From the Sublime to the Ridiculous

By cjohnson | November 9, 2005 1:12 am

Unfortunately, it is not all good news to report on the standard of recent presentations in the region concerning what is going on in physics research. Consider the following sentence:

I will Kill Karl.

Now you might imagine that this would be very damning evidence that the person who said it had done something terrible to Karl if poor Karl was discovered the next morning in circumstances indicative of foul play….if it could be proved that it was what was actually said.

In fact, here is the whole sentence:

I will compute all of the Killing vectors associated to this solution, which was discovered by Karl Schwarzschild.

I just pulled the bits that I wanted out of the full sentence to make the shorter one. Ok, this might be a bit of an artificial example, but it precisely illustrates what took place at the end of last week’s Categorically Not! gathering. It also characterizes other presentations that I’ve seen in several places recently in the media, but it fills me with dismay when it is done by scientists who should know better. It leaves me speechless when it is done by scientists who should know better and in addition have spoken out about wanting better representation of science in the media.

Let me backtrack.

krauss at categorically not!Lawrence Krauss came to Categorically Not! at K.C. Cole’s invitation to take part in the presentation of material under the theme “Exploring Space”. We again had a full house at the Santa Monica Art Studios, and we’d already seen two great presentations from a dancer and a geographer on the theme. (See here.) Then came the physicist, Krauss, to talk about aspects of what the physicists’ take was on this. Everybody was looking forward to this, and so was I. I have to report that this was one of the most dishonest and manipulative presentations I’ve ever seen about aspects of fundamental physics. My basic read on this was that Krauss was more interested in selling books than he was in presenting a scientific debate honestly. He’s cleverly realized that the media, and the book-buying public, are attracted to a controversy -real or imagined- over a nuanced debate. So even though he had prepared a number of slides which were geared at doing what he agreed to do in the invitation – talk about several ideas in physics about space – he decided at some point to just throw all sorts of random things out to the audience -completely and knowingly out of context- in order to construct a convenient caricature of the program of research in string theory to serve his own agenda. Further, rather than give a coherent picture of any point he was trying to make, or attempt to explain any statement, no matter how distorted, he just kept saying “this is all discussed in my book”. Repeatedly.

I know this might seem like a disgruntled string theorist’s view of things, but I assure you that it is not. As you may know from reading my posts and comments in discussions on this blog (see e.g. here, and here, and in comments), I welcome and encorage honest and informed debate about the program of research in string theory and related topics. I’ve welcomed well-known nay-sayers to come and have their say on this blog. This is because the debate is important. We do not know if string theory is correct. More research is needed. Discussion is healthy and important, etc. Ultimately, confrontation of these ideas with real experimental results is needed. (We’ve discussed this a lot here before.) But what I do not like to see is outright deliberate distortion of what the research is about in order to sell books, or serve any other agenda. And as I’ve said it is especially disturbing when it is done by a practicing scientist who actually knows that he is misrepresenting things.

This is not debate, but manipulation and dishonest showmanship.

Let me give you an example or two.

(1) He started out right after being introduced by saying that he’s just flown over from the East coast where he was explaining to an audience why String Theory was the same as Intelligent Design. I smiled, thinking that he would then unpack this interesting and provocative statement, and try to explain what he meant by this by building up a little about the program of research and the difficulties and challenges it faces. I settled back in my seat for treat, to see how he frames the discussion. It never came. He never said anything more about that. Just left it hanging, deliberately planting a misleading impression into the minds of his audience, who came to learn what is going on in science. This is irresponsible. Especially in these times when reason itself seems to be under attack at all levels. (Pointing to his reportedly (e.g. here and here) balanced writing on the subject misses the point. If you say something like that to your audience, who came to learn something from you, you’d jolly well better clear it up.)

(2) After spending a bit of time talking about Electromagnetism, Special Relativity, and notions of space and time in those subjects -he did a good job and he had slides for that- he then talked about the Kaluza-Klein idea (where certain phenomena such as various forces and particles have a higher dimensional origin). He did a good job of developing the elegance of the idea showing how it fit into what he said before. Then he just says “pity the idea is wrong”. No discussion of why (rightly or wrongly) he thinks it is wrong. No mention of the fact that this is a scenario which is a large part of ongoing programs of research today, and that it can be -in a very definite sense- confronted with new experiments in the near future. This is a missed opportunity to tell the audience honestly what people are up to in current research, and I was puzzled by why he slammed the door shut there, which seemed a bit hasty. Of course, I realized why (he wanted to firmly undermine any approach to extra dimensions), a little later:

(3) At one point, he starts talking at random about infinity. He talks about Hilbert’s hotel. It has an infinite number of rooms which are full, but you can fit an extra guest in by an apparent mathematical slight of hand. This is what mathematicians do, he says. Titters from the audience. Then he shows that you can fit an infinite number of extra guests in by tweaking the trick a bit. Those cheating mathematicians. More titters. Then he says that this is what string theorists do, he claims. What!? He “illustrates” this by talking about how mathematicians can sum all the integers from 1 to infinity and get the result -1/12. This is what string theorists use to justify “inventing” all sorts of extra dimensions, he claims. “Infinities are bad” he says, and the string theorists use sneaky mathematical tricks to justify their crazy extra dimensions, etc. No time to explain, he says, read about it in the book.

Now we can argue about whether what he says is true or not, but this is not the point, because of what he says next. He explained that string theorists were doing this in the 60s and 70s to try to explain the strong nuclear interactions and then he puts up a slide which says “then physics intervenes”. And guess what’s on the slide? His “good friends” (he says) Gross, Wilczek and Politzer, (last year’s Nobel Prize winners) and the theory of Quantum Chromodynamics (QCD).

You might see nothing wrong with that. After all it is true that string theory’s origins were in the context of the 60s puzzles about the strong nuclear force, and it is true that QCD came along as the correct model. But what he neglects to tell the audience is that the same “sneaky” mathematical tricks that he pulls out of context to cariacature research in string theory as crude and a suspicious enterprise are crucial to QCD, the physics that he chooses to paint as the saviour of all reason.

My point -if it needs to be restated- is that he is doing exactly what I did with those two sentences at the beginning of this post. He just chose to pull out what he wanted from the actual program of research into string theory in order to construct a deliberately distorted picture. This allows him to appear controversial, paint himself as the wise outsider (which the press and public love) and therefore sell more copies of his new book. (He chose to do this rather than actually talk about what he agreed to, which is also rather poor behaviour, in my opnion). This is all very sad, because he knows that quantum field theories such as QCD use computational methods that require a careful handling of apparently infinite quantities. There is no controversy there. It’s old news that only non-practicing physicists trot out. Anyone who is properly taught about modern quantum field theory knows that this has nothing to do with the physics at all. It is simply a property of the computational technique which is well understood and well under control. To imply that it is a “dirty trick” when you know that the whole issue is a red herring is not a good way of presenting a debate about the current research. It is just sensationalizing to an untrained audience to sell books. We as scientists get upset when the press misrepresents what we are doing – sensationalizing to sell newspapers. We scientists should therefore not manipulate the public in the same way to sell books. (I have not read the book….it may well be good, I don’t know…that is not my point).

This cynical practice could come back to bite all scientific research programs, not just today’s whipping-boy, String Theory. It is a stupid and dangerous game to play.

Another reason why I was shocked by the whole thing (to the point that I just said absolutely nothing): Afterwards, he came up to me and gave me a conspiratorial smile and said privately (almost with a conspiratorial wink) “sorry, I guess I was a little hard on string theory there, wasn’t I?”. I think he actually thought that I was part of the manipulative game he was playing on the audience.

Journalists, Writers, Editors: Please do not buy into this new low point of debating technique. Challenge yourself and your colleagues to try to be honest in their presentation of what the other side is doing. Even if you don’t agree with what someone is doing, don’t just make up random stuff. It is not right.

Lawrence Krauss, I hope that was just an off-day, and that the sort of presentation I saw was not what you’re doing everywhere on your book tour. If so, Shame On You.

-cvj

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Science, Science and the Media
  • Moshe

    Oh boy, just as I thought I was being harsh this morning towards Krauss: maybe there is some more nuanced version of his “criticism” I am not aware of, maybe there is some text where he explain himself in detail rather than just give one liners from the great oracle…

    So, as I emphasized this morning, criticism from smart outsiders who care enough to give their opinion is actually an extremely useful thing to have. For example, ‘tHooft has reservations about the fact that string theory is an S-matrix theory, only asymptotic observables seem to make sense. This obscures locality and therefore one of the questions he is interested in, the description of an observer infalling into a black hole. His version of holography is actually subtly different from the one practiced by us, and it employs for example current algebra on the horizon etc. etc.

    The point in this example and others is that this is all a bundle of intuition, tradition and knowledge I am not likely to get from people who share my sub-culture. This is however very different from what I read in the NY times today and what you describe in the post.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/clifford/ Clifford

    Thanks Moshe. You know what? I was so angry and upset by the whole dishonesty of the thing, it has taken me almost ten days to cool down enough to write something that is -believe it or not- hugely more calm than I would have written then.

    -cvj

  • Moshe

    I thought the tone was reasonable, and in any event one can be apologetic about the tone only so much, at some stage the substance matters more.

  • http://physics.usc.edu/catnot K.C. Cole

    Hi Clifford,

    I suppose this is as good an occasion as any to post a general worry I’ve had recently about a curious perception of theoretical physics that seems to be gaining popularity. It’s true, I’m prejudiced. I like theory. I was even been told by a chemist friend that I’ve been brainwashed by theoretical physicists. This isn’t true. I was brainwashed by an experimentalist.

    My worry is this: It’s always been my understanding that theorists “see” with mathematics in the somewhat the same way as astronomers “see” with telescopes. The view is often blurry–but very real objects and phenomena are discovered in this way (anti-matter, black holes–even planets!) Sometimes one has to wait quite a long time for the fog to clear. Sometimes the “object” turns out to be an illusion. But often not. And even so, discovering things through mathematics is not the same as making up stories out of thin air.

    Yet increasingly I see the truths contained in mathematics dismissed as “pure fiction” or even “magic” (here I quote from a recent op ed piece by Margaret Wertheim in the LA Times.) John Horgan wrote a similar essay in the New York Times a year or so ago. (Actually, he wrote a whole book about it.)

    I think I worry less when physicists such as Lawrence do this, because I know his colleagues will jump all over him. Physics is like this. That’s what makes it strong.

    But it’s an attitude I see increasingly among the science press–which worries me greatly. I think theorists (and science writers) need to spend more time explaining why there’s a difference between “believing” in string theory and “believing” in fairies–or intelligent design, for that matter.

    Perhaps we should focus a Categorically Not! evening on this very subject.

    K.C.

  • http://golem.ph.utexas.edu/~distler/blog/ Jacques Distler

    Having neither read the book nor seen the dog ‘n pony show, I was puzzled by the enthusiastic reception they’ve received in some quarters. Thanks for your account of what he’s been up to.

    I’ve long held Larry in very high esteem, so it is doubly disheartening for me to read that he is behaving in this fashion. Sad, indeed.

  • http://www.pyracantha.com Pyracantha

    I can be quiet about religion no longer…

    Having read many of the recent posts here about “intelligent design” and many statements denigrating all religion, I will say this. Now you know what it is like to have your own work and thoughtful beliefs mis-represented, excerpted in order to twist their meaning, and manipulated for someone else’s gain.

    There are many religious people who are NOT fundamentalists. They don’t believe in “intelligent design” or “creationism” or that the Bible or any other ancient religious text has anything to say about science. They don’t want to do violence or impose their beliefs on anyone. They realize that the scope of religion and the scope of science are different.

    Religion and its theology and stories are not, to these thoughtful seekers, absolute truths. It is also not a form of pseudo-science. Religion, in this view can be compared not to science, but to art. It is about the mystery of creativity, not some archaic attempt to explain the universe.

    Krauss, and others like him, are brilliant men. But when it comes to polemics, whether against string theory or religion, they take the easy way out and pick the things which look the most absurd when taken out of context. Sure, string theory looks weird to us non-stringers. And putting down religious fundamentalism, literal Bible-believers, and “creationists” is an easy job. It’s like shooting fish in a barrel.

    As an artist who struggles to learn physics, I’ll leave the physicists with this question: you can live perfectly well without religion, but could you live without music? or art?

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/clifford/ Clifford

    Pyracantha:- Thanks for saying that. I actually have some sympathy with what you say about all religious people being lumped into the same category. I have said the same thing on this blog before.

    Cheers,

    -cvj

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/clifford/ Clifford

    Jacques: – I’m really hoping that he was having and off-day and does not do this sort of thing in all his appearances. I fear that I am wrong though….. It is indeed very sad if so.

    -cvj

  • Scott

    Speaking of Scientists misrepresenting what is going on Lubos Motl has an interesting analogy about string theory and evolution, and I was wondering why you hadn’t chimed in to inform him that “We do not know if string theory is correct”

    Also did you didn’t explain your objections to him after his conspiratorial wink?

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/mark/ Mark

    I wasn’t at the talk and have no reason to doubt Clifford’s account of it. I haven’t heard Lawrence give any talks on the topic of his most recent book and so can’t say whether they are all like this either.

    However, I have seen him give many such talks about science and about science vs. nonsense, and he’s typically done an excellent job of those. The current topic aside, these talks, and his books, have made him one of our most effective and valuable popularizers of science over the last decade. I say this not as a comment on Clifford’s post, but merely to provide some balance and history for any readers who might be unfamiliar with his work in these areas.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/sean/ Sean

    Let me agree with both Mark and (without having seen the talk, but knowing a little about the book) Clifford. Lawrence is a great expositor and a smart guy, and his work fighting against superstition and pseudoscience has been immensely valuable. But his attacks on string theory and extra dimensions seem to be pretty unfair.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/mark/ Mark

    Hi Pyracantha. I think most scientists do not want to spend their time putting down people with crazy ideas. If we did, we’d be visiting deeply disturbed psychiatric patients in our spare time and haranguing them.

