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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 or reinterpreted and how the whole theory of electrodynamics could he unified and completed by this approach.

    In considering the original aspects of Einstein's theory, one must note that, unknown to him, the transformation equattionss deduced in the Kine- matical part of his paper had appeared in almost identical form the year before in a paper by Lorentz."

    There are reasons for thinking that Einstein had Lorentz's 1904 paper. He certainly had a review of it that had the Lorentz transformations, because Einstein himself had published reviews in the same journal. Possibly Einstein ignored it. But more importantly, Einstein did not really proved the Lorentz invariance of Maxwell's equations, as Scribner and others say. Einstein assumed it in his first postulate.

    This misconception about Einstein's paper is widespread. It is a subtle point mathematically, so perhaps I will explain it in greater detail later. But it is definitely the case that Poincare proved the above invariance in 1905, and Einstein did not.

    Scribner does not want to give full credit to Poincare because:

    Poincaré's adoption of the principle of relativity seems now to have been provisional ... First, although Poincare was ready to postulate the exact validity of the principle with respect to all physical laws, he was troubled by the possible exception presented by gravitational phenomena. ... The second respect in which Poincaré's acceptance of the principle of relativity seems provisional as compared with Einstein's lay in his belief that it might itself be explainable by a suitable revision of current electrodynamics.
    But Poincare was ahead of Einstein on these points. Einstein only applied the relativity principle to electrodynamics in 1905, and it took him ten years to figure out how to apply it to gravitation.

    It is to Poincare's credit that he specifically considered the possibility that some experiment might prove him wrong, or that some theory might give an alternate explanation. Poincare admitted the possibility of an aether, but then so did Einstein ten years later.

    This is exchange is just another in a long list of examples of physicists and others rushing to Einstein's defense on originality in relativity, but giving bogus and incredibly strained arguments. You would think that these guys could find better arguments than that Einstein used scare quotes or that Poincare looked at the bigger picture.

    Sunday, Jan 10, 2010
    Mooney is a pseudoscientific writer
    Science writer Michael Fumento writes:
    You've heard of pseudoscience, of course. Well, Chris Mooney is a pseudoscientific writer. He twists and bends and remolds data any way he can to come to the "proper" conclusion. "Yeah, I kinda make 'em up as I go along!"

    Among his works, a book called "The Republican War on Science." It was actually just a criticism of anything Mooney doesn't like, portrayed as if emanating from the GOP. Another work of his was the 2007 book "Storm World: Hurricanes, Politics and the Battle Over Global Warming." ...

    Well, the years went by and the 2005 season proved to be a total anomaly. Indeed, by the end of the 2009 season hurricane activity was at a 30 year low.

    I am siding with Fumento on this one.

    Saturday, Jan 09, 2010
    String theory predicts wrong value for pi
    A UK article has interview with a string theorist, and says:
    Beautiful as the idea sounds, when string theory is applied in the ordinary three spatial dimensions it doesn’t work mathematically, predicting the wrong numbers for constants such as pi and the speed of light. It also predicts that the whole Universe should disappear. And if the strings were vibrating in ordinary space, we should be able to measure the effects. Fail!
    Wrong value for pi? Can anything be more ridiculous? But Woit's blog points out that there actually is a string theory paper on how the value of pi might be changing. It is getting harder to tell what is or is not a joke. I think the paper is a joke, but the UK Times article seems to be serious.

    Friday, Jan 08, 2010
    Penrose on Einstein
    Roger Penrose wrote an essay on relativity in the 2002 book It Must Be Beautiful: Great Equations of Modern Science, edited by Graham Farmelo. (Granta Books) He is a leading expert on relativity, so his opinion should be taken seriously. He writes:
    Einstein based his 1905 special theory of relativity on two basic principles. The first was already referred to earlier; for all observers in uniform motion the laws of nature are the same. The second was that the speed of light has a fundamental fixed value, not dependent upon the speed of the source. A few years earlier, the great French mathematician Henri Poincaré had a similar scheme (and others, such as the Dutch physicist Hendrik Lorentz, had moved some way towards this picture). But Einstein had the clearer vision that the underlying principles of relativity must apply to all forces of nature.
    He is comparing Einstein's 1905 theory to the Lorentz-Poincare theory of 1900 or so. It is commonly said that Einstein's big innovation was to separate the kinematics from the electromagnetism in the Lorentz-Poincare theory. But Einstein did not really separate the kinematics, as explained below.
    Historians still argue about whether or not Poincaré fully appreciated special relativity before Einstein entered the scene. My own point of view would be that whereas this may be true, special relativity was not fully appreciated (either by Poincaré or by Einstein) until Hermann Minkowski presented, in 1908, the four dimensional space time picture. He gave a now famous lecture at the University of Goettingen in which he proclaimed, 'Henceforth space by itself, and time by itself are doomed to fade away into mere shadows, and only a kind of union of the two will preserve an independent reality.'

