A critical appraisal of “Einstein’s Wife” Study Guide ([1])

 

By Allen Esterson

  

The school students Study Guide for the documentary “Einstein’s Wife”, sponsored by Australian Broadcasting Corporation,[2] is written as a companion commentary to the film, and implicitly takes as given that its factual basis is historically accurate. That this is far from being the case is shown by my point-by-point examination of the documentary.[3] In this article I undertake a similar point-by point examination of the Study Guide.

 

[N.B. In July 2007 Australian Broadcasting Corporation Audience & Consumer Affairs stated: “Due to the breaches of the ABC's Code of Practice which you have identified, the ABC will not broadcast 'Einstein's Wife' again. In addition, the ATOM 'Einstein's Wife' study guide has been removed from the ABC website.”]

 

Introduction

 

Referring to Einstein’s first wife Mileva Marić, the authors state that “Mileva’s existence came to light in a biography published in 1983…” That this assertion is manifestly false can be ascertained merely by examining any of the several biographies of Einstein published before this date, some of which provide considerable information about Marić.[4]

 

Mileva Marić (1875-1948)

 

“Mileva and Albert were the only two students to enroll and specialize in theoretical physics and she was the only woman studying for the Maths and Physics degree.”

 

The four-year course at Zurich Polytechnic was actually for a diploma for teaching mathematics and physics in high school.

 

“While studying briefly in Germany, Mileva became fascinated by the relationship between the velocity of a molecule and the distance it travelled between collisions, and detailed this in letters to Einstein. This topic was relevant to Einstein’s studies of Brownian motion, which was the topic of one of his famous 1905 publications.”

 

There is only one letter from Marić to Einstein from Heidelberg. It contains a paragraph rather naively describing a lecture by Philipp Lenard in the following terms:

 

It really was too enjoyable in Professor Lenard’s lecture yesterday; now he’s talking about the kinetic theory of gases. It seems that oxygen molecules travel at a speed of over 400 m per second, and after calculating and calculating, the good professor set up equations, differentiated, integrated, substituted, and finally showed that the molecules in question actually do move at such a velocity, but that they only travel the distance of 1/100 of a hair’s breadth.[5]

 

The notion that this information played a role in Einstein’s eventual publication of his 1905 Brownian motion paper is scientifically absurd.

 

“So heavily involved in their own private research, Mileva neglected her studies in her final year and fell pregnant with Albert’s child.”

 

There is no evidence that Marić engaged in her own private research beyond her coursework for the Zurich University teaching diploma, nor that she neglected her studies. She failed the diploma examination in 1900. She became pregnant in the Spring of the following year, and failed the diploma exam for the second time in 1901 when she was some three months pregnant.

 

“After their marriage Mileva continued to work alongside Albert.”

 

There is no evidence that Marić engaged in any work of her own relating to Einstein’s researches.

 

“At the turn of the last century women generally published under a male pseudonym or used their husband’s names. Mileva had no choice but to publish under Albert’s name…”

 

No evidence is provided for the statement that at the turn of the last century women generally published under a pseudonym. That it is erroneous to asert that Marić would have had to publish under Einstein’s name is evident from the fact that in 1898 Marie Curie co-authored articles with her husband Pierre on their joint research on radioactivity, and she continued to publish under her own name in the succeeding years. She was joint winner of the Nobel Prize for physics in 1903, i.e., before Einstein celebrated 1905 papers were published.

 

“Several notable scientists believe that Mileva may have collaborated on at least some of the 1905 publications… Some maintain many of the basic ideas came from Mileva, while others believe she was responsible for the mathematics.”

 

Neither the authors, nor the writer/producer of the “Einstein’s Wife” documentary, cite a single “notable scientist” who believes that many of the basic ideas in the 1905 papers came from Marić, or that she was responsible for the mathematics.[6]

 

“Physicist and biographer, Abram Joffe (1880-1960) claims to have personally seen an original manuscript for the theory of relativity, which was signed Einstein-Marity, where Marity is a Hungarian form of Maric.”

 

This is erroneous. Joffe did not claim to have personally seen an original manuscript for this or any other Einstein 1905 paper. The contention misrepresents what Joffe wrote, as has been documented by both John Stachel and Alberto Martinez.[7]

 

“Much support for Mileva as Albert’s collaborator comes from personal letters where their work is discussed from a collaborative prospective.”

