The Edelstein center for the history and philosophy of science will host between 5th and 6th of June, 2019 a “Special Conference in Memory of Prof. Sam Schweber”.
Prof. Schweber was an extremely nice person and a top-notch scientist. I knew him for many years. In 2008 he published a wonderful book on Einstein: Einstein and Oppenheimer, The Meaning of Genius. The larger portion of the book discusses the Einstein-Oppenheimer interaction by comparing Einstein with Oppenheimer (they first met in 1932 when Einstein visited Caltech, p. 265): They had “fundamentally different approaches and positions regarding the avoidance of war and the control of atomic energy” (p. 70). In the fall of 1947 Oppenheimer became the director of the Institute for Advanced Study and a professor of physics there, he and Einstein became colleagues (p. 271). “Einstein and Oppenheimer had differing views regarding unification [unified field theory] … they were committed to different metaphysis” (p. 253). Above all, the book discusses peace and prevention of nuclear war.
Prof. Yemima Ben-Menahem from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem is one of the speakers in the “Special Conference in Memory of Prof. Sam Schweber”. Here is the story of how almost ten years ago Prof. Schweber tried to seek a way to convince her to arrange an affiliation for me with either the Hebrew University in Jerusalem or the Van Leer Institute in Jerusalem.
It all started when in June 2009, exactly ten years ago, the science museum hosted the annual conference of the society for history and philosophy of science. I came to the conference and I was going to live the number one fear that people in academia may have.
It was noon and all scholars working in the field in Israel were sitting together in a crowded room at the museum of science in Jerusalem, Israel and were discussing the present and future of history and philosophy of science. The conversation was going in a big circle when senior professors were sitting in the middle of the room and advocating their own opinion. The hoi polloi (i.e. junior PhDs and students) were sitting in the big circle and were listening.
Everybody began taking seats. The first speaker, a professor from Tel-Aviv University highlighted the importance of the field, after which two other professors spoke briefly, noting that history and philosophy of science might be going through a rough patch. Subsequently, the fourth speaker, Prof. Yemima Ben-Menahem started to talk. She sat on a chair in the middle of the room. Everybody looked at her and she behaved like a high and mighty princess (she holds a very high position). Then suddenly she started picking on me and she spoke against my research. She felt entitled to do so and didn’t think there was anything wrong with it. That was a complete lack of empathy. She knew that at that very moment I was going to be discredited because she is a senior professor. Juniors cannot give simple answers to explain away what senior professors say about them. Nonetheless, she decided to launch a smear campaign against me and it seemed that the means were justified by the end.
All the experts in the field were sitting and listening to what she had to say. Yes, nobody paid her more attention than at those several minutes. And everybody else was completely silent and was listening to her. She was eloquent and began to say that her bias is philosophy and culture, but there is another field history of science. It is legitimate though, but it is not her bias. She quipped: “my bias is not a history of one person, for instance, what Galina is doing with Einstein, a biography of one person”. And I thought to myself, oh dear, are you through now? I couldn’t implore her: enough! In academia, there is a gag put on juniors‘ mouth. I thus became very apprehensive. Nobody was there to help me or console me.
And so, she went on to say: “Galina deals with Einstein in a non-scientific manner”, and then she abruptly closed her comments by saying that I am dealing with Einstein but not with his science. Saying this was the embodiment of evil because she did not stick with the facts. I have fallen prey to a false accusation. People listened and accepted the stuff she was manufacturing. My self-worth was on the floor, and I felt there was no future for me in the field in Israel.
Later, I would hear those sentences (“not my bias what Galina is doing with Einstein, a biography of one person”, “Galina deals with Einstein in a non-scientific manner”, “Galina deals with Einstein but not with his science”, against Galina… Einstein… against Galina… Einstein) reverberating in my head as if they had been spoken by her and also by other senior professors in the field.
I have tried to minimize the damage and my rumblings and complaints through the years have been loud and unmistakable. In retrospect, I have been so naïve and gullible. Senior professors think junior PhDs are wholly in their pocket and they allow themselves everything they want. She has done the worst thing a senior professor could do to a junior trying to survive in a precarious job market. I really felt that my last chance for finding a job was slipping away.
A year later, in 2010 I met Prof. Sam Schweber from Brandies University, Boston (and a visiting professor at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem) in the next June annual conference of the society for history and philosophy of science. While chit-chatting he suggested I would ask Prof. Ben-Menahem to arrange an affiliation for me with either the Hebrew University in Jerusalem or the Van Leer Institute. He told me: “she is very well connected at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and I am definitely sure that she will do that for you”. And he was standing there in the long hall of the museum, with his mane of white hair and kindly expression, and he kept telling me this again and again: ask her, she is well-connected, I am sure that she will do this for you, it’s a good idea, etc. He sincerely tried to help me.
I have given her another chance and cleared my head of any negative thoughts. I did it just in case the year before, she had blurted out a couple of words on me she might have come to regret. On June 13, 2010, I approached her by email and told her about Prof. Schweber’s suggestion. Prof. Schweber might have already spoken to her about this at the conference. On June 14, 2010, she replied: “I will bring your request to the committee and let you know”. Lo and behold – nothing happened. I never got any affiliation and anything from Jerusalem!
I have worked myself into the ground to publish scholarly papers and three books. As you all know, the tortoise said to the hare, “slow and steady wins the race”. But in history and philosophy of science, the only thing that matters is God’s grace.