A critical examination of Christopher Jon Bjerknes’ Chapter 18, “Mileva Einstein-Marity”, in The Manufacture and Sale of Saint Einstein.
By Allen Esterson
Note: The case made by Bjerknes in chapter 8 of his book Albert Einstein: The Incorrigible Plagiarist (self-published 2002) is essentially the same as that in chapter 18 of his online book The Manufacture and Sale of Saint Einstein. However, as the latter chapter elaborates considerably upon the arguments in The Incorrigible Plagiarist, I shall use the Saint Einstein chapter for my examination of the evidential basis for his contentions.
Bjerknes opens with the now familiar claim concerning the three most celebrated papers published in Annalen der Physik in 1905, namely, that they were co-authored by Einstein’s first wife Mileva Marić (or possibly were solely by her). He writes:
“Abram Fedorovich Joffe (Ioffe) recounts that the papers were signed ‘Einstein-Marity’. ‘Marity’ is a variant of the Serbian ‘Marić’, Mileva’s maiden name. Joffe, who had seen the original 1905 manuscript [of the Special Relativity paper], is on record as stating,
‘For Physics, and especially for the Physics of my generation – that of Einstein’s contemporaries, Einstein’s entrance into the arena of science is unforgettable. In 1905, three articles appeared in the ‘Annalen der Physik’, which began three very important branches of 20th Century Physics. Those were the theory of Brownian movement, the theory of the photoelectric effect and the theory of relativity. The author of these articles – an unknown person at that time, was a bureaucrat at the Patent Office in Bern, Einstein-Marity (Marity – the maiden name of his wife, which by Swiss custom is added to the husband’s family name).’ ”
Note that, contrary to Bjerknes’ assertion, in this paragraph from “In Remembrance of Albert Einstein” (1955), Joffe does not state that the papers were signed “Einstein-Marity”. Nor does he state that he saw the original papers. I shall return to these points in due course.
Now Joffe clearly states that the author (in the singular) of the papers was at the time employed at the Patent Office in Bern, in other words, Albert Einstein. In response to this evident contradiction of the contention he wishes to maintain Bjerknes provides a number of lines of argument, the central one being based on the fact that Einstein never went by the name of Einstein-Marity, whereas his wife did go by that name. He continues: “Joffe is not known to have ever referred to Albert Einstein as ‘Einstein-Marity’, nor has he ever known to have ever used the Allianzname ‘Einstein-Marity’ other than to identify the author of the 1905 papers.”
(Lest it be mistakenly inferred from the latter part of the last sentence that Joffe habitually identified the author of the 1905 papers as “Einstein-Marity”, it is, of course, the case that on all other occasions Joffe identified the author of the 1905 papers as Albert Einstein, and that the only time that it is recorded that Joffe gave the author of these papers as “Einstein-Marity” is on this single occasion.)
Bjerknes argues (p. 2364) that fear of “the well-known and vicious attacks that have been made against Einstein’s critics” explains why Joffe “may have felt inhibited from more openly stating that Mileva Marić was the true author of the 1905 papers” published under Einstein’s name. He adds that “no one has yet offered an explanation as to why Joffe identified the author of the papers as ‘Einstein-Marity’ other than as an attempt to identify the true author of the papers as Mileva Marić”.
Here Bjerknes is presenting the situation in a misleading way. What is actually at issue is whether a more simple explanation for a single occasion of Joffe’s giving an idiosyncratic version of Einstein’s name is more likely than Bjerknes’ explanation based on what is in essence a conspiracy theory buttressed by tendentious inferences and uncritical acceptance of unsubstantiated historical claims.
Note in passing that Bjerknes evades the obvious point that if Joffe’s intention was as he claims, why did Joffe add in parenthesis by way of explanation for the hyphenated form of Einstein’s name that it was a Swiss custom to add the maiden name of the wife? By doing so he was explicitly reiterating that the Patent Office employee in question was Albert Einstein, hardly a sensible way of disclosing the information Bjerknes claims he was subtly conveying. And why would he introduce this coded message with an unequivocal tribute to Einstein: “For Physics – and especially for Physics of my generation… Einstein’s entrance into the arena of science was unforgettable”? The introduction could easily have been worded more neutrally had Joffe believed that Einstein was not the sole author of the 1905 papers, and was about to disclose this.
Before examining Bjerknes’ account, let us consider the alternative explanation. This is that, being aware that by Swiss custom husbands not infrequently added their wife’s maiden name to their own family name, Joffe may have thought it appropriate in the special case of a memorial to Einstein on the occasion of his death, knowing that he had been married in Switzerland, to use a hyphenated form of Einstein’s name to record the publication of the momentous 1905 articles that heralded his ascent to the elite of physics. (The Swiss scientists Johannes Friedrich Miescher-Rüsch, Friedrich Miescher-His and Hans Weil-Malherbe provide examples of this custom.)* Bjerknes writes “There is no Swiss custom by which the husband automatically adds his wife’s maiden name to his, and even if there were, neither Albert nor Mileva were Swiss.” (p. 2368) But it is not a question of whether the husband automatically adds his wife’s maiden name, or of what Einstein himself did, but of Joffe’s thought processes at that time, and what he thought was appropriate on that occasion for reasons we can never know as there is no record of his being asked.
There is no disputing that there is no obvious explanation for Joffe’s deciding on this single occasion to write “Einstein-Marity” as the author of the 1905 papers in his “Remembrance” article, but Bjerknes’ alternative to the above requires considerable credulity in the face of an unlikely conspiracy theory against which there is substantial evidence, as we shall see. Moreover, this is not the only occasion that Joffe published something anomalous concerning Einstein that defies easy explanation, as will be discussed below. But first let’s follow Bjerknes’ argument.
In passing Bjerknes writes that “we must also take into account that the Einsteins themselves often referred to their working collaboration, as did many others”, and goes on to refer to the Einsteins’ private correspondence, which “proves that Mileva and Einstein were collaborators”. (p. 2364) He is referring here to the correspondence between the pair in the period when they were students and immediately afterwards, prior to their marriage in January 1903. However, there is not a single known letter of Marić’s that contains any ideas of her own on physics other than in relation to her Polytechnic coursework, nor suggests that she was working with Einstein on extra-curricular research. In letters to her close friend Helene Savić (née Kaufler) she explicitly attributes the writing of Einstein’s early published papers to him alone, and never so much as intimates that she made any substantive contribution to his work. More specifically, the claim of collaboration on Einstein’s work on advanced physics based on the Einstein/Marić correspondence has been refuted in detail by Stachel, and by me. (See below for more discussion of this issue.) In relation to the statement that “many others” referred to a working collaboration between Einstein and Marić, there is not a single substantiated instance of such from contemporaries directly involved with Einstein’s work, including his close friends in the couple’s early years in Bern, such as Solovine and Besso. What we have are assertions of doubtful origins made many decades after the events in question, most of them being nothing more than folklore recorded more than half-a-century later from among proud Serbian friends and acquaintances of the Marić family.
Bjerknes continues (p. 2364): “The fact that these various independent accounts point to the same conclusion is not coincidental. Therefore, barring the appearance of conclusive evidence to the contrary, it is safe to say that Joffe meant to disclose the fact that Mileva was the true author of the papers, when Joffe stated that the author of the works was ‘Einstein-Marity’.”
The fallacy here lies in the fact that the “independent accounts” are of dubious evidential value: the sum of any number of doubtful accounts remains doubtful, especially when they are of the calibre of the Joffe story and the claims in relation to the Einstein/Marić correspondence. (In any case, as indicated above, the other “accounts” were hearsay and neither truly independent nor reliable.) The second dubious element lies in the contention that Joffe would use such an extraordinarily oblique way of “disclosing” that Marić was the true author (or a co-author) of the 1905 papers, one which was so subtle that evidently no one in the Soviet Union at the time recognised it. (Had they done so, it would have made sensational news, and, given the animosity towards all things German, and sympathy towards Serbia, it would certainly not have been hushed up by the Soviet authorities.)
Bjerknes goes on to say that “Joffe knew Mileva went by the Allianzname ‘Einstein-Marity’ and that he, Joffe, could subtly disclose the fact that she was the true author, or a co-author, of the paper[s], without risking the fanatical wrath and retaliation which has so often followed the disclosure of facts unfavourable to Einstein’s image.” He goes on to justify his explanation for the supposed subterfuge (fear of malicious attacks from Einstein supporters) with arguments I shall return to, but for the moment I’ll deal with the central claim.
Bjerknes now turns (p. 2365) to a paragraph written in 1962 by the Soviet popular science writer Daniil Semenovich Danin in which he writes essentially the same as Joffe in 1955, with the addition that uses the word “signed”:
The unsuccessful teacher, who, in search of a reasonable income, had become a first class engineering expert in the Swiss Patent Office, this yet completely unknown theoretician in 1905 published three articles in the same volume of the famous ‘Annalen der Physik’ signed ‘Einstein-Marity’ (or Marić – which was his first wife’s family name).
