flows in only one direction and how gravity works. Small wonder that Stephen Hawking famously said that such a theory would be "the ultimate triumph of human reason – for then we should know the mind of God".
The seven theories of everything are: String theory, Loop quantum gravity, CDT, Quantum Einstein gravity, Quantum graphity, Internal relativity, E8.

No, this is wrong. None of these theories say anything about dark matter, the arrow of time, or how gravity works. They don't even say anything testable.

This shows how much theoretical physics has degenerated. There are seven theories of anything, and no one can say how any of them are any better or worse than any of the others. And the list omits the theories that really do explain the experiments that we can do.


Thursday, Mar 04, 2010
 
Darwin Foes Add Warming to Targets
The NY Times reports:
The linkage of evolution and global warming is partly a legal strategy: courts have found that singling out evolution for criticism in public schools is a violation of the separation of church and state. By insisting that global warming also be debated, deniers of evolution can argue that they are simply championing academic freedom in general.

Yet they are also capitalizing on rising public resistance in some quarters to accepting the science of global warming, particularly among political conservatives who oppose efforts to rein in emissions of greenhouse gases.

In South Dakota, a resolution calling for the “balanced teaching of global warming in public schools” passed the Legislature this week.

“Carbon dioxide is not a pollutant,” the resolution said, “but rather a highly beneficial ingredient for all plant life.”

The measure made no mention of evolution, but opponents of efforts to dilute the teaching of evolution noted that the language was similar to that of bills in other states that had included both. The vote split almost entirely along partisan lines in both houses, with Republican voting for it and Democrats voting against.

For mainstream scientists, there is no credible challenge to evolutionary theory. They oppose the teaching of alternative views like intelligent design, the proposition that life is so complex that it must be the design of an intelligent being. And there is wide agreement among scientists that global warming is occurring and that human activities are probably driving it. Yet many conservative evangelical Christians assert that both are examples of scientists’ overstepping their bounds.

This is funny. Why are they so afraid of “balanced teaching”? Real scientists are happy to explain the bounds of their knowledge. They should not be afraid that students would learn that carbon dioxide is a beneficial ingredient for plant life.

Every other area of science teaches the competing theories, even if they have been proved wrong. The germ theory of disease gets taught with the non-germ theory. The Copernican theory gets taught with the Ptolemaic. They teach the Bohr atom and Newtonian gravity, even tho these have been superseded. No one gets excited about it.

What's different about evolution and global warming is that there is a political agenda that goes with it. And some people want that political message undiluted.


Wednesday, Mar 03, 2010
 
A measure for the multiverse
NewScientist has a cover story on the multiverse:
Several strands of theoretical physics - quantum mechanics, string theory and cosmic inflation - seem to converge on the idea that our universe is only one among an infinite and ever-growing assemblage of disconnected bubble universes.

What's more, the multiverse offers a plausible answer to what has become an infuriatingly slippery question: why does the quantity of dark energy in the universe have the extraordinarily unlikely value that it does? No theory of our universe has been able to explain it. But if there are countless universes out there beyond our cosmic horizon, each with its own value for the quantity of dark energy it contains, the value we observe becomes not just probable but inevitable.

What it is saying is that the density of the vacuum is very small in units that are used to describe matter, and unified field theories like string theory cannot explain it.

Unlikely value? I think that the multiverse is a lot more unlikely.


Tuesday, Mar 02, 2010
 
Janssen on Einstein
I found Michael Heinrich Paul Janssen's 1995 dissertation on a server at the Max Planck Institute for the history of science in Germany.
In this dissertation, I want to compare the ether theory of the great Dutch physicist Hendrik Antoon Lorentz (1853–1928) to Einstein’s special theory of relativity. To the end of his life, Lorentz maintained, first, that his theory is empirically equivalent to special relativity, and, second, that, in the final analysis, it is a matter of taste whether one prefers the standard relativistic interpretation of the formalism of the theory or his own ether theoretic interpretation (see, e.g., Nersessian 1984, pp. 113–119). I will argue that Lorentz’s first claim, when understood properly, should be accepted, but that the second should be rejected.
He seeks to justify this assertion published with Einstein's complete works:
Einstein was the first physicist to formulate clearly the new kinematical foundation for all of physics inherent in Lorentz’s electron theory. (Stachel et al. 1989, p. 253)
Here are some of Janssen's points:
  • Lorentz exhibits the wrong degree of adhocness, and hence he was not truly scientific.
  • Lorentz does not recognize his "local time" and other variables as being observables until after Einstein's 1905 paper.
  • Poincare wrote in 1900 and afterwards that Lorentz's local time was observable, and credited Lorentz, but Lorentz does not deserve the credit because he never acknowledged Poincare.
  • Lorentz even republished some of Poincare's ideas under his own name, without crediting Poincare.
  • Lorentz deduced his theory from electromagnetism, while Einstein took an axiomatic approach.
  • Einstein had a different ontology.
There are more papers on Janssen's home page.

Here is another contorted explanation of why Einstein's theory was better than Lorentz's:

The relation between Einstein's special theory of relativity and Lorentz's ether theory is best understood in terms of competing interpretations of Lorentz invariance. In the 1890s Lorentz proved and exploited the Lorentz invariance of Maxwell's equations, the laws governing electromagnetic fields in the ether, with what he called the theorem of corresponding states. To account for the negative results of attempts to detect the earth's motion through the ether, Lorentz, in effect, had to assume that the laws governing the matter interacting with the fields are Lorentz invariant as well. This additional assumption can be seen as a generalization of the well-known contraction hypothesis. In Lorentz's theory, it remained an unexplained coincidence that both the laws governing fields and the laws governing matter should be Lorentz invariant. In special relativity, by contrast, the Lorentz invariance of all physical laws directly reflects the Minkowski space-time structure posited by the theory. One can thus produce a common cause argument to show that the relativistic interpretation of Lorentz invariance is preferable to Lorentz's interpretation.
Got that? Lorentz said that fields and matter had to be Lorentz invariant, but Einstein was better because he said all physical laws had to be Lorentz invariant. That is not only silly, but Einstein did not even say that. It was Poincare who said all the physical laws had to be Lorentz invariant, and he said it before Einstein said anything on the subject.

I don't think that it is correct to say that Lorentz separately assumed that matter and fields were Lorentz invariant. He believed that the basic properties of matter were electromagnetic in origin. In particular, he thought that the Lorentz contraction of a meter stick was a consequence of the contraction of the electromagnetic fields binding the atoms together. So he really just assumed that the fields were invariant.

He gives this explanation for historians not crediting Lorentz and Poincare:

The tendency to think of the dispute between Lorentz and Einstein in terms of competing research programmes etc. can be traced back, I think, to the myth of the Michelson-Morley experiment, which glorifies Einstein to the exclusion of everybody else. It is against this background, that Whittaker’s often quoted put-down of Einstein’s 1905 paper, as a “paper which set forth the relativity theory of Poincaré and Lorentz with some amplifications, and which attracted much attention” (Whittaker 1953, II, p. 40) must be seen. However, if Whittaker indeed tried to restore some balance in this way, he achieved just the opposite of what he intended. For years, historians writing on Lorentz and Poincaré understandaby felt the need to distance themselves from Whittaker’s preposterous remarks, often inadvertently giving Lorentz and Poincaré less than their fair share of the credit in the process. It is my impression that this situation is finally changing.
Really? The Einstein lovers have been artificially inflating his work because they are still mad about some 1953 book? I would think that the Einstein fans would be happy that a book on the aether did not credit him. Their main argument that Einstein created special relativity is that Lorentz and Poincare believed in the aether.

I conclude:

  • The Lorentz Aether Theory, as corrected by Poincare, was mathematically and observationally equivalent to Einstein's theory.
  • Einstein's point of view was superior to Lorentz's, but not to Poincare's.
  • Poincare generously credited Lorentz.
  • Lorentz and Einstein ignored Poincare, and plagiarized his work without crediting him.
  • Whittaker was right in 1953.
  • The Einstein fans will devise some very contorted arguments to support their hero.
The main problem in comparing LET to SR is in deciding whether to include Poincare's work in LET. If you do, the LET is really the same as SR, and there is no advantage to SR at all. If you don't, and say that local time is not real, then LET is no longer observationally equivalent to SR, as clocks would not slow down on a spaceship.

The natural solution would be to take Lorentz's own words for what LET meant, but I don't know what he thought of Poincare's work. Lorentz certainly knew about Poincare, as they exchanged letters on the subject. Lorentz did comment publicly on Einstein's work. But Lorentz is strangely silent on Poincare.

Regardless of what Lorentz may have thought, the more useful comparison is from the pre-Einstein Lorentz-Poincare theory to the Einstein 1905 theory. That is where everyone claims that Einstein made the big breakthru, and that is where everyone is wrong. The pre-Einstein theory is actually superior because it had the spacetime metric, Lorentz group, and Lorentz invariance applied to gravity.


Monday, Mar 01, 2010
 
Scientists reveal driving force behind evolution
New research from the British journal Nature:
Scientists at the University of Liverpool have provided the first experimental evidence that shows that evolution is driven most powerfully by interactions between species, rather than adaptation to the environment. ...

The study shows, for the first time, that the American evolutionary biologist Leigh Van Valen was correct in his 'Red Queen Hypothesis'. The theory, first put forward in the 1970s, was named after a passage in Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass in which the Red Queen tells Alice, 'It takes all the running you can do to keep in the same place'. This suggested that species were in a constant race for survival and have to continue to evolve new ways of defending themselves throughout time.

Dr Steve Paterson, from the University's School of Biosciences, explains: "Historically, it was assumed that most evolution was driven by a need to adapt to the environment or habitat. The Red Queen Hypothesis challenged this by pointing out that actually most natural selection will arise from co-evolutionary interactions with other species, not from interactions with the environment.

Evolutionists have long told us that natural selection is well-understood as the main driving force behind evolution, with the other forces being mutation, random genetic drift and gene flow.

