Home > Math and Physics, Pseudoscience > Einstein was a dunce

Einstein was a dunce

November 19, 2006

Bob Henderson is an 80 year old retired electrical engineer who thinks “Albert Einstein was a dunce.” So convinced is he of this that he has written a third book on the subject: Einstein and The-Emperor’s-New-Clothes Syndrome: The Exposé of a Charlatan. Notes the AZ Republic:

Henderson was, and is, qualified to be asking these questions because his work was science. He says he graduated second in his class from the University of Arizona in 1950 with a degree in electrical engineering. He then worked for RCA in New Jersey before returning home to work at Motorola. Some of his work was in the guided-missile division. And yes, that technically makes him a rocket scientist.

Eh, no, he’s not qualified. He is an engineer, not a scientist, and being an engineer does not necessarily provide any expertise in relativity. The reporter falls into a common trap – because Henderson’s “work was science,” Henderson can comment on all scientific ideas. This is obviously not the case.

Henderson:

“When I was younger, it was repeated and written everywhere that only three people understood (Einstein’s) theories … I always thought science was supposed to clarify things, so that didn’t make much sense to me… I said to myself this is the greatest intellect in the world, I need to understand him. I believed that because everybody did… I started reading everything I could by him and about him and every one of them was double talk. It began to occur to me that this is all gobbledygook… His theory was so lacking in common sense. It became clear to me that Einstein was a dunce.” (emphasis mine)

What has “common sense” got to do with science? “Common sense” tells us that the Sun goes round the Earth, that the Earth is flat, and that it is not hurtling through space at a god-awful speed. The fact is, Einstein’s theories have been vindicated by experiment and observation. Yes, his ideas go against “common sense.” Get over it.

It all sounds very … familiar, doesn’t it? Evolutionary theory has been suffering the same idiotic attacks for a long time now. As Andrew Odell points out in a letter in today’s Republic:

[T]he rightness or wrongness of a scientific theory depends on how well it agrees with observations of nature, not on whether or not Henderson can understand it… Many people make this same mistake in trying to discredit biological evolution. Just because you can’t understand it, it isn’t necessarily wrong. It is also possible that the dunce is on the other side of the book.

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  1. bigTom
    November 19, 2006 at 5:08 pm

    If a theory doesn’t square with one’s intuitive feel for how things are supposed to work, its always a problem. One can either overcome the limitations of his own thinking, or move on to another field of enquiry which better fits the way his brain functions. It seems Henderson did this. I suspect he always wanted to be a physicist, but because certain counterintuitive theories are essential background, was forced to become an engineer instead. He must still hold a grudge against those who made the field unaccessible to him.

  2. November 19, 2006 at 7:08 pm

    I started reading everything I could by him and about him and every one of them was double talk. It began to occur to me that this is all gobbledygook.

    Doubletalk? Gobbledyggok? Sounds like Mr. Henderson never read “Relativity” by Einstein. From the preface (1916):

    The present book is intended, as far as possible, to give an exact insight into the theory of relativity to those readers who, from a general scientific and philosophical point of view, are interested in the theory, but who are not conversant with the mathematical apparatus of theoretical physics…

    This short book is indeed quite clear and comprehensible to those whose literary capabilities have advance beyond the funny pages.

  3. Mark (different one)
    November 19, 2006 at 8:46 pm

    Henderson’s favorite scientist is Isaac Newton, who helped us understand gravity and motion and mechanics. Newton makes sense to Henderson. He says Newton’s work is based on common sense.

    Newton’s laws of motion were not perceived as “common sense” at all at their time. It just seemed right that objects needed a constant force to keep in motion. If this guy really believed in common sense, he would write a book advocating Arisotle’s wisdom over Newton’s “gobbledygook”

  4. bob koepp
    November 20, 2006 at 9:48 am

    OK, sure, Henderson isn’t in a position to be calling other people dunces. And sure, training in one scientific field doesn’t qualify one to speak with authority about the esoterica of another scientific field. But c’mon, do you really mean to say that engineers aren’t scientists?