Bjerknes adds: “If ‘Einstein-Marity’ refers to a single person, that person is Mileva Einstein-Marić, not Albert Einstein.”
In relation to this paragraph of Danin’s, Bjerknes provides no reason for taking this as substantive evidence for his thesis, for instance evidence that Danin had inside information on this subject, or had obtained additional information directly from Joffe. In fact there is no evidence to refute the likelihood that Danin based the wording of this paragraph on Joffe’s “Remembrance” article, and mistakenly used the word “signed” in paraphrasing what Joffe wrote. If the idea is that Danin obtained this ‘information’ from Joffe, one has to ask why Joffe himself in 1955 had not stated that the papers were signed “Einstein-Marity”, had he wanted to cryptically disclose Marić’s supposed authorship.
In summary, the notion that Joffe used this extraordinarily obscure means of communicating Marić's supposed authorship because he feared the wrath of Einstein’s supporters is difficult to take seriously, and even more so since the whole case depends on a dubious claim that Joffe had seen the original 1905 manuscripts, as we shall now see.
Bjerknes now turns (pp. 2365-66) to what he calls “Desanka Trbuhović-Gjurić’s interpretation of the facts” as presented in her book Im Schatten Albert Einstein: Das tragische Leben der Mileva Marić:
The distinguished Russian physicist… Abraham F. Joffe (1880-1960), pointed out in his ‘In Remembrance of Albert Einstein’, that Einstein’s three epochal articles in Volume 17 of ‘Annalen der Physik’ of 1905 were originally signed ‘Einstein-Marić’. Joffe had seen the originals as assistant to Röntgen, who belonged to the Board of the ‘Annalen’, which had examined submitted contributions for editorial purposes. Röntgen showed his summa cum laude student this work, and Joffe thereby came face to face with the manuscripts, which are no longer available today.
Bjerknes adds: “William Conrad Röntgen was one of the referees of the Einsteins’ 1905 paper on the electrodynamics of moving bodies…” However he provides no documentary evidence that this was the case: evidently he is relying on the above statement by Trbuhović-Gjurić. But what grounds has Bjerknes for such an unscholarly procedure of taking something as a fact merely because it is stated so in a book?
In fact Trbuhović-Gjurić’s book is lacking in the basic essentials as a purported work of scholarship. It is entirely without notes, and without a bibliography or index. It is also almost entirely lacking in references within the text, and the sources of much of her material (those which are available for examination) have to be laboriously tracked down in the literature. I have shown elsewhere that where it is possible to trace the sources, the reliability, and indeed the accuracy, of the information recycled is doubtful. She even reproduces verbatim (in translation) several scenarios, including dialogue, which turn out to have been invented for a children’s book on Einstein. And this by no means exhausts the scholarly deficiencies of the book.
The passage quoted by Bjerknes serves to illustrate some of the deficiencies characteristic of Trbuhović-Gjurić’s book. She does not provide the translation of Joffe’s actual words in the relevant sentence from the “Remembrance” article, but only her own paraphrase. In doing so she erroneously writes that Joffe said that the 1905 articles were “originally signed ‘Einstein-Marić’,” though Joffe does not use the word “signed”. Furthermore, there is no way of knowing in the rest of Trbuhović-Gjurić’s paragraph how much comes from Joffe himself. As it happens, not one of the factual assertions made in the two sentences in question come from Joffe himself, and Trbuhović-Gjurić provides no references for the supposed information, leaving the reader (as throughout her book) to take her assertions on trust. (Or, more likely, erroneously assume that they are all in the Joffe article she cites.)
As we have seen, Bjerknes in turn states that Röntgen refereed the 1905 Special Relativity paper, but like Trbuhović-Gjurić, provides no evidence for the statement. All he adds is that Joffe was Röntgen’s assistant until 1906, and then quotes a passage from a book by Joffe (1967) in which he reports that Röntgen suggested that when he came to defend his doctoral dissertation in 1905 he should discuss “what one could now look upon as the prehistory of the theory of relativity: the Lorentz equations and the hypothesis of FitzGerald”. There follow the two succeeding paragraphs from Joffe’s book, though they have no relevance to the matter in hand. What is significant is that an examination of the relevant section of the chapter on Röntgen in the book in question (“Meetings with Physicists”) shows that Joffe makes no mention of Röntgen being a referee for the Einstein relativity paper submitted to Annalen der Physik in 1905, nor of his having been shown the original manuscript by Röntgen. As Joffe has reported how in 1905 (before the publication of Einstein’s paper) Röntgen had suggested he should familiarise himself with what we would now call the prehistory of Special Relativity, it would be extraordinary if he had not gone on to report this information, had it in fact been the case. But, significantly, he does not.
The straightforward explanation for the omission of any mention of Röntgen’s supposed refereeing the Special Relativity paper, and of Joffe’s having seen it, is that neither is true. It is difficult to think of any reason why Joffe would have suppressed this information, even within the bounds of Bjerknes’ conspiracy of silence thesis. On the contrary, here was another opportunity (if we give Bjerknes’ thesis any credence) for him to provide a hint about the true authorship of the relativity paper.
And there is more that can be ascertained from Joffe’s “Meetings with Physicists”. In the chapter on Einstein, Joffe begins by attributing to Albert Einstein the 1905 papers on relativity, Brownian motion and the photoelectric effect, which, he writes, had a decisive influence on the further development of physics and to the ideas of physicists, including himself. Later in the chapter Joffe writes of Einstein not only as “the originator of the theory of relativity”, but as someone whose “influence on the entire physical understanding of the world is no less important”. He goes on to refer to Einstein’s work on Brownian motion, the photon theory of radiation, and in other fields of physics. Are we really to believe that beneath this fulsome tribute to Einstein, Joffe was hiding secret knowledge that the 1905 papers were actually co-authored by Mileva Marić – knowledge that he had supposedly attempted to disclose discreetly only a few years before?
There are other points to be made here. The alleged historical foundation for the basic contention is the story that Joffe had been shown the relativity paper by Röntgen. But in his “Remembrance” to Einstein, Joffe had included all three celebrated 1905 papers in his statement. Even on the assumption that he had seen that the relativity manuscript was signed “Einstein-Marity” (implying Mileva was the sole author, as this is a single name), there was no reason for him to suppose that the other two papers had been so signed, so why would he have (according to Bjerknes and Trbuhović-Gjurić) included those in his supposed “disclosure”. (The notion, as expressed by Trbuhović-Gjurić, that the whole Board of Annalen der Physik would have examined these papers, regardless of their individual areas of expertise, does not warrant serious consideration.) Together with all the other evidence that points to this conclusion, it is clear that Joffe was in fact, as he stated, attributing the three papers to a man who worked at the Patent Office in Bern, namely Albert Einstein.
Again, as Stachel has pointed out in his meticulous refutation of the Joffe story, it is difficult to see why Röntgen, primarily an experimentalist, would have been asked to referee the relativity paper when Max Planck was the advisor on theoretical physics for the editor of Annalen der Physik, Paul Drude, and Drude himself also had the necessary theoretical background. In summary, Joffe nowhere states that he saw the original 1905 relativity manuscript, nor that Röntgen had, and there is no evidence whatever that either had in fact done so (or seen the other two 1905 manuscripts). In other words, the very foundation for Trbuhović-Gjurić’s contention about Joffe’s 1955 article has no evidential basis.
Bjerknes now writes (p. 2367) that “Joffe knew that his statement that the papers were authored by Einstein-Marity would be noticed”, an assertion contradicted by the fact that evidently no one at the time did so, at least, not in the sense meant by Bjerknes. He continues: the idiosyncratic naming of the author of the 1905 papers on that single occasion suggested that Joffe was “as imperceptibly as his conscience would allow, disclosing to the world that Albert was not the author; or not the sole author of the works in question”. Why in a later book Joffe writes about Einstein in terms that are totally at variance with Bjerknes’ contentions on all counts, he makes no attempt to explain.
Bjerknes next argues that his contentions must be seen in the context “of the many facts that prove that Mileva and Albert worked together on the theory of relativity. There is no coincidence that… Mileva and Einstein had discussed their working collaboration on Lorentz’ theory in their private correspondence.” (pp. 2367-68) This sounds impressive – until one examines the letters in question. What Bjerknes describes as a discussion is actually a totally one way expression of ideas and information coming from Einstein to Marić. There is not a single surviving letter of Marić’s that contain any ideas of her own on the subject, or indeed anything to suggest she had any particular interest in it. (The notion sometimes suggested that those of Marić’s letters – in the possession of the family of Einstein’s elder son Hans Albert until 1986 – that have not survived were deliberately destroyed is without any evidential basis; in a letter in December 1901 Einstein wrote, “You know what a dreadful state my worldly possessions are in”, so it’s hardly surprising that a number went missing. There is no reason to suppose that those lost would have differed essentially from those that survived, which overwhelmingly consist of material about personal matters, with the occasional comment about her Polytechnic coursework or dissertations.)
