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Hoax? The works of Niels Bjern

  1. May 7, 2012 #1
    Here is a link to a PDF file I found recently while googling for information on General Relativity. The author is apparently associated with Novgorod University in Russia.


    From the abstract

    Nearly 20 years before Einstein, Niels Bjern developed a theory of gravity based on what is today known as the equivalence principle - but naturally without invoking the ideas of the special relativity theory. An advocate of the absolute space concept, Bjern described the gravitational field in terms of the field of absolute velocities of an inertial space. He only used the ideas of general relativity to explain the precession of the perihelion of Mercury. The reason why Bjern's predictions and those of general relativity are identical are discussed.​

    Bjern was a collaborator and student of Sophus Lie. His work was published in an obscure journal Archiv for Naturvidenskab.
  2. jcsd
  3. May 7, 2012 #2
    I'd say it doesn't quite rise to the level of a hoax, it's just a cranky parable of what some fictional high school teacher might have (rather implausibly) dreamed up in the late 1800s. Wolfgang Rindler wrote a similar paper many years ago, describing, with the benefit of hindsight, how someone in the late 1800s might have imagined something like general relativity prior to the advent of special relativity. (Wolfgang Rindler, "General relativity before special relativity: an unconventional view of relativity theory" American Journal of Physics 1994 vol 62 issue 10 887-893.) But Rindler didn't include any hoaxy fictional embellishments. The strange thing about this Russian paper is that it admits that in order to get the right answers it is necessary to include the effects of special relativity, but it doesn't seem to notice that this totally undermines all the pronouncements and insinuations about how special relativity is unnecessary.

    In summary, it's just a prank by yet another person who has discovered that since the relativistic laws of physics work in any inertial reference frame they work in one specific frame (gasp!), so we can pick one and call it the true frame.
    Last edited: May 7, 2012
  4. May 7, 2012 #3
    By the way, I was curious as to whether the publisher of that paper could really have been so clueless as to be taken in by it. Apparently they were. Shortly after publishing that paper, they published the following retraction:

    Notification to the Readers

    The paper "Gravity and absolute space. The works of Niels Bjern (1865-1909)" by D E Burlankov was published in the August, 2004 issue of Physics Uspekhi (Vol. 174, No. 8, p. 899; English translation: Vol. 47, No. 8, p. 833). The decision to publish the paper had been taken because it contained an interesting historical narration of a meeting between Niels Bjern and the outstanding Norwegian mathematician Sophus Lie and of a discussion of scientific matters between them.

    After publication, the Editorial Board passed the paper to the Norwegian Embassy in Russia, asking for biographical details pertaining to Bjern and his great-granddaughter Anna Florence, who was also mentioned in the paper. The reply from the Embassy and the University of Oslo was that neither Bjern nor Florence could be found in any official records.

    Later, in a letter to the editors, Burlankov offered his apologies and admitted that Niels Bjern was a fictional person [duh!], and the discussion between him and Sophus Lie (a thought experiment, as Burlankov called it) was only used for clearer demonstration of the author's standpoint regarding general relativity.

    The artistic method of describing meetings and conversations of fictional or real persons who had lived in various times is broadly used in literature. However, Physics Uspekhi is a scientific journal, and this absolutely requires that both scientific and historical facts given there must be precise. In any case, the fictional form of delivering authors' ideas requires special discussion and must be unambiguously indicated in the text.

    The editors offer their apologies to the readers for the publication of Burlankov's paper.
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