This article shows that natural selection is not so well understood. It is just a buzz phrase for whatever happens in nature, without telling us anything about what really happens.

I am not saying that natural selection is wrong. Just that there isn't much substance to it. Believing in natural selection is like believing in life. It just doesn't tell us much.

A couple of philosophers have a new book on What Darwin got Wrong. You can find part of the argument, with rebuttals, here. It seems to be mainly an attack on Darwin's reasoning, not his conclusions.


Sunday, Feb 28, 2010
 
Einstein was not dyslexic
It is common to claim that Einstein had learning disabilities:
The genius of Albert Einstein is legendary. His gift of intellect, world renowned. He was, by many accounts, a dyslexic.

Did you know that Albert did not learn how to tie his own shoelaces until he was nine, or thirteen, or possibly not ever?

This is back up by Researchers have learned that Einstein had developmental dyslexia. But Einstein's biographers deny it.

Much of this sort of speculation is driven by the fact there are incongruities in the story of Einstein's intelligence. Some say that he was the greatest genius who ever lived, and yet there is other evidence that he was not so smart.

The truth is very simple. Einstein did very well in school. He aced his classes and went on to get a doctoral degree in Physics. He had to be a very good student to do that. He went on to become a distinguished physicist.

But he never showed any sign of any great genius, either as a student or as a physicist. He is supposed to have invented relativity, but as I have shown on this blog, all the genius ideas were really from others.

Einstein also said a lot of foolish things. I am not sure that he ever understood what a mathematical proof is, as his papers make it very hard to understand what he is assuming and what he is proving, if anything. Once you realize that the truly ingenious parts of relativity were done by others, then there is no great disparity in the different assessments of his intelligence.


Saturday, Feb 27, 2010
 
Dyson on Poincare and Einstein
Dyson wrote:
Einstein afterward reported his impression of Poincaré: "Poincaré was simply negative in general, and, all his acumen notwithstanding, he showed little grasp of the situation." So far as Einstein was concerned, Poincaré belonged with the ether in the dustbin of history. But Einstein underestimated Poincaré. Einstein did not know that Poincaré had just then written a letter ...

Einstein never saw Poincaré's letter and never knew that he had misjudged him.

Separately, Dyson said, "Einstein... had no technical skill as a mathematician." Dyson was at the Princeton IAS for the last eight years of Einstein's life, but avoided him because he thought that Einstein's papers were junk.

It seems to me that Dyson must have had a very low opinion of Einstein's character. Einstein should have able to size up Poincare, and determine whether he belongs in the dustbin of history (whatever that means), by simply reading his papers. Instead Dyson suggests that Einstein was too petty and incompetent to do that, and instead formed an opinion of Poincare based on a faulty assumption that Poincare held a grudge against Einstein.

I think that this tells us more about Dyson than Poincare or Einstein. Dyson reveals himself in this article to be a Kuhnian who believes that science is subject to paradigm shifts that are like popular fads. In this view, he credits Einstein because others credit Einstein, and not because of any substantive reason about any objective reality. Einstein is better because his terminology was more popular, and because he was more of a backstabber. That's all.


Thursday, Feb 25, 2010
 
50 years and no aliens
The search for extraterrestrial intelligence has been a 50 year failure:
Here's how the late Lee DuBridge, science adviser to presidents, put it in a famous quote: "Either mankind is the most advanced intelligence in the galaxy; or not. Either alternative is mind-boggling." ...

The SETI era got its start on April 8, 1960, when astronomer Frank Drake pointed a radio telescope into the skies over West Virginia and looked for patterns in the signals received. ...

"What's happening here is that the earth is growing quiet," Drake said. "If we are the model for the [intelligent] universe, that's bad news."

Waste of money. SETI is like looking for Noah's Ark. Even if space aliens were out there, they would not be beaming radio signals to Earth.

Wednesday, Feb 24, 2010
 
Lawsuit could stop Swiss collider
NewScientist magazine reports:
In 1999, physicists said no particle accelerator for the foreseeable future would have the power to create a black hole. But theoretical work published in 2001 showed that if hidden extra dimensions in space-time did exist, the LHC might create black holes after all. Thereafter, the argument for safety was changed. In 2003, it said that any black holes created would instantly evaporate. But when subsequent theoretical work suggested otherwise, the argument changed again. In 2008, CERN issued a report arguing a safety case based, ultimately, on astrophysical arguments and observations of eight white dwarf stars. These flip-flops on safety might cause a court to find current assurances less persuasive than they would otherwise be.
The simple explanation here is that the physicists do not really believe in those extra dimensions. They say they do, but they don't seem worried.

Tuesday, Feb 23, 2010
 
New string theory book
Peter Woit trashes a silly new book on string theory. The book refuses to assign credit because:
To illustrate the difficulties of doing a proper job of attributing ideas to people, let’s start by asking who figured out relativity. it was Albert Einstein, right? Yes -- but if we just stop with that one name, we’re missing a lot. Hendrik Lorentz and Henri Poincaré did important work that predated Einstein; Her- mann Minkowski introduced a crucially important math- ematical framework; David Hilbert independently figured out a key building block of general relativity; and there are several more important early figures like James Clerk Max- well, George Fitzgerald, and Joseph Larmor who deserve mention, as well as later pioneers like John Wheeler and Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar.
I get the impression that it is well-known among physicists today that Einstein did not invent relativity, but they don't want to say it. The history of relativity is actually very well documented, and it is easy to look up who did what, and when. I do not think that there is any proof that anyone independently reinvented anything, so every idea can be credited.

Monday, Feb 22, 2010
 
Dyson on Poincare and Einstein
Einstein biographer Walter Isaacson relies on Freeman Dyson for the difference between Poincare and Einstein on relativity, as noted before. I just noticed that the quote was from a longer 2003 review of Peter Louis Galison's book, Einstein's Clocks, Poincaré's Maps: Empires of Time. I have commented on Galison before.
Today the name of Einstein is known to almost everybody, the name of Poincaré to almost nobody. A hundred years ago the opposite was true. ... The theories discovered by Poincaré and Einstein were operationally equivalent, with identical experimental consequences, but there was one crucial difference. The difference was the use of the word "ether."
Dyson denies being a Kuhnian, but prefers to credit Einstein for relativity because the Einstein story better matches Kuhn's (mistaken) ideas:
Kuhn, in his classic work The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, published in 1962, portrays the progress of science as a kind of punctuated equilibrium, like the evolution of species in the history of life. ... But at rare moments, new discoveries or new ideas arise that call the accepted dogma into question, and then a scientific revolution may occur. To cause a scientific revolution, the new discoveries must be powerful enough to overthrow the prevailing theory, and a new set of ideas must be ready to replace it. In Kuhn's view, it is new ideas that drive scientific revolutions. The big steps forward in the progress of science are idea-driven. ...

Einstein made the big jump into the world of relativity because he was eager to throw out old ideas and bring in new ones. Poincaré hesitated on the brink and never made the big jump. In this instance at least, Kuhn was right.

It is amazing that an otherwise-intellient mathematical physicist can fall for such nonsense. Dyson was reviewing a book on Poincare and Einstein, and his chief gripe is that it does not explain how Einstein's relativity was so much superior to Poincare's. Dyson is annoyed by one particular sentence that gives Poincare some credit:
Peter Galison is a historian and not a judge. His purpose is to understand the way in which Poincaré and Einstein arrived at their insights, not to hand out praise or blame. His book is an extended double portrait, describing their lives and times in detail. At the beginning, he complains of the unequal treatment given to them by biographers: "There are, to be sure, too many biographies of Einstein and not enough of Poincaré."
It is bizarre for Dyson to get so exercised about this Galison sentence. You can read the context here. Galison is not trying to say that Poincare is better and Einstein, or even to say that he is comparable. Galison is just trying to tell a story that has not been told many times already.

This demonstrates how Kuhnian physicists can be fanatical Einstein idolizers. If Galison merely mentions Poincare in the same sentence as Einstein, Dyson has to write a whole article trashing Galison for it.

I think that Einstein's reputation is propped up by Kuhnians who do not believe in objective reality.

But it is apparent that Dyson has only a superficial knowledge of the history of special relativity himself, saying:

Two years later, in 1905, Poincaré and Einstein simultaneously arrived at a solution to the problem. Poincaré presented a summary of his results to the French Academy of Sciences in Paris, and in the same month Einstein mailed his classic paper, "Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies," to the German journal Annalen der Physik. The two versions of the solution were in substance almost identical. Both were based on the principle of relativity, which says that the laws of nature are the same for a moving observer as they are for an observer standing still. Both agreed with the experimentally observed behavior of fast particles, and made the same predictions for the results of future experiments.
It is true that their theories were the same, but it was Einstein's 1905 theory that was the same as Poincare's pre-1905 theory. Poincare's 1905 paper had very little overlap with Einstein's 1905 paper. If Dyson thinks that these papers were identical, then he obviously has not read them.

It is not quite true that they agreed with "experimentally observed behavior". Kaufmann did experiments that some people claimed to give evidence for a rival theory. It is also not quite true that Poincare and Einstein gave the same predictions for "fast particles". Einstein only made predictions about electrodynamic forces on slow particles, because of approximations that he used. These points may seem like minor nitpicks, but they show that Dyson doesn't know what he is talking about.

Dyson's article also has some strange comments about Einstein misjudging Poincare, and badmouthing him. It appears that Einstein had a grudge against Poincare, but Poincare did not have a grudge against Einstein. That's what Dyson says, anyway.


Saturday, Feb 20, 2010
 
Conceptual advances made by Poincare
Some people argue that even if Einstein's mathematical arguments for special relativity were better done by others, Einstein should be credited for the conceptual advances.

But Einstein never made any conceptual advances. He merely had a way of presenting the advances of others

Here is a list of the special relativity conceptual advances made by Poincare. There is no record of any independently discovery of these concepts, and all were absorbed into mainstream physics in a way that can be directly traced to Poincare.