The only sentence in the letters by Einstein that is generally quoted on this specific subject (special relativity) is one which Bjerknes later describes (p. 2371) as providing “direct evidence from Albert’s own pen that the work on relativity theory was a collaboration between Mileva and him”:
‘How happy and proud I will be, when we two together have victoriously led our work on relative motion to an end!’
Bjerknes continues: “This letter from Albert to Mileva came between two relevant others; one circa 10 August 1899, in which Einstein discusses the electrodynamics of moving bodies in ‘empty space’; and another dated 28 December 1901, in which Einstein pleads with Mileva to agree to a collaboration in marriage on their scientific work.”
Dealing with the last point first, Bjerknes’ description of the sentence in question is grossly misleading. During the latter part of their student days, when he became deeply emotionally involved with her, Einstein fondly believed he had found in Marić a soulmate who would work together with him on advanced theoretical research in physics. He encouraged her by suggesting extra-curricular books for them to study together and by telling her of the fresh ideas that came to him in abundance. Significantly, nothing of this is apparent from Marić’s surviving letters: they are devoid of ideas of her own, or indeed of any responses to ideas coming from Einstein, other than in relation to Polytechnic coursework or dissertations. The sentence in question here reads: “When you’re my dear little wife we’ll diligently work on science together so we don’t become old philistines together, right?” This was at a time of considerable difficulty for Marić: she had failed the Polytechnic examination for a teaching diploma for the second time earlier that year, and was in the late stages of pregnancy. The couple were separated (she at home in Serbia with her parents, he in Switzerland looking for a permanent post), and Einstein was evidently seeking to reassure her of his continuing attachment to her by referring to a productive future life together that he was still hoping for. There is nothing here to justify Bjerknes’ assertion that this was a plea for Marić to agree to future scientific collaboration.
Now back to the sentence quoted above (“How happy and proud…”), which is from Einstein’s letter of 27 March 2001. The sentence comes at the end of a paragraph in the latter part of which Einstein is again seeking to give reassurance to Marić at a time when they were separated (he in Italy with his parents, she in Zurich preparing to retake her Polytechnic examination, which she had failed the previous year). He writes of his continuing devotion, and his appreciation of her love and understanding, and reassures her that no one in Milan would dare to say anything bad about her. (Marić was worried about Einstein’s mother’s unconcealed antipathy towards his attachment to a Serbian woman three years his senior.) It is at this point that Einstein adds his comment in which he writes of his hopes for them to be together and to bring “our work” on relative motion to a successful conclusion.
In other words, this one use of “our” in relation to work on relative motion (which occurs some four years before the breakthrough that led to Einstein’s writing his 1905 special relativity paper) is within a context of his reassuring Marić that they could look forward to a future life together. In contrast, all other mentions of his work on relative motion in this period relate to specific ideas that he is working on, with no hint of joint collaboration:
“In Aurau I had a good idea for investigating the way in which a body’s relative motion with respect to the luminiferous ether affects the velocity of the propagation of light in transparent bodies. I even came up with a theory about it that seems quite plausible to me. But enough of this! Your poor little head is already crammed full of other people’s hobby horses that you’ve had to ride.” (10 September 1899)
“I also wrote to Professor Wien in Aachen about my paper on the relative motion of the luminiferous ether against ponderable matter…” (28 September 1899)
“I'm busily at work on an electrodynamics of moving bodies, which promises to be quite a capital piece of work.” (17 December 1901)
“I spent all afternoon at [Professor] Kleiner’s telling him my ideas about the electrodynamics of moving bodies… He advised me to publish my ideas on the electromagnetic theory of light of moving bodies…” (19 December 1901)
“I want to get down to business now and read what Lorentz and Drude have written about the electrodynamics of moving bodies.” (28 December 1901)
“Lately I have been engrossed in Boltzmann’s works on the kinetic theory of gases and these last few days I wrote a short paper myself that provides the keystone in the chain of proofs that he started… I’ll probably publish it in the Annalen… A considerably simpler method of investigating the relative motion of matter relative to luminiferous ether that is based on ordinary interference experiments has just sprung to my mind… When we see each other I’ll report to you about it.” (To Marcel Grossman, September 1901)
If the sentence quoted by Bjerknes is examined in its full context within the Einstein/Marić correspondence a very different picture emerges from that generally presented, as John Stachel has meticulously demonstrated. (See also my own close examination of this issue.) In Stachel’s words, “the places in his letters to Marić where Einstein refers to ‘our work’ are quite general statements; when it comes to specific assertions about the work, he invariably uses the first person singular (‘I’, ‘my’, etc) in describing it.” As previously noted, it is evident that Einstein fondly believed he had found in Marić someone with whom he would make a life of joint research into fundamental physics – but the letters contain no words from her of a similar aspiration, or indeed of any ideas on advanced physics whatsoever, even in response to specific ideas excitedly reported by Einstein. Nevertheless, Einstein occasionally wrote in inclusive terms as if she were indeed part of that joint venture that he envisaged for their future.
Incidentally, an indication of the actual relationship between the pair in the context of their studies comes in a letter from Einstein of 19 December 1901: “Soon you’ll be my ‘student’ again, like in Zurich.”
Bjerknes adds (p. 2367) as further evidence: “Albert discussed his collaboration with Mileva with Alexander Moszkowsky”. A later quote from a 1921 book on Einstein by Moszkowsky reveals that this evidence comprises the following: After writing of Einstein’s independent attitude as a student, the author reports that during Einstein’s studies in Zurich “he had carried on his work in theoretical physics at home… plunging himself into the writings of Kirchhoff, Helmholtz, Hertz, Boltzmann, and Drude.” At this point Moszkowisky adds that Einstein “found a partner in these studies who was working in a similar direction, a Slavonic student whom he married in the year 1903.” (p. 2369)
Now the fact that Einstein studied with Marić books that he avidly sought out for his own extra-curricular research is evident in the correspondence between them. (Though, unlike in the case of Einstein, there is no evidence that she skipped classes for such reading, so much of it must have been done on his own.) There is, however, no evidence that these studies were other than at the instigation of Einstein, and Moszkowsky’s assertion that Marić was working in a similar direction finds no corroboration in their correspondence, if by this is meant an independent interest.
Bjerknes again works on the faulty assumption of the value of an accumulation of purported ‘evidence’, regardless of its calibre, to make the assertion (pp. 2367-68) that “It cannot be ignored that these isolated facts are consistent, and prove individually and collectively that Mileva was at least the coauthor of the 1905 papers the Einsteins published in Annalen der Physik.” In any case, how can assertions about joint studies undertaken when they were students (up to 1901 at the latest) “prove” that Marić co-authored the 1905 papers?
Bjerknes now turns again (p. 2368) to Joffe’s writing “Einstein-Marity” for the name of the Bern Patent Office engineer who published the 1905 papers: “How could Joffe have known that Mileva Marić went by the name of Einstein-Marity, if the name had not appeared on the 1905 papers, and why would he tie that name to the 1905 papers?” Plunging into speculation, he continues: “Perhaps, Mileva introduced herself to Joffe as the ‘Einstein-Marity’ who had written and signed the papers.” In relation to this surmise he mentions an episode as reported by Joffe in 1962 (German translation Joffe 1967):
“Joffe recorded his attempts to discuss the 1905 papers with their author…:
‘I did not come to know Albert Einstein, until I met him in Berlin…[…] I wanted very much to talk to Einstein…and visited him in Zurich together with my friend Wagner. But we did not find him at home, so we did not have a chance to talk, and his wife told us that, according to his own words, he is only a civil servant in the patent office, and he has no serious thoughts about science, much less about experiments.’ ”
An examination of Joffe’s full account reveals that it is not the case that, as Bjerknes erroneously asserts, Joffe reported an attempt “to discuss the 1905 papers”. Immediately prior to the report of the attempted meeting Joffe writes about a specific idea he had in 1907 relating to his own work on photoelectrons which was “in full accordance with Einstein’s  theory”. He goes on to mention his four years of work after this, on the photoelectric effect in regard to the alkali metals and their alloys. Then he says he wanted very much to talk to Einstein about all these questions, i.e., the work he himself had been doing. It is interesting to note that in the above quotation Bjerknes (using ellipses) omits the few words that indicate that Joffe wanted to talk about matters other than the relativity theory. It is difficult not to conclude from this omission, combined with his erroneous statement that Joffe sought a meeting with Einstein to discuss the 1905 papers, that Bjerknes is seeking to make it appear that Joffe’s trip was related to his alleged knowledge of the supposed true authorship of those papers when such was not the case.
Returning to the rest of the above quotation from Joffe: Bjerknes makes no mention of the odd fact that Joffe says he visited Zurich, while at the same time mentioning Marić’s saying that Einstein was a only a civil servant in the patent office. But Einstein’s employment was at the Bern Patent Office, so there is obviously an anomaly here. From the preceding passage (see above) it is evident that the trip was undertaken some four years after 1907, making it around 1911. From late 1909 to the end of March 1911 Einstein, as a professor of physics at the university, lived in Zurich, so it seems evident that it was Zurich that Joffe visited at that time.
