Thursday, May 31, 2007 ... Français/Deutsch/Español/Česky/Japanese/Related posts from blogosphere

Hunt for the Higgs boson

Fullscreen. Via JoAnne Hewett.

Boss of NASA sensible on global warming

Michael Griffin who has been the top administrator of NASA since 2005 said the following on NPR (see, transcript, blogs, audio):

I have no doubt that a trend of global warming exists. I am not sure that it is fair to say that it is a problem we must wrestle with. To assume that it is a problem is to assume that the state of Earth's climate today is the optimal climate, the best climate that we could have or ever have had and that we need to take steps to make sure that it doesn't change. I guess I would ask which human beings - where and when - are to be accorded the privilege of deciding that this particular climate that we have right here today, right now is the best climate for all other human beings. I think that's a rather arrogant position for people to take.

I have always believed that the people who actually work with hard sciences and technology simply shouldn't buy a cheap and soft pseudoscientific propaganda such as the "fight against climate change". NASA has been doing many amazing and non-trivial things and they must also be irritated when pseudoscience based on such shaky and unscientific notions is given so much attention - in fact, breathtakingly, more than NASA's space program itself.

The ideology of a "fight against climate change" is based on a whole network of assumptions - dozens of assumptions each of which is highly questionable, to say the least. As long as we are a scientifically inclined society, each of these assumptions should be studied separately because rationally speaking, they are independent.

One of these assumptions says that the current climate is better than a different climate and it should be preserved. It is an arbitrary, irrational assumption that was also recently criticized by Czech president Klaus in his book, among other people.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007 ... Français/Deutsch/Español/Česky/Japanese/Related posts from blogosphere

George Bush will visit Prague next week

See also: Bush in Prague and rockets, not radars and Bush liked the dumplings
Laura Bush plans to enjoy gardens of the Prague Castle, together with Lívia Klausová, the Czech first lady who is Slovak.

George Bush has to see the headquarters of the Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty in Prague, a building that used to be the communist Parliament.

Most Czechs are looking forward to see the Bush family. However, Martina Navrátilová wants to get her Czech citizenship back to protest against the "Bush regime". ;-)

Europe isolated over Kyoto

China, India, Russia reject carbon cuts. Australia realizes that the Kyoto has had no desirable effect.

Nominally right-wing German government is trying to convince the US government to impose caps. But Nancy Pelosi didn't offer the Germans much support.

Other two countries with nominally right-wing governments, Japan and Canada, want to reduce the CO2 emissions by 50% even if they have to pay for the third world and the U.S. However, both Republicans and Democrats want something slightly different, namely to subsidize coal.

It would be a mistake to think that the Japanese actually want to impose all these suicidal restrictions. Today, Japan refused to follow a new EU plan to stop climate from changing.

Myths about Einstein

The New York Reviews of Books have published a text by Lee Smolin who uses several recent books about Albert Einstein to define his opinions about the famous physicist. There are many points in Smolin's text that I consider correct and many more things that I consider silly. Let me start with some of the correct ones:

  • It is indeed true that people tend to incorrectly think that the revolutionary Einstein was a detached immaterial, spiritual, peaceful sage - an idealized image constructed according to Einstein when he was old. Instead, the real revolutionary Einstein was a young chap with a rather contrived personal life who assertively tried to transform the world according to his visions. I am sure that much like many other similar people, young Einstein was deeply offended by stupid folks who wanted to act as authorities.
  • The ideas that Einstein's personal life resembled the life of the (idealized) Jesus Christ are myths.
  • Einstein's disbelief in quantum mechanics was the main technical reason why the last 3 decades of his life didn't lead to important scientific results.
  • He may have become "officially" irrelevant at the IAS when the younger generation, realizing that Einstein's opinions about cutting edge physics have become silly, decided to transform Einstein into nothing an idealized but impotent symbol.
  • Albert Einstein's political abilities were non-trivial and he had the technical skills to be a top-tier politician, including the president of Israel if he wanted.

However, as I have mentioned, there are many more crazy thoughts in Smolin's text.

First of all, Smolin tries to picture Einstein's personal life and his political methods and attitudes as a key aspect of his personality that is essential to understand his creativity or even the technical content of his greatest discoveries. I think it is a completely silly association. There are no direct, rational links between Einstein's creativity on one side and details of his love affairs or political opinions on the other side.

These two projections of Einstein are largely independent of one another. Relativity and other theories could have been found by very different personalities. Whoever thinks that a detailed analysis of Einstein's love affairs allows us to speed up scientific revolutions in the future is crazy.

Smolin implicitly claims that these things are inevitably synchronized which I view as another example of Smolin's inability to think rationally about science. Smolin simply can't or doesn't want to distinguish science from sociology and from love affairs.

Bussard's IEC fusion for dummies: video

Two minutes of video by Foger Rox explaining Robert Bussard's reactor. See also If you ask me how does the geometry from the video lead to fusion, you are not the only one who asks! ;-)

Via M. Simon.

Monday, May 28, 2007 ... Français/Deutsch/Español/Česky/Japanese/Related posts from blogosphere

Doomsday arguments

Sabine has written an essay about the doomsday arguments. If I understand her well, I think that the two of us agree. But it may be useful to mention which of the assumptions are rational or justified and which of them are not. Let me start with the

Copernican Principle

The principle says that the Earth is not a privileged celestial body, the Sun is not a privileged star, and the Milky Way is not a privileged galaxy. A generalization of the principle says that the humans are not a privileged species. A more ambitious version of the principle, the mediocrity principle, is the actual driving force of many people who believe the anthropic principle. All these people must believe in some kind of integalactic democracy that gives the same voice to every single intelligent observer within the Galaxy or even the multiverse.

Is the principle universally true and profound?

Well, I wouldn't say so. What would you expect from a person who doesn't even believe in trans-national democracy and who thinks that even the equality within one country is just a convenient law that can never quite work de facto?

In my opinion, the original version of the Copernican principle was mainly an ideological tool to oppose a wrong theory of astronomy, namely a theory that has always been driven by religious and political forces rather than scientific arguments. The Catholic black-buttockers used to insist that the Earth had to play as special a role in the Universe as it played in their favorite book, the Old Testament. While Christianity has made many great things for the Western civilization, its stubborn belief in certain ancient astrophysical theories - and later also biological theories - turned out to be counterproductive at a certain point. The Copernican principle is a symbol of the revolt against the religious dogmas.

In the case of the Earth, Copernicus and his soulmates were right. The physical parameters of our planet don't differ from the parameters of other planets in some spectacular qualitative way.

However, we should ask: Was this conclusion inevitable? Is there a permanent physical principle that tells you that things always turn out to be less special than they are believed at the beginning? My answer is a resounding "No". If you declare that things are not special but they are rather generic, you only choose a probability distribution that describes your ignorance more faithfully.

But it is not true that as we continue to learn how the real world works, objects are constantly becoming less special. Sometimes they are becoming more special and less equal. All values of wavelengths of light may a priori look equally natural and likely but the 21.1 centimeter line turns out to be rather special in astrophysics, after all.

Billions of other insights of all sciences - essentially all insights we have - may be viewed as additional examples of objects and numbers becoming more special than they used to be before you have a learned a new fact or before you have written down a new theory. When we look more carefully, the Earth has certain features that also make it somewhat special, after all. You can also find features of homo sapiens that make our species more viable and more intelligent than many others.

As you can see, I view all kinds of mediocrity arguments to be a tool to construct quasi-realistic "priors" - expectations that you insert as a starting point for your logical inference. These arguments represent a tool to avoid unjustified dogmas. These arguments seem to be a more fair description of your primordial ignorance. However, they are definitely not unbreakable constraints that the final answers must confirm.


Naturalness is another example. If you deal with an effective field theory, are all dimensionless couplings inevitably comparable to one? Once again, the answer is clearly "No". Why do we expect that is should "normally" be so? Well, it's because we describe our ignorance by a uniform prior. With a uniform probability distribution for a certain dimensionless parameter, it is unlikely that the parameter will be extremely tiny.

