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Saturday, Jan 29, 2011
Hindering scientific literacy
Here is evolution teaching news:
High school biology teachers refuse to teach evolution

That's the conclusion of Penn State scientists, who discovered that most are reluctant to teach evolutionary theory in class. ...

Indeed, 13 percent of biology teachers 'explicitly advocate creationism or intelligent design by spending at least one hour of class time presenting it in a positive light', they say. ...

Others undermine the whole curriculum and "tell students it does not matter if they really 'believe' in evolution, so long as they know it for the test," the researchers say.

Finally, many teachers expose their students to all positions, scientific and otherwise, and let them make up their own minds. But while this approach might at first seem reasonable, say the team, "this approach tells students that well established concepts can be debated in the same way we debate personal opinions."

In other words, we don't encourage children to make up their own minds about whether the world orbits the sun or vice versa.

And it's these 60 percent that most worry the scientists: "They may play a far more important role in hindering scientific literacy in the United States than the smaller number of explicit creationists," they say.

So the Penn State scientists are most worried about the teachers to tell kids to make up their own minds, because that hinders scientific literacy. Or so they say.

According to General relativity, it is completely legitimate to to make up your own mind about whether the Earth orbits the Sun or vice versa. These Penn State scientists say that they are promoting scientific literacy, but their science is a century out of date.

It is also revealing that the Penn State scientists are upset that students can pass the tests without believing in evolution. That tells me that the purpose is more indoctrination than learning knowledge. In most subjects, the teachers are happy to have the students learn and understand the subject matter, and do not insist on uniformity of ideological beliefs.

For example, a student should be able to take a class in the American Civil War, without necessarily agreeing with the teacher about whether the Southern (Confederate) states should have seceded. He should be able to take a class in black holes without necessarily believing in singularities.

The survey was actually in 2007.

AAAS Science magazine adds:

Defeating Creationism in the Courtroom, But Not in the Classroom

Just over 5 years ago, the scientific community turned its attention to a courtroom in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Eleven parents sued their Dover, Pennsylvania, school board to overturn a policy explicitly legitimizing intelligent design creationism. The case, Kitzmiller v. Dover, ... Many scientists cheered the decision, agreeing with the court that the school board displayed “breathtaking inanity” [p. 765 (1)]. We suggest that the cheering was premature and the victory incomplete.

The article argues for educating the public on this issue, but it is behind a paywall so I cannot read it. I am always amused when someone makes a big self-righteous stand about education, and then blocks its own article.

It is worse for scientists to complain that legal actions in court have not successfully censored a contrary view.

Nature magazine writes:

These “cautious 60 percent” generally teach a watered down version of evolution ...

Some of these teachers avoided teaching the more controversial macroevolution, which describes new species arising from old ones, while still describing microevolution, which can explain how bacteria develop antibiotic resistance. Others taught evolution in order that their students could pass standardized tests, though they did not believe in it unequivocally. Finally, a large number of this group exposed students to all positions in the hopes that they could make up their own minds.

Actually, I am surprised to see Nature say this, as many evolutionists deny that there is any difference between macroevolution and microevolution.

The main point of this study is to say that the biggest threat to teaching evolution is the high schools is not the creationists, but the teachers who allow students to make up their own minds, and who do not insist that the students believe in it unequivocably. In other words, the teachers are not the sort of true believers who will brainwash a new generation of true believers in evolution.

As the Penn State press release says:

Berkman and Plutzer dubbed the remaining teachers the "cautious 60 percent," who are neither strong advocates for evolutionary biology nor explicit endorsers of nonscientific alternatives. ...

Finally, many teachers expose their students to all positions, scientific and otherwise, and let them make up their own minds. ...

As a result, "they may play a far more important role in hindering scientific literacy in the United States than the smaller number of explicit creationists."

I do not think that it hinders scientific literacy to let students make up their own minds. Science is all about making deductions from evidence, not rote memorization of facts and blind acceptance of authority.

Friday, Jan 28, 2011
Einstein hated the Germans
Time magazine reports:
In 1939, when Einstein's fellow refugees Leo Szilard and Eugene Wigner learned that German scientists had managed to split the atom, they sought Einstein's help. Einstein himself may have had only the faintest idea of the recent progress in nuclear physics, but after a briefing by Szilard and Wigner he agreed to write a letter to President Roosevelt alerting him to the possibility that the Nazis might try to make an atomic bomb. That letter is popularly credited (though its precise effect is unclear) with helping to persuade Roosevelt to order up the Manhattan Project, which produced the first atomic weapons.

Later, when A-bombs exploded over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Einstein expressed deep regret. After the war, he apologized personally -— and in tears -— to visiting Japanese Physicist Hideki Yukawa. On another occasion, he said, "Had I known that the Germans would not succeed in developing an atomic bomb, I would have done nothing for the bomb."

In his final years Einstein was an outspoken foe of McCarthyism, which he felt was an echo of the turbulent events that had preceded the downfall of Germany's Weimar Republic. He urged intellectuals to defy what he considered congressional inquisitions, even at the risk of "jail and economic ruin." He was widely denounced, and Senator Joseph McCarthy called him "an enemy of America." In his last public act, Einstein joined Bertrand Russell and other scholars in a desperate plea for a ban on all warfare. [Time mag, Monday, Feb. 19, 1979, cover story]

Einstein hated the Germans. He renounced his German citizenship twice, once to avoid the military draft and once to avoid the Nazis, and according to this Einstein-hater, he said the following about Germany after World War II:
The nation has been on the decline mentally and morally since 1870. Behind the Nazi party stands the German people, who elected Hitler after he had in his book and in his speeches made his shameful intentions clear beyond the possibility of misunderstanding. The Germans can be killed or constrained after the war, but they cannot be re-educated to a democratic way of thinking and acting.
I cannot confirm this, but he did advocate building atomic bombs only for bombing Germans, and not commies and other enemies.