In his comments on the above quotation Bjerknes apparently takes the words attributed to Marić at face value. He writes: “Why weren’t Joffe and Wagner shocked by Mileva’s comments?... Why, after having read the original papers of 1905, and likely other published papers, would Joffe have accepted Mileva’s account that Albert was a nothing. Was Mileva really something? Would not the natural reaction to Mileva’s statements have been, ‘Then, who wrote the papers?’ Or, did Joffe already know? Perhaps, Joffe wanted to confront both Albert and Mileva with the fact that their papers were unoriginal? [This pertains to Bjerknes’ thesis argued elsewhere that the material in the 1905 papers was plagiarised, so that Marić, as author or co-author, was as much a plagiarist as Einstein. – A.E.]… Perhaps Einstein was hiding from Joffe and Wagner. The only thing certain is that Joffe’s story, as he told it, makes no sense, other than as odd images, which stayed with Joffe for many, many years and were fundamental to his vision of Einstein and Marić.” (p. 2368)
Let me start by giving my view of the statement of Joffe’s in question. Leaving aside the conflation of Zurich with Bern, the notion that Marić told Joffe that Einstein “has no serious thoughts about science” makes no sense other than as some kind of joke. Correspondence from his student days through to the year of the visit to Zurich testify to Einstein’s constant immersion in advanced physics, with detailed exchanges of ideas with eminent scientists including Lenard, Wien, Laue, Stark, Planck, Sommerfeld, Lorentz, Perrin and others. He participated in the newly inaugurated Solvay conference in 1911, attended by most of the pre-eminent European physical scientists of the day, including Rutherford, James Jeans, Marie Curie, and de Broglie in addition to many of the individuals just cited. Impressed by Einstein, Planck and Nernst started investigating the possibility of enticing him to Berlin, and in 1913 made him an attractive offer of a post as Director of a prospective new physics institute, one which would involve no administrative or teaching duties. He accepted the offer and moved to Berlin in 1914, where he was elected to the Prussian Academy of Sciences.
Nevertheless, Bjerknes’ response to the Joffe paragraph above indicates he wishes us to take seriously the statement attributed to Marić that Einstein “has no serious thoughts about science”, and that it chimes with the portrait of Einstein he has attempted to convey, someone who was greatly reliant on his wife’s scientific work – why else would he suggest the question “Then, who wrote the papers?”, implying it must have been Marić? He also seems to imply that Joffe “accepted Mileva’s account that Albert was a nothing”, and that her words “were fundamental to his vision of Einstein and Marić”. However, it should be evident from the paragraph immediately above that the notion that Einstein in 1911 was someone who had no serious thoughts about science is so manifestly absurd that (assuming she had said something along these lines) it can only have been an attempt at humour.
That Joffe presents his account straightforwardly without comment is more than a little strange, as is the anomaly of the mention of the (Bern) Patent Office post, when his previous paragraph makes it clear he was attempting to visit the Einsteins when they lived in Zurich. Oddly, Joffe has an immediate follow-up remark again referring to the Patent Office post (suggesting it was not too demanding for Einstein, with the implication that this would facilitate his working on his own research), which only serves to make the whole thing even more anomalous. One can only regard Joffe’s account of the visit as one of those occasional mysteries that defies explanation, an aberration on his part. However, although Bjerknes accepts that the story as told by Joffe “makes no sense”, he still wishes to make use of it to further his portrait of Einstein, most notably the notion that he was reliant on his wife for his ideas in physics, and had little talent of his own in that direction. To take this seriously one would have to presume that all the scientists listed above were duped by Einstein, and that in spite of their great expertise in a variety of fields of physics, in their discussions with him they couldn’t recognise a charlatan when they saw (and spoke with) one.
Incidentally, compared with this extraordinarily anomalous passage of Joffe’s, his naming the author of the 1905 papers “Einstein-Marity” (on the grounds of the “Swiss custom” by which the maiden name of the wife “is added to the husband’s family name”) pales into a mere idiosyncrasy.
It is instructive to note that in 1969 Joffe reported a visit he paid to Einstein in Berlin, where in the course of a late-afternoon discussion in a local park he described to him his latest work on the mechanical and electrical properties of crystals:
In two hours I had explained all the essentials to him; and now Einstein began the process of turning the information to his own use. One may describe this process as the organic absorption of new information into an already existing uniform picture of nature.
Their discussion continued throughout that evening at Einstein’s home:
Finally, at two in the morning the discussion ended; everything was settled, all doubts had been cleared up. Once again, a piece had been fitted into the contradictory jigsaw which was Einstein’s picture of the world. Neither I nor many other scholars would have been capable of so long and so systematic an intellectual exercise. But for Einstein it was obviously commonplace.
Readers are again invited to consider whether Joffe would have written of Einstein in such glowing terms had he, in his 1955 memorial article, previously intimated that Einstein had fraudulently claimed sole authorship of the 1905 papers, and later, according to Bjerknes, supposedly accepted that Einstein was scientifically “a nothing”. They should also consider whether this account is in accord with Bjerknes’ portrayal of Einstein as intellectually inferior (pp. 2372-79), someone who “upon meeting with colleagues… would often grill them for information on their theories, seemingly soaking it all in to repeat later as if the ideas were his own” (p. 2374), and who “lacked the mathematical skills and intellectual abilities needed to have written the 1905 [relativity] paper alone” (p. 2372, see below).
In relation to Bjerknes’ querying how Joffe could have known about “Marity” as an alternative form of “Marić”, Evan Harris Walker contends that Joffe could only have known of this “Hungarianized” spelling of Marić if he “had he seen the original [1905 relativity manuscript] signed by her”. However, as Stachel points out, it was used in Carl Seelig’s well-known biography of Einstein, published the year before Joffe’s article. And he may even have heard it from Mileva herself, presuming we can at least give credence to his stating he met her in Zurich.
At this stage in his chapter (p. 2369) Bjerknes once more indulges in frank speculation:
Why did Albert’s name appear in the published papers, but not Mileva’s? Did Mileva lose her nerve in the end and ask not to be named as the author of unoriginal works? [Recall that by Bjerknes’ accounts, the 1905 papers consist of plagiarised material – A. E.] Did Mileva have moral objections to the plagiarism? Were the works submitted as coauthored works, but the couple was persuaded that it would be better to have a male name in print? Was there a printing error? Why after fifty years, would Joffe come out with the disclosure [sic] that the papers were submitted by “Einstein-Marić”? Why did the fact nag him for fifty years, and why did he feel compelled to publicly express it, after Albert Einstein had died?
So many questions – and all of them superfluous if we take the straightforward position to which all reliable documentation points, that the 1905 papers were written and submitted solely by Einstein, and that Marić gave up any scientific ambition following her second diploma exam failure in 1901 and her loss of baby Lieserl in 1902. But to take just the last question, it must have been a very strange compulsion indeed that (i) led Joffe to leave a cryptic clue of the nature alleged by Bjerknes while in the immediately preceding sentence he gives a fulsome tribute to Einstein (his “entrance into the arena of science [in 1905] is unforgettable”) that is hardly compatible with what is supposedly being ‘revealed’, (ii) led him to “publicly express” the supposed information in a way that is so obscure that it does not enable the drawing of any such conclusion except by people already determined to claim a role for Mileva Marić that she never remotely intimated herself; and (iii) nevertheless allowed him, a few years later, to make even more fulsome tributes to Einstein’s achievements in 1905 and afterwards (including describing him as the “originator” of relativity theory) completely at variance with the supposed revelation.
Summing up on this specific issue: Bjerknes acknowledges that Joffe’s anomalous account of the abortive visit to Einstein in Zurich “makes no sense”, yet he insists that a single idiosyncratic item elsewhere that defies a straightforward explanation (though it is not entirely beyond the bounds of rational explanation) is filled with a meaning of great significance for those few who have been able to decipher it, regardless of the fact that this supposed meaning is completely at variance with Joffe’s several expressions of admiration for Einstein’s achievements.
According to Bjerknes, there must have been a conspiracy of silence about the alleged suppression of Marić’s name from the 1905 papers, one which involved, at the very least, the eminent physicists Drude, Planck and Röntgen. There is not a scintilla of evidence to suggest that these scientists would have acting in such a disreputable fashion. Nor would the notion of a woman co-authoring papers in science be regarded as outlandish at that time, there being some instances in the nineteenth century, and the prominent contemporary example of Pierre and Marie Curie, who had also been jointly awarded a share in the Nobel Prize for physics in 1903. (Marie Curie had also published in her own name alone before 1905.)
Incidentally, by Bjerknes’ story, Drude, Planck and Röntgen (not to mention Einstein) must have lived with the constant fear that Marić might at any time spill the beans and reveal their dishonourable behaviour in regard to the authorship of the 1905 papers!
