Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Einstein plagiarized Kaluza-Klein

A reader named Peter writes:
It is possible that Einstein had some character flaw because totally unnecessarily already after his Nobel prize and when he was more famous than any other physicist before him in 1927 he plagiarized 1926 paper of Oscar Klein that lead to the Kaluza-Klein theory. But he was caught and the editor of the journal forced Einstein to write a statement that everything he showed was done year earlier by Klein.
I did not know that story when I wrote my book, but I am not surprised. Yes, Einstein had a character flaw where he avoided crediting anyone. As Peter says, the Einstein collected works acknowledge that Einstein knew of the Kaluza-Klein work, and deliberately omitted any citation.

Properly crediting Kaluza-Klein theory is tricky. It appears that mathematician H. Weyl clearly understood that you could get general relativity and Maxwell's equations from and appropriate curvature on a 5-dimensional manifold. One dimension is time, and one is electromagnetic phase. Surely others understood this also. However I cannot find where anyone wrote it down clearly until many decades later, where it uses a connection on a circle bundle over a spacetime.

Another example that was new to me was his refusal to credit Gerber for the Mercury precession formula. Einstein claimed to not know that Gerber published the formula before, but even said that he would not have cited Gerber even if he had known.

I mostly judge Einstein for his Physics, not his personal ethics. But it is sometimes hard to figure out what he rediscovered, and what he stole.

Peter also says:

When Einstein derived (did not show details) the superposition of velocities he stated that the operation constitute a mathematic group. Interestingly pretty much the same phrase was in Poincare 1905 paper. Somehow I have difficulty believing that Einstein would use such a cool and fairly modern at that time mathematical concept which obviously was natural for Poincare.
Yes, I agree with that. At best, Einstein was saying that the one-dimensional set of transformations in one direction form a group, as there is no sign that he grasped the significance of all Lorentz transformations forming a group. He likely got the term "group" from Poincare's paper.


It is interesting that in many textbooks Michelson precedes STR that is present as explanation of Michelson but it never is stated that Einstein did not use or was aware of Michelson. What motivated Einstein work, which experiments?
Historians have debated this, and I have my own theory. I say that Einstein was not directly influenced by any experiment.

Michelson-Morley and other experiments clearly influenced Lorentz's 1895 paper, and Poincare's work. The purpose of Einstein's 1905 paper is just to give an alternate derivation of Lorentz's formulas, and not to give an empirical argument. There was no reason to rely on any experiment directly.

Einstein's comments on this seem confusing, but I think he was simply saying that Michelson-Morley was important to the history of special relativity, but not to his own 1905 paper. Those things are true. They are not confusing if you understand that special relativity had a history before Einstein.


  1. How does one shoot you an email?

  2. Michele Besso wrote to Einstein about Gerber (Dec. 1916):

    "I want to offer a brief survey in the physics colloquium on earlier attempts to explain perihelion motion… I have also thought about Gerber’s idea: It can be presented in a way that makes it appear entirely reasonable: The potential applicable to a moving point has a value corresponding to its location at a time sufficient for an effect to be able first to reach the Sun and to return from it to the planet in that interval. Why Gerber identified this effect specifically with the potential and not with the force, for instance, is naturally not clear. It is not more unreasonable, though, than many other attempts to straighten out novel issues."

    No record of Einstein reply exists.

    The problem with Gerber is that nobody is ably to derive or justify his retarded gravitational potential formula. Good though negative to Gerber analysis is at Mathpages:

  3. The plagiarism of Klein paper is established beyond any doubt. Einstein received the manuscript from Klein and acknowledged it in correspondence. Einstein submitted his paper w/o a reference to Klein and when asked by the editor to acknowledge that Klein did the same work earlier did so but by implying he was not aware of Klein's work. This is the most blatant attempt fo plagiarism. It takes some chutzpah.

  4. "The purpose of Einstein's 1905 paper is just to give an alternate derivation of Lorentz's formulas, and not to give an empirical argument. " - Exactly!. The second postulate that c is invariant was formulated only to circumvent Lorentz. This postulate is epistemologically questionable because physics should not populate properties. The two Einstein postulates together are too strong (redundant) to derive the LT.

    The derivation of LT with minimal assumptions would be as follows:

    Using basic rules of symmetry when superposing velocities obtain canonical form of LT where the parameter c is unknown. I think Vladimir Ignatowski did that in 1910.

    Then invoke the Principle of Relativity (Poincare 1904) which btw is trivial

    "The principle of relativity, according to which the laws of physical phenomena should be the same, whether for an observer fixed, or for an observer carried along in a uniform movement of translation; so that we have not and could not have any means of discerning whether or not we are carried along in such a motion."

    and apply LT to Maxwell equations which determines that the parameter c is the velocity of light.

    Then trivially as a corollary from LT one gets Einstein's second postulate that c is invariant.

    The next step is to apply LT to Newton equations which POincare did while Einstein in 1905 paper was still too timid to go there.

    Next apply relativistic Newton equation to Mercury problem and get 1/2 of the necessary correction. Again Poincare did that before Einstein even thought about the Mercury problem.

  5. You can send email to roger at

    I didn't know that there were others, besides Gerber, who tried to explain Mercury's orbit from a finite propagation of gravity in the 1890s. And yes, I am told that Poincare had a fully relativistic way of partially explaining Mercury.

    1. In 1865 Newcomb tried to explain the discrepancy between the prediction of Newtonian gravitational theory and the Mercury perihelion advance anomalies.

      "The perihelion advance became a “hot topic” again in the 1960s, when Dicke and collaborators claimed to have shown, through observations of the shape of the solar disk, that the Sun was sufficiently oblate that the New- tonian contributions of the modified solar potential would contribute four arcseconds per century (as/cy) to the per- ihelion advance, thus invalidating general relativity, and supporting Brans and Dicke’s recent scalar-tensor theory of gravity, which predicted only about 39 as/cy"

      Mercury precession can be explained by oblateness of sun. Even if it explains it only partially Einstein GRT is in trouble. I would suspect that all attempts to measure and quantify sun oblateness are highly political.