Geraldine Hilton Defends Her “Einstein’s Wife” Film

 

By Allen Esterson

 

In a message to PBS in July 2006 but only sent to me on 20 November due to a communications mix-up at PBS, the writer/producer of the “Einstein’s Wife” documentary, Geraldine Hilton, provided for PBS a rebuttal of my critique of her film: http://www.esterson.org/einsteinwife1.htm

 

Below is Hilton’s response, followed by my examination of her arguments.

 

Geraldine Hilton writes:

 

You will have noted the authors of Mileva Maric: Einstein's Wife have outlined 92 citations in their attempt to discredit our documentary Einstein's Wife. The question has to be asked why Esterson took so long to respond to the documentary. He states he has the support of Stachel, Holten and Schulmann, all interviewees in the documentary and yet not one has come forward and claimed they were misrepresented because they weren't. For example, Esterson's citation at [21] states that Mileva “gives not the slightest suggestion to her friend that she made any contribution” (to the Paper on Capillarity). However, Robert Schulmann, (one of Esterson’s supporters) an interviewee in the documentary states: “It's very conceivable that Mileva had input on the paper, on Capillarity. That of course has nothing to do with special relativity. But it is fair enough to say that Mileva could conceivably have contributed to the first paper of his.” Schulmann admitted this after being handed a document which appears in The Collected Works of Albert Einstein which supported his statement.

 

I have read through Esterson's article carefully, and there is nothing which refutes the case we outline in the film. Much of their argument is based on their own subjective, pedantry interpretation such as the use of 'personal pronouns'. There is much groundless duplication of arguments such as the use of "Einstein-Marity", which we dealt with in the documentary by obtaining articles in German, Russian and Serbian which required costly translations and resulted in providing solid counter arguments.

 

The documentary research materials have since been archived and I simply do not have the resources to write a corresponding 10,000 word academic paper in response to Esterson's assertions. It will take an inordinate amount of time to go back through our research materials, including many duplicated in Esterson's bibliography. It would require going back to interviewees, some of whom have moved on to other institutions, cross reference again to our sources and then writing up a comprehensive paper. This is the reason we made the film rather than an article or book.

 

Regards,

Gerry Hilton

Producer

Melsa Films Pty Ltd.

 

 

Here is my response to the specific points made in Geraldine Hilton’s message:

 

Hilton asks: “The question has to be asked why Esterson took so long to respond to the documentary.”

 

The simple answer to this is that as I live in the UK I had no knowledge of the “Einstein’s Wife” film and PBS website until it was drawn to my attention in November 2005. As for Hilton’s saying in relation to Stachel, Holton and Schulmann that “not one has come forward and claimed they were misrepresented because they weren’t”, that is beside the point. They don’t say their limited contributions were misrepresented. Their position is that the film presents a view of the alleged contributions of Maric to Einstein’s work which is a travesty of the ascertainable historical record. See, for instance, here.

 

I note that Hilton makes no attempt to rebut specific arguments in relation to factual information, she simply responds in general terms without getting to grips with the points she purports to answer. For instance, she writes: “Much of their argument is based on their own subjective, pedantry interpretation such as the use of ‘personal pronouns’.”

 

Since I detail a whole range of erroneous or misleading statements in the film, Hilton’s writing that much of my argument relates to the use of personal pronouns gives some indication of the inadequacy of her response. To describe Stachel’s detailed analysis of the use of personal pronouns by Einstein in relation to his extra-curricular activities in the letters to Maric from 1898-1901 as pedantic indicates that Hilton has little notion of what constitutes scholarly research. What Stachel has documented is that against Einstein’s rare use of the collective “we” or “our” in these letters in relation to extra-curricular topics (to be distinguished from their co-operative work related to their diploma dissertation topics) there are numerous occasions in which he refers to his work in relation to the same subject matter. For instance, the last two relevant letters by Einstein contain the following sentences:

“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 in Zurich telling him about my ideas about the electrodynamics of moving bodies.” (19 December 1901)

 

Hilton failed to mention either of these sentences in her film – and many other like instances that Stachel cites. No doubt she thinks it would have been pedantic to have done so. Others will recognize this omission as illustrative of the tendentiously flawed nature of her film. In any case, as I’m sure Hilton fails to appreciate, at the time of the letters in question Einstein was still working on the basis of Galilean motion relative to the ether, and they were written some four years or more before he alighted on his special relativity principle (which dispensed with the ether), published in 1905.

 

In my critique I noted that in her letter to her friend Helene Kaufler, Maric had written of the 1901 capillarity paper: “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.” I observed that this does not read as if Maric had any substantive input to this paper. Hilton responds by quoting Robert Schulmann’s saying it is very conceivable that Maric made a contribution. Evidently she fails to grasp the distinction between something being conceivable, and hard evidence that it was the case. (A great many contentions are conceivable, but nevertheless false.) The fact remains that, as I wrote, there is not the slightest suggestion in any of the letters Maric wrote to Kaufler that she made any contribution to Einstein’s published papers, and Hilton has produced nothing that refutes my statement. In any case, the main issue is whether Maric made any contribution to the groundbreaking papers written four years later, in 1905, a crucial point which Hilton fails to address in her response, and for which there is no serious evidence.

