Energy dispersal

Energy dispersial (diagram)
Typical depiction of the energy dispersal view of entropy, wherein it is argued that the second law of thermodynamics states that concentrated forms of energy, such as a packed ordered grouping of atoms or molecules (low entropy state), tend to spread out over time, towards that of the most probable or uniform state, often towards the most disordered state (high entropy state).
In thermodynamics, energy dispersal, or energy dispersion (energy randomization), is a mis-contrived view used to describe entropy, in a nonmathematical way, such that entropy increase is described to mean that energy of systems is becoming more spread out or more dispersed among microstates. [1]

The origin of the "energy dispersal view" of the entropy and the second law is difficult to pin down. It seems to be a modern-day spin-off of the William Thomson 1852 dissipation view of the second law, albeit not exactly as Thomson saw things in terms of a dissipation of mechanical work. The term may also have origins in the 1874 Nature article “Kinetic Theory of the Dissipation of Energy” by Scottish physicist James Maxwell. [3]

In 1921, English biologist James Johnstone was explaining entropy and the second law as the tendency for available energy to transform into inavailable energy or for energy to be first concentrated somewhere and then when a phenomenon occurs for the energy to become "dissipated or spread out", at which point it is said to loose its capacity for doing work. [12]

English chemist Kenneth Denbigh was also using a variant of the the entropy as energy dispersal view description in the 1980s.

A significant promoter of the "dispersal of energy" view of the second law is English physical chemist Peter Atkins, as presented in his 1984 The Second Law and his 1992 Creation Revisited, all of which seem to be the result of an effort to over-laymanize the entropy and the second law.

The major change in use of the term 'energy dispersal' came about through the efforts of American organic chemist Frank Lambert who from 1999 to 2009 made a 'Jihad' (as some have described it) against the Boltzmann-Planck order-disorder view of entropy, by mass mailing out requests to dozens of American chemistry textbook writers to have the word 'disorder' removed from chemistry textbooks and replaced by the work 'dispersal'. The result of this effort was that at least two dozen textbooks were changed or reworded to this effect, although there was no actual experimental or mathematical justification for this change, other than "its easier concept for beginners to understand".

This energy dispersal view of entropy stems from the efforts, during the years 1999-2009, of American chemist Frank Lambert to have the word ‘disorder’ removed from American chemistry textbooks. In 2009, one anonymous person humorously commented on the issue of growing prevalence of Lambert’s view of entropy in chemistry textbooks (such as pictured adjacent): [10]

“Finding grossly erroneous incorrect information in introductory chemistry texts is like finding sand at the beach.”

energy dispersal excerpt
Excerpt of a Lambert-influenced description of entropy and the second law from the fourth edition 2008 college chemistry textbook Chemistry in Focus by American chemist Nivaldo Tro, in which the second law is defined, incorrectly, as the tendency for “energy to become more spread out in any spontaneous process” and that another word for entropy is “energy dispersal” (or energy randomization). [9]
In origins, as discussed below, in 1939 as an undergraduate chemistry student, Lambert essentially flunked out of (or had great difficulty with) his senior year thermodynamics course, and was forced to change majors from physical chemistry to organic chemistry, thus leaving a likely void of insecurity in his mind. Sixty years later, at the age of eighty, in retirement, having unresolved issues with the disorder view of entropy, Lambert went searching for the true meaning of entropy, supposedly finding it in 2002, and thus going on to supposedly educate America and its chemistry textbook authors about what entropy really is.

The thrust of this particular view of entropy, in larger part, comes from the views of American chemist Frank Lambert, who for several decades (1948-1981) taught a course on entropy for humanity students at Occidental College, California. The following are Lambert’s explanation of the origins of this course: [2]

“Here’s a brief of my sad story: Never liking thermo, except for the power of the Gibbs free energy relationship, and never having to teach it, I was asked to develop a chem course for non-science majors that would have more meaningful content and interest than any watered-down general chem. I came up with ‘Enfolding Entropy’, essentially a baby thermo course with minimal math. Marvelous fun for years. Good kids. In a very thorough ‘entropy via order-disorder’ that led to its (mis)application to human affairs in the last week or even two. I felt a bit uncomfortable. But not much. I put that aside because the students really could grasp why it required energy to produce hydrogen from water, and the problems in ammonia synthesis, etc., etc.”

