The Mast-Head: Einstein Was Wrong

Lots of books and other things arrive unannounced at The Star, as they do at newspapers and media outlets. Some are worthwhile. Some are not. Others lead into unexpected territory.

An item I found on a center table in the newsroom this week, a book by a James Carter of Enumclaw, Wash., managed to get my attention, if only for its memorable title, “Why Einstein Was an Ignorant Fool.”

To be sure, I have tried but have not been able to crack the wall between elemental physics and my own understanding to point out the error of the author’s ways. Nor do I want to single him out. However, “Einstein was wrong!” holds a high place among crank ideas in my estimation; one of my great-uncles, Morris Redman Spivack, was known to crackpots in his day.

According to WorldCat, six copies of Uncle Morris’s “G=Mmxc/r2; a New Road to Relativity,” are held in libraries in the United States. Morris was multitalented. He spent seven years in Iceland where he drew and collected 5,000 portraits. Among his greatest skills was getting his stuff into archives around the world. Family legend is that he thought Einstein was a nice enough person, though wrong.

I gave Mr. Carter’s book a shot. I really did, but he lost me when he argued that gravity actually went up, that is, away from the Earth’s core. I don’t think Uncle Morris ever went that far. 

Crackpots are attracted to the big ideas, like how the universe came to be. One of their marks is certainty that everyone else is wrong and that they alone, or at most the people who agree with them, have the answers. These proponents might be masters of word salad, but are generally ignorant about basic physics, math, and experimental methods.

I once worked with a guy who said he believed that mayonnaise would someday power space travel. Earlier in his life, he had been a cook in the United States Coast Guard, so it kind of made sense. Uncle Morris had his moments, though; his no-till agriculture, which he promoted decades ago, now has mainstream applications.

Anti-crankism, if it can be called that, has its own adherents. The web is as full of jabs at crackpot science and armchair theorists as it is of cures for the common cold or promises of bulletproof paint. I side with the anti-cranks. At least these are the people who get jet aircraft into the air and make modern medicine work.