Saturday 27 August 2011

How Einstein Ruined Physics

From Amazon

I've had to do something we all find uncomfortable, I've had to change my mind because I've just finished reading a book by Roger Schlafly called How Einstein Ruined Physics. A small crumb of comfort is that maybe I'm merely downgrading some assumptions, rather as Moody's downgraded Greek debt. 

If you are interested in the history of science, especially physics and are comfortable in going against the consensus, then this is the book for you. I read the Kindle version, so my take on the book is based on that rather than the paperback, although presumably there is no difference.

The main theme of the book is how the progress of physics has given way to a great deal of empty speculation with little or no experimental confirmation. String theory for example. Much of the blame is laid at Einstein's door, with his huge ego, his apparent lack of interest in experimental confirmation and his unwillingness to acknowledge the work of others. A formidable case in built against him, based on meticulous research into how physics actually developed from the time of the ancient Greeks to the present day.

The book also criticizes the 'paradigm changes' of Thomas Khun, claiming that when they are closely examined, the Copernican revolution and Einstein's supposed relativity revolution were nothing of the kind. Copernicus did not devise a significant improvement over Ptolemy and Einstein's 1905 paper on special relativity was only a minor summary of physics already well-known to those in the field. He was not even the first person to derive the famous 'Einstein' equation E=mc2. That was Olinto De Pretto who published it in 1903 but, as Schlafly is careful to point out, without a relativistic derivation.

I can't present the book in any detail within a single blog post, but I can say what I personally think of it. I  found it easy going in spite of the fact that I am not a physicist. A non-scientist may find it harder going, I'm not sure, but the book does try to be as non-technical as one can be in covering such a technical subject. I don't have the background to comment on it in detail, but it does chime with what I already knew, the value I place on experimental confirmation and my incremental view of genuine scientific progress.

I enjoyed it and I'm pleased to have read it. Worth every penny. 


David Duff said...

Thank you for that - sighs - hey-ho, another one to add to the teetering pile of 'waiting-to-be-read' books looming over me!

A K Haart said...

DD - I know what you mean. What with reading and blogging, where does all the time go?

Mark Wadsworth said...

I'll take your word for it, I had suspected as much anyway.

I've seen enough science programmes to know that the people credited with a certain breakthrough (relativity, DNA, evolution, solar-centricism, whatever) were usually just the first people to get an existing but little-known idea publicised, put into practice or proven experimentally.

Roger said...

Yes, the Kindle edition is the same as the paperback. Thanks for the positive review!

A K Haart said...

MW - yes, so often a wannabe scientific celebrity pops up to hog the credit.

R - no problem, I enjoyed the book.

rogerh said...

Ideas are always 'in the wind' waiting for sensitive noses and a propitious time.

A lot of people were sniffing round 'relativity' in the early 1900s.

The thing to do is to spot 'something funny going on' and be lucky enough find a jewel among the dross and to be believed when you have found it.

For another mis-allocation check out Dr Julius Lilienfeld.

A K Haart said...

R - interesting - I suppose at least Dr Lilienfeld was in a position to patent his ideas even if he didn't get the kudos.

James Higham said...

To what will you downgrade him?

A K Haart said...

JH - a mortal.