    Einstein seems not to have appreciated the significance of Minkowski's contribution initially, and for about two years he did not take it seriously. But subsequently he came to realize the full power of Minkowski's point of view. It formed the essential background for Einstein's extraordinary later development of general relativity, in which Minkowski's four dimensional space time geometry becomes curved.

    Penrose does not realize that Poincare presented the four dimensional space time picture in 1905. As Penrose says, Einstein did not appreciate it until 1910. And Penrose admits that Poincare may have fully appreciated special relativity before 1905.

    Penrose does credit Einstein, but when you look at the details of what he says, he acknowledges that Poincare was five years ahead of Einstein on all the major points.

    Penrose also mentions the general relativity dispute in an endnote:

    9 The mathematician David Hilbert also came upon this equation at a similar time to Einstein, but by a different route, in the autumn of 1915. This has resulted in an uncomfortable priority dispute. But Hilbert's contribution, though technically important, does not really undermine Einstein's fundamental priority in the matter. See, in particular, J. Stachel (1999), New Light on the Einstein Hilbert Priority, Question in Journal of Astrophysics and Astronomy, Volume 20, Numbers 3 and 4, December 1999, 91-101. (pdf)
    Stachel was the editor of Einstein's complete works, and is an Einstein idolizer. His argument has been refuted by Logunov and others.

    Penrose's treatise, The Road to Reality, says:

    This apparent contradiction between the constancy of the speed of light and the relativity principle led Einstein -- as it had, in effect, previously led the Dutch physicist Hendrik Antoon Lorentz and, more completely, the French mathematician Henri Poincaré -- to a remarkable viewpoint whereby the contradiction is completely removed. [p.400]

    The full 10-dimensional symmetry group group of Minkowski space M is called the Poincaré group, in recognition of the achievement of the outstanding French mathematician Henri Poincaré (1854-1912), in building up the essential mathematical structure of special relativity in the years between 1898 and 1905, independently of Einstein's fundamental input of 1905. [p.417]

    The name is not just to honor Poincaré; he was the first to define it. Poincaré is the first to define and give properties of the 6-dimensional symmetry group, and he names it the "Lorentz group", in his long 1905 paper. Poincaré was honoring Lorentz, and Lorentz did not explicitly consider this group. Poincare also mentions the 10-dimensional group as the full symmetry group.

    A footnote again mentions "Minkowski's 4-dimensional perspective of 1908", without realizing that Poincare published it in 1905.

    Penrose doesn't want to take sides in the priority dispute, but he acknowledges that Poincare had the essence of special relativity before Einstein. It seems to me that Penrose would have given Poincare the entire credit, if Penrose had known about Poincare's 1905 paper.

    Wednesday, Jan 06, 2010
    Great artists steal
    Nokia accuses Apple Computer of patent infringement, and says:
    In 1996, Apple founder and CEO Steve Jobs appeared in the PBS documentary ‘Triumph of the Nerds’ and freely acknowledged Apple’s use of other’s ideas. ‘Picasso had a saying,’ Jobs stated in the interview, ‘”good artists copy, great artists steal.”‘ Jobs then added, ‘and we have always been shameless about stealing great ideas.’
    I've noticed that when someone points out that Einstein stole all his greatest ideas, it doesn't bother people admit. Here's the explanation. Great artists steal, or so they think.

    The media coverage of the new Google phone has focussed on whether the product is revolutionary. Eg, the Si Valley paper reports:

    But with Google's Android software currently offering only about 20,000 mobile apps, about one-fifth the number available for the iPhone, analysts said the Nexus One is hardly a revolutionary device on par with the introduction of the iPod in 2001 or the 2007 introduction of the iPhone.
    This is really a crazy comment. Nobody wants 100k apps for a cell phone. A larger number of apps does not make a phone revolutionary. The Apple iphone did not have a lot of apps when it was introduced.

