Progress By the Numbers is Not the Whole Story

After quite a few years as a "woman in physics", I was delighted when I got my April copy of APS News. On the cover was the much awaited headline "AIP report: women, men progress at the same rate" by Ernie Trekoff. At last!

However, my excitement gave way to disappointment when I read the column.

This conclusion is not supported by the column, and is nowhere to be found in the report. In fact, one of the report authors, Rachel Ivie, is quoted in your column pointing out that women in physics face harder conditions than men, and that women tend to get hired more in non-permanent positions than men. In addition, she says, women get paid an average of 5% less than male counterparts with the same level of experience doing the same job.

These two results seem to contradict the headline: if women are not getting the good jobs at the same rate as men, can we really say that they progress at the same rate? And even if they do get the same jobs, can we say they are progressing at the same rate when they get paid less for them? While the report indeed contains many encouraging results, your headline is not one of them. Perhaps the choice of the verb "progress" was not very fortunate. Or were you trying to cheer us up?
Isabel Echeverria
Buffalo, NY

Author Disputes APS News article, and Einstein too

Your article on E=mc2 in the April issue perpetuates some common misconceptions. The title of Einstein’s first paper on the topic was framed as the question, "Does the inertia [Trägheit] of a body depend on its energy content?" In the context of the equation E=mc2, the word "mass" means "inertia."

This observation leads to a simple expository rule: if you cannot substitute the word "inertia" for the word "mass" in your sentence, then you are misusing the word "mass".

Try this rule on the APS News article. The author writes of "photographic evidence of the conversion of energy into mass." Does the author really intend to imply the conversion of energy into inertia? By the test, the author writes nonsense here and in several other places.

Inertia and energy are always attributes of something, namely, fields and particles, to which physics assigns a different ontological status. What Einstein discovered was a universal proportionality between two attributes, inertia and energy. The secondary literature is full of misconceptions, but Einstein was clear and correct.
Ralph Baierlein
Flagstaff, AZ

Ed. note: If Einstein was clear and correct, then it is the letter writer who is guilty of a misconception. At the web site of the AIP history center,, one can hear Einstein reading the following statement: "...the equation E is equal to mc2, in which energy is put equal to mass, multiplied by the square of the velocity of light, showed that very small amounts of mass may be converted into a very large amount of energy and vice versa."

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Editor: Alan Chodos
Associate Editor: Jennifer Ouellette
Staff Writer: Ernie Tretkoff