In the passages that follow the claims about Joffe, Bjerknes resorts to indiscriminate, highly selective, quotations to supposedly demonstrate Einstein’s inadequacies as a physicist and mathematician. I shall deal with a sample these to illustrate that Bjerknes is unconcerned about the reliability (or, indeed, actual significance as against his own tendentious interpretation) of the quotations. It suffices merely to find anything that he can represent as supporting his contentions, while ignoring the mass of reliable documented evidence that contradicts them.
Bjerknes quotes (p. 2370) a passage from Peter Michelmore’s book on Einstein containing assertions about Marić’s supposed prowess in mathematics the dubiousness of which I have exposed elsewhere in some detail (as well as demonstrating the unreliability of Michelmore’s book in general). Here I shall just note that, while she performed exceptionally well in high school level mathematics, her Zurich Polytechnic mathematics entrance exam grade was moderate (grade average 4.25 on a scale 1-6), and her grade for the mathematics component (theory of functions) of the 1900 diploma examination was a lowly 5 on a scale 1-12. (None of the other four candidates in their group achieved less than grade 11.) There is also a comment in a letter of Marić’s attesting to her having considerable difficulty with descriptive and projective geometry. This would be of little consequence if there was any substantive documentary evidence of mathematical work undertaken by Marić in the years that followed, but there is none.
Bjerknes provides (pp. 2370-71) several brief quotations purportedly showing that Einstein was a poor mathematician. However, when these items are read in context they merely illustrate the well-known fact that Einstein chose to neglect the study of more specialised pure mathematics in order to focus on his research in physics. What Bjerknes omits is the evidence that Einstein was precociously gifted at mathematics in his early teens, mastering the basic elements of algebra, geometry and calculus by home study several years before his schoolmates (confirmed in a letter Einstein obtained from his mathematics teacher when he left the Munich Luitpold Gymnasium at the age of fifteen), and that he was capable of producing exceptional work at more advanced mathematics when he needed it for his research on theoretical physics. In relation to his Ph.D. thesis submitted to Zurich University in 1905 the physics professor Alfred Kleiner wrote that “The arguments and calculations to be carried out are among the most difficult ones in hydrodynamics, and only a person possessing perspicacity and training in the handling of mathematical and physical problems could dare tackle them.” Kleiner added that he had sought the expert opinion of the head of mathematics, Professor Heinrich Burkardt on these mathematical sections. Burkhardt reported that what he checked he “found to be correct without exception, and the manner of treatment demonstrates a thorough command of the mathematical methods involved” (emphasis in original). Bjerknes would no doubt respond by saying that Marić did the mathematics (or possibly that Marić was the actual author, or co-author, of the Ph.D. thesis), but of course there is not a scrap of evidence that this was the case.
That Einstein sought the help of mathematicians, such as his friend Marcel Grossman, with expertise in more esoteric (from the point of view of a non-mathematician) specialised mathematics when he needed it is not evidence of any general inadequacy in mathematical ability, as Bjerknes would have his readers believe – in part (in the context of the chapter in question) so that he can promote Marić as having done Einstein’s mathematics for him in the early years of their marriage.
An illustration of Bjerknes’ propensity to uncritically quote statements that support his thesis occurs in relation to the writings of Evan Harris Walker. The quotation in question (p. 2372) purports to provide specific evidence of “ongoing collaborative effort” on extra-curricular physics from the Einstein/Marić correspondence in the years 1899-1901. I have exposed the tendentiously misleading character of this paragraph of Walker’s in considerable detail, as well the poor level of his arguments in general, elsewhere.
And so it goes on: “Albert lacked the mathematical skills and intellectual abilities needed to have written the 1905 [relativity] paper alone.” (p. 2372) In fact the mathematical knowledge for this paper did not go beyond what any competent physics graduate of the Zurich Polytechnic would have acquired (and was effectively acquired by Einstein by the age of fifteen). As Jürgen Renn observed, “If he had needed help with that kind of mathematics, he would have ended there.”
“Mileva was exceptionally bright, and all the indications are that those who knew her throughout her life found her the more intelligent one of the pair.” (Bjerknes, p. 2372)
Bjerknes conveniently provides no references for this assertion. That Marić was intelligent goes without question, as does her academic prowess at high school. However there is no substantive evidence that she was exceptionally intelligent, and Bjerknes’ unreferenced assertion that those who knew her throughout her life regarded her as the more intelligent of the two is scarcely worthy of comment.
“She had the needed intellectual prowess to have written the 1905 paper on the principle of relativity.” (p. 2372)
Bjerknes provides not a scrap of evidence that this was the case, nor is there a single piece of documentation to show that she had any special interest in the subject.
“Given the many blunders in the paper, it is safe to assume that neither one of them was a superlative mathematician, nor logician.” (p. 2372)
It seems strange that a paper with so many blunders should have been taken to be of major import by theoretical physicists of the calibre of Planck, Wien, Born, and others from the early days of its publication. (It is also strange that such eminent physicists, familiar with the publications of FitzGerald, Lorentz, Poincaré and others on electrodynamics, somehow failed to recognise that, as Bjerknes would have us believe (p. 2380), the 1905 relativity paper was nothing but blatant plagiarism.)
“Mileva and Albert had co-authored papers before, and Albert had assumed credit for that which Mileva had accomplished without him.” (p. 2373)
For the assertion in the first part of this sentence Bjerknes references the biography of Einstein by Dennis Brian, in which the author writes “Jung [an uncle of Einstein’s friend Michele Besso] had sent a paper by Albert and Mileva to two leading physicist friends, Professor Batteli in Pisa and Professor Augusto Righi in Bologna.” (Einstein was seeking a university post at this time.) Brian’s source is a letter Einstein wrote to Marić on 4 April 1901, in which he wrote with reference to Besso’s attempts to help him find a post: “The day before yesterday he went on my behalf to his uncle, Prof. Jung…to give him our paper.” A reference note at this point identifies the paper in question as that on capillarity published in Annalen der Physik in 1901.
I have discussed the background to this sentence more closely elsewhere, but here I shall just make a couple of salient points. In relation to the paper in question, Marić had earlier (20 December 1900) reported to her friend Helene Savić that “Albert wrote a paper in physics that will probably soon be published in the Annalen der Physik. You can imagine how proud I am of my darling… We also sent a copy to Boltzmann, and we would like to know what he thinks of it; I hope he will write to us.”
Note that Marić explicitly attributes the paper to Einstein, and expresses her pride in him in terms that hardly suggest she played a substantive role in its production. (It would have been the most natural thing in the world for Marić to have confided to her closest friend that she had provided assistance with the paper, if such had been the case.) Note also that, after the direct attribution of the paper to Einstein, Marić quite naturally slips into thinking of themselves as a couple, and uses the word “we” when referring to the sending of the paper to Boltzmann. (Quite possibly is was Marić who undertook the task of actually mailing the paper.) Returning to Einstein’s comment about Prof. Jung: it was written during the period in which they were apart already mentioned when Einstein had sought to reassure Marić about his feelings for her. He uses the inclusive word “our” in relation to the capillarity paper, but given the context, the absence of any documentary evidence that Marić provided anything more than possible assistance in looking up physical constants for him, and Marić’s explicitly attributing the paper to Einstein, the evidence that the paper was co-authored by Marić is very thin.
Bjerknes also references (p. 2814, n.3565) ten documents in volume 1 of the Albert Einstein Collected Papers for his claim about co-authorship. These comprise a miscellaneous group of letters from their student days and just after which range from Einstein’s mentioning physics books he wanted to read together with Marić; his recounting his own ideas on extra-curricular physics; his mentioning investigations relating to the subject matter of their respective diploma dissertations; his mentioning results he had obtained on the capillarity topic discussed above; Marić’s mentioning in 1897 (while auditing at Heidelberg University for one semester) a lecture by Lenard on elementary kinetic theory of gases; Marić’s telling Helene Savić about the papers Einstein had written; and, finally, Marić’s expressing curiosity about two papers Einstein had sent to a physics professor of his acquaintanceship for his opinion. It would take a separate article to examine all these passages to show that they do not have the significance that Bjerknes claims for them, but for a detailed general examination of such contentions see my article Mileva Marić: Einstein’s Wife.
What of the second part of the sentence of Bjerknes’ above, in which he states that Einstein claimed credit for work Marić had accomplished without him? Bjerknes references a small volume by Theoni Pappas for this assertion, and this author in turn cites Trbuhović-Gjurić. Tappas writes that “Einstein sceptics contend that Marić worked with physicist Paul Habicht on the development of a machine to measure small electric currents which was patented under the name of Einstein-Habicht.” I have examined Trbuhović-Gjurić’s claims in relation to this story in considerable detail, and, like so many unreferenced assertions to be found in her book, it is without any documentary substantiation. It is characteristic of Bjerknes that his justification for making this fairly serious allegation against Einstein has for its source Trbuhović-Gjurić’s unsubstantiated story, contained in a profoundly unscholarly book. It is also worth noting that Bjerknes explicitly gives no credit at all to Einstein for the development of the electrical device (“that which Mileva had accomplished without him”), yet there are nearly a score of letters between Paul Habicht and Einstein testifying to his crucial involvement in the project (and not so much a hint in Habicht’s letters that he was also collaborating with Marić).