    I am an atheist, and find all religion to be plain silly. If it comes up, I’ll say this. However, I don’t spend my time going around to churches and my religious friends’ houses and laying into people about their beliefs. This is because, for the most part, their personal beliefs don’t intrude on my life. (Incidentally, I don’t agree that religion is like art, unless as studied from the outside – it means something to be a “believer”.)

    The reason we’re taking time to attack “religious fundamentalism, literal Bible-believers, and creationists” is because they are mounting a frenzied attack on science and reason in this country – pushing their brand of craziness into our education system and our public policy. Fighting back is not proving to be “an easy job” or “like shooting fish in a barrel”. We’re fighting them school district by school district and our elected representatives continue to say things that support their crazy ideas. It is a very difficult situation.

  • http://arunsmusings.blogspot.com Arun

    Perhaps you could invite Krauss here to explain himself.

    Thanks for alerting us to what is going on.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/mark/ Mark

    We would want to avoid using the phrase “to explain yourself”. :)

  • http://motls.blogspot.com/ LuboÅ¡ Motl

    Dear Clifford,

    as you know, I know where you’re coming from. And you don’t deserve to be sad about it in any normal way.

    First of all, you should not worry about the book. It is a weak book, and despite Krauss’ advertisement in the New York Times yesterday, its rank at amazon.com is #1359 right now. (Compare e.g. with the Warped Passages that got to #20, or The Elegant Universe or The Fabric of the Cosmos that was #1 or #2, as far as I know.)

    Most science fans simply recognize that they won’t learn new science that makes sense from the book – and the number of people who have certain hysterical anti-modern-science feelings is too small to create a bestseller.

    Second, I am surprised what kind of insights this colleague of ours is able to humiliate. Someone may think that string theory won’t lead anywhere – we’re used to it. But he disagrees with the Hilbert’s hotel theorem? That’s amazing. This is nothing less than a theorem, and the existence of the raising operator of a harmonic oscillator is an example that the theorem is relevant for physics, too.

    Yesterday I was teaching the elementary quantization of the EM field and the Casimir energy. Of course that all students find it funny when you justify that the sum of integers is -1/12. (Incidentally, I realized after the class that the 3D energy is probably proportional to zeta(-3) not zeta(-1), and the heuristic calculation for 4D was a bit of a trick.) But many of them will understand the “non-provocative” calculation, and later they will also get the point “why the hell they say that the sum is morally -1/12″.

    Krauss’ exercise of demagogy with Gross et al. is funny especially given the fact that Gross is not only a very famous string theorist but also one of the most intense “believers”. Krauss’ audience won’t learn unless they already know it, it seems.

    Finally, I hope that Krauss won’t succeed in killing Karl Rove. ;-)

    Best
    Lubos

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/clifford/ Clifford

    Lubos – Several excellent points. Thanks. I’m not so sure that these things have little effect on the public, though.

    Arun – As Mark said, Krauss does not have to explain himself. I am not the police. Also, I’m pretty sure that if he wanted to comment, he could, since I’m bet a lot that he’ll read this.

    Cheers,

    -cvj

  • http://eskesthai.blogspot.com/2005/09/cft-and-tomato-soup-can.html Plato

    Your right Clifford, it does have a effect.

    I’ve watched the debates between different positions for and against string theory, and if one didn’t think this could effect people, you would be very wrong.

    I think the same responsibility that is asked of anyone to explain themself clearly, as to the reasons why such and such is not true? A model, that has gone the way of worn out theory, then these reasons given by good scientists, should be as distinctly clear as you would want others to explain themselves, right?

    I want to know why extra dimensions is not palatable. Having a bulk perspective, makes sense to me as a extension of GR.

    Leading by example, by the restraint of tone was very thought provoking and this made me think of Fyodor’s response as well.

  • Nick Warner

    Unfortunately, I suspect that Lawrence Krauss was not having an “off day.” I have just re-read his piece (“Science and Religion Share Fascination in Things Unseen”) in the NY Times (November 8th). Again he raises a provocative pairing and it would be a huge public service if this pairing were unpacked carefully, particularly if proper respect is accorded to both religion and science. He starts moderately well by recycling well-worn issues about seeing electrons and the expansion of the universe but then he comes to the crucial question: what are the common qualities of religion and string theory and what are the essential differences? He spends much time highlighting some of the remarkable and wild concepts that come out of string theory, and in so doing he says that string theory is “empirically impotent” …. . He has not merely put string theory and religion together but has trivialized both by focussing on the sensational and reducing it to the level of burning bushes and representational magic.

    Krauss’s article finally does come to one of the things distinguishes science and religion: Experimental refutation. This is a certainly a cornerstone of science, but there are quite a number of other things that distinguish science and religion. Krauss chooses to ignore these difference, thereby implicitly lumping string theory and religion into the one category. He then goes on to raise two other very interesting issues:
    a) A possible genetic pre-disposition for religion.
    b) The role of aesthetic judgement in science.
    Again these are topics worthy of extensive public discussion but Krauss merely uses them for misdirection. He has made an intellectually dishonest argument about string theory and needs to move the reader along so that the reader will miss the gaping holes in his discussion. He therefore pulls out other beautiful gems of ideas and waves them around in an attempt to distract us from the real substance of the issue.

    When I first did some consulting for television I was told that the average viewer has a tolerance of a bit less than 20 seconds to watching the same sequence before they flip the channel. (This time period has dropped even lower over the years.) Thus a science program on PBS has to cope with this terrible constraint. One would hope that a newspaper or book could assume a longer attention span, but I suspect that Lawrence Krauss is deliberately targeting a mass audience and rather than trying to elevate the debate he has gone to the lowest common denominator. Krauss’ superficial treatment of is not just bad for string theory, it does a disservice to religious faith. In this I very much sympathize with Pyracantha. String theory and religion do have some common goals, but the techniques, ideas and the entire underlying culture are very, very different. Krauss is undoubtedly a very good scientist but he has damaged and trivialized what might have been a deep and useful discussion and he has squandered at least two opportunities to raise the level of public debate.

  • http://iso42.blogspot.com Wolfgang

    Clifford,

    who is Lawrence Krauss and why is his opinion important ?
    Is he the one with the book about “Star Treck” ?
    I am not aware of any other important contribution to physics or science but probably I am just ignorant.

  • http://motls.blogspot.com/ LuboÅ¡ Motl

    Dear Clifford,

    thanks for your reply. Of course that these things have some effect on the public – and not only the part of the public that has seen no math after the high school but unfortunately also professors of maths and physics – as I am being assured several times a week.

    It’s just pretty difficult for most of us to find a working justification of all the “big insights” in science. This is also true about the origin of species. I no longer think that the creationist believers are “exceptionally” ignorant – e.g. compared to the people who don’t care and who find it convenient to repeat what they heard at school.

    Imagine that you remove all the – often politicized – influence of the evolution camp opposing creation from your life; you remove some insights about the age of the Universe and other things you know; and you try to find the answers yourself by looking at the animals etc. Is it so unlikely that you will decide that all the fancy things had to be created by someone, especially if it is consistent with your daily masses in the church?

    It requires intense and deep thinking about the Universe’s working to achieve the evolutionary conclusion.

    Similar things at a higher level work for high energy physics. If someone has not learned how loop calculations should be done, what the divergences mean or not, whether it is easy or hard to fix each of them etc. – then it is unsurprising that the person finds most of the research beyond QFT (and maybe even QFT itself) to be another fairy-tale and is ready to accept distorted lectures like this one simply because they confirm a pre-determined equilibrium of the person’s opinion. Of course that all these people know less than you do. But people should not be universally string theorists, should they?

    There are people who watch these debates, and although they have the capacity to understand some basic things at the technical level, they just don’t want to. Some of these people are permanently decided to be permanently undecided. :-) I know that there are potentially smart people who will always think that Peter Woit is plausibly the genius who knows the way to truth better than all of us. ;-)

    It is very likely that abstract science will have a very hard time in the future era in which its enemies have very powerful weapons with which they can not only paint themselves as wise outsiders who may be smarter than the experts, but also make the life of the experts difficult.

    I don’t know a cure either. All standard procedures that could fix such things probably exist. For example, I believe that the New York Times article was intensely softened compared to Krauss’ plans and the lecture you describe was more distorted than the article – and probably also more than his book. (But I find it clear that all his spoken lectures are almost identical to one you have heard.) Also, it is obvious that if some leaders of the field are heard more often to address the questions opened by the critics, it also helps to keep the interested public informed.

    Let me assure you that I think that the science journalists in the New York Times in particular are very reasonable people who can get pretty deeply not only to sociology of our field but maybe even its science. I mean Overbye and others who were there like James Glanz etc. As long as these people remain on top of the things, I am not too afraid of a massive anti-scientific revolution.

    And of course, the more fascinating results we have, the better we will feel, and the weaker those who are systematically negative about anything will be. Good luck not only to you. ;-)

    All the best
    Lubos

  • Moshe

    Mark, Of course Krauss is an effective and influential popularizer, and enjoys great exposure, that’s why irresponsible attacks like those described in the post are execpted to greatly influence the public view of science (yes, not just string theory). For the life of me, I cannot see why would anyone want to comapre, in the current political climate, ID with any recognized branch of science that is practiced in all the top institutions, whether you like that branch or not. This is unlikely to be helpful in the fight against ID.

  • http://nigelcook0.tripod.com/ Nigel Cook

    Dear Clifford,

    Thanks for your post. At first I thought it was just an ignorant attack on Dr Lawrence Krauss by a superstringer who can’t see why string theory is not yet even a science.

    But then I saw the joke. It is very public-spirited of you to help make such a laughing stock of yourself and your fellow superstringers. Your post is a piece of dry humor, and instead of being a crazy Krauss-hater, like the crackpot Einstein-haters, it is a light hearted post.

    Very good! You nearly caught me out this time…

    Best wishes,
    Nigel

  • http://www.math.coumbia.edu/~woit/blog Peter Woit

    What I find disgraceful here is not Lawrence Krauss’s behavior, but that of string theorists who are personally attacking his career (“who is Lawrence Krauss and why is his opinion important?”), his motives (“sensationalizing to an untrained audience to sell books”), his character (“dishonest and manipulative”), his professional competence (implying he understands nothing about regularization and renormalization), and absurdly characterizing him as a “science-hater” who claims that “modern science is ridiculous and equivalent to the theory of Intelligent Design.”

    Get a grip folks, you’re completely out-of-line here. Krauss is a very competent, well-trained and respected physicist, and his views that you’re upset about are held by a sizable fraction if not the majority of your physics department colleagues. For many years the coverage of string theory in the popular press and in popular books about science has been heavily dominated by extremely uncritical expositions of string theory, M-theory, extra dimensions, etc. I’ve never seen any of you breathe a public word of condemnation about any of the excesses that have gone on in this direction, so you really have no business expressing huge amounts of outrage at whatever excessive criticism of string theory you feel Krauss is promoting.

    Here’s some advice for responsible string theorists that you’re not going to like, but which you should seriously consider:

    1. Start confronting the crazies in your own midst, they’re destroying your field. When Lubos Motl goes on extensively in this forum about how string theory is as solidly verified science as evolutionary theory, and no string theorist writes in to challenge him, you leave the impression that string theorists on the whole think this way. When he hysterically denounces anyone who criticizes string theory with loony personal attacks, and again, no string theorist calls him on this, the impression is left that all string theorists are as fanatical and out of it as him. I can’t tell you how many people have told me that reading what Lubos has to say has convinced them that there’s something seriously wrong with string theory and the way it is pursued. Next month Susskind’s book will come out, and if you think Krauss’s book threatens to damage the perception of what is going on in theoretical physics, you haven’t seen anything yet. Susskind has even helpfully put “Intelligent Design” in his title.

    2. Before vigorously attacking Krauss, make an effort to understand what he is actually saying. Buy his book, it’s relatively cheap, available at every Barnes and Noble, short, well-written, and contains a lot interesting material about history and the cultural context of physics that you probably don’t know. If you want to criticize his views of string theory, it’s unfair to do so on the basis of a Times essay constrained to contain very few words or a short public talk, when a more detailed version is readily available in print. Krauss is an intelligent and serious person, and he has put a lot of effort into putting his views carefully into print, not as a cynical money-making scheme, but because he believes what he has to say is important. If you want to confront his ideas, you need to do so with an equivalent amount of intellectual seriousness.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/clifford/ Clifford

    Peter, Nigel,

    I’m not talking about the book. I have not read it. Others can comment on that.

    Please make sure that you really want to align yourself with the practice of distorting what people’s research efforts are about. rather than having a real debate. Peter, I’m pretty sure you’re a reasonable guy and can see what I’m getting at, no? This is not the way we should have a debate. Do you really think that discussion of infinity was honest, for example? You support that? Answer me please.

    Both of you:- I’m not asking you to agree with me or disagree with me about the value of string theory. I am asking you to agree with me about the value of an honest debate. Sit back and think about this a bit. It is important.

    -cvj

  • Moshe

    Clifford types faster (and I have to run), but I agree completely. The issue with Krauss’ article and the lecture is not the fact that he criticizes string theory, it is the fact that he doesn’t, he offers one-line judgements instead.

  • http://iso42.blogspot.com Wolfgang

    Dear Peter,

    > What I find disgraceful here is not Lawrence Krauss’s behavior, but that of string theorists who are personally attacking his career (“who is Lawrence Krauss and why is his opinion important?”)

    I am not a string theorist and I did not personally attack him.

    I asked an honest question, since (coming from Europe) I am not very familiar with the name. Perhaps you can explain to me why his views on string theory or ID or religion are important.
    He seems very important since one piece of him in the NYT triggered 6 long blog posts and comments on different webpages.