Thursday, Jan 27, 2011
Why philosophy is dead
Philosopher Chris Ormell argues against reliance on math:
take physicist Stephen Hawking's claim that philosophy is dead. The reason he gave was that philosophers have stopped bothering trying to understand modern mathematical cosmology. This cosmology is based on current mathematical physics, most of which has been in place for less than 100 years.
He is living proof, because he does not understand cosmology:
Instead it was discovered that light does not travel in absolutely straight lines, but bends slightly due to the Earth's gravitation. It is a minute effect and detectable only with great difficulty, but its consequences are deadly. If this degree of bending occurred in outer space, the light from the nearest star would have completed a circular trajectory on its way from its source to our telescopes. Nothing in the Universe would be where it appears to be.
No, that is completely wrong. Light travels in straight lines in all of the theories, including general relativity. He seems to be referring to an effect of the Sun's gravity, not Earth's. There is no circular trajectory, except maybe near a black hole.

He goes on to attack math:

So how has it happened that for a hundred years, the mathematical establishment has swallowed the idea of transfinite sets? Georg Cantor produced an argument that seemed to point to transfinite immensities, but that was before we realised that mathematics was incompletable. In effect Cantor's argument showed that the set of real numbers was incompletable. It did not (could not) show that there were more mathematical objects than an ordinary infinity.
This is just gibberish. Of course the real numbers are complete. He is innumerate.

Wednesday, Jan 26, 2011
String theory and the real world
Lubos Motl has the link for Gordon Kane's nice November 2010 article in Physics Today. It promotes String theory and says:
Some books and popular articles have claimed that be- cause string theories are naturally formulated at such high energies or small distances, they cannot be tested. ...

Of course, a theory needs only to be falsifiable in one way to be testable. Some compactifications have generated wrong predictions. In those cases, we have successfully im- plemented a test, but the theory failed. I give specific exam- ples of tests below; ...

I realized that a particular compactified string theory had been studied so well ... that we could identify all the particles that could be neutrinos. We showed that in no case could the theory generate light but not massless neutrinos. That work represents a clear example of a test of string theory. Although the particular compactifi- cation we studied did not yield the desired neutrino masses, different compactifications may allow for neutrino masses consistent with experiment and offer explanations of ob- served neutrino properties.

Just to be clear, there are no massless neutrinos in the real world. Kane's idea of a test of string theory is to give argument for nonexistent particles!

At the end, Kane has references to his own articles, but not to the "books and popular articles" that he criticizes.

Kane concludes:

Some of those who talk about testing string theory, and most critics of theory, are assuming the 10D or 11D approach and want somehow to test the theory without applying it to a world where tests exist. That is analogous to asking a La- grangian to be falsifiable without applying it to any physical system. Is 10D string theory falsifiable? That is not the rele- vant question. What matters is that the predictions of the 10D theory for the 4D world are demonstrably testable and falsi- fiable. If no compactified string theory emerges that describes the real world, physicists will lose interest in string theory. But perhaps one or more will describe and explain what is observed and relate various phenomena that previously seemed independent. Such a powerful success of science would bring us close to an ultimate theory.
Again, he is attacking an anonymous straw man that probably does not exist. He seems to concede that no testable string theory has emerged yet. That is what the critics are really saying -- that no testable theory has emerged.

Note that his goals do not include discovering or explaining new phenomena, as is the traditional purpose of physics. He wants to get closer to an "ultimate theory", whatever that is, and hopes that physicists will not lose interest in the meantime. I think that the real physicists have already lost interest.

Motl tries to answer What experiment would disprove string theory? His examples are things like proving that 2+2=5, or proving that the information is lost in the black holes. These are not even testable hypotheses.

His main argument is philosophical:

In science, one can only exclude a theory that contradicts the observations.
There has never been one observation that has been shown to be consistent with string theory. Not one. Motl would say gravity, and argues that string theory could be disproved "By experimentally proving that the world doesn't contain gravity". But it is not even known that string theory can accommodate gravity. String theorists just assume a gravitationally empty space, and gravity plays no role. See string theory background dependence for details.

He concludes:

But even if such a new surprising observation were made, a significant fraction of the theorists would obviously try to find an explanation within the framework of string theory, and that's obviously the right strategy. Others could try to find an explanation elsewhere. But neverending attempts to "get rid of string theory" are almost as unreasonable as attempts to "get rid of relativity" or "get rid of quantum mechanics" or "get rid of mathematics" within physics. You simply can't do it because those things have already been showed to work at some level.
In other words, he will continue to believe in string theory regardless of the facts.

Monday, Jan 24, 2011
Ethnocentric Jew claims Jews invented modernity
Jeffrey Goldberg writes for The Atlantic:
It's become clear to me that the Fox commentator Glenn Beck has something of a Jewish problem. Actually, he has something of a modernity problem, and people with modernity problems tend to have problems with Jews, who more or less invented modernity (Einstein, Marx, Freud, Franz Boas, etc.) ...

This is a post about Beck's recent naming of nine people -- eight of them Jews -- as enemies of America and humanity. He calls these people prime contributors to the -- wait for it -- "era of the big lie." The eight Jews are Sigmund Freud; Edward Bernays, the founder of public relations, and a nephew of Freud's (which Beck discloses as if this had previously been a secret); [George] Soros, of course; Cass Sunstein, now of the White House; the former labor leader Andy Stern; Walter Lippman, who is no longer here to defend himself; Frances Fox Piven, who Beck believes is "sowing the seeds" of revolution; and, of all people, Edward Rendell. ...

My modest suggestion to those Jews who fear the building of mosques in American cities is that they look elsewhere for threats that seem to be gathering against them.

Steve Sailer doubts whether those 8 are really Jewish, (see also this), and writes:
Extremely ethnocentric Jews like Jeffrey Goldberg (born in Brooklyn, he joined the Israeli Defense Force after graduating from the Ivy League) vastly overestimate how much gentiles pay attention to the Is-he-a-Jew? questions that obsess them. Further, the media has done a really good job of persuading the average American that even noticing the ethnic patterns that personally preoccupy leading members of the media like Goldberg is a mark of lack of gentility, so most of them don't.
I have no idea about Fox Piven and most of the others. Beck seems to attack Woodrow Wilson more than anyone, and he was certainly not Jewish.

