Friday, June 30, 2006 ... Français/Deutsch/Español/Česky/Japanese/Related posts from blogosphere

Dogmas vs. science

At a famous discussion forum of enemies of string theory, the previous letter to Wall Street Journal was exposed to severe criticism that I consider completely irrational and kind of dumb because the letter is right on the money. Let me say a few more words explaining what's wrong with the critics' opinions.

Technical and historical misunderstandings

First of all, the people over there have no idea about things like the AdS/CFT correspondence, black hole physics, or history of theoretical physics. They don't understand any of the calculational frameworks of string theory, which is why they can't understand Barton's obviously correct statement that string theory is essentially as rigorous as mathematics demands; there are no questions with ambiguous or even contradictory answers. But how could you know this fact before you actually know string theory? Of course that you can't. Why do the critics say so many wrong technical things about string theory? It should not be surprising because they are just laymen who have never learned these things.

So they also can't comprehend what it means to explain *why* black holes have entropy. Explaining why something has a non-zero entropy always means to identify the microscopic constituents of the physical system. What Hawking did in 1974 was to determine *that* black holes have a temperature, and consequently also an entropy, by a semiclassical and effectively a macroscopic and thermodynamic argument, but it did not explain where it comes from. It did not explain *why* the entropy is there and people have been waiting for a convincing calculation leading to the right result for more than 20 years.

Prejudices about the number of vacua

But the remaining points where the critics of physics give totally wrong answers to some questions look a bit different because I am convinced that every college science concentrator should simply be able to avoid this kind of flawed reasoning.

First of all, they view the existence of the large number of solutions to be an argument against a theory. They were apparently contacted by divine forces who informed them how many minima the potential energy relevant for this Universe has. Maybe they were told that the human beings are the only possible intelligent beings, too.

With this "knowledge" obtained directly from the skies, they enter the debate and try to attack everyone else who does not confirm their predetermined "knowledge". It's needless to say that their approach has nothing to do with scientific reasoning. What they promote is a very anti-scientific sort of philosophy or religion: it is bigotry.

In ancient Greece, it was believed that the whole world could have been constructed out of four elements. They just found it enough. In the modern era, it turned out that there are more than 100 elements (the word means something a bit different that the Greeks could not have quite understood) and hundreds of stable or metastable isotopes of their nuclei. Does it mean that we should abandon the theory that predicts these atoms and nuclei - many of which have not yet been seen or created?

No, it means that we should use the opportunity and *learn* something. It's exactly the whole point of every scientific theory that deserves the name that it can predict certain things that were not inserted as input. The position of the critics is completely inconsistent because they criticize string theory for not predicting anything new, but whenever it predicts something new, they hate it, too.

The same comment - that we should try to learn from our theories - applies to the number of anti de Sitter or Minkowski or de Sitter ground states of a theory of quantum gravity. It's just the case that whoever is thinking scientifically knows that a priori, we just don't know how many other solutions than those that are relevant for our life exist.

We just can't impose any dogmas about this question before we actually make some research. It is because the answer *is* unknown. Instead, we must try to apply scientific reasoning and collect arguments. If you think about it for an hour, it is rather obvious that there is nothing wrong about some laws of physics - dynamically or philosophically - if these laws also admit other solutions besides our Universe. We have seen analogous things many times. Our planet was not the only planet, and so on.

In the physics community, we are not sure whether there is a sufficient evidence that we live inside a "random" vacuum - that might be difficult to find - or whether there should exist deeper laws that will determine the right one more directly. There is some kind of controversy whether the answer to the previous question is obvious and what it is.

But there is not any controversy - and there can't be any controversy - about the fact that only detailed and careful mathematical reasoning based on known facts of the Universe may be used in science to determine how many vacua - and how many semi-viable vacua - there are and whether they are directly relevant for physics. We must take the most refined and accurate description of quantum gravity we have, apply its rules as carefully as we can, and derive these conclusions if we can.

In the previous sentence, the best description of quantum gravity is based on certain tools that fit together and whose union we call "string theory". Most of us are convinced that it is extremely unlikely that someone would ever find a semi-realistic description of the real world that would not be a part of string theory in any sense. This opinion is not a preconception: it is a consequence of thousands of technical papers about string theory and its conceivable alternatives or deformations that have had some impact to the question whether other possibilities exist or not. If we are brief, the answer is that the alternatives or deformations can't exist.

Even if you hypothetically imagine that the alternatives exist and will be found in the future, you can't use these hypothetical and currently unknown alternatives to make any scientific arguments. Science would become black magic or politics if we were approaching difficult questions with arguments based on hypothetical theories.

If we use the tools of string theory, we see that there are almost certainly googols of perfectly plausible anti de Sitter supersymmetric four-dimensional universes and everyone who follows (or works on) the latest developments knows that the evidence is overwhelming that these vacua exist. Quite possibly, there are also many metastable long-lived de Sitter universes but our certainty is not as high in this case. And we don't know how many important cosmological and other mechanisms that could be relevant for the vacuum selection problem we're still missing.

But the attempt of the critics of string theory to dictate Nature how many metastable states She should have is completely anti-scientific, and I am sure that no college physics concentrator who should be called "intelligent" would ever fall into this trap. Also, such a clever student would never think that the number of metastable vacua could be used as an argument against a theory or as an argument supporting the theory until we know what the number actually is.

Their idea that they can deduce far-reaching conclusions about string theory by comparing its properties with their religious preconceptions is a sign of profound ignorance and flawed reasoning. If we have two theories among which one explains the parameters of the Standard Model in detail, we will prefer the more predictive theory. But if we have theories that don't yet predict the exact parameters of the Standard Model, we must be choosing according to different criteria. According to the optimal application of scientific arguments that we can realize right now, it seems obvious that quantum gravity has a lot of supersymmetric anti de Sitter vacua, whether or not someone likes it.

Distribution of attention

There exist many more aspects of their criticism that I consider to be incompatible with the thinking habits a bright college science concentrator. One of them is their attempt to assign the weights of different fields and subfields *before* one actually studies the subject and its inner structure.

In the context of theoretical physics, they would like to argue that a higher fraction should study "alternatives" to string theory - because they don't want to waste their precious time by figuring out whether any consistent alternatives actually exist. In the context of string theory, they believe that everyone should study AdS/QCD. This acronym only represents the gravitational dual of the actual SU(3) QCD we know from the strong itneractions, not the general AdS/CFT enterprise.

Everyone who actually knows something about the state-of-the-art theoretical physics knows very well that AdS/QCD is just one among dozens of research directions. Much like others, it seems promising because of many reasons. Much like in the case of others, there are reasons to think that the amount of truly interesting applications and insights might be approaching the point at which the "excitement potential" has been largely exhausted.

People in science are actually choosing their topics according to their qualified guess which topic is the most likely one to lead to some valuable outcomes. It is completely obvious that if AdS/QCD were by far the most interesting direction in string theory and if most people were familiar with the arguments why it is the most interesting direction, the proportion of the people working on this topic would jump almost instantly because of the very laws of supply and demand.

Science has seen many examples of this kind. When it became obvious in 1984 that string theory was clearly the most interesting framework for physics beyond the conventional local quantum field theory, hundreds if not thousands of people switched to string theory. When many of them got the feeling that the progress got stuck in the early 1990s, they were switching to different topics. In the middle 1990s, people jumped on D-branes, M-theory, dualities because it was clearly the new "gold mine" filled with exciting ideas, and so on, and so on.

The market equilibrium is reached quite rapidly after a credible piece of information that reveals the importance of a particular direction becomes available to most scientists.

Those "Not Even Wrong" people believe in many conspiracy theories - not too different from the theories that NASA never landed on the Moon. They believe that throughout the last two or three decades, some evil invisible hands have been systematically leading theoretical physics in a completely incorrect direction. I find these conspiracy theories as likely as in the case of the theory about NASA, and those who are immediately ready to believe this kind of theories are not too bright as far as I can say.

Even in the most politicized parts of science where the standards are poor - for example the climate science - it only takes a few years for everyone to see that a scientific paradigm was wrong. When it was proposed in 1998 and 1999 that 1998 was the hottest year in the millenium and that the human influence on the climate exceeds the natural background essentially by an order of magnitude, it was endorsed by thousands of dishonest journalists, politicized scientists, and politicians for political reasons. It took less than 5 years until serious bugs were described in detail - in peer-reviewed journal articles - and it took 8 years before it became a generally known fact to the mainstream climate science community that there exists no evidence that 1998 was the hottest year in the millenium and that the natural variations are at least comparable to the human influence, if not much bigger.