    The Apple phone has a lot of apps because it is so crippled. It has a web browser, but you cannot view sites with Flash, Java, or Silverlight. It is not really a smart phone, because you cannot acquire and install apps on your own. You can only use Apple-provided apps. Those 100k Apple apps is a reflection of the limitations of the phone. They are less needed on other smart phones that let you browse the web unrestricted.

    The Apple ipod was not a big deal in 2001. There were other better products. It did not really catch on until Apple managed to corner the online music market with its iTunes DRM store in 2003. Now there are better places to buy online music, but millions of Apple customers are hooked on iTunes anyway.

    One of the paper's columnists writes:

    In Silicon Valley, we thirst for that magic moment when a new thing appears and it's immediately clear the world will never be the same. This was not one of those moments.

    Google tried to tap into those dreams, but fell well short. This announcement was evolutionary, not revolutionary.

    He does not seem to realize that this is about the 20th Google Android phone to hit the market. It is version 2.1.

    The Apple formula seems to be to steal great ideas, and hype the product to the press as being revolutionary. I think that Apple customers are all part of some gigantic mind control experiment. And people who talk about products being revolutionary are probably crackpots.

    C-Net says:

    "When we examine the iPhone users' arguments defending the iPhone, it reminds us of the famous Stockholm Syndrome--a term invented by psychologists after a hostage drama in Stockholm. Here, hostages reacted to the psychological pressure they were experiencing by defending the people that had held them hostage for six days," Strand declared.

    The implication is surely that Apple has mugged millions of people with its beauty, dragged them off to a very dark cellar in some barren land, turned them into slightly bonkers Barbarellas, and then recruited them as soldiers for the cause.

    John Dvorak writes:
    The iPhone is Ruining the Country

    Really, the iPhone is only the greatest handset around because it has more ways to waste time than any phone, ever.

    With the economy in the tank, this is probably as good a use of idle time as anything. But let's face it, this whole phone thing is about wasting time. Productivity gains and other rationalizations are bogus excuses for what is really going on here.

    Cell phones are ruining the country. The economy has tanked in proportion to the growing popularity of the iPhone. This is no coincidence, as far as I'm concerned. This is only going to get worse as we're programmed to waste more time. The proof, to me, is the endless chatter about cell phones ...

    There are, of course, lots of other phones on the market, and some of them do not lock you into a long-term contract.
    Quantum crypto broken again
    Here a research announcement:
    This presentation will show the first experimental implementation of an eavesdropper for quantum cryptosystem. Although quantum cryptography has been proven unconditionally secure, ... Quantum cryptography, as being based on the laws of physics, was claimed to be much more secure than all classical cryptography schemes.
    There are people who claim that quantum cryptography must be the only absolutely secure system because it is based on the laws of physics. I say the opposite, and the whole field is a sham. There are no laws of physics that make a system like them unconditionally secure, and the systems keep getting broken.

    Tuesday, Jan 05, 2010
    Poincare on Einstein
    In 1911, Einstein got an ETH (Swiss) faculty job, with this recommendation from Poincare:
    The future will show more and more, the worth of Einstein, and the university which is able to capture this young master is certain of gaining much honor from the operation. [White & Gribble, p. 109 and Isaacson, pp.168-171.]
    The same text is here and here.

    Hmmm. I think he is trying to say that Einstein's work seems great to lesser minds, but in the long run people will realize his lack of originality.

    There is not much record of Poincare saying anything else about Einstein. Poincare's papers on relativity predated Einstein's, so Poincare did not cite Einstein.

    Update: A reader says that my interpretation is a preposterous reach. Maybe so. I do not know Poincare's intentions. I am just saying that his sentence is artfully ambiguous in the style of these letters. Sometimes professors deliberately make these ambiguous comments when they are too polite to use blunt language.

    Monday, Jan 04, 2010
    Many books celebrate Darwin anniversary
    I thought that Einstein was supposed to be the greatest genius of all time, but apparently he is chopped liver compared to the evolution idol. Steven Shapin writes in the London Review of Books:
    The New York Times announced that ‘the theory of evolution really does explain everything in biology,’ but that’s rather modest in the context of current celebratory hype. In now canonical versions, Darwin’s idea of evolution through natural selection – his ‘dangerous idea’ – was, as Daniel Dennett famously said, ‘the single best idea anyone has ever had’. Better than any idea of Newton’s or Einstein’s, and better than any idea had by Jesus or Aristotle or Hume or that other great 12 February 1809 birthday boy, Abraham Lincoln. It ‘unifies the realm of life, meaning and purpose with the realm of space and time, cause and effect, mechanism and physical law’. ...