I agree with Sailor. Some of those Jews are really atheists who never practiced any of the Jewish religion, and non-Jews do not care whether they had some Jewish ancestry or not.

It is really nutty to claim that Jews invented modernity, and to point to Einstein, Marx, and Freud. Marx's influence was almost entirely destructive. There was no scientific merit to anything Freud said, as far as I know, and he even faked much of his work. Einstein's work and influence has been greatly exaggerated, as I have documented on this blog.

I don't know much about Frank Boas, but he has also been called a liberal icon and scientific fraud. His student Margarent Mead was a similar fraud, altho not everyone agrees.

I do wonder how much the reputations of these folks are propped up by Jews like Goldberg who make wildly exaggerated claims about how great they were, and then accuse critics of being anti-semitic. I have seen a lot of articles claiming that Nazis and others attacked Einstein because he was Jewish, but not on how he has been promoted by Jews. He has surely been unfairly promoted far more than he has been unfairly attacked.

Goldberg would probably just call me anti-semitic, and not address anything that I have to say.

Friday, Jan 21, 2011
Why Einstein lied about Michelson-Morley
The textbooks say that the crucial experiment for special relativity was the Michelson–Morley experiment, but there is some question about whether Einstein even knew about it when he wrote his famous 1905 paper.

Kevin Brown writes in his book:

Einstein’s own recollections on this point were not entirely consistent. He sometimes said he couldn’t remember if he had been aware in 1905 of Michelson's experiments, but at other times he acknowledged that he had known of it from having read the works of Lorentz. ...

One possible explanation for Einstein’s reluctance to cite Michelson, both in 1905 and subsequently, is that he was sophisticated enough to know that his “theory” was technically just a re-interpretation of Lorentz’s theory - making identical predictions - so it could not be preferred on the basis of agreement with experiment. ...

This is not to suggest that Einstein was being disingenuous, because it’s clear that the principles of special relativity actually do emerge very naturally from just the first-order effects ... It seems clear that Einstein’s explanations for how he arrived at special relativity were sincere expressions of his beliefs about the origins of special relativity in his own mind.

No, this cannot be a correct explanation. Here is what Einstein said about M-M in his 1909 paper:
This contradiction was chiefly eliminated by the pioneering work of H. A. Lorentz in 1895. Lorentz showed that if the ether were taken to be at rest and did not participate at all in the motions of matter, no other hypotheses were necessary to arrive at a theory that did justice to almost all of the phenomena. In particular, Fizeau's experiments were explained, as well as the negative results of the above-mentioned attempts to detect the Earth's motion relative to the ether. Only one experiment seemed incompatible with Lorentz's theory, namely, the interference experiment of Michelson and Morley.

According to Lorentz's theory, a uniform translational motion of the apparatus of optical experiments does not affect light's progress, if we ignore second- and higher-order terms of the quotient (speed of apparatus)/(speed of light). The Michelson and Morley interference experiment showed that, in a special case, second-order terms also cannot be detected, although they were expected from the standpoint of the ether-at-rest theory. To include this experiment in the theory, Lorentz and FitzGerald introduced the postulate that all objects, including the parts of Michelson and Morley's experimental set-up, changed their form in a certain way, if they moved relative to the ether.

So by 1909, Einstein understood the importance of M-M to relativity. Lorentz's 1895 theory explained all the first order experiments, but not M-M. That is why Poincare criticized Lorentz, and why Lorentz and Poincare produced theory for all orders in 1904.

Later, Einstein denied being influenced by M-M, or that M-M had any role in the foundation of special relativity, as documented here and here. How could he deny what he said in 1909? No, he did not forget. He was just leaving out the part where he himself had no role in the foundation of special relativity.

In 1905, Einstein reproduced the Lorentz-Poincare theory to all orders, but only mentioned the first-order experiments. This simple fact has puzzled scholars for a century. Why didn't Einstein mention M-M in 1905? How is it that he could write a paper that solves a problem created by M-M, and not even seem to know about M-M? And why did he tell so many inconsistent stories about M-M? Doesn't he know how he came to write his greatest paper?

Philosophers and historians have given various explanations, but I think that it is very simple. Einstein only partially understood the Lorentz-Poincare papers, and did not understand why M-M was so important until sometime between 1907 and 1909. When asked about M-M, he just egotistically said whatever would enhance his reputation the most. After he learned about M-M and while Lorentz and Poincare were alive, that meant admitting that M-M was the crucial experiment. Later, when he could get away with claiming to have invented relativity out of pure thought, he downplayed the role of any experiment.

Einstein did not invent relativity, he got it from Lorentz and Poincare, and he did not understand some aspects of it when he wrote that 1905 paper.

Thursday, Jan 20, 2011
Christian astronomer wins settlement
I mentioned before that an astronomer blackballed for Biblical beliefs. The university has now paid:
The University of Kentucky has settled a religious discrimination lawsuit with C. Martin Gaskell, a former University of Nebraska astronomer whom Kentucky declined to hire as director of its Lexington-based observatory.

After being snubbed for the directorship in 2007, Gaskell alleged that Kentucky officials had passed on him because of his Christian views -- a claim his lawyers say is supported by e-mails sent by members of the search committee, as well as sworn testimony given by the panel's members and other Kentucky faculty. The university will pay the spurned astronomer $125,000 -- roughly the equivalent of the extra money Gaskell would have made if he had held the directorship for two years, according to Francis Marion, a senior trial lawyer for the National Center for Law & Justice, which worked the astronomer's case pro bono. A district court judge had denied motions for summary judgment from both parties. ...

