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Einstein's Jury

Einstein's Jury: The Race to Test Relativity

Jeffrey Crelinsten
Copyright Date: 2006
Pages: 432
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  • Book Info
    Einstein's Jury
    Book Description:

    Einstein's Jury is the dramatic story of how astronomers in Germany, England, and America competed to test Einstein's developing theory of relativity. Weaving a rich narrative based on extensive archival research, Jeffrey Crelinsten shows how these early scientific debates shaped cultural attitudes we hold today.

    The book examines Einstein's theory of general relativity through the eyes of astronomers, many of whom were not convinced of the legitimacy of Einstein's startling breakthrough. These were individuals with international reputations to uphold and benefactors and shareholders to please, yet few of them understood the new theory coming from the pen of Germany's up-and-coming theoretical physicist, Albert Einstein. Some tried to test his theory early in its development but got no results. Others--through toil and hardship, great expense, and perseverance--concluded that it was wrong.

    A tale of international competition and intrigue, Einstein's Jury brims with detail gleaned from Crelinsten's far-reaching inquiry into the history and development of relativity. Crelinsten concludes that the well-known British eclipse expedition of 1919 that made Einstein famous had less to do with the scientific acceptance of his theory than with his burgeoning public fame. It was not until the 1920s, when the center of gravity of astronomy and physics shifted from Europe to America, that the work of prestigious American observatories legitimized Einstein's work. As Crelinsten so expertly shows, the glow that now surrounds the famous scientist had its beginnings in these early debates among professional scientists working in the glare of the public spotlight.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-4967-3
    Subjects: Physics, Astronomy, History of Science & Technology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. List of Tables
    (pp. xv-xvi)
    (pp. xvii-xx)
    (pp. xxi-xxiv)

    The einstein year, 2005, marked the centenary of Einstein’s first publication on his theory of relativity and the other remarkable scientific contributions he made in 1905. This book takes a detailed historical look at the subsequent development of relativity, one of the most dramatic scientific revolutions of the twentieth century. Through yet unpublished correspondence and manuscripts, and published papers in scientific journals and newspapers, we follow Einstein and a small community of astronomers as they first hear of Einstein’s theory and become involved in testing some of its astronomical predictions. We watch as they come to realize that Einstein has...

    (pp. xxv-xxvi)
    (pp. xxvii-xxx)
  9. Part One: 1905–1911: Early Encounters with Relativity

      (pp. 3-27)

      Einstein introduced his theory of relativity into a world that was changing dramatically. Scientific research and technological development were increasingly seen as valuable resources for nations. While applied research went on in industry, most basic physics research around the world was done in academic institutions. The normal path for professional advancement was to find a job as a professor. In Germany, a student who succeeded in obtaining an academic post had “arrived”: “The professor had reason to be proud of himself. He had outdistanced most of his fellow graduate students. His 10,000 marks a year placed him in the upper...

      (pp. 28-44)

      As news of einstein’s relativity papers began to percolate from Germany to other countries, some astronomers tried to explain to their colleagues what was going on. The first articles on relativity that appeared in astronomical journals introduced the community to the new theory before astronomers began to conduct research on the subject. Since relativity eventually attracted enormous interest, expositions of the theory would later be in great demand. Astronomers mined journals for early articles on the topic. Hence these first publications exerted some influence on attitudes toward the theory and its comprehension.¹ In America, the first paper to deal explicitly...

  10. Part Two: 1911–1919: Astronomers Encounter Einstein

    • Chapter Three THE EARLY INVOLVEMENT, 1911–1914
      (pp. 47-84)

      In June 1911 Albert Einstein submitted a new paper to the prestigious Annalen der Physik entitled “On the Influence of Gravitation on the Propagation of Light.”¹ For four years he had been thinking about the implications of his theory of relativity for gravitation. The fundamental tenet of his 1905 theory of relativity was that any observer in uniform motion (constant speed, moving in a straight line) could assume he is at rest, and the laws of physics would be the same for all such observers. No experiment could be performed that would tell whether or not the experimenter is at...

    • Chapter Four THE WAR PERIOD, 1914–1918
      (pp. 85-124)

      The international hostilities quickly destroyed the congeniality that had existed among scientists in the warring countries. Lines of communication were severely disrupted as borders shut down and the Atlantic turned into a battleground. Einstein had moved his family to Berlin the previous spring. Within months his wife, Mileva, heartbroken by lost affection from Einstein, had returned with their two sons to Zurich. Now separated from his family and living on his own in wartime Berlin, Einstein watched the unfolding tragedy with dismay. “Europe in its madness has now embarked on something incredibly preposterous,” he wrote to Paul Ehrenfest in Leiden....

      (pp. 125-145)

      The end of the war saw scientists begin the difficult task of rebuilding the international cooperation that hostilities had destroyed. Some, like Max Planck who lost a son, had suffered personal tragedy. Others, like Campbell, were lucky: his three sons returned. Despite the horrendous toll on personal and professional lives, scientific research continued. Einstein had become famous within German-speaking Europe. His theory of relativity was controversial but highly acclaimed. It became almost a foregone conclusion that he would be awarded the Nobel Prize, but St. John’s negative results concerning the gravitational redshift in the Sun proved to be an obstacle....