    The evolutionary biologist Theodosius Dobzhansky once said that ‘nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution,’ and now an anthropologist claims that ‘nothing about humans makes sense except in the light of evolution.’ (Nothing.)

    There are other claimants for the prize of towering scientific genius, and for ‘making the modern world’, but none of them has been the occasion for global festivities on anything like this scale. The 400th anniversary of Galileo’s birth was 1964, and Descartes’s 1996; Newton’s Principia turned 300 in 1987; Einstein’s Wunderjahr papers in Annalen der Physik, changing the way physicists think about space, time and matter, had their centenary in 2005. All were duly marked, mainly by historians, philosophers and physicists, but there was nothing remotely approaching Darwin 200. Even if we had an unambiguous metric for ranking scientific genius and modernity-making – one by which Galileo, Descartes, Newton and Einstein were chopped liver compared to Darwin – neither genius nor influence would be a sufficient explanation for the events of 2009.

    The article points out that rival books outsold Darwin at the time. There was even a pro-evolution book outselling Darwin.
    The centre of gravity of Darwin Year has been a celebration of secularism, a crusade against rampant religiosity and ‘public ignorance of science’. Darwin has been figured as the Scourge of the Godly. The National Secular Society notes that ‘Darwin’s 200th birthday has become a rallying point for scientists opposing creationism.’ ‘Is it important to celebrate Charles Darwin today?’ the Independent asked, answering that ‘Darwin’s legacy is threatened by proponents of creationism. By commemorating him we defend it … No advance has so upended our worldview since the realisation that the world was not flat’ – a claim that sits awkwardly alongside complaints about the limited grip of Darwinism on modernity’s collective ‘worldview’.
    This is such nonsense I don't know where to start. I am not sure that the realization that the world was not flat upended anyone's worldview.

    Darwin's scientific contributions were not so great. Others said similar things. I think that Darwin is idolized because he is credited with making atheism respectable, more than any other single person.

    Sunday, Jan 03, 2010
    Cerf on Einstein
    The Frenchman Roger Cerf wrote this 2006 article in the American Journal of Physics:
    On the occasion of the centenary of special relativity, several publications have argued that Poincaré, and not Einstein, was the discoverer of special relativity. Attacks have simultaneously been directed at Einstein, whose 1905 article on the electrodynamics of moving bodies was alleged to be a forgery. These attacks praise Lorentz and Poincaré for their results and neglect Poincaré's failure to make the necessary conceptual leap and understand the fundamental consequences of the principle of relativity. I identify what was missing in Lorentz's and Poincaré's views and contrast them with Einstein's insights. [Am. J. Phys., Vol. 74, No. 9, September 2006]
    The full paper is on Google docs here.

    I was hoping that the paper would have some new arguments, but it does not. It is largely a response to a French paper that I have not seen, and it relies on quotes from Einstein biographers and others.

    Almost all physicists attribute the discovery of special relativity to Albert Einstein, although claims have periodically been made since the publication of Edmund Whittaker’s monograph2 that priority in the field belongs either to the mathematician Henri Poincaré alone or to Poincaré and the physicist Hendrik-Antoon Lorentz.
    The priority question goes back to 1905. Einstein was considered for a Nobel prize and denied one several times, in part because of priority issues.

    Cerf has two main arguments: that von Laue, Pauli, and de Broglie credited Einstein, and that Poincare used slightly different terminology.

    von Laue credited Lorentz for the relativity of electromagnetism, but said that Einstein first applied it to all natural phenomena. Pauli credited Poincare for most of relativity, but said that Einstein derived the theory from simpler assumptions. de Broglie said that "Poincaré did not take the decisive step", whatever that means. Cerf explains:

    Poincaré’s thinking stopped short of the crucial step, the one that makes the contraction of lengths and Michelson’s experimental data follow from the principle of relativity and from the new conceptions of time and space that stem from it.
    This is just meaningless babble. Poincare had all those concepts. The complaint is that he presented them in a slightly different order, I guess.

    It seems to me that Pauli gives more credit to Poincare than Einstein, but even if he preferred Einstein, it is just an opinion. There were plenty of other comtemporary physicists who thought that Einstein was a big phony.