  5. John Lynch
    November 20, 2006 at 10:56 am

    > do you really mean to say that engineers aren’t scientists?
    Yup. Some are scientists (in the sense that they engage in scientific research), many aren’t. Most engineers don’t engage in any scientific research. I say this with all respect, coming as I do from a family with a large number of engineers in the mix.

  6. javabean
    November 20, 2006 at 11:02 am

    Einstein’s take on common sense : “Common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by age eighteen.” How old was that engineer again ?
    see http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/a/alberteins125365.html

  7. November 20, 2006 at 12:35 pm

    What is it with retired electrical engineers and crackpottery?
    William Shockley on race and IQ.
    Arthur Butz on Holocaust denial (actually, he’s not retired from Northwestern yet, though his colleagues have called on him to do so).
    Petr Beckmann on relativity (just like this guy!).

  8. BRC
    November 20, 2006 at 1:04 pm

    hold it now — by what criteria are you differentiating scientists from engineers? that’s an easy demarcation to make in passing, with great confidence, john, though not one so easy to prove. what is scientific research? are you referring to running lab-based experiments? or field work? or theorizing?
    also: if henderson is wrong because he is not qualified to weigh in on Einstein (and you’re probably right here, I don’t dispute it), then what does it take to be qualified to weigh in on a subject? Can we now return to all those Dawkins posts about what a physicist is doing explaining away God? (for one: http://scienceblogs.com/worldsfair/2006/10/about_god_and_theologians_and.php)

  9. Joshua
    November 20, 2006 at 2:01 pm

    As an engineer, I agree fully with John Lynch’s assertion that engineers aren’t scientists. They use the fruits of science, and many, especially in academia, do conduct scientific research, but the vast majority of engineers are not scientists.
    And can I just say that I find it endlessly frustrating that so many engineers are drawn to say stupid, ignorant things like this or join up with ridiculous anti-science outfits like DI? It’s a disgrace to a noble profession.

  10. BRC
    November 20, 2006 at 2:24 pm

    As an engineer also, I disagree with John’s easy assessment — not because of his intent, but because of its implications and unstated assumptions. Well, and also because I’m trying to frazzle him by being disagreeable.
    Scientists use the fruits of engineering as well, so which comes first isn’t the issue for me. What I’m more interested in is what actually accounts for the difference (since yes, they are not the same thing), and how those measures of accounting for difference factor into why the above Henderson is a doofus.
    John, ‘lil help?

  11. Joshua
    November 20, 2006 at 3:05 pm

    The key difference between science and engineering is in the relationship to knowledge.
    The scientist must question all his assumptions, because that’s what the job of a scientist. An engineer has no obligation to do so (maybe that makes him a bad engineer, but the point is that it’s not part of the job description). An engineer could happily coast by just absorbing the tools of the trade and apply them without understanding why they work. The scientist has no such luxury, because again his whole purpose for existing is to figure out why things work. The engineer doesn’t necessarily care why things work as long as they meet specs. Received knowledge will often suffice over direct and rational inquiry.
    I have no doubt that engineers on the bleeding edge are almost indistinguishable from scientists. (One of my professors was deeply involved in researching plasma physics by conducting experiments with radio waves and the upper atmosphere.) But the vast, vast majority of engineers are not on the bleeding edge. For these, received knowledge and sound principles will suffice. An understanding of theory helps immensely, but it’s not necessarily a requirement. An engineer doesn’t need to accept the reality of electrons in order to apply Kirchhoff’s Rules to solving a circuit; the rules make no sense otherwise, but they don’t need to make sense — they just need to give the correct result, and the circuit works.

  12. JohnnieCanuck
    November 20, 2006 at 3:22 pm

    There is a broad continuum from making novel discoveries about the way the natural world works, to using this information to make something new.
    Consider how much engineering has to be done by a scientist to create a physics experiment like a neutrino detector.
    If you publish a seminal paper where the results are based on your much improved PCR technique, is your fame as a scientist, or an engineer?
    There is a certain elitist attitude where theoretical scientists are better than experimenters who are better than engineers, and so on.
    None of them would be where they are without the others, so it is like the fight between the stomach, the brain and the anus.
    When I studied engineering, a concept presented in the area of responsibility to the public was to know enough to know when you are not competent in a different specialization.
    Henderson has forgotten that part.

