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.

9 comments:

Allen Esterson said...

I note that you have removed the PBS “Einstein’s Wife” reference from the Mileva Maric webpage, presumably because the original sponsors of the film, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, have now disowned it. Four Einstein specialists in the States have deplored the film, respectively, for its “blatant perversion of the role of Mileva Marić”, its “distasteful manipulation of facts”, and the “whole series of tangled falsehoods” that it contains. Another, the Caltech historian Diana K. Buchwald, General Editor & Director of The Einstein Papers Project, writes that “this PBS website needs to come down completely", and that “no cosmetic revisions will save what from the outset was a deeply flawed enterprise...“
So this leaves your only reference a brief, uninformed article by a journalist in 1990, hardly a fit basis for the contentions you make. For instance:

>In recent years evidence found in personal letters between Einstein and his first wife Mileva Einstein-Maric suggests that Einstein developed the core ideas of relativity in close collaboration with her <

Please cite the evidence for this statement. There is in fact no such evidence. For an informed view, please read:
http://tinyurl.com/23ju97

>a vivid demonstration of the discrimination under which women scientists<

Please state precisely what discrimination Maric suffered in this context.

Please state what evidence you have that *Maric* was "disappointed with the standard of physics teaching" at Zurich Polytechnic. (All the initiative for reading extra-curricular works together came from Einstein.)

>Throughout the university period Mileva Maric had acceptable marks, but Einstein graduated, and Maric did not.<

Maric failed the final diploma examination because she obtained a very poor grade in the mathematics component, theory of functions – grade 5 on a scale 1-12. No other student in their group scored less than 11 in that component. Einstein graduated because he passed the exam, having obtained higher grades than Maric in most of the topics examined.

>Some letters suggest that Mileva Einstein-Maric made a significant contribution to the development of the ideas that led to his most important publication <

Please cite the evidence which supports your contention here. (There is no such evidence.)

> Mileva Einstein-Maric was denied a life of fulfilment as a scientist.<

How was Maric so denied? She failed her diploma examinations in 1900. Even before this her close friend Helene Kaufler reported in a letter that Maric had turned down the provisional offer of an assistantship in the Zurich Polytechnic physics department, preferring instead to apply for a post as librarian.

>Academia had no place for a woman from a part of Europe that made her "unpresentable" to the upper classes of Swiss, German or Jewish society.<

Frankly, *in relation to Maric* in Switzerland there is not a scrap of evidence for this statement.

May I suggest those interested in this topic read the informed views of John Stachel in *Einstein From B to Z* (2002), pp. 26-38, 39-55. See also my detailed critiques of the writings of all the main proponents of the “collaboration” claims at
http://www.esterson.org

Allen Esterson said...

In my previous comment I mentioned “four Einstein specialists” in a sentence that only quoted three. The following is a comment by Alberto A. Martinez, research fellow at the Center for Einstein Studies, Boston University:

“Regarding the PBS program [that Matthias originally cited as his source for the information on his Maric webpage], I’ll say that for me it is too astonishing that there can exist such a confluence of mistakes, idiotic comments, and misrepresentations in a single place.”

See Martinez’s important article “Handling evidence in history: the case of Einstein’s wife”, published in the UK “School Science Review”:
http://tinyurl.com/2476pq

Matthias Tomczak said...

These are essentially the same comments I received from Allen Esterson a year ago. Having a blog for the lecture notes now allows us to discuss them in public.

"Please cite the evidence ..." "Please state what evidence you have ..." – if it would only be as easy as that. Evidence is always helpful, but it is not always sufficient to find the truth.

Allen says that "Maric failed the final diploma examination because she obtained a very poor grade in the mathematics component." What can we learn from that? What I do know is that I failed geology at university and was among the students with the very lowest grades in mathematics, but I went on to become Professor of Oceanography and have published 104 refereed papers to date. Obviously, failing an exam does not mean that you cannot become a scientist.

It is clear – at least to me – that Allen's painstaking investigation of "evidence" represents one end of the spectrum of opinions about the Maric case. But I do not understand what he wants to achieve with it. Does he claim that Mileva Einstein-Maric was not interested in becoming a scientist? That she was not intelligent enough? Or does he want to paint Einstein as the ultimate genius without human faults? Buying your way out of looking after your children is not very nice behaviour. We all have our faults, and I would not know what I would have done in a similar situation, but that cannot serve as an excuse for others.