But Paul Z. Myers, an associate professor of biology at the University of Minnesota at Morris (and keeper of the popular blog Pharyngula), said the Kentucky search committee was within its rights to consider how members of the biology faculty would feel about the university hiring to a high-profile position an astronomer whom they considered hostile to their views and methods. “I wouldn’t want to hire a biologist that’s going around on the side saying that the world is flat,” Myers said. “...Collegiality is a significant factor in employment decisions here.”

Myers is a good example of the intolerant narrow-mindedness of the leftst-atheist-evolutionists. They are the only ones who talk about a flat earth, and the only ones who want to censor the views of others at universities.

As pointed out below, many modern physicists devote a lot of energy theorizing about unobservable phenomena. It should not be any more objectionable for Gaskell to theorize about the Bible. The lawsuit turned up this university document:

“It has become clear to me that there is virtually no way Gaskell will be offered the job despite his qualifications that stand far above those of any other applicant,” Troland wrote. “…[T]he real reason we will not offer him this job is because of his religious beliefs in matters that are unrelated to astronomy or to any of the duties that are specified to this position.”
Much goofier and unscientific beliefs are very common, even in astronomy departments.

Wednesday, Jan 19, 2011
Slandering Neanderthals
I like the John Hawks blog because he is one of those academic anthropologists who tries to be scientific. He quotes:
The early theories of human evolution are really very odd, if one stops to look at them. ... here were theories about human evolution that one would think would require some fossil evidence, but in fact there were either so few fossils that they exerted no influence on the theory, or there were no fossils at all. ... Even so, the Neanderthals were described as "uncouth, repellent, unattractive, incapable of fine coordination of the fingers, and certainly belonging to a different species." This is science derived directly from bones -- "uncouth, repellent, and unattractive"? Who felt this way about the skeletons?
Hawks also posts this:
A new paper in PNAS by Erik Trinkaus covers the mortality patterns of old versus young adults in Neandertals, early modern humans in the Levant and early Upper Paleolithic people of Europe [1]. The paper has gotten a lot of attention from the press, including the NY Times: "Life Span of Early Man Same as Neanderthals’". Reporters worldwide (so far, 30 articles in Google News) were relying on a press release issued from Trinkaus' university. ...

NAS members can submit papers to PNAS directly, relying on reviews from peers that they select themselves. The editorial policy of the journal makes it very difficult to reply to these papers, and certainly no reply could gain the attention that this paper has already received.

Lucky for me, I just happen to have a blog for such occasions.

He goes on to demonstrate that Trinkaus deliberately ignored that the same work had been already done five years earlier, with the only excuse being that PNAS had allowed the citation to be omitted.

Wow. I used to think that it was a good think that we had a nationally-sponsored prestigious journal that permitted big-shots to publish with only minimal peer review. NAS members have already proven themselves worthy.

Now I see this. Erik Trinkaus denies that he even has any responsibility to cite the previous (and nearly identical) work. This guy is supposed to be one of our leading experts in missing link human evolution, and he appears to be a plagiarist. That is, he published ideas about Neanderthals that had been previously published by others, he knew that they had been previously published, and he deliberately avoid citing the earlier work.

Tuesday, Jan 18, 2011
Age of Aquarius
Astrologers are upset:
A spokeswoman for the American Federation of Astrologers, Shelley Ackerman, said she'd been swamped with e-mails from worried clients. She advises them not to overreact.

"This doesn't change your chart at all. I'm not about to use it," she said. "Every few years a story like this comes out and scares the living daylights out of everyone, but it'll go away as quickly as it came."

That should make one demographic pretty happy—people who have zodiac tattoos.

Sam Bielinski, who owns Atomic Tattoos in Milwaukee, estimated that one in five customers asks for a zodiac tattoo, making the art among the most popular requests.

The news is that the signs of the Zodiac are changing. You can find your true sign there.

The precession of the equinoxes was discovered by by the Greek Hipparchus in 130 BC. Our view of the stars is changing on a 26,000 year cycle. We are now entering the Age of Aquarius, as was popularized by the New Agers in the 1960s.

I am not sure who is worse, the astrologers who are not even following the correct stars, or the "majority of scholars" who say that science was invented in the Scientific revolution of 1543. How do they think that the ancient Greeks figured out a 26K-year star cycle before science had been invented? The ancient astronomers understood science better than the modern philosophers.

Update: I watch Comedy Channel's Jon Stewart cover this issue, and he was making fun of other programs for playing the song, "Age of Aquarius". He obviously did not understand the point of the story at all, because he did not see how the song related. He said that they should have been able to think of other songs to play. However, it is the only song about the precession of the equinoxes, as far as I know.

Monday, Jan 17, 2011
Darkness on the Edge of the Universe
I previously criticized a NY Times op-ed by physicist Brian Greene about string theory. He mentioned Einstein 11 times.

Greene now has another NY Times op-ed, and he again mentions Einstein 11 times. The points to these articles don't really have much to do with Einstein, except that any wacky idea has to be rationalized as being something that Einstein would have wanted somehow. Greene says:

Were Einstein still with us, his discovery that repulsive gravity lies within nature’s repertoire would have likely garnered him another Nobel prize.
No, Einstein did not even get a Nobel prize for relativity, and he did not even believe in the expansion of the universe, so he would surely not get one for the discovery that the expansion of the universe is accelerating.

It is not really correct to credit Hubble for the expansion of the universe, as I have noted here and here.

Greene's main point seems to be to plug his new book, The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos, and argue for the study of unobservable physics. A review says:

The book devotes considerable time to the critical question of whether the universe is finite or infinite in size, something which has profound scientific and philosophical implications. ...

Greene discusses all of the current hot topics in cosmology: brane-worlds, the multiverse, the holographic universe, unseen parallel worlds in dimensions separated by millimeters, our universe as a super-advanced computer program, the essentially hidden nature of reality.

No, I do not believe that unobservable phenomena have any profound scientific or philosophical implications. I guess that makes me a positivist.

Greene's stuff just seems like a religion to me. He has his idol worship of Einstein, his belief system about how the universe ought to be, his grand declarations about unobservables that have to be taken on faith, and some occasion facts thrown in to make himself sound scientific.