    I am just trying to fill one (out of many) gap in my education …

  • http://motls.blogspot.com/ Lubos Motl

    Dear Peter,

    when someone encourages the journalists to picture him as a leader and a spokeperson of science even though he clearly misrepresents what science currently does, why it does so, and what insights have been established and which of them are serious, then it is pretty important for the public to learn whether the person’s opinion is really important for science as such and for scientists, or whether it is only relevant for earning a couple of bucks from the laymen who don’t follow the technical developments – by proposing certain controversial statements about modern science.

    LK unfortunately places himself into the second category. You know that neither of us – Clifford or me – are true leaders of the field right now. Neither is LK. A subtle difference is that LK tries to put himself into this position. And it’s wrong.

    All the best
    Lubos

  • Samantha

    I think a major point of Clifford’s post is lost on those who virulently hate String Theory.

    It isn’t so upsetting that Lawrence Krauss doesn’t like String Theory – so lots of people don’t like String Theory, if you are a String theorist you have been dealing with that all your career… it is his manner of publicizing how he doesn’t like it that is the problem.

    As has been repeatedly discussed in this blog, in the current climate, when so many highly regarded, established theories are under attack, we (the scientific community) need to be very careful about how we dismiss the “theories” that we don’t agree with. We build our theories on our work and the work that came before us. As evidence (mathematical or otherwise) is accumulated, the theory either stands, is altered or is proved wrong. As all of you know, it is impossible to prove a theory right, hence why all theories remain theories. Thus, I think it highly irresponsible to compare ANY scientific theory that is in midst of this natural process of evolution with a theory that is completely made up, with no supporting evidence.

    Please put aside the frothing about String Theory (Clifford in his post says explicitly that he does not know if String Theory is correct and welcomes debate on the matter) and try to see why comparing String Theory to ID is a bad idea.

  • hack

    How can anyone who cavorts with Lubos Motl complain about a dishonest and manipulative presentations?

    If you lie down with dogs you’re going to get some fleas.

  • http://www.math.coumbia.edu/~woit/blog Peter Woit

    Hi Clifford,

    As you described it, what Krauss had to say about infinities was silly and indefensible. But I wasn’t there, and if I had been I might very well have a different interpretation of what he had to say on this topic, one that made more sense. I don’t doubt that you’re giving an accurate account of what you heard him say, but at this point I have way, way, too much experience with people who don’t like what I have to say misinterpreting my words to not suspect that it is possible this is what is going on in this case. I don’t remember anything about infinities in his NYT article or in the book, although it’s quite possible there’s something in the book, in which case it might make clear exactly what point he was trying to get across. Before publicly attacking him on this point though, it might be a good idea to check with him: “Did you really mean to say X?”

    I still think you should seriously take a look at the book. I don’t know about his talk, but the last part of the NYT piece (which by the way, is making a point that I strongly disagree with Krauss about), is nearly word for word the ending of his book, and intended as a summing up of a much longer and more detailed argument.

  • Samantha

    Goodness, do I really have to amend that last sentence to:

    Please put aside the frothing about String Theory *and Lubos Motl* … and try to see why comparing String Theory to ID is a bad idea.

    ?

  • adam

    While I infrequently agree with Lubos, I think you are misrepresenting his claims about string theory. No one is saying that string theory is solidly verified. Lubos said that string theory is known to be consistent with all current observation. He also said that string theory is falsifiable which means that it will be possible, with increasing evidence to exclude or validate it. This is not an extreme view. I don’t think any legitimate physicist would continue research in a field if he or she did not think that it was possible to verify. So while string theory any new predictions to which we can point and say “ah ha!” it has legions of results which give confidence. The oft quoted result about getting black hole entropy right is very heartening. As far as I know, there aren’t any other competing theories out there of the same scale which manage to stay consistent with observation (or in the case black hole entropy, a prediction of GR). So no one can say whether or not string theory will be the final word, but it is absurd to say that there aren’t hints that it’s doing something right.

  • http://www.math.coumbia.edu/~woit/blog Peter Woit

    Hi Wolfgang,

    Sorry for misinterpreting your question. Krauss is a respected physicist whose specialty is cosmology and particle physics. He’s written some quite successful popular books about physics, and in recent years has been a leading figure among scientists fighting against the Intelligent Design nonsense. Google his name and “Intelligent Design” to see more, or check out his web-site.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/mark/ Mark

    Moshe. I don’t particularly disagree. My comment was intended as a public service announcement for those readers who might mistakenly think that Lawrence’s main gig was criticizing string theory.

  • http://www.math.coumbia.edu/~woit/blog Peter Woit

    Adam,

    I’m not going to enter here into a debate about how solid the evidence is for string theory, suffice it to say that I strongly disagree with your characterization of the situation, for reasons I’ve gone on about far too much elsewhere.

    What I actually wrote was not that Lubos is claiming that string theory is solidly verified science, but that he claims it is as solidly verified as evolutionary theory. This is completely nuts, and, left unchallenged, it’s the kind of claim that is ultimately going to do way more damage to the public perception of science than anything Krauss has to say.

  • http://lepp.cornell.edu/~nobes Matthew


    He also said that string theory is falsifiable which means that it will be possible, with increasing evidence to exclude or validate it.

    I’m curious, just for the record can you name one specific experiment (assume you have infinite resources to conduct the experiment) that would exclude string theory? For example, had the W and Z bosons not been discovered in 1983, with the masses in the rough range predicted by the tree level analysis, that pretty much would have killed the Winberg-Salam model (modulo 10/20 more years of searching). Is there anything as definative for string theory?


    So no one can say whether or not string theory will be the final word, but it is absurd to say that there aren’t hints that it’s doing something right.

    I personally think that’s correct. But there’s a world of difference between “there are hints this is correct” to “this theory can be falsified”.

  • Moshe

    Agreed Mark, in fact the only time I met him he gave an absolutely beautiful colloquium here at UBC, standing room only… Maybe I will try to dig some more and find an actual coherent criticism, maybe in his book…

  • LM

    If you are shocked, shocked! that a scientist like Krauss would mislead and manipulate a popular audience, I have two words for you: Michio Kaku.

    Nothing Krass has been accused of would be worse than what Kaku has done any given Monday for the last decade, and string theorists have been looking the other way for years with no complaints.

  • blah

    I’m no true believer in string theory but I have to tell you, I don’t understand what all the hubub is about anymore. Perhaps someone can explain it to me.

    -Is string theory a perfectly reasonable way to construct a UV complete theory of gravity? yes.
    -Does it have anything to do with reality? Nobody knows, though it’s perfectly reasonable to suppose that there are certain features that must hold for any consistent theory of gravity, e.g. the entropy of a black hole is an obvious candidate.
    -Is it the only theory of gravity that can be constructed? Nobody knows.
    -Is there garbage theoretical research published in string theory? Yes.
    -Is there garbage theoretical research published in every field of physics, even ones driven by experiment? Yes.

    So, why go through such lengths to either tear down or defend string theory as having anything to do with reality?
    Yes, it’s worth studying because it’s the only theory of gravity physicists know (I suppose some may disagree with that statement) — even if it’s wrong, I doubt a better theory of gravity will be any easier to solve.
    No, it doesn’t have to be right — in fact, it’s probably not right.
    Where this virulence against and devotion to string theory comes from is completely beyond me.

    One last point, though, that I find disturbing. I’ve realized that discussing my research with string theorists is completely fruitless (and vice versa, I’m sure). Somehow, string theory has become very disconnected with what most other theorists (condensed-matter, for example) are doing. This balkanization seems to lead to a lot of unwarranted hostility between the various camps that folks like Lawrence Krauss (at least, in this instance) and Lubos Motl only make worse.

  • http://www.gentoo.org FA

    Clifford,

    While I would agree that some of the criicism of string theory you mention in the talk is unfair, I don’t think the string theory crowd is blameless either.

    Apart from obnoxious behaviour(and lecturing others despite ignorance about other fields), we have a leader of string theory going to the Vatican and delivering a lecture on the role of infinity, sponsored by strong supporters of ID. You think the Templeton Foundation is interested in KKLT because of mathematical beauty??

    And of course, Peter has already mentioned Susskind’s new venture, which will cause more damage to String Theory than Krauss.

    Bottom line: It is very easy to criticise people in other sub-fileds doing and saying critical things(Krauss). It is much harder to look critically within(Susskind, etc al). Science is not as above human pettiness as one likes to think.

    FA

  • adam

    Matthew,

    Being an experimentalist, and one in training at that, I’m not terribly well versed in string theory, nor do I have much at stake in it’s relative merits. I just think that people having such amazingly strong ideas about whether or not it is true when it is still a) relatively early in the game considering that it is attempting to outline the shape of physics all the way up to the plank scale and b) we haven’t even pushed above the electro-weak symmetry breaking scale yet. It’s just plain silly. String theory is in a state where it is consistent with current observation and it shows promise for more. That’s the end of the story.

    That being said, in the case of Weinberg-Salam, the clincher was direct observation. That is always the clincher. When you say “infinite resource” I’ll say sure, go to plank energies and see if you can directly observe strings. It’s possible, in principle, to directly verfy it. However, string theory is in the unique position of being unlikely to ever be directly verified.

    However, just becase we probably won’t see direct production of strings doesn’t mean much. Prior to direct production of the W and Z, we still have very good hints that Weinburg-Salam was the correct theory since high energy theories have to affect low energy ones. In the case of string theory, the scale will have to be quite high before indirect effect become visible. By that time, it’s not at all absurd to think that string theorists will have made more progress in calculations.

    So yes, in principle, string theory is verifiable. In practice, we will have to depend on indirect evidence.

    Adam

  • Elliot

    Obviously passions are running high here and not being a string theorist (or an anti-string theorist) let me share an observation from someone standing outside the ring (no pun intended)

    It is very difficult for lay people who understand the scientific method to place string/M/brane theory in the same catagory as say QM or Newtonian Physics due to the lack of experimental validation. I am not going to criticize or support the program here simply point out that it is not unreasonable for simple people like myself to say string theory is closer religion than other areas of science precisely because there is an element of faith here. That faith is the fact that the intrinsic aesthetics associated with the theory are so compelling that there “must” be something to it.

    I do not know whether string theory and its intellectual descendants will eventually prove to be the basis for an ultimate TOE. I believe the researchers in this field are doing science and mathematics and not religion but until the theory meets experimental reality, I think the researchers in the field need to accept that people outside that research community are going to at a minimum reserve judgement and be somewhat skeptical.

    A few years ago Frank Tipler wrote a book “The Physics of Immortality” It was pretty out there and I believe flawed BUT it did lay out testable and falsifiable predictions which in my view put it comfortably in the realm of science even though a number of aspects of the theory clearly crossed over into theology.

    I am looking forward to the future where aspects of string theory et. al. can be tested, verified and/or falsified. I understand that climbing high mountains is harder than walking up a flight of stairs but I don’t think it is incorrect to wait until that day comes before accepting/rejecting some or all of the theory.

    Elliot

  • http://motls.blogspot.com/ Lubos Motl

    Dear Samantha,

    your point is very wise. Nevertheless, if LK actually believes that large parts of modern theoretical physics are equivalent to Intelligent Design, it’s hard to apply your procedure. Whatever recommendation is meant to suppress Intelligent Design will also suppress theoretical physics, and whatever policy is designed to protect theoretical physics will also protect Intelligent Design as long as many people share LK’s opinion.

    Al lthe best
    Lubos

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/sean/ Sean

    All I can say is, between the string-theory dustup and the mention on MSNBC, this is doing wonders for our site stats.

  • http://iso42.blogspot.com Wolfgang

    Sean,

    > this is doing wonders for our site stats

    if your *really* want to improve your site stats you should start a debate about ‘global warming’ with Lubos. This is long overdue anyway 8-)

  • http://motls.blogspot.com/ Lubos Motl

    Dear Wolfgang,

    we are happy that Sean is visiting us at Harvard right now. We just had a lunch discussion about the arrow of time and entropy in cosmology – very interesting. If one works on it, it may become as hot as the global warming debates, which are of course much hotter than the climate itself.

    Best
    Lubos

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/clifford/ Clifford

    Peter Woit,

    I find it very sad that rather than believe me that he said those things (I was not just reporting interpretations, I was reporting what he actually said), and then have a debate about whether this is how we want to proceed in our discussions about science, you instead choose to try to undermine my point about honest debate by saying that I’m making up what he said. I am very careful about these things. I did not write those slides and say those words. He did. Why would I make stuff up? What would be my motivation? I went there to be supportive of his scientific discussions…why would then I make up what he said and then wirte a post on a blog about him making stuff up?

    It is sad and surprising that you’re doing this. I actually held you in higher regard and did not think you would also try the same sort of tricks, rather than have a debate about how we conduct our scientific debates.

    Another disappointment. Oh well.

    Cheers,

    -cvj

  • Arun

    Sorry, i didn’t mean to say “explain himself”, I was really thinking “explain, himself (firsthand)”.

    Is it rational to pursue research in string theory? Yes (e.g., all the arguments that Lubos uses to claim that string theory is true).

    Is string theory solidly verified (e.g., to the extent of the theory of evolution) No.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/clifford/ Clifford

    Dear all,

    Once again…this is not about whether you believe string theory is right or wrong! It is about integrity in scientific debate. If we scientists can’t get that right, we can’t ask our journalists and politicians to get it right either. We are some of the protectors of resaoned thought, which is under attack by many outside science, as we have discussed in several places. The whole thing will unravel if we scientists begin to undermine the way we debate science. And especially if we are seen to do so by the public.

    You’re smart people…why can’t you see that?!!