Maybe the discussion would gain in purpose and clarity if Allen says what he thinks about Mileva Maric. She chose to go to Heidelberg, where she was not allowed to graduate, because she had a very strong interest in modern physics. She tried to pass exams under considerable stress facing a pregnancy, and failed. So she took the standard option for a daughter from a good bourgeois family and turned to teaching. This is the "evidence". Does it prove that Mileva Einstein-Maric was not interested in a career as a scientist? I think not. That question can only be answered through a study of her life in the context of the social conditions of women of her time.

As I said before, Mileva Einstein-Maric provides an illuminating example for the conditions of women at the beginning of the 20th century. I do not take positions in the arguments about her role in Einstein's major work; maybe she contributed much, maybe she only helped him with his mathematics. She was clearly not just the companion who kept his place tidy, cooked his meals and kept visitors at bay. Her keen interest in physics is beyond doubt, yet she ended up a housewife looking after a sick child.

Allen Esterson said...

Evidence is not just “helpful”, it is *essential* as a basis for taking a rational position on an issue, otherwise people believe, and convey to others, more or less what they want to believe.

On the matter of exam results, Matthias is shifting the goalposts. I was responding to something he wrote specifically on exam results, so my reply was only about their actual exam results as recorded in the Zurich Polytechnic (now ETH) records. If we’re going to widen that part of the discussion, that’s fine by me. The situation is succinctly summed up by John Stachel:

“In [Maric’s] case, we have *no* published papers; *no* letters with a serious scientific content, either to Einstein nor to anyone else; nor any other *objective* evidence of her supposed creative talents. We do not even have hearsay accounts of conversations she had with anyone else that have a specific, scientific content, let alone a content claiming to report her ideas.”
http://tinyurl.com/2dahyr

Matthias puts some questions querying what I wanted to achieve by my investigations. As far as my motives are concerned, none of his suggestions has any substance. My motive has been solely to endeavour to ascertain the truth (insofar as this can be achieved) about the claims and counter-claims by examining all the relevant literature and by delving into the references and citations contained therein.

I *have* said what I think about Mileva Maric, though that has little to do with the purpose of the discussion as far as I’m concerned, which is about ascertaining the truth about an issue in the public domain. An important secondary issue arising out of this is the question of how one ascertains reliable historical evidence and the critical use of sources. This particular issue is something of an object case in the way that false or unsubstantiated claims have been presented as facts by the proponents of the “collaboration” thesis, and have been widely accepted by many people simply because they read (or heard) the claims somewhere. Anyway, what I have said about Maric’s life can be found at the end of the following article. (It is brief because my concern is not about either Einstein’s or Maric’s life history as such, but about the numerous false and unsubstantiated statements that are in the public domain.):
http://tinyurl.com/2zjm8y

Matthias writes:
>She chose to go to Heidelberg, where she was not allowed to graduate, because she had a very strong interest in modern physics. She tried to pass exams under considerable stress facing a pregnancy, and failed. So she took the standard option for a daughter from a good bourgeois family and turned to teaching. This is the "evidence". Does it prove that Mileva Einstein-Maric was not interested in a career as a scientist? I think not. That question can only be answered through a study of her life in the context of the social conditions of women of her time.<

I fear I’m going to have to write about evidence again. Matthias has here inadvertently illustrated why documentable evidence should be the *first* stage in taking a publicly expressed view on an issue.

1. He writes: “She tried to pass exams under considerable stress facing a pregnancy, and failed.” But Maric was *not* pregnant when she took the diploma examinations in 1900 and failed badly in the mathematics component (theory of functions, a topic absolutely essential to mathematical physics). In fact she *improved* her mathematics grade (though only slightly) when she retook the exam in 1901 while pregnant.

2. While Maric was clearly interested in physics (though she flirted with going in for a medical career before she settled for a diploma course to teach physics and mathematics in secondary school), there is no evidence that she herself took an especial interest in modern physics. (We have *no* information about *why* Maric chose to go to Heidelberg University as an auditor for a single semester in 1897-1898.) In the Einstein/Maric correspondence it is exclusively *Einstein* who proposes reading extra-curricular books together. There is not a single letter in which Maric expresses her views on any of the topics in these books, in strong contrast to Einstein, who frequently waxes lyrical about them, and about his own ideas with which he is overflowing. Even where we have letters by Maric directly in response to Einstein’s outpouring of ideas, she does not even so much as mention what he wrote, but writes about personal issues.

