APS News

May 2011 (Volume 20, Number 5)

Letters to the Editor

Don’t Be Ridiculous!

Regarding “This Month in Physics History” in the March APS News: Great story, but don't be ridiculous. Hanging a counterfeiter has nothing whatsoever to do with the history of physics even if the noose was provided by Isaac Newton.

Michael Nauenberg
Santa Cruz, CA

Strange Memory Demands Confirmation

The March, 2011 Bygone Years item stimulated a memory I have often wanted confirmed. Back in about 1949 I recall that some journal of the APS once a year ran a list of the most distinguished twenty (?) physicists, in numerical order. I was a graduate student at the time at Harvard and remember a young faculty member complaining that after the first ten names he would claim equal distinction with anyone on the list.

It is hard now to imagine that there ever was such a list but the memory remains. Can you confirm its one-time existence, give us the year of its demise, and republish the last list, if it ever existed.
Henry R. Lewis
Cambridge, MA

Ed. Note: We have been unable to confirm the existence of the list to which the writer alludes. Perhaps one of our readers can shed some light on what the memory refers to.

Let APS Members Speak for Themselves

In the March issue of APS News two letters appear that comment on our letter (APS Should Stick to Scientific Matters; January, 2011.) We would like to respond.

The letter by Viola (APS Should Engage in Climate Change Debate) misrepresents the content of our letter by using in isolation the quote: Wolfram and Werner argue that the APS “should limit its activities to scientific matters and avoid societal and political issues altogether.”

We also said “We feel the APS should limit its activities to establishing facts and finding the truth by scientific means. Individuals or groups within the APS membership have every right to express political or policy views...It is their duty to do so.” Viola also says the 90% of the APS membership is in “accord” with the APS global climate change statement. Is this number pulled out of some hat? As far as we know the APS survey on this issue has not yet seen the light of day.

The second letter, by Blumenfeld, (Physicists Need to Speak Out) says: “Thomas Wolfram and Sam Werner...believe that climate change is a purely political matter.” On the contrary, we believe that climate change is purely a scientific matter. We would like to keep the discussion out of the realm of politics and that is why we wrote our letter. We totally agree with Blumenfeld that “APS members in general, have a special competence and should not hesitate to speak out.” Our thesis is that speaking out is an individual’s responsibility and that APS should not try to speak for its entire membership on public policy issues.

It is unfortunate that our letter was falsely represented. Perhaps the title our letter (given by the APS News editors), APS Should Stick to Scientific Matters, contributed to the misunderstanding apparent in the Viola and Blumenfeld letters.

Thomas Wolfram
San Clemente, CA

Sam Werner
Gaithersburg, MD

APS encourages the redistribution of the materials included in this newspaper provided that attribution to the source is noted and the materials are not truncated or changed.

Editor: Alan Chodos