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Einstein's Jury is the dramatic story of how astronomers in Germany, England, and America competed to test Einstein's developing theory of relativity. Weaving a rich narrative based on extensive archival research, Jeffrey Crelinsten shows how these early scientific debates shaped cultural attitudes we hold today.
The book examines Einstein's theory of general relativity through the eyes of astronomers, many of whom were not convinced of the legitimacy of Einstein's startling breakthrough. These were individuals with international reputations to uphold and benefactors and shareholders to please, yet few of them understood the new theory coming from the pen of Germany's up-and-coming theoretical physicist, Albert Einstein. Some tried to test his theory early in its development but got no results. Others--through toil and hardship, great expense, and perseverance--concluded that it was wrong.
A tale of international competition and intrigue, Einstein's Jury brims with detail gleaned from Crelinsten's far-reaching inquiry into the history and development of relativity. Crelinsten concludes that the well-known British eclipse expedition of 1919 that made Einstein famous had less to do with the scientific acceptance of his theory than with his burgeoning public fame. It was not until the 1920s, when the center of gravity of astronomy and physics shifted from Europe to America, that the work of prestigious American observatories legitimized Einstein's work. As Crelinsten so expertly shows, the glow that now surrounds the famous scientist had its beginnings in these early debates among professional scientists working in the glare of the public spotlight.
"By focusing on astronomers rather than the theoretical physicists more often associated with Einstein, Jeffrey Crelinsten offers new insights. . . . He uses the introduction of the theory of relativity to present a case study of how innovative scientific ideas enter both the scientific community and the consciousness of the general public."--Publishers Weekly
"Jeffrey Crelinsten's fascinating Einstein's Jury: The Race to Test Relativity tracks the ways in which one particular community, astronomers, handled Einstein's relativity theories, roughly between 1910 and 1925. . . . Crelinsten has done a great service and deserves our thanks for tracking so beautifully the American astronomical response to relativity between the wars."--Peter Galison, Science
"Crisply written and impressively researched. . . . [T]wo elements make Einstein's Jury stand out: First, it looks at astronomers, rather than physicists or mathematicians, providing a focus that comparatively offer a genuinely novel perspective on the question of relativity's reception. . . . It belongs to that rare breed of works that will be of genuine interest and enjoyment to the casual reader while at the same time being required reading for the specialist."--Suman Seth, American Scientist
"Einstein's Jury tells a fascinating and largely unknown story of how Einstein's revolutionary ideas on the nature of space and time were received, understood, misunderstood, tested and finally confirmed by astronomers of the day, giving birth to relativistic cosmology."--Alan S.McRae, Mathematical Reviews
"Einstein's Jury is a story of true scientific effort and petty human weaknesses and eventualities. It is hard to put down this tale of how American astronomers, equipped with the best instruments in the world, struggled for or against the observational evidence for three experimental consequences of Einstein's theory of general relativity."--Jzsef Illy, Isis
"Einstein's Jury is an extremely well researched and readable account of how Einstein's innovative theories were received in the early decades of the twentieth century. The book follows the birth of modern astrophysics from the first trickles off Einstein's pen in 1905 to the emergence of relativistic cosmology in the mid-1930s. . . . Crelinsten's account of Relativity's twenty-year struggle for acceptance by the scientific community is told with all the tension of a well-paced thriller. I have no doubt that professional historians and popular science readers alike will thoroughly enjoy Einstein's Jury."--Gerard McMahon, Astronomy and Space
"Crelinsten charts an important but understudied episode in the history of modern physics: the empirical tests of general relativity. . . . Crelinsten is a believer in details. He diligently documents exchanges of ideas, conducts of experiments, and steps of arguments. He utilizes two kinds of sources. Regarding Einstein and other European physicists, Crelinsten relies on published documents and the secondary literatures. To delineate American astronomers' activities, he uses a lot of unpublished archival substances."--Chen-Pang Yeang, University of Toronto Quarterly
"Crelinsten is to be congratulated on having made a substantial contribution to our understanding of the reception of general relativity by American astronomers, and the central role they played in placing the theory's astronomical predictions beyond doubt."--Andrew Warwick, British Journal for the History of Science
"Crelinsten . . . is a good writer, who, without repeating himself, periodically sums up his discussion and sets things up for the next section so that we always know what to look forward to and are reminded of what we have just learned. . . . I strongly recommend this book to anyone interested in how revolutionary scientific ideas find acceptance within the scientific community."--Naomi Pasachoff, Metascience
EINSTEIN ENTERS THE WORLD STAGE