If there are no serious political pressures, wrong papers or directions are abandoned much earlier. It typically takes less time to debunk a wrong paper than the time you need to write it. Think about it: it can't be otherwise.

Why do the critics of string theory exactly single out AdS/QCD? It's simply because QCD is the last topic in theoretical physics whose meaning they can at least vaguely understand. Imagine an ordinary guy who likes beer and who noticed how bubbles are created in the bottle when you shake it. He does not want to understand anything else besides beer. Such a guy might think that all physicists should be working on hydrodynamics of beer (because he does not realize that hydrodynamics is not really enough to say everything about the bubbles).

The situation of those who propose AdS/QCD to be the only "recommended" topic in string theory is completely analogous to the beer lover. Rather severe limitations of their education and, indeed, of their intelligence just make it impossible for them to imagine that there could be other interesting topics in string theory. They just don't want to hear about other topics, they don't want to learn them, and they don't want to listen to any scientific arguments about them. They are already decided, much like the beer lover.

Meanwhile, those who actually know the subject and who know what's going on have no doubt that they could redirect all of their efforts to AdS/QCD if they wanted but most of them don't do it because they realize that there are many other interesting topics around.

If the science critics focused their attention on chemistry, they would surely argue that too many people study compounds with many carbon atoms. It is unfair, the critics would say. However, the people who understand chemistry know very well why a significant fraction of chemistry is organic chemistry where the carbon atoms play a rather important role. My most important point is that without knowing how the science works internally, one is ignorant not only about the answers to detailed technical questions but even about the rough hierarchy of importance of different topics.

One just can't judge any of these things before he or she learns them at a sufficient level. When all these critics are asking whether one can be a legitimate critic of string theory without actually knowing any details about it, my answer is No. It is really not possible. All of us who are critically evaluating loop quantum gravity are doing so after we studied the arguments and technical details in many papers. It is not a "different field" that we criticize. It is a wrong set of ideas in our field. I can't imagine how science could work if string theorists and loop quantum gravitists were viewed as different, complementary fields within quantum gravity. Whoever is asking profound questions about quantum gravity must have faced the question whether the concepts of string theory or loop quantum gravity are correct. And this person must again use rational arguments to decide.

How do the critics envision their forced, Inquisition-style redistribution of the attention within science? I think that it is obvious that they must be eventually think about attracting people who don't like string theory and who think it is important to do other things. Sorry to say, but this really means people who are not capable to learn string theory and the rest of the state-of-the-art image of the world according to theoretical physics. In other words, they want to replace physicists by complete or partial ignorants.

It is important for the internal structure of science and physics not to be directly manipulated by the beer lover in our story and other "critics" who have no idea what's going on because such a direct influence contradicts all moral standards of science and it can only lead to codification of bigotry rather than scientific progress. In science, it is critically important that scientists are not being forced to believe ideas that they find demonstrably and patently false. And that's the memo.

Thursday, June 29, 2006 ... Français/Deutsch/Español/Česky/Japanese/Related posts from blogosphere

Barton Zwiebach: a letter to the editor

By Prof. Barton Zwiebach, MIT

Dear Editor:

As a string theorist and an enthusiastic daily reader of the Journal I was baffled by the gloomy assessment in "Has String Theory Tied Up Better Ideas in the Field of Physics?", of Friday June 23, 2006. In this column, science reporter Sharon Begley presents the viewpoint of those who regret the twenty-year old dominance of String Theory in the marketplace of ideas in High-Energy Physics.

The "Not Even Wrong" epithet is hurled, suggesting that string theory is a sloppy and speculative work that cannot even be judged. To the contrary, string theory is an extraordinarily precise and rigorous framework where facts can be proven beyond doubt and computations give unequivocal answers. As every theory in science, it is speculative until confirmed by experiment -- hardly a reason to single it out. The cited naysayers correctly state that string theory has a myriad solutions, each describing possible universes. From this they conclude that making predictions, or disproving the theory, is impossible. Not really. All that is needed to confirm string theory is finding one solution that describes our universe. All that is needed to rule out string theory is showing that no solution describes our universe. An answer must exist.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006 ... Français/Deutsch/Español/Česky/Japanese/Related posts from blogosphere

A rather extraordinary flight

My most recent flight certainly wasn't the first flight that looked like a weird story. For example, one of the previous flights from 2000 - in which Evgenij Vitchev has played an important role of a driver of a broken car - was published on "The Invisible Dog", a well-known Czech private internet daily.

However, the flight from Boston to Prague was probably the first flight of mine that could be a subject of a book or a movie. ;-) Such a movie would not be quite as dramatic as United 93 but it would not be too different either.

Boring introduction: trying to plan a flight in advance

Last summer, I had to buy a very speedy round trip ticket Prague-Boston-Prague. As you can see, the Prague International Airport remains my the location of my aviatic headquarters, because of immigration restrictions. The date and time of the flight back to Prague had to be changed 5 times, as you will see.

What I needed was late June. Originally, they could only reserve May 8th because of certain limitations. The date was later changed to May 25th after I bought the ticket in August 2005. Much later, one month ago, I spent two days - by telephone calls with Continental Airlines and by a personal visit to the Logan International Airport in Boston - by changing the May 25th to June 27th. That was the second change.

The rough plan of the flights can't be changed. My flights in both directions were Prague-Frankfurt-Newark-Boston and back through the same cities.

While I was at Logan in May 2006, the woman scheduled the final flight from Frankfurt to Prague to June 27th, too - about 12 hours before I arrive in Prague. That plan looked slightly acausal, so I asked her to change the last flight of the sequence to June 28th, and she did so. That was the third change, neither of which I really needed.

I was hoping that this had to be the end of the useless difficulties, and the only painful thing expecting me were the 3 parts of the long trip. However, one week later, I noticed that the departure from Frankfurt was 9:30 am. The arrival to Frankfurt was 9:30 am, too. The only reasonable approach to that newly discovered problem was to ignore it: the experience has made it clear that a further communication with the Continental Airlines leads to no progress whatsoever. So I decided that I would simply fly as far as I could, which probably meant to Frankfurt, and then I was planning to fight for another flight.

Yesterday, on June 27th, the Gentleman at the ticket counter in Boston agreed that I was going to miss the 6/28 9:30 am flight from Frankfurt to Prague, and he promised me a flight at 7 pm instead - something that would make the total length of the flights close to 24 hours. If you count, this was the fourth change of the plan. The fifth change will be one of the punch lines of the story that has not yet started. ;-)

The flight from Boston to Newark was straightforward. It was delayed by two hours because of a "ground stop" and several other extraordinary measures. I spent many hours at Logan and one my fun activities was to shoot various people with my camcorder. How many of you are looking around who are the most interesting people around and what are they doing when you wait for an airplane? The passengers that attract most of my attention in 95 percent of cases are young representatives of the politically correct sex.

Before the flight to Newark, it was actually a 10-year old boy who won the contest because he was an interestingly alive, curious, and emotional kid - frankly speaking, something similar to how I could have imagined myself at his age. It accidentally occurred that he, together with his older brother, was sitting next to me in the plane. It turned out they were from Brazil, even though I originally thought that they were either Scandinavian or Irish, and the language they were speaking to each other had to be Portuguese but I just couldn't tell. But of course, these kids can speak several tongues and they are native speakers in all of them.

The selection from Newark to Frankfurt was more diverse. It fitted the usual 95 percent template and I have recorded two winners on the videotape. On the plane, I was sitting next to a tall German left-wing inorganic chemist from the University of Michigan (and originally from Cologne) who designs materials for the linings of the power plants, among other things. He complained that the airplanes are produced for dwarves and explained me that he did not like America (except as a place for a job) because the country did not care about the environment and because of similar issues. You can guess whether your humble correspondent agreed with most of his points. But it was an entertaining and insightful conversation - somewhat analogous to what we used to talk about with Jochen Brocks. I also told him some things about sociology of high-energy physics, the character of the difficulties separating us from thermonuclear energy, and other things.

Of course, I learned many useful things, too. For example, Detroit is becoming a dead city, he argued, where the crime rate exceeds the crime rate of all other areas in the U.S. The people are afraid to live there and the skyscrapers are vacant. I will have to check these surprisingly sounding assertions.

He also confirmed my hypothesis that it could be fun for me to try to see the city of Frankfurt. I was ready to find the "local" railway station and spend a few hours in Frankfurt. Most of the city had to be destroyed during the Second World War, but there are still things to look at. But I was not really dreaming about the visit because it was just not a right time for such tourism.

