SEMANTIC SABOTAGE AT THE SMITHSONIAN: A Head Test

Article excerpt

MARK A. RAIMER [*]

WHEN ASKED how he had accomplished so much in the sciences, Sir Isaac Newton replied, "If I have seen farther than others, it is because I have stood on the shoulders of giants." [1]

Newton recognized that science operates as a social function, a time-binding endeavor, the latest achievements of which stand on a foundation built by past generations. Without this quintessential human trait of recording "knowledge" for others to use later, Newton could never have studied Copernicus, Kepler, Bruno, Galileo, and Descartes - whose works helped mold Newtonian physics. Without it, we would have no time-binded model of Newtonian physics [right arrow] no theory of relativity (Einstein) [right arrow] no De Sitter cosmology, Schrodinger/Heisenberg quantum mechanics, general semantics (Korzyb ski), neurolinguistics, transactional psychology, etc. (2)

Recognizing the singular importance of passing knowledge from one generation to another (time-binding), we trust that those who document the discoveries of science do not abuse their positions, do not attempt to distort our shared history. (3) In this essay, the present author shall attempt to amusenalyze (amusingly analyze) just such an abuse of the time-binding "ethic" from within one of America's s most prestigious institutions, the Smithsonian.

In short, the Smithsonian [Institution.sup.1995-1999] (SI) seems to present the public with an extremely biased version of electrical engineering history. (4) As we shall soon see, certain individuals within the SI have used rather loathsome linguistic legerdemains in their attempt to erase the great Serbian-American inventor Nikola Tesla from the history books. Students of general semantics, I think, will find an examination of this semantic sabotage quite entertaining.

The curator and others staff members within the SI credit Thomas Alva Edison for our worldwide system of electricity and Marchese Guglielmo Marconi for the invention of radio.

In contradistinction to these assertions, we find the publicly available decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court and the U.S. Patent Office, both of which recognize Tesla - not Marconi or Edison - for innovations in radio and AC electrical development. (How many readers assumed, up until this point, that Marconi did in fact invent radio and that Edison did spark an "electrical revolution" around the turn of the 20th century?)

Tesla holds over forty U.S. patents (c. 1888) covering our worldwide system of polyphase alternating current (AC). We cannot accurately describe Edison's system of direct current (DC) as "revolutionary" because it used already existent technology in its development. [5] (Read: Edison copied the work of other scientists, namely Zenobe T. Gramme and Friedrich von HefnerAlteneck, who had created a successful DC generator in 1872.)

As to the credit Guglielmo Marconi receives from the SI, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Marconi's basic patent in favor of Tesla for the invention of radio. [6] The court ruled unequivocally that Tesla's four-tuned circuits (two circuits on the transmitting side and two on the receiving side) predated Marconi's patents on radio. [7] (Read: Marconi's two-tuned circuit system represented nothing more than the work earlier advanced by Heinrich Hertz and offered no more advantage than the system Mahlon Loomis proposed back in the 1870s.)

Perhaps the mainstream's myopia in this matter results from the sheer prestige associated with the SI. Perhaps the dizzying eminence attached to a title such as "Curator of the Smithsonian" can induce some form of neurolinguistic narcosis, leaving the hapless reader believing that such a title bestows infallibility upon a person so tagged.

Whatever the cause, assigning sole credit to Edison for our worldwide system of electricity and Marconi for inventing radio represents one of the most audacious assaults on the scientific annals in contemporary history. …