If you didn’t follow this a couple years ago, you can read John Baez’s detailed description of the Bogdanoff Affair. For more about my dealings with them, see here,, here, and here. If you want to read their stuff, go to the website of the Mathematical Center of Riemannian Cosmology which purports to be in Latvia.
In brief, the Bogdanovs are two brothers in France with a TV show who got Ph. D.s based on work which on the whole was complete nonsense. I’m not surprised that they managed to get Ph. D.s, and one of them was failed on his first attempt. It’s not unusual in academia to be faced with having to decide what to do with students who seem to be enthusiastic and work hard, but don’t perform at an acceptable level. There are lots of reasons to just pass them with the lowest possible grade (for one thing, this gets rid of them). One of my colleagues refers to this as the “infinitely elastic C-minus”.
What was disturbing about the Bogdanov story was that they managed to get papers published in six refereed journals, some of which were quite respectable. Some of these papers were essentially identical. After this story became public, the editorial board of one of the journals (Classical and Quantum Gravity) issued a statement saying that the paper they published shouldn’t have been accepted, and that they were taking (undisclosed) steps to change their refereeing process so this wouldn’t happen again. This seemed to me strong evidence that there is so much nonsense now in the theoretical physics literature that the refereeing system has broken down. Many referees are now either unwilling or unable to identify nonsense when they see it.
I had discussions about this with quite a few physicists at the time, and many of them took the position that this wasn’t such a big deal. Their attitude was roughly that “So what if these guys managed to get something nonsensical past some lazy referees? Everyone in the community can tell that what they wrote is nonsense and just ignores it. It’s not true that we can no longer tell nonsense from serious work”. I became somewhat convinced that I was being too harsh on string theorists and others when I thought that they had completely lost the ability to identify nonsense. Maybe the only scandal here was the laziness of referees, not the infection of the whole subject by nonsense to the point where lots of people can’t tell the difference. Well, I just changed my mind, clearly at least some string theorists can’t.
I feel somewhat constrained in what I can say about the details of this, due to the fact that someone I’ve been in contact with tells me of being threatened with a lawsuit by the Bogdanovs for having criticized them publicly. I’m also not about to engage in discussion of the details of their nonsense, which is what they, like all crackpots, really want. It’s just a complete waste of time.