3. Matthias writes: “So she took the standard option for a daughter from a good bourgeois family and turned to teaching.”

She failed her diploma examinations twice, so what else was she supposed to do? Before she took her exams in 1900 she had been offered an assistantship in the physics department at Zurich Polytechnic. Had she passed the exams she would have had the opportunity of taking up that assistantship, while preparing for a Ph.D. (for which Einstein gave her enthusiastic encouragement), and a career in physics, just as Marie Curie had done in Paris a few years before. I’m not saying, of course, there would not have been difficulties and obstacles, but to put the blame on resistance by people in authority, or on society, ignores the plain fact that Maric failed to get the qualifications necessary for a career in physics. Nor was the intensity of her interest in the subject (or indeed her ability, by such evidence as is available) such that she could (or wanted to) get anywhere by her own endeavours in the way that Einstein did despite his failing to obtain a university post.

Matthias writes: “Her keen interest in physics is beyond doubt, yet she ended up a housewife looking after a sick child.”

That she was keenly interested in physics while in education is certainly the case. Thereafter the situation is different. None of the friends and colleagues who were regular visitors at the Einsteins has reported Maric taking part in the discussions they had about physics. Such evidence as we have points to the likelihood that after the terrible blow of the loss of their out-of-wedlock baby daughter Liserl in 1902 (whether to illness or adoption is not known), the strength of her interest in physics waned. In none of the letters to her close friend Helen Kaufler in this period and after does she report any interest in physics topics, or indicate any regrets about not having followed a scientific career.

Incidentally, the only references for Matthias’s original Mileva Maric webpage were the “Einstein’s Wife” film and two “New Scientist” journalists’ report of a debate in 1990. As I’ve mentioned, the original sponsors, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, has now disowned the film, and Matthias has tacitly acknowledged its unreliability by removing it from his references. However, given that it was the only substantive reference he has provided, evidently the main source of Matthias’s account on the Mileva Maric webpage is this “Einstein’s Wife” film, which is a travesty of what historical research should be about:
http://www.esterson.org/einsteinwife1.htm

One final point. On his Mileva Maric webpage Matthias writes that Einstein “possibly actively suppressed her name from his paper on special relativity.” There is not a scrap of evidence to support this notion, so what is such an evidence-free scurrilous suggestion doing on a reputable website?
http://www.esterson.org/Stachel_Joffe.htm

Ophelia said...

>>"Please cite the evidence ..." "Please state what evidence you have ..." – if it would only be as easy as that. Evidence is always helpful, but it is not always sufficient to find the truth.

Hang on - you yourself said 'In recent years evidence found in personal letters between Einstein and his first wife Mileva Einstein-Maric suggests that Einstein developed the core ideas of relativity in close collaboration with her'. Esterson merely asked you to cite the evidence that you yourself mentioned - surely that's reasonable enough!

And as for evidence being 'not always sufficient to find the truth' - of course it's not, since there is not always evidence for the truth, to put it mildly. In particular, there is no evidence for nearly all of what goes on in everyday human interactions. But it doesn't follow, and it isn't true, that therefore one ought to believe claims for which there is no evidence. It also doesn't follow and it also isn't true that it's fair to say that 'evidence...suggests' X and then when asked to cite the evidence, simply say that evidence is not always sufficient to find the truth. I'm sorry to say that looks like mere evasion.

Matthias Tomczak said...

It is remarkable that Allen keeps coming back to the TV movie “Einstein’s Wife”. I became aware of the controversy about Mileva Einstein-Maric through this movie when I prepared my notes. Pressured by time - we all know that lecturers who prepare new courses are only one lecture ahead of the students - I included it as a reference. Having learnt about its dubious credentials I removed it. Yet Allen cannot abstain from bringing it up time and time again - do I notice an obsessive streak here? Or is it the proven method of building up a faulty argument and then proceeding to demolish it?

As I said before, I do not take sides in this debate. I admit that my formulations were somewhat loose and did not express my impartiality correctly. So I changed the text “evidence found in personal letters … suggests” in lecture 28 to “studies of personal letters … have suggested that …” and the text “Some letters suggest” in Milena Einstein-Maric’s biography to “Some researchers believe that …” That should make it quite clear that I only report the existence of suggestions but do not support them myself. This should be the end of the matter, as far as I am concerned.