The real story is getting started right now.

As explained above, I was expected to wait in Frankfurt for 10 hours. This is much like the 50 years that some people propose as a reasonable estimate for a truly significant progress in string theory in the future. But sometimes, things can become extremely dynamical in a very short period of time.

When you're sometimes doing certain things that are far from routine, you can get stuck in a quagmire of problems. You start to see that one problem is likely to create 2.6 new problems which is close to or even above the critical mass.

Whatever you do, these problems create newer problems, and the total time that you need to solve all of them may become obviously divergent. Such a general description can apply to most kinds of bureaucracy, problems with overly convoluted flights, as well as the scientific research or the public defense of important ideas. You know that things are sometimes bad, and whether or not you do something, they will become even worse, reduce the optimism, constructive activity, and the mutual understanding, increase the amount of ignorants who publish their silly opinions in the Wall Street Journal, which leads to another and bigger explosion of irrationality, and so on. The similarity with a nuclear bomb is clear.

This situation is analogous to a perturbative expansion in the strongly coupled regime; see Chapter 12 of Brian Greene's "The Elegant Universe" for other analogies. ;-)

On the other hand, things can sometimes become extremely convergent. You see that every new problem that occurs is just a small perturbation on the previous problem, and you know very well that when you sum up all the time that is needed to solve all of these problems, you obtain a finite number. Even if a subproblem splits into two, you know that it won't invalidate the convergence properties. In the case of convoluted flights, you actually need the result not only to be a finite number but a number that is smaller than the time until the departure of the plane that you
want to catch.

This was exactly what happened in Frankfurt.

After I picked my luggage in Frankfurt, I went to the Continental ticket counters, but instead of the E area, I originally went to the D area. Meanwhile I noticed that my 9:30 am flight to Prague - with Czech Airlines and Continental Airlines - was delayed by one hour. One hour is a lot but it was not enough. The plane was just leaving. I could not catch it. However, I noticed that there was a flight of Lufthansa at 12:15 pm. That would be great to get this one.

Eventually I arrived to a Continental ticket counter. Unlike all other open counters, there were no people waiting in line there at all. After the first two sentences of mine explaining my situation to the women, she said something like "Vy musíte by Èechún" which means "You must be Czech" in Slovak language. Not only her knowledge of many languages was completely authentic but she could recognize that my accent was neither Hungarian - as most people who offer their opinion say - nor Slovak (which is her country): it was Czech. Some people, especially women, have these abilities that I will never fully comprehend because I sometimes fail to distinguish even British English from American English.

I semi-jokingly told her that it could be a good idea to switch me to their bitter competition, Lufthansa, and she said that such things don't work. After she exchanged several German sentences with her colleague, I was told "Yes, you have the 12:15 pm flight with Lufthansa". It was 11:16 am.

As you can see, the Czechoslovak friendship turned out to be a critical ingredient in this story.

These flights to Prague are almost never delayed, so I literally had 59 minutes left. The tasks for these 59 minutes became obvious: I had to find the airport train to go from terminal E to terminal A; then I had to wait in a long line and to check in my luggage (that I simply could not afford to send directly to Prague because of the uncertainty about the flights). Then I had to go to the terminal B. At terminal B, you must wait in two lines for two independent security checks and walk for half a mile or one mile. When you get to the gate B55, you must negotiate with the agent and ask her to assign you a seat because I did not yet have a seat in the airplane.

Of course, you didn't really have 59 minutes because you must be in the airplane 15 minutes before the departure or so. In fact, the boarding starts 35 minutes before the departure, so what I had was actually 24 minutes. Is it possible?

The previous mistake I did when I went to the D area instead of the E area to find the Continental ticket counter turned out to be a virtue because I could abruptly find the two elevators and get to the airport train real fast. It was clear that another error means the end of the story. The terminal A was rather long and I could not afford to lose additional time. My suitcase was too heavy and unstable to run. Fortunately, there was an electric vehicle nearby. I could not jump on it but I attached my heavy suitcase (with wheels) to that vehicle and I was running next to it, around 10 miles per hour, which saved me about 1 or 2 minutes.

When I got to the ticket counters of Lufthansa - between A55 and A200 or so - there was a rather long line of people that could easily be quantified as a one-hour line. It was absolutely clear what would happen if I decided to wait. What is the lesson? Of course, I could not wait. Following the deep philosophy that equality is a stupidity, I used the "head & shoulders" approach and asked the guy who controls the line to make an exception for me because my flight was departing in 45 minutes or so. He sent me to the end of the line.

I still knew what it means to go to the end of the line. ;-) So I explained my situation to another uniformed officer who was standing nearby. He told me that I might be right but I should ask the first guy. I had already done so, but I explained the second guy that the first guy did not quite understand the situation and he must be explained by the second guy what's going on. Of course, eventually it worked and I spent about 2 minutes in that line, receiving a priority treatment.

It is not a problem for a bright reader to add another episode about long corridors.

When I got to the first security check of the terminal B, it was relatively fast. I did not have to take my shoes off - but of course, I always had to remove my laptop and the camcorder from the carry-on luggage. The second security check, a mile further, was more difficult, and there was another long line of people that I could not circumvent. One of the guys in front of me had 4 clocks on his arms and he was shocked that the clocks should be screened together with the suitcases. Another guy was stunned that his laptop had to be removed from his carefully locked suitcase, and so on.

But all these things have worked in some miraculous way, after all. The boarding started at 11:40 am and I was at the gate at 11:41 am. The last task was to be assigned a seat number. Unfortunately the woman told me to wait for 5 minutes. She had about 6 telephone calls that she considered more important, and the 5 minutes became 18 minutes, but eventually she called Herr Motl and gave me 7C.

Everything was fine. At 12:10 pm I joined the official bus that took us to the aircraft in another very different part of the large airport, and the aircraft took off at 12:27 pm, only 12 minutes after the official time of departure. In Prague, my
luggage was actually the 4th one that appeared which was really fast and the passport control was even faster. We arrived at the new Terminal 2 in Prague which was extremely clean - including the restrooms that have impressed some of my American neighbors from the flight (I don't know whether they also tried the restroom in Terminal 1 which was dirty and stinky). The Terminal 2 still looked rather empty; its capacity is not yet used efficiently, I guess.

The punch line is that when things suddenly start to fit together, the progress can become real fast. It's a matter of time when the critics of string theory will be undeniable identified as jokes. Maybe they should already start to look for their hideout. And that's the memo.

Monday, June 26, 2006 ... Français/Deutsch/Español/Česky/Japanese/Related posts from blogosphere

Jacques Distler: LQG landscape

I hope that many of you still remember that Jacques Distler is a pioneer of serious blogging about theoretical physics, and also a source of interesting articles - many of them feature math in TeX. The reason why I link to him now is that he has extracted an interesting core of an exchange at CosmicVariance.com and opened a discussion about the following question:

The spectrum of possible LQG-like theories is referred to as the LQG landscape.

Even before Jacques asked this question, Lee Smolin has already provided us with an answer: everything goes, especially all the nice things. Some readers might be satisfied with this surprising statement; others may want to look under the surface. ;-)

The linker-not-thinker and silent character of this blog will escalate tomorrow because of the most awkward flight / train trip to Europe in my life so far: it is plausible that I will have to take train from Frankfurt because of the misorganized, acausal plan of the flights.

Tomorrow evening or Wednesday morning, it is expected that the 500,000th unique visitor will open this blog. Up to the first three people who will send me a #500,000 screenshot will have the opportunity to make a posting here, or donate this right to someone else.

Richard Lindzen: there is no consensus

Wall Street Journal sucks as far as high-energy physics goes, but it is pretty good with respect to the climate science. Prof. Richard Lindzen has a nice article there:

Boss of UCSC commits suicide

In 2000, I have spent 6 months at the University of California in Santa Cruz. Very nice redwoods etc.

Very sadly, the chancellor of UCSC

jumped from the roof of a rather tall, 43-story building yesterday.

Saturday, June 24, 2006 ... Français/Deutsch/Español/Česky/Japanese/Related posts from blogosphere

Reports from Strings 2006

There are cases in which one must become a linker-not-thinker, and this is one of them: :-)

Jonathan Shock - China (with Paul Cook at Caltech)

Victor Rivelles - São Paolo

For some extra idea about the atmosphere, see

Thanks to Rae for pointing out a defective link. ;-) Our previous article related to the Strings 2006 conference was here.

