The Empty Building

Is this the history of astronomy exhibition “From Babylon to Einstein”?

Yes

But it’s an empty building!

Originally we had a lot of exhibits but then the sceptic thought police came round!

They said you’re a science museum and a “Science Museum is meant to be about science (the clue is in the name), not about social or cultural history. It’s fine to include the history of science, of course, but in a way that is not contrary to science.”1

But where is the science? The Babylonians founded scientific astronomy so where are they?

They only made all of those astronomical observations and calculations to practice their omen astrology and that’s not science it’s Ju Ju so they had to go.

And the Greeks where are Hipparchos and Ptolemaeos?

Well Hipparchos got all his stuff from those superstitious Babylonians so he had to go and Ptolemaeos, well he’s one of the worst. Not only did he propagate geocentrism, which is obviously ridiculously anti-scientific he even claimed that astrology was a science on a par with astronomy! No chance, he had to go.

What about the Islamic astronomers didn’t they criticise Ptolemaeos?

All the same not only a bunch of astrologers but their whole astronomy was based on the correct determination of the times to pray! Religion has got nothing to do with science so they went.

And what’s with the Renaissance astronomers who laid the foundations of modern astronomy?

A bunch of superstitious idiots who just wanted to save their ridiculous astrology; couldn’t have any of them in a science exhibition.

Copernicus? He at least threw out geocentrism.

First of all he wanted to save the Platonic axiom a completely unjustified and unscientific a priori assumption defending circular orbits when everybody knows that they are ellipses. Then he justifies his heliocentrism with a quote from Hermes Trismegistus a nonexistent propagator of more woo than you pack into an articulated truck. He had to go.

Kepler?

Do me a favour! The Sun is God the fixed stars are Jesus and the space in between is the Holy Ghost the man wasn’t a scientist but a religious fanatic.

And his three laws?

They’re not scientific as he forgot to take mass into consideration.

Newton. Newton had mass and mathematical laws and scientific method and… You could at least have Newton here.

Well to have Newton we would have had to include his three laws and he took the third one from an alchemy book, not very scientific that.

Einstein, you can’t have any problems with Einstein. Relativity is pure science.

Well first there was the problem with the cosmological constant. You can’t just add factors to your theories to make them fit your assumptions, very unscientific that. Then there was Eddington, fudged the results of his solar eclipse observations in order to confirm Einstein’s theory. You can’t get more unscientific than that so Einstein had to go as well.

But there’s nothing left it’s just an empty building.

I know but at least the exhibition is thoroughly scientific. Enjoy the show.

1) The sceptical thought police statement is a slightly modified comment (I removed the typing mistakes) quoted by Rebekah Higgitts in her post What are science museums for? at Whewell’s Ghost about the latest intertubes’ pseudo-science brouhaha.

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35 Comments

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35 responses to “The Empty Building

  1. Pingback: The Empty Building | Whewell's Ghost

  2. Rebekah Higgitt

    Brilliant!

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  4. Ian H Spedding FCD

    Well said, Thony!

    Next thing we know, ‘Old Ironsides’ Myers will be leading troopers from the Gnu Model Atheist Army into the Museum and telling the astonished staff “You have sat too long for any good you have been doing lately … Depart, I say; and let us have done with you. In the name of Dawkins, go!”

  5. “Then there was Eddington, fudged the results of his solar eclipse observations in order to confirm Einstein’s theory. You can’t get more unscientific than that so Einstein had to go as well.”

    I know this is satire, but it helps to know something of the subject you’re talking about, and about scientific methodology, e.g., Einstein’s general relativity has been subsequently confirmed by many further tests.

    On the Eddington expedition, see:
    “An expedition to heal the wounds of war. The 1919 eclipse and Eddington as Quaker adventurer”
    Stanley, Matthew
    Isis. Journal of the History of Science Society (ISSN 0021-1753), Vol. 94, No. 1, p. 57 – 89 (2003)

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12725104

    “The essay also addresses the common misconception that Eddington’s sympathy for Einstein led him intentionally to misinterpret the expedition’s results.”