Einstein introduced his theory of relativity into a world that was changing dramatically. Scientific research and technological development were increasingly seen as valuable resources for nations. While applied research went on in industry, most basic physics research around the world was done in academic institutions. The normal path for professional advancement was to find a job as a professor. In Germany, a student who succeeded in obtaining an academic post had "arrived": "The professor had reason to be proud of himself. He had outdistanced most of his fellow graduate students. His 10,000 marks a year placed him in the upper bourgeoisie: in Prussia, for example, less than 1 percent of the population had incomes in excess of 9,500 marks in 1900." German-speaking Europe was the place to be for physics, and Berlin was the center of the physics universe. The leading countries worldwide were the United States, Germany, the United Kingdom, and France. These "big four" had the largest number of academic physicists, the highest total expenditure on academic physics, and produced thelargest number of physics papers in leading journals. Though America had the greatest quantity, Germany led the world in quality and prestige. Being published in a German-language physics journal meant that your work would be read widely and by the best physicists in the world. German-speaking universities were spread all over Europe, from Switzerland to eastern Europe as far as Russia, and also in South America. Theoretical physics, which was Einstein's specialty, was a relatively new subdiscipline within physics. The center of gravity for theoretical physics was in German-speaking Europe. Germany led the world's nations in number of university chairs in theoretical physics. The Netherlands had the highest concentration of theoretical chairs per physics post. In the United Kingdom, and even more so in the United States, experimental physics was more common. In the United States, theoretical physicists were rare.
Einstein was completely unknown when he came up with his theory of relativity. He was a junior patent clerk in German-speaking Switzerland when he published his first article on relativity in 1905 at the age of twenty-six. His theory was revolutionary. Since the age of sixteen, he had been wondering about the nature of light and what the world would look like from the vantage point of a light beam. His intuition told him that it was not possible to travel at the speed of light, because no one had ever observed what he expected a person riding a light beam would see. Nor did theory predict it. Einstein knew that uniform motion (constant speed in a straight line) should not affect the laws of mechanics. We experience this principle when we sit in a moving car-it feels the same as if we were stationary. Without looking out the window, we can't tell the difference between moving at uniform speed and sitting at rest. No experiment that we perform in the car will tell us whether we are moving or are at rest. Observers in different states of uniform motion can assume they are at rest and the laws of mechanics will still hold true. This is the principle of relativity. Einstein elevated this principle for all physics, including electrodynamics and optics. All observers in uniform motion can assume they are at rest. No optical or electrodynamics experiment that we perform will tell us whether we are moving or not, including measuring the speed of light. Everyone gets the same answer.
The consequences of this simple statement are startling. Einstein showed that all observers agree on a certain combination of space and time measurements, but not on specific lengths and time intervals. Someone moving past you at high speed will tell you your meter stick is shorter than theirs, and you will measure their meter stick as shorter than yours by the same amount. The extent of the contraction depends on your relative speed. Their clock will run slower than yours, but they will tell you your clock is running slower than theirs. Yet you will both agree when you each measure the speed of light. If you measure the speed of light emitted by the headlight on a speeding train from the ground, you will get the same value as a person standing on the train. The reason you agree is that your meter sticks and clocks measure different lengths and times.
Einstein's theory yielded the same equations that Dutch physicist Hendrik Antoon Lorentz had derived using different concepts. Physicists had hypothesized the existence of a luminiferous ether to account for how light waves propagate. They believed that light comprises undulations in an otherwise invisible ether, which permeates all of space. Lorentz had developed an electron theory to explain why it is impossible to measure Earth's motion through the ether. His idea was that objects compress as they move through the resisting medium. He came up with the same formula for length contraction that Einstein got. Moving lengths contract in the direction they move, the amount of contraction being greater the faster the speed. Einstein's theory captured the fact that each observer sees the other length as contracted. His theory eliminated the need to interpret the contraction physically. The ether became superfluous. It also predicted other consequences that Lorentz's electron theory did not. Only Einstein's theory derived the time effect: moving clocks run slow. He also showed that observers do not agree on simultaneity of events. Two simultaneous events for one observer might not be simultaneous for another. Einstein also showed that if two clocks are synchronous at the same place, and one moves at high speed on a closed path, ending up at the same starting point, the two clocks will no longer be synchronous. The traveling clock will have slowed down relative to the stationary one during the journey.