Harvard may pay extra $115 million for firing Summers

One year ago, it was more or less a done deal that Lawrence Ellison, the CEO of Oracle, would donate 115 million U.S. dollars to Harvard University led by Lawrence Summers in order to create the

  • Ellison Institute of World Health

that was supposed to fight against major diseases that decimate Africa and the rest of the world.

Nowadays, Ellison is apparently concerned that without Summers, Harvard won't be able to direct this difficult project, and after having seen what algorithms and principles many of the non-Summers people would like to use to lead Harvard, your humble correspondent shares Ellison's worries and has a full understanding for his potential desire to change his mind. Yes, indeed, I would guess that the university may become a black hole.

Friday, June 23, 2006 ... Français/Deutsch/Español/Česky/Japanese/Related posts from blogosphere

Wall Street Journal on the critics: less unfair

As you can imagine, I would be disappointed if the Wall Street Journal that I kind of like because of its rational approach to economy and politics wrote a similar virulent stupidity like the recent Goebbelsian articles in the Sunday Times and the Financial Times.

Another reason to like the Wall Street Journal is that they offer, unlike most of other media, a fair, honest, and balanced report of the NAS climate panel from the previous article:

So is WSJ going to destroy string theory much like the British papers? Fortunately, this worry has not yet quite materialized although we are not terribly far from it. While Sharon Begley chose an irritating title,
the content is bad but still much more reasonable, balanced, and material than the recent idiocies in the U.K. and it actually contains some physics although less than what we expect from leading science journalists such as Dennis Overbye. Because of the horrifying lousy quality of the U.K. articles, the comparison with them is very far from being a compliment for the Wall Street Journal.

Besides two irrelevant outsiders who have no idea what the existing high-energy physics means and who offer their irrational bitterness, the article also asks a real distinguished physicist, namely Michael Peskin whom many of us appreciate not only because of the QFT textbook that he has co-authored: for example, his objectively measured contributions to particle physics exceed all of the opponents and all of the supporters of the opponents' blogs combined.

Surely, Ms. Begley won't tell you that 90% of her article is based on irrelevant and uninformed people.

Michael Peskin is no official string theorist but he knows what's going on. He points out that string theory has the power to explain features of reality such as the number of generations in particle physics. In field theory, this number is a (discrete) non-dynamical parameter. In string theory, it is a dynamical quantity describing a more fundamental system. String theory is the first theory that can answer similar questions that are obviously nothing else than axioms in various field theories.

The number of generations is just one example. In the conventional heterotic compactifications, the number of generations is proportional to the Dirac index that can be shown to be the absolute value of the Euler character divided by two. In the compactifications of the types studied since the 1990s, the number of generation arises from other geometrical and related quantities such as the intersection numbers. But in all cases, it is a result of dynamics that follows physical laws as opposed to dogmas.

It's up to the reader and his or her intelligence whether he or she chooses comments about physics from a particle physicist or unphysical conspiratory and "philosophical" theories from non-particle physicists, particle non-physicists and anti-physicists quoted at the beginning. String theorists are not asked what they think about string theory - it would be a clash of interests if scientists could actually speak about science :-) - but it does not really matter because the recent "controversy" is not a confrontation between string theorists and the rest, but between sane scientists and the rest. Sure, most people are stupid and they will choose to believe two semi-crackpots rather than one Michael Peskin, but it's their fault, not mine.

At the beginning of her article, Begley says - using my words - that a year ago or two, everyone would know that Woit was a crackpot. Today, people are not certain because there are at least two such crackpots. Well, I, for one, am still equally certain. Many sentences about the insane "untestability" statements follow.

Some paragraphs are dedicated to the landscape of compactifications and I think that these things have been overdiscussed, so let me ignore them because there is nothing interesting in the article about this issue. The article ends with a malicious formulation about the "betrayal of science" by string theory. Ms. Sharon Begley gets an F, but as mentioned, it is a better F than the F for Robert Matthews or John Cornwell. She is apparently a weak journalist, but one who can at least sometimes put a question mark behind a patently wrong sentence and who can find not only crackpots but also Michael Peskin. ;-)

Also, I am going to restore the blog article about the semi-official unholy alliance between Cosmic Variance and the anti-science activists - an alliance whose existence is obvious to everyone who sometimes looks at the anti-science blogs. As it was announced, the article was only temporarily suspended to moderate an inflow of nasty anonymous as well as onymous attacks, and I find a long-term censorship unacceptable.

Again, I am outraged how easy it has become for various crackpots and idiots to spread their dumb and unjustifiable opinions about science, and how many people are more or less actively collaborating to make the situation even worse. No doubt, the people who are trying to paint the silliness of various "critics of science" as a part of the scientific voice are the main villains. The Reference Frame will continue to criticize crackpots, lousy and dishonest journalists and pseudojournalists, and others who want to present manifest crackpotism as a part of science.

Thursday, June 22, 2006 ... Français/Deutsch/Español/Česky/Japanese/Related posts from blogosphere

NAS: schizophrenic climate report

The theory about an unprecedented global warming, described by James Inhofe as the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people, was essentially downgraded from "certain" to "plausible"

A catchy subtitle was needed because much of the material that follows is boring and confusing, and it is not my fault. ;-)

Typo: The filename should say "schizophrenic". Thanks, Benjamin. I don't want to change it now because it would break some links.

The #1 news on cnn.com right now is about the NAS climate report or the

that you can buy, for $42.30, here, but you can also see the pages freely here; the executive summary is also for free, much like the audio. Other sources are here. However, I don't recommend you to spend your money for this new audit of the climate reconstructions because the freely available information is enough. It is a document that tries to make everyone happy which makes it schizophrenic. On one hand, they admit that there has almost certainly been the Little Ice Age and quite plausibly also the Medieval Warm Period - in both cases it is something that the hardcore alarmists wanted to deny for the last 10 years.

Because of the MWP and the large uncertainties before 1600, we can only say that the current temperatures are warmest in 400 years, not more, the panel says. In other words, it's warmer now than in the Little Ice Age. Well, this is why the Little Ice Age is called in this way. On the other hand, however, they try to promote the idea that it could "plausibly" (original report) or even "likely" (CNN's translation or "spin") still be warmer today than in the Middle Ages, and maybe the current temperatures are highest in the last 1000 or 2000 years.

America and Czechia out

World Cup: Czechia lost 0:2 to Italy and America lost 1:2 to Ghana.

Physics and mathematics: boundaries and interactions

In the fast comments under the previous posting, we have had some discussions with Q2 about the boundaries between physics and mathematics. Does Yau's theorem belong to theoretical physics? Are the differential equations governing the vector field flows tools of physics? My answers were essentially Yes, while the answers of Q2 were No.

The separation of wisdom and research to physics and mathematics is largely a social phenomenon - one that is affected by some objective features of reality (including the Universe around us as well as the Platonic Universe of mathematical ideas) but one that can also be influenced by personal and political decisions, by social conventions, and by fashionable trends.

Commercial: See also Feynman's lecture about the relation of physics and mathematics
In ancient Greece, people did not distinguish physics and mathematics. In fact, all of us were philosophers, the lovers of wisdom. The crowning achievement of that era, the Euclidean geometry, later became a part of pure mathematics. As Einstein emphasized, it can also be interpreted as the oldest branch of physics: statics of perfectly solid bodies.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006 ... Français/Deutsch/Español/Česky/Japanese/Related posts from blogosphere

Physics PhDs vs. special relativity

Several days ago, a couple of readers questioned my statement that there exist very many physics PhDs in the world who don't believe relativity. How do I prove that I am right? Just by waiting for a few days. Today, 56,000 (fifty-six thousand) physicists received the e-mail from Dr. Robert Halmai, the chair of the "Society of Hungarian Reformer Physicists" called

  • Introduction of our new society

that contains one nontrivial piece of information only, the "best" link to a website of their "prominent member"

that shows that special relativity is not even wrong. ;-) The e-mail, starting with "My name is Dr.", also explains that have sent the spam to 56,000 recipients. I am sure that these crackpots have violated laws in many countries, and it is conceivable that someone will even complain about it.


But you're never quite sure. Maybe your humble correspondent is wrong and these theories are a triumph in science (and sociability). The link in the previous sentence, pointed out by a SLACKER, leads to a page with photographs of L. Riofrio, a new Einstein, taken by JoAnne Hewett - yes, the same smart JoAnne Hewett who just informed us about the annoying delay of the full-energy start of the LHC collider. ;-) Don't blame her: I also like to take pictures of crackpots, especially the sexy ones.