    Wikipedia has an article on German Physics:

    During the early years of the twentieth century, Albert Einstein's Theory of Relativity was met with much bitter controversy within the physics communities of the world. There were many physicists, especially the "old guard," who were suspicious of the intuitive meanings of Einstein's theories. ... Many of these classical physicists resented Einstein's dismissal of the notion of a luminiferous aether, which had been a mainstay of their work for the majority of their productive lives. They were not convinced by the empirical evidences for Relativity: ...
    There are no sources for any of this. I really doubt that anyone resented Einstein dismissing the aether. But regardless, it shows that some physicists, including Nobel prize winners, were unimpressed with Einstein.

    The main terminology difference is between Poincare's "hypothesis" and Einstein's "postulate". I don't get the point. I guess Cerf's idea is that Poincare's use of "hypothesis" shows that he was not a true believer in relativity.

    Cerf quotes someone as complaining about Lorentz's terminology for time, and then saying that Poincare discussed clocks measuring time but somehow the time is "fictitious". Poincare did not say that the time was fictitious, but "Nevertheless, this time remains fictitious, always comparable to the time of the ether". Cerf's argument makes no sense.

    Cerf also repeats the claim of an Einstein biographer that Poincare did not understand relativity.

    Cerf also criticizes a 1904 Poincare quote saying light has no mass. I am not sure why this is so wrong. Physics textbooks today say that light is massless, because the rest mass of a photon is zero. Light does have inertia, and that 1904 lecture seems to recognize that.

    Cerf mentions this French article, saying that it is very likely that Einstein read Poincare's first 1905 paper two weeks before submitting his own relativity paper, because a copy were sent to the Berne library and Einstein had been writing reviews of similarly published works. I agree that Einstein did not write his whole 1905 paper in two weeks, plagiarized from Poincare's 1905 paper. Einstein based his paper on what Lorentz and Poincare had published several years earlier. Poincare's 1905 paper would have just clarified some of the concepts for him.

    Cerf claims to identify Poincare's missing conceptual leap, but he doesn't. There is no substance to his argument.

    It is amazing to me that a mainstream historical physics journal publishes an article so strongly in favor of Einstein, and yet filled with such weak arguments. Even if Cerf is correct in everything he says, it proves nothing. He quotes Pauli's opinion that Einstein gave a formulation of special relativity with fewer assumptions, but that would only say that Einstein had a better presentation of the theory, not that he did it first.

    Complaining about the word "hypothesis" is even more bizarre. This just convinces more than ever that Poincare deserves the credit, not Einstein. Einstein-worshipping journals publish articles on how Einstein's theory was superior, and yet the best arguments they can find are these weird terminological complaints.

    Saturday, Jan 02, 2010
    Predicting life on alien planets
    Seth Shostak of SETI writes:
    It's an idea that's had a long run, dating back to those distant days when Aristotle strolled Athens with his students: namely, that Earth is unique. True, we no longer believe that our planet's astronomical position is special, that we sit like a queen bee in the central court of the cosmos. But serious people still contend that our terrestrial environment might be singular — that Earth is one of the few places in the universe where life could arise.

    Well, I'll bet you cash to crullers that — within a thousand days — this idea, too, will be deposed.

    Great. I hope we can stop listening to him after three years.

    He goes on to describe the spectacular discoveries of distant planets in the past few years. But I don't see how any of those discoveries makes intelligent alien life more likely.

    It took three billion years for life on Earth to evolve from one-celled organisms to two-celled organisms. For this to happen, the Earth had to be geologically alive and stable over a long time. The stability comes from, among other things, having a single large Moon, and having at least one large outer planet (Jupiter).

    Meanwhile, researchers continue to find new planets, and with increasing efficacy. A decade ago, only 5 percent of stars examined by these planet hunters actually showed evidence of orbiting worlds. Today, thanks to improved instruments, it's nearly 50 percent.

    The implication is astounding: Planets are stupefyingly plentiful.

    Maybe all of those stars have orbiting worlds. The question is whether any of them have the Earth-Moon-Jupiter configuration that seems to essential to intelligent life on Earth. So far none of them do. They all have a large inner planet that makes such a configuration impossible for that star.

    Suppose that you were a European explorer in the 1500s, and you just learned that there were 1000s of islands in the south Pacific ocean. You would naturally speculate that there could be people living on those islands. But then you started exploring those islands, and discovered that half of them have no fresh water and were incapable of supporting life. Would that make you more or less optimistic about finding people on the other islands?

    Less optimistic, of course. And yet that is the situation of the planet hunters. They found planets, but they are all inhabitable.

    Shostak may argue that they found inhabitable planets because the inhabitable ones are easier to find. That is true, but it conceals the fact that finding a large inner planet implies that there is no Earth-like planet in that system.

