Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Why does Einstein's 1905 SR paper contain Zero citations?

  1. Aug 27, 2012 #1
    Einstein's "Zur Elektrodynamik bewegter Körper" ("On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies") was published September 26.

    It reconciles Maxwell's equations for electricity and magnetism with the laws of mechanics by introducing major changes to mechanics close to the speed of light. This later became known as Einstein's special theory of relativity.

    The paper mentions the names of only five other scientists, Isaac Newton, James Clerk Maxwell, Heinrich Hertz, Christian Doppler, and Hendrik Lorentz. It does not have any references to any other publications.

    Yes, none at all. Zilch. Isn't that highly unusual? Why would anyone want to publish something with no citations, unless it was claimed to be purely original. (It was not, in fact he did not even mention Poincare, who had done a lot of work.)
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 27, 2012 #2


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    Can you give provide a citation that you think he should have included? I can't.

    He did credit his friend, M. Besso, for several valuable suggestions.
  4. Aug 27, 2012 #3
    It does not even have a single specific publication reference. See here:

    That was also unusual for that time and it has been discussed in articles and books*.

    Perhaps Einstein tried to appear more original than he was, in order to improve his chances of getting a better job. Whatever may have been the reason, this lack of accreditation was amazingly successful: even Lorentz gave wrong credit to Einstein on several occasions, and for nearly a century the contributions of other people were neglected in most textbooks.

    Note that apparently also Newton got too much credit for his work (human psychology?).

    PS for ghwellsjr: Interesting read will be Pais, "Subtle is the Lord" (I read it but don't have it). He discusses several papers that we happen to know that Einstein both knew and was influenced by.

    *Articles and books offer various other hypotheses, I even saw French-German competition suggested as a possible cause for omitting Poincare!
    Last edited: Aug 27, 2012
  5. Aug 27, 2012 #4


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor

    That's interesting - who else should be credited for the laws of physics?
  6. Aug 27, 2012 #5


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    You phrase your title like a question, but I only see a rhetorical one in your post...
  7. Aug 27, 2012 #6
    It sounds semi-rhetorical, but I'm just curious.

    according to ghwellsjr, zero citations is perfectly alright. was it considered normal in 1905 to stinge on citations?
  8. Aug 27, 2012 #7

    And what undue credit did Lorentz give to Einstein?
  9. Aug 27, 2012 #8
    I must confess that I occupied myself much less with that issue concerning Newton. However, the main "bug" is that often not a single person should get all credit, while human psychology seems to push for such simplification. No doubt Galileo has made an important contribution to the basic concepts and I read that both Hooke and Leibniz had disputes with Newton about who had first certain ideas.
  10. Aug 27, 2012 #9


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor

    At least Galileo is properly acknowledged (relative to Newton and Einstein, I don't know about others relative to Galileo, though) since the equivalence principle and the principle of relativity are both his. In Newton's case, I do know about the disputes with Hooke and Leibniz. I tend to think Newton's achievement was indeed singular among all physicists, even factoring in those disputes. I'm Asian, will you credit me with having the opposite bug from "human psychology" :tongue:
  11. Aug 27, 2012 #10
    For completeness (as Lamarr has already disappeared :uhh:), Lorentz wrote in memory of Poincare [1]:
    However, in the same year that Lorentz wrote the above statement (which was only published many years later!), the following (earlier) statement by Lorentz appeared in print [2]:

    [1] "je n’ai pas établi le principe de relativité comme rigoureusement et universellement vrai.
    Poincaré, au contraire, [...] a formulé le « postulat de relativité », termes qu’il a été le premier à employer."
    [2] "Das Relativitätsprinzip, welches wir Einstein verdanken"
  12. Aug 27, 2012 #11
    I was not aware that Asian psychology is different in that respect from European psychology! When I grew up there was little place in textbooks next to Newton and Einstein. I think that the situation is better now. :smile:
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook