Comedy

I realize that this is a low form of entertainment, but reading Lubos Motl’s blog today has definitely livened up my birthday, which in recent years has been a rather sad occasion. It’s hard to say what is the funniest thing there since it’s all great stuff, including:

1. Crazed, heavily ideological attacks (here and here) on climate scientists, who unlike Lubos, actually know something about the subject. The comment sections feature mathematician Greg Kuperberg, who has the hilarious idea that it’s possible to try and have a rational discussion with Lubos on this subject.

2. Kuperberg’s attempts to endear himself to Lubos by attacking the evil Peter Woit, announcing that even though he doesn’t understand string theory (something he has shown a perverse interest in demonstrating publicly, besides his comments on Lubos’s blog, see here and here) he believes it because “string theorists seem credible, seem talented, and have appointments at top universities.”

3. Lubos’s response to said attempts, comparing Kuperberg to some of his more “out-there” commenters.

4. Lubos’s claims that neither Lee Smolin nor I know what we’re talking about when we point out that perturbative finiteness of the superstring is not yet proved beyond two loops, followed by his claim that QFT perturbation series are Borel-summable, nonsense that Jacques Distler then writes in to correct.

Some may object that it’s highly unfair to use the fact that some of its practitioners and supporters are out of their gourds to make fun of string theory, but, hey, it’s my birthday, so I can do what I want today, right?

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38 Responses to Comedy

  1. icecube says:

    happy birthday!

  2. J.F. Moore says:

    Happy birthday Peter. I’ve enjoyed reading your blog, with the exception of Motl’s insult-laden comments, and I look forward to buying a copy of your book when it comes out.

    Internet Schadenfreude is OK, but be sure to have some real life fun as well today!

  3. cvj says:

    Happy Birthday Peter!

    -cvj

  4. Who says:

    Happy Birthday, Peter!
    Kind of a special one since you have a book coming out shortly.
    Thanks for your blog–the intellectual quality and energy.
    Enjoy the next year, whichever number it is for you.

  5. Luboš Motl says:

    Happy birthday! I am very pleased that you like the gift(s) from me. Next year – assuming that there will be something like 2006 (because you probably believe that the last one will be The Day After Tomorrow) – I may try to explain you why the perturbative finiteness of string theory is a proved fact. But be prepared that Lee may be a bit faster in learning this elementary material.

  6. Peter,

    if I am not mistaken, September 11 is also a special day for Lubos (the day of his thesis defense).
    You two should celebrate together – oh I see that you do already …

    Happy Birthday,
    Wolfgang

  7. Luboš Motl says:

    Hi Wolfgang,

    yes, we already celebrate together. ;-) Sorry, in 1 hour we go for a dinner with FM and a renowned climate scientist.

    9/11/2001 was a day that I will never forget.

    Best wishes
    Lubos

  8. Tom Weidig says:

    You forgot to mention that Lubos also censures i.e. deletes relevant posts / opinions that he doesn’t like.

    He should better stick to physics than politics. It is amazing to see how his mind falls for logical fallacies once politics kicks in. Not to speak of his boundless naivety regarding policies and its implementability.

    I think we should make him a politician for a week and let him leave his protected academic ivory tower…

  9. Moshe Rozali says:

    Happy Birthday!

    Moshe

  10. Kasper Olsen says:

    Happy Birthday, Peter!

    I’m looking forward to reading your book (even though I’m not sure I’ll agree with your conclusion, well…, let’s see ;-)

    Kasper

  11. iccutrr says:

    some entries from Lubos’ diary

    Sept/10/05: W called me again at 1 in the morning. Wanted me to hear his newest Biblical evidence for String Theory. Says Carl Rove too busy to work on Woit case right now. Carl in a frenzy; frantic with spin control for W, Brownie, FEMA, Condolezza, Chertoff. Et tu, Barbara.

    Sept/11/05: Another bad 9/11. Got punched in the mouth, again, after telling dinner companion, a world renowned climate scientist, what a moron he is. His IQ must be less than 90. I think he doesn’t like me. How can that be. My arguments were flawless, as usual.

  12. Arun says:

    Happy Birthday!