Zhu and Cao: Chinese finish of the Poincaré conjecture

One of the unsolved problems of pure mathematics has been the Poincaré conjecture. This hypothesis formulated by Henri Poincaré in 1904 says that the three-sphere (the boundary of a four-dimensional ball) is the only kind of bounding surface without holes. More precisely,

  • all simply connected three-manifolds (i.e. those containing no non-contractible one-dimensional submanifolds) can be continuously deformed to an "S^3".

Note that the topology of three-dimensional manifolds is the maximally difficult part of the research of topology of manifolds of different dimensions; this is also where knot theory occurs. It is not trivial to give a convincing conceptual explanation why it is so but it is much easier to show historical evidence for the difficult character of "n=3".

If you replace "S^3" by "S^n" in the conjecture above, all statements with "n" different from "3" have been proved years ago. For "n=1", the conjecture trivially follows from the fact that the circle is the only compact one-manifold. For "n=2" it follows from some classical facts about the Riemann surfaces. The "n=4" case was proved by Freedman in 1982, earning him a Fields medal in 1986. The "n=5" case was demonstrated much earlier, in 1961, by Zeeman. The "n=6" was proved by Stallings in 1962, and a 1961 proof by Smale covered all cases where "n > 6"; later, this proof was improved to include all cases "n > 4".

As you can see, only the "n=3" case was waiting. This is where Russian mathematician Grigori Perelman comes to rescue: see John Lott's website for details about Perelman's work (thanks, Mike Ros). In fact, Perelman, who has worked on the problems for 7 years in isolation, seems to have established an even stronger result, namely Thurston's geometrization procedure.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006 ... Français/Deutsch/Español/Česky/Japanese/Related posts from blogosphere

China and Strings 2006

As Lawrence Summers likes to say, our era will probably be remembered as an era of a tremendous growth of China and India and perhaps the beginning of their global dominance. Whether we like it or not, Rae. ;-)

China also invests a lot of money to science - in addition to the money from abroad - and plans to learn everything that was originally found mostly in the West, and to become better than the West.

in the New York Times explains how the presence of Stephen Hawking at Strings 2006 is important for the overall spirit of the Chinese people who are becoming ever more eager to take over, just when the enthusiasm for things like capitalism and string theory, among others, deteriorates at many places of the West.



Figure 1: Panel discussion at Strings 2006 with crimson posters reminding me of the Community Party conventions in Czechoslovakia before the fall of socialism. Taken from Jonathan Shock's story about the first day.

While the science-haters become ever more influential at many places of the West, science-lovers start to dominate in China. Science-lovers love Stephen Hawking, too. Also in 2006, as Chinese media explain - even though the media describe the subject of Andy's talk as "controversial string theory". ;-)

See news.google.com for more articles.

Monday, June 19, 2006 ... Français/Deutsch/Español/Česky/Japanese/Related posts from blogosphere

Sean Carroll joins Peter Woit

A reader has pointed out to me by e-mail that the self-described science blogosphere is getting crazier than ever before. Sean Carroll has essentially joined Peter Woit and others in their irrational attack against existing high-energy theoretical physics and contributed to the advertisements of recently published "alternative physics" books. The union is so satisfactory for Peter Woit that Peter Woit and Sean Carroll have unified their articles and the discussion beneath it. This union emerged half a day after Woit's vitriolic attack against the conference "Strings 2006", its very meaning, and its key participants.

In a newer article on "Not Even Wrong", Peter Woit uses the discussion at Cosmic Variance as an example how a discussion about these matters should look like according to his opinions, and I think that there are very good reasons why Peter Woit says so.

Just like in most cases, the discussions below Sean's and Peter's new articles are discussions among uninformed outsiders - who are convinced how terribly nice and smart they are, the kind of folks that Feynman used to call pompous fools. In these discussions, 1/3 is composed of attacks against string theory, 1/3 is made out of attacks against the rational thinking in general, and 1/3 is represented by attacks against Luboš Motl who is quite clearly the only representative of all the evil from the previous two thirds. ;-]

In his new article, Carroll has said a couple of words that make some sense. But more importantly - and this is why the article was written - he praised the importance of several books critical of science as such - at least one of which is extremely stupid - that he has not read, as he openly admits. Why, you should ask? How is it possible? Why hasn't he written about the Evolution Backlash or the Inflation Backlash? Why doesn't he praise the importance of Shattering the Myths of Darwinism? If there are books whose conclusions violate his far left-wing political beliefs, such as alternative scenarios for the origin of life (ID) - or even mainstream studies that are politically incorrect (brain and sex) - he is extremely brutal in his criticism.

Sprinkler head blows: expecting disasters

Last night I could not log in to various computers such as my Feynman and many, many others. So I thought it was some software misconfiguration or a hacker attack. However, now we read a message that a sprinkler failed in a close vicinity of my office and flooded the department. There were about 20 cleanup people on site, and I am really curious how the area is going to look like.

Update: nothing happened to my office, and Feynman is now on. Unfortunately, Lisa Randall's office was more seriously affected.

Sunday, June 18, 2006 ... Français/Deutsch/Español/Česky/Japanese/Related posts from blogosphere

Top ten "results" in loop quantum gravity

Christine Dantas has tried to construct a list of top ten loop quantum gravity (and spin foam) results that would be somewhat analogous to the list for string theory described in the previous article.

I think that her list is an unsubstantiated outcome of sloppy thinking - thinking based primarily on manipulation with words rather than formulae and mathematical concepts; comparing any point in this list (or their union) to AdS/CFT is exuberantly irrational; and let me explain why.

1) The states of the theory are known precisely. The kinematical Hilbert space has been rigorously constructed. The Hilbert space of spatially diffeomorphism invariant (Hdiffeo) and gauge invariant states of a gauge field on a manifold Sigma has an orthonormal basis whose elements are in one to one correspondence with the diffeomorphism equivalence classes of embeddings of spin network into Sigma. In the case of pure general relativity in 3 + 1 dimensions, with vanishing cosmological constant, the gauge group is SU(2). In this case the labels on the edges are given by ordinary SU(2) spins. [gr-qc/0504147]

Every quantum theory that claims to exist must have a Hilbert space, but having a Hilbert space is not yet a result of anything. All physically usable quantum theories have separable Hilbert spaces and all separable (infinite-dimensional) Hilbert spaces are unitarily equivalent to each other. This implies that at Christine's level of rigor, we have known all separable Hilbert spaces in the world since 1928 or so. Clearly, physics only starts once we have some observables, and their discussion starts with the point #2.

Of course, an additional problem with loop quantum gravity is that its kinematical Hilbert space is not even separable - it seems as the most inconsistent Hilbert space that was ever proposed to be relevant for anything in the history of physics. Literature also seems to imply that it is not unique. Moreover, various states in this Hilbert space that should correspond to the vacuum are known to have unphysical properties and be unusable for physics, see e.g. this paper by Witten about the Kodama state, also discussed in #9.

Top twelve results of string theory

In a discussion, I was asked to enumerate what I considered to be the top ten results in string theory. Of course, it is mostly a matter of convention how you divide the results into groups and their subgroups. Also, the list depends on some personal opinions. Nevertheless, I feel that many people would construct a similar list.

The Reference Frame is grateful to Christine Dantas for having added some of the references. You should be aware that the choice of the references is somewhat random and there are probably better references that could be used as reviews. For a rather extensive list of reading about string theory at all levels, see Donald Marolf's resource letter or my list of textbooks on string theory. Also, there exists a probability that an important group of results has been omitted in the list below, in which case I apologize.

Saturday, June 17, 2006 ... Français/Deutsch/Español/Česky/Japanese/Related posts from blogosphere

Czechia vs. Ghana 0:2



The fans of the United States of Czechia and Ghana. Match started at 12 pm EST and I didn't see it because we have started the swimming season. Ghana won 2:0. Congratulations to Ghana and Africa. The United States played 1:1 against Italy and the group E is completely uncertain right now.

Left-wing populists win in Slovakia

One of the reasons why Czechoslovakia separated after the 1992 elections is that Václav Klaus' right-wing "Civic Democratic Party (ODS)" dominated in the Czech Republic while Vladimír Mečiar's left-wing nationalist populist "Movement for Democratic Slovakia (HZDS)" won in the Eastern part of the federation.

In 1998, the left-wing social democracy took over the Czech Republic, and reform right-wing forces led by the Christian democratic parties and Mr. Dzurinda started to control Slovakia.



Figure 1: Politicians fight for the Slovak pie. The giant in the middle is Mr. Vladimír Mečiar who can't really win this time although he might penetrate to the coalition; the dwarf next to him is the current right-wing prime minister Mr. Mikuláš Dzurinda.