But the uniform probabilistic distribution is not a God-given law of the Cosmos. It is just a convenient trick to make balanced expectations - expectations that often turn out to be wrong anyway as soon as we figure out how the system works in more detail, as soon as we discover new reasons that make some special expectations more meaningful. Naturalness is thus not an unbreakable law of physics either. Even if you are a huge optimist, it is just a useful tool to quantify how unexpected the values of numerical parameters within a certain framework are.

Doomsday argument

The doomsday argument is an example of the mediocrity reasoning that is even worse than just an unjustified prejudice: I think that in this case, the conclusions of a mediocrity argument are manifestly flawed.

The argument assumes that you should be a generic observer. Because the number of people on the Earth grows exponentially, most people during the history live right before the collapse of the civilization. That's why the doomsday argument leads many people to predict that the humankind will collapse pretty soon. Jehovah's Witnesses as well as Anthropogenic Global Warming bigots, among dozens of similar groups, surely consider the doomsday arguments to be a general weapon that strengthens their predictions about the judgment day.

Are they right?

We can't be quite sure whether their particular predictions are going to be right - except for the predictions that have already been falsified - but we can be absolutely sure that the method with which they have reached their conclusions are completely irrational. Why? It's because we actually know the laws that will decide about the collapse of the civilization. More precisely, we know them partially but well enough to falsify certain oversimplified doomsday calculations.

Whether or not men will be around in 2100 and whether or not the future civilization is going to be stronger than ours will depend on the success of our fight against Islamic terrorists, North Korean communists, environmental terrorists, diseases, political correctness, shrinking fossil fuel resources, mutated viruses, left-wing nutcases who want to cripple the world's economy just for the sake of it, dangerous asteroids, or dozens of other potential threats you could think about. When you understand how these things work, you may offer qualified estimates of the probability that all of us will be screwed by 2100.

Even though we are clearly not able to make perfect predictions about the world in 2100 - not even good predictions - it seems clear to me that the method of looking into particular threats and their internal mechanisms is much more rational and reliable a way to deduce the future of mankind than some general doomsday arguments. I believe that if we understand the microscopic mechanisms of the dangerous processes in depth, we can make essentially accurate predictions of certain phenomena.

There is absolutely no reason to think that such predictions calculated from an increasingly detailed and accurate microscopic description of these phenomena will agree with some simple stochastic predictions based on the doomsday arguments or the mediocrity arguments. And if the two approaches to make predictions disagree, be sure that your humble correspondent prefers the microscopic analysis of the terrorists, asteroids, or viruses.

Such a contradiction means that one of the frameworks to predict has to be wrong. It is the mediocrity framework that is wrong. The only acceptable reason why a mediocrity argument should be right is a causal mechanism that is included among the laws of Nature. Such a mechanism would have to be somewhat analogous to thermalization: thermalization is a process that naturally makes all microstates with the same values of macroscopic parameters equally likely.

But as soon as we find out that the answers to various questions are actually decided by mechanisms different from such generalized thermalization or as soon as we find out that such hypothetical thermalization mechanisms would contradict causality and other well-established principles, these thermalization mechanisms that were invented to produce uniform distributions are simply falsified.

In the case of the doomsday arguments, we simply know that the answer to the question "When will the last humans die?" manifestly depends on other questions than those that enter the doomsday argument calculations.

Another recent example have been the Jovian citizens - those who live on Jupiter. Should the number of Jovian beings predicted by a theory influence our confidence that a particular theory is right before we actually count how many people live there? I have argued, together with Hartle and Srednicki, that the answer is "No". Theories become more acceptable or less acceptable once we compare their predictions to phenomena that we can already check and once we see an agreement or a disagreement. This is the right method to refine the probability estimates that a theory is correct. Predictions that we are not yet able to test - confirm or rule out - can't influence our confidence in a theory as long as we remain rational.

Analogously, if someone believes that the world should collapse because of some mediocrity argument, he or she is just a victim of another irrational prejudice. This prejudice might have the opposite flavor than the typical prejudices imposed upon our ancestors by Christianity. But this opposite flavor doesn't make these prejudices correct. They are equally irrational as the Christian dogmas.

Moreover, there exist methods to use the mediocrity arguments that lead to very different conclusions. For example, a mediocrity argument may be used to argue that the present can't be a special moment in the history of the Universe (or mankind) because all moments are created equal. Such a conclusion sharply contradicts the gloomy predictions of the usual doomsday arguments.


If you allow me to summarize, I view all kinds of mediocrity arguments to be nothing else than a very rough method to decide about your expectations long before you know anything about the system you study. Once you start to understand how various systems work, you may instantly realize that the expectations based on the mediocrity principle were just wrong. There exists no God-given rule that an egalitarian viewpoint based on uniform distributions is closer to the truth than the viewpoint of someone who avoids the mediocrity arguments.

Also, if you can prove that there can exist no mechanism that would be creating certain uniform distributions but that would still be consistent with other well-known facts about the Universe, the mediocrity argument is ruled out, too. Various types of thermal equilibrium of intelligent observers who live in different parts of a huge multiverse and at different moments are probably incompatible with the rest of physics we know.

We should carefully avoid unjustified dogmas about the special nature of our environment or our species or ourselves but we should also avoid unjustified dogmas claiming that these things can't be special.

And that's the memo.

Some trips

During the last two weekends (and some days around them), we have been away to see The Statue of Liberty, Empire State Building, Niagara Falls (boats, caves), Thousand Islands, Salem (105 km on bike in 34 Celsius degrees), New England Aquarium, Navy Yard so I apologize for the silence.

Among the six movies in the bus, I would recommend you The Princess Diaries 2 (2004). A princess of Genovia finishes her college but can't become a queen unless she's married. So she eventually agrees to find and marry a perfect-on-paper husband within weeks. Opposing political forces try to prevent the wedding. Needless to say, the guy whose task is to stop the wedding falls in love with Mia and she loves him, too. Eventually she is able, in the middle of the wedding ceremony, to abolish the queen-must-be-married law, becomes a queen, but marries the real lover anyway later.

My #2 choice is What Women Want (2000). Mel Gibson is a creator of commercials for cosmetics products. A serious incident with a hair dryer (electrical shock) allows him to "hear" what women really think but can't say. He becomes a sex god & successful creator of the commercials by reading his blonde colleague's thoughts. She finally forgives him and a happy end follows.

Thursday, May 24, 2007 ... Français/Deutsch/Español/Česky/Japanese/Related posts from blogosphere

Why are there gravitons in string theory

Sean Carroll has written a text for Nude Socialist. It has an optimistic name

After I read the full text, it looks fair even though I am flabbergasted by the very observation that some people apparently think that physicists can suddenly change their opinions about theoretical physics because of a campaign organized mainly by two crackpots.

If an activist such as Al Gore organizes such a campaign in climate science, he can scare all sane people and everyone starts to twist the numbers and publish higher, catastrophic estimates of the future warming. It is hard to figure out that what the scientists produce is a biased pile of nonsense because every number a priori seems as good as every other number.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007 ... Français/Deutsch/Español/Česky/Japanese/Related posts from blogosphere

A reply to Gina

Unsuccessfully linked elsewhere: Falsifiability in physics (direct link here)
Gina is one of the more sensible participants of the laymen's discussions about string theory. While the majority of others who think that Smolin's and Woit's comments make any sense are deeply confused people incapable of a rational manipulation with ideas related to theoretical physics, Gina at least sometimes tries to use his or her brain a little bit.

As we can see in this new text, this positive appraisal certainly doesn't hold universally.

Weakest link

Joe writes that a chain of reasoning is only as strong as its weakest link. You would think: what an obvious fact. Gina conjectures that there are cases when it's not true because the weakest links are strengthened by the stronger links. Well, I happen to think that if this occurs, we can be pretty sure that the person is doing something very different from a rational analysis.

