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«Pragmatic and Dogmatic Physics: Anti-Semitism in Nature, 1938. A. Loewenstein*, Chemistry Department, Technion, Israel Institute of technology, Haifa ...»

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Pragmatic and Dogmatic Physics: Anti-Semitism in Nature, 1938.

A. Loewenstein*,

Chemistry Department,

Technion, Israel Institute of technology,

Haifa 32000, Israel.

Tel: 972-4-8293758

Fax: 972-4-8242996

E-mail: chaharon@techunix.technion.ac.il


The German physicist J. Stark has published, in April 1938, an article entitled: “The

Pragmatic and Dogmatic Spirit in Physics” in the prominent scientific journal Nature. In this

paper Stark divides the world of Physics into Dogmatic and Pragmatic fractions. According to Stark Jewish scientists dominate the undesired dogmatic spirit while the desired pragmatic fraction is represented mostly by Aryans scientists. The circumstances that led to this publication and the response it received from the scientific community are discussed in this communication. It is interesting to learn how such a combination of anti-Semitic and scientific views found their expression in the pages of Nature.

Key words: Nature, J. Stark, A.S. Eve, anti-Semitism and scientific publication.

* Aharon Loewenstein is Professor of Chemistry (Emeritus) at the Technion, Israel Institute of Technology, Haifa, Israel.

It is well known that anti-Semitism was an important factor in the progress of scientific research, in particular during the Second World War period. The expulsion of Jewish scientists from Nazi Germany had an adverse effect on German science and tremendously promoted the scientific research of the Allied. The contribution of Jewish "émigré" scientists to the development of the atomic bomb and the Radar can not be underestimated. It may be interesting to note that anti-Semitism has also infiltrated into non-German scientific publication media and the present study examines such a case.

The British weekly “Nature” is one of the most important scientific journals in the world.

Since its establishment it has served as the medium for the announcement of many important scientific discoveries.1 Apart from the scientific letters and articles, the journal devotes considerable space to matters that are of general interest to the scientific community. These range from comments on current economical, social and political issues to articles concerned with the History and Philosophy of science. As an example of many, one may give the Editorial from October 8, 1938 (“The Promotion of Peace”), which enthusiastically supports the Munich accord between Neville Chamberlain, Daladier, Mussolini and Adolf Hitler.2 The journal also contains important book reviews, obituaries, etc. This report is concerned with the analysis of one particular article that a prominent German physicist published in Nature in 1938, the background of its publication and the response to it.

An article entitled “The Pragmatic and the Dogmatic Spirit in Physics” by Professor J. Stark, President of the Physikalische Technischen Reichanstalt in Berlin-Charlottenburg, appeared in the April 30, 1938 issue of Nature. Before presenting the contents of this article, it is important to give a short outline of the biography of its author and a description of the circumstances that led to its publication.

Johannes Stark was born on April 15, 1874 in Schickenhof, Bavaria, Germany. He received his Doctorate in Physics from the University of Munich in 1897. In 1913 he discovered what became to be known as the ‘Stark Effect’, the splitting of the spectral lines in an electric field.

He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1919 in recognition of his work on electromagnetism. Stark resigned his Physics Chair after angry polemics against Einstein and his theory of relativity. Stark also rejected the Bohr-Sommerfeld quantum theory as ‘dogmatic’, though it might be noted that the “Stark Effect’ is in fact a very good demonstration of the success of Bohr’s early quantum theory. In 1922 Stark was driven out of German academic life and in 1924 declared his allegiance to Hitler. In April 1930 he joined the Nazi Party and together with Philipp Lenard (1862-1947, Nobel Laureate in physics,