    • I know this is satire, but it helps to know something of the subject you’re talking about, and about scientific methodology, e.g., Einstein’s general relativity has been subsequently confirmed by many further tests.

      Surprisingly enough I am well aware of the fact that the General Theory of Relativity is a well confirmed theory. I might even know something about scientific methodology, you never know! Before insulting somebody, and your comment is an insult, you should at least know what you are talking about and in terms of your personal knowledge of myself your ignorance is total.

      I’m quite happy to admit that I haven’t read Matthew’s paper but I will certainly give it a look next time I’m in the department library, however there is a substantial scientific literature that Eddington’s analysis of the eclipse data was anything but scientific and did not deliver the confirmation of relativity that he claimed it did.

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  7. astrologerthe

    Well done, really enjoyed that. You ought to earn something for that piece.
    Albert Einstein quote
    “The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed.”

  8. ThornyC:

    I apologise for the way I expressed my comment. I realised it was rudely expressed after I’d posted, and immediately regretted it.

    I’ll just add that I’m aware (as I’m sure you appreciate) of the literature on the Eddington expedition, but sometimes a notion becomes received history when the facts turn out to be rather more complex, for instance, about the notion that Eddington deliberately “fudged” his results. For a start, he was not the only person making decisions about the results obtained at the two sites in 1919.

    • Apology accepted. Interestingly I have recently been reading a detailed account of the problems involved in the interpretation of the photographic evidence of the transits of Venus in 1874 and 1892, which are in a lot of ways very similar to those met by Eddington and others in their interpretation of the solar eclipse results. I think the best interpretation is that Eddington put a positive spin on rather dubious results. Later solar eclipse observations also failed to produce conclusive results.

      In general I would personally be more concerned about my put down of poor Kepler in my satire, as I spend a fair amount of my time in public lectures trying to convince people that Kepler is a far more significant 17th century scientist than people such as Galileo or Descartes. When writing satire one may not have favourites.

      Your website on Mrs Einstein is really superb and a useful tool to use against the idiots I meet on a regular basis who quote the “she wrote the special relativity paper” myth at me. Now I know where to send them for the authoritative put down.

      On a personal note my name is Thony not Thorny its Tony with an ‘h’ because I’m an Anthony and not an Antony.

      P.S. I know an awful lot about scientific methodology as I spent ten years of my life studying history and philosophy of science in a university department specialising in scientific methodology.

      • Brian

        Thony? Wow, I’ve always thought it was thorny. You come across as thorny, so I thought it was part of an internet persona. There you go. Apologies. I’ll endeavor not to use thorny again.

      • No problem Brian. Lots of people make the same mistake, rather interesting actually ;)

      • Brian

        I think that you might have a touch of the gadfly about you. Thus someone who isn’t steeped in the academic tradition that debate is good and not necessarily personal might take the view that you are an adversary or thorny in disposition. Of course, that is just speculation and probably self-justificatory on my part.

  9. ThonyC: Your latest comment shows that when differences are politely expressed, a principle I normally try hard to adhere to, a genuine dialogue can ensue.

    Coincidentally, I’ve just finished watching a documentary on BBC 4, covering Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo and Newton, and was reminded of just how incredible was Kepler’s achievement. Do you know Koestler’s *The Sleepwalkers*? His chapter on Kepler takes us through all the agonies and blind-alleys he went through before he achieved success in a way that straight scientific history cannot convey.

    • The “Sleepwalkers” is one of the books that set me off on the trail to becoming a historian of science several decades ago. Koestler’s “The Watershed”, the capital on Kepler, which was also published separately as a book, was the first full length Kepler biography in English.

      Since then I have studied a whole library of books and papers on Kepler, including all of his main publications. There is much in Koestler that is false or out dated, the Kepler research has progressed since he wrote, but I still hold his book in great respect more than anything else for his narrative style. I’m a narrative historian and Koestler is one of my role models.

  10. Can you recommend a book on Kepler that focuses on his scientific work rather than his life story?

    • Allen, if by scientific work you mean his astronomy then I would suggest Bruce Stephenson, Kepler’s Physical Astronomy, Springer, 1987 and especially James R. Voelkel, The Compostion of Kepler’s Astronomia Nova, Princeton University Press, 2001. Both are more than somewhat technical but as you are a physicist and mathematician that should be no problem.

