Science: Stark Statement

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Since 1933 some scientists have left Germany, others have stayed there and kept quiet, and still others have chimed in with the Nazi idea that German science should be distinct from the brands of science in evidence elsewhere. A most outspoken and articulate defender of Nazi scientific ideology is crusty old Professor Johannes Stark, head of the German Bureau of Standards, an able physicist who won a Nobel Prize in 1919 for his discovery of the "Stark effect" (splitting of spectrum lines when a glowing gas is subjected to a strong electrical field), and his studies of "canal rays" (beams of positively charged particles passing through apertures in an electrode). In the British Journal Nature last week, Dr. Stark published a thoroughgoing manifesto entitled "The Pragmatic and the Dogmatic Spirit in Physics." His points:

¶ There are two schools of mentality in physics, the pragmatists who move toward reality by wholesome experiment, and the dogmatists who use unwholesome imagination. "For the pragmatic spirit physical research is a process of evolution from what has been established to new experimental knowledge; for him there is no such thing as classical physics or modern physics, but only physics. . . . The physicist of the dogmatic school operates in quite a different manner. . . . He starts out from ideas that have arisen primarily in his own brain, or from arbitrary definitions of relationships between symbols. ... In so far as [his formulae] are found to be in accord with experience, he underlines this agreement with the greatest of emphasis, and makes it appear as though the results of experience have been established . . . only by virtue of his theory." If the dogmatic theorist runs up against experimental contradictions, he takes refuge in doubting the validity of the experiments.

¶ Prime example of the dogmatic spirit is "the relativistic theories of Einstein, which are based on an arbitrary definition of space and time coordinates. . . ." Other examples are theories of wave mechanics in which the electron is "arbitrarily smeared in a large spatial region around the atom" or made to "dance round the atom in an irregular manner."

¶ The men who laid the foundations for profitable physical research, from Galileo and Newton to the present day, were mostly "Aryans," predominantly Nordics. Jews have been numerous in the dogmatic school. Therefore, since Jews have also revealed a penchant for dogmatism in theological doctrine and Marxian dialectics, it is reasonable to suppose that dogmatism is a general quality of the Jewish spirit.

Thus thundered doughty Professor Stark in the columns of Nature, probably the best-known scientific journal in the world. An international clearinghouse for major research, Nature has frequently found occasion to excoriate abuses of the scientific spirit in Nazi Germany. At first glance it seemed curious that the editors of Nature bothered to print Professor Stark's expostulation at all.

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