Fresh from his leading role in the History Channel’s Parallel Universes (if you missed it on TV, the DVD is available here), according to a press release today, Michio Kaku will now be appearing regularly on Discovery’s Science Channel:
The Science Channel has signed a multi-year agreement with theoretical physicist Dr. Michio Kaku. As part of the deal, the Discovery-owned network will produce a 10-part series based on his New York Times bestselling book Physics of the Impossible and has exclusive television rights to Kaku’s other works for adaptation in series and specials.
In addition, Kaku will become the host of “Sci Q Sundays,” the Sunday programming block that explores scientific news and topics.
The show has a web-site here, including instructions on how to build a time-machine.
He’s great at the capitalism game.
I actually forced myself to read Physics of the Impossible, so I could legitimately criticize it. I dread having to be the killjoy when people watch this series and get excited about the absurd stuff. Not that I mind straightening people out, they just seem to dislike boring mundane reality.
Kaku is “one of the founders of string field theory”, but that’s too technical, so let’s not split strings and just say “one of the founders of string theory”.
The title of a future TV series could be
“From Veneziano, Susskind and Nambu to Green, Schwarz and Kaku.”
It would be good to know if there are any surveys of what really motivates most students to become interested in modern physics. If it really is down to sci fi wormholes, Planck scale manifolds, and spin-2 gravitons in string theory, then Kaku is needed in a sense to continue inspiring student interest in physics (one can hope that some of those students will defect back to reality at some stage, instead of worshipping unchecked speculation).
In some cases the best-scoring students of theoretical physics started off by scoring well in mathematics, and then found a lot of interesting applications for those skills in physics. This is a different line of approach from a deep desire to understand phenomena, which probably is the route taken by those majoring in experimental/applied physics. If you start off with phenomena that you measure and plot, then find an equation for, then develop a theory that explains the equation and predicts other things, you end up with real understanding.
I hope that this will happen once experiments indicate what is really occurring with electroweak symmetry breaking. The big strength of the standard model is in its experimental basis and experimental checks, which so far haven’t extended to the Higgs mechanism. Hopefully LHC experiments will this year focus attention on building theories to explain, and checkably extrapolate predictions from, real phenomena. This is the opposite of what string theorists do when they produce mathematical models of Planck scale speculations and then use those models to produce uncheckable predictions.
J. F. Moore,
Yes I think a lot of us have experienced that. I have a friend who is all over these news releases and I’m almost embarrassed to tell him the truth.
No I think serious physicists start out with wall sockets and fire and such. 🙂
Was hoping for some science news of the new large radio noise discovered by ARCADE (Absolute Radiometer for Cosmology, Astrophysics, and Diffuse Emission) beyond press release hype. Standard modelers will be discomfited.
Michio Kaku is to physics what Kenny G is to jazz. (Kenny G majored in accounting in college.)
If Nambu has a Nobel prize, why not Kaku?
PS Plagiarized from “If QED got a Nobel prize, why not QCD?” which was the catch phrase of the Gross et. al lobby, or so have I been told.
That’s funny, as I opened TV today there happened to be a document about CERN and LHC, which was (basicly) touted as a “time machine”, “capable of looking into the creation itself”, “creating conditions of big bang”, etc. and those comments were (apparently) from people working on the project. Atleast in that “how to build a time-machine” piece there’s a section that reads “practical problems with time travel”.
I dont think people should expect people like Edward Witten or Steven Weinberg to champion physics causes. They have better things to do. Michio Kaku is doing a descent job of trying to popularize fundamental science and it is not an easy job. He may not be anywehre near a top physicist, but he has done commendable work in physics. You cannot expect people to really appreciate ADS CFT or mirror symmetry or dualities. You have to view his shows as not a lecture that consist all facts (which would be impossible) but entertainment with descent amount of good science for people who are talented and interested to get enthused about great progress made by modern physics, string theory and mathematics.
Seriously speaking, I wholeheartedly agree with you.
In his attempts to popularize theoretical Physics, Kaku really creates a bad image for the field. It is very unpleasant when people hear what I do and say “oh, so you’re like Michio Kaku?”.
Okay, so we need someone to popularizes theoreticall physics without giving a nutty used car salesmanic impression.
I think TED presentations are much more effective at inspiring students to become scientists than these pop programs.
Isn’t most of his previous documentaries mostly speculations too (he label himself as a futurist), so I guess these are just a continuation of those.
Another one that have been profiling himself is Brian Cox with some BBC documentaries. The latest was “What time is it?”. The documentary style is much more personal and I actually learned something from it (and speculative ideas were stated as such). With Kaku it’s just no-holds-barred, but then again he has to work within the contraints of commercial media.
The problem is with the hyperbole and poor logic Kaku uses when he is popularizing science. I can’t conceive of the likes of Carl Sagan being so careless and silly, even though they are both dynamic lecturers and are good at capturing the fantastic scope of science.
For example, Kaku regularly chimes in on a notoriously nutty AM radio show and feeds people’s fantasies that there have been extraterrestrial visitors. The question is whether more harm than good is being done ultimately.
Kaku is an extraterrestrial visitor.
You know in India, they have instead of Kaku, Jayant Narlikar (some might remember his work with Hoyle on the steady-state cosmology). He’s the soul of restrained reason, and holds a position of near veneration there while continuing his career, emeritus. I can’t help but see something deeply disturbing about our culture in Kaku’s goofy omnipresence.
JFM, yes the comparison to Sagan was apt. I heard Sagan issue some whoppers about relativity, but on the whole he was enthusiastic and sane at the same time.