    Yes, I welcome debate about string theory. I don’t want to repeat myself all over again though. For discussion about the whys and wherefores of string theory, etc… see some of the posts and comments I already mentioned in the post. First click on those links, read the discussion there and in the other links and trackback to other posts and discussions and then ask supplementary questions on the current thread. You’ll find that much of what you asked is already answered or at least addressed there.

    Once again, please read about points (concerning string theory and falsifiability etc) already addressed at great length in those links I already pointed to in the parent post of this comment stream so that we don’t have to repeat ourselves all over again. Then you can ask for clarifications, etc, expand on points not explored etc.

    Cheers,

    -cvj

  • http://lepp.cornell.edu/~nobes Matthew

    Adam,


    I’ll say sure, go to plank energies and see if you can directly observe strings. It’s possible, in principle, to directly verfy it.

    But that’s my point (and it’s one Peter has made in the past). It’s certainly not clear to me (I am, however, not a string expert), that there is a distinct *unique* prediction assuming we could build a Planck scale collider. As I said I’m not a string expert, so I’m more than happy to be corrected, but that’s certianly how I understand it.

    Other than that I agree with what you said. Actually, you’re perhaps too pessimistic about the oportunities for indirect verification. It’s my understanding (from talks by people here) that there are real signatures, in existing, or near future, data that could be consistent with certain string inflation models.

  • http://valatan.blogspot.com bittergradstudent

    But that’s my point (and it’s one Peter has made in the past). It’s certainly not clear to me (I am, however, not a string expert), that there is a distinct *unique* prediction assuming we could build a Planck scale collider.

    That’s actually not the case–if you could build a Planck-scale collider, string theory predicts, relatively directly, a very specific set of scattering cross sections and behaviour. What makes string theory problematic is not it’s lack of high-energy predictions, but the extreme difficulty that people have in getting a unique, non-supersymmetric, 4-dimensional, low energy sector to the theory. In plain terms, it is very difficult to extract the standard model from String Theory.

    But at the Planck level, all the nonsense about determining the vacuum and breaking symmetries is swamped out by the high energies.

  • http://www.math.coumbia.edu/~woit/blog Peter Woit

    Clifford,

    Now you’re misinterpreting my words. I did not accuse you of making anything up, in fact I wrote “I don’t doubt that you’re giving an accurate account of what you heard him say”. But what you wrote was not a transcription of his words, it was a retelling in your own words of what you remember him saying. From what you wrote I couldn’t tell what were his precise words, and what weren’t. My point was that if I was there, hearing the same thing but with a different point of view on it, I might have given a different account of what he said. Have you seen the movie “Rashomon”? If we both had access to a transcript, we’d be in better shape to discuss this. Repeating myself, from internet discussions I am extremely familiar with the phenomenon of people reading what I have to say, then repeating it back to me, with a few subtle changes in wording that make it carry a different meaning I did not intend.

    Reading your description again, I’m still not sure what precise technical point was motivating Krauss in the remarks about infinity that you quoted. From what you wrote it seems that he was referring to the calculation of the critical dimension of the string. Thinking more about this, I’m starting to have a vague memory of seeing the “Hilbert hotel” story in his book. I don’t have my copy here, but will look at it this evening and see if I can find it, and that might give some insight into this point.

    It’s quite possible this is something I would agree with you about. I’m not at all in sympathy with the view of Krauss (and many other physicists) that what is wrong with string theory is that it uses too much sophisticated mathematics, and if that was part of the point he was trying to make I might find it as annoying as you did.

  • http://www.phys.cwru.edu/~krauss Lawrence Krauss

    Well.. Mark Trodden called me to let me know about all the discussion, and I am shocked and saddened both the what seem to be attacks on what I was trying to convey in both my Times piece, and in the Categorically Not! presentation..(different points in fact).

    First, in the Times piece I wanted to convey the fact that while scientists are indeed fascinated by what we cannot see, that science and religion are different.. I chose string theory and extra dimensions because they are the subjects of my new book. If people read what I say, rather than what they have heard I have said, I believe they will see that I try very hard to be accurate and balanced. (Indeed, in the book, I ran everything I said by David Gross, Ed Witten, and John Schwarz before it got published..) The last line is true… we have no idea if the mathematical elegance that some perceive in string theory will ultimately prove to be true… that is what makes the whole search interesting.

    As for the Categorical presentation… come on Clifford.. you must have been having a bad night to react so strongly… I think the whole evening was Categorically Not worth remembering….What I apologized to you about was that in the 20 odd minutes or so I was given, I was not able to give a fair presentation of string theory.. After an evening where “space” was discussed by a dancer who talked about moving her arms around, and a geographer talked about how geography was the key to everything, I knew (a) I had no time to give any details, and (b) that it would be more appropriate to talk to that audience about art and literature… I showed the Hilbert Hotel example primarily to explain that dealing with infinities, in space, or numbers, is tricky.. and I thought that was a cute example.. and also because it DOES relate to some of the investigations in string theory. I am truly sorry you got upset about this, but frankly I found much of the rest of the evening so fluffy and devoid of content that I felt I should temper my presentation, and try and keep it light. If you read what I say Clifford.. and I do talk about infinities in my book.. I hope you will feel I am balanced, and accurate… this is indeed what I feel is most important to do in publicizing science.. and indeed I feel it has been lacking in almost all popular presentations of string theory.. I am skeptical, but I hope that things have not proceeded to the point where being skeptical is a crime in science.

  • Samantha

    Does anyone have any thoughts on how we the “protectors of reasoned thought” should protect it?

    What is the most effective way to lessen the impact/egotism/stupidity of the leaders in our field as they try to sell their books?

  • Samantha

    LK,

    Of course you can be skeptical. That is not the issue, the issue is how you frame your skepticism. Can I ask, for example, why you think it acceptable to compare String Theory to ID?

    [If you have patience, see my and Nick Warners' remarks earlier]

  • http://www.math.coumbia.edu/~woit/blog Peter Woit

    bittergradstudent:

    “if you could build a Planck-scale collider, string theory predicts, relatively directly, a very specific set of scattering cross sections and behaviour”

    This is not true. See the discussion earlier this year in comments to a posting by Sean:

    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/2005/07/21/two-cheers-for-string-theory

    I had my own argument why this was not true, others gave a simpler one: the scattering amplitudes are quite different in M-theory (as in the unknown theory whose low energy limit is 11d supergravity) than for the 10d perturbative superstring. It’s only if you make the assumption that you are at small enough values of the string coupling for string perturbation theory to be valid that you get certain specific qualitative behavior. There’s no good reason to expect this to be the case in the real world.

  • http://eskesthai.blogspot.com/2005/09/cft-and-tomato-soup-can.html Plato

    You defintiely know when one can set the stage. So, if one was inclined to a journalistic integrity by presenting lectures, having presented all the information, the questions are left to the publc to understand and interpet? Was there something left undone, when a comment made, would have set the course for the conversation, by imposing one’s will on our perceptions?

    If there is presented “a bias” in this lecture it would be well seen? So maybe KC can explain this journalistic integrity, when it comes to science reporting? Lectures as they speak to the well educated and the case of the public being presented with science?

    A play is going on, and what good script writers would these people be, had they known the whole content of the lecture was to reveal one’s bias, instead of explain the deeper intricacies in a “spirit that was non-commital?

    I think this is the point isn’t it about bringing the public all the relevant information? I think this is what discussion dones is synopzies positions about where we are at any given point, and others who would extend or clarify a point, NOn?

    So how would one proceed from here? Would it be to outright declare one’s oppositon, without explaining what is currently known, and allowing others to draw their own conclusions? I am trying to find myself in all this? How I will work in the future.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/mark/ Mark

    Hi Samantha.

    I don’t think your last comment is quite fair. If you’re referring to Lawrence; in my experience he’s had a much more positive impact in protecting and defending science than most people I know. It’s OK to think that he did a poor job on this occasion, and I’m glad that, as scientists, we are prepared to get into it with colleagues when we feel they’ve misrepresented something. But I think tarring him as a cheap self-important huckster ignores a mountain of hard and important work.

  • Arun

    Does anyone have any thoughts on how we the “protectors of reasoned thought” should protect it?

    By demonstrating reasoned thought in all we say and write?

  • Elliot

    Sean,

    If the site traffic is going through the roof, beware, Google will buy it.

    Elliot

  • Samantha

    Hi Mark,

    Well I was actually trying not to refer to anyone in particular – I would be far more comfortable with naming the cheap self-important hucksters in biology than I am in physics (that’s a joke!) – nonetheless a number of posts mention some alternative big names in physics as being dangerous to the field… so my question was, rather than continue to debate why string theory is wrong, could we come back to the point of Clifford’s post. How do we keep integrity in the debate? And what is the most effective way to counter transgressions, even from people that we really admire and/or respect?

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/mark/ Mark

    I see Samantha – that makes perfect sense. I apologize for misinterpreting your comment. I agree that that’s an important question indeed.

  • http://eskesthai.blogspot.com/2005/09/cft-and-tomato-soup-can.html Plato

    Elliot,

    goole is very aware of the terminology of Google bombs

    If one was very smart about taking a site to number one on google, then what better way?

    No, I do not think there is no conspiracy here on Cosmic Variance with Krauss. :)

    Just the needed awareness of stats for example. Where one can take a president to “number one.” So if you did a search on lets say, and I cannot remember the word, which one would take you to President’s Bush’s whitehouse.

    Some may know the word?

    Consciousness has a stronger lure here, then the one that statistically we could to play with? Is it the HIggs thingy(?):)

    About important questions, that consciousness will seek to find out about, if the motivations as a seeker, are held to inquiry. It will gather those things around it?

    What “insignificant role” does one play as a piece of the puzzle? Their viewpoint?

    All these views are truly important then at this time.

  • http://valatan.blogspot.com bittergradstudent

    Peter–

    1) if there are several string theories, for the purposes of putting together models with which to compare experiment, all the better. It might contradict some of the claims made by the most enthusiastic of the string proponents, but so what? Having a few candidate models to compare to data is better than having none.

    2) Who is to say that the strings are not weakly coupled? Just as there is no reason to believe that they will be, there is no reason to believe that they will not be. It’s silly to argue that string theory is right, but it is certainly possible that perturbative string theory will work out. It is just as (probably more, but once again, this is total speculation) likely that it won’t.

    3) Similarly, the string theorists (though I realize not all string theorists do this), for this very reason, should back off of the Loop Quantum Gravity researchers, at least to the extent that they tend to insult the intelligence/seriousness of anyone who studies any alternative to string theory.

    Noone has the real, final answer yet, and if someone can provide a theory that, even for some small subset of possible parameters, offers a testable candidate, than I welcome that.

  • Ohne

    Thank you, Clifford, for weighing in on Krauss’ recent public misrepresentations of science. I frequent several physics and string related blogs and find your posts noteworthy for their tempered openmindedness. I enjoy reading them very much.

    The task of specifying the difference between intelligent design and string theory (or, more generally, to draw the distinction between work that is not science and scientific work that is theoretical and that has not yet been born out by experiment*) is a potentially interesting topic, and to educate the public in this way may be useful to the aims of scientists. This distinction is, however, already too fine for a public that does not understand the difference between science and that which is unscientific. See, for example, the confusion in Kansas (which I can hardly bear to read about).

    Regards,
    Ohne

    * I know some of the various retrodictions of string theory, and it is a fine point to argue how much evidence for string theory there is. Obviously there are a lot of “reasons to believe”.

  • http://www.math.coumbia.edu/~woit/blog Peter Woit

    bittergradstudent:

    I don’t want to get involved in a long string theory discussion here, I was just responding to your claim that string theory makes definite predictions at high energy. It only does if you assume small string coupling and validity of string perturbation theory, and you seem to agree there’s no reason to expect this. At a generic point in M-theory moduli space, no one knows what the theory is, and thus there are no predictions.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/clifford/ Clifford

    Lawrence,

    Thanks for your comment. Simple point: If you do not think that you have time to present something balanced, as you admit, then you should refrain from saying misleading things that the audience will take home as the main message. You (of all people, I am told) should know how careful we should be about the words we use in conveying scientific ideas to the public. So frankly, that is a lousy excuse. But thanks for being honest about the fact that your presentation was….poor, shall we say, and if by unfair you mean a misrepresentation of what research is going on, then we agree.

    As I said, I was not talking about your writings, because I have not read them. I was talking about the presentation.

    As an aside , I disagree with you that the evening was deviod of content. I can’t believe you said that. Publicly or otherwise. I thought that it was a fun and enlightening exploration of other people’s perception of space and its importance to their respective fields. Typical physicist’s attitude to say that it was content-free. And to say the the evening was not worth remembering is shocking to me too. It is rather arrogant thing to say and extremely disrespectful to your co-presenters and the person (K.C. Cole) who invited you in good faith to participate in the evening. You were also rather disrespectful of your audience if you decided, as you say, that based on what you heard it would be better to tell them about art and literature. They came there for a drop of science along with everything else (the entire point of the evening) and you were asked to come and be the one to give it to them. Who are you to decide what they are prepared (or capable) to absorb?

    Unbelievable…..Goodness me.

    -cvj

    (Every other physicist has managed to come and do a pretty good job in 20 minutes or so, by the way, sharing their time equally with the artists, writers, and dancers like everyone else, and giving a good sense of key ideas in their fields.)

  • Aaron

    “And even so, discovering things through mathematics is not the same as making up stories out of thin air.”

    I’m not sure you can ever discover things through mathematics. You can discover things in mathematics. You can conjecture things via mathematics. But, physical discoveries are always experimental. Einstein conjectured the general theory of relativity through a lot of physical and mathematical insight, but it wouldn’t have meant a thing if the percession of Mercury didn’t turn out correct.

    Same thing with string theory. String theory is an impressive mathematical edifice, but it can’t be anything more than that until some smart experimentalist figures out how to measure something.