A 2008 NY Times article on this subject of dark energy mentions Einstein 14 times.

Greene's attitude is exactly what is wrong with physics. It is scientific to observe the acceleration of the expansion of the universe. But he leave science when he starts talking about things that can never be observed or tested.

Lubos Motl already has an opinion about Greene's new book:

The third book will be dedicated to cosmology - especially to the multiverse and eternal inflation. While many ideas attached to this topic are demonstrably wrong while others are arbitrary i.e. probably wrong and the anthropic people are spreading lots of defeatist emotions, I am confident that the new book will be very good and will present a convincing picture. ...

After all, the main "critic" who is the informal king of this whole aggressive crackpot movement is employed as a useless shameless parasite ...

In other words, the book is wrong but he will launch an ad hominem attack against anyone who says so. Woit responds here.

Update: Here is an NPR interview.

Sunday, Jan 16, 2011
Coriolis effect found 184 years before Coriolis
New Scientist magazine reports:
While trying to prove that the Earth is fixed in space, an Italian priest described something similar to the Coriolis effect – the slight deflection experienced by objects moving in a rotating frame of reference – nearly 200 years before mathematician Gustave Coriolis worked it out in 1835.

In 1651, Giovanni Riccioli published 77 arguments against the idea that the apparent motions of the heavens were due to the Earth's rotation and orbit around the sun. These included claims that Hell would be in the wrong place, aesthetic concerns over proportion and harmony, and more scientific approaches. ...

Riccioli argued that if the Earth were rotating, the speed of the ground at different latitudes would be different, so cannon shots fired due north or south from near the equator would show a slight deflection east or west as the ground moved beneath them during flight. No such effect was known at the time, so he wrongly concluded that the Earth must be stationary.

The paper is The Coriolis Effect Apparently Described.

This was indeed a legitimate reason for doubting the motion of the Earth. Even in World War I, British artillery gunmen missed targets because they failed to compensate for the Earth's motion and the Coriolis effect.

The best scientists are not the ones whose hunches turn out to be correct. They are the ones who properly analyze the available data, and formulate reasonable hypotheses. Riccioli should be credited for figuring out a way to test for the motion of the Earth. My guess is that no one will want to credit him because he was on the wrong side of the Galileo debate.

Saturday, Jan 15, 2011
Getting energy from relativity
The Economist magazine credits Einstein for ordinary lead-acid car batteries:
Without the magic of relativity, a car’s starter motor would not turn

ALBERT EINSTEIN never learned to drive. He thought it too complicated and in any case he preferred walking. What he did not know -— indeed, what no one knew until now -— is that most cars would not work without the intervention of one of his most famous discoveries, the special theory of relativity.

Special relativity deals with physical extremes. It governs the behaviour of subatomic particles zipping around powerful accelerators at close to the speed of light and its equations foresaw the conversion of mass into energy in nuclear bombs. A paper in Physical Review Letters, however, reports a more prosaic application. According to the calculations of Pekka Pyykko of the University of Helsinki and his colleagues, the familiar lead-acid battery that sits under a car’s bonnet and provides the oomph to get the engine turning owes its ability to do so to special relativity. ...

As the one Einsteinian equation everybody can quote, E=mc2, predicts, the kinetic energy of this extra velocity (ie, a higher E) makes lead’s electrons more massive than tin’s (increasing m) -— and heavy electrons tend to fall in and circle the nucleus in more tightly bound orbitals. ...

And so it turned out. Dr Pyykko and his colleagues made two versions of a computer model of how lead-acid batteries work. One incorporated their newly hypothesised relativistic effects while the other did not. The relativistic simulations predicted the voltages measured in real lead-acid batteries with great precision. When relativity was excluded, roughly 80% of that voltage disappeared.

So E = mc2 explains atomic bombs and car batteries? A down-to-earth application of relativity has finally been found?

Actually, I think that it is pretty crazy to suggest that there is any such thing as a non-relativistic electron theory. At one time, the term "electron theory" was pretty much synonymous with "relativity theory". Without the magic of relativity, no electrical device of any kind would function.

The electron had been conjectured for a long time, but the first really good evidence for it was discovered in 1896. At that time, the dominant theories for it were Maxwell's equations and Lorentz's electron theory, and they were fully relativitistic. A non-relativistic quantum theory for it was developed in 1926, but it was made relativistic in 1928 with the Dirac equation. This new research is based on that equation, and the chemistry derived from it.

The paper is Relativity and the lead-acid battery. I guess that they have an argument that a particular non-relativistic approximation does not work when showing that lead works better than tin in batteries. It says that the 1928 theory gives a good explanation, and the 1926 theory does not. Einstein had nothing to do with any of this, as far as I can see. He lived until 1955 and wrote many papers on the subject all his life, but as far as I can tell, he never showed any understanding of that 1928 theory. He repeatedly proposed alternatives that did not work and did not solve the problems that were already solved in 1928.

Friday, Jan 14, 2011
How Lorentz credited Einstein
Some people say that Lorentz deserves no credit for special relativity because he credited Einstein.

Lorentz's 1904 paper was published in English, and a German translation was published in 1913. Lorentz added a footnote 11 to the translation crediting Einstein for (1) correcting the transformation of charge density, and (2) expressing the relativity principle as a general strict and exactly valid law. This is used to argue that Einstein is the true discoverer of special relativity.

Poincare had just died in 1912, but it is strange that Lorentz did not credit him on both of these points. Lorentz wrote that 1904 paper partially in response to Poincare expressing that principle. Lorentz says so in the paper. And soon after that paper appeared, Poincare wrote to Lorentz praising the paper, but telling him that the transformation formula for charge density was incorrect.

It is to Einstein's credit that he got the charge density transformation correct in 1905, but he also got the mass transformation wrong, and Lorentz had published the correct formula in 1904. On balance, Einstein was no better, and he was a year later.

