First, news related in some way to Australia:
- This summer the Sydney Morning Herald published a nice profile of Geordie Williamson.
- By the way, the ICM plenary lectures are finally available on video, with Williamson’s among those worth watching.
- The Sydney Morning Herald also recently had an article on quantum computing, motivated by a public talk by Patrick Hayden. The opening lines of the piece contain a classical superposition of quantum hype:
Quantum computing will be so advanced that it will make your desktop computer look like an abacus, says Stanford University professor Patrick Hayden.
However Professor Hayden, who will present a public lecture in Sydney on Wednesday, is keenly aware that “the hype is just out of control at the moment”.
Among talks I wish I’d gotten to see or am sorry I won’t be able to attend, there’s
- The talks at the CMI at 20 conference this week in Oxford.
- Sabine Hossenfelder next week across the river.
- John Baez in Cambridge, talking about Unsolved Mysteries of Fundamental Physics.
If you just can’t get enough of the debate over string theory:
- Over the last fourteen years I’ve written skeptically about Richard Dawid’s defense of string theory as “post-empirical science”, see here, here and here. For a new academic paper along similar lines, see Doubts for Dawid’s non-empirical theory assessment.
On politics and quantum theory:
- I learned today from the Economist that the President of Armenia, Armen Sarkissian, is a theoretical physicist. Early in his career he worked in general relativity, see here. The Economist has Sarkissian promoting the idea of “quantum politics”:
In his view, our interpretation of how politics traditionally works should be updated to reflect the way that physics has been reimagined. The classical world of post-Newtonian physics was linear, predictable, even deterministic. By contrast, the quantum world is highly uncertain and interconnected and can change depending on the position of the observer.
“A lot of things in our lives have quantum behaviour. We are living through a dynamic process of change,” he says. “I think we have to look at our world in a completely different way.”
I have no idea what’s going on in Armenian politics and whether quantum theory is the way to understand it. As for the current horror-show that is US politics, one thing that doesn’t deserve the blame for it is quantum theory.
A very quick mini-book review:
- I just got a copy of Alvaro de Rújula’s Enjoy Our Universe, which is a short and entertaining, colorfully illustrated, overview of the current state of of high energy physics and the universe. The book brings back fond memories of a late-seventies course on particle physics that I took from de Rújula, whose humorous and lively character comes through in the book. For instance, about credit for discoveries:
There is increasingly convincing evidence that the Vikings set foot in America as early as the tenth century. There is no question that the Amerindians were there much before that. And yet, the glory of “discovering” America goes to Columbus. Thus, the point is not being the first to discover something, but the last.
About the relation of theory and experiment (this comes with a hand drawn illustration):
In particle physics, discoveries – serendipitous or not – are generally made by experimentalists, in astrophysics and cosmology by observers. In both cases there are also the theorists. High time to explain the distinctions. This is done in Figure 53. The question is what the similarities between the two sets are. One set consists of a farmer, his pig, and the truffles, the other of the theorist, the experimentalist (or the observer), and the discoveries. The farmer takes his pig to the woods. The pig sniffs around and discovers a truffle. The farmer hits the pig with his bat and takes the truffle away. These are the similarities. The difference is that the theorist scarcely ever directs the experimentalist to woods where there are truffles.
Beside the humor, the book is mostly succinct, clear and profusely illustrated explanations of important physics and astrophysics. The author early on explains that he plans to avoid discussing the sort of speculation popular in many other books, with a footnote justifying this:
There is nothing wrong in discussing these subjects, except, in my opinion, doing it without a very clearcut distinction between facts, reasonable conjectures, and outright fantasies.
Update: Some news and views on an open access development, courtesy of Mark Hillery:
- “Plan S has been put forward by a consortium of European funding agencies, including those of the UK, France, and the Netherlands, though not, as of now Germany, and it would require recipients of their funding to publish in gold open-access journals or vaguely defined compliant open access platforms by 2020. Hybrid journals, such as the Physical Review, will not be allowed. Gold open access requires that authors pay to have their papers published. The claim is that a cap on article processing charges (APC’s) will be mandated, but the details have not been spelled out yet. More information can be found here.
A good discussion of open access can be found here.
This is an attempt to force the gold open access model on all of scientific publishing. In a rebuttal to Plan S,
a group of young European researchers has pointed out that it would prohibit them from publishing in 85% of existing journals. They also point out a number of additional problems with Plan S.
1. While anyone can read an article in a gold open access journal without charge, publishing in one is a different story. APC’s, or what used to be known as page charges, are typically several thousand dollars per article. This seriously restricts the pool of people who can publish is such journals.
2. What happens if the rest of the world does not go along with Plan S? Collaborations between EU and non-EU researchers would not be able to publish their results in many high-impact journals (Physical Review Letters, for example), and this could discourage such collaborations. It should be noted that Robert-Jan Smits, the Open Access Envoy of the European Commission, is tying to persuade funding agencies in North America to join in Plan S.
3. Telling people where they can publish violates academic freedom.
4. In a gold open access journal, the financial incentives favor publishing lots of papers; the more papers published, the greater the income of the journal. This could lead to quality problems.
The rebuttal also points to possible alternatives to Plan S, such as green open access, which would allow a researcher to deposit a version of their paper in an online depository, such as the arXiv, at the time of submission and then submit the paper to a journal of their choice.
While I am not a fan of commercial scientific publishers, whose profit margins are ridiculous, I am a fan of society journals (I work part time for one, Physical Review A). These journals are reasonably priced, and income from them helps support societies, such as the American Physical Society, and their activities. Plan S is a bureaucratic attempt to impose, from the top, a publishing model on the world with which many people disagree or have grave reservations.”