  • http://www.damtp.cam.ac.uk/user/gr/ damtp_dweller

    I’m not sure you can ever discover things through mathematics.”

    Care to comment then on that little paper1 by Oppenheimer and Snyder? They “discovered” black holes as a mathematical consequence of general relativity a hell of a long time before it became possible to detect them by inference.

    1 J. R. Oppenheimer and H. Snyder, Phys. Rev. (56), 455 (1939)

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/clifford/ Clifford

    Peter (comment #52):

    Ok. Fair enough, although see Krauss’ own admissions about the quality of his presentation, in the comment immediately below yours.

    Cheers,

    -cvj

  • Aaron

    Damtp_dweller:

    No, they discovered that a black hole solution exists in GR. Then they predicted that we will see black holes. They never discovered anything about the real world. Even today, IIRC, the case for the existence of black holes isn’t completely airtight.

  • http://motls.blogspot.com/ Lubos Motl

    Dear Prof. Krauss,

    you are absolutely right that dealing with infinities is tricky. One must learn, check, and re-check many things before she learns how to deal with them properly. And the physics community had to learn these things, too. I apologize but it is you who completely fails in dealing with infinities. If your conclusion from the Hilbert’s hotel theorem and/or zeta function regularization or any other regularization used in physics, for that matter, is that there is something suspicious or religious about physics, then I must say that you have obtained the most incorrect conclusion about these procedures you could have obtained, and your audience and readers are therefore getting rubbish for their money.

    I apologize but your conclusion is how crackpots approach the questions of infinity. In actual physics investigations, divergent expressions and rules to regularize them and obtain the correct final and finite answers form a significant and completely part of the people’s work, and who does not understand why these procedures are essential – and not just “tricky” – is not “in”. All these divergences and methods to transform them into correct answers appear in every individual calculation in quantum field theory as long as the calculation cannot be done in classical physics. They’re omnipresent, essential, and physics fans have the right to learn that these technicalities are important and legitimate, instead of “learning” nonsensical proclamations that these procedures are religious.

    Sincerely Yours
    Lubos

  • Chris W.

    Echoing comment #66 (from Peter):

    Douglas and Dine and their co-workers have taken the first steps in finding the statistical rules governing different string vacua. I can’t comment usefully on this, except to say that it wouldn’t hurt in this work if we knew what string theory is. — Steven Weinberg (in hep-th/0511037)

  • http://www.damtp.cam.ac.uk/user/gr/ damtp_dweller

    A well made point. Perhaps I should clarify what I meant. You are perfectly correct to make the distinction between discovering something via an experimental observation and discovering something through mathematical implication. The point, however, is that in theories such as GR the quest for mathematical elegance has led to many truly inspiring mathematical results. A lot of these results have had direct physical implications that were later verified by experiment. This has had a curious effect: many theorists now see mathematical elegance in theories like GR as implying that a related physical result must exist (obviously, there is not a 1-1 correspondence between elegance and associated physical implications, but everyone can agree on the the truly elegant results). Of course relativists have decades of experience with these happy coincidences so maybe they are not so wrong to expect these things.

    This leads one to ask when something is truly “discovered.” Does discovery consist of actual observation of a phenomenon or is it a matter of recognising that a theory implies an interesting feature via its mathematics? I think probably a bit of both. If string theory and its derivatives (or should that be superivatives?) continue to fail to provide a consistent set of testable predictions we may well find ourselves in a situation where your old-school (and very possibly more correct) definition of discovery means that we can never discover anything more about the universe.

  • http://motls.blogspot.com/ Lubos Motl

    “Completely” should have been “completely standard” in the previous comment.

    Otherwise I am completely outraged by Prof. Krauss’ formulation that “accuracy and balance has been lacking in almost all popular presentations of string theory.” Whom are you exactly talking about? Are you talking about Brian Greene, for example? That would be totally unjustifiable.

    Unlike you, he always presented a fair image of the field with the accent on the things that are really important – not necessary his own contributions – and with a very detailed and completely honest explanation of the likelihood that various things turn out to be true and so forth.

    On the other hand, you present yourself as a guy who is able to give the right answers to the biggest questions of string theory – such as the question whether it is right – although you seem to have no idea about things like the zeta function regularization or other material from chapters 1 of elementary string theory textbooks. A pretty good starting point to say something important.

    What do you exactly call “accuracy” and “balance”? Do you mean the distasteful comparisons of modern physics to religion that Clifford described in detail? Is it the part of your balance that every scientist must be compared to religious bigots in one half of all of your talks? Or is the accuracy or honesty expressed by the untrue statements on the cover of your book that suggest that you are a leader of the field?

    Why don’t you just admit, in front of your audience and readers, that you have not mastered string theory and that your opinions are just opinions of another outsider? Or do you think that you have mastered it? Ready for an exam from String Theory I?

  • http://arunsmusings.blogspot.com Arun

    Aaron, #68 I like!

  • http://impropaganda.blogspot.com Suz

    hey Clifford, this post is right on (at least from my perspective and in my field). It disgusts me. A lot of the “science” that is published in my field (in reputable publications) mind you is over-hyped, spin-doctored crap.

  • http://motls.blogspot.com/ LuboÅ¡ Motl

    Let me mention that if you look at the amazon.com reviews of the book written by the person discussed in this thread, you will see that all six positive reviews of the book are written by people who have only reviewed this particular book – although a typical amazon.com review is written by readers who have tens of other reviews. The only exception is the author’s daughter Miss Rouge who has also “reviewed” another book by her dad. It is up to your thinking whether you conclude that at least one of these six positive reviews is an honest review by an actual reader who has no personal relationships to the author. Well, when money are at stake, integrity becomes secondary, does not it, Prof. Krauss?

  • Chris W.

    Also, in discussions of advanced mathematics to physics in general and conjectured “excess” dimensions of spacetime in particular, I think there needs to be more thoughtful consideration of the protean character of mathematical concepts. It seems to me that what recent research in string theory and quantum field theory have revealed more than anything is a vastly wider range of ways that apparently distinct mathematical formalisms can turn out to be equivalent ways of looking at a given set of problems.

    The way this happens is often of great mathematical interest, but it makes me wonder what it means to say that spacetime “really” has this or that dimensionality, for example. If certain features of the observed universe that, prima facie, have nothing to do with the dimensionality of spacetime can nonetheless be reproduced with surprising fidelity from theoretical assumptions that imply something other than the familiar 3+1 dimensions, then one has in effect “observed” that the dimensionality of spacetime is, or might be, different from that usually assumed. On the other hand–and this is my real point–one might be able account for the same observations with a different set of assumptions having no obvious bearing on dimensionality of spacetime, which nonetheless turn out to be equivalent to the first set.

    So doesn’t this suggest that the question of the actual dimensionality of spacetime is beside the point? Certainly we need to account for its dimensionality as determined by certain accepted procedures (including the way our consciousness orders our perceptions) but it seems that at a fundamental level our focus should lie elsewhere. From this point of view I find causal set theory deeply interesting, because it shifts attention to a certain elemental notion of how to impose order on physical events, from which much of “directly” observable spacetime structure can be reconstructed. Of course one must also reproduce the structure of objects and processes that apparently occupy or occur in spacetime. Causal set theory has (so far) contributed little* to solving this problem, which could be regarded as the central concern of the Standard Model, and indeed all of physics aside from general relativity.

    (* I have some sketchy arguments in support of a hope that this situation may change, perhaps quite soon.)

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/mark/ Mark

    I’d wanted to ask that people make their comments a little less personal, because I think it risks bringing down the usually high level of discourse in our comments. However, I’m worried that you’ll all just tell me to go #$%@ myself.

  • Lee

    Clifford – Have you ever heard of private communication? This post was incredibly poor form.

  • http://www.phys.cwru.edu/~krauss Lawrence Krauss

    Clifford: I tried to do a good job.. and I think I didn’t do a bad job, so you misunderstood me… and I was too brief in my original response.. by devoid of content.. I largely meant that it involved 3 20 min presentations.. during which nothing can be done in great detail.. I actually enjoyed the evening, but I certainly didn’t think of it as a definitive event.. which is what I should have said.. no disrespect to anyone.. just not one worth getting so worked up about… and I repeat.. from talking to the crowd afterwards.. most of whom were very interesting people, I thought they appreciated what I had to say, and wanted to learn more.. which is what I had hoped would happen..

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/clifford/ Clifford

    Luboš. Be careful, my young colleague, tread softly now. -Two points (to comment #75):

    (1) We need not go into a spitting contest about who knows more string theory. You’ll certainly win against several people, and we will have learned nothing.

    (2) Do not paint Krauss as an outsider. Why? Because then you fall into a trap. You see, the press, when covering science, largely has only about three or four stories that it tells, sadly. Nothing else is allowed by editors. One of them is the tiresome “outsider against the establishment” story. There, the noble outsider is put up against the establishment in some sort of tiresome against the odds tale, and you know who always comes off better, to ensure readership. String theory had the former role for a while, and has now been painted into the latter. So to brand Krauss as an outsider will only generate more coverage, which is what you don’t seem want. (I have nothing against coverage of good writing and good debate…..it is willful distortion that I don’t want to see more of.)

    One of my central points is that Krauss is most definitely not an outsider. He is inside “enough” to know better than to paint the inaccurate caricature of current research that he did in the talk I described (I cannot speak for the writing), for short term gain. This is why it is in some sense more disturbing to me than if it was somebody who did not have a clue.

    He is not an outsider. He knows better.

    Cheers,

    -cvj

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/clifford/ Clifford

    Lee – sorry you think that. I happen to think that it is an important issue. Thanks for the comment though.

    Suz – thanks!

    Lawrence – I see. I happen to think that -if we care about correctly doing the job of bringing science to the public- a presentation for 20 minutes to an audience of 60+ people about science is just as important as a presentation of 1 hour. If you can’t do the job properly, let someone else do it right (ah….unless you have a book to plug?) It is not right to make deliberately misleading and innaccurate statements in the 20 minutes and then expect you can make it all right in the questions after (if that was your intent). That’s not the way to do it…..

    Yours in the fight for truth in public science debate,

    -cvj

  • Fyodor

    Y’know, I started to feel a lot better about LK when I saw this:

    “After an evening where “space” was discussed by a dancer who talked about moving her arms around, and a geographer talked about how geography was the key to everything…. I am truly sorry you got upset about this, but frankly I found much of the rest of the evening so fluffy and devoid of content….”

    Well, you have to sympathize, though LK ought to have known what to expect in Flakeland Central. *But* how was more of the same supposed to help? Homeopathy, anyone? Still, at least he can still recognize it when he sees it.

    Look, I really don’t believe that LK wrote that article in the NYT or participated in some californication with choreographers etc in order to sell his book, and I do think it was pretty outrageous to suggest otherwise. LK is not like that. He’s more like SJ Gould, the kind of scientist who just gets a kick out of being thought of as a Renaissance Man. That is lame indeed, but he means no harm.

  • http://www.math.columbia.edu/~woit/blog Peter

    Lubos,

    One of those reviews is mine. It was not written for Amazon but for my blog and reflects my honest opinions, not any personal relationship to Lawrence (who I’ve corresponded with but never met). It was posted on Amazon to counterbalance your extremely unfair review of Lawrence’s book.

  • Scott

    Clifford,

    For a second I thought you were going to rebuke Lubos, for comments like

    The creationists remain unconvinced about the evolution and you remain unconvinced about string theory. It’s OK with me but I don’t see a truly qualitative difference between these two cases…

    …If we want to avoid beliefs that can’t be justified and simultaneously look unnatural from the viewpoint of our current knowledge, we are pretty much forced to think that the origin of species is described by evolution and very high energy physics by string theory…

    why? why haven’t you?

  • http://motls.blogspot.com/ LuboÅ¡ Motl

    Dear Clifford,

    of course, I did not write that Prof. Krauss is an outsider in the field of particle/high-energy/gravitational physics which would be nonsense. I wrote he is a string theory outsider. By this statement I mean that his familiarity with the subject is superficial and probably at a slightly lower level than what is presented in popular books such as The Elegant Universe. (The conifold transition, for example, is no easy reading and only the most advanced physics fans and non-string-theorists get a correct idea how the Chapter 13 of TEU works, for example.)

    If you think that my impression from his book, interviews, and other sources is incorrect, I will be happy to learn about any evidence that shows that my impression is not quite right.

    It’s not exactly my feeling that complete outsiders who simply do not care about the actual questions asked by a particular field of science are useful for the field, and I don’t think that this was ever a situation of string theory. String theory from the beginning was proposing very concrete – sometimes too concrete – technical answers to very concrete technical questions. For example, it started with the formula that was meant to describe the pi+pi goes to pi+eta scattering of mesons.

    (As Moshe says, Gerard ‘t Hooft is not this kind of an outsider. Of course – how could he be when we use ten independent major results of this physics hero. But Moshe also explains that ‘t Hooft’s criticism would be a particular reasoning about the character of observables in string theory, not a low-brow comparison with religion.)

    That particular interpretation of the Veneziano amplitude was incorrect, but this and other examples clearly show that string theory was never a movement of bitter outsiders who despised the whole existing related field of science. On the contrary, it was a creative positively oriented field from the very beginning.

    Concerning the question whether it is more dangerous if people possibly viewed as insiders propagate distorted picture of reality, I am an agnostic. My guess is that if a total physics outsider became an influential opinion-maker about physics, you would not like it either. ;-) After all, it does not matter whether you use the word “physicist” or whether someone has a particular degree or not. Having a physics degree is not equivalent to being an honest science communicator. These are independent things. There can be honest popularizers of science who don’t have the relevant degree, and vice versa.