  • local clocks measure local time
  • electromagnetic relativity principle holds to all orders
  • universality of the speed of light
  • aether is unobservable
  • Lorentz group and its Lie algebra
  • spacetime metric
  • relativity as a consequence of the geometry of spacetime
  • imaginary time
  • covariance of Maxwells equations
  • simultaneity paradox
  • operational definition of time and space
  • 4-vectors
  • relativistic Lagrangian
  • Lorentz-invariant gravity
For most of these, Poincare was five years ahead of Einstein. I don't think that there is any serious argument about any of this.

A Cosmos magazine article asks Was Einstein a fake? It says not, but it does not mention Lorentz or Poincare. It is only concerned with those who do not believe relativity.


Wednesday, Feb 17, 2010
 
Weinberg on Einstein
The distinguished physicist Steven Weinberg wrote an article Einstein's Mistakes in Physics Today, November 2005. It generated many letters. He writes mostly about the cosmological constant and quantum mechanics, which are probably the most famous examples of Einstein being wrong.

Weinberg ends with this:

Einstein was not only a great man, but a good one.

His moral sense guided him in other matters: He opposed militarism during World War I; he refused to support the Soviet Union in the Stalin years; he became an enthusiastic Zionist; he gave up his earlier pacifism when Europe was threatened by Nazi Germany, for instance urging the Belgians to rearm; and he publicly opposed McCarthyism. About these great public issues, Einstein made no mistakes.

Huhh? Einstein's FBI file is online, and you can read for yourself about his support for Stalinism:
An investigation was conducted by the FBI regarding the famous physicist because of his affiliation with the Communist Party. Einstein was a member, sponsor, or affiliated with thirty-four communist fronts between 1937 and 1954. He also served as honorary chairman for three communist organizations.
See this anti-Einstein page. Here is his May 1949 essay in favor of socialism.

Thus Einstein was a Communist fellow traveler who supported the Soviet Union in the Stalin years. He was not such a good man.


Tuesday, Feb 16, 2010
 
Hsu on relativity
A very good history of special relativity is in the first 100 pages or so of A broader view of relativity: general implications of Lorentz and Poincaré, by Jong-Ping Hsu, Leonardo Hsu. As the title indicates, he details the contributions of Lorentz and Poincare, but I still think that he over-credits Einstein.

He says:

Having said all this, Einstein is generally considered to have had a more profound understanding of physical space, time and relativity. ...

When Pauli discussed Einstein and the development of physics, he said: 'Nowadays we speak with some justification of the "Lorentz Group"; but as a matter of history it was precisely the group property of his transformations that Lorentz failed to recognize; this was reserved for Poincaré and Einstein independently. lt is regrettable that a certain amount of dispute about priority has arisen over this.'14 [p.77]

14. W. Pauli, Writings on Physics and Philosophy (Edited by (C. P. Enz and Karl von Meyenn, translated by R. Schlapp, Springer-Verlag, Berlin, 1994), p. 113: Neue Zurcher Zeitung, 12. Januar 1958. [p.84]

No, they did not recognize it independently. Poincare published a paper in 1905 saying:
The essential idea of Lorentz consists in that the equations of the electromagnetic field will not be altered by a certain transformation (which I shall further term the Lorentz transformation) of the following form: ...

In this transformation the x-axis plays a particular role, but it is clearly possible to construct such a transformation, in which this role will be assumed by a certain straight line passing through the origin. The set of all such transformations together with all spatial rotations should form a group; but for this to take place it is necessary that l = 1; hence one is led to assume l = 1, which is precisely the consequence obtained by Lorentz in another way.

Einstein had access to this paper two weeks before he submitted his first relativity paper, which only said this about the transformations forming a group:
If in addition to the systems K and k figuring in § 3 we introduce still another system of co-ordinates k' moving parallel to k ... [velocity addition law omitted] from which we see that such parallel transformations--necessarily--form a group.
As you can see, Einstein is only making a statement about a one-dimensional subgroup. He made no use of any group property, and probably did not appreciate its significance.

For Poincare, the group property is crucial and well understood. He gave the Lie algebra of the Lorentz group. He proved that Maxwell's equations are covariant under the group. His whole methodology is to study physics by studying the invariants of the Lorentz group. Einstein has none of this. Studying relativity thru the Lorentz group was entirely Poincare's invention.

Yes, some people consider Einstein to have had a more profound understanding, but only by people like Pauli who misunderstand the basic facts of who did what.

Hsu agrees with some of this, and says:

As a mathematician, Poincaré understood the Lorentz group completely as a group with six parameters, three for spatial rotations and three for constant linear motions, while Einstein viewed it as a group with one parameter for the constant motion in a given direction. The understanding of the group property is crucial because mathematically, the theory of special relativity is the theory of invariants of the Lorentz group and physically, the symmetry of the theory depends completely on the group properties. [p.76]
Poincare never said that he believed in the aether. Hsu defends him:
Poincaré believed in the existence of an as yet undetected ether, while Einstein did not believe in the ether. It was widely believed by most people that Einstein was right and Poincaré was wrong. However, this belief is no longer tenable from the viewpoint of modern gauge field theory and particle physics. Based on the unified electroweak theory and quantum chromodynamics, the physical vacuum is quite complicated, contrary to Einstein's belief. [p.76]
Einstein changed his mind about the aether in about 1916, and believed in it after that.

Even tho Hsu credits Lorentz and Poincare in detail, he still talks about "Einstein's synchrononization" and "Poincare-Einstein principle of relativity". Everyone agrees that Poincare published these ideas five years ahead of Einstein, that Einstein read Poincare, and that Einstein's terminology on these two ideas is nearly identical to Poincare's.

Hsu says this on Lorentz and the aether:

8. ... of the equations for the free ether is contained in his paper.1" See H. A. Lorentz, The Theory of Electrons (ser. 169, Teubner, Leipzig, 1909; Dover, New York, 1952), p. 198, and, also, A. Pais, ref, 6, pp, 121-122.

9. Lorentz said in 1909 that he could not but regard the ether as endowed with a certain degree of substantiality, however different it may be from all ordinary mattter. See H. A. Lorentz, ref. 8, p. 230.

10. The main difference between Lorentz's and Einstein's attitude toward relativity can be seen clearly from Lorentz's statement: " .... the chief difference being that Einstein simply postulates what we have deduced, with some difficulty and not altogether satisfactorily, from the fundamental equations of the electromagnetic field. By doing so, he may certainly take credit for making us see in the negative result of experiments like those of Michelson, Rayleigh and Brace, not a fortultous compensation of opposing effects, but the manifestation of a general and iundanientai principle." See H.A. Lorentz, ref. 8, p. 230, Nevertheless, Lorentz believed ln the ether to the end of his life.

That is right that Einstein simply postulated that Maxwell's equations hold in all (inertial) moving frames. Lorentz and Poincare had proved it in publications years earlier. This is probably the most confused thing about Einstein's paper. People think that he actually proved something. Isn't that the point of using postulates?

Not for Einstein. He is just giving an explanation of Lorentz's theorem of corresponding states, without actually proving it.


Monday, Feb 15, 2010
 
Coyne attacks religion again
Leftist-evolutionist-atheist prof Jerry Coyne writes:
Once again we see that modern theology is the art of turning empirical necessities into spiritual virtues. Except for a few dissenters like Augustine and Calvin, the bulk of Christian theology up to the rise of science in the sixteenth century involved seeing the Bible literally -- in its entirety. Six-day creation, Noah, Adam and Eve -- the whole megillah. That held for cosmology, biology, and evolution. It was only when reason and empirical studies began to show phenomena in conflict with scripture that theologians began to realize that the Bible was not wholly inerrant. Today, every liberal theologian realizes this, ...
I doubt this. St. Augustine lived from 354 to 430 AD. His theology was mainstream in the Catholic Church for centuries. Those teaching a literal interpretation, contrary to St. Augustine, were always in a minority.

Coyne like to attack all religion as being equally opposed to science and reason. But he ignores the fact that most Christians have always accepted scientific advances.

Yes, there are stories like this:

This idea about the universe did not sit well with the Catholic Church. They lured Giordano Bruno to Rome with the promise of a job, where he was immediately turned over to the Inquisition and charged with heresy.

Giordano Bruno spent the next eight years in chains in the Castel Sant’Angelo, where he was routinely tortured and interrogated until his trial. Despite this, he remained unrepentant, stating to his Catholic Church judge, Jesuit Cardinal Robert Bellarmine, “I neither ought to recant, nor will I.” Even a death sentence handed down by the Catholic Church did not change his attitude as he defiantly told his accusers, “In pronouncing my sentence, your fear is greater than mine in hearing it.”

Immediately after the death sentence was handed down, Giordano Bruno’s jaw was clamped shut with an iron gag, his tongue was pierced with an iron spike and another iron spike was driven into his palate. On February 19, 1600, he was driven through the streets of Rome, stripped of his clothes and burned at the stake.

But Bruno was no scientist. He was a Catholic monk who denied the divinity of Jesus Christ.

Saturday, Feb 13, 2010
 
Poincare on the aether
Poincare is sometimes criticized for referring to the aether, even after Einstein declared it to be superfluous, and after Poincare himself declared it to be unobservable.

I looked for the most incriminating quote. Here is what Poincare wrote in 1907:

I imagined the dimensions of the world changing, but at least the world remaining always similar to itself. We can go much further than that, and one of the most surprising theories of modern physicists will furnish the occasion. According to a hypothesis of Lorentz and Fitzgerald,*[Vide infra. Book III. Chap. ii.] all bodies carried forward in the earth's motion undergo a de- formation. This deformation is, in truth, very slight, since all dimensions parallel with the earth's motion are diminished by a hundred-millionth, while dimen- sions perpendicular to this motion are not altered. But it matters little that it is slight; it is enough that it should exist for the conclusion I am soon going to draw from it. Besides, though I said that it is slight, I really know nothing about it. I have myself fallen a victim to the tenacious illusion that makes us believe that we think of an absolute space. I was thinking of the earth's motion on its elliptical orbit round the sun, and I allowed 18 miles a second for its velocity. But its true velocity (I mean this time, not its absolute velocity, which has no sense, but its velocity in relation to the ether), this I do not know and have no means of knowing. It is, perhaps, 10 or 1OO times as high, and then the deformation will be 100 or 10,000 times as great.