1905) formulated what has become to be known as “Aryan Physics”. The rise of the Nazis brought Stark beck into the Academia and he became President of the Imperial Institute of Physics and Technology from 1933 to 1939 and of the German Science Foundation (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft) till 1936. Stark published his books ‘Nationalsozialism und Wissenshaft’ (National Socialism and Science) in 1934 and ‘Judische und Deusche Physik’ (Jewish and German Physics) in 1941. Stark was an ardent racist and anti-Semite. In July 1947, after the war, he was sentenced to four years of hard labor but his sentence was later suspended. Stark died in Traunstein on June 21, 1957.3 The 1938 article was not Stark’s only anti-Semitic contribution of to Nature. Back in 1933, Professor A.V. Hill 4, in his Huxley memorial lecture, described the plight of the Jewish learned and professional classes in Germany under Hitler. An extract of this lecture was published in Nature on December 23, 1933. Stark responded to Hill in Nature in the beginning of 1934. Stark claimed that Hill’s statements are “not in accordance with the truth”. Stark wrote that all the measures of the German Government were an “attempt to curtail the unjustifiable great influence exercised by the Jews” … “Jews had created a monopoly for themselves and in which they had taken possession of almost all academic posts”… “Jews who had come after the war (i.e. 1st WW) from the east… had been tolerated and encouraged by the Marxist Government of Germany. Only a small part of the 600000 Jews …has been affected by the National Socialist measures”… “only half of the number that Hill gives (over a thousand) have been dismissed and among these are many Jewish and slightly fewer non-Jewish scientists who have voluntarily given up their jobs”. Examples of the latter persons given by Stark are Einstein, Franck, Born, Schrodinger, Landau, Fraenkel and others. Stark continues to state that there are not even 10000 people in concentration camps (Hill wrote 100000) and that they are there “not because of their desire for freedom and of thought and speech (as Hill wrote) but because they have been guilty of high treason and actions directed against the community”. Stark ended by writing that: “It would be a good thing to keep political agitation and scientific research apart….” Hill responded briefly to Starks letter writing as “an Englishman without any Hebrew ancestry or Marxist allegiance...” He refutes Starks claims and states that they are nonsense and not true. Hill writes that “as regards ‘high treason’ and concentration camps', in England we do not call liberalism or even socialism by that name”. Hill sarcastically assumes that after his reply “my works in the Journal of Physiology and elsewhere will be burned (in Germany)” and ends his reply by calling for contributions to the Academic Assistance Council that helps dismissed scholars and scientists.

Back in Germany, the July 15, 1937 issue of Das Schwarze Korps (The Black Corps), the weekly publication of the SS, published an article entitled “’Weisse Juden’ in der Wissenschaft” (‘White Jews’ in Science).6 The article was written in part by the Editor of Das Schwartze Korps, Gunter d’Alquen under the guidance of Stark and partly by Stark himself. The main theme in the article was that it is not sufficient to exclude all Jews from sharing in the political, cultural and economic life of the German nation, but to exterminate the Jewish spirit, clearly recognizable in physics through its most pronounced representative, A. Einstein. “There is one sphere in particular”, the article holds, “where we meet the spirit of the ‘White Jews’ in its most intensive form and where what is common between the outlook of the ‘White Jews’ and Jewish teaching and tradition, can be directly proved, namely in Science. To purge science from this Jewish spirit is our most urgent task. For science represents the key position from which intellectual Judaism can always regain a significant influence on all spheres of national life”. Several gentile scientists of international reputation (Planck, Sommerfeld) were named in the article as followers of Judaism in German intellectual life and it was remarked that “they must be got rid of as much as the Jews themselves”. It might be noted that the same journal published on August 26th, 1938 another article entitled “Wirtschaft Ohne Dogma” (economy without dogma) which was closely related to its scientific counterpart.

Foremost among those Aryan Germans theoretical physicists who were attacked by Stark in Das Schwartze Korps was Werner Heisenberg. Stark attacked Heisenberg as a ‘White Jew’ and as the “Ossietzky of Physics”.7 Stark stated that the award of the Nobel Prize to Heisenberg in 1933 was “a demonstration of the Jewish influence on the Nobel committee against the German National Socialism… Heisenberg is one example of many others”. One of Stark’s motives in his attack on Heisenberg was his wish to sabotage Heisenberg’s effort to obtain the Chair of Theoretical Physics in the University of Munich from the retiring Sommerfeld. Stark won this battle and the Munich Chair was given to Wilhem Muller. After this publication in Das Scwarze Korps, Stark was asked by the Editor of Nature, Sir Richard Gregory8, if its contents represent his considered views upon the relative values of experimental and theoretical physics and whether he would care to make them known to other men of science through the columns of Nature. Stark responded positively to Gregory's request and agreed to contribute an article to Nature that was published on April 30, 1938.