Record cold temperature: South Africa

South Africa has seen the coldest temperatures on Monday: 3.2 Celsius degrees in Jamestown. At least 21 people died.

Monday, May 21, 2007 ... Français/Deutsch/Español/Česky/Japanese/Related posts from blogosphere

Polchinski & science vs Smolin & sociology

A temporary linker-not-thinker recommends you to read Polchinski's answer to Smolin's answer to Polchinski's review of Smolin's book at

Cosmic Variance
Thanks to Charles Tye!


Well, I actually don't like too much when evil, dishonest, and hypocritical people are treated with pink gloves but Polchinski's text is a very good one despite the gloves because Polchinski clearly demonstrates that he has no problems with his shoes. ;-)

Polchinski tries to re-focus the discussion on physics. He first explains that there is no sense in which Smolin's mysterious "catastrophic predictions of a non-positive cosmological constant by string theory" could have been fully logical.

Noisy picnic and political correctness

On May 12th, two groups organized a noisy picnic on the Quad's public lawn. Harvard students were everywhere around. Many of them were studying: it was a reading period. Many of them are sensitive and can't concentrate well if there is noise around.

It shouldn't be unexpected that someone called the police. If it were a party I couldn't effectively attend and if there were people around me who would also think that the noise is just too much, I would call police, too.

Police has checked whether the people have had any right to be there. The participants were asked to keep the noise down and the picnic continued. You would think that this story ends up with an acceptable compromise.

Sunday, May 20, 2007 ... Français/Deutsch/Español/Česky/Japanese/Related posts from blogosphere

Special theories: good and bad

There has been some confusion about the question whether we want theories to be as special as possible or as general as possible.

Costs and benefits

Well, profound theories should ideally maximize the number of diverse yet correct and accurate predictions they make while they should minimize the number of independent and a priori arbitrary & unjustifiable assumptions and the number of other parameters because this kind of freedom allows the theory or the framework to adjust its answers to agree with reality which makes any agreement, even if it occurs, less spectacular and less convincing.

You can view this counting as an analogy of the cost-benefit analysis although the precise quantitative character of these calculations is governed by something like Bayes' theorem.

Lower costs and higher benefits

The more obvious consequence of the rules above is that if you have two theories with the same amount of arbitrariness and assumptions and parameters, the more accurate one and the more generally valid one will be preferred. That shouldn't be controversial.

However, the rules above also make it clear that if two theories predict equally large classes of phenomena with the same accuracy, the theory with a smaller number of independent assumptions, objects, basic concepts, and parameters will be preferred. The situation may look complex but we should realize that parameters, assumptions, and independent building blocks play the same role. They are the "costs" in the cost-benefit analysis.

Independence of the assumptions and inevitable assumptions

Also, we should notice that it is only the independent assumptions that should be counted as costs. If two assumptions can be proven to be equivalent (or at least almost equivalent, or almost certainly equivalent), they will be counted as less than two assumptions. If an assumption can be proven to be mathematically inevitable, it is not a real assumption and it contributes nothing to the "costs".

Random guesses

On the other hand, there surely exist many examples of assumptions that are not inevitable. Some people may believe that all theories should be consistent with the validity of the Old Testament. Other people may believe that theories should confirm egalitarianism, feminism, political correctness, special role of the white race, or an increasing role of the United Nations in the future. A third group of people may believe that a text encoding the theory should look like pi. A fourth group may think that all theories should be fundamentally discrete in character and there should be no way to understand the theories as continuous ones.

Neither of these assumptions that people want to impose upon theories has been rationally justified. Neither of them is inevitable. These assumptions simply pick a random subspace in a larger space of theories that are equally reasonable given the facts we know today.

Instead, these assumptions are just random guesses. They are arbitrary and they were probably formulated because of some unscientific reasons. It doesn't mean that these assumptions must be inevitably incorrect. But they are not inevitably correct. In the counting of costs and benefits, all of them are certainly "costs".

For example, if you consider the discreteness assumption, it is not hard to see that pure logical and rigorous arguments are unable to prove that a discrete theory is better, more consistent, or more valid than a theory with a tiny contribution of continuous physics. This is why the assumption is arbitrary. It is why it is a liability. You are picking a very small subset of possible theories.

Robust theories

On the other hand, the situation is completely different if you think about theories with a small number N of adjustable parameters. In this case, it is possible to prove, logically and/or rigorously, that theories outside the N-dimensional space don't have the same degree of consistency (which may include some kind of essential symmetry).

For example, only the relevant and marginal deformations of a local quantum field theory should be considered as elements of the same narrow class of theories. This characteristic feature of such a theory makes it much more likely that it will be abruptly falsified if it is wrong. Because falsification is expected to be easier, if such a theory survives, the survival is more spectacular and convincing evidence that the theory is on the right track. If there is no room for curve fitting, a detailed agreement of a curve is a huge argument in favor of the theory's validity. Even if the amount of data you can use to check your theory is relatively low, it may often be enough to give extremely strong arguments in favor of the validity of your theory simply because it can often be extremely unlikely that even such a small amount of results is reproduced by a really compact and robust theory.

String theory

String theory has no adjustable continuous parameters. Instead, it has a large configuration space. The existence of this configuration space is not an independent assumption. It is an inevitable conclusion. The whole "landscape" exists somewhere in the multiverse or at least in the abstract space of allowed solutions.

But you would surely protest that a huge, dense landscape is effectively equivalent to a large number of parameters. Is it?

First of all, it is not true that all conceivable theories can be well approximated by string-theoretical vacua. Despite their large number, string-theoretical vacua imply certain general predictions. This kind of predictions is discussed in the swampland program.

Even the predictions about the quantities that are relatively adjustable by a choice of the vacuum may be highly non-trivial simply because the set of vacua is far from being dense as far as some parameters go.

But imagine that the discrete space of solutions is approximately dense and it covers the same set of possibilites that may be more or less covered by a less sophisticated theory. Once you could determine the exact vacuum and make much more accurate predictions that you could make with the effective field theory, there would be no reasonable doubt that the theory predicting discrete possibilities is more complete and that it is closer to the truth. But should you believe that it is better before you determine whether string theory can give the accurate numbers?

My answer is probably No. If string theory were only able to cover a similar parameter space by discrete points, I would think that it would not be progress a priori, before you check whether the more detailed predictions are valid. Of course, even before you make the test, the stakes become higher if you have a more predictive theory (string theory with a discrete subset of the parameter space, in this case).

Reducing independent assumptions

But the structure of the parameter spaces is not the only difference between string theory and effective field theories. String theory reduces the arbitrariness - it reduces the costs - in many different directions. In Lagrangian effective field theories, the existence of different fields with different values of spin represents a lot of independent assumptions. In string theory, these fields and particles - including gravity - are unified which reduces the number of independent assumptions.

You might argue that the existence of the typical gauge theories with spin-0 and spin-1/2 particles is inevitable because one can prove, in some sense, that nice, interacting, but weakly-coupled theories must always look like that at low energies. You would be right. Indeed, at the level of effective field theories, we know what the right description is. The gauge theories with matter are kind of inevitable and some experimental tests have been sufficient to determine the fields and interactions.

But the question really is: What is there beyond these effective theories? Any step to reduce the arbitrariness must be considered seriously. One possible answer is that there could be another local quantum field theory. But except for grand unification and supersymmetry, we don't know any method to reduce the degree of complexity and arbitrariness that would still agree with the Standard Model. Moreover, the framework of effective field theory almost certainly breaks down in the case of gravity.

String theory is the only structure we know that is not equivalent to local quantum field theory but that is nevertheless able to reproduce all of its physics (including gravity at the quantum level).

A priori, we shouldn't have expected that a randomly chosen framework would correctly predict the existence of spin-0, spin-1/2, spin-1 particles with spin-2 gravity and the right interactions and the right incorporation of the quantum effects. However, string theory is able to do that (and no other theory can), besides dozens of other successes. I think that this result itself is already such a non-trivial confirmation of the theory that it is unreasonable to believe that string theory could be wrong.

