27 September 2005

A few anniversary musings.

On 27 September 1905, a paper was published in the journal "Annalen der Physik". The paper, titled, "Ist die Trägheit eines Körpers von seinem Energieinhalt abhängig?" ("Does the Inertia of a Body Depend Upon Its Energy Content?"), was only three pages long. It was the fourth published by the same author that year. None of the four papers was immediately embraced by the scientific community. In fact, most were initially considered to be fairly controversial. At the time, the author of the papers had neither a doctoral degree nor an academic position. He had a few prior papers to his credit, but was essentially an unknown in the field of physics.

Within a relatively short period of time, those four papers would be recognized as having revolutionized the field of physics. The author, who was a relatively obscure Swiss patent clerk in 1905, would become one of the icons of our time.

One of the interesting things about these papers is that all of them were theoretical. Not one presented experimental data. What they did do, however, was make predictions that could be experimentally tested. As the various hypotheses proposed in those papers past test after test, they became more and more accepted within the scientific community. One of the equations - the one published in the 27 September 1905 paper - is probably the best known equation in physics: E=mc2.

It is one hundred years to the day from the publication of that paper. At this time, science is faced with a group of people who claim that they have a brand new theory that explains how life started on the planet, and how individual species may have originated. Their theory has, thus far, not had much of an impact on the way that scientists actually conduct science. The proponents claim that their new hypothesis has sparked a controversy within science. The vast majority of the scientific community, including every major scientific organization in the United States, disagrees, saying that the "hypothesis" in question is too atrocious to make it even that far.

What separates them from Einstein? The proponents of the atrocious hypothesis would probably say that there isn't much that separates them from Einstein. More rational people disagree. Einstein worked within the established proceedures of the scientific community. They do not. Einstein's work made testable conditions. Theirs does not. Einstein's hypotheses were tested a number of times before becoming accepted. Theirs cannot be tested.

The biggest difference is this: Einstein did not appeal to the public and to school boards to have his work taught to public schoolchildren. Some of his work is taught to schoolchildren, but that came naturally, as his work gained respect and acceptance within the scientific community and made its way into textbooks.

Our modern Intelligent Design proponents have no hope of their work taking that course, and they know it. Their hypotheses make no testable positive predictions. This does not bother them much, however, because they do not appear to be investing much in the way of resources toward doing actual scientific research.

As a result, 100 years after Einstein's paper on mass-energy equivalence was published, there is a trial in Pennsylvania. The ID folks bypassed the normal scientific process, and forced their religiously-motivated fake science into a school, in flagrant disregard of the rights of those who do not want their children to be exposed to religious lies disguised as science.

Happy anniversary, Albert.
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