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Recognition for physicist Bell is welcome, but he was not the naysayer of Einstein as was reputed

Letter of the day: tribute to academic

It is excellent news that Belfast City Council is reconsidering naming a road after John Stewart Bell (News, October 9), but your report does perpetuate two - unfortunately very common - myths about Bell.

It rather strongly suggests that he was opposed to Einstein's views on the interpretation of quantum theory and set out to prove them wrong. In fact, in the 1960s Bell was just about the first person to support Einstein's position from 30 years earlier, which was itself totally opposed to the orthodox, but actually rather unconvincing, approach of Niels Bohr.

Bohr's work was so dominant at the time that even to question it would practically result in the end of one's scientific career, but Bell was to say that: "Einstein's intellectual superiority over Bohr was enormous, a vast gulf between the man who saw clearly what was needed and the obscurantist."

Bell's famous article of 1962 was a mathematical analysis of Einstein's position which could be tested by experiment.

Unfortunately, when experiments were performed, they did not agree with what both Einstein and Bell would certainly have liked, though, as Bell stressed, in no way justifying Bohr's rather tenuous ideas, but Bell's work has led to the kinds of topics outlawed for discussion by Bohr being analysed in great depth by many physicists.

Indeed, these topics have played a major part in leading to the modern, extremely important, topic of quantum information, covering quantum computation, cryptography and teleportation.

Another unjustified point in the article is the common suggestion that the Bell family was "poor", an idea that infuriated Bell's mother, Annie. Both Bell's parents were highly able, worked extremely hard, and the family wanted for little. It was the case that finance was a problem in providing the fees for John's education, both at 11 and at 17.

Fortunately, the money for secondary education at Technical College was provided by a still-unknown benefactor, while leading members of the Physics Department at Queen's were helpful in arranging his initial university studies.

ANDREW WHITAKER (EMERITUS PROFESSOR)

Queen's University Belfast

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