“Senta Troemel-Ploetz presented a thorough account of Albert’s appropriation of Mileva’s work and of Mileva’s acquiescence.” (p. 2373)
Here again we have an example of Bjerknes citing for support of his contentions any work that purports to provided evidence for them, regardless of its scholarly standards. I have examined Troemel-Ploetz’s “account” in considerable detail elsewhere and shown that most of the article in question is deficient in the most basic norms of scholarly procedures. Much of it is dependent on an indiscriminate and uncritical acceptance of assertions in Trbuhović-Gjurić’s book, the unscholarly nature of which I have mentioned above, and demonstrated in the articles cited in note 40.
“Troemel-Ploetz’ insights into the cultural barriers Marić faced, and the reasons for Marić’s lack of success at the ETH, form a persuasive argument that Mileva was discriminated against, which must be taken into account when comparing Mileva’s accomplishments with those of her fellow students.” (p. 2373)
It is without question that Marić had to overcome institutional barriers to enable her to study physics at school in her native Serbia, which is why her father arranged for her to complete her high school education in Switzerland. (Neither of her biographers Desanka Trbuhović–Gjuric and Dord Krstić record the grades she achieved at the end of the academic year 1895-1896 at the Zurich Higher Girls' school or in the Matura examinations [university entrance level] which she successfully passed.) However, there is no evidence that she had to overcome cultural barriers during her time at the prestigious Zurich Polytechnic (later named ETH). In its policies towards the education of women, the Polytechnic was progressive for its day. Stachel has checked the Polytechnic’s records and compiled the statistics for the section that trained teachers of mathematics and science for a diploma that also qualified them to apply for assistantship in a University department. In the years 1895-97 female students amounted to between one quarter and one third of the intake, though in the remaining period of Marić’s time there the proportion dropped to less than one sixth. Unlike Einstein, Marić was accepted for a position of assistant to their physics professor Heinrich Weber, and was only unable to take up the post because she failed to obtain a diploma. Nowhere is there any indication in Marić’s letters (or, to my knowledge, in any other documents) that she was subjected to cultural discrimination in relation to her education while in Zurich, or that there is any reason for her failure to obtain a diploma in 1900 other than that she found the course (at least, some of the mathematics topics) too demanding. As already mentioned, her grade average in the Polytechnic mathematics entrance exam was a very modest 4.25 on a scale 1-6, and her grade in the intermediate diploma exam placed her fifth of six students. (Einstein came first in that exam.) In the final diploma exam in 1900 she was last of five in their group. Nowhere in the Einstein/Marić correspondence in the months prior to the exam is there any indication of any personal difficulties that might account for her failure (unlike the situation the following year, when she was three months pregnant when she failed a second time).
Troemel-Ploetz’s arguments that Bjerknes commends are almost entirely general observations on the experiences of women in the period in question, and when she relates these to Marić she presumes the same was the case for her, as if there could be no exceptions to the general attitudes, especially in an institute with relatively progressive policies like Zurich Polytechnic. Nowhere does Troemel-Ploetz provide evidence of discriminatory practices applied to Marić; she takes it that there must have been such. As already noted, Marić was offered the provisional post as assistant to Prof Weber despite her moderate Intermediate diploma exam result, and he accepted her proposal for pursuing a Ph.D. under his supervision. Where Troemel-Ploetz does connect with Marić she resorts to a thoroughly tendentious story that for the most part the documentary evidence does not bear out. For instance, she writes that Marić “most certainly would have gotten both her Diplom and her doctorate had she not met Albert Einstein… Once she was committed to him… she worked for him instead of for herself – out of love.”
It is interesting that Troemel-Ploetz presents this rather pathetic image of Marić as conventionally (for the time) devoting herself entirely to her loved one’s interests, while not providing a single item of documentation to justify it. There is no question that Marić became devoted to Einstein in their final years together at the Polytechnic in 1899-1900 (as was Einstein to her), but her letters testify to her continuing application to her studies as a conscientious student. Significantly, Troemel-Ploetz acknowledges this: “She may not even have noticed the difference at first, because she kept working more than ever…”; but this doesn’t deter her from following her predetermined story: “…but her love did change her very strong dedication to her studies in that she no longer pursued them in the interests of her own career, but rather his.” As already noted, Troemel-Ploetz provides not a single citation to justify this story, she relies on what is effectively a statement of ‘what must have been the case’.
Not only is there no evidence that Marić undermined her own chances once she became devoted to Einstein, the contrary is the case. In addition to the fact that her letters testify to her working hard for her exams, those of Einstein show that he helped, and strongly encouraged, her in her studies. (As noted above, in one letter Einstein indicates his role in relation to their studies when he refers back to their time as fellow-students: “Soon you’ll be my ‘student’ again, like in Zurich”)
Troemel-Ploetz writes, “From Trbuhović-Gjurić’s book, it seems that Mileva Einstein-Marić jeopardized her relationship with Professor Weber because she fought for Albert Einstein when he, as the only student out of four, did not receive an assistantship after the Diplom examination at the ETH.” There is no documentary evidence to justify any of the contentions contained here in relation to Marić, and Troemel-Ploetz makes no attempt to provide it; she is simply recycling Trbuhović-Gjurić’s evidence-free assertions. There is evidence, however, that Weber was not happy with the progress of her dissertation that she hoped would lead to a Ph.D.
Troemel-Ploetz continues this theme a little later as follows: “Mileva Einstein-Marić…had conflicts with Weber because she wanted him to see his unfairness to Albert Einstein… Did she ever give any thought to the possibility of fighting for an assistantship for herself?”
It’s difficult to take this kind of expression of indignation seriously. Not only is there no evidence that Marić’s disagreements with Weber had anything to do with Einstein, she was accepted for an assistantship under Weber provisional on her obtaining the diploma. (Interestingly, Helene Savić reported to her mother that Marić was “offered an assistantship at the Polytechnic, but because of the students she did not wish to accept it; she would rather apply for an open position as librarian at the Polytechnic.”)
So much for Troemel-Ploetz’s “insights” that Bjerknes commends for purportedly providing evidence of discrimination, etc, in order to explain Marić’s lack of success at Zurich Polytechnic.
Bjerknes’ next item (p. 2373) relates to reviews of physics papers published by Einstein in physics journals, almost all of them in 1905. The majority of the papers were in German (12), with five in French, four in English, and two in Italian. Bjerknes writes that “Mileva Marić was the more likely one of the couple to have reviewed the English language literature for the reviews published under Albert’s name…” Now in fact many of the “reviews” were actually nothing more than very brief summaries of the contents of the papers, and this applies to the four English language papers. Bjerknes writes that, in contrast to Einstein, “Mileva could speak English”. A little further on he states that “Mileva had the ability to have read the important English and Slavik works of Gibbs, Larmor, Smoluchowski, Varičak, etc, which the couple had copied.” Bjerknes provides no evidence either that Marić had sufficient knowledge of English to have read the writings of Gibbs (or indeed the four physics papers mentioned above), or that she had any specific interest in, let alone read, the works by the authors he cites, of which he makes the evidence-free claim that the couple copied. She did not learn English at high school, and the only relevant information in the literature, to my knowledge, is of Marić’s writing, some time after November 1898, some “English exercises” on a page which Einstein used to write a short note to her. There is nothing to indicate that she went on to achieve sufficient fluency to read physics papers in English in 1905, so Bjerknes’ assertion is nothing more than another evidence-free surmise. (Marić might have helped Einstein with the translation these papers, but it is also quite possible that Einstein engaged the help of someone at the Patent Office to read the English language papers so that he could write a brief summary of their contents. All that can really be said is that there is no information available to enable us to know the actual facts on this matter.)
At the beginning of a lengthy section (pp. 2373-77) in which Bjerkness seeks to denigrate Einstein by reproducing any anecdotes he can find for the purpose, he states that “Albert would often simply agree with whomever he had last spoken, and it is likely that he was little more than a mere parrot.” This sentence would scarcely be worth bothering with, were it not for the fact that Bjerknes references Michelmore for the first part. The full statement in Michelmore’s book reads as follows: “He could never make up his mind about everyday matters and would usually agree with the last person to whom he had spoken simply out of disinterest.” Less important than the fact that the full statement indicates that Bjerknes’ glib paraphrase fails to provide the context in which Michelmore made the comment is that he should casually cite from a book that is fundamentally unreliable, and lacks the very basics of scholarship, such as references and a bibliography. Michelmore’s book is in many places composed of situations and dialogue that he has at least partially invented to present a “racy” narrative, and this is the case for the passage from which Bjerknes gives a paraphrase. This again exemplifies that Bjerknes is completely undiscriminating in lining up his ‘evidence’; anything he can find to the detriment of Einstein’s reputation suffices for his purposes.