    Here’s something to chew on. Over at Panda’s Thumb,
    http://www.pandasthumb.org/archives/2005/09/dembski_quote_m.html

    they’re talking about a Richard Dawkins quote:

    Richard Dawkins wrote:

    “Instead of examining the evidence for and against rival theories, I shall adopt a more armchair approach. My argument will be that Darwinism is the only known theory that is in principle capable of explaining certain aspects of life. If I am right it means that, even if there were no actual evidence in favour of the Darwinian theory (there is, of course) we should still be justified in preferring it over all rival theories?.

    Apart from the “(there is, of course)”, don’t the defenders of string theory sound exactly like the above?

  13. Dick Thompson says:

    Happy Birthday, a little late. Long may you wave and be an irritant to Lubos and his ilk. Sto Lat!

  14. Arun says:

    Yes, this is probably the funniest September 11 since 9/11. Maybe things are looking up, even though we still haven’t caught the ultimate responsible for 9/11.

  15. woit says:

    Thanks to all for the birthday greetings, one thing I didn’t expect today was to have so many string theorists wishing me a happy birthday. Thanks!

    Spent part of the morning cleaning my apartment, which was unusually exciting, since it involved trying out my birthday present from my brother, a little “Roomba” robotic vacuum cleaner. The thing runs around the apartment vigorously vacuuming, doing its best to get into every possible nook and cranny. It only gets into trouble with electrical wires and the fringes of oriental rugs, otherwise does a great job, while providing a certain amount of entertainment.

    My brother is in town this weekend, so after playing with the robot, we went out to brunch at a nearby Provencal sort of bistro (Cafe du Soleil). It was a gorgeous day here in New York, and late in the afternoon I rode my bike along the river downtown to meet my brother and mother for dinner. We went out to Bonelick Park, a barbeque place on Greenwich Ave. Had an excellent meal including some wonderful baby back ribs.

    After dinner, looking downtown one could see the “Tower of Light” lights rising from the World Trade Center site. These have been turned on specially tonight to commemorate the date. Rode back uptown along the river, quite a beautiful ride at night. From my apartment now, looking out the windows to the south, I can see the World Trade Center lights, although much dimmer up here than from downtown.

    Well, I’ll stop with this sort of thing now, don’t want anyone to get the idea that this blog is going to start having anything like Clifford’s charming postings at Cosmic Variance. Enough’s enough.

  16. Shantanu says:

    Hi
    Peter
    belated happy birthday. Always wanted to ask you one thing.
    Does your colleague Brian Greene read your blog and your
    critiques of string theory?

  17. Michael Sanford says:

    Happy Birthday Dr. Woit.

  18. fooltomery says:

    Happy Birthday, Peter…may your book become a best-seller.

    And don’t mind Luboš…his conviction that no aroma accompanies his defecations won’t survive his denial of tenure at Hahvud.

  19. Robert says:

    I’m late but nevertheless: Happy birthday Peter!

  20. Eric Baum says:

    Peter,

    Happy Birthday.
    I can’t help remarking on the apparent irony between your first two points.
    How are readers to distinguish your respect for climate scientists from
    the possibility that it derives from their seeming credible, talented, and with
    appointments at top universities?

    BTW, since I know you are interested in the sociology of Science, I highly
    recommend reading Bjorn Lomborg’s Reply to Scientific American, which
    you can find at http://www.greenspirit.com/lomborg/ScientificAmericanBjornLomborgAnswer.pdf

    Eric

  21. woit says:

    Hi Eric,

    I actually have no idea who is right in the various climate science debates. What I found laughable was Lubos’s absurdly ideological discussion of the issue. From the way he goes on about Bush, communism, etc., etc., it’s clear that rationally weighing the evidence is the furthest thing from his mind. Perhaps a sizable part of the climate science community is so politicized that you have to evaluate all research in the field very skeptically, and in any case one certainly shouldn’t rely on reputation to decide who is right. But if you want to try and do so, you have to approach the data and the subject seriously, not just engage in ideological ranting.

    And please folks, don’t start up a discussion of this controversy here….

    Shantanu,

    As far as I know Brian doesn’t read the blog.