    All the best
    Lubos

  • http://motls.blogspot.com/ LuboÅ¡ Motl

    Dear Scott,

    my guess is that Clifford has not quite rebuked my assertion about the unnaturalness of mechanisms required for non-stringy theories of quantum gravity because he knows pretty well what I am saying and why it is so, and probably even better than I do.

    Only those people who misunderstand how extensive is our circumstantial evidence that there can’t be other consistent theories of gravity would try to “rebuke” the statement of mine that apparently irritates you so much. ;-)

    Too see a collection of no-go theorems that Jacques Distler used to explain why string theory is the only game in town in his first class this semester, open e.g. this page.

    If I misrepresented Clifford’s opinion, I am sure that he will correct me.

    All the best
    Lubos

  • Scott

    I’ll be sure to read your link Lubos. However I believe you have misrepresented Clifford opinion as he says “We do not know if string theory is correct” while you say “there can’t be other consistent theories of gravity.”

    Anyways I am glad you have forced his hand whichever one of us he agrees with on this issue.

  • Lee Smolin

    Dear Clifford, Lubos and everyone,

    I would like to make some constructive suggestions, as I strongly agree with you about the need for fair debate, done honestly and with integrity. There is likely to be more debate in the next months and years. Do you really think claims that by people like Susskind and Weinberg that the methodology of science should be changed rather then give up a theory that makes no falsifiable predictions should not be met with vigorous debate? So before it gets any worse could we try to agree on some ground rules for the debates ahead:

    -Stick to the issues raised. If someone raises a criticism, whether its done according to your standards of rhetoric or not, just answer the substantial science issue. Don’t waste our time with discussion about anything else. Don’t respond to a criticism on a specific point by changing the subject.

    -No personal attacks, absolutely none. If someone has a Ph.D., then they are credentialed. Discuss with them in good faith and with respect.

    -Let’s strive to agree on facts before discussing interpretation. Insist on precision and honesty, don’t allow exaggeration, and admit it gracefully when you are wrong or when the evidence does not support something you would like to be true. If someone questions the status of a claim, don’t say “everyone I respect believes X is true.” Say, X is in fact unproven, but there is evidence for it, which is exactly the following….

    -Listen carefully to those professional colleagues who read the evidence differently from you, and try to understand sympathetically and in good faith, why they do so.

    -Restrain your own communities. Make it clear that it is not acceptable to you when those in your committee insult others or publish or post things that are exaggerated or false. If someone insists on behaving badly, it is up to their community to restrain them. Make it clear that repeatedly treating colleagues disrespectfully in a public forum amounts to professional misconduct. The same is true for repeated cases of knowingly exaggerated or misleading statements in a public forum.

    If we can all agree to some basic rules like this I am optimistic that we-and science- will come out better from the debates ahead.

    Thanks,

    Lee

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/clifford/ Clifford

    Dear Luboš:

    I’ve not been following the physics discussion, since -as I’ve said repeatedly- this is not what the post was about, specifically.

    Could I ask you to tone down the personal stuff though? We’re trying to avoid that here on Cosmic Variance. (I admit that I myself have skirted close to the edge here today in response to Lawrence Krauss’ remarks about his co-presenters – I felt I had to defend them- but he seems to have withdrawn from his original remarks and apparently they were made in error.)

    Dear All:

    Anyway, I believe that the central point I was trying to make about honesty in presenting to the public what others are doing (whether or not you agree with it) has been worth highlighting since it is very important, and so I stand by the original post. Some of you raised the point that some string theorists have been less than careful about things they have said about other research in the popular domain as well. Perhaps that is true, but two wrongs don’t make a right.

    Overall, let’s not degenerate into name-calling and other unpleasant practices seen on other blogs. Thanks all of you for your thoughtful comments on the matter.

    Cheers,

    -cvj

  • http://motls.blogspot.com/ LuboÅ¡ Motl

    Dear Scott, Clifford is among my favorite people, but it is another reason why my text above should not be viewed as pressure for him to answer your question especially because he could feel a certain personal pressure to answer in a certain way which is undesirable.

    Let me assure him that he can freely answer in a different way than I did and I am curious about such an answer.

    If you think that the statement “there can’t be other consistent theories of quantum gravity” does not imply that “string theory is a correct theory of the Universe”, then it either means that you believe that the world is not quantum; or the world has no gravity in it; or that there can’t exist a theory of the real world that agrees with these two observer facts.

    There is almost nothing wrong with such an opinion ;-) , except that everyone should probably realize that it sounds “a bit” contrived to a scientific ear. When you’re finished with Jacques’ comments, you may continue with the second part of this text for some other interpretations of the same thing.

    Have a good night, Lubos

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/clifford/ Clifford

    Lee (Smolin): Thanks!! This is exactly what I’m trying to say. We should be respectful of each other’s work and present it to others accurately whether we agree with it or not…and we should not engage in the standard physicist’s “I’m smarter than you” baiting games….

    Cheers,

    -cvj

  • Samantha

    Clifford is among my favorite people

    You realise that Clifford is black, gay and a woman, right?

  • Moshe

    Lee, that is the most sensible thing I read today…I think the two threads here on LK “provocative” work have probably been the loudest in CV’s short history, maybe because they were not concerned with specific and concrete questions. Hope things will calm down a little (I will do my small part…)

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/clifford/ Clifford

    Luboš said:

    Clifford is among my favorite people

    Clifford, picking himself up off the floor, says:

    LuboÅ¡, but you never called, or wrote! I never knew…. ;-)

    -cvj

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/clifford/ Clifford

    Umm…. two of the three excellent characteristics I’m accused of having in (the hilarious) comment #95 are inaccurately ascribed, it must be said….

    -cvj

  • Samantha

    Lee,

    I really appreciate this post (#91) – now how do we circulate (and publicize) The Rules?

  • http://motls.blogspot.com/ LuboÅ¡ Motl

    Dear Clifford,

    by the mutual respect and accurate representation of the results of others, do you also mean, for example, the “double transcript” at page 60 of hep-th/0303185? Just asking.

    Have a good night,
    Lubos

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/clifford/ Clifford

    Luboš : Thanks! I got 100 comments in less than 24 hours! You were the hundredth, with only 6 minutes to go! Excellent.

    (Sorry… off topic. I’m so shallow….) :-)

    -cvj

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/joanne/ JoAnne

    Clifford,

    You say, `Umm…. two of the three excellent characteristics I’m accused of having in (the hilarious) comment #95 are inaccurately ascribed, it must be said….’

    Wow – I never realized you were a white heteosexual woman! Now, that’s a revelation.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/clifford/ Clifford

    JoAnne – Busted. I can now reveal that I am actually a 12 year old school girl on the Isle of Eigg, West of the Scottish mainland, with a very lively imagination. All of my posts are part of a project to keep myself amused. It is so lonely here. I hope everyone can forgive the deception, and play along with it a bit longer.

    -cvj

  • http://motls.blogspot.com/ LuboÅ¡ Motl

    Haha, great that you have fun with Clifford’s being among my favorite people. Several good friends of mine have been gays and blacks and it is even the case that the people who attract me most are usually women. ;-)

    It’s very nice that everyone is happy about Lee’s “rules”, but I would describe them very differently.

    These rules are, first of all, a proposal for a complete and thorough politicization of all of science. The first point is that personal integrity (or scientific integrity) is a very subjective thing that a person simply has or has not. And people will never agree whether certain things have been honest or not.

    It seems absolutely clear to me that I – among hundreds of other people – will never agree with Lee whether a certain presentation of the results (such as black hole entropy counting in loop quantum gravity) was honest.

    If someone wanted to create committees that would be deciding, it is the fastest way to a complete totalitarian system in all of science. This is not how science can work. These universal committees, analogous to communist cells at the universities in the Soviet bloc, always imply more disasters than good results. Bjorn Lombeorg was, for example, accused of dishonesty by “Danish Committees for Scientific Honesty” – before the verdict was cancelled by the Danish government as illegitimate and biased.

    Committees have no room in real science. Moreover, the opinions what is honest and what is dishonest can’t be quite separated from the scientific opinions because there is no universal exact algorithm how the available evidence should be evaluated.

    Another step to a complete politicization of science is Lee’s idea that “everyone who has a PhD is credentialed”. This is a very bizarre idea. A majority of visible crackpots have a PhD. A PhD does not mean anything for scientific questions as such; only scientific arguments and results mean something – and they can be obtained without a PhD. Converting science from the battleground between ideas and arguments and experiments to a political game between degrees is an extremely pernicious proposal.

    The other Lee’s rules are in complete contradiction with the previous points – Lee says that one should insist that the other party is dishonest even though he claimed that there should be no personal attacks – and moreover, these “moral points” are constructed in such a way to allow Lee say his confused remarks about the likely divergence of the stringy perturbative expansion. It’s surprising that he did not mention them specifically. ;-)

    I wonder whether Moshe and others don’t know all this context. The rules are constructed in such a way that results that have been proved incorrect beyond significant doubt – such as those in loop quantum gravity – cannot be criticized – while the results that are almost definitely correct or at least do not have any working alternatives should be questioned 24 hours a day.

    My opinion is exactly the opposite one. The results that are proved wrong should be abandoned, and the criticism of theses that seem almost certain should never get more space than it deserves. Moreover, I think that these rules are commonsense in science and we don’t have to define them ad hoc.

    The rules that Lee designs to defend certain flawed approaches to quantum gravity would simultaneously be used to defend Intelligent Design or anything else – and it simply can’t be otherwise because they are in a very similar situation.

    One can’t construct any objective rules that would allow Intelligent Design to be rejected but that would protect loop quantum gravity from criticism – simply because these two things are roughly equally flawed.

    I would prefer to keep science work according to its own rules instead of imposing some bizarre new rules of political correctness in science. Rejecting flawed ides has been very important in the whole history of science, and there is nothing constructive about slowing this process down.

  • Scott

    Clifford,

    Are you trying to make my head explode? Yes this thread is supposed to be about how you shouldn’t misrepresent what is going on. Therefore I was confused about the fact that you hadn’t challenged Lubos’ decleration of String Theory as the established law of the land so to speak, while you clearly believe, from your original post, that this is not so. And now you have gone so far as to say that Lee’s comment is what you were trying to say, while this comment includes

    Restrain your own communities. Make it clear that it is not acceptable to you when those in your committee insult others or publish or post things that are exaggerated or false. If someone insists on behaving badly, it is up to their community to restrain them. Make it clear that repeatedly treating colleagues disrespectfully in a public forum amounts to professional misconduct. The same is true for repeated cases of knowingly exaggerated or misleading statements in a public forum.

    I just seriously don’t understand why you haven’t responded to him in Mark’s thread?

    oh and lubos, I could also think that the first statement was not true, a theory different(not a qft) then that for the other forces describes gravity, gravity might be a statistical effect of an adjustment to quantum mechanics ect ect

  • Moshe

    Lubos, when it comes to physics I think we are in agreement most of the time, and if the physics on this blog’s discussion will be accurate and to the point, I am not too worried about incorrect perceptions people may have, the correct and interesting physics will come through more convincingly, you have to trust people’s intelligence. It is also more fun this way, but that is a matter of opinion.

    Anyways, have to call it a night, though I am in the west coast…

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/clifford/ Clifford

    Scott. Thanks. I had not followed the discussion between you and Lubos, but your point to me (as to why have I not said anything) is a good one. I would say that I cannot endorse string theory as an established theory of Nature until we’ve tested it. And we can’t test it yet until we know better what it is and how it works. I think that more research is needed, and most string theorists are quietly getting on with that task. I thought my view on that was well known as I’ve expressed it before several times on this blog – and in the post parenting this thread. Sorry to not have spelled it out earlier again when you posted.

    Cheers,

    -cvj

  • Scott

    Clifford,

    Your view on that is well known, at least I knew it. I have just been trying to point out that since you have this view and your view on communication of science, that you should post on marks thread pointing out that string theory is not established theory like evolution, like Lubos was proclaiming. I understand that you had not been following the discussion which is why I tried to point you in its direction.

    Thanks

  • Anon.

    “I can now reveal that I am actually a 12 year old school girl on the Isle of Eigg”

    I’m not prepared to pursue my line of inquiry any longer as I think this is getting too silly!

    Sergeant-Major: Quite agree, quite agree, too silly, far too silly…

  • A

    Nobody needs rules to discuss things like the proton magnetic moment: the usual scientific method is enough. If social rules are needed to agree on things like the black hole entropy, it is a bad sign for this field.

    Sometimes, theorizing on possibly irrelevant issues leads to indirect concrete results. Sometimes not. If you conquer the black hole AND come back on earth telling “bla bla bla then the top mass is XXX” then it will be interesting to discuss the “bla bla bla”. But for the moment strings&co only give the “bla bla bla”, with declining hopes of reaching concrete results. This should be the only worry. Many public talks tried to ridiculize relativity, that easily survived thanks to its concrete and correct implications.

    String theory fails to give implications because the complexity we observe at low energies comes from compactification: the things we would like to know are more related to higher dimensional geography than to string theory. Improving on this situation seems hard, very hard.

  • http://arunsmusings.blogspot.com Arun

    Re: #104 – I didn’t see Lee Smolin propose any kind of committee, I think his one use of committee was really meant to be community.

    I think for most part, Lee’s proposal is to follow the parliamentary rules of debate. I don’t think he’s asking anyone to sacrifice their individual judgement to anyone else, or to a committee. The point is that there are many ways to express disagreement, ranging from “Liar, liar, pants on fire” to “the loop quantum gravity calculation requires arbitrary and different choices of the Barbero-Immirzi (spelling?) parameter to get the black hole entropy right in different situations, and thus is simply wrong” (or whatever). I think in the long run the more professional approach convinces more people.

    Regarding restraining one’s own community – I think one should point out anything that is known to be wrong. People differ on how often they should do this. At one extreme is simply keeping silent or expressing disagreement once; at the other is expressing disagreement each time the wrong statement is made. Which is appropriate depends on context, I think. E.g., while ID is active politically, it probably is a good idea to speak up always.

