Was Einstein a plagiarist?

Lend us your gravitational field equation, would'ya?

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A theoretical physicist at the University of Nevada has published a paper alleging that Einstein did not derive the gravitational field equations at the heart of the General Theory of Relativity, and might in fact have copied key equations from fellow physicist David Hilbert.

The two scientists were working in the same area in 1915, and were developing their theories independently but concurrently. Each submitted papers for publication throughout November of that year. The two were also corresponding about their research, making it hard to unravel exactly who knew what, and when. As a consequence the question of which researcher can claim priority has been the subject of some debate.

Prof. Friedwardt Winterberg says that contrary to the conclusions in a paper published in Science in 1997, Einstein did have the opportunity to plagiarise Hilbert's work. He claims that printer's proofs of Hilbert's paper have been tampered with, and that a key part of the derivation had been excised.

In their 1997 paper, Corry, Renn and Stachel concluded that Hilbert altered his published paper to include the correct forms of the gravitation field equations after seeing Einstein's final paper. But Winterberg argues that this is impossible. Winterberg suggests that someone deliberately tampered with the document, specifically to support claims for Einstein's priority. He compares the 'mutilated' document with published papers, and notes that certain forms of Hilbert's notation were only used by Einstein at a later date.

"My analysis of Hilbert's mutilated proofs therefore cannot prove that Einstein copied from Hilbert," he says. "It proves less, which is that it cannot be proved that Einstein could not have copied from Hilbert. But it proves that Hilbert had not copied from Einstein, as it has been insinuated following the paper by Corry, Renn and Stachel."

Winterberg concludes that three people should be given credit for developing the general theory of relativity: Einstein, for recognising the shape of the problem, Grossmann for his insight that the contracted Riemann tensor was key to solving the problem, and Hilbert for completing the gravitational field theory equations.

The full explanation can be found here. (pdf) ®

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