Poincare got all of the formulas correct, and did them before Einstein.

Lorentz's 1913 footnote is inadequate, but the next year he published a paper crediting Poincare over Einstein, as explained here.

Lorentz was a generous and honorable man. No one ever said a bad thing about him personally. He could have demanded credit for special relativity, but he did not. He credited FitzGerald for the contraction, even tho a letter from FitzGerald said that no credit was necessary. He credited Einstein for the charge density transformation, even tho he certainly could have used the opportunity to gloat that Einstein got the mass formula wrong. Einstein was never so generous with the credit.

The right way to judge the scientific contributions of Lorentz and Einstein is by the content of their physics papers, not what they said about each other. Only one of them was honest.

Tuesday, Jan 11, 2011
Failing to resolve a dispute
I mentioned that math is unique because it resolves all of its disputes, and that anthropologists are not sure that they even want to be considered scientists. Here is an example of a failure to resolve a dispute:
So which is it? The Mead vs. Freeman controversy doesn’t look like it has much room for an in-between answer. Either Samoan teenagers of that time were free and easy with their sexuality or they were hemmed in by a social system that strongly repressed pre-marital sexual activity.

Anthropology as a science ought to be able to answer such a straightforward question. It says something about anthropology that the issue is still controversial 27 years after Freeman declared that Mead was provably wrong.

Maybe fields like anthropology should split into those who are scientific, and those who don't even want to be.

Monday, Jan 10, 2011
How Einstein makes $20M per year
The CBS TV 60 Minutes news show reports:
No other agent in the world represents more famous people than Mark Roesler: stroll down Hollywood Boulevard with him and he'll point out 62 of his clients who are immortalized with their own stars on the "Walk of Fame," stars such as Errol Flynn, Gloria Swanson, and Marilyn Monroe.

His client list includes some of the biggest names of the 20th century: actresses like Ingrid Bergman and Bette Davis, baseball legends Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, and singer Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday. ...

The photo archive Corbis, owned by Bill Gates, has branched out from photo and film rights to representing the deceased people who appear in them.

The agency, called "Greenlight," was run until recently by Martin Cribbs. ...

And Cribbs has a name for his deceased clients: "delebs," as in dead celebrities.

He said their biggest "deleb" is Albert Einstein. "He's our number one man."

"Bigger than Marilyn Monroe and James Dean?" Kroft asked.

"Huge, huge, the biggest in the world. Albert Einstein was Time Magazine's person of the century," Cribbs said.

Every 12-year-old in the world recognizes Einstein's picture and instantly equates it with genius. Einstein's beneficiary, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem has earned millions and millions of dollars from Baby Einstein videos and Nike commercials featuring Kobe Bryant, executing a genius move as the late Princeton professor.

I don't know why this same info is on a Sept. 2009 page. Maybe last night's show was a rerun.

Info on Cribbs is here. The UK Guardian says Einstein makes $20M per year.

This story says:

Polsky Films has licensed film rights to the life story of Albert Einstein and signed biographer Walter Isaacson ("Einstein: His Life and the Universe") as a consultant.

Banner announced the deal Monday with Corbis, which reps the Hebrew U. of Jerusalem, the beneficiary of Einstein's intellectual estate and owner of Einstein's rights. Pact provides for consultation with experts from the Albert Einstein Archives of the Hebrew U., which holds the late scientist's personal and professional papers.

Polsky Films, headed by Alan and Gabe Polsky, plan to focus on Einstein's personal triumphs in understanding space and time along with his struggles, such as being forced to flee Nazi Germany. Although Einstein became a global icon and was recognized as Time's "Person of the Century" in 2000, he was reluctant to acknowledge his own legend and once quipped, "I am no Einstein."

It does not mention that Isaacson was the Time editor chiefly responsible for Einstein being named "Person of the Century". And now Isaacson and the owners of Einstein's name are making a lot of money off of it.

Promoting Einstein is big business. The next time you hear someone say how great Einstein was, remember that he might be brainwashed by profiteers.

Sunday, Jan 09, 2011
The Scholar and the Caliph
Physics World has just published this:
In 11th-century Egypt a man named Ibn al-Haytham became the stuff of science legend. Jennifer Ouellette tells his story

N.B. This is a fictionalized account – see author's note below ...

Never again will the Scholar blindly accept assertions made by the Ancients, however revered; he vows to test and question everything. ... He tilts his head back, raises his palms, and embraces the light.

Weird. I guess that she is trying to portray him as some sort of Moslem Galileo. Unusual for a physics journal to publish a fictionalized story.

Saturday, Jan 08, 2011
Lorentz accepted relativity
Kevin Brown writes:
Still, it's clear that neither Lorentz nor Poincare ever whole-heartedly embraced special relativity, for reasons that may best be summed up by Lorentz when he wrote
Yet, I think, something may also be claimed in favor of the form in which I have presented the theory. I cannot but regard the aether, which can be the seat of an electromagnetic field with its energy and its vibrations, as endowed with a certain degree of substantiality, however different it may be from all ordinary matter. In this line of thought it seems natural not to assume at starting that it can never make any difference whether a body moves through the aether or not, and to measure distances and lengths of time by means of rods and clocks having a fixed position relatively to the aether.
This passage implies that Lorentz's rationale for retaining a substantial aether and attempting to refer all measurements to the rest frame of this aether (without, of course, specifying how that is to be done) was the belief that it might, after all, make some difference whether a body moves through the aether or not. In other words, we should continue to look for physical effects that violate Lorentz invariance (by which we now mean local Lorentz invariance), both in new physical forces and at higher orders of v/c for the known forces.
I do not agree that this quote implies that Lorentz did not accept special relativity.

A famous physicist, J.S. Bell, wrote a 1976 article saying that Lorentz's approach is a better way to teach relativity. He was not refusing to accept relativity.

(Well, actually I do think that Bell was not fully accepting relativity. But my reasons have nothing to do with the aether or the above criticism of Lorentz. They have to do with quantum field theory and nonlocality, where Bell had some funny ideas.)

