Pannekoek and the history of astronomy

Les Schaffer schaffer at
Fri Dec 7 09:34:01 MST 2001

Several days ago, concurrent with following various posts on the
science/ethnoscience debates, i was motivated to grab and browse
through a small Dover paperback from the bookstore titled "A History
of Astronomy" by A. Pannekoek (orig published 1951).

i read the first two paragraphs of the introduction, and thought to
myself, man, this guy sounds like a communist.

and sure enough, doing a web search this morning, i discovered he WAS
a communist. here are some search results:

======= Google Search: "Anton Pannekoek" ========
overall bio:


marxism and darwinism:

dutch astronomers:

Anton Pannekoek (1873-1960) - Established that Polaris is a Cepheid

It appears that Pannekoek had sharp disagreements with Lenin (i gather
he fell under Lenin's heading of "infantile"). I know nothing about
his politics except the little i read from some of the above links.

But his astronomy history book is excellent. i'll post some selected
passages to the list soon.

One of the topics which caught my eye was his discussion of the place
of astrology in the history of the subject. after i read what he had
to say, i resolved not to give astrologers such a hard time. More on
that topic another post.

Also, of interest to Carrol Cox especially, Pannekoek criticized
Lenin's critique of Mach's philosophy. I will be eager to read through
that as well, since several friends here have asked me to discuss the
role of Mach's proposals and philosophy in current physical
theory. Another post.

I am also presently reading Kip Thorne's "Black Holes & Time Warps",
an informal discussion of the extension of einstein's theory of
relativity to modern astronomy and cosmology. i find particularly
interesting at the moment some of the chronicles of the collaboration
and competition between US and Soviet scientists in this arena,
particularly as i am trying to clarify for myself the role that
nuclear weapons research and development plays on the development of
astrophysical theory.

les schaffer

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