In retrospect, while teaching this “baby thermo” course in a subject that he "never liked", Lambert has admitted in retrospect that during these years he had no idea what entropy was. In particular, in communication with American chemical engineer Libb Thims, in 2006, Lambert commented that while teaching this course that he never understood what entropy was, that he had never had read any of German physicist Rudolf Clausius’ work (from where the definition of entropy comes), and that he only came to understand entropy in his retirement years, in circa 1998, through a reading of Scottish physicist James Maxwell’s four-page 1874 Nature article “Kinetic Theory of the Dissipation of Energy”. [3] This seed prompted his seven-year “jihad against the word 'disorder'”, as several people have commented, starting in 1999, in the chemistry community, to have disorder removed from all American chemistry textbooks and replaced with the word energy dispersion. [4] In his own words: [2]

“After my second retirement, from a fascinating non-academic career [advisor for the J. Paul Getty Museum, 1981-2002], I had time to think. I began to wonder why Clausius’ q/T had begun to be applied to shuffled cards and, to start, I checked some history. Clausius, Boltzmann, Planck, and Gibbs, then Shannon and Jaynes – and things began to clear. My first paper on shuffled cards as unrelated to entropy change caused the deletion of this silly example – my point of view (POV) of 1999 is now the shared wisdom of all but one chemistry textbooks published since 2004 , whereas in 1999, it was the principal illustration of entropy increase in most general chemistry textbooks. In 2002, my POV discovery was that ‘disorder’ was a valiant try by Boltzmann but an untenable view because of his limitation to 1898 knowledge (prior to the Third Law, quantum mechanics, and full understanding of the energetic behavior of molecules).”

Lambert published his new-view ‘discovery’ of entropy in an article titled “Disorder: A Cracked Crutch for Supporting Entropy Discussions” in the Journal of Chemical Education. [5] He then began aggressively emailing various US chemistry textbook authors petitioning them to change their descriptions of entropy from disorder to dispersion. Lambert explains the results of this effort as such:

“That seemingly personal POV of 2002 has, by 2006, resulted in the deletion of “entropy is related to disorder” from the great majority of new chemistry texts – including those in physical chemistry (although I can claim my direct influence in only two physical chemistry texts). This is perhaps an unprecedented rate of change in an ‘accepted’ concept in texts. It is not my famous name or power in the establishment that caused a total of 25 or so authors and hundreds of text reviewers to change their views! I am just the lucky guy who belled a giant cat that most chemist-authors had known was dead but wanted somebody else to say so.”

In 1999, Lambert claims that “all U.S. general chemistry texts described entropy as disorder. By 2007, 16 first-year textbooks and two physical chemistry texts had adopted the spontaneous dispersal of molecular motional energy in space or in occupancy of an increased number of accessible microstates as their definition of entropy increase.” In 2009, supposedly, according to Lambert, 21 texts had changed to his view. He lists these revision updates as sorts of online trophies on his entropy is simple websites. [6]

Difficulties on theory
The fact that a good portion of America is being currently educated about entropy by someone who switched majors because thermodynamics was too difficult, requires a bit of discussion on the backwardness of this situation.

It seems to be the case that this decade long effort by Lambert, between his 81st and 91st birthdate, seems to be an end-life attempt to exorcise his demons in regards to his lack of understanding of thermodynamics. In particular, he was forced to switch majors, at Harvard University, from the harder physical chemistry to the easier organic chemistry, after having difficulty, in his senior year, with Ukrainian-born American chemist George Kistiakowsky’s thermodynamics course. [7] In Lambert’s own words: [8]

“Mistakenly thinking that [I] could shorten [my] grad school work, [I] was admitted to Kistiakowsky’s thermodynamics course for graduate students. Its difficulty sealed [my] decision to become an organic chemist rather than a physical chemist.”

