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By Dennison D.M.

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Had Nature really been wired in the way Ehrenhaft claimed, his sheer, dogged determination would by now have made him into a legend just as unreasonably as he is now cast as the misguided also-ran. In this respect, it is instructive to note that Ehrenhaft continued to find both empirical data and journals willing to publish his papers on ether theory well into the 1940s. Nor should one interpret this extraordinary unwillingness to accept the consensus view among physicists as betraying a flawed character.

In 1801, the Bavarian scientist Johann von Soldner calculated just how much deflection one would expect to see. Looked at from a Newtonian perspective, what von Soldner said can be thought of in terms of an imaginary tube through which the beam of light passes on its way to us. Viewed from Earth, this tube can be seen to have three co-ordinates by which to locate the position of any given unit of light at any given stage on its journey: two spatial ones (left/right and up/down) and time. Thus, as our unit of light travels down this imaginary tube, the gravitational pull of any nearby stars or planets can be factored in and the whereabouts of the light unit in space-time calculated with great accuracy.

Paternal loyalty ended his career before it had even begun. Thus, despite outward appearances, the contrasts between French political and scientific debate were not dramatically different: the Académie had become little more than an extension of the Second Empire senate. Few hero-makers can avoid the temptation of claiming that their heroes had to fight ignorant prejudice before having their ideas accepted. Pasteur’s hagiographers are no exception. This fairly standard example is from Frank Ashall’s Remarkable Discoverers (1995): In the face of opposition to his ideas, [Pasteur] eventually persuaded the French Academy of Science to appoint a committee to repeat his experiments so that they could be verified.

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