Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Anti-Einstein movement of the 1920s

Jeroen van Dongen has posted a couple of new papers on early opposition to Einstein. He says:
The Anti-Einstein Rally at the Berlin Philharmonic The anti-Einstein campaign kicked off on August 6, 1920, with an inflammatory article in the Tägliche Rundschau, a Berlin daily newspaper: “Herr Albertus Magnus has been resurrected”; he has stolen the work of others and has mathematized physics to such an extent that fellow physicists have been left clueless. ...

Most of Weyland’s accusations were not new. His charges of plagiarism and propaganda had been leveled earlier by Ernst Gehrcke (1878-1960), ...

In 1919 it had carried an article announcing the results of the British solar eclipse
expedition that rose to laudatory hyperbole, not shying away from declaring that “a highest truth, beyond Galileo and Newton, beyond Kant” had been unveiled by “an oracular saying from the
depth of the skies.” Its author, Alexander Moszkowski (1851-1934), was a close acquaintance of Einstein’s -- and also Jewish. Further, Einstein himself had published a short note on the results of the British eclipse expedition in Die Naturwissenschaften, a highly visible journal whose editor-in-chief was Arnold Berliner (1862-1942) -- another Jew. Finally, on December 14, 1919, the front page of the Berliner Illustrirte Zeitung carried a large close-up portrait of Einstein (figure 2) whose caption read: “A new eminence in the history of the world: Albert Einstein, whose researches signify a complete revolution of our understanding of Nature and whose insights equal in importance those of a Copernicus, Kepler, and Newton.” This newspaper had been founded by Leopold Ullstein (1826-1899), yet another prominent Berlin Jew. Weyland thus had seen enough of Einstein's methods: If “German science” now decided to close ranks and take action against Einstein, “settling scores,” Einstein had only himself to blame.
It does appear that most of the early popular press that praised Einstein as the new Copernicus-Kepler-Newton was written and published by Jews. Later on, in the 1930s, there was some Nazi opposition, but most of the opposition was scientific.
Einstein was present at Weyland’s lecture and seemed to be unshaken by it, but it must have upset him. Ernst Gehrcke spoke after Weyland: He too claimed that relativity was nothing but “scientific mass hypnosis”; it was inconsistent, led to solipsism, and was not confirmed by observation--but at least Gehrcke did not rant and rave. To Einstein, it was completely clear that his opponents were politically motivated. According to one account, anti-Semitic pamphlets were handed out, and according to another, swastika lapel pins were being sold.
His other paper says:
Einstein was convinced that the fierceness of his opponents was foremost politically motivated; after all, he was a prominent pacifist, democrat and Jew, hence an ideal scapegoat for German reactionaries, frustrated with the outcome of World War I and the November Revolution. The organizer of the event in the Berlin Philharmonic, Paul Weyland, has indeed been identified as a right-wing rabble-rouser with nationalist and völkisch ideals. It thus seems obvious that the fiery character of the opposition to Einstein in the years of the Weimar Republic should be explained by the volatile nature of the latter’s politics. Historians, in any case, have largely agreed with Einstein’s assessment of his opponents’ deeper motivations. ...

Surprisingly, however, Wazeck finds that the fierceness of the opposition to Einstein was, in fact, not primarily due to the highly charged political atmosphere of the Weimar years. Einstein’s critics could disagree with relativity for a number of reasons: either they maintained a belief in the ether, or in the absolute nature of time, or e.g. found that the theory left too little room for various metaphysical perspectives. Wazeck’s analysis shows that such positions could be found within the academic world, or beyond its perimeter, with “amateur” researchers, of which there were many in the first decades of the last century. These would consider themselves bona fide natural scientists, engaged in proper research in the tradition of the 19th-century gentleman scientist, often believing that the perspective of their academic counterparts had become unduly compartmentalized. Wazeck further identifies three groups of opponents: physicists, philosophers, and, most interestingly, those that had found their own private solution to the riddles of the universe, based on their own newly found principles; in German, the “Welträtsellöser.”
So Einstein has somehow convinced historians that opposition to him was based on his Jewishness or Zionism. But the evidence does not support that. The anti-relativists gave scientific arguments for their positions, even if fallacious.

I think that it is wrong to write off all these anti-relativistics as Nazis or crackpots. While most of their arguments were weak, relativity had been wildly oversold to the public, and so had Einstein's contribution to it. The 1919 eclipse supposedly proved general relativity, but it was really just barely distinguishable from the pre-relativity prediction. Einstein's contributions were so grossly exaggerated that he must have seemed like a charlatan to many people. And if Einstein was a charlatan, that was reason to doubt relativity also.

I am guess that none of this would have happened if Einstein and others had honestly presented the evidence for relativity.

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