This quote, together with the facts that: (a) Lambert has never read Clausius; (b) that he never knew what entropy was until circa 1999 (at the age of 81), (c) that he derived his view of entropy from a three-page paper by Thomson discussing Joule’s work on the dissipation of energy (mechanical equivalent of heat) and Maxwell’s demon, (d) that he has no academic background in physical chemistry, (e) that his only experience with entropy was teaching a ‘baby thermodynamics’ class, with minimal math, to humanities students (that was marvelous fun for years), parts of which he felt uncomfortable with, leads to the conclusion that: when these six facts combined with the fact that currently near to two-dozen chemistry textbooks are teaching Lambert’s uneducated view of entropy as energy dispersal to tens of thousands of students, one can only shake their head at the dismal state of the American chemistry departments, in regards to thermodynamics? [11] In clearer words, as one Wikipedian commented to Lambert in 2006: [4]

“I think you are doing untold (but hopefully minor) damage to the teaching of entropy with your jihad against the word 'disorder' and insistent on relating everything to energy dispersal.”

The only thing worse than this situation, to note, is the gross proliferation of American electrical engineer Claude Shannon's 1948 equating of entropy to "information, choice, and uncertainty", which over the last sixty-years has led thousands of researchers down endless highways of incorrect knowledge and further incorrect publication and research; in a sense, leading possibly millions of people to think that currents and voltages in wires and telephone lines have something to do with thermodynamic entropy.

See also
Entropy (misinterpretations)

1. (a) Zhang, Wei and Shmulevich, Ilya. (2006). Computational and Statistical Approaches to Genomics (pg. 154). Springer.
(b) Kozliak, Evguenii I. and Lambert, Frank L. (2005). “Order-to-Disorder for Entropy Change? Consider the Numbers!” Chem. Educator. 10: 24-25.
2. Introduction (Jul 01, 2006) –
3. (a) Email commentary (and talk page discussions) from Lambert to Libb Thims in connection to Wikipedia Talk Page discussions on entropy, c. 2006-2007.
(b) Thomson, William (1874). "Kinetic Theory of the Dissipation of Energy", Nature, IX. pp 441-444 (April 9).
4. (a) Entropy Sites (Jun 27, 2006) –
(b) Removed Confusing Text (Jun 29, 2006) –
5. Lambert, Frank L. (2002). “Disorder: A Cracked Crutch for Supporting Entropy Discussions”, Journal of Chemical Education, 79: 187-92.
6. What’s New – Lambert’s list of chemistry textbooks (adopting his dispersal theory).
7. George Kistiakowski – Wikipedia.
8. Frank L. Lambert (biography) –
9. Tro, Nivaldo J. (2008). Chemistry in Focus: A Molecular View of Our Word, 4th ed. (9.4: Nature’s Heat Tax: Energy Must Be Dispersed, pg. 249-51). Cengage Learning.
10. Deeply flawed article (April 08, 2009) –
11. (a) Koltz, John C., Treichel, Paul, Townsend, John R. (2008). Chemistry and Chemical Reactivity, 7th ed. (9.2: Dispersal of Energy: Entropy, pgs. 863-). Cengage Learning.
(b) Ebbing, Darrell D. and Gammon, Steven D. (2007). General Chemistry, 9th ed. (18.2: Entropy and the Second Law of Thermodynamics, pgs. 736). Cengage Learning.
(c) Whitten, Kenneth W., Davis, Raymond, Davis E., Peck, M. Larry, Stanley, George G. (2009). Chemistry, 9th ed. (pg. 582-). Cengage Learning.
12. Johnstone, James. (1921). The Mechanism of Life in Relation to Modern Physical Theory (pg. 197). Longmans, Green & Co.

Further reading
● Annila, Arto and Salthe, Stanley. (2009). “Economies Evolve by Energy Dispersal”, Entropy, 11(4): 606-33.

External links
Entropy (energy dispersal) - Wikipedia.

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