# Compilation of severe errors in famous textbooks

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## Main Question or Discussion Point

For the sake of helping student to avoid confusions, I wonder if we can make a compilation of known errors made in standard and commonly used textbooks. Not talking about some random typos, but more when like the entire treatment of a subject is fundamentally flawed.

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WWGD
Gold Member
2019 Award
I think they may already have sites that do that. Have you tried a search for "[BookName] errata"? Edit: But maybe we can compile here as many of these links as possible, alpha by author.

Erratas are for minor typos, and OP excluded this out of discussion.

I think they may already have sites that do that. Have you tried a search for "[BookName] errata"? Edit: But maybe we can compile here as many of these links as possible, alpha by author.
Reaging the STEM bible thread, I saw an argument about the Ballentine's treatment of several topics in QM, so I was thinking in things like that instead of things like "x" is missing a 1/2 that can be solved via an errata.

DaveC426913
Gold Member
"[BookName] fails".

WWGD
Gold Member
2019 Award
Ok, my bad, I did not read carefully. But isnt this partially a matter of taste, opinion? Edit: Unless there are factual mistakes?

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gleem
... more when like the entire treatment of a subject is fundamentally flawed.
Isn't this more of a problem with elementary maybe high school science texts?

WWGD
Gold Member
2019 Award
"[BookName] fails".
Not clear what you mean. I suggested searches for errata for specific books.

DaveC426913
Gold Member
Not clear what you mean. I suggested searches for errata for specific books.
Note what's inside the "quotes" in my contribution.

Your suggestion for "[BookName] errata" was challenged (whether rightly or wrongly) by others.

I suggested an alternate title: "[BookName] fails".*

* in the 21st century, "fails" is a valid noun (as in: "epic fails"), not just a verb.

WWGD
Gold Member
2019 Award
Note what's inside the "quotes" in my contribution.

Your suggestion for "[BookName] errata" was challenged (whether rightly or wrongly) by others.

I suggested an alternate title: "[BookName] fails".*

* in the 21st century, "fails" is a valid noun, not just a verb.
Fair enough. Maybe we can have book reviews and author ( of review) can elaborate on the flaws they perceive in the book being reviewed.

ZapperZ
Staff Emeritus
For the sake of helping student to avoid confusions, I wonder if we can make a compilation of known errors made in standard and commonly used textbooks. Not talking about some random typos, but more when like the entire treatment of a subject is fundamentally flawed.
Do you know of a specific example of even one of such type from such a resource?

Books like these are often reviewed by many people, and even when there are errors, big or small, these are usually corrected in subsequent editions.

On the other hand, Wikipedia........

Zz.

WWGD
Gold Member
2019 Award
Do you know of a specific example of even one of such type from such a resource?

Books like these are often reviewed by many people, and even when there are errors, big or small, these are usually corrected in subsequent editions.

On the other hand, Wikipedia........

Zz.
Let alone that it is not likely a student knows enough to give a cogent criticism of the book's treatment of a topic or the overall quality of the book. Don't get me wrong, it is a good idea to discuss the topic and address things you disagree with but it seems like overreaching to try to do so while an undergraduate.

Let alone that it is not likely a student knows enough to give a cogent criticism of the book's treatment of a topic or the overall quality of the book. Don't get me wrong, it is a good idea to discuss the topic and address things you disagree with but it seems like overreaching to try to do so while an undergraduate.
Of course an undergraduate can´'t do it. The idea I had with the thread is that people that have good knowledge made the warnings so students (or people reading about the topic for the first time) don't waste their time or, even worst, get a false knowledge.

Personally I don't have the confidence to pretend I can give an authoritative opinion, but, for example, I've heard really bad reviews of Sakurai's (revised edition) treatment of the Wigner-Eckart theorem. Also, I've seen harsh reviews on the treatment of the Quantum Zeno effect given in Ballentine.

ZapperZ
Staff Emeritus
Personally I don't have the confidence to pretend I can give an authoritative opinion, but, for example, I've heard really bad reviews of Sakurai's (revised edition) treatment of the Wigner-Eckart theorem. Also, I've seen harsh reviews on the treatment of the Quantum Zeno effect given in Ballentine.
But this is different than saying these books have ERRORS!!! Errors mean that the content is faulty!

You are confusing personal preference with there being mistakes in the content. Those are two entirely different things!

Zz.

Some Physics textbooks will "prove" that QM bound states must have negative energy, but that is wrong:

Barry Simon writes:
One of the more intriguing questions concerns the
presence of discrete eigenvalues of positive energy (that is, square-integrable
eigenfunctions with positive eigenvalues) . There is a highly non-rigorous but
physically appealing argument which assures us that such positive energy “bound
states” cannot exist. On the other hand, there is an
ancient, explicit example due to von Neumann and Wigner which presents
a fairly reasonable potential $V$, with $V(r) \to 0$ as $r \to \infty$ and which possesses an
eigenfunction with $E = 1$.
The potential$$V(r)=\frac{-32 \sin r[g(r)^3 \cos r-3g(r)^2\sin^3r+g(r)\cos r+sin^3r]}{[1+g(r)^2]^2}$$
with $g(r)=2r-\sin2r$ has the eigenvalue +1 with eigenfunction
$$u(r)=\frac{\sin r}{r(1+g(r)^2)}$$
On Positive Eigenvalues of One-Body Schrodinger Operators

Simon's paper is almost as "ancient" as von Neumann and Wigner's result was when Simon wrote that.

