The first issue of the magazine Inference appeared online back in 2014. At the time, it was surrounded by a significant amount of mystery: who were the editors, what were they trying to do, and who was funding it? I asked around and no one I talked to was sure what the answers were to these questions. Best guesses seemed to be that it was run out of Paris, with David Berlinski playing some role, and the funding source might be Peter Thiel.
Looking at the early issues that came out, on the topics I was competent to judge, the contributions about mathematics and physics were generally interesting and of high quality. On some other topics where I lack competence, there seemed to be a skeptical attitude towards materialism and evolutionary theory that I’m not sympathetic with.
Late in 2015 I was contacted by someone from Inference (Hortense Marcelin) to write an essay for them, something about the multiverse and string theory. After thinking about it a bit, I turned down the offer. The main reason was that I was sick and tired of the subject, didn’t want to spend time writing at length about it. A contributing factor in the back of my mind was that, not knowing the identity of the editors or anything about their agenda was another reason to not get involved.
A couple years later I got another invitation to write for them, a request to write a short response to an excellent piece by George Ellis, Physics on Edge. Deciding to do this wasn’t hard. The piece would be short and I already knew exactly what I wanted to say, so it would take little time. In addition, I think by this time the identity of the editors was known, and, most importantly, Inference had a pretty good track record of publishing high quality articles in the areas I know about. What I wrote was published as Theorists Without a Theory.
Adam Becker a few days ago published at Undark a long article about Inference. It’s a bit of an exposé, taking issue with some of the writing as “intelligent-design propaganda”, and revealing that yes, Peter Thiel is a funder. An odd part of the story is that Becker suspects that a negative review of his book by Glashow in Inference was motivated by the fact that he had not much earlier contacted Glashow to ask pointed questions about the publication and its funding.
Today I got in my inbox A Statement from Sheldon Glashow and Inference, which is available here. You can read it for yourself. Noteworthy in the Undark article is Becker’s report that Glashow had told him that “questioning evolution” is “no longer a
policy of the journal”. Referring to two early 2014 articles that could be described as questioning climate change and evolution, the statement says:
Becker believes that two of our essays are deserving of censure. They are William Kininmonth’s “Physical Theories and Computer Simulations in Climate Science,” and Michael Denton’s “Evolution: A Theory in Crisis Revisited.”
Both were published in 2014.
Now a secret must be imparted. Sheldon Glashow and Rich Roberts agree with Becker. Richard Lindzen and David Gelernter do not.
It ends with this response to the accusation about the motivation for the negative review of Becker’s book:
Inference commissioned Sheldon Glashow to review Becker’s book in the spring of 2018, well before Becker was known to Inference. The idea that we would require the services of a Nobel Laureate in order to make a fool of Becker is absurd. Becker is capable of doing that quite by himself.