It is evident that we cannot demonstrate this de- formation. ...

The critics say that if he truly understood relativity, then he would not talk about "true velocity", "absolute velocity", and the aether. These are meaningless concepts. They also say that he would not use the word "hypothesis", if he really believed in the Lorentz contraction.

I think that Poincare's meaning is clear enough, and correct. He is making a point about the velocities not being observable, and about self-similar changes to space not being observable.

He says that "true velocity" is unknowable, and has no observable effect. All of this is correct.

Perhaps it is difficult for non-mathematicians to understand hypothetical scenarios like this, I don't know. But this is really a simple explanation at a high school level. I think that people are willfully misreading him to try to make him look bad, when they quote this to argue that he believed in the aether. Poincare had a conventionalist philosophy that allowed one to choose different concepts for convenience, when no observation could distinguish the concepts. So in his view, you could believe in the aether or not, as there was no known way to observe it anyway. He proved that it did not make any difference in relativity.

(Not that it would be wrong to believe in the aether. Almost all physicists believe in it today, altho they use other names for it.)


Thursday, Feb 11, 2010
 
Evolution before Darwin
I have commented before on evolution work that predated Darwin. Milton Wainwright has collected some old quotes to show that It's Not Darwin's or Wallace's Theory. He complains that he could not get published:
This experience has led me to conclude that any academic article proving that Darwin did not originate the theory of evolution, via natural selection, will be censored by the scientific community. This situation reminds me of the story (perhaps apocryphal) about the Russian scientist who stated that in the Soviet Union, he could criticise Darwin, but not the Government, while in the West, he was able to criticise the Government, but not Darwin.
Razib Khan writes:
I was shocked by the magnitude of Darwin's intellectual creativity, so many basic aspects of evolutionary biological orthodoxy are in evidence in Origin of Species, down to a very low level of specificity. Page after page I have encountered hypotheses and empirical observations which are seamlessly integrated into the body of conventional background wisdom within a modern biological education. ...

By contrast on occasion I did express some sympathy with the position that Charles Darwin had a rather obvious Big Idea (Natural Selection), which he only happened to stumble upon through luck or happenstance. After reading Darwin's most famous work I think that this is a ludicrous position to take.

Darwin's book actually credits some of this earlier work. I think that the book compiled an impressive set of arguments for evolution, but did not have much in the way of fundamental new ideas. Most all of what we understand as evolution came either earlier (like common descent) or later (like genes).

Wednesday, Feb 10, 2010
 
Appendix not example of bad design
Evolutionist Jerry Coyne has a podcast where he plugs his book on why evolution is true. I am sure his book has a lot of good arguments, but his favorite argument on the podcast was that humans suffer from bad design as evidenced by the appendix. But new research last year showed that the human appendix is not useless. It serves to reboot the digestive system with good bacteria, after diarrhea. The appendix appears not to be an evolutionary vestige of a second stomach, as Darwin claimed.

Monday, Feb 08, 2010
 
Reader says Sokal had moral courage
A reader from the other side of the world responds to my Second thoughts about the Sokal hoax
“But now I think that it was cowardly and dishonest.”

He was certainly dishonest. His dishonesty was, however, aimed at a bunch of scoundrels who spent their careers misleading the young with worthless claptrap. They richly deserved every sling and arrow with which Sokal pelted them.

Cowardly he was not; to take on a bunch of influential American academics requires a large measure of moral courage.

You seem, like the idiotors of Social Text, to argue with Sokal about the content of his self-confessed rubbish. If some of it seems to make sense, that is entirely the invention of the reader – it was written as rubbish, published as rubbish and remains rubbish. No amount of analysis can invest it with any sense. Indeed, were it possible to glean any meaning from Sokal’s document, Social Text’s vigilent editorial board would have rejected it out of hand.

aldousk

The argument is that the journal should have rejected the article, but I don't see how Sokal proved that at all. For that, he would have to show that his article was substantially below the standards used for other articles in the journal. If you are of the opinion that everything in the journal is rubbish, then how is Sokal's article any worse?

Sokal does use some confusing physics analogies, but so do a lot of others. For example, a WSJ article last week said this:

But with cars like the Prius, the forthcoming Chevy Volt and other Obamamobiles, electronic complexity will take another quantum leap. We're not just talking about more sensors, algorithms and look-up tables for the purpose of optimizing emissions, but to coordinate two completely different power systems, electric and gas-powered.
A quantum leap is small and discrete, and the above usage makes no sense. In my opinion, the WSJ editors should have corrected this term. But nobody asked me, and this error does not prove that everything in the WSJ is rubbish.

Maybe Sokal could have proved something by submitting two papers under different names, with one paper more scientifically correct and the other being more politically acceptable. Then he might have evidence that the editors favor the politics more than the science.

The reader says that the journal editors would have rejected Sokal's article if it were possible to glean any meaning from it. And how does he know that? Sokal might have tried to prove that by also submitting an article from which it is possible to glean meaning. But Sokal did not do that.

If Sokal really wanted to show off how scientists are superior to other academics, then he should have chosen an experiment with some scientific merit.

I don't think that it does take any courage to take on academic deconstructionists. Most educated people have no respect for them anyway.

The reader responds:

"The argument is that the journal should have rejected the article"

No, it is not.

The argument is that Social Text (along with many other uncounted journals none of which I can, or care to, name) and its intellectual contributors are in the business of promulgating nonsense. Sokal generated an "academic paper" comprising pure, unadulterated, meaningless ramblings. It was published, in an issue of Social Text, together with what I imagine was a collection of equally ink-and-paper wasting submissions, all of which, I surmise, demonstrated that "rootless urban intelligence", than which nothing, according to Spengler, is stupider.

"Quantum leap" has, thanks to our poorly-educated (some might unkindly suggest semi-literate) journos, become a popular expression that means "sudden and significant change". Journos do this. It is irritating, but unless journalists are properly educated by learning their trade through writing stuff and being bawled at by angry subs rather than being fed useless pap by poorly paid adjunct professors in bureaucrat-infested soi-disant universities, it's only going to get worse. And it isn't new: I recall many years ago a Time Magazine writer using the expression "social entropy" (which, it has just occurred to me, might be an improved title for Social Text). The writer, no doubt, had no idea what entropy was. I can only guess that he meant "disorder". So "quantum leap" is poor style, a bit puerile, but not confusing, at least in the puerile sense. It is a quaint echo of the 1920s when the idea of a "leap" arose from the image of an electron "leaping" from one "orbital" to another in an attempt to understand the origin of atomic spectra. Its use does not mean that WSJ is rubbish but rather that the writer is a bit out of touch with what was once called modern physics.

So it must be accepted that Sokal did not show that everything in Social Text is rubbish. Achieving this would be an interesting, if not particularly useful, exercise for a student, although perhaps not one from Duke.

I must apologise for my slightly sarcastic suggestion that the editorial board of Social Text would have rejected Sokal's paper had it contained anything that made sense. It is almost certainly not true - they would no doubt have celebrated a few comprehensible passages.

I do not think that Sokal intended to conduct a rigorous scientific experiment - that is not the way science works in practice. One starts by making a few preliminary pokes and turning over a few stones until something happens that causes the one to say "that's funny". Well, Sokal found something funny. Now a theoretician should devise a model, then a series of controlled experiments can begin. But the subjects can be a bit slippery.

Another reader writes:
I completely agree with your reader regarding Sokal. Sokal set out to make these people look like foolish purveyors of intellectual claptrap, and he succeeded hilariously. It was a brilliant effort.

Sunday, Feb 07, 2010
 
IPCC warmists admit errors
When the warmists say that global warming is proven science, they mean two things. That burning fossil fuels emits CO2, in excess of what plants are absorbing, and that CO2 in the air absorbs some heat energy that might otherwise be reflected into space.

The supposed consensus is from the IPCC, the UN agency that shared the Nobel peace prize with Al Gore. The IPCC report forecast a two-foot sea level rise in the next century, after a one-foot rise in the last.

The first major disagreement among the experts is over whether the feedback is positive or negative. If positive, then warming will cause more warming. If negative, then the warming will be partially compensated by cooling effects.

Without good science, we can look to the religion of Gaia. The Gaians believe that the Earth is one giant living organism. Some believe that anything humans do to the Earth is, by definition, harmful. Others believe that the Earth reacts to change by bringing itself back to equilibrium.

Global warming is only a concern if there is a positive feedback effect that will cause runaway global warming much worse than what the CO2 predicts. The IPCC consensus forecast is just not a crisis, and only a crisis would justify the drastic actions that the warmists want.

The IPCC was embarrassed by the UEA CRU emails that showed bad attitudes on the parts of the warmist scientists. These emails were widely reported as stolen, but now it turns out that the emails were required by law to be released. If anything, the scientists broke the law by trying to block their release.

More damaging was the computer codes released.

Now it turns

IPCC’s 2007 Working Group II report on “Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability” contains claims about the projected impacts of climate change that are completely unfounded, based upon non-scientific (let alone peer reviewed) sources, or misrepresent the underlying scientific literature.

The first revelation was that there was no scientific basis for the IPCC’s widely-hyped claim that Himalayan glaciers could disappear by 2035. This projection is off by a few centuries, at best. When an Indian climate researcher first challenged this claim, suggesting there is no evidence (yet) of warming-induced glacial retreat in the Himalayas, IPCC chief Rajenda Pachauri was dismissive. Now, however, he’s changed his tune, and the IPCC has acknowledged the error. This was more than a simple mistake, however, as it appears the IPCC was informed of the error before the report was finalized, but failed to make any changes, nor was Pachauri quick to acknowledge the error once it was brought to his attention.

