Saturday, May 17, 2014

Controversy about Relativity in the 1920s

A reader informs me that Einstein's Opponents: The Public Controversy about the Theory of Relativity in the 1920s, by Milena Wazeck, was recently translated into English and published.

The translator acknowledged the assistance of a software translator. At first I was surprised that a reputable translator would admit to using a dumb machine translation, but now I think that it is foolish to do it any other way.

The nearest Wikipedia article on this subject is Criticism of the theory of relativity. See also Einsteinism and Reuterdahl.

The common view is that this was some sort of anti-semitic or Nazi attack on Jewish science. That may have contributed, but I do not think that is the main story. Some of the critics were Jewish.

To your average philosopher or intellectual or layman or even non-relativity physicist, relativity must have seemed like bizarre leap from the available evidence. The Michelson-Morley experiment was just an optical diffraction pattern that did not change when the equipment was rotated. The deflection of starlight was within experimental error from a simple Newtonian model. The Mercury orbit precession was just one number, and might have other explanations. To the casual observer, it must have seemed likely that these phenomena would have less radical consequences.

From that we conclude that space and time are not what everyone thought?!

I wouldn't be too harsh on the skeptics. I think that it is amazing that relativity was so rapidly accepted. I am also surprised at how readily people accept ideas like inflation and supersymmetry today.

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