Of course that there exists much more evidence in favor of string theory and physicists would prefer to have much more still. But imagine that you are not an aggressive fanaticized crackpot who only wants to criticize - like readers of an infamous blog at Manhattan - but instead, you are a balanced person who is trying to evaluate the probabilities, as accurately as you can, that a given set of ideas is right or wrong. I am convinced that even with the very basic list of predictions above, you would already have to conclude that it is very unlikely that string theory could have passed these tests by chance and that it could still be wrong.

Other things in the list of top twelve results decrease the probability that string theory is wrong further.

It is hard to design a quantitatively accurate scheme to calculate the confidence levels in such complex situations. But if you correctly compare the ability of string theory to confirm the well-established principles and objects of physics with the ability of a generic theory at a comparable level of complexity, I am sure that you must conclude that the probability that string theory is wrong is very low.


I am afraid that too many people are making serious mistakes in this general kind of appraisal. Some people, for example, confuse inevitable facts from random assumptions. Well, inevitable facts are not the same thing as random assumptions. Random assumptions are costs; inevitable facts are not. The fact that quantum mechanics can't be modified or deconstructed in various ways is a fact; the opinion that all degrees of freedom should be discrete is not.

When we look at the benefits and successes, people are making a lot of similar mistakes, too. Some people confuse direct or indirect verification against experimental well-established facts with an agreement of their favorite theory with some other random unjustified preconceptions. Well, these are, once again, very different things.

Real physics vs constantly repeated propaganda

The source of our confidence that string theory is correct is based on its ability to reproduce, with a much smaller number of independent assumptions, the outcomes of real experiments that depend on quantum field theory, gauge theory; interactions of spin-1/2 fermions, related phenomena including running couplings, confinement, chiral symmetry breaking, spontaneous symmetry breaking; tested results of general relativity; and largely inevitable conclusions of semiclassical gravity such as black hole thermodynamics.

All of these criteria are positive because the statements that have been reproduced are experimentally settled or they are settled by a combination of experiments and a very robust reasoning and calculations. Such an agreement is thus a huge benefit.

On the other hand, if someone assumes that a theory should be discrete or spacetime-free, he or she is increasing the costs because these adjectives, much like dozens of others, are a matter of unverified religion and ideology, not facts. As long as we are rational, there is nothing a priori good about a theory that agrees with these adjectives. Reducing your attention to a small class of theories that are consistent with all these arbitrary assumptions makes the work of a scientist more likely to be worthless. Indeed, if a scientist is unable to transcend prejudices some of which (or all) are almost certainly incorrect, he may be viewed as a narrow-minded zealot.

I am convinced that this wrong approach isn't included in string theory because the theory builds on assumptions that are either demonstrably true or inevitable given other assumptions that have been shown to be extremely likely to be true. There is no circular loop here and, more importantly, the individual steps can be trusted. Conclusions are inevitable or almost inevitable consequences of each other.

This situation strikingly differs from the situation in various kinds of sloppy thinking such as loop quantum gravity where every new work adds new arbitrary assumptions and makes it increasingly unlikely that the conclusions of a paper are right.

Of course I can still imagine that despite its rigidity and its non-trivial agreement with the basic well-established principles of physics, string theory will be shown to be wrong. But such a moment would be similar to the destruction of the World Trade Center on 9/11. It would be a spectacular event if such a robust structure could be destroyed.

On the other hand, a collapse of loop quantum gravity and hundreds of other similar proposals that would like to claim to be competitors are more similar to erosion of those sand houses in North Africa that must be re-built twice a year. It doesn't really make any sense to ask whether such buildings can stand or not because the identity of these buildings is not well-defined.

And that's the memo.

Friday, May 18, 2007 ... Français/Deutsch/Español/Česky/Japanese/Related posts from blogosphere

Prague Mayor Pavel Bém on top of Mount Everest

Two days earlier, first purely Czech female scaled the peak

Klára Poláčková (29), a consultant born in Prague, became the first Czech female citizen to conquer Mt Everest on 5/16. Congratulations!

She went there together with Tashi Tenzing, the grandson of Tenzing Norgay who got to the top with Edmund Clinton in 1953.

Pavel Bém MD, the neo-liberal mayor of Prague who was allowed to go despite some controversies in Prague followed by other controversies in China that didn't give him the permission (so he switched to Nepal), was one day from the top when Poláčková already got there.

He was lucky enough to become the 10th Czech to defeat the peak today (on Thursday, the weather was bad). He has also become the second mayor to reach the tip - and Joe Quimby has only gotten there in the form of a sticker. In Bém's case, the victory was without oxygen, unless the plans were changed in the final stage.

Technical comment: I need to go to New York to welcome my father now. Sorry for the moderation.

Thursday, May 17, 2007 ... Français/Deutsch/Español/Česky/Japanese/Related posts from blogosphere

NYT about Cimrman: memo from Plzeň

The New York Times have an article about Mr Jára da Cimrman. The article about the greatest Czech of all time who has made his greatest achievements at the beginning of the 20th century is titled a "memo from Pilsen" which is my hometown where I will return in July.

Cimrman was born around 1870 in Vienna and he became the greatest playwright, poet, composer, teacher, traveller, philosopher, inventor, detective, and athlete of his era. An asteroid is named 7796 Jaracimrman and hundreds of places in the Czech Republic remember the moments when Cimrman visited them.

Zdeněk Svěrák (left) and Ladislav Smoljak (right) have been two leading historians who have studied Cimrman for decades: they are still the supreme cimrmanologists. More precisely, they became the founders of the Theater of Jára da Cimrman. Their humor is a wise and fine brand of Czech humor even though I find the NYT's description of their humor as "anti-communist sarcasm" to be somewhat misleading because I think it has mostly been apolitical humor.

While it seems rather likely that Jára da Cimrman has never existed, which is why he was disqualified in 2005 from the "Greatest Czech contest" even though he has otherwise clearly won it :-), let me admit that there exist rumors that either Václav Klaus or your humble correspondent might be Jára da Cimrman, after all. But for obvious reasons, I can neither confirm nor deny these rumors.

And that's the memo from Pilsen.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007 ... Français/Deutsch/Español/Česky/Japanese/Related posts from blogosphere

Klaus: a green "revolt of mobs" scares me

Today, "Hospodářské noviny", a Czech counterpart of the Financial Times, published an interview with Czech president Václav Klaus.

The Associated Press, AFP, DPA, Czech radio, Czech TV news (WM in Czech), and Czech Press Agency report, too.
Could you please tell our readers who obviously haven't yet read your book why you wrote it?

Because I am very worried about some people's far-reaching attempts to reconstruct the world and revolutionize the behavior of the society. These people use some highly questionable data and hypotheses to deduce what is happening today and what will be happening in the world. And I view it as a threat for freedom. It is not a marginal topic for me. It is not just my wilful act or an attempt to penetrate into media with a novel opinion.

In your book, you distinguish between ideological environmentalists and scientific ecologists. Which people in Czechia belong to these categories?

Environmentalism is a general tendency, a conglomerate of opinions, which is why it is so difficult to identify it with one person.

If we compare it to Marxism, we see that Marx was transparent as he has summarized his ideas in his key manuscripts. A great opus by an author who would describe the theses of environmentalism at the highest level of consequentiality doesn't exist. I don't see such a readable enemy at the ideological level. Of course that I have my enemies on the media-political level. In the global context it is undoubtedly Al Gore; in the Czech context it is the Green Party that is currently represented by its chairman.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007 ... Français/Deutsch/Español/Česky/Japanese/Related posts from blogosphere

Blue, not Green Planet: climatologists react

Václav Klaus's new book will be released tomorrow. What is endangered? Climate or freedom? Of course, your humble correspondent feels honored to be referred to. The party celebrating the book will be broadcast on the CT24 TV channel and online at 4:30 am EDT.

