BOOK REVIEW (for TIME DILATION)
by Professor Jan C A Boeyens
University of the Witwatersrand
John Doan has correctly identified one major cause of confusion as the lack of honesty among the professionals who claim some deep understanding of scientific concepts, despite a total inability to produce an intelligible account thereof.This book by John Doan and many others like it should be read by all serious scientists who are concerned about the public image of science and the minimal cultural impact thereof.
Time Dilation by John Doan is one of the most recent, but by no means the only publication that highlights a growing culture divide between educated laymen and professional scientists. If the basic misunderstanding between the two camps is not arrested, but allowed to grow, the consequences are going to be serious for everybody.Scientists should stop referring to their confused fellow citizens as dilettantes, crackpots, amateurs or the lunatic fringe, and start making a serious effort to understand the causes of confusion about science, scientists and scientific models in the public mind. John Doan has correctly identified one major cause of confusion as the lack of honesty among the professionals who claim some deep understanding of scientific concepts, despite a total inability to produce an intelligible account thereof. What infuriates John Doan is to find the same scientist who either confesses or conceals an ignorance of the time concept, pontificating about more difficult derived concepts such as time dilation.
I sense John Doan's biggest frustration as his insufficient command of mathematics to independently work through the theory of relativity. He has to rely on science writers like Paul Davies to formulate the theory in words and because of their lousy job Doan suspects that Einstein was wrong. To confirm his suspicions he scrutinizes Einstein's pronouncements for inconsistencies and finds many. However, these inconsistencies reveal more about the scientist (Einstein) than the science (relativity). No number of foolish statements by a scientist about his own work can invalidate a scientifically sound model, not even of his own creation. When first published the model becomes public property, no longer the responsibility of its author, and acquires an independent life of its own. This is where John Doan goes too far - calling "special relativity a product of misuse of math", and claiming that the Michelson-Morley experiment had nothing to do with the speed of light. Although conclusions like these are probably indefensible they do not turn John Doan into a crackpot. It rather shows that although, as an educated person he has a duty to probe the premises underlying concepts with philosophical implications as important as the theory of relativity, the available sources of information have failed him.
His publication is not an attack on science, but a cry for help. The urgency of his message resides therein that he speaks for an ever-growing proportion of educated and cultured people who simply do not understand science in the form dished up by scientists. The standard response that, unfortunately there is no understanding of physics except through the medium of higher mathematics, is patent nonsense. The failure of physical science as a culturally meaningful activity is not the fault of politicians, research funding agencies or the greens. It happens because of the arrogance of an informal scientific mafia who upholds censorship under the umbrella of peer review, ostensibly to protect the high standards of scientific enquiry. They use the same arguments as the holy inquisition of another era. Instead of paying serious attention to the conceptual problems of John Doan he is branded a fringe scientist (heretic), his legitimate efforts to absorb the culture of science are ridiculed and he is driven to communicate his concerns to other dissidents, marginalized by the same procedure and ignored by the scientific community.
It is this lack of communication between scientists and the community which is responsible for the dwindling number of young people seeking a career in science. Although technology succeeds science is a dismal failure, but not for a lack of interest. There are no concepts so abstract or obscure that they cannot be explained in simple language. Mathematics is no more than a rigorously structured language and any concept made intelligible through mathematics can be expressed in words. The problem comes with scientists who hide their own ignorance behind a mathematical smokescreen. Anybody with a personal understanding of concepts such as space and time can put these ideas across to an intelligent audience without the need of mathematics. However, somebody peddling a second-hand idea from a text-book needs all the protection and obfuscation available to fool his audience.
This book by John Doan and many others like it should be read by all serious scientists who are concerned about the public image of science and the minimal cultural impact thereof. In these pages will be found the issues that create a bad press for science and these are the issues to be addressed in public debate by scientists. If John Doan cannot understand time dilation after having read twenty books on relativity what hope is there for a public understanding and appreciation of superstring theory? A final word of warning: Science cannot survive as the secret pursuit of a self-styled intellectual elite, but may flourish as a cultural activity with the support and participation of the world's intellectual middle class. Don't antagonize them, listen to them and talk to them.
© 1998 John Doan / www.jdxworld.com/johndoan.htm / Modified 1 Dec 98