Demystifier
Also, I've seen harsh reviews on the treatment of the Quantum Zeno effect given in Ballentine.
Yes. Ballentine misunderstands the meaning of collapse in quantum mechanics, i.e. thinks that it doesn't exist even in some FAPP effective sense. It culminates in his conclusion that the quantum Zeno effect (theoretically most easily described in terms of collapses) does not exist, contrary to experiments which show that it exists.

atyy
Ballentine's treatment of quantum mechanics is fundamentally flawed. The book presents his personal theory, rather than standard quantum mechanics.

Feynman's treatment of hidden variables in quantum mechanics in his famous lectures is fundamentally flawed, probably because Feynman did not understand the topic at that time. There are also minor physics errors (not typos) elsewhere in the lectures, probably due to momentary carelessness. The lectures as a whole are magnificent.

martinbn
martinbn
Feynman's treatment of hidden variables in quantum mechanics in his famous lectures is fundamentally flawed, probably because Feynman did not understand the topic at that time.
Which pages? And why is it fundamentally flawed?

Demystifier
I don't get your objection. I might be wrong but at a first glance what they wrote seemed fine.
Well, energy is conserved for any sign of $\omega^2$. Indeed, energy is conserved whenever the Hamiltonian does not have an explicit dependence on time, which is the case for any sign of $\omega^2$, as long as $\omega$ does not have an explicit dependence on time.

Andy Resnick
Well, energy is conserved for any sign of $\omega^2$. Indeed, energy is conserved whenever the Hamiltonian does not have an explicit dependence on time, which is the case for any sign of $\omega^2$, as long as $\omega$ does not have an explicit dependence on time.
It's curious: the second paragraph right after eqn 23.8 (in my 3rd edition) does claim the roots must be 'real and positive' but only provides a counterexample for imaginary ω, not negative ω. I wonder if there is an underlying assumption that negative real frequencies are the same (except for a constant phase factor) as positive frequencies.

Demystifier
imaginary ω, not negative ω
Perhaps I am stating the obvious, but imaginary $\omega$ means negative $\omega^2$.

atyy
Which pages? And why is it fundamentally flawed?
http://www.feynmanlectures.caltech.edu/III_01.html#Ch1-S8
"We choose to examine a phenomenon which is impossible, absolutely impossible, to explain in any classical way, and which has in it the heart of quantum mechanics. In reality, it contains the only mystery. We cannot make the mystery go away by “explaining” how it works. We will just tell you how it works. In telling you how it works we will have told you about the basic peculiarities of all quantum mechanics."

Feynman refers to the double slit experiment. However, most people would nowadays take the Bell tests to be the mystery of QM, not the double slit. There is interesting commentary in section 1 of https://arxiv.org/abs/1301.3274. Whitaker comments that Feynman corrected himself in his later lectures on computation https://aapt.scitation.org/doi/full/10.1119/1.4948268 "In any case, since what Feynman describes is indeed Bell's Theorem, it is extremely interesting that he adds that he often entertained himself by squeezing the difficulty of quantum mechanics into a smaller and smaller place, and he finds this place precisely in this analysis. Thus, Feynman's view is apparently clear—the content of Bell's Theorem is the crucial point that distinguishes classical and quantum physics."

"We make now a few remarks on a suggestion that has sometimes been made to try to avoid the description we have given: “Perhaps the electron has some kind of internal works—some inner variables—that we do not yet know about. Perhaps that is why we cannot predict what will happen. If we could look more closely at the electron, we could be able to tell where it would end up.” So far as we know, that is impossible. We would still be in difficulty. Suppose we were to assume that inside the electron there is some kind of machinery that determines where it is going to end up. That machine must also determine which hole it is going to go through on its way. But we must not forget that what is inside the electron should not be dependent on what we do, and in particular upon whether we open or close one of the holes. So if an electron, before it starts, has already made up its mind (a) which hole it is going to use, and (b) where it is going to land, we should find P1 for those electrons that have chosen hole 1, P2 for those that have chosen hole 2, and necessarily the sum P1+P2 for those that arrive through the two holes. There seems to be no way around this. But we have verified experimentally that that is not the case. And no one has figured a way out of this puzzle. So at the present time we must limit ourselves to computing probabilities. We say “at the present time,” but we suspect very strongly that it is something that will be with us forever—that it is impossible to beat that puzzle—that this is the way nature really is."

Feynman says something similarly erroneous in this video around 51 minutes.

Hidden variables for the double slit are possible.

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DaveC426913
Gold Member
The idea I had with the thread is that people that have good knowledge made the warnings so students (or people reading about the topic for the first time) don't waste their time or, even worst, get a false knowledge.
Which would be great, except how do we decide what explanation prevails amidst multiple opposing views? By discussion of course. But there's no clear winner.

So, instead of an authoritative list of errata, what we get is a discussion thread where the issues are debated back and forth, possibly endlessly. See posts 15 through 24 for examples.

It's a laudable idea, I just think there's an XKCD for that...