Czech climate scientists respond. Mr Jan Pretel thinks that Klaus puts economy above the scientific ecology. However, he agrees with the Czech president that mankind shouldn't make enormous investments into emission reductions without thinking carefully about them.

Despite some disagreement with certain portions of the book, the text has been praised by Mr Radim Tolasz, another climatologist: "The only thing he has done is to stand firmly on the other side and offer many diverse counter-arguments which balances the whole discussion. And that could be useful."

This comment by the professional could have been more useful than my whole recommendation of the book that probably appears on the cover... ;-)

Some elementary myths about quantum gravity

A freshman talks how excited he is about Carlip's lectures at There is some confusion in the text that comes from various sources. Because I keep on hearing some of these opinions from physicists who are often much older than freshmen, including new grad students, it may be a good idea to mention them explicitly.

Myth: The right theory of quantum gravity may be completely non-local

Well, in reality, the correct theory must be very accurately local because the local effective theories have been verified experimentally. Locality means that we can't send signals faster than light and different regions of space can't influence each other immediately: it is an important part of the relativistic description of reality.

Quantum gravity is almost certainly somewhat non-local when processes like black hole evaporation are taken into account: this feature seems to be necessary to preserve the information and almost certainly follows from string theory. But a correct theory must always explain why these non-local processes have a tiny impact on the usual observable phenomena otherwise the theory is dead.

Myth: Quantization of gravity implies that spacetime is discrete

This myth, much like many other myths, arises because their authors use certain words whose meaning they don't understand well and they only use the methods of comparative literature - a manipulation with fuzzy words instead of sharp equations - to derive their conclusions. In this particular case, it's important to realize that the word "quantization" is really used in two inequivalent albeit related ways.

Monday, May 14, 2007 ... Français/Deutsch/Español/Česky/Japanese/Related posts from blogosphere

Marshall plan: 60 years later

In summer 1947, George Marshall, Condi Rice's predecessor, has initiated a gigantic plan to aid Europe.

In 1953, he was awarded the Nobel peace prize. Around 1946, Czechoslovakia and Greece were the only two non-communist countries in Eastern Europe. However, the degree of servility towards Stalin was breathtaking. The Czechoslovak minister of foreign affairs, Jan Masaryk - the son of the founder of the country later thrown away from the window by the communists - was chastised by Stalin personally in Moscow. It became clear that due to the growing communist influence, Czechoslovakia couldn't join.

John Snow buys Chrysler for $7.4 billion

Cerberus Capital Management whose current chairman is John Snow, the former treasury secretary, bought 80% of Chrysler for $7.4 billion.

In 1998, Daimler-Benz bought the brand for $37 billion but a decade of losses followed.

Sunday, May 13, 2007 ... Français/Deutsch/Español/Česky/Japanese/Related posts from blogosphere

Stringfest in Israel: video

Stringfest in Israel: video. Windows & Media Player required. General fans of physics are especially recommended to watch David Gross' "Perspectives". But it's also fun to see Lenny Susskind's evolution of opinions about the dangerous ideas he's promoting except that the evolution he describes could be a result of Intelligent Design - at least this is my illusion.

I like Susskind's comment about Wolfgang Pauli's objection to Dirac. Pauli said: "But listen, Dirac, just because the cosmological constant is calculated to be infinite doesn't mean that it's zero!" :-)

Gross, a fresh member of the American Philosophical Society :-), shows cartoons about string theory 20 years ago and today. The better one is a discussion of Quantum Bush with Karl Rove about Intelligent Design and funding of string theory. ;-)

The less good one is the cartoon about the lecture "Is string theory bullshit?" Gross asks: "Have Smolin and Woit had such an impact?" Welcome to the real world, David! ;-) Half of the public scientific discussions is now controlled by the cranks if not more.

On the other hand, Gross - a true believer in sexiness of string theory - also shows a commercial printed in the New York Times and elsewhere: String theory - when physics gets physical. :-)

James Webb Space Telescope (JWST)

... a successor to the Hubble Space Telescope ...

Google Analytics

Anyone with a web with many visitors may want to analyze the records. It can be done with a new version of

It takes 1-2 days before the data appear after you register.

There are many formats - much more detailed reports than Sitemeter. Microsoft Corp. is going to answer with something that is called
which is a city in Quebec. The program is still in alpha.

Czech PM vs 4000 feminist NGOs

Mr Mirek Topolánek, the Czech prime minister, gave a speech at the opening of the European Year of Equal Opportunities. He said that because women can decide whether they want to have children or not, they have the same opportunities as men. He also mentioned that assimilation of foreigners is more beneficial than multiculturalism.

The European Women's Lobby (EWL), an umbrella organization for four thousand European feminist organizations, demanded an apology. They also wrote Mr Vladimír Špidla, a former prime minister and the current European commissioner for welfare. They complained that even though Špidla was present when Topolánek gave the speech, he failed to vomit. ;-)

The difference between Harvard University and the Czech Republic, however, is that the Czechs - both men and women - agree with the prime minister and they will send an unpublishable F. O. greeting to the 4,000 NGOs. The news about the feminist demands have appeared in the media once or twice and they will probably never appear again. And I think that after this self-humiliation of these ludicrous feminist NGOs, they will be more careful next time before they try to dictate someone what he should think about the role of the gender in the society.

Saturday, May 12, 2007 ... Français/Deutsch/Español/Česky/Japanese/Related posts from blogosphere

LHC: girls from the CMS

Our previous videos from CERN kind of focused on the ATLAS experiment. Whoever has 10+7 minutes should see videos by the

CMS stands for Compact Muon Solenoid. If you see a muon, you know that someone more important has been around. You will have to watch to see more details. :-) You may also see how YB0, a 2000-ton main part of the CMS detector, was lowered (32 seconds). Another experiment is

The fourth major experiment, LHCb, only offers a slide show without a scientific content.

Sustainable development: U.N. edition

How does the ideal sustainable development look like according to the United Nations?

  • GDP growth: minus 4.7 percent (worst on the continent)
  • Inflation: 2200 percent (highest in the world)
  • Unemployment rate: 80 percent
  • food: accute shortage
  • hard currency: accute shortage
  • medicine: unavailable
Congratulations to Zimbabwe for its presidency of the U.N. Commission on Sustainable Development. It will allow them to spread their great results in the whole world. This country, previously known as the breadbasket of Africa and now led by an old anti-capitalist Gentleman of questionable intelligence, is a great symbol of the true nature of the international movement for sustainable development, environmentalism, and similar kinds of ideological waste.

Recall that the most recent catastrophe in the formerly thriving colony of Rhodesia started in 2000 when the leader of the country began to violently steal farms from white owners. The United Nations are currently led in such a way that this kind of criminal entities have the maximum power not only in their own countries but even at the international level. Under normal circumstances, a "leader" like Mugabe should be promptly removed by a more or less human intervention. But it's apparently not politically correct these days. Instead of saving the people of Zimbabwe from his disastrous policies, the United Nations act as a leverage to extend his influence abroad.

Richard Feynman: 46 videos (lectures)

The following

contain four 1979 lectures of Richard Feynman in New Zealand:

  1. Physics 1 chunk 1-10:
    Quantum electrodynamics
  2. Physics 2 chunk 1-12:
    Answers to Newton's queries about light
  3. Physics 3 chunk 1-12:
    Electrons and their interactions
  4. Physics 4 chunk 1-12:
    New queries about light
Each piece has about 8 minutes. These 6 hours of Feynman can also be seen in RealVideo.

Friday, May 11, 2007 ... Français/Deutsch/Español/Česky/Japanese/Related posts from blogosphere

Carbon cuts: first world vs third world

The previous posting was dedicated to the second world. Without a loss of generality, let us omit this world in the text below.

The Kyoto protocol was crazy but it was based on the idea that the burden must be born by the rich nations. This subtlety guaranteed that its megalomanic anti-civilization plans would never become true. It's not hard to see that carbon cuts made in your country are useless if the source of the carbon dioxide - an essential gas that has been called a "pollutant" by thousands of enemies of carbon all over the world - can simply move elsewhere. The policy that only the rich nations "pay" has been enough to reject the deal in the U.S. and other developed countries.

