Embarrassing Crackpottery

A while back I noticed that the arXiv had allowed the posting of the preprint Card game restriction in LHC can only be successful!, yet another in a sequence of crackpot articles about the LHC from Holger-Bech Nielsen and Masao Ninomiya. That these authors have managed to get the previous articles in the series published in the International Journal of Modern Physics A presumably has something to do with the fact that Ninomiya is an editor of the journal. I didn’t post anything about this, on the grounds that embarrassing crackpottery from well-known physicists that no one except them takes seriously is best ignored.

Unfortunately, this particular piece of nonsense has been picked up by the New York Times, which tomorrow is running a story about it under the title The Collider, the Particle and a Theory About Fate. The writer, Dennis Overbye, presumably contacted some physicists to find out what they thought of this. If any of them told him this was just nuts and an embarrassment, that didn’t make it into the story, instead there’s:

…craziness has a fine history in a physics that talks routinely about cats being dead and alive at the same time and about anti-gravity puffing out the universe.

As Niels Bohr, Dr. Nielsen’s late countryman and one of the founders of quantum theory, once told a colleague: “We are all agreed that your theory is crazy. The question that divides us is whether it is crazy enough to have a chance of being correct.”

Dr. Nielsen is well-qualified in this tradition. He is known in physics as one of the founders of string theory and a deep and original thinker, “one of those extremely smart people that is willing to chase crazy ideas pretty far,” in the words of Sean Carroll, a Caltech physicist and author of a coming book about time, “From Eternity to Here.”

Perhaps it would be a good idea if physicists would remind journalists that often things that seem to be crazy really are crazy.

Update: See more here from Tommaso Dorigo. I should have mentioned that his posting from a couple years back Respectable physicists gone crackpotty was linked to in the article by Overbye, who had an accurate take on the subject from at least one source.

Update: Somehow I knew that Slashdot could not possibly resist this nonsense.

Update: Sean Carroll has a long defense of the Nielsen-Ninomiya papers as not crackpot at all, but crazy in a positive way:

There’s no real reason to believe in an imaginary component to the action with dramatic apparently-nonlocal effects, and even if there were, the specific choice of action contemplated by NN seems rather contrived. But I’m happy to argue that it’s the good kind of crazy. The authors start with a speculative but well-defined idea, and carry it through to its logical conclusions.

As for the argument that prominently-placed New York Times stories promoting crazy ideas about physics might be problematic, Sean is having none of it. He argues that the public is able to differentiate between speculative ideas and solidly tested science, so it’s not a problem that:

My own anecdotal observations are pretty unambiguous — the public loves far-out speculations like this, and happily eats them up.

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51 Responses to Embarrassing Crackpottery

  1. Proxi says:

    The LHC will fail over and over again and will be closed before 2018.
    Just wait and you will see.

    Just for fun: draw these cards! :-)