APS News

Letters

More to "Einstein in the 21st Century" than Science

In an article on the front page of the October issue of APS News, Ernie Tretkoff discusses a list of speakers available from GGR and FHP to present a broad range of topics regarding Albert Einstein, including "Einstein the person". Richard Price is quoted as saying, "Anything that's associated with Einstein is something that we can cover." I wonder if this includes his sociopolitical beliefs and writings.

While it may run counter to APS's nonpartisan status, discussion of his open and fervent endorsement of civil liberties, democratic rights, economic justice, world federalism, etc.—let alone the freedom of scientific investigation from political manipulation-could not be more timely. He courageously opposed the fear- mongering in the 50's that culminated in the McCarthy hearings.

The social aspects of the theme "Einstein in the 21st Century" are arguably at least as significant for this "World Year of Physics 2005" as the implications of relativity theory or photons.

Ted Einstein
College Park, MD

[Ed. Note: A session on "Einstein and social responsibility" has been organized by the APS Forum on Physics and Society at the March Meeting.]

Need More Anti-Matter than NASA Thinks

"This Month in Physics History" (August/September 2004) states: "In 2000 NASA scientists announced early designs for an antimatter engine that might be capable of fueling a spaceship for a trip to Mars using only a millionth of a gram of antimatter".

The total energy of a weight P at rest on the Earth's surface is U=-PR, where R is the Earth's radius. The total energy outside the Earth's gravitation is zero. Thus, the antimatter mass m must provide at least the energy 2mc2=PR.

In the case of 100% efficiency such energy will fuel a spaceship of weight P=2mc2/R. So, a millionth of a gram of antimatter allows for P~3 tons maximum. Isn't it too little for a spaceship?

Mark Azbel
Tel Aviv, Israel

Cormack Spent Career at Tufts

Celebrating the invention and development of the CAT scanner in the November "This Month in Physics History" underscores the essential contributions to medicine made by those trained in the physical sciences.

Allow me, however, to make two corrections: First Cormack and Housfield did not win the 1979 Nobel Prize in Physics; their prize was in the category of Physiology or Medicine. Second, through the article leaves the impression that Cormack returned as a faculty member to South Africa upon graduation from Cambridge, he, in fact, spent the balance of his career as a faculty member at Tufts University—from 1958 until his retirement in 1998. The two [Journal of Applied Physics] papers alluded to in the article were published while he was at Tufts, and he constructed apparatus at Tufts to show tomography proof of principle.

Robert P. Guertin
Medford, MA

Caltech Ivy Stays on the Ground

While speculating on the reasons for the appearance of Einstein's field equations at the beginning of "The Triplets of Belleville" in the October APS News, Harold Cohen referred to "the famous photo of Einstein riding his bike around the Princeton campus."

Possibly there is more than one famous photo of Einstein on a bike; the one I'm familiar with (http://www.bhsi.org/images/palbert.jpg) was taken in 1933 while Einstein was visiting Caltech.

At least that's the story I've heard, supported by the Caltech copyright on the poster and the lack of ivy on the walls. (Unlike Princeton, Caltech keeps its ivy on the ground.)

Mark Jackson
Webster, NY

ID, OEC and YEC: Beware Them All

The letter from Douglas Keil in the October APS News is representative of the views of Old-Earth Creationists (OEC), who are similar to the advocates of Intelligent Design (ID). Many physicists have the incorrect idea that all creationists advocate a 6,000 year-old Universe based on Biblical lineages.

First, many are merely evolution deniers, who take issue with one or more portions of biological evolution. Many others are Young Earth Creationists, or YECs, but have agreed to be quiet about it, under the "Big Tent" strategy of the Discovery Institute, the well-funded (http://www.geocities.com/lclane2/discovery.html) national coordinator of the ID movement.

This strategy is to avoid discussion of issues such as a young Universe in order to focus on getting the teaching of evolution watered down in public schools.

Having creation science ruled as religion and inappropriate for science classes, ID was invented as a less overtly religious (they avoid naming the Designer unless they are speaking to sympathetic audiences) alternative. Since attempts to inject ID into curricula have been generally rebuffed as well, they are now focusing on "teach the controversy" or "introduce critical thinking to science students". For some reason this kind of critical thinking practice is focused on evolution. The idea of having a "debate" helps elevate ID to the level of a competing theory in the eyes of the public, including students. Keil's letter is an example of this strategy.

It also shows some other familiar buzzwords and characteristics. A paper by Davies is mentioned with regard to macroevolution. Macroevolution is a word emphasized by creationists in the pretense that many small changes cannot add up to big changes. The Davies paper is not at the place given in Keil's letter, but a paper by Davies (same journal same year) discusses the question of the large of amount of information needed to start life. Conflating the origin of life with its evolutionary development is another, probably deliberate, confusion.

It would be valuable for many physicists to support the National Center for Science Education (http://ncseweb.org/) who are the only national organization primarily focused on defending the teaching of evolution and cosmology in K-12 public schools.

Adrian Melott
Lawrence, Kansas

Correction
In the November "Members in the Media," Jeffrey Hangst is described as being from CERN. His correct institutional affiliation is the University of Aarhus in Denmark. APS News regrets the error.

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