After the interlude of anecdotes about Einstein, Bjerknes returns to more relevant matters. He reports (p. 2377) that “Max von Laue found it difficult to believe that Einstein had written the 1905 paper”, and quotes him saying: “The young man who met me made such an unexpected impression on me, that I did not believe him to be capable of being the father of the theory of relativity.”
For some reason Bjerknes omits to go on to quote further from Seelig’s report of Laue’s words, including “from that visit I came away with some understanding of the relativity theory”, and “when I came to Zurich University in October 1912 as associate professor, I found Einstein as full professor of theoretical physics at the FIT and a vivid and personal relationship ensued”, not to mention his account of the lively discussions around advanced physics topics in which Einstein engaged with other eminent physicists.
In similar vein, Bjerknes turns to the statement from the mathematician Hermann Minkowski, who had taught Einstein at Zurich Polytechnic, that he wouldn’t have thought that the “lazy” Einstein was capable of producing the 1905 relativity paper. (What he’d have thought of Bjerknes’ notion that it was actually the work of Mileva Marić, who achieved only a lowly grade 5 on a scale 1-12 in the fundamental “theory of functions” final diploma examination in 1900, Bjerknes forbears from conjecturing.) As is well-known, Einstein did not spend any more time than he needed on studying mathematics at Zurich Polytechnic so that he could concentrate on his extra-curricular physics interests, which suffices to account for Minkowski’s remark. Bjerknes’ follow-up comment that Minkowski thought that Einstein was a poor mathematician is characteristically misleading. Minkowski was a pure mathematician of genius, and Einstein had made no study of advanced pure mathematics, only engaging with it (with the help of mathematician colleagues as necessary) when he required it for the development of his research, such as on general relativity. It is hardly surprising that Minkowski would not have a high opinion of Einstein as a mathematician.
Following some anecdotes purporting to demonstrate that Einstein was mathematically incompetent, Bjerknes writes (p. 2378): “Einstein often tried to justify his enormous difficulties in school and his ignorance by admitting he thought mathematics unimportant…”
For the first part of this sentence Bjerknes references Bucky (1992), though he provides no page number. The book in question is largely a compendium of reconstructions of conversations, based on notes and memory, that the author held with Einstein (often when acting as his driver) during his years in the United States. The passage Bjerknes presumably has in mind (on pp. 26-27) is Einstein’s reply to Bucky’s question, “Are some of those stories true about your great difficulties in school…”: “Oh, yes, they are quite true. I remember in Munich having my Latin teacher tell me I would never be able to do anything that would make sense in this life… my abilities were very modest, and I had to understand everything through my own handiwork…”
Leaving aside the unreliability of the actual words in such anecdotal evidence, any protestation by Einstein that he had modest intellectual abilities should be taken with a large pinch of salt. First, it is the case that most scientifically gifted people recognise only too well their own limitations, and occasionally take for granted their own intellectual abilities as if they were close to the norm. Second, the record contradicts Einstein’s own account of his school achievements. We have Max Talmey’s direct testimony that Einstein was precociously gifted at mathematics, and a record of his excellent grades when he graduated from high school in Switzerland. His grades in mathematics and physics in the Zurich Polytechnic entrance examination (which he took when he was sixteen, two years younger than the normal stipulated age) were so exceptional that the physics professor Heinrich Weber invited him to attend second year lectures, and the Principal of the Polytechnic went out of his way to recommend a suitable school for him to attend in order to bring his other subjects up to matriculation standard. With regard to the reminiscence about his Latin teacher deriding his abilities, in 1929, in response to stories circulating about Einstein, the headmaster of the Luitpold Gymnasium in Munich searched the school records and reported that he “always received at least a 2 in Latin, and in the sixth grade even a 1 [highest grade]. In Greek he always had a 2 in his school reports…”
To try to keep this critique within reasonable bounds, I shall now restrict what follows to a few points pertinent to the claims about the 1905 papers and Marić’s alleged role in their production.
On the 1905 relativity paper (p. 2380): “The Einsteins simply copied the then famous papers of noted scientists. They acted like a teenager, who opens an encyclopedia article, changes a few words and copies the rest, then submits the finished forgery as his own term paper.”
Leaving aside the mass of evidence for Einstein’s many years of researching this subject matter, and the testimony of his colleagues such as Michele Besso with whom he engaged in lengthy discussions, we are supposed to believe that physicists such as Planck, Wien and Born who were familiar with the work of the other “noted scientists” somehow failed to register that the 1905 relativity paper was blatant plagiarism of the crudest kind.
More from Bjerknes (p. 2380): “But was it Albert who was fitting the formulae others had published before him into a new dress to call his own, or was it his brilliant wife Mileva? Albert’s supposed genius diminished after his divorce from Mileva in 1919. Why would that be so? He died in 1955, and produced nothing extraordinarily significant after his divorce, in my opinion, and [those] who were closest to Einstein have agreed.
“After winning the Nobel Prize in 1922, Albert paid his former wife the money which had won in the prize, but why? Why pay Mileva the winnings?...”
And later (p. 2381-82): “Could the Nobel Prize monies Albert paid to Mileva have been ‘hush money’? […] Could the [divorce] agreement have related not to the responsibilities of marriage, but to potential monetary gain derived from Mileva’s efforts? Is it possible that if it were Mileva’s work, and that work paid off, Albert would pay her off, and then only to keep her silent…” And so on.
Responding briefly to the mass of errors and misconceptions in these statements: Einstein had lived separately from Marić since 1914, and they had been barely on speaking terms since 1912, so the reference to the divorce in 1919 as the date beyond which his “supposed” genius diminished (with the implication that prior to that year he had relied on Marić for his productions) makes no sense at all. By 1919 Einstein was around forty, and the epoch-making achievements of theoretical physicists almost always occur in their early adult years, so it is hardly surprising that nothing that came after was comparable to the greatest of his many considerable contributions to theoretical physics that he produced in the years from 1905 through 1917. On the matter of the Nobel Prize money, the divorce settlement stipulated not that it was to be paid to Marić, but that it was to be put in trust for their two sons, while Marić was enabled to draw the interest on the capital. The correspondence between Einstein and Marić during the later period of their separation before their divorce demonstrates that Einstein put forward the proposal that he would relinquish the Nobel Prize money in order to persuade the reluctant Marić to agree to a divorce.
Keeping to material directly relevant to the “collaboration” claims about Marić takes us to the very end of Bjerknes’ chapter. He suggests in his Conclusion (p. 2385) that Einstein had no choice but to copy what others had published before him because, he intimates, Einstein was possibly “of sub-average intelligence”. He provides a reference, presumably meant to lend support to this suggestion, to the following statement in Michelmore’s book: “Despite his questing mind, young Albert was a flop as a schoolboy… His inattentiveness incensed the teachers who had a holy regard for discipline. They called him ‘Herr Langweil’ meaning ‘Mister Dullard’.” For Bjerknes it matters not that Michelmore’s book, with its several errors and numerous unverifiable assertions, is utterly unreliable – as long as he can find a statement which, taken in isolation, is grist for his mill. The quotation in question, as throughout Michelmore’s book, is unreferenced, and is in one of the many sections containing imaginative scenarios with invented dialogue that the author could not possibly have known, or which comes from an unreliable source. That Bjerknes regards this passage as worthy of referencing to support his suggestion is once again a reflection on his deficient scholarly standards. As already noted, it is completely untrue to say that Einstein was a flop as a schoolboy. When he was seven his mother reported to her sister, “Yesterday Albert got his grades, once again he was ranked first, he got a splendid report card…” Later, at his Gymnasium in Munich, he was well ahead of his classmates in mathematics and physics, as discussed above, and even in Latin and Greek he regularly achieved high grades. But Bjerknes is not one to make even a pretence at disinterestedness in his citing of other authors regardless of the reliability of their assertions and of the amount of evidence to the contrary.
There remains to be considered the contentions by which Bjerknes justified his assertion that Joffe had been terrorised into silence (for some fifty years) about the name on the original 1905 papers. Briefly, Bjerknes writes (p. 2365) that “fanatics in the Physics community… have viciously attacked Einstein’s critics”, and that in response to Einstein’s scientific critics who disclosed “facts unfavorable to Einstein’s image” the “international press and press agencies echoed Einstein’s lies” (i.e., his “defamation” of scientific critics). Evidently attributing the root source of this worldwide promulgation of falsehoods to a supposed Zionist stranglehold on the international press, he continues: “The terrorist and censorship tactics used against Einstein’s critics are typical Zionist behaviour.” Bjerknes provides several citations for his contentions, but the tone of his comments hardly induces confidence in the basic case he is making. I can only suggest that anyone interested should read the sections in the biographies by Ronald Clark and Albrecht Fölsing that provide a very different view of the opposition to Einstein in Germany in the early 1920s. But no doubt Bjerknes would say that these authors have been duped by Zionist propaganda.
