I'm currently working my way through E.T. Whittaker's monumental A History of the Theories of Aether and Electricity (1910), among other things. Whittaker's book is a very comprehensive study of electricity and aether that stretches back from the seventeenth century up to the beginning of the twentieth, and it really is excellent -- I've already learned a lot, and am only 20 pages into it! (I loved a fascinating tidbit about the first experimental measurement of magnetic field lines, demonstrating the poles of the magnet -- I'll come back to this in a future post.)
However, as I've blogged about previously, there is one glaring weakness in Whittaker's treatment. In his second volume of the 'History, released in 1953, he almost completely discounted Einstein's contribution to the theory of special relativity! While discussing the "relativity theory of Poincaré and Lorentz," his primary statement regarding Einstein's work is:
In the autumn of the same year, in the same volume of the Annalen der Physik as his paper on the Brownian motion, Einstein published a paper which set forth the relativity theory of Poincaré and Lorentz with some amplifications, and which attracted much attention.
Whittaker is much more generous towards Einstein's general theory of relativity, and gives him the credit, but his dismissal of Einstein's contribution to special relativity is puzzling. I've speculated that Whittaker was perhaps a bit miffed that his life's work on the aether was made obsolete in 1905 by Einstein before it was even published; it may also be that Whittaker genuinely didn't completely grasp the philosophical implications of Einstein's contribution.
So what is the irony in this?