It has also become clear that the IPCC report systematically misrepresents the peer-reviewed literature on the effect of climate change hurricanes and natural disasters. Specifically, the report falsely claims there is evidence that human-induced climate change is producing an increase in extreme weather events and associated losses and includes a graph that is not based upon published, peer-reviewed work. Yet the studies upon which the IPCC purports to base its claim — including one that was not peer-reviewed and should not have been cited at all — say no such thing. Worse, when the IPCC’s erroneous claims were challenged during the review process, an IPCC author fabricated a response to defend the erroneous claim.

Even if the IPCC report were scientifically valid, it is doubtful whether any political action is needed.

Since some people don't believe in global warming, one suggestion is that any carbon tax be linked to global temperatures. The genius of that idea is that no one would have to pay unless we actually have the warming. This should eliminate the objections of the skeptics. But so far, I haven't heard the warmists having sufficient confidence in their predictions to propose such a plan. If they really believe in their dire prediction, then they should be happy to have such a link.

Even the leftist AAAS Science magazine has an editorial saying:

In the wake of the [University of East Anglia] controversy, I have been contacted by many U.S. and world leaders in science, business, and government. Their assessments and those from various editorials, added to results from scattered public opinion polls, suggest that public opinion has moved toward the view that scientists often try to suppress alternative hypotheses and ideas and that scientists will withhold data and try to manipulate some aspects of peer review to prevent dissent. This view reflects the fragile nature of trust between science and society, demonstrating that the perceived misbehavior of even a few scientists can diminish the credibility of science as a whole.
Some scientists publish their data and their models. The better ones do. We should not make public policy decisions based on the conclusions of the sloppy scientists who don't.

Update: There's more, from the London UK Telegraph:

They are the latest in a series of damaging revelations about the IPCC’s most recent report, published in 2007.

Last month, the panel was forced to issue a humiliating retraction after it emerged statements about the melting of Himalayan glaciers were inaccurate.

Last weekend, this paper revealed that the panel had based claims about disappearing mountain ice on anecdotal evidence in a student’s dissertation and an article in a mountaineering magazine.

And on Friday, it emerged that the IPCC’s panel had wrongly reported that more than half of the Netherlands was below sea level because it had failed to check information supplied by a Dutch government agency.

And from the London Times:
The most important is a claim that global warming could cut rain-fed north African crop production by up to 50% by 2020, a remarkably short time for such a dramatic change. The claim has been quoted in speeches by Rajendra Pachauri, the IPCC chairman, and by Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general.

This weekend Professor Chris Field, the new lead author of the IPCC’s climate impacts team, told The Sunday Times that he could find nothing in the report to support the claim. The revelation follows the IPCC’s retraction of a claim that the Himalayan glaciers might all melt by 2035, dubbed 'Glaciergate' by commentators.

The African claims could be even more embarrassing for the IPCC because they appear not only in its report on climate change impacts but, unlike the glaciers claim, are also repeated in its Synthesis Report.

This report is the IPCC’s most politically sensitive publication, distilling its most important science into a form accessible to politicians and policy makers. Its lead authors include Pachauri himself.

No one should accept such crappy science.

Friday, Feb 05, 2010
 
Whittaker on Einstein
The famous English mathematician Edmund Taylor Whittaker wrote a famous book that said:
Einstein published a paper which set forth the relativity theory of Poincaré and Lorentz with some amplifications, and which attracted much attention. [p.40]
This got the Einstein lovers very upset, and they have been attacking him ever since, and putting down the work of Poincare and Lorentz on relativity.

I assumed that Whittaker was some sort of Einstein hater, but he is not at all. The book is A History of the Theories of Aether and Electricity, Vol 2.

The book doesn't really say much about who deserves credit. It describes who did what. It is a history of the aether, so there is some emphasis on theories that were related to the aether. It also describes general relativity, and discusses Einstein more in connection with that.

Usually histories of relativity ignore Lorentz and Poincare. But if you include what they did, there just aren't any new formulas or concepts that Einstein added to special relativity.

Jansson gives this explanation for historians not crediting Lorentz and Poincare:

The tendency to think of the dispute between Lorentz and Einstein in terms of competing research programmes etc. can be traced back, I think, to the myth of the Michelson-Morley experiment, which glorifies Einstein to the exclusion of everybody else. It is against this background, that Whittaker’s often quoted put-down of Einstein’s 1905 paper, as a “paper which set forth the relativity theory of Poincaré and Lorentz with some amplifications, and which attracted much attention” (Whittaker 1953, II, p. 40) must be seen. However, if Whittaker indeed tried to restore some balance in this way, he achieved just the opposite of what he intended. For years, historians writing on Lorentz and Poincaré understandaby felt the need to distance themselves from Whittaker’s preposterous remarks, often inadvertently giving Lorentz and Poincaré less than their fair share of the credit in the process. It is my impression that this situation is finally changing.
If Whittaker’s remarks were truly preposterous, then someone would have refuted them back in 1953. No one has.

Saturday, Jan 30, 2010
 
Damour on Poincare
Thibault Damour wrote this 2005 paper, and he has a section on why Poincare should not be credited for special relativity. He studied Poincare's papers, and has some useful things to say about their contributions.

The first part reviews the work of Poincaré on the Theory of (Special) Relativity. One emphasizes both the remarkable achievements of Poincaré, and the fact that he never came close to what is the essential conceptual achievement of Einstein: changing the concept of time.
His strongest point is that Poincare never mentions the twin paradox. Damour claims that Poincare didn't really understand relativistic time. Furthermore, he says that one paper uses the term "apparent time" for something that is not really the local time that a clock would measure.
This conceptual revolution in the notion of time is encapsulated in the “twin paradox”, i.e. in time dilation effects, much more than in any change of synchronization conventions. Indeed, it was the idea that the variable t' was “time, pure and simple” which led Einstein, for the first time, to think and predict that, independently of any synchronization convention, a clock moving away and then coming back will not mark the same time when it reconvenes with its “sister clock” that remained in inertial motion. It is true that Poincaré’s discussion of synchronization in a moving frame seems close to Einstein’s synchronization process, but, when looking more carefully at what Poincaré actually wrote, one finds that there is a world of difference between the two.
The twin paradox used to be called the Langevin paradox, based on Paul Langevin formally presenting it in 1911.

I thought that the complaint about "apparent time" was that Poincare didn't accept relativistic time.

It might be interesting to hear what Poincare might have said about the twin paradox. Strictly speaking, it is not a direct consequence of special relativity, because at least one twin must be accelerated and special relativity does not predict how that effects clocks.

I do think that it is strange that people can read Poincare, and get hung up on such trivial terminological points. If Poincare really had such misunderstandings of relativity, and wrote 100s of pages on the subject, I would think that he would have said something that was actually wrong. And yet no one has found any errors in what he says.

Poincare credited Lorentz for changing the concept of time, and recommended him for a Nobel prize in 1902 for it. Poincare raved about it the "most ingenious idea" in his 1904 lecture:

The most ingenious idea has been that of local time. ... 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. ... if we recall that this observer would not use the same clocks as a fixed observer, but, indeed, clocks marking "local time”.
This is as clear and as correct as anything that Einstein says about time.

Poincare emphasized that the Lorentz transformations form a group, and having the correct formula for time dilation is essential for that. So how is it that he could correctly do all those relativistic calculations, and not understand what he was doing?

My guess is that Poincare would have viewed the twin paradox as an extrapolation that could not be wholly justified based on the experimental evidence. Or perhaps he thought that the effect was too small to be measurable. He did talk a lot about the consequences of relativity, but always emphasized the experimental tests that were being done.

 
Campaign against vaccine critic continues
The British BBC reports:
The doctor who first suggested a link between MMR vaccinations and autism acted unethically, the official medical regulator has found.

Dr Andrew Wakefield's 1998 Lancet study caused vaccination rates to plummet, resulting in a rise in measles - but the findings were later discredited.

The General Medical Council ruled he had acted "dishonestly and irresponsibly" in doing his research.

Afterwards, Dr Wakefield said the claims were "unfounded and unjust".

The GMC case did not investigate whether Dr Wakefield's findings were right or wrong, instead it was focused on the methods of research.

I wonder if anyone is persuaded by this. Wakefield wrote a short 1998 paper suggesting a problem with the MMR vaccine, and the medical establishment spent the next 12 years in a systematic attempt to destroy him.

If the authorities are so scientific, why can't they just address what he said on the merits?

The obvious conclusion from all this is that Wakefield was probably wrong about MMR, but no one else will have to guts to speak up about other potential vaccine problems. That is what the authorities want, I guess.

It seems to me that they cannot restore vaccine confidence by destroying Wakefield. They would be better off thanking him for raising a concern, and proving him wrong about MMR.

Update: It seems that the main charge against Wakefield is that he collected some blood samples from kids at a private birthday. Supposedly this was some sort of ethical breach because he did not get the proper consent paperwork. I don't know why anyone would care about that, since it has nothing to do with the merits of the vaccine in question.


Thursday, Jan 28, 2010
 
Why people evolved no fur
This SciAm article says that the aquatic ape theory explain human hair loss, sweat glands, and fat under the skin. But it says the theory has been shown to be wrong because (1) not all aquatic mammals have these properties in the same way; (2) living in the water would have been vulnerable to crocodile attacks; and (3) the theory is not simple.

These arguments seem very weak to me. The theory is simple, in that one hypothesis explain three human attributes (and many others also). The article's hypothesis for fur loss does not do that.

Yes, there were predators in the water, but there were also lions and many other predators on land. And yes, sea otters have lots of fur, but maybe they need it because they are smaller. I don't know. But lots of species evolve differently, and other arguments have these problems also.