Likewise, Lorentz is only describing how he "presented the theory". He is not saying that he presented a different theory, or that he did not believe in the theory. His simply presented the ideas in a different order. The above quote is from 1906 lectures at Columbia University that were later published. The context is instructive. In the previous paragraph, he says, "the chief difference being that Einstein simply postulates what we have deduced". See Lorentz's The Theory of Electrons (1916) or my earlier quote. [p.230, sec.194] Those are not the words of someone who is rejecting Einstein's theory. Lorentz is clearly agreeing with what Einstein postulated, and only saying that another presentation also has merit.

In spite of Bell's opinion, Einstein is widely credited with presenting relativity more clearly and simply than Lorentz. Many eminent physicists have said so. But the argument is meaningless unless you recognize the fact that Einstein simply postulated what Lorentz and Poincare had deduced from more elementary premises several years earlier. I show below where Einstein assumed that postulate.

Any comparison of electromagnetic relativity should recognize the fact that Lorentz proved his theorem of the corresponding states, Poincare proved covariance of Maxwell's equations (a stronger statement), and Einstein merely assumed Lorentz's theorem as a postulate, and did not prove covariance. Once you grasp these essential points, it is difficult to see how Einstein could have said anything conceptually superior to Lorentz or Poincare. Einstein did not reject any part of what Lorentz said when assuming his theorem as a postulate.

I have read many books and articles on the history of relativity, but I have yet to see anyone address this essential difference between the works of Lorentz, Poincare, and Einstein. The above Lorentz quote alludes to this difference. If you look at what they said about each other, you have to find that quote. It only has one meaning, and it is at the heart of what special relativity means. Any book that ignores it is ignoring the essential facts.

Gerald James Holton (a big Einstein fan) wrote a book on Thematic origins of scientific thought: Kepler to Einstein, and complains of two mistakes in Lorentz's 1904 paper. The first involved the transformation of charge density, as found by Poincare.

The recognition of a second flaw in Lorentz's work, one that now strikes us as even more serious than the first, is implied in another typically generous comment by Lorentz in 1909 in The Theory of Electrons.
The comment is the one about how "Einstein simply postulates". It is not Lorentz's flaw, it is Einstein's!

Thursday, Jan 06, 2011
Common misconceptions exposed
The current xkcd comic recommends this list of common misconceptions. Most of these are good examples, such as the Myth of the Flat Earth, which is mentioned 3 times. I have heard people argue for many of these demonstrably false beliefs. Most of the items are informative, and some of them are silly.

The items on evolution are a little strange:

The word theory in the theory of evolution does not imply doubt from mainstream science regarding its validity; ... Evolution is a theory in the same sense as germ theory, gravitation, or plate tectonics.

Evolution does not claim humans evolved from monkeys

Evolution is not a progression from inferior to superior organisms

The rigid hypothesis -> experiment -> conclusion model of science is ... not the only way to perform genuine science.

Maybe these are simplifications, but they are not wrong.

Nobody says that the word theory implies doubt. What they say is that a scientific theory is subject to testing and verification, and they would say the same about germ theory or gravitation.

Evolution does teach that human evolved from animals that looked like monkeys. And some of us do believe that it was progress to something superior.

The model of the scientific method is very useful and essentially correct. The main dissent comes from those who promote ideas that are not testable. There are philosophers who deny objective reality, and argue that science changes by irrational Kuhnian paradigm shifts. They like to deny the scientific method, but it is still a useful description of what real scientists do. Some of those philosophers cite Einstein, and that is one reason I blog about what Einstein really did. For example, Wikipedia explains:

Critics of Popper, chiefly Thomas Kuhn, Paul Feyerabend and Imre Lakatos, rejected the idea that there exists a single method that applies to all science and could account for its progress. ... As Kuhn put it, "a new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it."
Kuhn thought that we believe Einstein's relativity because the opponents died. His argument is absurd, as I show on this blog. He also used an evolution analogy to argue that science does not make progress. He has made a monkey out of all of us!

Update: The attention from the comic caused this section to be deleted:

Science and religion

* No scientist ever lost his life because of his scientific views, at least to the knowledge of historians of science.[citation needed] It is true that the Italian Inquisition incinerated the sixteenth century Copernican Giordano Bruno, but it happened also for his heretical theological notions,[178][179] such as his denial of the divinity of Christ.[180]

* Claims that "the medieval Christian church suppressed the growth of science"[citation needed], or that "the rise of Christianity was responsible for the demise of ancient science"[citation needed] are widely popular[citation needed] myths[citation needed] that still pass as historical truth[citation needed], although they are not supported by historical research[citation needed]. Assertions that "the Church prohibited autopsies and dissections", and that "the medieval Christians thought that the world was flat" are also common errors.[178][181]

* The popular notion[citation needed] that science and religion "had been in a state of constant conflict" was spread in the 19th century, but is rejected by current scholarship on the history of science.[182] For instance, studies have shown that Christianity has often nurtured and encouraged scientific endeavor, while at other times it coexists with new scientific views without either tension or attempts at harmonization. Instances of conflict are actually the exception, not the rule.[183]

These are indeed common misconceptions.

Update: (Feb. 9) The evolution section has gotten worse, and has drawn this comment:

I contest almost everything what is described as "common misconceptions" in evolution. Most of these are definitely not common misconceptions but rather religious-like beliefs by certain groups in the U.S. only.

Tuesday, Jan 04, 2011
Zahar on Einstein
Philosopher Élie Zahar wrote Why did Einstein's Programme supersede Lorentz's? (II), saying: (pdf)
Einstein asserted that all physical laws are Lorentz-covariant whereas Lorentz restricted his attention largely to electrodynamics (and did not fully establish the covariance of Maxwell's equations). [p.237,fn.5]

Einstein based his heuristic on the requirement that all physical laws should be Lorentz-covariant; i.e. all theories should assume the same form, whether they are expressed in terms of x, y, z, t or in terms of x', y', z', t'. [p.243]

No, this is not correct. Lorentz covariance is not just the idea the equations have the same form. The equations have to be the same as a consequence of applying the Lorentz transformations to the spacetime variables.