In 2006, the right-wing Civic Democratic Party was again the winner of the most recent Czech elections. Because you see that the results in Czechia and Slovakia are always opposite to one another, it should not be hard for you to predict that the strongest party after the Slovak elections this weekend is a left-wing populist party again. It's called

  • Smer - sociálná demokrácia [tretia cesta]

which means "Direction - social democracy [third way]" and it is led by Mr. Robert Fico. This winner with around 30 percent is a junk party that promises the best things for the poor, higher taxes for the rich, no detailed plan for anything, and an effective end to most reforms that have created the "Tatra Tiger". Smer was openly supported by the outgoing Czech prime minister Mr. Jiří Quimby Paroubek.

John Paul II wanted to stop Hawking's research

Stephen Hawking has informed us that

The holy father's statement was actually something like the following:

  • It's OK to study the universe and where it began. But we should not inquire into the beginning itself because that was the moment of creation and the work of God. God chose how the universe began for reasons we cannot understand.

But Hawking, playing the role of Galileo, heretically proposed the Hartle-Hawking state:

  • Does it require a creator to decree how the universe began? Or is the initial state of the universe determined by a law of science?

Hawking thanked either God or the wavefunction of the Universe that the Pope was not bright enough to figure out that Hawking had actually given the heretical talk about the Universe's origin already, before he was warned. ;-) Hawking prefers to avoid the Inquisition and not to share the fate of Galileo Galilei who died exactly 300 years before Hawking was born.

Incidentally, Hawking's wife has threatened that if Hawking's new voice generator has French accent, she will divorce this famous colleague who is just visiting Hong Kong.

Some sources, including Catholic League president Bill Donohue, try to argue that Hawking has misrepresented the Pope, but the Reference Frame believes that Hawking's formulation is fully equivalent to the formulations that these sources offer.

If the lay readers are uncertain whether they should believe the Pope or Stephen Hawking, I suggest they still prefer the source with 1362 citations which seems to be neither the Pope nor Bill Donohue, with all my respect to both Gentlemen. ;-)

Bill Donohue tried to argue that the Pope has not threatened Hawking. Donohue's argument was as follows:

  • Hawking, who claims - without any evidence that space and time have no beginning and no end, would be wise to refrain from positing false absolutes and learn to realize when he’s out of his league. Most important, he should stop distorting the words of the pope.

The Reference Frame, on the contrary, thinks that Hawking would be wise if he carefully copied the intimidating quote above, a quote constructed by a person who is in a very different league than Hawking indeed, and used it whenever he needs to prove that certain members of the Catholic Church have not changed much since the 17th century. ;-)

Friday, June 16, 2006 ... Français/Deutsch/Español/Česky/Japanese/Related posts from blogosphere

Hep-ph papers on Friday

There are seven papers on hep-ph today, so it may be interesting to look at them to have some idea about the representation of different topics among the phenomenologists. There are no SUSY papers on hep-ph today which might be correlated with the fact that the conference SUSY '06 is just underway.

Erhan Iltan studies phenomenology of models with extra dimensions. He has two large extra dimensions and imagines that the fermions are localized in one of them and the second Higgs field that is being added is localized in another dimension; this could actually bear some resemblance to the intersecting braneworlds. The exotic effects he or she wants to calculate are the electric dipole moments and the flavor lepton number violating decays. The paper has one of the longest titles in the history of science. ;-)

Jonathan Rosner reviews the recent progress in the precise measurements of spectra of hadrons, especially hadrons with heavy quarks, including heavy quark-antiquark bound states, but also glueballs and hybrids.

The UTfit collaboration offers a lot of nice colorful plots indicating the results of many experiments from the realm of B-physics i.e. physics of the bottom quark and its bound states that is the key for determining the precise values of the CKM matrix and the apparent fact that this matrix is the only source of CP violation. Various quantities for different quarks must satisfy certain constraints if the CKM description is accurate, and the authors check this "unitarity triangle fit", as measured at Fermilab, with the help of lattice QCD.

Lorenzo Magnea talks about angularities and other shapes. This is the part of QCD - soft gluon resummations etc. - that is relevant for many processes to be seen at the LHC collider. He derives a scaling rule using purely perturbative QCD methods. It's the kind of paper that Nina Byers would definitely need to consider in her encyclopedia of LHC Standard Model phenomenology.

White, Peschanski, and Thorne also study complex physics of strong interactions. Most of their calculations look like Feynman loop diagrams of cross sections for virtual photons and gluons (at the tree level, gluons don't interact with photons!) in which the loops are created from massive quarks. It is new work following the Soviet BFKL equation from the 1970s that is relevant for a full description of the deep inelastic scattering.

Gao, Zhang, and Chao calculate the decays of a charmed particle (Upsilon) to light quarks. They consider not only the color-singlet initial state but also a color-octet state. For color singlets, they find that the branching ration of Upsilon decaying into "photon quark anti-quark" is about 0.1% while for the octet the ratio is much higher, which could be relevant for verification of the color octet mechanism proposed in non-relativistic QCD.

Alejandro Rivero tries to find the approximate value of the Weinberg's weak mixing angle (in his case, 0.223 for the squared sine) in the Old Testament. Finally he finds the number in a 1924 timecapsule. There are also words such as "supersymmetry" or "Regge" in the paper. But sorry, Leucipo, I think that the content actually has nothing to do with physics, and it is numerology with the same likelihood of success as the probability that one finds a pound of gold in a generic restroom when one looks sufficiently deeply. ;-)

Washington Taylor: Googol is not large enough

Wati Taylor was asked by Google Inc. to give a talk about string theory. So he chose the topic

I think that the people from Google liked the idea, assuming that they did not understand that it was about the landscape. ;-) Googol, i.e. the number 10^{100}, is less than the number of vacua they expect to be relevant for solving the cosmological constant problem. Other videos with "string theory" include

Rosen & Rosen about Harvard

Two Rosens (Harvard alumni), zero Einsteins, and zero Podolskys wrote an intelligent

about the contrast between the magnificent commencement at Harvard on one side and the difficult co-existence of the president with the (hard left) reactionary elements at the same university on the other side.

Thomas Menino, the mayor of Boston, has renamed Boston to Summers Place, or at least he gave Lawrence Summers a sign bearing these words, saying that the things that his friend Larry Summers has done in the 5+ years will last forever. As the Crimson points out, it should not be unexpected that the last large celebration of Summers took place behind the iron curtain - which is, in the case of Greater Boston, apparently called the Charles River.

According to the Harvard student newspaper, Yelena Dergacheva who has taken an English course at the Harvard Extension School received an invitation to the event and she said:

  • "I wanted to see Larry Summers and Mayor Menino. I think that [Summers] is a great man and we are upset [primarily at the f#### politically correct police] that he is gone."

The previous blog story about a similar story included Donald Rumsfeld and I also recommend you the article by Martin Peretz. If you're interested who was the immediate, microscopic person who forced Summers to resign, the Crimson explains that it was a student who had to withdraw from the MBA program because of poor grades, and later became a member of the Harvard Corporation - to join a big shot feminist member of the Corporation who was unreliable for a long time. It usually works like that.

Catholic Church wins



Figure 1: Prague Castle

The object in the middle of the picture is the St. Vitus Cathedral. Half an hour ago, an appeal court has made the final decision in the 14-year-long dispute between the Czech state and the Catholic Church: the Catholic Church has not lost its ownership rights just because of 45 years of communism, and will therefore continue to be the owner of the rather well-known building - which is why some people might find the news interesting.

Although I am an atheist, much like most of the citizens of that country, the decision seems satisfactory to me because whatever you think about the Church, it is still them who have built these buildings mostly because of their own spiritual motivations, while the regime that took over for 45 years was building very different things - the ugly subset of these concrete blocks - and should still be treated as an unwelcome fluctuation.

The immediate reason behind the decision was that the communists were not able to obey the required procedures in 1954 how to transfer cathedrals from the Church to the state. They did not care because they believed that their "people's democratic system" would control the country forever. They were not right - but of course my opinion is determined by very different things than the sloppiness of some communist secretaries in 1954.

Garbage bin established

A very poor university wanted to establish a new department. Someone proposed that they should start a new department of theoretical physics because theoretical physicists only need pencils and paper.

At the end, however, they established a brand new department of postmodern philosophy because theoretical physicists sometimes also need garbage bins.