Einstein submitted his relativity article to the prestigious journal Annalen der Physik, published in Berlin. The coeditor, Max Planck, who was responsible for theoretical articles, saw its merit and published it. At first, Einstein's paper elicited discussion only in Germany. The French ignored it as if it had never appeared. The British took some time to react to it, and then they misunderstood and reinterpreted it in terms of a mechanical, luminiferous ether. The Americans also ignored it for awhile, but then most physicists reacted strongly against it for not being practical. The Göttingen mathematician Hermann Minkowski caught physicists' attention with his four-dimensional space-time formulation of Einstein's theory. At a lecture in 1908, Minkowski coined the term "space-time" and made the grand statement: "Henceforth space on its own and time on its own will decline into mere shadows, and only a kind of union between the two will preserve its independence." His formalism involved a four-dimensional space-time in which he treated time as the fourth dimension. This geometrical interpretation made it easy to calculate consequences of Einstein's theory. Yet it also encouraged physicists and mathematicians to conceptualize an absolute four-dimensional world. This notion runs counter to Einstein's entire approach, which was to eliminate the concept of absolute space, a "container" in which objects in the world reside. Einstein did not like Minkowski's formalism, thinking that the elegant mathematics confused the physics. He would later change his mind as he grappled to generalize his theory to accelerated motion.
Einstein's 1905 relativity paper was third in a series of four outstanding papers he published that year. The first was a "revolutionary" paper on light quanta and the second a paper on Brownian motion. His fourth contribution was a supplement to his relativity paper, in which he derived the equivalence of matter and energy as expressed in the now-famous formula E = [mc.sup.2]. Within a couple of years, Einstein was corresponding with the leading physicists in Germany. They were shocked when they discovered that he was a lowly patent clerk and not an eminent professor. In September 1907, Einstein received a letter from the publisher of the prestigious firm of Teubner in Leipzig stating "my presses will always be at your disposal in case you have any literary plans." Several publishers approached him to write a popular account of relativity. Einstein replied: "I cannot imagine how this topic could be made accessible to broad circles. Comprehension of the subject demands a certain schooling in abstract thought, which most people do not acquire because they have no need of it." This reticence to popularize his theory would haunt him, and others, for decades. Together with its unfamiliar notions of space and time, relativity's lack of accessibility to the layperson would contribute to the myth that Einstein's theory is incomprehensible.
In 1907, Einstein agreed to write a comprehensive review article on relativity for Johannes Stark's Yearbook of Radioactivity and Electronics. Entitled "On the Relativity Principle and the Conclusions Drawn from It," Einstein's paper went beyond his 1905 papers and introduced for the first time his attempt to incorporate gravitation into his relativity framework. "Now I am concerned with another relativity-theory reflection on the law of gravitation, by which I hope to explain the still unexplained secular changes in the perihelion distance of Mercury ... but so far it doesn't seem to work out."
In 1909 Einstein finally left the Patent Office to become extraordinary professor of theoretical physics at the University of Zurich. He did not get the post easily. First, there was no position for a theoretical physicist. Second, the physics professor, his former teacher Alfred Kleiner, had another candidate in mind, Swiss-born Friedrich Adler. These two obstacles were cleared when Adler, who had been a close friend of Einstein's at school years earlier, himself suggested Einstein, and when Kleiner was elected rector of the university and promptly created the new post. Einstein then had to demonstrate to Kleiner that he could teach. He failed at first, but then redeemed himself. The Zurich faculty voted on the matter and picked Einstein. Luckily, the faculty recognized that he was a rising star and recommended him despite his Semitic origins. Kleiner noted that "about the personal character of Dr. Einstein nothing but the best reports are made by all who know him." Personally, he was "unhesitatingly prepared to have him as a colleague in my immediate proximity." The dean added to the faculty's recommendation:
The above remarks by our colleague Kleiner, based as they are on many years of personal contact, were the more valuable to the commission, and indeed to the department as a whole, as Herr Dr. Einstein is an Israelite, and as the Israelites are credited among scholars with a variety of disagreeable character traits, such as importunateness, impertinence, a shopkeeper's mind in their understanding of their academic position, etc., and in numerous cases with some justification. On the other hand, it may be said that among the Israelites, too, there are men without even a trace of these unpleasant characteristics and that it would therefore not be appropriate to disqualify a man merely because he happens to be a Jew. After all, even among non-Jewish scientists there are occasionally people who, with regard to a mercantile understanding of their academic profession, display attitudes which one is otherwise accustomed to regard as specifically "Jewish." Neither the commission, nor the department as a whole, therefore thought it compatible with its dignity to write "anti-Semitism" as a principle on its banner, and the information which our colleague Herr Kleiner was able to furnish on Herr Dr. Einstein has put our minds completely at rest.