But the situation may be changing. As Václav Klaus explained in the last paragraph of his letter to the U.S. Congress, the environmental movement will try to extend its influence wherever it's allowed. We may already be seeing that it's happening.

Imagine for a little while that an increased level of CO2 is a bad thing. Who should bear the burden? Well, from a moral viewpoint, I find it obvious that the third world has the moral right to go through the same era of industrialization as the developed world did about 100 years ago. Who says anything else is a racist and bigot who wants to deny basic rights to others, rights that his nation has probably enjoyed, rights that are really paramount. You may sometimes notice that it is the very same 19th-century-style leftist people whose mouths are full of human rights and equality. But when it comes to the right to be as rich as others and to build factories and to move from one place to another, everything changes.

The right doesn't mean that the most polluting technologies from the past will be incorporated to the newest factories and gadgets. The engineers and managers in the third world are not completely silly and if there is a more efficient technology available, they will use it instead. However, they have the right to do the same things as we did in the past.

Nevertheless, the climate terrorism - as it was called in the leading Chinese daily - is becoming more ambitious every morning. These people literally want to control life and civilization - nothing less than the whole ciculation of carbon - in the whole world. And as you can read e.g. on Andrew Revkin's NYT blog, the third world starts to realize what the activists want to do to them. Revkin quotes Botswana's environment minister who explains that the West wants to use them as Guinea pigs. India still wants the West to pay. If we're lucky, the post-Kyoto (post-2012) talks may simply collapse.

Angela Merkel is from the old school and urges the rich nations to lead. However, she wants the poor countries to "decouple greenhouse gas emissions from the economic growth". This is like asking the Earth to stop orbitting the Sun. As a person with some science education, Merkel should know that her "decoupling" would violate very basic laws of physics.

Meanwhile, the global CO2 emissions of course continue to surge and they will do so or at least stay constant for decades unless a global military junta for carbon regulation, envisioned by Tim Flannery, will be established. ;-)

Also, Roger Pielke Sr argues that the IPCC's SPM doesn't accurately present the recent temperature trends: for example, there has been no statistically significant warming of the troposphere since 2002 and no statistically significant cooling of the stratosphere in the last ten years.

Spiegel explains that some warming would be very cool. They show pictures of girls and suggest that the climate in Germany could resemble Italy which surely sounds attractive. They also link to Hans von Storch's article that says that people must abandon fear of climate change.

The Movement for Extermination of Mankind, officially called the Optimum Population Trust, argues that having a large family is an eco-crime. According to OPT, a baby is equivalent to 620 round trip flights from London to New York as far as its "footprint" goes. That's how the MEM looks at a human being.

Via Benny Peiser.

North Korea celebrates its glorious leader

Click to get thirteen pictures by Mr Jan Zátorský from the MF DNES Czech daily. He has tried to find out whether the people really believe the communist orthodoxy or whether they just perfectly play it, driven by fear, but he has failed. It was impossible to find out anything. No foreigner can freely move in the country or ask questions to locals. Foreigners are not allowed to hold won, the local currency.

So what currency do you think is normally used by visitors and others in this country that looks just like the Stalinist states in the 1950s? It must be a sufficiently influential but sufficiently leftist currency. Yes, it's called the euro. ;-) The people in Pyongyang are grateful that they were allowed to live in that great city. Everyone looks serious and obedient. The pictures:

  1. Subway in Pyongyang: the deepest in the world
  2. Celebrations of the leader: a more impressive counterpart of Spartakiáda
  3. Crowd in the capital
  4. Visit of a Czech journalist
  5. Both leaders: the late father and son
  6. Streets of the capital
  7. Two women in the capital
  8. Agriculture
  9. The skyline of the capital
  10. Celebrations of the leader
  11. Celebrations: doves
  12. Celebrations: three-colored men
  13. Bikes on the street: cars are very rare

Half-empty avenues. Revolutionary slogans. 20-meter tall statue of Kim Ir-Sen with new flowers from excited worshippers. Billboard with a worker whose fist is directed against invisible enemies.

Thursday, May 10, 2007 ... Français/Deutsch/Español/Česky/Japanese/Related posts from blogosphere

Icon's story

When you go to bed at night and forget to shut down your computer, I think you ought to know what actually goes on. It's 2 AM and do you know where your icons are and what they are doing? Click on this site and you will see what happens when you leave the computer on during the night. Turn up sound and click here!

Some numerology

Imagine that you numerically calculate

  • exp(pi*sqrt(67)).
You get some large number. Remove the integer part of it. What's left? Let me tell you that it starts with a couple of digits "9". How many? Well, the answer turns out to be six. Pretty close to an integer.

You say. This had to be an accident. Let's try another example:
  • exp(pi*sqrt(163)).
Subtract the integer part. What would you expect? Well, the answer turns out to be
  • 0.99999999999925
starting with twelve digits 9. Those who thought that it was an accident in the first example have suffered a heart attack after this second, much more spectacular example, and died away. Surely, it can't be a coincidence. Only six characters are needed to define the number and it gives you twelve times 9. Indeed, it's not a coincidence. It's because if you substittute an appropriate argument to the j-function, you may derive that the number is close to an integer with some polynomial tricks.

Spinfoam & art

Disclaimer: The embedding into 3D space, the colors, and the classical evolution has nothing to do with loop quantum gravity and loop quantum gravity has nothing to do with quantum gravity. But it's pretty, isn't it? ;-)

Wednesday, May 09, 2007 ... Français/Deutsch/Español/Česky/Japanese/Related posts from blogosphere

National library: is it pretty?

It shouldn't be shocking that this proposed new building of the Czech National Library in Prague - to be located in Letná near the Prague Castle (click) - is controversial. Some people dislike it. For example, the Czech president has announced that he will prevent the birth of this octopus with his own body. Others have compared it to the statue of Stalin that used to stand on the same spot. :-)

Do you like it? Do you like the

other buildings of the Czech-born architect Jan Kaplický?

Tuesday, May 08, 2007 ... Français/Deutsch/Español/Česky/Japanese/Related posts from blogosphere

Tony Blair takes over France

Tony Blair has made a speech addressed to the French people. As far as I understand, he said that the recent riots show that they are not able to control themselves so he has been kind to help them as well as the new president, Nicolas Sarkozy, who is Blair's friend and who decided to have some vacation now.

Blair has generously declared himself to be the ruler of France. The new leader recalled some painful moments of the history such as the Hundred Years' War and emphasized that Britain can't afford to lose again.

He noticed that his leadership shouldn't lead to any problems because his French is better than French spoken by most of the French citizens before the Anschluss. ;-)

Monstrous supernova & Eta Carinae

Figure 1: Picture via FoxNews (click).

NASA's Chandra X-ray observatory and terrestrial telescopes have detected the king of all supernovae, SN2006gy with mass estimated to be 150 solar masses, in September 2006. It was 240 million l.y. away and the brightness of the star was like 10 galaxies. The whole show took 70 days. Supermassive stars emit gamma rays before they die.

Figure 2: Eta Carinae, the doomed star (click).

E11 and the mother of all supergravities

Peter West and Fabio Riccioni argue that the probes in lower-dimensional supergravities and/or the antisymmetric tensor fields - objects that are normally derived from supersymmetry - can also be equivalently derived from the more-than-hyperbolic E11 symmetry in 11 dimensions. They think that it means that all components of the complicated E11 representations have a physical meaning, and finally speculate about a possible link with the mysterious duality.

Monday, May 07, 2007 ... Français/Deutsch/Español/Česky/Japanese/Related posts from blogosphere

Monstrous symmetry of black holes: beauty and the beast

We have known about this cute IAS idea for several months but because Edward Witten has just given a talk about it whose content has leaked anyway, it has become public so let me say a few words about it.

