What’s my motivation in this scene?

Have you read Allen’s article on PBS and Einstein’s wife? PBS is extremely irritating. It’s doing a bad thing. It’s ignoring its plain duty and responsibility. It’s not doing its job properly. It’s sneaking around. First it was stalling and delaying and making excuses, and now it’s sneaking around. It’s being bad. It has not only failed to take down the Einstein’s Wife website, despite the advice of its own ombudsman and despite telling Allen ‘We are looking for additional scholarly review to help us know how to proceed in making sure that the web site content is as accurate as possible,’ it has now commissioned Andrea Gabor to rewrite it. That’s like commissioning Michael Behe to rewrite The Origin of Species.

As Allen shows by quoting what three knowledgeable Einstein specialists said to him about the website and the ‘Einstein’s Wife’ documentary, PBS could very easily have found the best possible ‘additional scholarly review’ if it had asked for it, but instead of doing that, it asked a highly unscholarly journalist who is a partisan of the very (evidence-free) fantasy that is in dispute. PBS ignored the scholars who have the evidence on their side, and went with a hack who has none and doesn’t know how to evaluate evidence in the first place. This seems to me to be something resembling malpractice. PBS is supposed to be, in part, an educational site; it is not supposed to pass off made-up stories as ‘documentary’ truth; nor is it supposed to urge them on schools and teachers.

It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the fact that PBS have commissioned to re-write their “Einstein’s Wife” web pages someone so lacking in the scholarly credentials that should be a requisite for such an undertaking indicates that they are intent on preserving the essentials of their deeply flawed website, with its Lesson Plans that come close to being a brainwashing exercise…In the words of Robert Schulmann, who has knowledge in depth of the relevant material, it is unconscionable that PBS be a party to distributing dubious historical claims as classroom material to teachers and students, whose task it is to instruct and learn the proper use of evidence and respect for historical sources.

Annoying, don’t you think?

I wish this oceanographer thought so. He cites the story in a lecture on Science, civilization and society:

In recent years evidence found in personal letters between Einstein and his first wife Mileva Einstein-Maric suggests that Einstein developed the core ideas of relativity in close collaboration with her but did not mention her contribution anywhere and possibly actively suppressed her name from his paper on special relativity.

Allen asked him about that evidence (as well as about several other things) – only to be told this:

“Please cite the evidence …” “Please state what evidence you have …” – if it would only be as easy as that. Evidence is always helpful, but it is not always sufficient to find the truth.

But Professor Tomczak himself says in the lecture, as we’ve just seen, that ‘evidence found in personal letters between Einstein and his first wife’ etcetera etcetera; Allen merely asked him to cite the evidence he mentioned; once you have mentioned evidence, it doesn’t do to brush off requests for the evidence in question. You can’t say ‘evidence suggests’ and then raise a mocking eyebrow at requests for citation. That’s absurd. Imagine a trial lawyer attempting that. ‘We have evidence that my client was seven thousand miles away at the time.’ ‘Please present the evidence.’ ‘I won’t I won’t I won’t.’

The professor says other odd things too, which Allen points out neatly, one two three and so on. I don’t want to diss the professor, who is not PBS, after all – but I do find his reply interestingly…non-responsive. It’s an object-lesson in how not to argue straightforwardly. He shifts the goalposts, he wonders what Allen’s motivations are, he wonders what Allen thinks about Mileva Marić, he says Marić provides an illuminating example for the conditions of women at the beginning of the 20th century; none of which answers any of Allen’s questions.

It is clear – at least to me – that Allen’s painstaking investigation of “evidence” represents one end of the spectrum of opinions about the Maric case. But I do not understand what he wants to achieve with it.

What does Professor Tomczak want to achieve by putting scare quotes on ‘evidence’ as if there were something peculiar about painstaking investigation of such a thing? But even more, what is a scientist doing saying he doesn’t understand what another scientist wants to achieve by a painstaking investigation of evidence? What a very strange thing to say. He wants to find out if there is any evidence or not; he wants to investigate some truth claims that are in the public domain and in fact popularized in various media, such as Andrea Gabor’s book and the tv documentary. It’s sad and a little bit alarming that a scientist would find that hard to understand.

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