The Directorate of Education still wanted Adler. By good fortune, Adler gallantly took himself out of the running and Einstein got the job.
Einstein's reputation in German-speaking Europe grew quickly. In 1910 news from Czechoslovakia that he had been nominated for a full professorship at the German university in Prague prompted Zurich University to raise his salary. An attractive offer from Prague eventually came, however, and Einstein moved his family in April 1911. It was during his stay in Prague that Einstein would return to his deliberations about relativity and gravitation. This work would bring the young genius into contact with the world of astronomy.
THE ASTRONOMY COMMUNITY
The greatest number of astronomers were in the same "big four" countries as for physics. The United States and Germany had the largest communities, followed by France and the United Kingdom, closely followed by Russia, with Italy not far behind. A distinctive feature of the world astronomical community was that it had a larger institutional base than physics. The basic home of the observational astronomer was the observatory. In each country one found many men and women who were not attached to universities and colleges. State-supported institutions mandated to provide time service and astronomical data useful for civilian needs were also important centers of basic research. They often housed leading astronomers. Theoreticians, too, were often outside of academia. Nautical-almanac departments of the navy and geodetic institutes employed computers and higher-grade celestial mechanics specialists. In addition to these state-supported institutions, private observatories funded by individuals with an interest in astronomy were common. Philanthropic foundations dedicated to financing scientific research also initiated and financed observatories. The most notable in this period were the Carnegie Institution and the Rockefeller Foundation in the United States. In addition to astronomers working in these research observatories and institutions, there were those at colleges and universities. For them, the job structure was similar to that of their physicist colleagues, with the observatory being analogous to the physics research institute or laboratory.
The top position in any observatory was the directorship. In academically affiliated places, the director usually held the astronomy chair. Centers weak in astronomy often had one of the mathematics or physics professors run the observatory. The director decided the research program, allowing his staff lesser or greater freedom in following their own interests. Instrumental facilities played a key role in determining what a director might or might not do. One needed a good refractor for double-star work. Large reflectors were necessary for nebular photography. Climate also played a role. Spectroscopy required less atmospheric transparency than photometry. Observatories located in poorer climates, or near large cities, concentrated on stellar radial velocities and other spectroscopic work. Within these constraints, the director could do what he wished, but he usually had to make compromises along the way. For example, Heber D. Curtis, who played an important role in the relativity story, took the director's position at Allegheny Observatory in Pittsburgh after spending years at Lick Observatory on Mount Hamilton in California. The mountain observatory had offered a clear sky perfect for nebular photography. Less than a month after taking up his new post, he wrote to his former chief at Lick, William Wallace Campbell: "This place for several years has been just a parallax machine, without much chance for individual work. Am planning to reduce the program, very gradually, and without destroying the value of unfinished work, to about six-tenths of its present scope, so that everyone can have some time for himself. But it will long remain, I think, one of the things we can do here." A year later Curtis had changed his tune:
My first year here seems mainly to have been spent in finding out the things that I cant [sic] do here, and there are quite a lot of them ... the California combination of instruments plus climate is a hard one to beat. Parallax and photometry we can do here to great advantage, however. But not photoelectric photometry, I fear. I have naturally had "in the back of my head" various plans for changing the character of the work here, but am gradually coming round to the conviction that what we are doing is not only the thing we can do best, but also the field most needed today.