Since there are more physicists than physics jobs, I don’t understand why recruiting more students to the field is a net-positive.
In all events, the people who watch popular science programs (including, occasionally, myself) do so because (a) we want to understand nature, and (b) the accumulation of such an extraordinary understanding of nature makes us proud of the species.
It serves those people no purpose to have a popular science program that fails to educate and fails to illuminate.
It sort of reminds me of L. Ron Hubbard, a science fiction writer who decided the best way to get rich was to create a religion, Scientology.
Here we have physicists creating a religion called string theory and profiting from selling it in schools and to the public.
In my opinion, Michio Kaku seems like a very nice person. He appears to be a perfect gentleman, but I have trouble taking him seriously as a scientist. As a pop-sci guy he is decent, but Isaac Asimov was WAY better in that respect! Having read through Physics of the Impossible, I couldn’t help but think that Asimov would have written a book just like it, only a bit better.
Unfortunately, Kaku has become THE pop-sci guy. It would be great if he quit theorizing and became a sci-fi writer. In fact, most string theorists ought to look for work writing science fiction should their area of research ever be marginalized. (…Except maybe for Lubos. Any attempt at fiction by him might be disturbing.)
Then again, it makes sense that the History Channel of all channels would select Kaku as their science guy. The History Channel has been notorious for having more shows about UFOs, cryptids, Nostradamus, and other occultic or paranormal stuff than actual history.
Kaku does not just seem like a nice man. He is a nice man. He’s also a very smart man. Too bad he decided to get into the UFO business.
Asimov and Sagan were not only skilled science popularizers. They represent schools of science outreach. I wonder who is doing the job today at the same level of quality.
The History Channel was responsible for the recent awful program about parallel universes, but it’s the Discovery Channel that is involved here. Not clear there’s much to choose from between them….
how “smart and nice” can one be to promote time machines at the expense of physics?
a physicist’s “niceness” and “smartness” should be judged relative to how “smart” he is regarding physical reality, and how nice he is to his peers who are engaging physical reality.
there is a certain type of media-physicist who has evolved who is now doing more damage than good on multiple levels. they suck up all the attention and funding, at the expense of true physicists.
truly, what has kaku truly contributed to physics?
I don’t often watch shows on Discovery or the History channel – but sometimes I do and I admit to hearing things that make me groan. These channels by their very nature are for a wide popular audience. Physics (hell, speaking as someone with an M.A. in history) and History for that matter , are difficult subjects for a mass audience to digest . Physics in particular utilizes mathematics that is way beyond college calculus. If Kaku can translate for a popular audience even a small portion of what we agree to be physics then I think he is doing a service. I challenge ‘Smart and Nice’ to quantify in dollars just how much Kaku has damaged physics funding? I grew up watching Sagan and he is still a hero in my mind, as far as popularizing astronomy. Who knew how much the guy liked refer? 😉
Well, I can’t say I know him personally. He *COULD* be a prick and I wouldn’t know, I simply would not conclude something based on my impression, though he does seem like a good person. However, you appear to have known him and that he is indeed a nice guy does not surprise me. And he would have to be very intelligent to wrap his mind around higher physics concepts like string theory. The problem is when scientists like Michio Kaku use their brilliance and personality to act as PR for bad ideas. As long as string theorists have agreeable and intelligent spokespeople, they have PR.
Isaac Asimov is probably the most logical person whose writings I have read. In fact, if Asimov had a time machine, he would totally own Aristotle in rational argument! The genius of Asimov lies in his ability to explain even the most esoteric concepts in relatively simple ways that make sense. Kaku, for all his intelligence, would have a tough time catching up to Asimov though he tries to fill his shoes.
Actually, I naively believed that the Discovery Channel, History Channel, Animal Planet, etc. all came from the same corporate entity as if one company had a virtual monopoly on educational or informational programming on American Cable. I later learned that Discovery Channel and History Channel are not owned by the same company.
Discovery Communications, LLC is the sole owner of the Discovery Channel (and Animal Planet, TLC, the Science Channel, Military Channel, Discovery Health, etc.) while the History Channel is part of A&E network, a joint venture of National Broadcasting Corporation, Disney, and the Hearst Corporation. Yes, that Hearst, as in William Randolph Hearst, the turn-of-the-20th-century propagandist infamous for his invention of yellow journalism and perhaps inspiring such notorious media figures as Joseph Goebbels and Rupert Murdoch. The heritage of the History Channel might explain its preference for sensationalist programming.
Between Discovery affiliated networks and History Channel, I could almost sense a world of difference. Discovery Channel actually has plenty of great quality shows, especially Mythbusters, which is an excellent exposition on how to apply the scientific method. The (ironically titled) History Channel, on the other hand, is much more eager to air programs about the Loch Ness Monster, Nostradamus, exorcism, or UFO. Perhaps it is not surprising that HC would retain Michio Kaku as their go-to physicist. A “serious” scientist willing to give serious attention to spooky topics. But what does asking Kaku to host a show on the Science Channel say about Discovery? Until I get to see the show, I really can not say.
Jake the Snake,
I started reading Asimov at 11 years old (fiction and non-fiction) and I am certain that he was responsible for my formidable interest in science. Asimov is supreme.
On the one hand, he’s one of the people that turned me off string theory before I ever heard of Peter Woit.
On the other hand, I now think that he’s simply more up-front about the seemingly fanciful results you can get from the landscape and the latest predominant ideas in string/etc. theory. So paradoxically I am less bothered by him than I was.