25 July 2007

Mileva Einstein-Maric (again)

I now found the time to read the four pages of comments I received a year ago in relation to my text on Mileva Einstein-Maric. I made some minor amendments to the text and changed one word in lecture 28 but could not find much argument why my profile of Mileva Einstein-Maric is unacceptable. I'll upload the changes tomorrow when I get to my office at the university.

23 July 2007

The Ptolemaic system

Jon Anderson from Western Michigan University pointed out in an email already five months ago that I had an error in the discussion of epicycles in lecture 8. I wrongly attributed the idea of epicycles to Eudoxus of Cnidus, while it is due to Apollonius of Perga.

Now that my last and final paper in oceanography has been accepted and is with the printer I can finally spend more time again on Science, Civilization and Society. I fixed the error and added a brief personal page for Apollonius. I'll upload the new pages next Thursday (26/7) when I get to the office again. (The university firewall does not allow me to upload pages from home.)

09 July 2007

The precautionary principle

My support for the precautionary principle received a rather caustic email response from the CEO of the Institute for Trade, Standards and Sustainable Development (ITSSD), a " US-based nonprofit and nonpartisan legal research and advocacy organization". To my surprise it claimed that I compare "economic/democratic capitalism" with my "preferred French paternalistic socialist model of governance". This was the first time anyone told me that France is a socialist country.

The email can hardly be described as a contribution to scientific debate. It was the type of opinion piece that now tends to replace hard factual information in the newspapers: I was accused to promote "partisan science ideology of socialistic paternalism and utopianism, which is symptomatic of the religious faith-based orthodoxy of precautionary principle advocates".

How can one react to such stuff? I tried to explain that "I teach my students to base every judgement on facts. In my lecture notes I try to show the development of science, civilization and society based on facts of history. I may not have achieved that in every aspect, but I hope that people at least see that I tried." But that did not satisfy the ITSSD, who declared that I do not understand "the legal and economic dimensions surrounding these issues".

I think the real value of the emails from the ITSSD is the demonstration of the hardline ideological character of those who oppose the European initiative to give the precautionary principle more prominence in the administration of industrial products such as new chemicals. I am sure that the "nonpartisan" ITSSD does not speak for the scientists of the USA, but it surely reflects government attitude. If you want to see this kind of ideology in action, see my "Postscriptum" at the end of lecture 35.

Matthias Tomczak

Albert Einstein and Mileva Einstein-Maric

As promised in my welcome note I post a summary of some email correspondence I received before I set up this blog.

One correspondence concerned the description of Mileva Einstein-Maric's role in the development of Einstein's ideas about relativity. The correspondent said that I gave Mileva Einstein-Maric too much credit and painted her academic achievements in a glowing light.

I only became aware of the issue of Mileva Einstein-Maric's assumed contributions to Albert Einstein's work through articles in New Scientist and a television program. When I followed the stories up it became soon clear that the issue has a strong polarizing effect and that some people think that she is a forgotten genius, while others insist that this is all rumour and has no base in fact.

I am not in a position to follow this up with research of my own. I intend to go through my text again during the next few weeks and check my statements carefully. But I can says this: In the context of Science, Civilization and Society it is of no consequence whether Mileva had comparable or even better marks than Albert at university or whether her marks were rather average. The important point of her life is that she was a woman who was denied her chance to an academic career, which she could have had, had she been born a man. Her life is thus an illuminating example for the situation of women in science at the beginning of the 20th century.

How much Einstein himself contributed to the suppression of Mileva Maric's career I am in no position to judge, and I do not want to dwell on that aspect very long. His donation of his Nobel prize money to his divorced wife could have been motivated by a bad conscience, it could also have been motivated by generosity. What makes one uneasy about young Einstein's attitude to other people's work is the total lack of references in his seminal paper, which was after all not created out of thin air but was the culmination of developments to which a few others had made major contributions - maybe Milena Maric was one of them, maybe not.

Matthias Tomczak

08 July 2007


After two years of teaching "Science, Civilization and Society" at Flinders University in South Australia and three years of web presence of the accompanying lecture notes it is time to give students and other users the opportunity to interact with me and others. So I open this blog for comments and discussion.

I have received the occasional comment and criticism via email in the past. I cannot publish the original emails here, because they were not sent to me with the understanding that they would become public. But I intend to summarize their essence and my responses tomorrow. Until then: Welcome, and let us start a constructive dialogue.

Matthias Tomczak
School of Chemistry, Physics and Earth Sciences
Flinders University of South Australia.