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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mutually exclusive theories

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The audio is here.

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

Update: There is also a SciAm article.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The current Wikipedia article on Albert Einstein starts:

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

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

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

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

Einstein wrote in 1938:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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