Between 1937 and 1953 the industrial physicist Herbert E. Ives pursued an extended research program with the aim of challenging the acceptance of relativity theories, and became the most important American opponent of Einstein during that era. As part of his anti-relativistic efforts Ives also performed the famous Ives-Stilwell experiment. Usually interpreted as the first direct confirmation of the time dilation formula of special relativity theory, this experiment was regarded by Ives as proof of what he called the Larmor-Lorentz theory. Ives’s heterodox views about relativity were mainly ignored by the scientific community during his lifetime. After his death, however, his criticisms of what the majority of physicists took for granted helped spark philosophical discussions in the late 1950s concerning the conventional stipulation of distant simultaneity in special relativity theory. Ives’s anti-relativistic beliefs and actions allow for an analysis of the heterodox efforts of an accredited member of the scientific community and the subsequent process of his professional marginalization in a specific historical and scientific context. This paper has three aims: to uncover the epistemic roots of Ives’s opposition to relativity; to analyze Ives’s rhetorical strategies and the reasons why he failed to persuade his peers; and to reveal the divergence between the public network of allies Ives built in scientific publications and the hidden network of allies present in his correspondence. It will become clear that the hardening of Ives’s tone against relativity and Einstein can be understood in light of his progressive marginalization and loss of recognized socioprofessional identity due to his unorthodox ideas. Ives’s case is illuminating for the historical, philosophical, and sociological perspectives it provides on the complex mechanisms by which the margins interact with the mainstream of science, both in the production of certified knowledge and in the contextually contingent redefinition and reconfiguration of the boundaries of acceptable scientific discourse.
Anti-Relativity in Action: The Scientific Activity of Herbert E. Ives between 1937 and 1953
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Roberto Lalli; Anti-Relativity in Action: The Scientific Activity of Herbert E. Ives between 1937 and 1953. Historical Studies in the Natural Sciences 1 February 2013; 43 (1): 41–104. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/hsns.2013.43.1.41
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