Wednesday, Jan 27, 2010
 
More of Pauli on Einstein
Here is is what Wolfgang Pauli says about the aether, in his 1921 relativity book:
4 I. Foundation: of Special Relativity
2. The postulate of relativity

The failure of the many attempts to measure terrestrially any effects of the earth’s motion on physical phenomena allows us to come to the highly probable, if not certain, conclusion that the phenomena in a given reference system are, in principle, independent of the translational motion of the system as a whole. To put it more precisely: there exists a triply infinite set of reference systems moving rectilinearly and uniformly relative to one another, in which the phenomena occur in an identical manner. We shall follow Einstein in calling them "Galilean reference systems" -- so named because the Galilean law of inertia holds in them. It is unsatisfactory that one cannot. regard all systems as completely equivalent or at least give a logical reason for selecting a particular set of them. This defect is overcome by the general theory of relativity (see Part IV). For the moment we shall have to restrict ourselves to Galilean reference systems, i.e. to the relativity of uniform translational motions.

Once the postulate of relativity is stated, the concept of the aether as a substance is thereby removed from the physical theories. For there is no point in discussing a state of rest or of motion relative to the aether when these quantities cannot, in principle, be observed experimentally. Nowa- days this is all the less surprising as attempts to derive the elastic proper- ties of matter from electrical forces are beginning to show success. It would therefore be quite inconsistent to try, in turn, to explain electromagnetic phenomena in terms of the elastic properties of some hypothetical med- ium." Actually, the mechanistic concept of an aether had already come to be superfluous and something of a hindrance when the elastic-solid theory of light was superseded by the electromagnetic theory of light. In this latter the aether substance had always remained a foreign element. Einstein has recently suggested an extension of the notion of an aether. It should no longer he regarded as a substance but simply as the totality of those physical quantities which are to be associated with matter-free space. In this wider sense there does, of course, exist an aether; only one has to bear in mind that it does not possess any mechanical properties. In other words, the physical quantities of matter-free space have no space co- ordinates or velocities associated with them.

It might seem that the postulate of relativity is immediately obvious, once the concept of an aether has been abandoned. Closer inspection shows however that this is not so. Naturally we cannot subject the whole universe to a translational motion and then investigate whether the phenomena are thereby altered. Our statement will therefore only be of heuristic value and physically meaningful when we regard it as valid for any and every closed system. But when is a system a closed system? Would it be sufficient to stipulate that all masses should be far enough removed?" Experience tells us that this is sufficient for uniform motion, but not for a more general motion. An explanation for the preferred role played by uniform motion is to be given at a later stage [see Part IV, § 62). Summarizing, we can say the following: The postulate of relativity implies that a uniform motion of the centre of mass of the universe relative to a closed system will be without influence on the phenomena in such a system. [p.3-4]

In his view, relativity does not reject the aether. For various reasons, electromagnetic cannot be explained by elastic mechanical properties of the aether.

I put in bold where Pauli credits Einstein:

3. The postulate of the constancy of the velocity of light. Ritz's and related theories

The postulation of relativity is still not sufficient for inferring the on- variance of all laws of nature under the Lorentz transformation. Thus, for instance, classical mechanics is perfectly in accord with the principle of relativity, although the Lorentz transformation cannot be applied to its equations. As we saw above, Lorentz and Poincaré had taken Maxwe1l's equations as the basis of their considerations. On the other hand, it is absolutely essential to insist that such a fundamental theorem as the covariance law should be derivable from the simplest possible basic as- sumptions. The credit for having succeeded in doing just this goes to Einstein. He showed that only the following single axiom in electro- dynamics need be assumed: The velocity of light is independent of the motion of the light source. If this is a point source, then the wave fronts are in all cases spheres with their centres at rest. For conciseness we shall denote this by "constancy of the velocity of light", although such a desig- nation might give rise to misunderstandings. There is no question of a universal constancy of the velocity of light in vacuo, if only because it has the constant value c only in Galilean systems of reference. On the other band its independence of the state of motion of the light source obtains equally in the general theory of relativity. It proves to be the true essence ofthe old aether point of view. (See § 5 concerning the equality of the numerical values of the velocity of light in all Galilean systems of reference.)

As will be shown in the next section, the constancy of the velocity of light, in combination with the relativity principle, leads to a new concept of time. ... [p.4]

So the credit is for the deriving the "convariance law" from the simplest assumptions. By this he apparently means that Einstein assumes only that the speed of light is constant, and deduces that Maxwell's equations are valid in other frames of reference.

But Einstein does not prove the covariance of Maxwell's equations. He does not even claim to prove it. He explicitly assumes it as a postulate, in his 1905 paper:

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. We will raise this conjecture (the purport of which will hereafter be called the ``Principle of Relativity'') to the status of a postulate, ...
It is astonishing that a great and famous theoretical physicist like Pauli could write a book on the subject and get it so badly wrong.

Here is what Pauli wrote in 1956:

11. The Theory of Relativity and Science *

If we are to consider the theory of relativity in a more general context than that of physics including astrophysics, we shall be concerned primarily with its relation to mathematics on the one hand, and to epistemology or the philosophy of nature on the other. It may indeed be said that the relation of physics to these two fields - n relation which has left its characteristic mark on science since the l7th century — has once more been brought into the centre ofgeneral interest by the theory of relativity.

The special theory of relativity was linked up with the mathematical group concept, as it had already come to light in the mechanics of Galileo and Newton, now so lirmly established on an empirical basic. In this system of mechanics all states of motion of the observer, or, expressed mathematically, all coordinate systems which arise from each other by a uniform motion of translation without rotation, are equally privileged. Since the state of rest of a mass does not rcquirc any particular cause for its maintenance. the same assumption had to be made in classical mechanics for the state of uniform motion, since the latter arises from the state of rest by one of the transformations contained in the group ofrnechanics. This formulation of the law of inertia of classical mechanics is of course not the original one, but takes account of the later development of the group concept in the mathematics of the 19th century.

The development of electrodynamics during the same period culminated in the partial differential equations of Maxwell and H A. Lorentz. It was ev- ident that these did not admit the group of classical mechanics. since in particular the fact that the velocity of light in vacuo is independent of the state of motion of the light-sources is contained in them as a consequence.

* Helvetica Physica Arta, Supplement IV. pp. 282-236 (1956). [p.107]

Would it now be necessary to abandon as only approximately valid the prop- erty whereby the laws of nature admit a group, or is the group of mechanics perhaps only approximately valid, and should it be replaced by a more gen- eral group, valid for both mechanical and electromagnetic processes? The decision was in favour of the second alternative. This postulate could be arrived at by two paths. Either one could investigate by pure mathematics what is the most general group of transformations under which the equa- tions of Maxwell and Lorentz which were wellknown at this time, preserve their form. This path was followed by the mathematician. H. Poincaré. Or one could determine, by critical analysis, those physical assumptions which had led to the particular group of the mechanics of Galileo and Newton, This was the path followed by Einstein. He showed that, from the general standpoint of the equivalence of all coordinate systems moving with constant velocity with respect to each other. the invariance of simultaneity of spatially separated events, in the sense in which it is assumed in classical mechan- ics, involves the special additional supposition of the possibility of infinitely great signal velocities If this supposition is dropped and replaced by the as- sumption of a finite maximal signal velocity, time is also transformed, and the group, mathematically speaking, leaves invariant an indefinite quadratic form in four dimensions, three of space and one of time. The electrodynam- ics of Maxwell and Lorentz did in fact turn out to be invariant under the group of transformations determined by Einstein on the basis of these gen- eral considerations, if the maximal signal velocity was identified with the velocity of propagation of light in vacuo. Both Einstein and Poincaré took their stand on the preparatory work of H. A. Lorentz, who had already come quite close to this result, without however quite reaching it. In the agreement between the results of the methods followed independently of each other by Einstein and Poincaré I discern a deeper significance of a harmony between the mathematical method and analysis by means of conceptual experiments (Gedankenexperimente), which rests on general features of physical experi- ence.

These early papers of Einstein on the special theory of relativity already showed the success in physics of a method which does not proceed from an authoritative knowledge of what things are in and by themselves. Einstein has repeatedly shown us how the physicist must learn to swim in a boundless ocean of ideas without such supports, and without fixed rules -- ideas to which he may be inspired by an equally boundless ocean ofernpirical material, but which cannot be deduced from the latter by pure logic.

The physicist is not suppow to know a priori what the ether is; indeed, since Einstein`s time, he obeys the commandment "Thou shalt not make unto thee any image of the state of motion of the ether”. This fundamental propo- sition has been put in a fresh light in the relativistic theory of gravitation or ... [p.108]

Here Pauli give Poincare and Einstein more or less equal credit for simultaneously getting a relativity result, and credits Lorentz for getting quite close.

But what is that relativity result? Pauli states three things:

  • simultaneity depends on the frame
  • the symmetry group leaves invariant a 3+1 quadratic form
  • Maxwell's equations are invariant under the group.

    But Poincare published the first in 1900, and the latter two in 1905. Einstein was five years later on each point.

    I don't think that there is even any serious question about these three points. There was no independent discovery of these ideas, as far as anyone know. Poincare discovered them, and everyone else got them from Poincare.

    The only possible argument might be that many books say that Einstein proved Lorentz group invariance in 1905. But it is just not there. It is extremely doubtful that Einstein even understood the concept until years later.

    The proof is not hard once you have spacetime, Lorentz group, 4-vectors, and either a 4-vector potential, an electromagnetic field tensor, or an invariant Lagrangian. Poincare had it all, except for the field tensor. Einstein had none of it.


