Wednesday, May 23, 2012

New books reviewed

The NY Times has a review of Free Radicals: The secret anarchy of science, by Michael Brooks:
Scientists overlook inconvenient results, writes Mr. Brooks, a British science writer who holds a doctorate in quantum physics and writes a weekly column for The New Statesman. They ignore data that conflict with their ideas. Einstein, for example, bristled at criticism of his papers, withdrawing one submitted to The Physical Review after an anonymous peer reviewer pointed out an error. He published the paper elsewhere, Mr. Brooks writes, “complete with the mistake.”
Not exactly. Einstein revised the paper in accordance with some of the corrections to the anonymous referee. No credit to the referee, of course, and still wrong about gravity waves. See also this description (pdf).

There is also a podcast review saying that Einstein once did an experiment where got values of 1.02 and 1.45, when he was expecting 1.00. He published 1.02. A few years later, others discovered that the true value was 2.00.

The same paper has a review of How to Teach Relativity to Your Dog, Chad Orzel:
Discussing the Michelson-Morley experiment in the 1880s, which purported to disprove the previous findings of the Scottish physicist James Clerk Maxwell about the speed of light, Professor Orzel calls it “arguably the greatest failed experiment in the history of physics.”
I do not think that they claimed to disprove Maxwell. What Michelson actually wrote in his 1881 paper was:
This conclusion directly contradicts the explanation of the phenomenon of aberration which has been hitherto generally accepted, and which presupposes that the earth moves through the ether, the latter remaining at rest.
The experiment showed that certain aether theories were wrong, but said nothing about whether the aether exists or not.
Maxwell (no relation to my dog) was right, as years of further experimentation would show. Not only that, but the failure of Michelson-Morley helped vanquish the old notion of a “luminiferous aether” through which light was supposed to move, and contributed to the mathematical tools Einstein needed to publish his first relativity papers in 1905. As Professor Orzel tells Emmy: “Einstein succeeded where others had failed by showing that a careful treatment of time and motion make these effects inevitable.”

Emmy: “Wait, Einstein didn’t come up with relativity on his own?”

Orzel: “Other people worked out all of the mathematical apparatus before him.”

Emmy: “So why is Einstein all famous, while I haven’t heard of these other guys?”

Orzel: “Because they all balked at the weirdness of the predictions, so none of them got it right.”
This is explained in my book, How Einstein Ruined Physics. It is not true that "they all balked at the weirdness". One of the weirdest predictions was that Michelson-Morley experiment, but Einstein's predecessors squarely addressed that and Einstein did not. Einstein historians mostly say that Einstein may not have even known about the experiment, altho Einstein's own explanations are contradictory on that point. The next weirdest prediction was local time, which contributed to the Nobel Prize in 1902 well before Einstein, as explained below.

There are 500 books on Einstein besides mine, but none give a straight answer to the dog's question, “So why is Einstein all famous, while I haven’t heard of these other guys?”

Following up Obama being the first gay President, physics popularist Brian Greene has a Newsweek cover story on his multiverse book:
“What really interests me is whether God had any choice in creating the world.”

That’s how Albert Einstein, in his characteristically poetic way, asked whether our universe is the only possible universe. ...

The multiverse, as this vast cosmos is called, is one of the most polarizing concepts to have emerged from physics in decades, inspiring heated arguments between those who propose that it is the next phase in our understanding of reality, and those who claim that it is utter nonsense, a travesty born of theoreticians letting their imaginations run wild.
I am going with utter nonsense. None of this is scientific.

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