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Physics in Perspective

, Volume 18, Issue 1, pp 3–57 | Cite as

Physics Textbooks Don’t Always Tell the Truth

  • Allan FranklinEmail author
Article

Abstract

Anyone who studies the history of physics quickly realizes that the history presented in physics textbooks is often inaccurate. I will discuss three episodes from the history of modern physics: (1) Robert Millikan’s experiments on the photoelectric effect, (2) the Michelson-Morley experiment, and (3) the Ellis-Wooster experiment on the energy spectrum in β decay. Everyone knows that Millikan’s work established the photon theory of light and that the Michelson-Morley experiment was crucial in the genesis of Albert Einstein’s special theory of relativity. The problem is that what everyone knows is wrong. Neither experiment played the role assigned to it by physics textbooks. The Ellis-Wooster experiment, on the other hand, is rarely discussed in physics texts, but it should be. It led to Wolfgang Pauli’s suggestion of the neutrino. I will present a more accurate history of these three experiments than those given in physics texts.

Keywords

Special Relativity Polonium Photoelectric Effect Physic Textbook Unique Energy 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

Notes

Acknowledgments

I would like to thank Gerald Holton and Michel Janssen, both of whom read the section on the Michelson–Morley experiment and provided helpful suggestions and whose work informed that section. I would also like to thank Robert Crease, Joseph Martin, and Peter Pesic for their very careful editing of this essay.

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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Physics UCB 390BoulderUSA

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