  • Tuesday, Jan 26, 2010
     
    Pauli on Einstein
    The famous physicist W. Pauli wrote (at age 21) a book on relativity in 1921. You can read portions on Google Books. After discussing the early work by Voigt and Larmor, he writes:
    We now come to the discussion of the three contributions, by Lorentz, Poincaré and Einstein, which contain the line of reasoning and the developments that form the basis of the thoory of relativity. Chrono- logically, Lorentz’s paper came first. He proved, above all, that Maxwell's equations are invariant under the coordinate transformation [formulas omitted] provided the field intensities in the primed system are suitably chosen. This, however, he proved rigorously only for Maxwell's equations in charge-free space. The terms which contain the charge density and current are, in Lorentz's treatement, not the same in the primed and the moving systems, because he did not transform these quatities quite correctly. He therefore regarded the two systems as not completely, but only very approximately, eequivalent. By assuming that the electrons, too, could be deformed by the translational motion and that all masses and forces have the same dependence on the velocity as purely electro- magnetic masses and forces, Lorentz was able to derive the existence of a contraction affecting all bodies (in the presence of molecular motion as well). He could also explain why all experiments hitherto known had failed to show any influence of the earth’s motion on optical phenomena. A less immediate consequence of his theory is that one has to put x = 1. This means that the transverse dimensions remain unchanged during the motion, if indeed this explanation is at all possible. We would like to stress that even in this paper the relativity principle was not at all apparent to Lorentz. Characteristically, and in contrast to Einstein, he tried to under- stand the contraction in a causal way.

    The formal gaps left by Lorentz’s work were filled by Poincaré. He stated the relativity principle to be generally and rigorously valid. Since he, in common with the previously discussed authors, assumed Maxwell's equations to hold for the vacuum, this amounted to the requirement that all laws of nature must be covariant with respect to the "Lorentz trans- formation"*. The invariance of the transverse dimensions during the motion is derived in a natural way from the postulate that the trans- formations which effect the transition from a stationary to a uniformly moving system must form a group which contains as a subgroup the ordinary displacements of the coordinate system. Poincaré further cor- rected Lorentz’s formulae for the transformations of charge density and current and so derived the complete covariance of the field equations of electron theory. We shall discuss his treat-ment of the gravitational problem, and his use of the imaginary coordinate ict, at a later stage (see §§ 50 and 7}.

    It was Einstein, finally, who in a way completed the basic formulation of this new discipline. His paper of 1905 was submitted at almost the same time as Poincaré’s article and had been written without previous know- ledge of Lorentz’s paper of 1904. It includes not only all the essential results contained in the other two papers, but shows an entirely novel, and much more profound, understanding of the whole problem. This will now be demonstrated in detail.

    [footnote] The terms ‘Lorentz transformation' and "Lorentz group' occurred for the first time in this paper by Poincaré. [p.2-3]

    This description is better than many. Pauli correctly points out the weakness in Lorentz's proof -- that it depends on choosing the field transformations properly. But he fails to notice that Einstein's paper has the same shortcoming.

    Pauli says that he is going to follow Einstein's novel formulation, but his explanation in the next few pages is actually a mixture of Poincare's and Einstein's. He uses the Poincare synchronization procedure as if it were Einstein's. He uses Poincare's metric on spacetime without attribution. He credits 4-dimensional spacetime to Minkowski, instead of Poincare.

    Pauli claims that Einstein's 1905 paper all the essential results of Poincare's 1905 paper. It appears that Pauli did not fully grasp what Poincare had done. He was only 21 years old.

    Einstein's 1905 paper does not have any of the results of Poincare's 1905 paper. The main results of Einstein's paper are contained in Lorentz's 1904 paper, which is the starting point of Poincare paper. Poincare's paper is about the action, Lorentz group properties, group invariance of Maxwell's equations, metric, and gravity. None of these topics are even mentioned by Einstein.


    Monday, Jan 25, 2010
     
    Dog evolution
    Evolution is going to the dogs. Apparently, Russian stray dogs are evolving:
    For every 300 Muscovites, there's a stray dog wandering the streets of Russia's capital. And according to Andrei Poyarkov, a researcher at the A.N. Severtsov Institute of Ecology and Evolution, the fierce pressure of urban living has driven the dogs to evolve wolf-like traits, increased intelligence, and even the ability to navigate the subway.

    Poyarkov has studied the dogs, which number about 35,000, for the last 30 years. Over that time, he observed the stray dog population lose the spotted coats, wagging tails, and friendliness that separate dogs from wolves, while at the same time evolving social structures and behaviors optimized to four ecological niches occupied by what Poyarkov calls guard dogs, scavengers, wild dogs, and beggars.

    Meanwhile, scientists have linked a gene to compulsive behavior — in dogs. They have never been able to find genes causing this sort of behavior in humans.

    Also, dog heads are evolving:

    When scientists examined the head shapes of different breeds, they found as much diversity in dogs as existed across the much wider group of animals called carnivora - which includes walruses, cats, skunks, and weasels as well as dogs.

    That was surprising, considering how fast this diversity came about in dogs, said biologist Abby Drake, lead author of the study. Most of the 400 known breeds emerged in just the last several centuries.

    And yet they haven't branched off into different species: Technically, most breeds can produce fertile offspring with any other breed (though size differences might make it tough for some).

    If dogs were extinct and our only knowledge came from bones, then dogs would probably be classified into dozens of species.

    Sunday, Jan 24, 2010
     
    Male research
    Here is today's research:
    Flashy males have superior xxxxx - at least in the xxxx world. A study of wild great xxxx suggests that xxxxxx ornamentation, in this case vibrant xxxxxxx, may reliably signal the quality of a male's xxxxx.
    I blocked some of the words because this is a family-friendly blog.

    Saturday, Jan 23, 2010
     
    Credit for the decisive step
    Here is a physicist blog who credits Einstein for general relativity:
    Yes, he did talk a bit about the so-called controversy over whether Hilbert published the correct field equations five days earlier. Well, he actually derived a variational principle which is equivalent to Einstein’s equations (actually, he was thinking only of the case of electromagnetic sources), and there is some question about the date. But his misses the point entirely…..Hilbert came into that game rather late, and was able to see more clearly the correct mathematics…..but we must not forget that he was able to build on all that Einstein had done over several years, putting all the right tools, principles and other pieces into place….nor must we forget Einstein’s great pains to compare what he was doing to Nature when he could, trying to derive observable consequences a several points.
    This is a legitimate argument for crediting Einstein over Hilbert for general relativity, but the exact same argument would favor crediting Lorentz over Einstein for special relativity. Lorentz had done all the hard work on the theory from 1892 to 1904, and Einstein came into the game late in 1905. Einstein saw special relativity more clearly than Lorentz, but only after Lorentz and others put all the tools in place and figured out the observable consequences.

    Instead, the physicists and historians like to credit Einstein for taking the decisive step on special relativity. Yes, that might also be a legitimate argument for crediting Einstein over Lorentz.

    But it makes no sense to credit Einstein for special and general relativity. The Einstein fans are contradicting themselves when they do.

    I think that Einstein does not deserve much credit for either, for reasons that I have posted elsewhere. Even under the above standard, more credit for general relativity should go to Poincare and Grossmann than to Einstein. Poincare published the spacetime metric and Grossmann the field equations.


    Friday, Jan 22, 2010
     
    Freud did not discover the unconscious
    More than anything else, Freud is credited with discovering the unconscious mind. I cannot find where he said anything new, or where he said any scientifically verifiable assertion about the unconscious.

    Allen Esterson writes:

    I never cease to be astonished at the confidence with which erroneous assertions about Freud are made in articles such as “Freud Returns” in the May 2004 issue of Scientific American, written by Mark Solms, psychoanalyst and neuroscientist. For instance, Solms writes: “When Freud introduced the central notion that most mental processes that determine our everyday thoughts, feelings and volitions occur unconsciously, his contemporaries rejected it as impossible.”

    This piece of psychoanalytic mythology has been shown to be false by historians of psychology since the 1960s and 1970s, yet it is still being propagated in popular articles by pro-Freud writers like Solms. Schopenhauer had posited something akin to the notion Solms ascribes to Freud before the latter was born. Francis Galton, writing in Brain in 1879-1880, described the mind as analogous to a house beneath which is “a complex system of drains and gas and water-pipes…which are usually hidden out of sight, and of whose existence, so long as they act well, we never trouble ourselves.” He went on to discuss “the existence of still deeper strata of mental operations, sunk wholly below the level of consciousness, which may account for such phenomena as cannot otherwise be explained.” (Incidentally, Freud subscribed to Brain at that time.) The historian of psychology, Mark Altschule, wrote in 1977: “It is difficult - or perhaps impossible - to find a nineteenth century psychologist or medical psychologist who did not recognize unconscious cerebration as not only real but of the highest importance.”

    So apparently Freud was just reciting conventional wisdom when he wrote about the unconscious. Much of it is also false, to the extent that it has been testable.

    Thursday, Jan 21, 2010
     
    IPCC admits bogus claims in report
    CNN reports:
    The U.N.'s leading panel on climate change has apologized for misleading data published in a 2007 report that warned Himalayan glaciers could melt by 2035.

    In a statement released Wednesday, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said estimates relating to the rate of recession of the Himalayan glaciers in its Fourth Assessment Report were "poorly substantiated" adding that "well-established standards of evidence were not applied properly."

    Despite the admission, the IPCC reiterated its concern about the dangers melting glaciers present in a region that is home to more than one-sixth of the world's population.

    So the statement is wrong but we shold believe it anyway?
    "The other thing is that the report says the glaciers are receding faster than anywhere else in the world. We simply do not have the glacier change measurements. The Himalayas are among those regions with the fewest available data," Zemp said.

    In defense of the IPCC, Zemp says "you can take any report and find a mistake in it but it's up to the next IPCC report to correct it."

    If they don't have the data, then they do not know whether the glaciers are getting bigger or smaller.

    The arrogance of the IPCC is amazing. Why should I wait for the IPCC to correct itself in the next report? This error was only found by warming skeptics, and the IPCC only admitted error after public pressure.

    The IPCC acts like it has a monopoly on climate knowledge, and like we should believe what it says whether it has any data or not.

    Update: Fumento explains it.


    Wednesday, Jan 20, 2010
     
    Poincare links
    A couple of previous links to Poincare's papers are no longer valid. Here are some of Poincare's papers in French. You can use Google translate to get them in English. Some translated papers (1898, 1904, 1908) are here, and some Google digitized works are here. The latter has his books, translated to English. The 1904 St. Louis lecture is also here.