      • Thanks, they sound just what I’m looking for.

        “…but as you are a physicist and mathematician that should be no problem.”

        Depends on how one defines these things! I’m certainly not a mathematician, but since I have a degree in physics from a prestigious London University College (just reverse the name :-)) I may, I suppose, qualify as a “physicist”. Personally I prefer to reserve the term for someone who actually does physics, whereas I taught physics and mathematics in London Colleges of Further Education. As they say (George Bernard Shaw, I believe), those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.

      • My father, who was a lecturer at SOAS also taught at UCL!

      • Brian

        Allen, do you recommend any good books at undergraduate level to learn more about physics and the math required?

    • Brian: Brian: I only taught up to pre-University level physics and mathematics, so I can’t help you. In any case, I took early retirement nearly 20 years ago, and have followed up interests in rather different directions. So I can help if you want to know about books on Freud. :-)

      http://www.butterfliesandwheels.org/2002/psychoanalytic-mythology/

      or maybe Einstein:
      http://www.butterfliesandwheels.org/2006/mileva-mari-263-einstein-s-wife/

      • Brian

        Having completed an undergrad degree in psychology I have some knowledge of Freud, and I’ll say he is integral in the history of psychology and really unscientific. I don’t want to say any more as both you and Thony will spank me for my historical and/or hysterical errors.

    • thonyc

      Brian, if you are prepared to do some work you could do worse than the

      Feynman Lectures on Physics

      • Brian

        I have the 3rd of that series of lectures. I bought it off e-bay thinking it was the complete set. Sadly not. I had a bit of trouble with it in that I didn’t have all the requisite understanding/background. I really struggle if I can’t approach a topic with some idea of what it is I’m studying. Probably why I’ve struggled a lot with philosophy.

        Anyway, when I get time I’m looking at these books to try and get some background:

        http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/0521679710/ref=pd_lpo_k2_dp_sr_1?pf_rd_p=103612307&pf_rd_s=lpo-top-stripe&pf_rd_t=201&pf_rd_i=0521890675&pf_rd_m=A3P5ROKL5A1OLE&pf_rd_r=13B5JPJA8GYWGA8BQKWR

        The first book shocked me a bit. I aced two undergrad maths subjects to finish of my psychology degree. One was single variable caculus and the other discrete mathematics and the first two chapters of the mathematical methods for physicists book cover everything I learnt in those subjects. Scary.

        The second book is a non-calculus approach to physics. It reminds me of high-school physics. It’s quite introductory.

        I’ll have to see if I can the whole set of the Feynman lectures.

      • Brian it would appear that you’re British. If Feynman is too difficult to begin with try with a good A-Level text book then work your way up.

      • Brian

        My surname is English, but I’m as Aussie as that albino anthropoid Wilkins. I thought my uncouth, rude, and threadbare prose might have given it away…

        I’m not sure what A level is exactly, but I presume it’s something like introductory undergraduate level. That’s sort of the level I’m trending toward. I always buy books that I soon realize I’m not equipped to understand, then have to buy bridging books. Thanks for the tips. :)

  11. astrologerthe

    I am interested in Kepler; I’ve not seen any of his later astrology chart drawings, systems used etc or confirmation (birth certificate) of his own chart. Perhaps his work on aspects (angles) is important because this may have been the foundations of a particular astrology branch. We do need to appreciate religious & other discrimination practices that go on throughout “the history”. Here is an interesting, piece of the puzzle, link to abraham ibn ezra http://www.pitt.edu/~brg/pdfs/brg_ii_2.pdf

  12. Ye Olde Statistician

    This seems as good a place as any to toss in a book recently read:

    Intellectual Curiosity and the Scientific Revolution, by Toby Huff.

    I think he does Kepler considerable justice.

    • Thanks for the tip Toby Huff’s books are always interesting even if I don’t always agree with him. I hadn’t come across this one before but I shall definitely be taking a look.

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