Monday, May 15, 2023

Nazis Attacked Einstein's Jewish Science

Philip Ball wrote a 2014 book on Nazi Physics, and a chapter was excerpted in SciAm.
Anti-Semitism did not just deprive German physics of some of its most valuable researchers. It also threatened to prescribe what kind of physics one could and could not do. For Nazi ideology was not merely a question of who should be allowed to live and work freely in the German state—like a virus, it worked its way into the very fabric of intellectual life. Shortly after the boycott of Jewish businesses at the start of April 1933, the Nazified German Students Association declared that literature should be cleansed of the “un-German spirit”, resulting on 10 May in the ritualistic burning of tens of thousands of books marred by Jewish intellectualism. These included works by Sigmund Freud, Bertolt Brecht, Karl Marx, Stefan Zweig and Walter Benjamin: books full of corrupt, unthinkable ideas. Into some of these pyres, baying students threw the books of Albert Einstein.
I am skeptical about this. Books by Freud and Marx are indeed full of corrupt ideas that the Germans were better off without. Germany was at risk of a Marxist revolution like Russia's.

Einstein's books were irrelevant by the time the Nazis came to power. Relativity had been written into the textbooks by then.

Here is how he trashes a couple of Nobel Prize winners.

The fact is that Lenard was a rather unremarkable man: an excellent experimental scientist in his heyday, but of limited intellectual depth, and emotionally and imaginatively stunted. When circumstances contrived to carry him further than his talents should have permitted, he was forced to attribute his shortcomings to the deceptions and foolishness of others. This combination of prestige and deluded self-image is invariably poisonous. ...

Like Lenard, Stark was an experimentalist befuddled by the mathematical complexity that had recently entered physics. He was another extreme nationalist whose right-wing views had been hardened by the First World War. He too felt that Einstein had stolen his ideas, this time over the quantum-mechanical description of light-driven chemical reactions. (Stark never in fact fully accepted quantum theory, even though an understanding of the “Stark effect” depended on it.) And being a mediocrity who struck lucky, he found himself being passed over for academic appointments to which he was convinced he had the best claim.

Einstein never fully accepted quantum theory either, and was also befuddled by mathematical complexity.

The stories are interesting, but in the end, the Nazis did not have much influence on Physics:

But the truth was that, while the dispute rumbled on through the late 1930s, the Nazis tightened their grip on German science regard­less. In some disciplines, such as chemistry, scientists fell into line in short order. In a few, such as anthropology and medicine, the collu­sion of some researchers had horrific consequences. Physics was another matter: just docile enough for its lapses, evasions and occa­sional defiance to be tolerated. The physicists were errant children: grumbling, arguing among themselves, slow to obey and somewhat lazy in their compliance, but in the final analysis obliging and dutiful enough. If they lacked ideological fervour, the Nazis were pragmatic enough to turn a blind eye.
I am not sure what the Jewish Science was. By the time the Nazis came to power, Einstein was determinist, Communist, Zionist, quantum-denier, and pursuer of bogus unified field theory. He was not doing any real science anymore.

And yet Nazi attempts to cancel Einstein seem trivial by modern standards. The Ball SciAm article gives this example:

In 1942 Sommerfeld was about to publish some lectures on physics when he received a letter from Heisenberg saying (as Rudolf Peierls later recalled it) that “a political adviser and close friend of mine, also a physicist, would like to call to your attention certain guidelines which are now in use, that is, we note, the publisher noticed that you mentioned Einstein’s name four times in your lectures, and we wondered if you couldn’t get by with mentioning him a little less often?” Sommerfeld complied, retaining just one of the references. “I must mention him once”, his conscience obliged him to write back. Peierls adds that “after the war the names were quickly put back in”.
So the number of Einstein citations was changed from 4 to 1, and back to 4. Nowadays, scientists are canceled for ideological reasons all the time, and Einstein is cited about 1000 times more than he deserves.

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