    It is funny the way these folks seem to have a religious belief in extraterrestial life. No matter what the evidence, they claim that it supports their views. At least we have one of their leading spokesmen betting on results within 1000 days.

    Friday, Jan 01, 2010
    Second thoughts about the Sokal hoax
    I looked again at Sokal's hoax from 1996.

    Physicist Steven Weinberg argues that Sokal's original parody article is nonsense, giving this as his first example:

    But for some postmodern intellectuals, "linear" has come to mean unimaginative and old-fashioned, while "nonlinear" is understood to be somehow perceptive and avant garde. In arguing for the cultural importance of the quantum theory of gravitation, Sokal refers to the gravitational field in this theory as "a noncommuting (and hence nonlinear) operator." Here "hence" is ridiculous; "noncommuting" does not imply "nonlinear," and in fact quantum mechanics deals with things that are both noncommuting and linear.
    No, it is not so ridiculous. The gravitational field is indeed a nonlinear operator on the potential function, and the nonlinearity is a direct consequence of the local symmetry group being non-commuting. The use of the word "non-commuting" by Sokal is a little sloppy, but it would be clumsy and irrelevant to explain precisely what is non-commuting. The point being made is not even Sokal's point, but an explanation of a quoted sentence from Derrida. I don't think that Sokal's explanation is obviously ridiculous.

    Derrida's point is obscure, but he was just a French non-scientist giving an extemporaneous answer to a question after a lecture.

    Weinberg doesn't actually argue that Sokal's parody article is nonsensical. He says:

    I thought at first that Sokal's article in Social Text was intended to be an imitation of academic babble, which any editor should have recognized as such. But in reading the article I found that this is not the case. ... Where the article does degenerate into babble, it is not in what Sokal himself has written, but in the writings of the genuine postmodern cultural critics quoted by Sokal.
    I agree with Weinberg on this point. The article is not so ridiculous that the editors should have rejected it based on the physics.

    To me, this point really undermines the value of the hoax. Sokal bragged that his article was babble that no one should have published. But it is the philosophy and the quotes that are silly; his physics explanations are not so bad by comparison. The editors could have had a physicist like Weinberg review it before publication, gotten his report that the physics metaphors are somewhat distorted, and published it anyway.

    Weinberg replies to critics, including:

    He expresses surprise that no physicist has yet presented string theory as a form of Platonic mysticism, but I think I can explain this. It is because we expect that string theory will be testable -- if not directly, by observing the string vibrations, then indirectly, by calculating whether string theory correctly accounts for all of the currently mysterious features of the standard model of elementary particles and general relativity. If it were not for this expectation, string theory would not be worth bothering with.
    That was 1996, and string theory is no closer to accounting for any of those particles.

    Sokal gave this explanation of his motives in term of his own far leftist politics:

    Politically, I'm angered because most (though not all) of this silliness is emanating from the self-proclaimed Left. We're witnessing here a profound historical volte-face. For most of the past two centuries, the Left has been identified with science and against obscurantism; ...

    The results of my little experiment demonstrate, at the very least, that some fashionable sectors of the American academic Left have been getting intellectually lazy. ...

    I say this not in glee but in sadness. After all, I'm a leftist too (under the Sandinista government I taught mathematics at the National University of Nicaragua).

    Hmmm. I infer that "leftist" is an understatement. He sounds like a hard-core Marxist.

    His sidebar has this excerpt from his original parody article:

    Derrida's perceptive reply went to the heart of classical general relativity:
    The Einsteinian constant is not a constant, is not a center. It is the very concept of variability -- it is, finally, the concept of the game.
    Sokal's complaint is that this quote is nonsense. He tries to give an explanation of the quote in his parody paper, assuming that the Einstein constant is the gravitational coupling constant G.

    Of course it is literal nonsense to say that a constant is not a constant. We don't need a physicist for that. It is not even clear whether the constant is supposed to be G, or the speed of light c. The out-of-context quote seems to show that a French deconstructionist used a sloppy metaphor, but that's all. I don't see how he could be blamed for getting the physics wrong, when the reader cannot even tell which constant is the Einsteinian constant.

    I've changed my mind about this so-called Sokal hoax. (Funny how "Sokal" sounds like "so-called".) At first I cheered that a physicist had humiliated some pretentious phony intellectuals. But now I think that it was cowardly and dishonest. Sokal has made a second career out of this silly stunt, and has coauthored a 2008 book on the subject.