«Pragmatic and Dogmatic Physics: Anti-Semitism in Nature, 1938. A. Loewenstein*, Chemistry Department, Technion, Israel Institute of technology, Haifa ...»
Finally there appears the crucial issue in his arguments: “I have also directed my efforts against the damaging influence of Jews in German science, because I regard them as the chief exponents and propagandists of the dogmatic spirit”. The question immediately arises why are the Jews the Propagandists of the ‘dogmatic spirit’? Stark states that “the great discoverers, from Galileo and Newton to physical pioneers of our age were almost exclusively Aryans, predominantly of the Nordic race”. Stark asks for the reason that “propagandists of modern dogmatic theories are men of Jewish descent”. The answer is “that Jews played a decisive part in the foundation of theological dogmatism and that the authors and propagandists of Marxism and communistic dogmas are for the most part Jews”. Stark admits that there are some Aryan men of science who follow the dogmatic spirit (e.g., Heisenberg, the ‘white Jew’) and concedes that some Jews “produced valuable experimental work carried out in the pragmatic spirit”. Stark concluded by writing that he “combats the harmful influence of the dogmatic spirit in physics…. regardless whether the culprit is a Jew or not” and that the he had started his battle already in 1922 with a paper entitled “The Present Crisis in German Physics”.
Apart from showing total miscomprehension of the creative evolution of science in general and modern physics in particular, Starks used his article to propagate his very strong antiSemitic attitude. One might have had expected that such an article would stimulate strong response from members the scientific community, most of whom were readers of Nature. This however was not the case.
The only response to Stark’s article in Nature appeared in its November 12, 1938 issue (about
six months after Stark’s article) and was written by Professor A.S. Eve9 who entitled it:
“Foundations of Physics”.10,11 Eve was a close friend of Rutherford and was involved with him in research on radioactivity. Later he also wrote a biography of Rutherford. Rutherford was a founder and supporter of the Academic Assistance Committee and chaired its important meeting in the Albert Hall, London, and (October 1933) in which also Einstein participated.
In Stark’s article Rutherford is named as an example of a ‘pragmatic’ physicists and I believe that this may have triggered Eve to respond. It might be pointed out that Rutherford died about six months before Stark’s article appeared.
Eve’s article starts with the statement that “Professor J. Stark attempted to divide physics into two groups or tendencies and at the same time made an unpardonable attack on the Jewish people in general and Einstein in particular”. Eve writes that the “article has been met with cold disfavor by the generality of physicists, who have made no reply to it”. Eve believes that the reason for this silence was because all deemed “that the statements carried with them their own refutation so that no answer was required”. However, Eve does not seem to be happy with this reasoning and adds: “Men fear to pour oil, not on troubled water, but on a blazing furnace, which if left undisturbed might reach exhaustion by its own violence”. This kind of reasoning was a quite popular, also among German Jewry, until the “Crystal Nacht" events in November 1938 violently disproved it.
Eve’s article presents a review of the development of modern physics, from Fourier to Dirac.
He shows that in many instances, theory and experiment complemented each other irrespective of who preceded. He quotes Rutherford who was willing to abandon the theory of radioactive decay when a single experimental result will contradict it and shows that Rutherford could not be termed as a pragmatist or a dogmatist. Other examples are the electromagnetic theory of Maxwell that supplemented Faraday’s work; Planck’s quantum hypothesis; Bohr’s atomic model and others. “Here, as in many cases, ideas which might be termed ‘dogmatic’ by some have led directly to the ‘pragmatic’”.
Eve comments on the use of “propagnda” of scientific discoveries made, according to Stark, only by the ‘dogmatists’. Eve claims that the big scientific discoveries, from Copernicus, Galileo and Newton to Bohr and Einstein, never needed any ‘advertisement’. He quotes Rutherford who “believed that it was one of his duties to interpret and spread the good news of scientific discovery and progress. He would be a rash man who dared to use the word ‘advertising’ in this connexion and no fair-minded man would connect the word with Einstein.....” It might be noted the Eve replaces the term ‘propaganda’ with ‘advertisement’.
Eve possibly did not comprehend the importance of propaganda in the Nazi regime.