The Reference Frame is no exception. A fellow blogger whose blog has been used as a garbage bin for a few years de facto was so nice that he also formally declared his blog to be the garbage bin of The Reference Frame. I am very grateful to him and I encourage everyone who produces a lot of trash to throw it directly to the garbage bin:

Thank you! Also, I am grateful to Rae Ann for the tools to translate the pages into a more appropriate language.

Thursday, June 15, 2006 ... Français/Deutsch/Español/Česky/Japanese/Related posts from blogosphere

Reviews of a certain book

Below you can find all 8+1 amazon.com reviews of a certain "Not Even Wrong" book written by various people that some of our colleagues want to democratically influence the distribution of interest and resources in physics. I happen to have some doubts at least about seven and probably at least about eight of them. ;-) Here are more comprehensible versions of these reviews.

Dr. Chris Oakley

5 stars. Hi, my name is Dr. Chris Oakley, it is my fourth review and I am the 110,000th best reviewer. As my name indicates, I have a physics PhD and as the degree proves, I will be in Sabine's committee that will democratically vote about the future of physics. Twenty years ago, I wrote three or four preprints. Unfortunately, no other physicist has yet appeared who would think that they make any sense - but that's probably because of the string mafia.

I am especially proud about the paper that renormalization is not needed. My excellent solution is to insert random factors into the loop Feynman diagrams, such as the delta functions and step functions: I call the added step functions "positivity of energy". I have figured out that for some smart extra factors, this can miraculously make the integrals convergent! I don't care that the unitarity is sacrificed because unitarity is just a stringy propaganda. And I hope that the experiments will be changed to fit my predictions. My theory is clearly more important than AdS/CFT, and I will vote to replace AdS/CFT scholars by scholars who study my theory.

I have not read the book - in fact, I am writing this review half a year before the book is published. But I think it has something to do with the Star Trek by Isaac Asimov, and I prefer Asimov over the string theorists. Advocates of all physics theories would only admit that the author is right, in his book that I have not read, if they were wired up to a Polygraph. Also, I recommend you Second Creation.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006 ... Français/Deutsch/Español/Česky/Japanese/Related posts from blogosphere

Not only Rumsfeld thanks Summers

Donald Rumsfeld has thanked Lawrence Summers in a nice letter for his support of ROTC at Harvard. Well, there are very many other things that President Summers must be thanked for, and there are many other institutions and people who are going to thank.

The City of Boston and the Reference Frame is clearly two of them.

During Summers' tenure, Harvard never lost to Yale. Ambitious steps for distant future in Allston have been sketched and initiated - something that most people only care about hypothetically. Sciences have been morally supported and their teaching was strengthened. Harvard has just started steps to become the first institution in the world that will clone human embryos. While it is a controversial decision, it is clearly a decision of the humankind that can't be postponed indefinitely, and the leading scientific institutions in this field are going to be important.

Undergraduate students have had a president who cared about their experience, the quality of their education, and about their future. In fact, Summers is another 2006 graduate. Professors have had someone who reminded them what is important in the scholars' work - something that you don't always want to hear, especially if things are not going too well - but who also provided them with a source of pride about their institution, partially represented by its leader, which is an important motivation.

Summers is arguably the last president of a U.S. university who is more than just a politically correct puppet - puppets who earn about half a million dollars a year for not making anyone upset, especially not the hard Left. He is also the president with the brightest academic credentials.

President Summers has advocated undergraduate courses focusing on actual universally important content as opposed to nonsensical postmodern politically biased overspecialized idiosyncratic misinterpretations of unimportant social questions which is the way how many of our humanity colleagues are not only imagining the ideal education system but how they're also practising it.

He has taught us not to be intimidated by those who find the search for the truth inconvenient and he has brought some badly needed testosterone to Harvard. He has been a symbol of Harvard University that belongs to America and works for America - and beyond, as opposed to Harvard University that is largely hostile to things that are normally included in the word "America".

Also, he has doubly signed banknotes for many of us - banknotes that used to have twice as high value in the Czech crowns when he signed them for the first time and when he was in charge of them, but I don't want to overwhelm you with additional troubles of my life. ;-) Clearly, a strong dollar policy has been and is a good policy for America and the rest of the world. The U.S. administration should realize that the existing healthy economy is not enough for the U.S. citizens' confidence that everything is fine: a strong currency might be psychologically necessary, too, and it has also other, non-psychological advantages. Hank Paulson '70 should sell his Goldman Sachs stocks - whose profit he doubled - and work on the restoration of the confidence.

When we return to Harvard, Summers has also defended healthy contacts with natural academic partners and traditional U.S. allies such as Israel, and intellectual diversity at the university. He was one of the main people who made Harvard more welcoming for various groups of people, including foreign students, American Christians, American students who work for the military, and rightwingers in general - who are otherwise as welcome as the Jews in Germany of 1932 - and he opposed pernicious forms of discrimination including affirmative action as strongly as he was realistically allowed by the actual atmosphere at Harvard.

His management of Harvard's resources has been excellent, and his own contributions to the picture of Harvard as a place where people are actually thinking as opposed to parroting intellectually deteriorated political dogmas of the hard Left has definitely been positive for Harvard's image among most people whose opinions are found to be relevant by The Reference Frame.

It will be extremely difficult for any next president to match Summers, and you should not be surprised that some people expect that many things can simply go even more wrong afterwards - especially because we know that they were already going in a wrong direction when Summers was effectively separated from actual influence on the intellectual atmosphere at Harvard. Everyone will see what will happen, but one thing can already be said now:

Thank you, Mr. President.

SUSY '06: videos - reception

The conference SUSY '06 is underway. B. Yen offers you videos from the reception:

Click a picture such as the last picture, and you will get an Apple-based video from the reception.

Hawking: colonize space or die

Our famous and beloved colleague Stephen Hawking has indirectly supported Bush's NASA plans and urged the humanity

to avoid a manmade virus that will otherwise destroy all life.

In 20 years, we should be on the Moon. In 40 years, we should be on Mars. However, because the planets in the Solar system suck, we must clearly plan to see other stars with nicer planets.

Hawking is just getting started with a children book project with his daughter.

Equally famous and beloved Alan Guth views the space as the "ultimate life boat" at the 100-year timescale, but meanwhile, he proposes to build an underground base in Antarctica. Given the huge number of militant crackpots and others above the ground, it could be a good idea for me to apply for asylum there. ;-)

Darwiniana: evolution and string theory

Another posting remotely related to discussions about Peter Woit.

I always like to say that the status of string theory and the status of the theory of evolution - and the characters of their critics - are somewhat analogous: I summarize the reasons at the end of this text.

Many people remember - and some of them have participated in - a funny story in which a group of believers felt that this opinion of mine insulted their religious sensibilities. Clifford Johnson refused to help them, so they virtually marched to Jacques Distler's office and forced him to make a statement on behalf of the whole string community and officially denounce my analogy, much like the believers who demanded the denunciation and execution of the heliocentric heretics 500 years ago. ;-) Please, Prof. Distler, we want our belief to be restored and we want to be able to sleep at night and raise our children. As you can expect, Jacques Distler has fully obeyed their requests.

This almost sounds like a story from the New Testament except that in the past, there would be 1 Judas in such a story. Today we have 387 Judases with various confused and triply corrupt self-interests and relations to the bad players in the game of life.

Ladies and Gentlemen, you should know that

a blog attempting to be a place for politically balanced (...) debates about the origin of life, if I understand it well (it links both to Pharyngula as well as Uncommon Descent), agrees with my analogy and thinks that it is unfair that string theory is subjected to the acid test while evolution is given a free ride:

  • ... But physics is hardly finished yet. Horgan’s remarks, put somewhat differently, with the ‘end of science’ idea sidelined, would apply better to evolutionary theory which trespasses various demarcation problems and creates a set of theories that are certainly not experimental, and certainly not properly empirical, so far. ... The public is being misled here: String theory is subjected to the acid test, but Darwinism always gets a free ride, often from the same theorists. The public is being kept bewildered by this contradiction, which borders on fraud.

It should not be hard for me to find things on that blog that I would disagree with - because I am a Darwinist after all - but because the point above is right on the money, I reposted it.

Chaos in motion: a rare example of brains

The Internet is literally flooded with nonsensical reactions of extremely naive people who buy the theory that a scientific microbe can suddenly falsify all of string theory, without having written a single equation, simply by publishing a virulent book. Many people are simply unreasonable and they have always been. Unfortunately, it also includes at least two young people in science.