This concept was invented by Henri Poincaré in 1905, popularly explained by Hermann Minkowski in 1908, and has been in all the better relativity textbooks ever since. It was not known to either Hendrik Lorentz or Albert Einstein in 1905, and they showed no sign of understanding it until many years afterwards. They just had the simpler notion of the theories having equations of the same form. Lorentz proved that Maxwell's equations had the same in 1895 (to first order) and 1904 (to all orders). Einstein just assumed this in 1905, without crediting Lorentz, and did not even claim anything stronger.

It is also not true that Lorentz restricts his theory to electromagnetism. In sec. 91 of his 1895 Versuch paper, he applies his transformations to molecular forces even if they are not electromagnetic. In Considerations on Gravitation (1900), he tries to apply them to gravity.

Meanwhile, Einstein's famous 1905 paper only considers electromagnetism, and not gravity or any other forces. Here is how he states his assumption of Lorentz's theorem:

They suggest rather that, as has already been shown to the first order of small quantities, the same laws of electrodynamics and optics will be valid for all frames of reference for which the equations of mechanics hold good. We will raise this conjecture (the purport of which will hereafter be called the ``Principle of Relativity'') to the status of a postulate, ...
Zahar goes on with a lot of nonsense about relativity that is too silly to refute. But the following is revealing because he actually quotes what Lorentz said about the aether in 1895:
Hence, if he was to assume that the ether was anything like an ordinary substance, he would have also to suppose that it was in constant motion. But this contradicted his original assumption of an ether at rest. He concluded 'that the ether is undoubtedly widely different from all ordinary matter' and that 'we may make the assumption that this medium, which is the receptacle of electromagnetic energy and the vehicle for many and perhaps for all the forces acting on ponderable matter, is, by its very nature, never put in motion, that it has neither velocity nor acceleration, so that we have no reason to speak of its mass or of forces that are applied to it'. In other words Lorentz had reached a point where the behaviour of the electromagnetic field dictated what properties the ether ought to have, no matter how implausible these properties might be: for example the ether was to be both motionless and acted upon by non-zero net forces. The ether was nothing but the carrier of the field. This involved a reversal of the heuristic of Lorentz's programme instead of learning something about the field from a general theory of the ether he could only get at the ether post hoc by way of the field. [p.242-243]
It is often said that Lorentz assumed that the aether was at rest. But what Lorentz really meant was that (1) the term aether is a way of expressing the concept that space is a receptacle for electromagnetic fields, and (2) there is no aether velocity.

About 30 years later, Einstein adopted a view of the aether that was nearly identical to Lorentz's. See Einstein's views on the aether.

Zahar later wrote Poincaré's Philosophy. From Conventionalism to Phenomenology (2001), where he says that Poincare discovered relativity independently from Einstein. Perhaps he did not know about Poincare when he wrote the above article on Lorentz and Einstein.

Needless to say, Zahar's question is bogus. Einstein's special relativity programme never did supersede Lorentz's. As Zahar admits, they were functionally equivalent, and his alleged differences are mostly from his misunderstandings about covariance.

Part I of Zahar's paper (pdf) concludes:

What I have established so far is that one cannot explain the success of Einstein's Special Relativity Theory in terms of the demerits of Lorentz's rival theory. Lorentz's programme was non ad hoc in all senses of the term. The adjustments to the theory in the 1890's were not made in the light of Michelson's result and thus were not ad hoc relative to it. The adjustments were both theoretically and empirically progressive and they were made in conformity to the heuristic of the classical programme. Thus if the eventual acceptance by the scientific community of Einstein's theory in preference to Lorentz's was rational (i.e. if there are acceptable general criteria according to which Einstein's theory was objectively better than Lorentz's), that rationality must lie in the extra merits of Einstein's theory. I now turn to the Einsteinian programme and a consideration of its merits. Let me say that I shall argue that the acceptance of Einstein's programme was rational, although, given that Lorentz's and Einstein's theories were anno 1905 'observationally equivalent', my claim may well appear doubtful at this stage.
Much of the paper is concerned with the logical relation between the Lorentz-FitzGerald Contraction and the Molecular Forces Hypothesis "which can be loosely formulated as follows: 'Molecular forces behave and transform like electromagnetic forces.'" Zahar's main concern seems to be that an idea is not really scientific if it is ad hoc.

I think that it is a little bizarre for philosophers to analyze a great scientific discovery, and claim that it is not scientific for some obscure philosophical argument about whether it was properly inductivist. If it was not, then they should revise their philosophical definitions.

Monday, Jan 03, 2011
Third elephant species named
Evolutionist Jerry Coyne says that a new species of elephant was named for political reasons, not scientific reasons:
But biologists often have to hide this motivation: we must pretend that we’re saving populations because we need to retain genetic diversity, or prevent inbreeding, or save rare alleles that could bring back a larger species.  We can never divulge the real reason why many of us want to save things like the elephants—because they have inherent value as organisms, and because they’re fascinating. That’s why many conservation biologists are busy worrying about the species and subspecies status of plants and animals: they secretly treasure them for their own qualities, but have to make a different case to the government and public about why they need to be saved.

This isn’t just a theory of mine: I’ve talked to many conservation biologists who admit that the real reason they want to save species differs from the rationale they must offer the public and the government. ...

What a shame, though, that we have to manipulate biological nomenclature, and dissimulate about our motivations, to keep other species alive! Shouldn’t we name species based on biology rather than politics?

Unfortunately, this is a problem with a lot of scientists. They will support the global warming alarmists because they think it will force energy resource conservation. They will promote evolution because they think it will undermine religion. They will support embryonic stem cell research because they opposed Bush policies. They will support all sorts of other causes that are perceived to be in alignment with environmentalism. I would prefer if they separated their science from their politics.