    • Chapter Six MEN OF SCIENCE AGOG
      (pp. 146-168)

      If there was some interest in the Einstein theory before November 1919, there was a delirious fascination afterwards. News of the British verification flew around the world in the public press. U.S. scientists picked it up from the publicists, where they read that the eclipse result was “of such fundamental importance that confirmation is obviously most desirable, and … British astronomers … are already giving consideration to favorable eclipses which will occur in the next two or three years.”¹

      Eddington wrote Einstein that since the 6 November announcement, “all England has been talking about your theory. It has made a...

  11. Part Three: 1920–1925: Astronomers Put Einstein to the Test

      (pp. 171-182)

      With public and scientific attention focused on Einstein’s theory, Evershed and St. John felt obliged to report on the status of their respective searches for a gravitational redshift in the Sun. In 1920, reviews by both men appeared back-to-back in Observatory summarizing current results and how they might be interpreted if the relativity prediction were in fact true.

      Evershed made it clear that the recent “brilliant confirmation” of the light deflection motivated his present review of the situation. He related in detail his early work disproving the role of pressure in producing the solar redshifts, and how these studies had...

    • Chapter Eight MORE ECLIPSE TESTING
      (pp. 183-212)

      During the first months of 1920, Curtis worked steadily at the Goldendale problem, but he did not complete the task. Despite the pleasant life at Lick, an offer of the directorship at the Allegheny Observatory as replacement for Schlesinger, who was going to Yale, and a salary of $6,000 drew him east. Curtis tendered his official resignation on 16 April, setting July as his departure from Lick.¹ His move to Allegheny came at an awkward time for Campbell, who was left holding the bag on the Einstein problem. His usual response to requests for information on the Goldendale results around...

      (pp. 213-235)

      The Lick announcement marked a turning point in attitudes toward relativity. Opinions held tentatively after the British eclipse announcement became entrenched after Campbell’s corroboration. When Dyson received Campbell’s cable, he replied: “I don’t think there is ‘any possible probable shadow of doubt’ about the correctness of Einstein’s prediction of the deflection of light, whatever difficulties may be found with the rest of his theory. It is hardly likely that anyone will be coming from this side for the eclipse in California.”¹ Harold Spencer Jones, disappointed at the 1922 eclipse, asserted that the nature of the debate over the correctness of...

      (pp. 236-262)

      After his Goldendale debacle, Campbell had originally intended to attack the Einstein problem close to home again at the eclipse that would be visible in southern California and Mexico on 10 September 1923. The British announcement in 1919 raised the stakes and he seized the earlier opportunity in Australia. While preparing for the 1922 expedition to Wallal, Campbell had surveyed regions in California and Mexico in his capacity as chairman of the American Astronomical Society’s eclipse committee. He decided that the American islands lying to the south of Santa Barbara and west of San Diego would be good locations. After...

  12. Part Four: 1925–1930: Final Acceptance

    • Chapter Eleven RELATIVITY TRIUMPHS
      (pp. 265-299)

      Relations between Poor and J. A. Miller had been friendly since their initial contact to plan for the 1923 eclipse. When Edwin B. Frost of Yerkes Observatory nominated Poor for membership in the American Philosophical Society, Miller and Curtis supported his application.¹ Poor’s lunar test at the 1923 eclipse yielded preliminary results favoring an expansion of the Moon. Though Miller played it down until he could confirm his findings, the positive result encouraged Poor. Miller submitted a paper on the results in July 1924, but it was not published until the spring of 1925. Relations between Poor and Miller were...

    • Chapter Twelve SILENCING THE CRITICS
      (pp. 300-314)

      As 1930 approached it was clear that relativity had passed the three “classical tests” from astronomy set by Einstein. In the empirically oriented United States, the theory was accepted because it had passed crucial tests, despite a lack of theoretical understanding. The California astronomers had not taken up the research to pronounce judgment on the underlying theory. They adapted ongoing observational techniques to search for specific predicted effects. Critics seized upon their initial negative findings to denounce the theory, while supporters tried to circumvent them. After Lick verified the British eclipse result, ensuing debates seemed to cast observational astronomers as...

    (pp. 315-320)

    After the Great War, the Allied countries created the International Astronomical Union (IAU) to rebuild disrupted international collaborations. At the inaugural Brussels conference in July 1919, the founders created thirty-two standing committees. The very first committee, Commission 1, was on relativity,¹ reflecting the intense interest in Einstein’s theory. Four months later, the British verified Einstein’s light-bending prediction. Enormous publicity focused attention on the astronomical tests. Eddington became the first chair of the IAU’s relativity committee, due to his prominent role in explaining the theory and testing its predictions. Despite his penchant for theory, he set down strict, observational guidelines for...

    (pp. 321-326)

    Where does this story leave the twenty-first-century reader? For one thing, it liberates us from a rigid understanding of how the scientific community accepts scientific theories. It is a messy process. There has been a tendency to simplify the historical picture with relativity, largely because the 1919 British verification of Einstein’s light-bending prediction launched Einstein and his theory to international fame. This exciting story has captured the attention of writers and historians interested in Einstein and relativity. All major Einstein biographies focus on the British eclipse expeditions and most ignore or pass quickly over other attempts to test light bending...

  15. NOTES
    (pp. 327-364)
    (pp. 365-384)
  17. INDEX
    (pp. 385-400)