 

These letters do not extend beyond 1902, and the only ideas outside of their diploma coursework come exclusively from Einstein. They do not provide any evidence of input by Marić into papers published by Einstein in 1905.

 

“Mileva did say to one of her maths students that she ‘missed the days when Albert and her worked together on science’.”

 

No citation is supplied for the quotation, which is evidently not directly from Marić. That it is suspect is evident from the fact that biographies of Marić do not mention any time that she taught any students.

 

“We do know that Helen Dukas, Einstein’s personal secretary, destroyed documentation.”

 

There is no evidence that Dukas destroyed any documentation relating to alleged non-diploma scientific collaboration between Einstein and Marić.

 

“Also, interestingly, the editors of The Collected Papers of Albert Einstein maintain neutrality on the subject…”

 

This is erroneous. The founding editor of The Collected Papers of Albert Einstein, John Stachel, has published detailed refutations of the claims that Marić contributed to Einstein’s 1905 papers.[8] He has described the “Einstein’s Wife” film as “whole series of entangled falsehoods”.[9] The historian and associate editor for the early volumes of the Collected Papers, Robert Schulmann, is in full agreement with Stachel, and dissociates himself completely from the claims made by the most prominent proponents of the claims for Marić’s contributions to Einstein’s scientific achievements, Evan Harris Walker and Senta Troemel-Ploetz, describing their contentions as “claptrap”.[10] Again, the physicist and historian of science Gerald Holton, who played a major role in the inauguration of the Einstein Archive, has written that Marić “left no evidence of originality as a future major scientist”.[11] His view of the “Einstein’s Wife” documentary is that “if such a false product were published by a scientist, he or she would be deprived of eligibility of further funding, and (in the USA) punished by the Office of Research Integrity”.[12]

 

After Watching the Video

 

In section 3 listing women scientists of whom one is to be chosen for students to provide a profile, the most famous name is missing: Marie Curie. Had any students been given the opportunity to profile her life they would have discovered that Marie Curie had published scientific papers under her own name before Einstein had published any of his papers, thereby putting in question the authors’ earlier contention that “Mileva had no choice but to publish under Albert’s name”.

 

The authors write:

 

“The attitudes and values of an author inform their creation of a text.  An author’s understanding of situations varies according to his/her own attitudes and values; similarly in what they want an audience to feel as they read or view their text.

 

“How do you think the director of Einstein’s Wife wanted to make the viewers feel towards Mileva? Use specific scenes/pictures/dialogue to back up your response.”

 

These comments at first sight would seem to be an excellent suggestion for a critical reading of the documentary. Unfortunately they are inadequate in two respects. (1) They make no mention of the role of accurate citing and documentation in the assessment of historical claims, nor of the necessity of subjecting such claims to close critical examination.[13] (2) The Study Guide indicates that the authors record as historical fact several erroneous and unsubstantiated assertions made in the “Einstein’s Wife” documentary. Furthermore, it is evident that they have they made no attempt to undertake checks on numerous other claims in the “Einstein’s Wife” documentary that are either contradicted by the documentary evidence or lack credible substantiation.[14]

 

Allen Esterson  August 2006

http://www.esterson.org/

 

Bibliography

Esterson A. (2006). Mileva Marić 1: http://www.esterson.org/einsteinwife1.htm

Esterson, A. (2006). Mileva Marić 1: http://www.esterson.org/milevamaric.htm

Esterson, A. (2006). http://www.esterson.org/Walker_Physics_Today.htm

Holton, G. (1996). Einstein, History, and Other Passions: The Rebellion Against Science at the End of the Twentieth Century. Harvard University Press.

Martínez (2004). http://physicsweb.org/articles/world/17/4/2/1

Martínez, A. A. (2005). “Handling Evidence in History: The Case of Einstein’s Wife.” School Science Review, March 2005, 86 (316):

http://www.butterfliesandwheels.com/articleprint.php?num=183

Popović, M. (2003). In Albert's Shadow The Life and Letters of Mileva Marić, Einstein’s First Wife. Johns Hopkins University Press.

Renn, J. and Schulmann, R. (eds.) (1992). Albert Einstein and Mileva Maric: The Love Letters. Trans. by S. Smith. Princeton University Press.

Stachel, J. (1989). Letter, Physics Today, February 1989, pp. 11-13.

http://philoscience.unibe.ch/lehre/winter99/einstein/Walker_Stachel.pdf

Stachel, J. (1996). “Albert Einstein and Mileva Marić: A Collaboration that Failed to Develop.” In H. M. Pycior, N. G. Slack, and P. G. Abir-Am (eds.), Creative Couples in the Sciences, Rutgers University Press. Reprinted in Stachel, J. (2002), Einstein from ‘B’ to ‘Z’, Boston/Basel/Berlin: Birkhauser, pp. 39–55.

http://philoscience.unibe.ch/lehre/winter99/einstein/Stachel1966.pdf

Stachel, J. (2002). Einstein from ‘B’ to ‘Z’. Boston/Basel/ Berlin: Birkhäuser.

Stachel, J. (ed.) (2005). Einstein’s Miraculous Year: Five Papers That Changed the Face of Physics. Princeton University Press.

Troemel-Ploetz, S. (1990). “Mileva Einstein-Marić: The Woman Who Did Einstein’s Mathematics.” Women’s Studies International Forum, Vol. 13, No. 5, p. 419.

Walker, E. H. Letter, Physics Today, February 1989, pp. 9-11.
http://philoscience.unibe.ch/lehre/winter99/einstein/Walker_Stachel.pdf

Walker, E. H. Letter, Physics Today, February 1991, pp. 122-123.

http://philoscience.unibe.ch/lehre/winter99/einstein/Walker_Stachel.pdf

 

NOTES

 

[1] “Einstein’s Wife” Study Guide. Rebecca Carter and Amber Lorych. Issue 33 Australian Screen Education. Produced by Australian Teachers of Media: http://abc.net.au/programsales/studyguide/StGd_Einsteins_Wife.pdf.pdf

 

[4] For example: Frank, P. (1948). Einstein: His Life and Times. London: Jonathan Cape; Seelig, C. (1956). Albert Einstein: A Documentary Biography. London: Staples Press; Michelmore, P. (1962). Einstein: Profile of the Man. New York: Dodd, Mead & Co.; Clark, R. (1971). Einstein: The Life and Times. New York: World Publishing Company; Hoffman, B. and Dukas, H. (1973). Albert Einstein, Creator and Rebel, London: Granada.

 

[5] Renn, J. and Schulmann, R. (1992), Albert Einstein, Mileva Marić: The Love Letters. (Trans. S. Smith), Princeton University Press, p. 4.

 

[6] The only named scientist who takes such a position (and who is hardly “notable”) is Evan Harris Walker. For critical analyses of his doubtful contentions see:

Stachel, J. (2002). Einstein from ‘B’ to ‘Z’. Boston: Birkhäuser, pp. 26-38, 45-55.

Also Esterson, A. (2006): http://www.esterson.org/milevamaric.htm

http://www.esterson.org/Walker_Physics_Today.htm

 

[7] Martínez, A. A. (2005). "Handling Evidence in History: The Case of Einstein's Wife"

School Science Review, March 2005, 86 (316), pp. 50-51.

Stachel, J. (ed.) (2005). Einstein’s Miraculous Year: Five Papers That Changed the Face of Physics. Princeton University Press, pp. liv-lxxiv.

 

[8] Stachel, J. (2002). Einstein from ‘B’ to ‘Z’. Boston: Birkhäuser, pp. 26-38, 45-55. See also:

Stachel, J. (ed.) (2005). Einstein’s Miraculous Year: Five Papers That Changed the Face of Physics. Princeton University Press, pp. liv-lxxiv.

 

[9] Personal communication., 18 March 2006.

 

[10] Personal communication, 30 January 2006.

 

[11] Holton, G. (1996). Einstein, History, and Other Passions. Harvard University Press, p. 189.

 

[13] See Martinez (2005). “Handling Evidence in History: The Case of Einstein’s Wife.” School Science Review, March 2005, 86 (316):

http://www.butterfliesandwheels.com/articleprint.php?num=183