One of the tools that New Age authors use to validate their philosophy is emphasis on authority. Not only do they take advantage of the scientific authority of great physicists to give credence to their anti-scientific philosophical statements, but also of the – often remote – background of the authors themselves. On the back cover of the fifth edition of The Tao of Physics, published by Shambhala Publications, Inc. in 2010, we read:
Fritjof Capra has done research in theoretical high-energy physics at the University of Paris; the University of California; Stanford University; and Imperial College, London. He holds a PhD from the University of Vienna.
When readers picks up a book at a bookstore, the first thing they look at is its cover. And if they find this blurb on the back cover, they will be immensely impressed by the prestige of those institutions and, by implication, the authority of the author. But is Fritjof Capra a physicist of the prestigious repute the blurb intends to imply?1
The stature of a professional physicist is measured by the quality and quantity of his/her publications in prestigious journals. In high-energy physics, the field in which Capra claims to have expertise, there are at most a dozen journals in which almost all articles are published. Out of these, four stand out, at least at the time that Capra was active: Physical Review, Physical Review Letters, Physics Letters, and Nuclear Physics. The readers may verify this by going to the website of the physics department of any major university, pick a few faculty members who do research in high-energy physics – or field theory, string theory, fundamental particle and fields – and (advanced) search Google Scholar for their publications in Physics, Astronomy, and Planetary Science during their active years. A typical high-energy physicist at a research university has several publications per year, most of which are in the four journals mentioned above. Thus, a faculty member who started his career in 1990 has over a hundred publications in major journals.
- My intention for writing these post is the refutation of the fallacious ideas advocated and promulgated by some authors. However, sometimes I have been forced to delve into the professional background of an author, especially if this background is used to strengthen the faulty point the author is trying to make. Therefore, the clarification of Capra’s scientific background in what follows is not an attack on his character, but an attempt at making my readers aware of the false impression the advertisement on the back cover of his book may give them. ↩