It is interesting to note that only one paragraph in the article is concerned with Stark’s racist anti-Semitic views: “The fact that physical interpretation lags far behind the mathematical calculation... in no way detracts from the work of these men of genius, who belong to various nationalities. If these men are deemed to be dogmatic, then it would indeed be an honor to be included in their ranks. But the whole theory of pragmatics and dogmatics is pure moonshine and to link such discoveries mainly with the Jewish people is a poor compliment to the rest of mankind".
The division between experimental and theoretical scientists exists throughout the history of science though many scientists had ‘mixed’ careers devoting their time to both theory and experiment. It has always been generally accepted that theorists and experimentalists complement each other and this symbiosis constitutes the essence of the scientific method (a theory must conform to known experimental facts and be able to predict new phenomena).
The uniqueness of Stark’s paper is not his division between “pragmatists” and “dogmatists” but his total rejection of the “dogmatists” and his assertion that most “dogmatists” are Jewish or posses ‘Jewish mentality’ (“white Jews”). According to Stark the ‘dogmatic’ elements of science should be completely eradicated.
Two questions remain to be considered. The first is: Why did Nature agree to publish Stark’s article that was essentially a refined version of his publication in “Das Schwarze Korps”? In ‘News and views’ section of the April 30, 1938 issue Richard Gregory (Nature’s Editor) writes that ”At the moment we make no comments upon the views expressed by Prof. Stark and we gladly give him the opportunity of making them known to the scientific world. We should, however, be surprised if the limitations which these new principles impose on the scientific truth are generally accepted as the highest or best means of promoting the advancement of natural knowledge”.12, 13 The second question is why the only response in Nature to Stark’s article came so late and was relatively mild?
Concerning the first question: One possible answer is that Gregory agreed to the publication because he held views that international science is the key to a solution of many of the world’s problems. We know that he maintained that political conflicts between nations could be remedied through international scientific cooperation since ‘science has no frontiers’.
Furthermore, Stark, as other Nobel Laureates, held a special esteem in the scientific community. We may also find the answer in a more profane matter: Gregory’s reaction to the prohibition of Nature in Germany. In the January 22, 1938 issue of Nature Gregory quotes a document, issued by the German Ministry of Culture, saying that Nature published “unprecedented and base attacks against German science and the Nationalsocialistic State… Therefore this journal must be excluded from general use in scientific libraries”. In his response Gregory states that “it is untrue that Nature has ever attacked German contributions to scientific knowledge…”. “We welcome the opportunity of recording worthy additions to the literature of science or to natural knowledge from any country or any race; but we should be false to the traditions of science if we failed to condemn any influence which would make scientific research subservient to political or theological domination.” … “We regret that the penalty involved in the withdrawal of Nature from libraries… will be felt more by some of our readers in Germany than by ourselves”. After such statements Gregory probably had little choice but to accept Stark’s article for publication. On the other hand it is also possible that Gregory maintained relatively tolerant views towards the Nazi regime as evidenced Nature’s endorsement of the Munich accord (mentioned above) and the citation from Lenard's speach13 in 1935.14 It is evident that a scientific Journal such as Nature that has political, social and economic aspirations is liable to stumble and perform grave historical misjudgments.
It is difficult to answer the second question. It could be that some readers of Nature just thought that it is not worthwhile to waste time responding to the absurd ideas expressed in Stark’s article. Still, the article with all its anti-Semite connotations should have drawn the attention at least of some of the Jewish German "émigré" scientists in Britain or elsewhere (who certainly were Nature readers and also contributors of scientific material). It is surprising that none of them responded. This may reflect their insecure feelings in their new environment. The political atmosphere in Britain (the wish to appease the Germans and avoid war) might have also contributed to the lack of response. One might also speculate that Gregory would not be too enthusiastic to publish a response to Stark's article that would anger his German readers. A plausible guess, mentioned above, is that the ‘trigger’ to Eve's response was the mention of Rutherford, in Starks article, as a "Pragmatic Physicist". Eve must have been very annoyed by this statement. Gregory could not refuse publishing Eve's article since he was well acquainted with him.