    The second part is what to do if someone from one’s community is acting obnoxious. I think people in general can handle this, there is no need for special attention from one’s community alone. Again, it is a matter of individual judgement whether someone’s obnoxiousness outweighs that person’s abilities; collaborate or converse with whomever you will! It would be nice if gaining depth in physics also made one a better person, but it doesn’t and we’ll have to live with it.

  • Elliot

    Lee wrote:

    I would like to make some constructive suggestions, as I strongly agree with you about the need for fair debate, done honestly and with integrity. There is likely to be more debate in the next months and years. Do you really think claims that by people like Susskind and Weinberg that the methodology of science should be changed rather then give up a theory that makes no falsifiable predictions should not be met with vigorous debate? So before it gets any worse could we try to agree on some ground rules for the debates ahead:

    End Quotation
    —————————————

    I think this leading paragraph raises a much larger issue regarding what constitutes the scientific method itself. One of the reasons I am extremely uncomfortable with anthropic approaches, is that IMHO it has the effect of blurring the distiction between science and religion at exactly the time we should be making cleaner distinctions. I am not a practicing scientist but the idea that the scientific method need to be revised to accomodate a particular theory is both disturbing and frightening. A lot of people here have a much stronger grasp of the underlying mathematics/model that are being considered. But it is important to keep in mind that most of us do not fully understand the subtleties but rely on the fact that science is science. To the issue of how the public percieves science, it is critical in my opinion that the integrity of the methodology be maintained. As I pointed out earlier, Tipler’s theory, as wildly speculative as it was, did include specific testable predictions. That is what I understand as the underlying lynchpin of the scientific method. If you can’t falsify it by an experiment it is not science. If not the debate will get really ugly and muddy.

    Elliot

  • http://motls.blogspot.com/ Lubos Motl

    Scott: “oh and lubos, I could also think that the first statement was not true, a theory different(not a qft) then that for the other forces describes gravity, gravity might be a statistical effect of an adjustment to quantum mechanics ect ect”

    Dear Scott,
    let me start with a minor detail. “Ect” should have probably been “etc”, should not it?

    More importantly, you can write that “gravity may be a statistical effect of an adjustment to quantum mechanics” much like a creationist may say that a fossil is a game that God was playing with when he was bored on Saturday evening – because neither of you cares whether what you write makes any sense. Clifford could not write anything like that because he is a physicist. What I want to say is that while it’s true that you may write a nonsense like that, it does not yet make it a legitimate argument that would have the capacity to reduce the importance and strength of the comments I wrote previously. Indeed, gravity can’t be a “statistical effect of an adjustment to quantum mechanics”, even if this phrase made any sense. Moreover it does not make sense. It is not even wrong.

    Best
    Lubos

  • http://eskesthai.blogspot.com/2005/11/timaeuslaying-ground-rules-on-genesis.html Plato

    Laying the Ground rules

    A little history on my name has been linked. I may not be a 12 year lod scottish girl, but I have been here before:)

    First then, in my judgment, we must make a distinction and ask, What is that which always is and has no becoming; and what is that which is always becoming and never is? That which is apprehended by intelligence and reason is always in the same state; but that which is conceived by opinion with the help of sensation and without reason, is always in a process of becoming and perishing and never really is. Now everything that becomes or is created must of necessity be created by some cause, for without a cause nothing can be created.

    So “communities” was selected as a categorization, of respective views, but if you want to be a particpant you would have to put these aside, and produce my logic for a beginning? :)

  • Scott

    Lubos,

    I was just pointing out other possibilities, besides me not believing “that the world is not quantum; or the world has no gravity in it; or that there can’t exist a theory of the real world that agrees with these two observer facts,” because I don’t think that string theory is correct(well its possibly correct, i guess). You’ll notice that the first possibility was that your statement, “there can’t be other consistent theories of quantum gravity” wasn’t correct, or at least not proven.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/clifford/ Clifford

    Ok Scott and Lubos, I think that this particular horse is dead, dead, dead. Please stop flogging it. Just call it quits and stand to fight another day.

    Cheers,

    -cvj

  • David

    Clifford,

    A suggestion: Seeing as you’ve written a lengthy detailed post on this instance where string theory research was grossly misrepresented to the public, and raised the general issue of honesty in popular presentations of physics, it would be good if you could also at some point address the question of to what extent pro-string theory popularisers have honestly represented the actual situation in this field. A few comments on this thread have insinuated that all is not well in this regard (in particular #23, 2nd paragraph), and apparently from what I’ve heard there’s this guy Kaku who has done (and continues to do?) pretty much the same thing as Krauss, but in a pro- rather than anti-string direction.

    Based on your description of what happened I’ld say you are quite right to come down hard on Krauss in this instance. But surely one should react in this way to *all* misrepresentations of physics research, irregardless of which side they are on.

    David

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  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/clifford/ Clifford

    David,

    I was reacting to the talk that I actually attended. I try to refrain from commenting on presentations which I have not attended. Furthermore, as I said above, two wrongs don’t make a right.

    -cvj

  • Moshe

    I would say one more quick thing, there were very good discussions here about string theory, where people like Peter Woit and Lee Smolin and others brought concrete points they were concerned about, and in some cases the answer coming from one of us was : yes, absolutely, you are right. I think those of us participating in good faith in those discussions have earned the right to be viewed as individuals and not as caricatures, without having to jump through all kinds of hoops.

  • Moshe

    Killer combination of being a late night person on the west coast, always have the last word of the day…

  • http://sifter.org/~aglisi/Physics/CV.html Garrett

    Nope, Moshe, Hawaii has you beat. ;)

  • http://eskesthai.blogspot.com/2005/11/timaeuslaying-ground-rules-on-genesis.html Plato

    …..so was that a accention to another wrong(?) or just an example of a “another wrong by ” to show that it would not make a right? :)

    my hero….Kaku…helped to see, “light from the cave opening, as shadows on the wall” :)

  • http://motls.blogspot.com/ LuboÅ¡ Motl

    Dear Clifford, thanks for announcing a dead horse – I also think that the particular horse with the uncancelled violations of QM causing gravity is completely, completely dead. :-) Happy Veterans’ Day.

  • David

    Clifford,

    Fair enough. I assume then that if and when in the future you happen to attend a talk by a string populariser which presents a distorted picture of the actual state of affairs you will call him/her on it just as vehemently as you did with Krauss. Right? And how about the comments by Lubos Motl on this blog suggesting that string theory is just as established as the theory of evolution? You expressed your disagreement with this very mildly. Does this mean that you don’t think it is a particularly bad misrepresentation of the truth? To me it seems at least as outrageous as anything Krauss said, and I don’t understand why you don’t react more strongly against it.

    David

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/clifford/ Clifford

    David… I have already done this! I’ve spoken about the fact that the “Stringevangelists” play a dangerous game!! You’re suggesting that there is a bias that is not there. Note -again- that I have welcomed discussion and criticism of string theory….. I just want the discussion to be honest. This was the point of this post…not the criticisim itself….

    I repeat that I’ve spoken about Stringevangelism a number of times here. In the links that I gave. I don’t like it.

    Why don’t people read the background links? Please read the background links. I cannnot repeat everything I’ve ever said on this blog everytime I say something new. This is why I post links.

    Cheers,

    -cvj

  • David

    Clifford,
    I can see you are getting frustrated…sorry to be the cause of that. It’s abundantly clear from your posts and comments that you do welcome honest debate about the situation in string theory – I never meant to suggest otherwise. Having just gone through the posts you linked to (`landscape’ and ‘not even wrong’), including the comments, I didn’t see anything there about the danger of stringevangelism (perhaps I missed it), although I do remember you saying something to this effect in some other post/comment, can’t remember where. However, it is one thing to make general statements on the danger of stringevangelism (or anti-stringevangelism for that matter) and another thing to hold individuals to account in specific instances. So I don’t understand why Krauss gets the full force of Hurricane Clifford (and deservedly so imo) for distorting string research in a negative way while Motl gets barely a breeze for an equally outrageous distortion in the positive direction. I’m not trying to draw a conclusion about bias here, just saying that this is something I don’t understand and can you explain please. (If you have time that is, I know you must be a busy guy…)

    To finish with something more positive, I’ld just like to take this chance to say I really enjoy your posts (as well your cobloggers’) –keeps me coming back for more ;-)

    David

    P.S. From the analogy above you can probably guess which state I live in…

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/clifford/ Clifford

    David,

    Thanks.

    I was under the impression that Lubos is already balanced out by several sources….he regularly shows up with his opinions on certain other blogs and people debate him. He does not show up saying arbitrary stuff in public lectures, and on the radio, tv, etc…. when he does, and if he says something which I think is dangerously misleading, and if I witness it, be sure that I’ll point it out. But I am not going to go on his blog (or anyone else’s) and scream every time they post something I disagree with, just like I don’t write angry letters to Fox News all the time (or ever). I hope the difference is clear.

    Let me say that I am not perfectly consistent on this. I only have a finite amount of time and I am not trawling the web looking for all things that “offend” me. I do what I can.

    Cheers,

    -cvj

  • David

    Thanks for the explanation, Clifford, points well taken. It’s true that there are balancing sources for Lubos out there, but all of them are outside the string community as far as I’m aware. This creates an impression of condonement, or at least lack of strong disagreement, by the stringers, whether intended or not. This isn’t to say that you must be the one to react to him, and I can certainly imagine that you have better things to do with your time. But for the sake of the general public who visit these blogs it would be great if just one established string theorist out there just this one time could write in and say directly that Lubos’ suggestion that string theory is as well established as evloution is outrageous nonsense. There are a number of stringers out there who aren’t at all shy about pointing out nonsense by nonstringers, so why should they be shy in this instance? Come on guys, you can do it!
    Cheers,
    David

  • Moshe

    There you go, string theory is clearly not experimentally established, and the theory of evolution is, very much so.

    Happy now? do we get some brownie points? was that the last hoop to jump through?

    (I would also point out the difference between having a personal opinion and distorting facts, but I think this horse is dead).

  • http://golem.ph.utexas.edu/~distler/blog/ Jacques Distler

    David wrote:

    But for the sake of the general public who visit these blogs it would be great if just one established string theorist out there just this one time could write in and say directly that Lubos’ suggestion that string theory is as well established as evloution is outrageous nonsense.

    Luboš’ suggestion that string theory is as well established as evolution is outrageous nonsense.

    Happy?

    I hope you won’t require me to repudiate every outrageous statement by Ward ChurchillLuboš Motl before you’ll take me seriously.

  • http://golem.ph.utexas.edu/~distler/blog/ Jacques Distler

    $%#@, how I hate WordPress!

    The <del> and <ins> in the above comment worked just fine in the so-called “live preview”. But they were stripped-out of the posted comment.

    I don’t care whether you decide <del> and <ins> (or <sub> and <sup>, which have screwed me up here before) should be permitted in comments. But don’t pretend, in your live preview, that they are permitted when, in fact, they’re not.

  • Moshe

    Jacques, I was trying to probe exactly how ritualistic he wants the declaration to be, so I didn’t use his exact words. Now we’ll never know…

    This is getting ridiculous.

  • http://golem.ph.utexas.edu/~distler/blog/ Jacques Distler

    Oh, I dunno, Moshe.

    In some circles, it would not be considered sufficient to issue a ritualized denunciation. You would also be expected to rat on one of your colleagues who secretly agrees with Luboš.

  • Moshe

    Those would be the circles I try to avoid, but David seems so polite, and altruistic too, so concerned about the general public…

  • http://eskesthai.blogspot.com/2005/11/timaeuslaying-ground-rules-on-genesis.html Plato

    Well, I did a search for stringevangelism( you know a thought crossed my mind about changing the spelling on the last part of that word) on google, and I didn’t find any specific persons under this heading.

    A strange thought occurred to me this morning on my way to work. I remembered a “book burning show” taking place in some presupposed future. I thought hey, we just moved from the stage, now books( okay not so specific) but evangelists write books, do they not?

    Now I had heard this statement before that having written books about physics and string theory, somehow people became associated with the b*st*rdiz*tion of something really pure? Does generalization and helping the public, create such scorn on those who step forward and help the general public understand?

    Did these science writers sell their souls for money?

    Sell out on their principals and disced science partners. Now, to have become the dark force, having gone over to the ID side? I wish I had one of those voice synthesizers right now.

    Okay, a dead horse. Ya I remember.

    Affirmation and ritualistic denuciation does not really give it any more impact. It became lost to the wind. You have to really mean it.:)

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/clifford/ Clifford

    Plato:- I invented the word some time ago. I’m hoping to be remembered for it for all time. Maybe my only memorable contribution to physics….

    -cvj

  • http://eskesthai.blogspot.com/2005/11/timaeuslaying-ground-rules-on-genesis.html Plato

    okay! wikipedia, here i come:)

  • Moshe

    When you google stringevangelists, CV not only comes first, the results are exclusively CV, we have a formula for success here.

  • http://eskesthai.blogspot.com/2005/11/timaeuslaying-ground-rules-on-genesis.html Plato

    No moshe, just the start of a google bomb.

    The “little rascal’s” here at Cosmic Variance just figured out how to present their “first principals” in a computerize version of fighting the dark side. Now, they are working their way into society.:)

    May the force be with you, or if you like, to INfinity and beyond.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/clifford/ Clifford

    Yep, Moshe…freshly minted by Yours Truly. Nobody but me seems to be using it though, according to Google.

    Cheers,

    -cvj

  • Scott

    “LuboÅ¡’ suggestion that string theory is as well established as evolution is outrageous nonsense.”

