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If you own any shares in companies that produce reflecting telescopes, use differential and integral calculus, or rely on the laws of motion, I should start dumping them NOW. The conspiracy behind the calculus myth has been suddenly, brutally and quite deliciously exposed after volumes of Newton’s private correspondence were compiled and published.

When you read some of these letters, you realise just why Newton and his collaborators might have preferred to keep them confidential. This scandal could well be the biggest in Renaissance science. These alleged letters – supposedly exchanged by some of the most prominent scientists behind really hard math lessons – suggest:

  • conspiracy
  • collusion in covering up the truth
  • manipulation of data
  • private admissions of flaws in their public claims
  • and much more!

But perhaps the most damaging revelations are those concerning the way these math nerd scientists may variously have manipulated or suppressed evidence to support their cause.

Here are a few tasters. They suggest dubious practices such as:

Conspiring to avoid public scrutiny:

There is nothing which I desire to avoid in matters of philosophy more then contentions, nor any kind of contention more then one in print: & therefore I gladly embrace your proposal of a private correspondence. What’s done before many witnesses is seldom without some further concern then that for truth: but what passes between friends in private usually deserve ye name of consultation rather then contest, & so I hope it will prove between you & me.

Newton to Hooke, 5 February 1676

Insulting dissenting scientists and equating them with holocaust deniers:

[Hooks Considerations] consist in ascribing an hypothesis to me which is not mine; in asserting an hypothesis which as to ye principal parts of it is not against me; in granting the greatest part of my discourse if explicated by that hypothesis; & in denying some things the truth of which would have appeared by an experimental examination.

Newton to Oldenburg, 11 June 1672

Manipulation of evidence:

I wrote to you on Tuesday that the last leafe of the papers you sent me should be altered because it refers to a manuscript in my private custody & not yet upon record.

Newton to Keill, May 15 1674

Knowingly publishing scientific fraud:

You need not give yourself the trouble of examining all the calculations of the Scholium. Such errors as do not depend upon wrong reasoning can be of no great consequence & may be corrected by the reader.

Newton to Cotes June 15 1710

Suppression of evidence:

Mr. Raphson has printed off four or five sheets of his History of Fluxions, but being shew’d Sr. Is. Newton (who, it seems, would rather have them write against him, than have a piece done in that manner in his favour), he got a Stop put to it, for some time at least.

Jones to Cotes, 17 September 1711

Abusing the peer review system:

…only the Germans and French have in a violent manner attack’d the Philosophy of Sr. Is. Newton, and seem resolved to stand by Cartes; Mr. Keil, as a person concerned, has undertaken to answer and defend some things, as Dr. Friend, and Dr. Mead, does (in their way) the rest: I would have sent you ye whole controversy, was not I sure that you know, those only are most capable of objecting against his writings, that least understand them; however, in a little time, you’ll see some of these in ye Philos. Transact.

Jones to Cotes, October 25 1711

Insulting their critics:

The controversy concerning Sr. Isaac’s Philosophy is a piece of news that I had not heard of unless Muys’s late book be meant. I think that Philosophy needs no defence, especially when tis attack’t by Cartesians. One Mr Green a Fellow of Clare Hall in our University seems to have nearly the same design with those German & French objectors whom you mention. His book is now in our press & is almost finished. I am told he will add an appendix in which he undertakes also to square the circle. I need not recommend his performance any further to you.

Cotes to Jones, November 11 1711

Gravity does not extend so far from Earth that it can be the force holding the moon to its orbit; school students are increasingly reluctant to practice differential equations, that will only lead to the practice of more oppressive forms of higher math; the tide is turning against over-regulation, like Newton’s “laws” of motion and Universal Gravitation. The so called ‘Cartesian’, ‘skeptical’ view is now also the majority view.

Unfortunately we’ve a long way to go before the public mood (and scientific truth) is reflected by our policy makers. There are too many vested interests in classical mechanics, with far too much to lose either in terms of reputation or money, for this to end without a bitter fight.

But if the Newton / Royal Society mail scandal is true, it is a blow to the Renaissance lobby’s credibility which is never likely to recover.

Resources:

Real Climate on the CRU hack

Greenfyre’s overview of Climategate

152 Responses to “Newtongate: the final nail in the coffin of Renaissance and Enlightenment ‘thinking’”

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