Stark’s article in Nature opens with a general statement about physical research: “The aim of physical science is the investigation of the laws which govern the properties and processes observed with objects of inanimate Nature. These inherent laws are independent of human existence, action and thought, and are the same all over the world. ….. But the manner in which physical research is carried out and described depends on the spirit and character of the men of science engaged upon it, and this spirit and character differ individually, as do men, nations and races.” We note that already in the first paragraph of the article the combination of race and character is presented.

Stark then continues to describe “two principal types of mentality in physics” or “two types of

mental attitude” of physicists:

The first is the “pragmatic spirit” which is “directed towards reality”. The aim is “to discover new phenomena and bodies as yet unknown”. Though they “form a conception as to what the body or process to be investigated may be like in reality”, such conception “is solely the means to the end of devising experimental arrangements for the empirical formulation of their question in reality itself”. “Their final goal is always to establish reality…. The mathematically formulated theory is to physicists of the pragmatic spirit not an end in itself…” The second type is the physicist of the dogmatic school. “He (the dogmatic physicist) starts out from ideas that have arisen primarily in his own brain or from arbitrary definitions of relationships between symbols to which a general and so also a physical significance can be ascribed”. The dogmatic physicist seeks to give his mathematical formulae a physical meaning by applying them to the results of experience. If his theory is in accord with the experiment he ascribes it to the virtue of his theory. Otherwise he doubts the validity of the experiments. “Dogmatic physicists present things as through their theories and formulae exhaustively covered the whole range of phenomena treated by them;…”.

“The aim of the pragmatic spirit is the reality,….the goal of the dogmatic spirit is the formula”. In this way Stark further analyzes the two types of physicists and does not hide which of them he favors: “The pragmatic spirit advances continuously to new discoveries and new knowledge; the dogmatic spirit leads to crippling of experimental research and to a literature which is as effusive as it is unfruitful and tedious, intrinsically akin to the theological dogmatism of the Middle ages…”.

Next Stark presented two names of his favorite ‘pragmatic’ physicists, Lenard and Rutherford, and analyzes their scientific work. Prominent examples for ‘dogmatic’ physicists are Einstein and Schrodinger. Einstein’s “relativistic theories are based on arbitrary definition of space and time coordinates” while Schrodinger “by an amazing feat of physicomathematical acrobatics obtains … a differential equation. He then asks what sort of physical significance the function… may have… the electron is arbitrarily smeared in a large region round about the atom”. Other examples of ‘dogmatic’ physicists mentioned are Born (a Jew), Jordan, Heisenberg and Sommerfeld (who is associated with the creation of the "old quantum theory"). All four laid the foundations to Quantum Mechanics, a revolution in Physics, though it might be noted that Jordan was a member of the Nazi party and that Heisenberg ultimately cooperated willingly with the Nazi regime.

Stark further pointed out another difference between the two types of physicists: “The pragmatic spirit does not conduct propaganda for the results of his research… he finds his satisfaction in obtaining new knowledge…and that it will serve as a step towards new advances”. On the other hand, the ‘dogmatic’ physicists ”almost before they have published, a flood of propaganda... is started by articles in journals, by textbooks and by lecture tours”. As examples for this attitude Stark brings again the behavior of Einstein as compared to Lenard and Rutherford. The dogmatic spirit has gained in the last three decades “a dominating influence in Germany” through “their collective action and their connection with early (Weimar) Ministries, were able to acquire numerous chairs in physics, above all in Theoretical Physics”. Stark takes upon himself the mission to save Germany from “Einstein and his dogmatic imitators”.

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