It should be mentioned that in Nazi Germany Stark eventually lost grace to the authorities (Ministry of Science, Education and Culture and the SS) because of his fanatic attitudes. His patron, Alfred Rosenberg, did not belong to the ‘correct’ top Nazi hierarchy and could not help him. Heisenberg, a ‘white Jew’ and a 'dogmatic physicist', held the leadership of the German atomic project during the war.
Acknowledgement: I am thankful to Professor Andreas Kleinert of the Martin-LutherUniversity at Halle-Wittenberg for reading the manuscript and offering some comments.
1. The first issue of Nature was published on November 4, 1869.
2. It might be pointed out that the corresponding American journal, Science, also welcomed the Munich accord. F.R. Moulton, Secretary of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (which publishes “Science”), wrote an article to that effect in the Science issue of October 7, 1938.
3. Some biographic details of Stark can be found in: Alan D.Beyerchen, Scientists under Hitler, Yale University Press, 1977 or Mark Walker, Nazi Science Plenum Press, 1995.
4. A.V. Hill, 1886-1977, Nobel Laureate (with Otto Meyerhof, 1922) in Physiology or Medicine for his discoveries concerning the production of heat in the muscles, was an important and active member of the British Academic Assistance Council (AAC, later the Society for the Protection of Science and Learning, SPSL). The AAC was founded by Lord Beveridge (William Henry Beveridge, 1879-1963), Director of the London School of Economics. ). The AAC and SPSL assisted over 2000 Jewish (and other) academic refugees to obtain positions in the United Kingdom. A description of the AAC can be found in: Jean Medawar and David Pyke, Hitler’s Gift-The True Story of the Scientists Expelled by the Nazi Regime, Arcade Publishing, NY,2001.
5. All italics denote the author's emphasis.
6. An English translation of this article can be found in: Klaus Hentschell, Editor; Ann M Hentschell, Translator, Physics and National Socialism. An Anthology of Primary Sources., Birkhauser Verlag, 1996.
7. Carl von Ossietzky, 1889-1938, a German pacifist. A journalist and writer who was a leader of the peace movement in Germany after World War 1. He wrote against German rearmament. The Nazis imprisoned Ossietzky after the burning of the Reichstag in 1933. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for peace in 1936. Ossietzky died of tuberculosis in a Berlin Hospital in 1938. By Hitler’s orders the German Government decreed that in the future no German could receive any Nobel Prize.
8. Sir Richard Arman Gregory 1864-1952. For biographical details see: W.H.G. Armytage, Sir Richard Gregory: his life and work, London Macmillan, 1957; also: F.J.M. Stratton, in Obituary Notices of fellows of the Royal Society, Volume 8, number 22, November 1953.
9. Arthur Stewart Eve, F.R.S., (1862-1948) was born in England. He studied in Cambridge and in 1903 became Lecturer in Mathematics in McGill University Montreal, Canada. He was the Director of Physics at McGill from 1919 to 1935. Eve served in World War 1 and retired as a Colonel. He was President of the Royal Society of Canada 1929-1930. Between 1898 and 1907, Rutherford (1871-1937) Nobel Prize in Chemistry 1908, stayed at McGill University.
10. In its May 29, 1938 issue the New York Times published a short Editorial entitled “Nordic Science” which concerned Stark’s article in Nature. It states that Starks himself is a ‘dogmatist’ because of his thesis that most ‘dogmatic’ scientists are non-Nordic (non-Aryan).
“Pragmatic anthropologists long ago exploded the racial myth to which he (Stark) clings.
There is no pure race anywhere on earth”… Furthermore, “Even on the relative merits of dogmatism and empiricism (note the different notation!) Professor Stark is both illogical and obscure”….” Also Stark forgets to mention the deadening influence of “Nordic” metaphysicians. Hegel, Schelling and Fichte”….”Professor Stark prefers to dogmatize in behalf of pragmatism with Hitler and Streicher”. In many respects (mostly concerning Stark’s racial arguments) this Editorial uses a much stronger language than Eve’s response. The Editorial is unsigned, but my guess is that it was Franz Boas (1858-1942) who may be its author. I am indebted to Professor Andreas Kleinert for drawing my attention to this Editorial.