    Here is Einstein's famous 1905 paper, E = mc2, and some other old relativity papers.

    See also the Wikipedia articles on History of special relativity, Relativity priority dispute, and Henri Poincaré. Here is a page of relativity links.

    This French page has about 20 of Poincare's papers in French, and a partial English translation of the 1906 paper. A partial translation is also here.

    Poincare's 1906 paper, in English, divided into Part I, Part II, and Part III. Poincare's 1900 paper on Lorentz theory in French and English. Here is his 1904 book on electromagnetism.

    This 1983 article by Keswani and Kilmister (behind paywall, but Msft doc file here) has an appendix claiming to be the first English translation of Poincare's 1905 article.

    See also Logunov's books Henri Poincare and Relativity Theory (includes Poincare 1900 translation) and The Theory Of Gravity (includes Poincare 1905 translation), and his How Were the Hilbert-Einstein Equations Discovered?.


    Sunday, Jan 17, 2010
     
    Defining relativity
    I have expressed opinions on the origin of relativity, so I define my terms. Here is what I mean by relativity.

    Mathematically, general relativity is theory that spacetime is a 4-dimensional manifold with a 3+1 metric that is Ricci-flat in a vacuum. Special relativity is the linearized theory. The laws of physics are defined on the manifold, which means that they are independent of the choice of coordinates.

    Physically, special relativity is characterized by: using light signals to relate space and time, and to synchronize clocks; determining the spacetime symmetry group to be the Poincare group; and reformulating the laws of mechanics and electrodynamics so that they are invariant under the Poincare group. In particular, moving objects have the property that distance contracts, time slows, and mass increases.

    Primarily, special relativity is a way of understanding electromagnetism, and general relativity is a way of understanding gravity. The theories apply to other forces as well.

    Historically, Newton and others said that the laws of mechanics are the same in a uniform velocity frame. Maxwell's equations for electromagnetism cast that into doubt in around 1870. Special relativity was born when Lorentz and others tried to apply Maxwell's equations in moving frames.

    I have previously outlined special relativity in Feb. 2007 and Oct. 2009, and given dates on who invented what.


    Friday, Jan 15, 2010
     
    Men are evolving faster than women
    The NY Times reports:
    A new look at the human Y chromosome has overturned longstanding ideas about its evolutionary history. Far from being in a state of decay, the Y chromosome is the fastest-changing part of the human genome and is constantly renewing itself.

    This is “a result as unexpected as it is stunning — truly amazing,” said Scott Hawley, a chromosome expert at the Stowers Institute in Kansas City, Mo.

    The Y chromosome makes its owner male because it carries the male-determining gene. Boys are born with one Y and one X chromosome in all their body’s cells, while girls have two X’s. The other 22 pairs of chromosomes in which the human genome is packaged are the same in both sexes.

    The Y chromosome’s rapid rate of evolutionary change does not mean that men are evolving faster than women. But its furious innovation is likely to be having reverberations elsewhere in the human genome.

    Why is anyone surprised? It seems to me that it is a simple consequence of evolutionary theory that men are evolving faster than women.

    In evolutionary terminology, the fittest humans have the most offspring. Evolution is faster when fitter humans have a lot more offspring. In all of human history, the variation in offspring of males has been much greater than the variation for females. It is a consequence of children being a greater investment for the woman than for the man. The same applies to chimps. I thought that this had been figured out 50 years ago.

    The British magazine Nature quotes one of the researchers as saying that there has been active discrimination in the scientific community against the Y chromosome. I think that the whole field has a lot of overt biases and sloppy science.

    Here is another example of evolution being politicized:

    Abstract: It is nowadays a dominant opinion in a number of disciplines (anthropology, genetics, psychology, philosophy of science) that the taxonomy of human races does not make much biological sense. My aim is to challenge the arguments that are usually thought to invalidate the biological concept of race. I will try to show that the way ‘‘race’’ was defined by biologists several decades ago (by Dobzhansky and others) is in no way discredited by conceptual criticisms that are now fashionable and widely regarded as cogent.
    Another expert reaction:
    Indeed, at 6 million years of separation, the difference in MSY gene content in chimpanzee and human is more comparable to the difference in autosomal gene content in chicken and human, at 310 million years of separation.

    So much for 98 percent. Let me just repeat part of that: humans and chimpanzees, "comparable to the difference ... in chicken and human".


    Wednesday, Jan 13, 2010
     
    False pandemic to sell vaccines
    The London Daily Telegraph reports:
    THE swine flu scare was a "false pandemic" led by drugs companies that stood to make billions from vaccines, a leading health expert said.

    Wolfgang Wodarg, head of health at the Council of Europe, claimed major firms organized a "campaign of panic" to put pressure on the World Health Organization (WHO) to declare a pandemic, UK tabloid The Sun reports. ...

    "It's just a normal kind of flu. It does not cause a tenth of deaths caused by the classic seasonal flu," Dr Wodarg said.

    "The great campaign of panic we have seen provided a golden opportunity for representatives from labs who knew they would hit the jackpot in the case of a pandemic being declared.

    "We want to clarify everything that brought about this massive operation of disinformation.

    "We want to know who made decisions, on the basis of what evidence, and precisely how the influence of the pharmaceutical industry came to bear on the decision-making."

    "A group of people in the WHO is associated very closely with the pharmaceutical industry."

    The WHO recently reaffirmed its stance that the pandemic is not over.

    However, the number of swine flu deaths is dramatically lower than expected.

    In an interview with France's L'Humanite on Sunday, Dr Wodarg also raised concerns about swine flu vaccines.

    "The vaccines were developed too quickly. Some ingredients were insufficiently tested," he said.

    "But there is worse to come. The vaccine developed by Novartis was produced in a bioreactor from cancerous cells, a technique that had never been used until now.

    I do think that the swine flu (or H1N1 flu or Mexican pig flu) is a false pandemic because there was never any scientific evidence that it would be as bad as the regular seasonal flu.

    In the USA, official vaccine decisions are also dominated by vaccine industry representatives. The CDC defends this, saying that the vaccine industry has the most expertise on the subject. Maybe so, but then we get policies designed to promote vaccine sales more than anything else.

    Michael Fumento reports that public officials are taking credit for the pandemic not being worse. He does not use the word "hoax", but you might infer that from his columns on the swine flu.


    Monday, Jan 11, 2010
     
    H.M. Schwartz on Poincare
    Poincare's contribution to special relativity was explained in a 1964 physics article by Charles Scribner II, the famous book publisher. The American Journal of Physics published a rebuttal by H.M. Schwartz. Schwartz did note that published compilations of relativity papers omitted Poincare's, so he decided to translate and publish Poincare's papers himself.

    Schwartz attacks Poincare by quoting his 1904 St. Louis lecture:

    We come to the principle of relativity: this not only is confirmed by daily experience, not only is it a necessary consequence of the hypothesis of central forces, but it is imposed in an irresistible way upon our good sense, and yet it also is battered.
    Then Schwartz says, "Does not this statement speak for itself?"

    Yes, it does. Poincare goes on to explain that theoretical physicists had abandoned the principle in favor of aether theories, but Michelson's experiments confirmed it. Then he explains the relativity of time and space, and how that resolves the electromagnetic problems.

    Schwartz attacks Poincare for sticking to the older concept of Galilean relativity, and then goes on to attack his Last Essays for saying this:

    The principle of relativity, in its former aspect, has had to be abandoned; it is replaced by the principle of relativity according to Lorentz.
    I don't see the problem. In Galilean relativity, there is no length contraction or time dilation or simultaneity paradox. That was the former aspect of relativity that was stated by Newton and others. The new relativity uses Lorentz transformations. What Poincare says is completely correct.

    This article shows that rediscovering Poincare's relativity theory is nothing new, and neither is the idiotic knee-jerk defense of Einstein.

    I wonder why Schwartz even bothered responding to Scribner, because Scribner gives excessive amounts of credit to Einstein already. Scribner concludes:

    In short, Einstein`s paper represented thc most powerful argument yet introduced in favor of the universal validity of the principle of relativity in all branches of physics, and as such it suggested a number of important new investigations for both theory and experiment. Its creation of a modified theory of space and time led directly to Minkowski’s mathematical reinterpretation of relativistic kinematics in terms of four—dimensional space—time, an innovation which, in turn, paved the way {or further developments including the General Theory of Relativity.
    This is not right. Four-dimensional space-time was Poincare's 1905 creation, not Minkowski's. Minkowski did not say it until 1908. He cited Poincare in 1907, so we know he knew about Poincare's work. Minkowski learned it from Poincare.

    Scribner's credit for Einstein is largely for using slightly different terminology. More precisely, the credit is for using scare quotes! Scribner wrote:

    Actually, the whole Kinematical part of Einstein's paper could ber rewritten in terms of the ether theory with surprisingly few changes. Einstein, himself, for the sake of verbal clarity referred to a "stationary" and a "moving" system, but he was careful to place such expressions within quotation marks to indicate that the distinction had no physical significance. Were he to have made a theoretical distinction between a fixed primary system and a system in absolute motion, then it would have been appropriate to eliminate the quotation marks and the whole derivation of the Lorentz transformation would have assumed a quite different meaning.

    Einstein uses the words "stationary" 62 times in his famous 1905 paper, and 10 of them are in quotes, usually as part of defining a longer phrase.

    Einstein doesn't really say whether the aether has physical significance. He just says that it is superfluous to his derivation.

    Here Scribner summarizes the second half of Einstein's paper, and noted that it is only considered original if you assume that Einstein did not know what Lorentz had published the year before:

    Inasmuch as the new kinematics entailed by the joint validity of his two principles was ex— pressed in the transformation equations, the second or Electrodynamicai part of Einstein's paper consisted in showing how the requirement of invariance of physical laws with respect to that transformation permitted one to derive thc electrodynamics of moving bodies directly from the electrodynamics of the stationary body. In the various sections of this part, Einstein demonstrated how existing laws had to be corrected