HONOUR OF POLISH SCIENCE
Wiesława Lewandowska talks with prof. Lucjan Piela about incompetence of the canon from Frombork and prof. Richard Feynman, according to the standards of correct investigators of the Smoleńsk air crash
WIESŁAWA LEWANDOWSKA: - Professor, Your book ‘Ideas of Quantum Chemistry’ belongs to a canon of compulsory books for PhD students of, among the others, Californian University in Berkeley in USA, you are an acknowledged scholar in the world, in the sphere of quantum chemistry, but also a member of the scientific council of the Interdisciplinary Centre of Mathematical and Computer Modelling. However, because you are not a ‘specialist of air crashes’, you should not express your opinion about the investigation of the causes of the Smoleńsk air crash – it would be, as the education minister has announced recently – a breach of the ethical code of the Polish scientist….
PROF. LUCJAN PIELA: - I do not intend to accept this peculiar theory, because I have a different one. I would not find it necessary to express my opinion if - -according to the rules of art – the airplane wreckage had been assembled carefully from millions of pieces in Mińsk Mazowiecki, and 96 autopsies had been done, but the minister was encouraging Polish scientific institutions to explain essential aspects of the catastrophe. Her determination is bringing a big and important load of information in the opposite direction about which the minister might not have had any time to think.
– From the beginning we were assured that the governmental commission investigating the catastrophe, consisted of ‘prominent specialists of air crashes’ later it was said that only them have a right to express their opinion on its causes. How to understand the term ‘a specialist of accidents/air crashes’?
– Imagine, please, what this kind of a specialist would be engaged in after he started his work and would this work be done in this case? After all, this kind of specialization must always be included in physics, and in mechanics within it, as well as electronics, telecommunication, etc. The interdisciplinarity of investigations are an ABC of the contemporary science, monodisciplinarity is often connected with ‘insanity’ of the mind in one aspect, which may mean vainness of science.
– So, is it the way of understanding in the categories of conservatism, Professor?
– I suppose that after calm reflection ( especially in Brussels), the minister would recognize we are right, that the essence of the action of the contemporary science is interdisciplinarity, looking at the same object of investigations from various points of view, and also the international cooperation, not closing oneself up in one specialization in the sphere of ethnical science. I think that a declaration would make a great impression there that we, in Poland, are fighting with the inter disciplinarity in science. And documents? Sometimes it is said, but not always, that, for example, a canon from Frombork discovered a revolutionary truth about the movement of the Earth around the Sun. The minister Barbara Kudrycka would send him away because he did not have suitable documents, and because he had the ones which were very bad! We fall into these contradictions when we say what we do not really mean.
– The rector of the Warsaw Polytechnics even speaks about scientific war of Smoleńsk, blaming those who do not have suitable documents for it.
– I think that also he would agree with us, after some reflection, that he made a mistake. We must not use such terms in reference to science. Science is a contradiction of war – is a calm way of understanding. It is because of science, that we do not have to fight with one another but we are only looking at arguments and are accepting the true ones. If the university rector wants to be closer the truth, he should not declare a war, but, as it befits a scholar, he should suggest many investigations of materials, using the potential of the Warsaw Polytechnics. Unfortunately, the rectors of the Warsaw Polytechnics and the Mining and Metallurgical Academy do not see that using such reckless words, they put the good names of the universities at stake.
– However, it is difficult to dream about ‘a calm way of understanding’, when one of the parties grants itself a right only to serious investigations, only correct results, but it accuses another one of being amateur, that is, gaining results on the basis of dubious hints.
– We cannot avoid a scientific discussion, because in this way we exclude ourselves from the scientific community. Respect for the truth in science is measured also by respect for investigations done by others. In sciences we do not see any insulted attitudes, arguments ad personam, or any raised tone of voice. We omit emotions and a tone of voice and we see what remains.
– Official investigators of the Smoleńsk air crash ironically define the investigations carried out by experts of the Parliamentary Team as ‘alternative’, assuming their lower value in advance…
– I do not see anything insulting in this term, science ‘is alive’ thanks to alternate theories, overthrowing arguments, which turned out to be false or incomplete, because it is a daily bread of science. Whereas irony, lack of respect for achievements of others and lack of willingness for cooperation are not a normal thing in science. It is an extremely unusual thing.
– Alternative investigators are accused of ‘lack of experience in investigating catastrophes and air crashes’. Can Professor, as a physician, chemist or a mathematician express an opinion in the investigation of such a specific phenomenon which was the air crash?
– When in America there was an accident of the space ferry Challenger, at once prof. Richard Feynman, a prominent physics theorist, a laureate of the Nobel prize was invited to the commission investigating the causes of the catastrophe. And nobody in the scientific environment was surprised by it, which I can testify because it took place near my Cornell University.
– Why was just prof. Feynman engaged in it, who is a specialist of relativist quantum electrodynamics (QED)?