 

Hilton writes: “There is much groundless duplication of arguments such as the use of ‘Einstein-Marity’, which we dealt with in the documentary by obtaining articles in German, Russian and Serbian which required costly translations and resulted in providing solid counter arguments.”

 

It is difficult to see what the fact that articles were obtained in German and Serbian has to do with the content of the passage in question (by the Soviet scientist Abraham Joffe). Contrary to the claims made in the film, the original passage in Russian unambiguously attributes the celebrated 1905 articles to a single author, “a bureaucrat at the Patent Office in Bern”, namely Albert Einstein. Hilton gives away the flawed nature of her research when she writes of articles being obtained in Serbian and German. Presumably she is referring predominantly to the biography of Maric by Desanka Trbuhovic-Gjuric (many of whose dubious claims are stated as fact in the film), originally published in Serbian, later translated into the more accessible German. But all Trbuhovic-Gjuric provides is a grossly misleading paraphrase of the passage in question. There was no need for translations from Serbian or German articles; all that matters is what is in the original Russian article by Joffe – and that makes no claim of his having seen the original papers, and unambiguously attributes the 1905 papers to a single author.* Paraphrases in Serbian or German that misrepresent the passage in question are useless for obtaining the facts, yet Hilton’s words show that she has used such flawed ‘evidence’ (otherwise, why mention translations from Serbian and German?).

*See Martinez, Handling evidence in history (section heading “Checking the sources”).

 

Hilton fails to address my describing in my critique how, on this very subject, she engaged in a dubious sleight of hand that deceived viewers about an essential point at issue. (Either the deception was deliberate, or Hilton simply failed to grasp what was at issue.) Moreover it is incoherent for her to say that what she presented in the film provides counter-arguments to refutations made specifically of those very arguments by Martinez and Stachel! Hilton has made no attempt to address these refutations, but merely engaged in obfuscation that conceals this fact and evades the key issue. I should add that the (false) claims about Joffe would entail that Maric co-authored the three most celebrated of Einstein’s 1905 papers, but there is not a single document to indicate Maric had any ideas about special relativity theory, Brownian Motion and the photoelectric effect. Nor is there a single letter or other document in which Maric even remotely suggests she made any contributions to these papers.

 

Hilton writes: “The documentary research materials have since been archived and I simply do not have the resources to write a corresponding 10,000 word academic paper in response to Esterson's assertions. It will take an inordinate amount of time to go back through our research materials, including many duplicated in Esterson's bibliography. It would require going back to interviewees, some of whom have moved on to other institutions, cross reference again to our sources and then writing up a comprehensive paper.”

 

It is, of course, not surprising that frequently my references are the same as those in Hilton’s research materials, since I tracked down the sources of her claims and found that many of the assertions and reported statements (for instance, those taken from Trbuhovic-Gjuric’s biography of Maric) are utterly unreliable and unworthy of a place in serious historical work.

 

The bulk of the case made in the film rests on the assertions of Evan Harris Walker and Senta Troemel-Ploetz (recycling claims from the book by Desanka Trbuhovic-Gjuric). John Stachel has refuted many of the central claims previously made by Walker and Troemel-Ploetz in his book “Einstein From B to Z” (2002), pp. 31-38, and I have examined their wider claims (and those of Trbuhovic-Gjuric) in the following online articles showing that the scholarship of all three is deeply flawed:

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

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

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

 

I appreciate that for Hilton to address my critique in detail she feels it would be necessary to examine her research materials, but the obfuscatory evasions evident in her responses to specific points suffices to demonstrate the weakness of her case.

 

Postscript

 

In response to Hilton’s statement that not one of the academics interviewed for her film “has come forward and claimed that they were misrepresented”, the historian of physics Gerald Holton writes:

 

“As to my ‘not coming forward’: I sure did, as many of my friends and colleagues will confirm. I told them how I felt to have been tricked into appearing in this awful film, because the film people said it was to be about Albert Einstein – not a word about his wife being made the main character, with entirely false claims. Thereby they also demeaned Mileva, about whose true, respectable role I and others have written.” (Personal communication)

 

That Geraldine Hilton deceived the academic interviewees about the nature of her film is evident from comments she made in an interview she gave to an Australian newspaper in 2004 about how she dealt with what she describes as the “Einstein supporters”:

 

“‘She’s just an Aussie director, what would she know’, is what they’d think, we’d act dumb, we’re just a couple of Aussie chicks and they’d think, ‘what would they know’.”

In search of Einstein’s ‘silenced’ partner: Byron Shire Echo, 20 April 2004

 

November 2006

http://www.esterson.org/