More Scenes From the Storm in a Teacup, II

I just heard* that at 9:00pm Chicago time, there will be a discussion between Lee Smolin and Jeff Harvey, presumably about string theory, and you can listen to it live on radio station WGN, here.


* I wonder if it will be as utterly content-free and pointless as the one that took place between Lee Smolin and Brian Greene on Science Friday some weeks back? That one was so annoying in places that I never finished the blog post I was writing about it. It was mostly of the following structure (I paraphrase):

Lee says wise and learned things like “there should be a diversity of effort in approaching problems in fundamental physics”.

The host, Ira Flatow, turns to Brian (on telephone link) and says “what do you think of that, Brian Greene?”

Brian says, “Yes, I agree. I have several students working on things outside of string theory.”

…thus blowing a bit of a hole in the claim that string theory is this cult/monolith that somehow blinds us all to other great ideas.

* I wonder if Lee will bring out what I consider to be one of the most ridiculous things I’ve heard said by him (or anyone else) in this largely-media-and-self-interest-driven “debate” spawned by his and Peter Woit’s books. Paraphrasing: A good idea has about ten years to come to fruition, and then if it does not, it is wrong and should be thrown out.

Lee does say some wise (if mostly obvious) things about the field from time to time – some of which are well worth remembering, and sometimes it comes from his knowledge of how things have worked in physics in the past. Yes, we should remember our history….. but this statement seems to spectacularly ignore history and ranks right at the far opposite end of the scale of “wise things”. Ten years?! And even if you could put a time to it… is this what we are telling the general public about the way we do science? By putting time limits on ideas?

Overall, this storm in a teacup -which will continue, because the media only wants to hear an “underdog” story right now, whether or not it reflects what is going on in the research itself- is simply poisoning the well for everyone, whether they do string theory or not. See here.

Lee and Peter, I agree that string theory is often over-hyped, and has been for some years now (let us not forget, by the way, that it is the same media who helped out with that hype who is helping to drive the new anti-string hype -classic bait and switch-) and that it has made some physicists working in the field a bit annoyed. But here is how not to fight against that: Counter-hype.


* An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth leaves everyone blind and sucking up their favourite meals through a straw.

Fighting fire with fire leads to everything burning.


(* Thanks, Nick!)
Click to continue reading this post

Looking for a SEA Change?

I’ve previously mentioned examples of the manipulation or suppression of scientific information by organisations such as the Bush Administration. See for example a recent post on hurricanes and global warming. Various scientists have made it their business to speak out against these types of wrongs, either as individuals in the line of fire, as individuals noticing it in the news and blogging about it to as many as care to read, and as part of organisations here and abroad.

Well I’d like to point out a new organisation I heard about* called “Scientists and Engineers for America”, and I am pleased to share with you that their website says:
[…] Click to continue reading this post

Hamiltonian Support

In the continued public discussion of the treatment of Yau’s reputation by the New Yorker article (by Sylvia Nasar and David Gruber), to which I earlier referred (see here, and see the post about Yau’s response here), there has been a recent significant development. I don’t mean the press conference of last week, held by Yau’s entourage (…did anyone see that? I could not log on… there is archived video avaialble here. I still can’t view it…reports are welcome).

No, I’m talking about the public letter attributed to Richard Hamilton, the mathematician at Columbia University […] Click to continue reading this post

Yau Fights Back?

Well… yikes! Remember my article on the New Yorker piece on the Fields Medal, the Poincare Conjecture, and the mathematicians Perelman and Yau? Remember that I said:

I cannot comment upon whether the hero of the story (Grigory Perelman) is as heroic as painted, or whether the villian of the piece (Shing-Tung Yau) is really as villainous. The anecdotes that are used to do the painting may well be able to be supplemented by other anecdotes that tell another story, as is sometimes the case. I simply don’t know.

Well, it seems that Yau is quite sure that it is not going to stop there. There was a letter sent to the New Yorker and the authors of the article (apparently) on his behalf by legal counsel. It is discussed and can be found on a web page under Yau’s name. The page is in the form of a press release, and I quote: […] Click to continue reading this post

Very Superstitious, Ladders ’bout To Fall

Apparently, we are hard-wired for superstition and religion. This is according to Bruce Hood, of Bristol University, in the UK. I learned this from an article in the Guardian by James Randerson, which you can read here. The good professor: suggests that magical and supernatural beliefs are hardwired into our … Click to continue reading this post

More Scenes From the Storm in a Teacup, I

Aaron Bergman has written an extensive review of Peter Woit’s attack-book on string theory. I’ll let you read the thoughtfully written 11-page pdf document linked there. I think that Aaron deserves some sort of medal or other award for making the effort. Peter responded here. Note from the title that … Click to continue reading this post