– Yes, why? After all he was not a ‘prominent specialist of space ferry accidents investigation’ (because there were not any of them), he was not even ‘a prominent specialist of air crash investigation’, nor he was not even a pilot. I will add, anticipating fact, that Feynman was not a ‘prominent representative of hydraulic sciences’, nor even a plumber, nor even ‘ a prominent specialist in the sphere of gaskets’. So, an amateur, wasn’t he? However, nobody mocked at the professor Feynman, nor the university rector isolated himself from his amateur work nor wrote a letter that Feynman represented opinions of Feynman. The QED is a sublime theoretic physics of elementary particles, but in order to be a master in it, Feynman had to understand the whole physics, and the word ‘understand’ means a lot. And, therefore, he managed to uncover a mechanical defect – he found a gasket which in the temperature of that unlucky morning became fragile and it was a cause of that big catastrophe! So, investigating such a multi-dimensional event which was the big catastrophe, it should be normal and obvious for many representatives of broad spheres of science, cooperating with one another, to get engaged in it.
– And in your opinion, Professor, this methodology was missing in this investigation of the causes of the air crash?
– Yes, and from the beginning, starting with practical looking at the law of mass behaviour (‘the mass of the airplane cannot change after the accident’). To my astonishment I read an answer of ‘a chief specialist’ to the detailed question about the moment of the inertia of the airplane; he stated that the moment of the inertia of the airplane was not needed at all. I thought: ‘How come? After all it is elementary to evaluate the performance of the rotation of the airplane, and there was a rotation there!’. In addition to this general evaluation of the size of that moment for the airplane Tu-154M, a calculator would have been enough and we should say, one hour of work. A specialist of catastrophes must know physics. If he knows physics only in a simplified way (in the form of physical law ‘when it hits, it will tear it off’) it is far for him to have the title of a specialist of anything. Dr. Glenn Jorgensen calmed me down recently because he started with the evaluation of the moment of inertia of the Tu-154M at once.
– However, the broad-based curiosity of alternative investigators is strongly criticized, first of all, as theorizing, as investigations conducted far away from the object of the investigations. Are such investigations less worthy, Professor?
– Investigators should have a direct access to the object of investigations. However, undoubtedly, it is incredible that all investigators – including the official ones – had a limited access to the object of the investigation. There is not slightest reason that data would not have been accessible for everybody who have a possibility to carry out specialist investigations and want to conduct them. What sense does data secrecy have? No sense. However, the lack of some data is a fact. And, despite that, there is a great important difference between, for example, a material of the catastrophe in Gibraltar and the one in Smoleńsk. Today a similar event leaves a huge number of registered signs (satellites, recordings of radio communication, GPS, photos, mobiles, films, physic-chemical investigations of unreachable accuracy, etc.), there are accessible gigabytes of information. Some of these details can present a hypothesis in the lead. The most probable hypothesis must be based on a confrontation with ten thousands of details. A false hypothesis never can cope with it. There is always something somewhere which falsifies it.
– Whereas not only the data exchange is impossible but also a debate, because one of the parties acknowledged the matter to be successfully completed.
– Implacability is far from the standards of the scientific work, and, in fact, it is outside any standards! If I am certain about my arguments, my calculations, it is enough to show them and make others convinced of them. Even if a mistakes was uncovered in the elaborations, none of responsible scientists would say that dr. Lasek and his experts are amateurs, but that they made a mistake. Because in science, on a difficult road of knowledge, everybody has a right to make a mistake and we together correct the mistake. Reliable investigations of the catastrophe should be an honour of the Polish science today, into which dr. Lasek belongs, after all.
– Last year you and a group of scholars of the Warsaw University expressed your concern about the process of the investigations of the causes of the Smoleńsk catastrophe. At present it seems that scientific environments do not tend to manifest openly this kind of criticism. Why?
– I do not think there would be a change here. Whereas the signals became clearer: participation in alternative investigations of Smoleńsk can cause hostility expressed by not giving grants or cutting the budget for the already-conducted investigations. It is very strange.
– Is it the main reason for which the debate of scientists in this politically incorrect matter is impossible in your opinion?
– The debate among scientists is not only always possible, but it will always take place and is unavoidable. What is more, it is the only reasonable alternative for every partisanship. The environments, isolating themselves around ‘their own version’ and refusing to participate in a scientific debate are going into non-existence for a very simple reason: a debate is the heart of a scientific progress, and approaching the truth is verified every day.
– Can we say that here we are dealing with the arbitrarily imposed expression of contempt for alternative investigators?
– But what would the substantive approaches be here, to demonstrate the superiority? There are not any of them. Mockery has a very practical purpose, although it is very primitive (unfortunately, some professors take part in it): they want to conceal the emptiness and lack of arguments. It has always been so, political systems of various kinds have never had any problems with finding such scholars.