Consider the monster group, the largest representative of the sporadic groups in the classification of simple finite groups. It has nearly 10^{54} elements. It's such a mind-boggling number, in fact, that most critics of physics lose their mind when they see such large numbers.

Please believe me for a while that mathematics continues to be consistent even if the numbers are large! ;-)

The irreducible representations of this finite group have been linked to the expansion of the modular j-function, a unique map from the SL(2,Z) fundamental domain to the complex plane (up to a conventional SL(2,C) transformation that you must choose correctly). In fact, the expansion of the j-function,

Sunday, May 06, 2007 ... Français/Deutsch/Español/Česky/Japanese/Related posts from blogosphere

Czechia vs Canada 3:4: enough

Ice-hockey world championship.

Czechia vs Canada. 1:0, 1:1, 2:1, 2:2, 3:2, 3:3, end. It turns out that this tie in the standard time was enough - despite the 3:4 loss afterwards - for the Czech team to continue. They won all matches in the basic group B but lost to Germany and Slovakia afterwards which is why a loss to Canada wasn't an option. ;-)

As expected, Americanada and Czechoslovakia go to the quarterfinals group from the group F to play against Russfinns and Swederland from the group E.

Sarkozy beats Royal

In 1789, Louis XVI, the French king, was removed. 218 years later, the Royal family had a chance to return to the Élysée Palace even though this socialist version of the Royal family was only relatively attractive visually, not politically. ;-)

However, it didn't happen and Nicolas Sarkozy has defeated Segolene Royal, approximately by 6 pct points in the polls that saw a huge 75 percent turnout. Segolene Royal has already called for riots to celebrate the victory of Sarkozy, a "dangerous choice."

Michael Mann vs Alexander Cockburn

Michael Mann didn't like Alexander Cockburn's essay in which Cockburn correctly compares carbon permits and indulgences - well, your humble correspondent might have been the first person who called the permits "indulgences". At least, it was an independent invention :-) because I had to find the word "indulgence" in a Czech-English dictionary. What is the real reason why Michael Mann considers Cockburn's text illogical? Well, here it is:

  • As if to drive the point home further, pundit Alexander Cockburn, known generally for his progressive views, has perplexingly disputed the existence of any link between CO2 emissions and rising CO2 concentrations...

Michael Mann tells us that it is completely unexpected from a progressive pundit to write something wrong about the global warming orthodoxy. It may be expected from conservative contrarians but if a progressive pundit writes something like that, that's a real sin! Well, such a comment reveals what are the primary ideas that drive Michael Mann's thinking and "science": it's pure politics. Everything else is adjusted to agree with his politics.

The infamous hockey stick graph, the only well-known result he has, is unfortunately another example.

Incidentally, global warming alarmism and leftism are correlated but they're not identical. I find it pretty reasonable if a progressive pundit is afraid of similar policies that existed under the Catholic Church - because progressive pundits are generally expected to dislike these religious policies, aren't they? There are many left-wing skeptics, for example Philip Stott. Many such people dislike the efforts to keep the third world poor. But good scientists must be able to separate science from politics.

In order to assure us that it wasn't just a typo, Mann makes this political analysis even more detailed. We learn that Cockburn is not allowed to write these things because they sound more skeptical even than the opinions of Patrick Michaels. Well, Patrick Michaels is probably considered to be the ultimate upper bound on the amount of skepticism that a human being can possibly have. ;-)

Well, I hope it is not a complete secret what I will tell you: I was sitting next to Patrick Michaels during a lunch in D.C. two months ago and he was the greenest person in the room. Even his shoes (combined with his suit) were green :-) and he has raised some arguably legitimate criticism of some of the scientific opinions about the climate held by the organizer of that lunch. ;-)

But let's get to the actual questions:

Cockburn claims that there is zero empirical evidence showing the CO2 impact on temperatures...

...and Mann doesn't like it, saying that even Patrick Michaels thinks that there is such a connection. But Patrick Michaels says something slightly different: he says that there is a convincing theory that shows that such an influence should exist. This influence is pretty close to the overall warming in the 20th century and the effect from every new CO2 molecule is smaller than the effect of the previous molecule which implies that even if the emissions of CO2 were accelerating, the temperature would only increase linearly or so.

Patrick Michaels, just like any sane person, realizes that CO2 is just one of many factors influencing the climate. In the Swindle documentary, it was him who explained that the people who think that CO2 drove most of the climate change in the 20th century haven't looked at the basic numbers.

I think that Cockburn is right when he says that there is no empirical observation that proves the relationship and the attribution. If such a paper existed, we would constantly hear its title - instead of vacuous and false comments about consensus. It would also mean that the value of the climate sensitivity would be known. It's not. How can we have empirical evidence for this effect if we don't know what its strength, after all feedbacks are included, is? It's like saying that we can observe a cat but we can't say whether it's bigger than an elephant or not.

Who has added CO2

Mann criticizes Cockburn for questioning whether the increase of CO2 is due to human activities. Well, I happen to think that if there were no industry but everything else were kept untouched, the CO2 increase wouldn't exist or it would be much smaller. But one can't say that the extra CO2 in the atmosphere is exactly the CO2 that was added by our civilization. There are many other sources of CO2 that are stronger, by orders of magnitude, than our production. But they're a part of the natural carbon cycle and this cycle would be close to equilibrium without our contributions.

But anyway, it's not correct to say that the extra CO2 "is" ours. You could equally well say that it came from some portion of dying vegetation.

Millions years ago, the concentrations could have been much higher. Note that the whole transportation produces less CO2 than farm animals, even today, and there could have been more animals around in the past. 450 million years ago the concentration of CO2 was probably around 3000 ppm, eight times higher than today - we can deduce it from the small number of stomata on the fossils of leaves.

Water vapor

The concentration of water vapor in the atmosphere is changing quickly and it arguably approaches some equilibrium value dictated by other quantities but it is a very rough approximation to say that water vapor is "a feedback not a forcing". In the real world, there is no strict separation to feedbacks and forcings. Every effect is influenced by others and it also affects others.

Water vapor in the atmosphere has a huge impact. Water is the #1 greenhouse gas and, more importantly, it is the material that creates clouds. Incidentally, in April, NASA has published a new finding that there exist "semi-clouds" (my term), a huge "twilight zone" (GRL) around clouds that covers about 60% of the sunny skies. In the existing climate models, these 60% of the sunny skies were described uniformly. The NASA finding makes it pretty clear that the existing climate models don't describe 60% of the clear skies quite adequately.

At any rate, the dynamics of water vapor is influenced by many quantities and water vapor also has a huge impact on many other things, and if you neglect one of the two groups of influences in this sentence, you are bound to end up with misleading results.

CO2 is a product, not a cause

Michael Mann also mentions the "tiny" problem that the Vostok ice core data show that the primary detectable influence was the influence of temperature on the concentration of many gases - CO2, CH4, and others. The 800-year lag is one of many ways to show the anti-Gore direction of the causal relationship. Everyone who still fails to understand that the ice core data don't contain any empirical evidence for the greenhouse effect reveals his or her inadequate thinking skills.

We have discussed this issue in detail, including some analysis of the hypothesis of a strong amplification of the initial temperature variations. Such an amplification is not only invisible in the data but it is very unlikely to be significant because it it were larger than the influence of temperature on the concentrations during the 800 years where a change of the trend could be seen, the climate would be a positive-feedback system that would have already exponentially grown out of the control in the past. The data make it much more likely that there are many negative, self-regulating feedbacks in the system.

In fact, I am sure that even most of the part of the public that has been exposed to arguments about this question from both sides has understood that the ice core data don't provide Al Gore with the argument he needed.

CNN viewers invited to make a Google search

Michael Mann also mentions that the viewers of Glenn Beck's special were encouraged to make a single, most important Google search. They were told to find about the

You can replace by com: I am just afraid that Google penalizes such links to their search queries and a smaller version of Google could be better.