However, not everyone is gonna buy this silly fairy-tale. Who are the people whose opinions are gonna survive when all this stinking nonsense evaporates away? Ladies and Gentlemen, they're called

It is surely just a coincidence that it is a blog of rightwingers. The author of the article realizes several absurd assumptions that the simple-minded people buy. Let me quote their thoughtful response:

  • His premise is that it can't be a theory if you can't prove it. I guess I'll stand up and say bullshit. Many theories existed long before there was the ability to prove that they exist. In fact, I'd say that there are many portions of modern physics that still have no path to proof. Just because the ability to prove a theory doesn't presently exist, doesn't mean that it isn't a plausible theory. A case in point would be the atomic model. Democritus and John Dalton both proposed a theory based on the atomic model, but had no means to prove that it was true. They were indeed correct for the most part. But by Woit's argument, these models should have been ignored. Woit goes on even more insultingly: ...

Very true. A quote presenting a similarity between Horgan and Woit as a "devastating" argument against string theory follows, and the authors continue:

  • That is far from devastating. Merely throwing rocks at a theory doesn't make the person throwing right. This is the 'critics' model of science. If you don't know enough to actually produce a cogent theory, merely toss out invective and you'll be right. Sorry, if you can't produce a theory that is more plausible, and by Woit's standard, provable, then you are providing nothing to the field. Even more humorous is Woit's contention that physics is like the deconstuctionists. If that is where physics is, where would you place his specialty of mathematics? ... What a waste of air.

I don't expect Peter Woit to be able and willing to understand and accept the wise comments above, but I would certainly like to expect Sabine Hossenfelder to be willing and certainly able to do so.

Well, the last observation that it is completely absurd from a mathematician to criticize someone else for an insufficient body of evidence is certainly a deep observation, but if they realized that the author of "Not Even Wrong" is a mathematician more on the paper than in reality, our friends could have found this otherwise important point of their criticism redundant. ;-)

Tuesday, June 13, 2006 ... Français/Deutsch/Español/Česky/Japanese/Related posts from blogosphere

Microsoft patches

If you're running Microsoft Windows and your updates are not automatic, don't forget to visit

to get the largest collection of patches so far in 2006, containing about 20 hotfixes, many of which are critical: the adjective means that the computer can become controllable by a criminal without any active action of the user, except for visiting a website.

Monday, June 12, 2006 ... Français/Deutsch/Español/Česky/Japanese/Related posts from blogosphere

Science vs. democracy

The scientific blogosphere is getting weird because of many reasons.

A fellow blogger and beloved colleague has proposed that the state-of-the-art physical picture of reality should be determined by making a compromise or consensus among all the people who have earned a PhD degree in physics, and later justified this idea in

It does not seem that she was joking. I can't believe that our colleagues might believe that this is how science can work. It just looks incredible to me. Stunning. Nothing against her, of course, except that she obviously misunderstands the difference between having an "opinion" and having a scientific argument.

Among the physics PhD degrees, you can find thousands of crackpots who believe that relativity is wrong, we are surrounded by extraterrestrial aliens, the Hydrogen atom has a state beneath the ground state called the hydrino, and dozens of other unusual theories. Because I know most of them, with a little bit of exaggeration :-), I could also enumerate most of them ;-), but I choose not to. Clearly, these people have no impact on the actual physical picture of reality because they can't offer any scientifically verifiable, convincing, or reliable arguments that could have any impact.

Of course that if you ask one random senior person at the IAS, for example Juan Maldacena ;-), you will get a far better picture than if you average all physics PhDs in the world. The more inclusive your ensemble is, the more distorted picture you obtain by averaging. Is not it obvious? It just can't be otherwise.

Soccer: Czech Republic vs. United States 3:0

Off-topic: the doubling of the traffic is not permanent. It is caused by thousands of people looking for Mary Winkler's motive again.


Figure 1: Czech president during the Czechia:America match

98 percent of the Czech betters believe that Czechia will beat America. America returned to the World Cup in 1990 after 40 years. In their opener, they lost to Czechoslovakia 5:1. But times have changed a bit. Not much.

For U.S. readers: soccer is a strange game that is more popular than baseball abroad in which legs kick a round ball. :-) After five minutes, America was losing 0:1 because of Jan Koller's goal. In the 36th minute, Rosický improved the score to 0:2 and in the 76th minute the same player made it 0:3 which is the final score. However, Koller had an injury. Nevertheless, as other fans say,
  • Who's not jumping is not (a) Czech :-)
As many of you know very well, my support for both teams was comparable, with a slight bias for the Czech team ;-). But such matches are fun anyway and I admit that I have had an extremely good time while reading the colorful reports in the U.S. media. :-) It could be good for America to start to like soccer - that could really introduce the U.S. to the family of other nations. :-)

The Czechs were also leading the off-side score: 9:0 but I don't know what the final off-side score was. According to a controversial computer formula by FIFA, Czechia is the 2nd soccer superpower in the world after Brazil.

The Times: a bit more reasonable

Anjana Ahuja has a slightly more meaningful and human article in The Times that responds to a "virulent anti-strings tirade", as she calls it, that appeared in the Financial Times a week ago. Ahuja's article about a book by an "anatomical curiosity" does not yet reflect the article by Cornwell in the Sunday Times but you may want to read it anyway:

I've corrected the obvious typos in the second part of the title. ;-) One of the things that Ahuja notices - and I did not notice - is that the "dean" has not even thanked to his colleague from Columbia, Brian Greene. Well, it is not too surprising because Peter Woit has probably not talked to Brian - or any other actual physicist - about physics in the last 20 years. Why should Peter Woit thank physicists if he has nothing to do with them and with their field, except for being a parasite on their work? ;-)

At any rate, the "dean" is certainly happy about these developments and these controversies. When the dust is settled, more or less everyone will know that the book is a worthless pile of bias, misunderstandings, and nonsense celebrated by the moral and intellectual bottom of the society, but meanwhile, he can earn a few dirty bucks. Recently we discussed consciousness and an additional question is When does a flatworm feel really happy?

I wonder whether he will politely offer me at least 50% of the profits.

Ahuja's article is not really about science itself, and in this respect, it can't be compared to masterpieces such as some those by Dennis Overbye. On the other hand, it is clearly the best text about the sociology of science that we have seen in the last few weeks. To be honest, given the extraordinarily poor quality of others, it is not such a strong compliment. ;-)

Debashis Ghoshal: p-adic and 1-adic strings

Debashis Ghoshal has an interesting proposal how to interpret the relation between the ordinary perturbative string theory and p-adic string theory.

Generally, p-adic numbers represent an interesting systems for arithmetics in which the numbers can continue indefinitely to the left instead of right. Ordinary numbers such as

  • 3.14159265358979 ...

(I've memorized 100 digits but you won't be bothered by them here) continue indefinitely on the right side, but every politically educated scientist knows that the Left is a dead end, and the digits must eventually stop there.

In the p-adic system where "p" is a prime, things are a bit different. You may imagine that the numbers carry an infinite number of digits in the opposite direction: all left-wingers should move to the p-adic world. For example, if you want to divide "1/9", you obtain morally something like

  • - ......111111111

Note that if this integer is multiplied by 9, you obtain -....9. If you subtract 1, you obtain .....0000 which is zero, and therefore the number had to be one. ;-) Of course the real p-adic numbers work a bit differently but you get the idea. Yes, it's crazy.

Sunday, June 11, 2006 ... Français/Deutsch/Español/Česky/Japanese/Related posts from blogosphere

Dean of crackpots, Hitler's Pope, and string theory

  • WOW. I can't believe the FT article. Holy Shit, the world has gone completely bananas.
These are the words of a very famous physicist with more than 10,000 citations who is not a string theorist but who is also someone else than the senior physicist who has originally sent me the extraordinarily dumb article in the Financial Times one week ago, after he had read the same article. ;-)

Be sure that your humble correspondent plus the two senior physicists are extremely far from being the only ones who were stunned by that article.

Well, now we have another reason not to believe our eyes.
(this blog is not responsible for the quality of external websites)

have joined the Financial Times in their celebration of the dean of all crackpots - or, as they ironically call him, using the term invented by Ms. Susan Kruglinski, the dean of "debunking". The new politically correct word for crackpots is "debunkers". ;-)

Saturday, June 10, 2006 ... Français/Deutsch/Español/Česky/Japanese/Related posts from blogosphere

Scientific calculator: flash



If you can't find your calculator, this Flash calculator may sometimes be helpful. You may prefer another calculator by Hewlett-Packard. The previous Flash posting was probably Manic Miner (be ready for noise!). If you're a kid who wants to play with the destructive force of gravity, try bloxforever (1 MB).