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Controversies in the History of the Radiation Reaction Problem in General Relativity

Kennefick, Daniel J. (1996) Controversies in the History of the Radiation Reaction Problem in General Relativity. Humanities Working Paper, 164. California Institute of Technology , Pasadena, CA.

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Beginning in the early 1950s, experts in the theory of general relativity debated vigorously whether the theory predicted the emission of gravitational radiation from binary star systems. For a time, doubts also arose on whether gravitational waves could carry any energy. Since radiation phenomena have played a key role in the development of 20th century field theories, it is the main purpose of this paper to examine the reasons for the growth of scepticism regarding radiation in the case of the gravitational field. Although the focus is on the period from the mid-1930s to about 1960, when the modern study of gravitational waves was developing, some attention is also paid to the more recent and unexpected emergence of experimental data on gravitational waves which considerably sharpened the debate on certain controversial aspects of the theory of gravity waves. I analyze the use of the earlier history as a rhetorical device in review papers written by protagonists of the "quadrupole formula controversy" in the late 1970s and early 1980s. I argue that relativists displayed a lively interest in the historical background to the problem and exploited their knowledge of the literature to justify their own work and their assessment of the contemporary state of the subject. This illuminates the role of a scientific field's sense of its own history as a mediator in scientific controversy.

Item Type:Report or Paper (Working Paper)
Additional Information:This paper is an expanded version of a talk given at the fourth international conference on the History of General Relativity, held in Berlin, August 1-4, 1995. My most grateful thanks go to Diana Barkan, who has tirelessly supported, encouraged and guided my efforts in pursuing this research, and to Kip Thorne, at whose suggestion I undertook it, and whose advice was always valuable. Peter Havas, John Stachel, Jean Eisenstaedt and Martin Krieger all gave generously of their time to tender important advice and criticism. I am also grateful for permission granted by the Albert Einstein Archives, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, as well as by the Einstein papers project and John Tate jr., to quote from the Einstein-Tate correspondence, and to Robert Schulman for his kind help at the Einstein papers project in Boston. I am indebted to the Archives at the California Institute of Technology for permission to quote from Robertson's letter to Tate. To the organisers of the Berlin conference, for their hospitality, kindness and generosity, especially to Tilman Sauer and Jiirgen Renn, my thanks. I am also the grateful recipient of a Doctoral Dissertation Improvement grant (No. SBR- 9412026) from the National Science Foundation, which enabled me to travel to consult archival material and conduct interviews. Finally, for their kindness, hospitality and patience, I thank all of those who were interviewed by me. They all helped to make this work a personally rewarding and enjoyable experience.
Group:Humanities Working Papers
Funding AgencyGrant Number
NSF Doctoral Dissertation Improvement GrantSBR- 9412026
Series Name:Humanities Working Paper
Issue or Number:164
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20130801-135201982
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Official Citation:Kennefick, Daniel. Controversies in the History of the Radiation Reaction Problem in General Relativity. Pasadena, CA: California Institute of Technology, 1996. Humanities Working Paper, No. 164.
Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:39714
Deposited By: Lindsay Cleary
Deposited On:06 Sep 2013 21:34
Last Modified:03 Oct 2019 05:10

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