Tibor's Musings

Arthur Bolstein or Science Reporting in Popular Newspapers

When reading newspapers, are you choosing your sources well?

Years ago I happened to read an interview in a popular Slovak weekly magazine. The interview was with Arthur Bolčo aka Arthur Bolstein (an apparent wordplay on Albert Einstein) who claimed to have had mathematically proven the theory of relativity to be false. He wrote a book called an "Ordinary Failure of an Extraordinary Theory" about the proof. To get a feeling of how the newspaper reporting roughly went, here is a similar The Slovak Spectator article on Arthur Bolstein (in English). A mix of serious and a bit of light tone, one might say.

Now this is not very surprising. There are people claiming to have proven or disproven a famous theory every now and again. It is not surprising either that people find willing publishers or that they self-publish by themselves. And it is not surprising either that selfmademan-genius-causing-scientific-revolution would be a topic attractive to popular newspapers.

What may be more surprising, though, is that several years before the newspaper interview, Mr. Bolstein received an 1999 anti-prize called "Bludný balvan" ("Erratic Boulder") awarded by the Czech Sceptics Club "Sisyfos", a part of the world-wide The Skeptics Society movement that aims at debunking pseudo science. Apparently Mr. Bolstein's proof contains an error very early on... If you read Czech, see a review by Professor Vopěnka in the popular science magazine Vesmír ("The Universe").[1]

The journalists in The Slovak Spectator and elsewhere omitted to mention this interesting news bit. Perhaps they did not run a web search prior to publishing their articles; perhaps they did but did not consider it worthy of mention; perhaps they did not have time to ask the traditional "scientific establishment" for a counter opinion; I don't know. What I do know are the feelings of bitterness or sadness that remained.; I think the society deserves better science coverage than that.

The morale of the story? How are you choosing the newspapers you read?

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[1] And, to close the loop, let me add that later, in 2006, the popular science magazine Vesmír itself received an "Erratic Boulder" prize! For a completely unrelated matter, related to magnetokinesis humidity drying device story, see the award text (in Czech).