Mann thanks CNN because the first hit is their blog. Well, my mouse can be defunct but when I click at his link (search for "Google that" at RealClimate.ORG), the first link shown on my screen is The Reference Frame. ;-) The pages of course depend on the details of the query but you can check that The Reference Frame is ahead of them in most similar queries you can write down, e.g. for the following queries:

  • inconvenient truth ice core graph (#1)
  • carbon dioxide correlation temperature (#1)
  • al gore ice core correlation (#1)
  • 800-year-lag (#1)
  • ice core cause effect (#1)
  • ice core co2 follows temperature (#1)
  • warming or co2 first (#1)
  • ice co2 concentration graphs (#1)
  • or even: al gore's comments about global warming

and many others. Mann's statement that RealClimate.ORG is the #1 in "that" query is just another example of his manifestly biased treatment of any data and his cherry-picking.

Entertaining update: When Michael Mann noticed that the Google hit #1 was The Reference Frame, he changed the search query from carbon dioxide to carbon monoxide. According to "experts" at RealClimate.ORG, the global warming was caused by CO not CO2. ;-) The readers probably didn't like CO much so they returned "carbon dioxide lags temperature ice core" without quotes and The Reference Frame returned to #1. Later, Michael Mann finally figured out the easy solution: "co2 lags temperature" without quotes gives them #1. However, when you replace "co2" by "carbon dioxide" or add "ice core" or virtually any other relevant words, The Reference Frame returns to the top. ;-)

Nature's new blog

Finally, Mann has to mention a new climate change blog of Nature. I guess that this entry drives him up the wall much more intensely than Alexander Cockburn and Glenn Beck because one of the first postings on that blog is about the decay of his "hockey stick". But he can't quite say it openly because that would damage the illusion of consensus - so he just says that "first reviews [of the new Nature blog] are decidedly mixed."

It can't be too easy for a person like Mann to be entangled into an ever more complex web of untrue assertions.

And that's the memo.

Other popular climate change articles on The Reference Frame

Saturday, May 05, 2007 ... Français/Deutsch/Español/Česky/Japanese/Related posts from blogosphere

La Griffe du Lion: Why most serial killers are white men

The brilliant La Griffe du Lion has another quantitative analysis answering

If I understand well, it boils down to their higher variance again...

The decay of the hockey stick: who did it

Hans von Storch, a former chief of the German Donald Duck Society, is a pleasant person to communicate with and he has done important things in the climate science. But his and Eduardo Zorita's text in

is simply a misleading presentation of the history of science. They explain that the methodology behind the hockey stick graph by Mann, Bradley, and Hughes - MBH98 and MBH99 - has been shown to be flawed - something that everyone except for Alexander Ač, Whole Life Times, and Michael Mann now knows to be the case.
AA and MM have different reasons, however. AA believes it because he is a naive Czechoslovak countryside green idealist. MM and Whole Life Times believe it because of a clash of interests.
They describe some details of the history - including the report of the National Academy of Sciences - but don't mention Ross McKitrick and Steve McIntyre (M&M) or the Wegman report that confirmed the work of M&M.

The picture above is wrong.

What used to be the main evidence of an exceptional character of the 20th century climate and consequently the strongest evidence for man-made global warming (especially in the third IPCC report in 2001) has been transformed into a bombshell, a climate scandal of the decade and a climatological counterpart of cold fusion based on flawed statistics. Nevertheless, Michael Mann - the supreme cold fusion guy - still has the stomach to spread his confusion and propaganda at a bizarre ideological blog called "RealClimate.ORG."

I happened to follow the fate of this particular paper and papers that were trying to reproduce it and validate it at least since 2004 which is why I know that M&M were by far the most important technical critics of the hockey stick papers. They studied the methodology in detail and localized its main problems in Energy & Environment 2003. Building on their detailed and constantly increasing understanding of the subject, especially in Steve's case ;-), they wrote an even more clear paper refuting the hockey stick graph in Geophysical Research Letters 2005 when they finally showed that the hockey stick shape is put into the algorithm itself.

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Solving the planar limit of N=4 gauge theory: press releases

Since the visionary discoveries of 't Hooft in the 1970s, it's been known that gauge theories with a large number of colors should simplify and lead to a new kind of classical limit. Whenever the number of some objects is large, physics should simplify. Statistical physics simplifies into thermodynamics if you deal with many atoms. If you investigate theories with many colors, you should expect a simplification, too.

Indeed, shortly after the relevance of QCD for strong interactions was appreciated, 't Hooft has figured out that the most important Feynman diagrams start to look like a discretization of a two-dimensional surface - something we would call the worldsheet these days - that describes a history of propagating one-dimensional loops of energy, strings. ;-)

Gerard 't Hooft found out that whenever the number of colors is large, the Feynman diagrams can be split into groups according to the topology of the corresponding worldsheet that they discretize. The simplest topology, namely the "planar" topology, dominates while the more complicated topologies with "handles" are suppressed by powers of 1/N^2. The strict large-N limit is equivalent to strictly continuous worldsheets replacing Feynman diagrams.

PA: coldest April in 32 years

Pennsylvania and probably many other places on the Eastern Coast has seen the coldest April in 32 years and something like the 13th coldest April on record.

Canada has recorded the third coldest April since 1970 while Iowa and Ohio have witnessed the coolest April in ten years.

A proper ski season is getting started in Switzerland. ;-)

RSS AMSU have released their April data, too. Since the beginning of the year, the global temperature dropped three times more (0.21 Celsius) than the decrease that is expected to be caused by the Kyoto-like policies in the next 50 years (0.07 Celsius).

If you use the global warming believers' prices of temperature increments, nature has given us a gift of roughly 20 trillion dollars during the last three months - about $3,000 per person including Ethiopian newborns. Thanks, Mother Nature.

Meanwhile, because I use very different prices, I am happy that the temperatures in New England are now finally about 10 Celsius degrees higher than a few weeks ago. ;-)

Honda global warming amendment adopted

The IPCC, working group III (mitigation), has just released its summary for policymakers with crazy statements such as that the reduction of CO2 below the present levels will be cheap, and all this nonsense.

The whole original Kyoto plans were calculated to reduce the temperature by 0.07 Celsius degrees by 2050 while the production of CO2 is growing almost uniformly everywhere in the world - despite the current hysteria - and these people want to say that their megalomanic Lenin-Stalin-like five-year and eight-year and thirty-year plans won't cost much.

See, I have given these particular not-quite-sensible people enough space already so let me keep it short. The only arguably positive random by-product of this madness is that the IPCC has recommended a modern nuclear reactor for every Greenpeace office in the world.

Mike Honda: an indoctrination amendment

This news is much less publicized but maybe even scarier. On Wednesday night, the U.S. lawmakers discussed an amendment to their bill about NSF - the final bill passed 399:17. The amendment written by Rep. Mike Honda (CA) asks NSF to fund special activities meant to introctrinate K-12 students with ideology about the man-made global warming. Honda even explains that "people normally can live without any understanding of science but AGW is an exception."

Wow. Your humble correspondent thinks just the opposite. Basics of serious, solid, and well-established science and methods that the students can actively and independently use in the future should be taught at these schools instead of ad hoc pre-boiled myths and shaky, ideologically polluted pseudoscientific results promoted by the morally and professionally lousiest segment of the contemporary scientific community. For example, if the education didn't fail so miserably a few decades ago, at least somewhat educated and critically thinking people could be members of the U.S. House instead of people such as Mike Honda today.

The despicable amendment passed 252:165 and attempts to guarantee that the education would be scientifically balanced have failed. Well, reasonable children will have to try to defend their intellectual integrity against some of the teachers with additional rubber bullets in the class. I wish the teachers who join this politically-driven brainwashing campaign an extremely hard time in the class.

Via David Legates and Willie Soon.

Figure 1: This particular Mr Honda of course has nothing to do with the famous motorbike brand. To damage the good name of the brand even more, he drives Toyota Prius. ;-) For visual reasons, I chose to add a picture of a real Honda instead of the ludicrous parody of Honda from California.