    Yay

  • http://countiblis.blogspot.com/ Count Iblis

    ”string theory is as well established as evolution” :)

    The lawyers working on behalf of the school board in the evolution/ID trial forgot to call Lubos as an expert witness. :)

  • Elliot

    The stringvangelists could be a bluegrass band.

    Elliot

  • http://www.phys.cwru.edu/~krauss Lawrence Krauss

    Clifford:

    at mark’s request, I am going to submit a piece for the blog.. but again, i think you misunderstood me. I give literally dozens of public talks each year, and I did exactly what I intended, and I think it was the correct thing to do. I gave them a taste for science in the 20 min I had.. I talked about Michael Faraday, and how his mathematical invention (i.e. fields) turned out to be real… and we think of space as permeated by fields.. I then gave them a taste for how string theory deals with infinities… and I said, and I absolutely believe this, that this solves a mathematical problem.. and that it may, or may not be right, and it may or may not have anything to do with nature… we do not know at the present time. My example of the strong interactions was right on, I believe, not just cause those guys are my friends.. It is important for people to know that not all fascinating ideas are correct… I really think you over-reacted.. and while perhaps my original response was too flippant because I was upset, I hope I have clarified my view here… and I believe if you talk to the people in the audience,who are not as emotionally attached to the ideas as you seem to be, you will see that I inspired a number of them to read more about this.. which again was my intent.. whether in my own books, which I am proud of, or in anyone elses books..

    LMK

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/clifford/ Clifford

    Lawrence,

    Thanks. In fact, all of us here at Cosmic Variance sent you the invitation, not just Mark.

    As I said, I think that you did a good job in the first part of what you were doing. Then you lost your way.

    *By emphasizing to the audience that “dealing with infinities” is a suspicious trick, then saying that this is how string theory arrives at extra dimensions, and then introducing QCD (which you and I know uses the same “tricks”) as the saviour, but not mentioning that it uses the same “tricks”, you mislead.

    *By not mentioning the ongoing effort to understand the Kaluza-Klein idea in serious physics contexts, but instead dismissing it as a nice but wrong idea, you mislead.

    *By stating that string theory is the same as ID, but not explaining what you mean, you mislead.

    You say that you inspired the audience to read more. Good. I admire your efforts in this area, and acknowledge that you’ve done a huge amount of good in that regard over many years. But, key point: You cannot rely on the audience to go out and read the books to clear up misconceptions introduced by you in the talk. You should rely on them to find out more that way if they wish to, but not to fix the bugs that you the speaker introduce.

    I am not emotionally attached to these physics ideas. I welcome criticism of these ideas, as you now know well from reading the comment stream here.

    I am emotionally attached to the idea of making a fair attempt to honestly represent the state of ongoing research in science, especially when talking to the public, who are less inclined, or empowered (due to lack of expertise) to go out and check the details themselves.

    I hope we understand each other now.

    Best Wishes,

    -cvj

  • David

    Moshe, Jacques, what a cynical pair you are.
    But yes, I am happy now that you wrote that…thanks. Ritualistic formulations and ratting on colleagues is not required but by all means feel free to do so if you want to. And no, there are no more “hoops”. Clifford explained his position very clearly and reasonably and I appreciate him taking the time to do it. (Oh dear, there I go again, how can I learn to stop being so insufferably polite.)
    Cheers,
    David

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/clifford/ Clifford

    David,

    Thanks. And insufferable politeness is a very good thing. Something to which we should all aspire. I certainly try to.

    -cvj

  • http://motls.blogspot.com/ LuboÅ¡ Motl

    David and Scott,

    congratulations that you have forced Jacques Distler to copy a silly – and offensive – statement that you originated. Do you have to see a burned heretic every night before you got to sleep? ;-)

    Your tendency to force people to write down untrue sentences could have made you useful members of certain institutions in Germany in the 1930s.

    Whatever you, Scott, or (under pressure) Jacques Distler will write down can’t make an inconsistent theory consistent. And it can’t upgrade an intellectually inferior person to a rational person either. But that’s apparently not what you want anyway. What you want is to downgrade others to your level.

    All the best
    Lubos

  • Aaron

    I can’t keep track of who said what where or when, but I’ll join in and say:

    The idea that string theory is even remotely as well established as evolution is inane.

    The pressure must be getting to me.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/clifford/ Clifford

    Folks! (Lubos and others)

    This is the last warning… let’s call it quits on the whole business of the inflammatory remarks or the commenting on this thread gets closed. The horse is dead. Let it lay in peace.

    -cvj

  • http://www.phys.cwru.edu/~krauss Lawrence Krauss

    Clifford:

    I cannot believe I am writing again, but here goes, since you took the time to give a thoughtful response..

    once again, I think you misunderstand me.. I believe that QCD IS fundamentally different than the dual string…and it is worth emphasizing this.. the example I gave was to show that the dual string was simply the wrong idea at the time.. QCD does NOT deal with those infinities in the same way.. it replaces a theory of an infinite number of strongly interacting particles with an asymptotically free gauge theory for quarks..(there are other infinities, but those are not the ones I was talking about)… it was an example where the approach was simply replaced by the right idea…

    ..and Kaluza Klein, which I believe was a fantastic idea, and which I said so at the time, IS wrong.. it predicted a mode of gravity that wasn’t there, and it wasn’t appropriate to unify all the forces in any case.. both of which I said.. In an hour talk I would (and do) go on to show the details of how extra dimensions, supersymmetry etc have built on that idea.. but I do think, based on my experience in talking to lay people, that absolutely zero content would have been conveyed if I had tried to do that in 30 seconds to 2 minutes, because it requires far too much intellectual baggage and in the end the message they got would have been the same.. namely…:

    My point was to let people know that based on both history, and the way physics is done, they should be skeptical of what they hear.. that string theory is far from being something that is guaranteed to be right or even worth talking about in the long run.. that there is a difference between fascinating ideas and what turns out to be good physics… that large extra dimensions too are fascinating as an idea, but that so far they have not resolved any physics problems…

    AND… the context in which I referred to ID was actually to make a point that I am beginning to think is actually relevant… namely that when we (i.e. physicists, and yes, believe it or not, I believe I am one..) refer to ‘string theory’ it is in the context of ‘field theory’… namely as a technical replacement of one physical and mathematical framework for dealing with relativistic quantum mechanics with another.. but unfortunately in the context in which we complain about IDers saying Evolution is ‘just a theory’, the popular use of the term string theory is unfortunate.. because ‘string theory’ is not a theory in the context in which we claim evolution or general relativity is… i.e. something that has been tested time and again against experiment and observation.. calling it the string hypothesis would not be inappropriate in this sense.. there.. that ought to make some others even madder at me, I suppose.. but that was actually not its intent.

  • Moshe

    One quick comment, in case it is not obvious, I think Lawrence is referring to the original Kalutza-Klein idea (5d pure gravity on a circle), and not to the more general sense which we are used to using the term (any compactification, and not just of pure gravity).

  • http://eskesthai.blogspot.com/2005/11/timaeuslaying-ground-rules-on-genesis.html Plato
  • Moshe

    Plato, that looks interesting. It refers to an “intermediate” idea where you still have pure (super)gravity in higher dimensions, but those could be more than just five, and the compact dimensions could be more complex than just a circle.

    (and I had not realized Duff was an Oskar Klein professor, very appropriate)

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/clifford/ Clifford

    Lawrence,

    Thanks. This is an interesting discussion. I see no reason not to have it.

    Much of what you say is true. But you did not say it in the talk, you see. That’s my point. What you chose to say, vs what you left out, struck me as very very misleading. I do understand the difference between how divergent quantities appear and are removed in QCD and string theory, but at the level we’re discussing, in fact the similarities are much more up front. So to use the presence of infinities, (and a suspicious handling of them) as your damning evidence for an idea’s flawed status on the one hand, and then bring along another theory to save the day but not mention that it has the same (at this level) ingredients seems to me misleading.

    Moshe, thanks. I know what you are saying. But to the audience in hand, and at the technical level we are talking about, there is no difference. Lawrence seemed keen to kill all notions of extra dimensions, saying at the outset that it is wrong, and not informing the audience that the key aspects of the idea are actually alive and well, and form part of a large and interesting research program, and is part of a collection of ideas that can and will be challenged (at least to some extent) by experiments such as the LHC very soon. This seems to me to be misleading.

    Cheers,

    -cvj

  • http://www.phys.cwru.edu/~krauss Lawrence Krauss

    Clifford:

    again.. I think you mis-heard me… which may also reflect that I wasn’t as clear as I would have liked.. My point was not to use infinities to argue against anything.. but to point out that canceling infinities, as the dual-string did, was not by itself a guarantee that it was right, but that a completely different theory ended up coming along and replaced it.. as could easily happen again… I didn’t use it to argue that anything was flawed.. but merely that it is a mathematical problem that needs to be solved, but not every solution of it needs to correspond to reality.

    And my point was not to kill extra dimensions at all.. even from a self-serving perspective that would be bad, because a large part of my book is based on discussing why it is fascinating to think about them… my point was to stress that even though a huge amount of research is currently being done on them, large extra dimensions have thus far not yet added anything to our understanding of the world of our experience.. haven’t solved any physical problems, and may have nothing to do with reality. I think it is very important to stress this, if one is not to mislead, as I know you felt I did..

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/clifford/ Clifford

    Lawrence,

    Thanks.

    Either I misheard you, or you are misremembering what you actually said. It does happen. From the questions and comments that I got from people who were in the audience, I think that my memory of what was said is not too inaccurate. Also, if, I was confused, imagine how confused others who don’t work in the field might have gotten. As you said, you were in a hurry and did not take the audience very seriously, and so you were maybe not as careful as you usually are.

    It is probably some mixture of all the above, so let’s not carry on with the “yes you did”– “no I didn’t” part of the discussion.

    As long as we all agree to be careful about what we say (and don’t say) to a general audience, and realise that it is important to strive for honesty and clarity in the presentation of ideas (especially those of others not present) -even in a highly constrained situation/centext- then we have no quarrel.

    Let me end with an extract from Lee Smolin’s comment on the other thread.

    there is no conflict between having a good, honest, respectful debate over the open questions and presenting the science to the public. In my experience the best way to present what science is and how it works to the public is simply to carry out such debates in publically accessible forums like this-as well as in books and public talks. The public is smart and savy and they want the real thing.

    Thanks.

    -cvj

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  • http://None Wake Up

    Organized religion in a sense can be viewed as the world’s largest cult. (see dictionary for definition of cult) You are being instructed to think only one way and if you think otherwise, you will be severely punished. More deaths have been a direct result of the followers of this “peaceful” cult than any plague could ever inflict. There is no place in my life for it, though if there is in yours, that’s fine too.

    Doesn’t mean that there is not a higher being and science isn’t trying to disprove that. Personally it makes no difference to me. It’s as irrelevant as trying to determine if red cars or white cars are better.

    The world isn’t flat, dinosaurs existed,heaven doesn’t exist above the white fluffy clouds – scientific facts. Accept it and move on. People see ghosts, have out of body experiences, bleed from the hands at Easter. Science doesn’t have an answer, but it doesn’t deny that it could happen. Science doesn’t claim to have all the answers as religeon does and it doesn’t make up happy stories to fill in the blanks. (Indeed, the moon is made of magic cheese)

    Personally, I feel I am a mass of quarks, electrons, strings,etc. I have no soul. The universe will go on without me long after I’m dead. Do I need comfort to believe in a story were I carry on and my thoughts are still intact and I meed up with all my long lost dead pals and family? No. Would it be nice, sure. Will it happen, doubtful. Just as I die every night when I go to bed and I’m re-born in the morning. If I didn’t wake, did I miss the world? No. Did I even know I was no longer in existance for 8 hours? No. So, why then all the fuss? If religion is bogus and you die and that’s it, who cares?! I certainly don’t. I hope the worms have a feast on my remaining particles which allows them to be healthy and produce beautiful offspring.

    Now that I can live each day without fear of burning in hell and I have zero fear of dying (other than the brief moment of pain should I get hit by a train and I have no expectation of grandeur I can leave my mind open to many answers. Science seems to provide the most logical so far (my opinion). There is no magic in science – people walking on water and parting of seas. There is also no Santa and no Easter Bunny. Who cares?! You’re not going to burn for eturnity for being curious and for questioning the contents of the ole black book. There is a statement in the Bible that I believe parallels science and then all goes haywire from there and that’s “Let there be light”. Light in a fundamental building block of science.

    And if I’m wrong and I burn in Hell for saying all this. Who cares?! I’m only human. Not my fault that this so called creator so many swear exists gave me an inquisitive brain. Believe me, I’ll be calling my lawyer if I wake up in such a place as Hell!

    If you dismiss science because you want to believe in religion, it comforts you and helps you get through your daily life where you can sit safe and sound in your house waiting to die so that you can go some place better. That’s fine too. More power to you. Good luck on your journey. Just don’t knock people who like to open the front door of their house, walk out on to their lawn and roam around in the woods loking for more answers. And please don’t strap a bomb on your body and blow up my family because I don’t believe in your peaceful religion.

    Point being, think for yourself. Don’t box yourself into only believing in religion since you have been trained to think that way since Einstein know’s when.

    Maybe give ‘em both a try as I have and determine for yourself which makes more sense.

    Thanks for listening to my rant. :)

  • http://eskesthai.blogspot.com/ Plato

    It’s okay.

    All I think one wants to do is get off the cycle, and recognize that we can aspire to something? Yet we are still part and parcel of it. It’s hard to break the chains that bind us:)Hard to rise above these emotive sufferings. Hard to rise above the spoken words that resound from our youths as we were growing up. We are “better sons and daughters” for being the adult with clarity, in the situations?

    Who saids it’s easy? That for every gain in happiness that sadness will become encountered sometime and the length of time greatly enhanced in “hot stoves of miseries.” While indeed, Einstein’s happiness is quite fleeting. :)

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