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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.


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.