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List of Illustrations xi
List of Tables xv
Notation Convention for Angular Measure xxv
PART ONE: 1905-1911
Early Encounters with Relativity 1
CHAPTER ONE: Einstein and the World Community of Physicists and Astronomers 3
Einstein Enters the World Stage 3
The Astronomy Community 7
The Astrophysics Revolution 9
European Brains and American Money 20
California Astronomy: The Nation's Leader 25
CHAPTER TWO: Astronomers and Special Relativity: The First Publications 28
Henry Crozier Plummer and the Problem of Aberration 28
Edmund Taylor Whittaker: Relativity and the Ether 31
Relativity and Subjectivism 36
Using Relativity to Calculate Planetary Orbits 38
American Astronomers’ Introduction to Relativity 40
PART TWO: 1911-1919
Astronomers Encounter Einstein 45
CHAPTER THREE: The Early Involvement, 1911-1914 47
Einstein's Two Predictions 47
Solar Eclipses, "Vulcan," and the Principle of Relativity 50
Einstein Finds an Astronomer 55
Puzzles in the Sun's Spectrum 65
The Russian Eclipse of 1914 76
CHAPTER FOUR: The War Period, 1914-1918 85
Troubles with Freundlich 85
Einstein's Breakthrough 87
The "Freundlich Affair" 90
News of Einstein's Breakthrough Spreads 94
Mixed Reactions to a Complicated Theory 98
Constructing the Universe 103
Challenges from Solar Observations 108
Lick Astronomers Go Eclipse Hunting 114
Einstein Liberates Freundlich 119
CHAPTER FIVE: 1919: A Year of Dramatic Announcement 125
Evershed's Earth Effect versus Relativity 125
Delays and Technical Challenges at Lick 126
Enter the British 129
The Lick Verdict: "Einstein Is Wrong" 131
The British Declare, "Einstein Is Right" 140
CHAPTER SIX: Men of Science Agog 146
Reactions to the British Eclipse Results 146
Pressure from the Press 153
The Role of Arthur Eddington 157
Einstein the National Treasure 160
Hale Realizes His Vision 165
PART THREE: 1920-1925
Astronomers Put Einstein to the Test 169
CHAPTER SEVEN: Tackling the Solar Redshift Problem 171
Evershed and St. John Declare the Case Unresolved 171
"Einstein's Third Victory" 173
Unraveling Complexities--Evershed versus St. John 175
Evershed Votes for Einstein 179
CHAPTER EIGHT: More Eclipse Testing 183
Personnel Changes at Lick 183
Conflicting Announcements on the Goldendale Results 185
Preparations for the Australian Eclipse 194
The 1922 Eclipse: All Eyes on Lick 200
CHAPTER NINE: Emergence of the Critics 213
Reactions to the Lick Results 213
T.J.J. See versus the Lick Observatory 216
An Antirelativity Coalition in the East 225
The Ether Attempts a Comeback 231
CHAPTER TEN: The Debate Intensifies 236
Another Chance to Test Einstein 236
Mount Wilson and Lick Vote for Einstein 241
The Antirelativity Campaign Gains Momentum 243
A New Line of Evidence to Test Einstein 257
PART FOUR: 1925-1930
Final Acceptance 263
CHAPTER ELEVEN: Relativity Triumphs 265
The 1925 Eclipse: Dissension in the Antirelativity Coalition 265
The Relativity Debate circa 1925 269
Announcements for and against the Ether 273
Announcement of the Sirius B Results 277
John A. Miller and the Eclipse Tests 282
Dayton C. Miller and the Ether Drift 287
The 1928 Climax: Three More Pronouncements 290
Reluctant Acceptance 296
CHAPTER TWELVE: Silencing the Critics 300
Charles Lane Poor versus the Lick Observatory 300
Antirelativists Rally in the East 307
The Final Showdown 310
EPILOGUE: The Emergence of Relativistic Cosmology 315
FINAL REFLECTIONS 321
How Scientists Accept Theories 321
Astronomers’ Reception of Relativity 323
Relativity and Us 324
Posted October 10, 2006
This fluid and accessible work showcases the astronomy community's pivotal role in providing the 'proof' for Einstein's theory. This was a make or break moment in history - a true tipping point - and this book humanizes the context and provides new, intriguing insights into the political, social and scientific landscape of the times and, as importantly, sheds light on the players that had a hand in changing the way we now think of time and the universe. It was a surprisingly rivetting tale!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 28, 2006
Given the hundreds of books about Albert Einstein, it is a wonder this story has not been told. 'Einstein's Jury' documents the physicist's twenty-five year struggle to win acceptance for relativity, a theory which most established scientists considered bizarre, metaphysical and incomprehensible. 'Einstein's Jury' is a cliff-hanger, with author Jeffrey Crelinsten calling the play by play as we follow Einstein toehold to toehold, struggling to climb the vertical wall leading to scientific acceptance. Crelinsten holds us in suspense. The scientific debate was nasty, even before the First World War split the jury further by pouring national prejudices on the flames. Acceptance was not a foregone conclusion: Einstein's jury debated for decades. To borrow a phrase from Wellington after the battle of Waterloo, the verdict was 'a damned close-run thing.' Crelinsten marshals his pro- and anti-Einstein forces brilliantly, using previously unpublished papers and letters to cover the knock-downs, slight advances, reverses and ultimate success.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.