  13. JohnnieCanuck
    November 20, 2006 at 3:32 pm

    One thing is for certain. The difference between development engineers and research scientists is lost on most every journalist I have observed.
    We’re all scientists to them.

  14. bob koepp
    November 20, 2006 at 3:39 pm

    I’m interested in frazzling those who make broad claims. In that spirit, I ask Joshua to consider how his claim that scientists _must_ question assumptions fits with Kuhn’s account of normal science. (Not that I’m a big fan of Kuhn, but …)

  15. Joshua
    November 21, 2006 at 1:42 pm

    Ah, but what if I question Kuhn? ;)
    The point I’m really trying to make is the one that Johnnie made. Research scientists are not development engineers and vice versa. To treat the two fields as interchangeable is ludicrous even at face value.

  16. Emily
    November 21, 2006 at 6:01 pm

    also: if henderson is wrong because he is not qualified to weigh in on Einstein (and you’re probably right here, I don’t dispute it), then what does it take to be qualified to weigh in on a subject?
    Henderson is not wrong because he is unqualified. He is wrong and he is unqualified. He’d be just as wrong if he held that opinion and a Ph.D in physics. That qualification might induce some people to spend more time listening to his opinion and whatever evidence he musters to support it, but other qualified listeners would still dismiss that opinion upon realizing that his evidence is hooey.

  17. Pentcho Valev
    December 2, 2006 at 5:26 am

    EINSTEIN’S PRINCIPLE OF VARIABILITY OF THE SPEED OF LIGHT
    Einstein’s 1911 equation c’=c(1+V/c^2), where c’ is the speed of light as measured by an observer, c=300000km/s is the initial speed of light relative to the light source and V is the gravitational potential relative to the point where light is emitted, proves the validity of the following principle:
    Since the probability that V=0 is virtually zero, light NEVER travels in space with speed c=300000km/s; its speed is either higher or lower than that value (V>0 or 0>V).
    Pentcho Valev
    pvalev@yahoo.com

  18. December 2, 2006 at 2:28 pm

    Pentcho Valev … the collected works (scroll down) … nuff said.

  19. Pentcho Valev
    December 16, 2006 at 3:29 am

    BEYOND EINSTEIN: NEWTON
    Einstein’s theory is an inconsistency: the set of its axioms involves, explicitly, the principle of INVARIABILITY of the speed of light and, implicitly, the principle of VARIABILITY of the speed of light. Any development, improvement etc. should obviously be preceded by a removal of the false principle of invariability of the speed of light and the miracles it has generated (time dilation, length contraction, Minkowski’s spacetime etc.). “Relativity without Einstein’s second postulate” has been a recurrent dream of initiated Einsteinians who have known about the falsehood from the very beginning:
    http://www.worldscibooks.com/physics/4114.html :
    “They lead to an unexpected affirmative answer to the long-standing question of whether it is possible to construct a relativity theory without postulating the constancy of the speed of light and retaining only the first postulate of special relativity. This question was discussed in the early years following the discovery of special relativity by many physicists, including Ritz, Tolman, Kunz, Comstock and Pauli, all of whom obtained negative answers.”
    The problem is that “Relativity without Einstein’s second postulate” or, in other terms, “Relativity without c”, is equivalent to “Back to Newton”. Curiously, the proof of this equivalency can be found in perhaps the most famous textbook on relativity:
    http://www.courses.fas.harvard.edu/~phys16/Textbook/ch10.pdf
    p.35: “Relativity without c….it is easy to imagine a universe where the speed of light depends on the frame of reference. Light could behave like a baseball, for example. So let’s drop the speed of light postulate and see what we can say about the coordinate transformations between frames, using only the relativity postulate.”
    p.38: “There is only one decision to be made when constructing the spacetime structure of an (empty) universe. You just have to say whether V is finite or infinite, that is, whether the universe is Lorentzian or Galilean.”
    Note that “Light could behave like a baseball” amounts to an implicit introduction of Newton’s particle model of light (confirmed by Einstein himself in 1905) valid in a Galilean universe where the speed of light is VARIABLE.
    Pentcho Valev
    pvalev@yahoo.com
    depp=true

  20. Robert L. Henderson
    June 11, 2007 at 11:45 pm

    Having read the foregoing 19 comments, I can safely say that none of the commentators have read the book “Einstein and The Emperor’s-New-Clothes Syndrome,” or Einstein’s paper on special relativity (On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies) or on general relativity (The Foundation of the General Theory of Relativity). If they had, they would immediately realize that it is the Einstein documents that are irrational to the point of ludicrousness. The foregoing 19 persons are all victims of The-Emperor’s-New-Clothes Syndrome, and it was expressley for this type of person that the “Emperor’s New Clothes” book was written.

  21. tony
    June 12, 2007 at 2:45 pm

    Mr H
    I read Einstein’s papers in High School so I could correctly define behaviors in an accelerating frame for my brother (who was tinkering with writing, and decided science fiction…. his first draft was so full of scientific errors I decided to read source papers and get him some real results — thanks to Asimov & Niven for making me think that way!)
    Long story short — The math was somewhat challenging — but understandable (at least from a utility perspective) with some college math (college UK style, not US).
    In the end — his stories became more scientifically plausible but they were still appallingly written with vacuous plots! As vonnegut would have said…. so it goes!
    But YOUR premise, Mr henderson, is about as solid as my brother’s stories were prize-winners…. i.e. NOT! ;)

  22. June 17, 2007 at 12:22 am

    Perhaps the greatest problem facing the scientific community is the inability to correlate the science of quantum mechanics (QM)–which very accurately explains the nature of field-forces on the extremely small, subatomic scale–with the psuedo-science of general relativity (GR)–which ostensibly explains the nature of gravitational effects on the extremely large, cosmological scale. Whereas QM assumes that all field forces on the subatomic scale are generated by the continuous impacts of force-carrying particles called “bosons” (although bosons have never actually been observed), GR assumes that there are no field forces of gravity, but that the deflections of moving celestial bodies from straight-line paths when passing a larger gravitational body are not caused by the application of gravitational forces as stipulated by Newton, but are actually caused by the moving bodies traveling straight lines through space that has been curved by the presence of the larger gravitational bodies, thereby causing the straight-line paths of the moving bodies to also be curved within the curved space. (For example, the circular path of the moon about the earth is assumed by GR to be a straight line through space that is curved by the presence of the earth.) GR provides no explanation at all for the physical forces of gravity, such as the forces that are exhibited by physical bodies that are at rest and in contact with each other; for example, such as the earth’s gravitational force that is exerted on a person standing on a scale.
    Although both QM and GR are universally accepted by the academic community, it is also acknowledged by the academic community that since the two sciences are totally incompatible, one of them must be wrong: yet no one in the academic community has been willing to take a stand as to which one is in error. However, as explained in “The-Emperor’s-New-Clothes book, it should be obvious that it is GR that is at fault and should be abandoned.
    In the first place, by the very definition of “space,” it is not possible for space–which consists of nothingness and is all pervading–to be curved or distorted in any other manner: to speak of space as being curved is an oxymoron. In addition, since space onsists of nothingness, it is not possible for it to exert forces of any kind. Therefore, as proposed in “The-Emperor’s-New-Clothes” book, by assuming the existence of a universal energy field (UEF) composed of an infinite number of invisible, “fundamental” particles of pure mass, in high-velocity random motion, frequently colliding with each other and rebounding with perfect elasticity, the means is readily provided for generating gravitational forces that is compatible with QM. (Note that the generation of forces by the invisible, moving elementary particcles of the UEF is similar in many ways with the generation of atmospheric forces by the invisible, moving atoms and molecules of the atmosphere.) In addition to providing a compatible explanation of gravity, the explanations of numerous other as-yet enexplained phenomena of nature are provided by the UEF, such as the phenomena of light, nuclear binding forces, nuclear energy, radioactivity, the origin of matter, the missing mass of the universe, and the configuration of the universe. All of these explanations are contained in “The-Emperor’s-New-Clothes” book, which is written primarily for the general public: only a high school education is required to understand it completely.

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