The Sciences

Conservative Dustup Over Relativity Denialism

The IntersectionBy Chris MooneyNov 10, 2009 2:46 PM

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Well this is getting interesting. Over at the website of the conservative magazine First Things, a physicist named Stephen Barr takes on Tom Bethell for his anti-Einsteinianism--which has been published, let us not forget, by another conservative magazine, The American Spectator (at least online). Barr's piece is called "Absolutely Clueless about Relativity," and it includes this:

I will pay Tom Bethel $2,000 out of my own pocket if he takes the following courses at a first rate research university and passes them with a grade of A- or better: Classical Electrodynamics I and II (at the level of either Griffith’s book or Jackson’s book), General Relativity, and any course that covers the Dirac equation and relativistic field theory. If he succeeds in doing that, he will at least know what he is talking about when it comes to relativity. Why is it that so many people think they can talk intelligently about extremely technical subjects without knowing anything about them?

Ouch. Bethell responds

in the comments at length, and not exactly happily:

Let me tell you what I think of Mr. Barr — and I mean this literally, not insultingly. I don’t think he knows the FIRST THING about science. And that includes physics.

Ha. Stephen Barr is a professor in the University of Delaware department of physics and astronomy

. Later, Barr adds

why this whole business bugs him so much:

The stakes here are that a person who writes regularly for a respected conservative journal is embracing in a very public way utterly crackpot ideas about science. That tends to bring discredit on conservatism. If Bethell weren’t writing for the American Spectator, I wouldn’t care, and neither would anyone else.

Although not a conservative, I understand Barr's sentiments completely. Now the question is, will any other conservatives who write regularly about science come to the table and back Barr up?

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