In any case, the lack of substantive evidence for Bjerknes’ basic claim about Joffe which necessitates this notion of enforced silence makes his assertions about the “terrorising” of Einstein’s opponents superfluous. Moreover, these assertions cannot be used to explain why Joffe would have maintained silence about the supposed fraud in relation to the authorship of the 1905 papers in the years immediately after their publication. That can only be explained by widening the conspiracy on the part of Drude, Planck and Röntgen to include Joffe. (The conspiracy also indirectly involves Marić herself, as she never at any time claimed to have played a role in the production of Einstein’s 1905 papers, nor so much as hinted any such role in correspondence to her closest friend Helene Savić.)
Alternatively, there was no such conspiracy, and the complete absence of any documents that provide substantive evidence (even hearsay) that Marić advanced any specific ideas in relation to the research undertaken by Einstein, or produced any such work herself, indicates that Einstein was the sole author of the 1905 papers. It should also be noted that there is not a single report by those colleagues and friends of Einstein’s who engaged in detailed discussions with him in the early period of his research on advanced theoretical physics that so much as hints that Marić had any such involvement.
Two such friends were Maurice Solovine and Michele Besso. Solovine, with Einstein, was a founder-member of the tiny discussion group (the “Olympia Academy”) that they started up in Bern in 1902 to discuss mainly scientific and philosophical works, joined a short time later by Conrad Habicht. In his brief reminiscences of that period Solovine remarked on Einstein’s “surprising mastery of physical problems” at that time. (He also reported that when Marić moved to Bern on marrying Einstein in January 1903 “this occasioned no change in our meetings”, and that when the gatherings took place at the Einsteins’ home she “listened attentively but never intervened in our discussions”.) Besso took a more direct part in discussing with Einstein the physics topics that engaged him, including in relation to the 1905 relativity paper, at the end of which Einstein mentioned his debt to Besso “for many a valuable suggestion”. Besso’s letters to Einstein testify to the extent of his contributions to discussions between the pair on aspects of Einstein’s work at various times over the years. Besso joined Einstein at the Bern Patent Office in 1904, and this gave them the opportunity to engage in productive discussions of Einstein’s work on theoretical physics, most notably the special relativity theory. It is worth noting that, despite his incontrovertible involvement in such discussions, no one has suggested that Besso should be deemed a co-author of the relativity paper, though, as Stachel has pointed out, the substantive evidence for his taking part in exchanges with Einstein on the relativity theory is far stronger than anything in regard to Marić.
Finally: If there is anything to be drawn from Christopher Jon Bjerknes’ chapters on Mileva Marić it is for what they reveal about his propensity to recycle any statements he can find in the literature that he can enlist for his purposes with no regard for their evidential basis, and his corresponding failure to cite the considerable evidence that undercuts his thesis.
Bjerknes’ suggestion that the chronology of Einstein’s major achievements indicates that he needed Marić’s scientific assistance right up to the time of their divorce (or, more sensibly, their separation) has occasionally been made elsewhere, so it is worth recording Marić’s comments on his work in her post-1905 letters to Helene Savić :
“My husband often spends his leisure time at home playing with the little boy, but…it is not his only occupation aside from his official [Patent Office] activities; the papers he has written are already mounting quite high.” (December 1906?)
“I cannot tell you how happy I am [about our moving to Zurich], which will free Albert of his daily eight hours in the office, and he will now be able to devote himself to his beloved science, and only science.” (Summer? 1909)
“[Albert] is now regarded as the best of the German-language physicists… I am very happy for his success, because he really does deserve it.” (3 September 1909)
“[Albert] is working very much, and he has published a great deal…[…] …with that kind of fame he does not have much time left for his wife. I read between the lines a certain impish tone when you wrote that I must be jealous of science…[…] …I long for love, and I would so rejoice if I could hear an affirmative reply that I almost believe it is the fault of the damned science…” (Winter 1909/1910)
*I have been reliably informed that in Switzerland the hyphenated form of the husband's family name was a rare occurrence, and would not have been used other than as a means of distinguishing the husband's identity if his family name was very common. As noted above, however, what matters in relation to the paragraph of Joffe's in question is that the author evidently believed (and stated explicitly) that it was common practice in Switzerland. (At the beginning of the paragraph he unambiguously wrote of Einstein's "unforgettable" entry in the arena of physics with the celebrated 1905 papers.)
1. Stachel (2002), pp. 33-36. http://www.esterson.org/Stachel_Einsteins_letters.htm
Esterson (2006a). Mileva Marić: Einstein’s Wife
2. Esterson (2006a). Mileva Marić: Einstein’s Wife
Esterson (2006b). Who Did Einstein’s Mathematics?
3. Esterson (2006a). Mileva Marić: Einstein’s Wife
Esterson (2006b). Who Did Einstein’s Mathematics?
Esterson (2007). Critique of Gabor (1995)
4. Joffe (1967), pp. 23-24.
5. Joffe (1967), pp. 88, 92.
6. Stachel (2005), pp. liv-lxiii: http://www.esterson.org/Stachel_Joffe.htm
7. Stachel (2005), p. lix.
8. Renn & Schulmann (1992), pp. 72-73.
9. Renn & Schulmann (1992), p. 39.
10. Pais (1992), p. 139.
11. Stachel (2002), pp. 27-28, 33-36.
12. Mileva Marić: Einstein’s Wife (2006a), “The Einstein/Marić correspondence and related claims.”: http://www.esterson.org/milevaMarić.htm
13. Stachel, J (ed.) (2005), p. li.
14. Renn & Schulmann (1992), letters 8, 9; 29, 31; Albert Einstein Collected Papers, Vol. 1, Beck & Havas (1987), docs. 52, 53; 102, 105.
15. Renn & Schulmann (1992), p. 71.
16. Fölsing (1997), p. 57.
17. Joffe (1967), p. 88.
18. Stachel (2005), p. lxi. Stachel dates the visit as 1905 (possibly because of the reference to the Patent Office), presumably momentarily failing to notice the import of Joffe’s previous paragraph.
19. Collected Papers, Vol. 5.
20. Clark (1971), pp. 505-506.
21. Walker (1991), p. 123.
22. Stachel (2005), pp. lx; lxxi, n.126.
23. Lieserl was either adopted or died in late summer 1903, but Marić relinquished care of the baby to her parents in the summer of 1902. (Zackheim , p. 40.)
24. See, e.g., Heilbron (1996) for a testimony to Max Planck as a man with great moral integrity.
25. Esterson (2006a). Mileva Marić: Einstein’s Wife
Esterson (2006b). Who Did Einstein’s Mathematics?
26. See the relevant reference citations in the above cited Esterson (2006a), (2006b).
27. Renn & Schulmann (1992), pp. 12; 84, n.4.
28. Talmey (1932), pp. 162-164; Frank (1948), p. 27.
29. Collected Papers, Vol. 5 (1995), (English trans.), pp. 22-23.
30. Esterson (2006c). Critique of Evan Harris Walker’s Letter in Physics Today, February 1991
31. Quoted in Highfield, R. and Carter, P. (1993), pp. 114-115.
32. Fölsing (1997), pp. 201-202; Born (2005), p. 1.
33. Brian (1996), p. 33.
34. Renn & Schulmann (1992), pp. 26, 92.
35. Esterson (2006a). Mileva Marić: Einstein’s Wife
36. Popović (2003), p. 20.
37. Pappas (2003), pp. 127, 129.
38. Esterson (2006a). Mileva Marić: Einstein’s Wife
39. Collected Papers, Vol. 5.
40. Esterson (2006a). Mileva Marić: Einstein’s Wife
Esterson (2006b). Who Did Einstein’s Mathematics?
41. Stachel (2002), p. 30.
42. Collected Papers, Vol. 1, doc. 42. Highfield & Carter (1993), pp. 49-50.
43. Troemel-Ploetz (1990), pp. 422-425.
44. Popović (2003), pp. 56, 60.
45. Troemel-Ploetz (1990), pp. 424-425.
46. Renn & Schulmann (1992), pp. 13-14, 15, 32, 38, 54, 71.
47. Popović (2003), p. 78. Renn & Schulmann (1992), pp. 51-52.
48. Renn & Schulmann (1992), p. 60.
49. Collected Papers, Vol. 5.
50. Krstić (2004), p. 32.
51. Collected Papers, Vol.1, (ed. Stachel et al), Doc. 43, note.
52. Michelmore (1963), p. 31.
53. Seelig (1956), p. 78.
54. Talmey (1932), pp. 162-164.
55. Collected Papers, Vol. 1., Doc. 54.
56. Fölsing (1997), p. 37.
57. Fölsing (1997), pp. 18-19.
58. Collected Papers, Vol. 8, Docs. 449, 457, 484, 505, 533, 562.
59. Michelmore (1962), pp. 21-22.
60. Collected Papers, Vol.1, p. 3.
61. Fölsing (1997), pp. 18-19.
62. Clark (1971), pp. 316-329; Fölsing (1997), pp. 458-471.
63. Solovine (1987), pp. 7, 13.
64. Besso & Einstein (1979).
65. Popović (2003), pp. 88, 94, 98, 102.
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