Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Scientific misnomers?

Who should get their name associated with a particular physical effect? Surely, they should have to be involved in the discovery or in understanding the actual effect. But, it seems this is sometimes not the case.
Also, if someone develops a theory for an observation, which later turns out to be the wrong theory, should their name remain associated with the effect?

Here are a few examples, up for discussion.

The Pauli paramagnetic limit for the upper critical field of a superconductor should be the Clogston-Chandrasekhar limit. Pauli worked out the Pauli paramagnetism which is involved in this effect, but Pauli never said anything about how that might relate to superconductivity.

A Fermi liquid should be a Landau fermion liquid.
The whole point is not Fermi statistics but the universality which Landau elucidated.

The Luttinger liquid should be a Haldane liquid.
Tomonaga and Luttinger introduced the Hamiltonian. Luttinger solved it incorrectly; Mattis and Lieb gave the correct solution. But, the important point is universality which is what Haldane elucidated, coining the phrase "Luttinger liquid".

Lebed magic angles in quasi-one-dimensional metals. Lebed made predictions about what would have happen for certain magnetic field directions. But, what is actually observed is quite different.

Yamaji angles for angle-dependent magnetoresistance oscillations in quasi-two-dimensional metals. Others (Kartsovnik, Kajita, ...) observed the effect experimentally. Yamaji's explanation is not the correct one because it involves quantised orbits, whereas the effect is semi-classical, as explained by Karstovnik and collaborators.

The Heisenberg limit in quantum measurements. It is certainly based on Heisenberg's uncertainty principle, but I am unaware of him discussing the limit referred to here.


  1. Fermi's golden rule is probably another good example of this...although, I think it may have been Fermi that referred to it as a "golden rule". My PhD advisor (John Light) at Chicago mentioned a funny story once from a seminar back in the 60's. The speaker (who may well have been Light at his job interview) was discussing some semiclassical approximations and the WKB approximation. An older professor interrupted and said in a German accent "That's MY approximation!"... The speaker continued to talk about Fermi's golden rule...another interruption: "That's MY golden rule!"

    Apparently Wentzel felt slighted that Fermi's GR was not the Wentzel Golden Rule and WKB wasn't JUST the Wentzel approximation.

  2. There's an interesting article in Nature Physics this month about Hubble's constant and the related theoretical work by French physicist Georges LemaƮtre that preceded it. Nobody calls it "LemaƮtre's constant," but it appears that perhaps we ought to.

  3. In grad school, I once read a paper that referred to the "Ruderman-Kittel-(Kasuya)-Yoshida interaction." My advisor and I wondered what Kasuya had done in the authors' eyes to warrant textual demotion.