Allen Esterson said...

I leave readers (if there are any!) to decide why, instead of actually addressing the several rebuttals to his assertions and suggestions that I have made above, or even acknowledging that specific assertions he has made are manifestly (i.e., documentably) erroneous, Matthias chooses to focus on supposed doubtful characteristics or motivations of mine. (Before suggesting I have an “obsessive streak”, he previously made the absurd – and, again, evidence-free – suggestion implied in his question: “Or does he want to paint Einstein as the ultimate genius without human faults?” Not to mention his latest suggestion implying that there is something devious about my method of argument.)

Given that it is the only substantive reference he has provided, it is hardly “remarkable” that in the course of three postings containing fairly lengthy challenges to statements made by Matthias I have mentioned the “Einstein’s Wife” film each time, in the hope that he would take the opportunity I thereby offered him to report any substantive source other than one that has now been discredited. Either that, or to acknowledge explicitly that the film was his main source of information, something his latest response has still not made clear.

Matthias writes, “I do not take sides in this debate”, and stresses his “impartiality”. Since when has impartiality been exhibited by the writer presenting what “researchers” have suggested (and what non-existent documented “evidence” suggests) pointing in one direction only, while omitted the rebuttals to the “suggestions” by specialists in the field such as John Stachel. (Matthias certainly knows of the rebuttals by Stachel, as the latter features strongly in the New Scientist report of a 1990 debate that he cites.) Note also that the picture display for each of Matthias’ lectures features a notable scientist related to the subject matter, e.g., Galilieo, Newton, Maxwell, and so on. The picture displayed for Lecture 28 is one of Einstein and Maric together, rather than of Einstein alone. If, despite his protestations to the contrary, the content of his Mileva Maric web page were not enough to contradict his contention of impartiality, the picture display surely removes all doubt.
http://tinyurl.com/239gau

Matthias Tomczak said...

I said that this should be the end of the matter, but this is really intriguing: What does the existence of the double portrait of Antoine Laurent Lavoisier and his wife Marie-Anne Pierette Paulze for lecture 24 imply? A bias towards Lavoisier's wife?

Allen Esterson said...

I’ll happily acknowledge that the conclusion I drew from the fact that instead of Einstein alone Matthias used a portrait of Einstein and Maric as his display for Lecture 28 is not as conclusive as I assumed. (Though see my addendum to this below.) However, Matthias has still not responded to my point that he claims that he is impartial on the issue, yet his web page on Maric, both in its original and its current form, presents “suggestions” made by “researchers” that all take the same viewpoint about Maric’s alleged collaboration with Einstein on his work in physics. Leaving aside that he cites such suggestions without any knowledge of the quality of the work of the “researchers”, he has failed to cite the view of John Stachel, founding editor of the Albert Einstein Collected Papers project, that the arguments put forward by one of the protagonist on behalf of the collaboration thesis, Evan Harris Walker, led him to conclude that Walker is “a fantasist, who judges reality on the basis of his own desires”. (This is in the very New Scientist report that is cited by Matthias as a reference.)

Stachel’s 1990 talk in which he made the comment quoted above is in his book *Einstein from B to Z* (2002), pp. 26-38, an extract from which is at
http://tinyurl.com/2dahyr

See my close examination of the shoddy scholarship of the two main “collaboration” protagonists at the 1990 debate, Evan Harris Walker and Senta Troemel-Ploetz at:
http://tinyurl.com/2n7w6x
http://tinyurl.com/2rt59u

A brief addendum to what I wrote above in relation to the display portraits. For his Lecture 24 there is, as Matthias writes, a portrait of Lavoisier and his wife Marie-Anne Pierette Paulze (a beautifully posed portrait, which no doubt is why it is ubiquitous on the internet). However, at least in their case there is indisputable documentation that Paulze constantly assisted Lavoisier with his experiments in the laboratory in their home, noting measurements made by Lavoisier or his assistant. She also translated an important paper on phlogiston from the English for Lavoisier and illustrated his most important book with watercolour sketches and engravings. In short, there is indisputable evidence of Paulze providing considerable assistance for Lavoisier in his laboratory work and in other ways. There is no such evidence in the case of Mileva Maric.