24 January 2011

After three years again: the life of Mileva Maric

More than three years ago a discussion erupted in my blog about the role of Albert Einstein’s first wife Mileva Maric in the development of Einstein's ideas about relativity. I don’t want to repeat the argument in detail here but refer you to my blog entries of 9 July 2007 in the blog archive.

The discussion left me dissatisfied at the time, but I had to wait for an opportunity to follow it up with some analysis of somewhat greater depth. This opportunity arose last year during a visit to Europe. So I wrote an essay about the issue. I did not want to enter the original controversy again (whether Maric was deprived of acknowledgment for her contribution to the core papers on relativity or not) but focus on the question whether Maric could have had a career in science and what stopped her from having one.

I submitted the essay to the journal “Historical Studies in the Natural Sciences” for review and possible publication. It was reviewed; the reviewers were not unsympathetic to the aims of the paper but recommended rejection, and so did the Associate Editor.

I think that the combined set of my paper, the two reviews, and the editor’s reasoning for its rejection can serve as useful information on the question of Milena Maric’s aborted career. So I make the set available here. I do this in the spirit of modern developments in scientific publishing: In oceanography, which is my field of speciality, submitted papers are now published on the web together with their reviews in a discussion section of a journal and move into the final peer-reviewed section if the reviewers recommend acceptance; if not, the original paper, the reviews and any related correspondence stay in the discussion section, where they remain accessible to all – see Ocean Science as an example.

It is not my intention to write a response to the reviewers’ comments here. Instead I want to make some general remarks. It is evident from the reviews that xxxx1, xxxx2 and xxxx3 (see my comment to this post) are three eminent science historians. Their suggestions for improvements to my essay can point the way along which to proceed. It is, however, not for me to follow the outlined path. After 45 years in oceanography I know how to set up an investigation into the dynamics of the ocean and bring it to successful conclusion, which usually culminates in a few paper in reputable journals. To follow through on the reviewers’ suggestions requires not the skills of an ocean scientist but the skills of a trained historian.

I consider myself fortunate to be part of a civilization that values the study of history. A civilized society needs historians who can spend months in the pursuit of sources that can shine light on the past. It is a sign of decay that great countries of the western civilization turn increasingly to plain monetary valuation of university departments and make student numbers and student evaluation the single most important measures for the worthiness of their teaching. Great civilizations need great humanity departments. The points raised by the reviewers are worth further study, but not from someone in a science department (that used to be called Earth Sciences, but not to frighten the students with the word Science it is now called School of the Environment). So I leave my investigation of the situation of disadvantaged women of the past where it is, hoping that it may be of use for true historians, and spend my retirement on changing the situation of disadvantaged women of today, working for the Support Association for the Women of Afghanistan, to which there is a link at the top right.

Just one small comment before I close: xxx1's distinction between mathematicians and physicists seems nitpicking to me. Anyone who reads my lecture notes to "Science, Civilization and Society" will realize that mathematics is the foundation of science. To me mathematicians are just as much scientists as chemists, physicists or biologists. Science has many faces, some more mathematical than others, but without mathematics there would not be any science.

Here are the links to the set (PDF files):

the essay: Mileva Maric: An Unfulfilled Career in Science
review 1 - deleted, see my comment to this entry
review 2 - deleted, see my comment to this entry
editorial report - deleted, see my comment to this entry


Matthias Tomczak said...

I had originally published my essay and all three reviews. On 25 January I received an email from the editor of the journal that said that "in our field it is not customary for reviews to be posted online. This may be different in oceanography, as you note. However, our three reviewers, including our associate editor, have not given permission for their comments to be disseminated. They wrote their reports as private documents for the journal's use and for yours. So I would ask that you remove the reports."

This is of course a pity. The reviews contained very valuable comment and suggestions related to Mileva Maric, which will now remain inaccessible to the readers of my essay. But I have no choice but to comply.

I am sure that journals in the humanities will eventually adopt modern scholarly publication methods and provide draft papers, reviews and comments online. The "fear that reviewers would be less ready to give assistance if their names and views were widely shared", as the journal editor suggests, is misplaced. Experience in science has shown that open debate eliminates bias, unfair comment and slander and has improved the reviewing process. (This is not to say that the reviews of my essay were not fair; on the contrary, they are valuable enough to be worth public access.)

However, as things stand, all I can publish here is my essay.

Tim said...

I am sorry you were asked to remove those reports...

When reviewers are weary of sharing their names and views, they should reconsider whether or not they should actually be reviewers...

Supposedly, they have been asked to review an article or essay because they are experts in the field in some way and are able to give an objective analysis of the article or subject...

When their 'reviews' or 'opinions' must be kept secret, one should question why.

Those of us who are scientists, and who have gone through the labors involved in publishing an article can appreciate knowing a reviewers opinion and suggestions...

The "fear that reviewers would be less ready to give assistance if their names and views were widely shared", as the journal editor suggests, is misplaced.

I have not read your full essay on Mileva Maric but I hope to soon.