  22. Luboš Motl says:

    Dear Eric,

    that’s really bizarre what you say. Climate science and climatology has always been – and it still is – attracting the weakest students of physics and related fields in most universities I know; and for a very good reason. So if Peter Woit supports the mainstream climate science because it is done by the weak people, it is absolutely consistent with his approach to physics.

    Best
    Lubos

  23. Eric Baum says:

    Actually, Peter, Lomborg’s reply to Sciam does a remarkable job of clarifying
    issues all by itself. Lomborg’s book went through a long series of environmental issues (GW, species diversity extinction, etc etc) and argued in each case that the popular understanding, the press version, and the pronouncements of many scientists on the one hand were wildly at odds with the actual results in the scientific papers on the other, and described the actual state of knowledge, simply quoting relatively authoritative sources such as UN reports and reviews by top scientists. Scientific American then asked 4 of these top experts to review relevant sections of the book.

    Lomborg’s reply goes through each of these reviews, answering it line by line. The interesting punchline comes when he gets to the end of the review,
    and it’s the same in each case. The punchline is: “Now I’ve gotten to the end of the critique, and you can see that scientist X nowhere in his critique
    challenged my main conclusion of Y.”
    Each of these critiques are tendentious in the extreme, seemingly
    throwing up as much dust as possible to cloud the issue, but none of them
    even challenges Lomborg’s main scientific conclusions (e.g. the best estimates are that species diversity is vanishing at a ridiculously tiny rate, not a vast rate).
    This is perhaps not surprising, since all Lomborg did in the first place was
    to quote the scientific papers of these very scientists, but that’s what emerges.

    I find it highly interesting from a social standpoint that these scientists are happy, perhaps not even fully realizing what they are doing, to make all kinds of comments in public media of dire political outcomes that seem to contradict their actual scientific understanding, but I find it extremely
    positive that they are nonetheless unwilling to actually make clear false statements in scientific publications, even sciam, and that they still seem to be able to treat the science fairly carefully.

    Anyway, since they don’t even challenge his conclusions, you can maybe assume they are mostly valid as far as scientific understanding goes, even without trying to sort it out in detail, and his conclusions in every case are rather ridiculously more positive than much of what you may believe.

    Eric Baum

  24. Scott says:

    Peter,

    Happy birthday yesterday. I find it funny that he invokes Feynman about junk science while feynman himself thought string theory was a waste because of it disconnect from experiment.

    Eric,

    I remember reading both the scientific american reviews and his online responce and then the authors of the critiques responces(online somewhere) to his online responce. I remember seeing tons of logical errors in his responce before reading the responces which frankly blew him out of the water. Have you read those responces?

  25. Quantoken says:

    Peter:

    I could not believe you are so narrow minded. I posted a comment which is on the very topic that you discuss whether Lubos’s objection to GWT is reasonable or not. And as always, you erase it because of fear that TRUTH be told.

    Remind you, this is NOT a crackpot theory that the earth’s oil will be depleted. You must have thought it’s a numerology number that the gas prices are over $3 a gallon. But it’s not numerology and people are paying if from their wallets. And it’s just the beginning.

    I find it ridiculous that no one is even interested in talking about it. Am I the only one who still lives on the earth, and ever one else, including Peter, has moved to extra dimentions, multiverse, or ont of the the other 10^500-1 landscapes? All the number I cited are official ones and no one even disputed those numbers.

    Quantoken

  26. woit says:

    Quantoken,

    The question of how much extractable oil is still out there is completely off the topic. The only relation to what I wrote is that Lubos undoubtedly has some ill-informed views on the matter, but he’s got ill-informed views on lots of things and I don’t want this weblog filled up with an endless discussion of them.

    About climate science discussions in general: honestly I know nothing more about these controversies than what I’ve gathered from reading a few articles in the newspaper. This has convinced me it’s a complicated subject, full of people who have a political ax to grind and no real dedication to objectively looking at the science. I’m also convinced that if one wants to, one can read up on this and learn enough to figure out who is doing serious science here and who isn’t. But this is a time-consuming business, and I don’t have the time for it. If people want to discuss this, I think they should do so in a forum run by someone who actually knows something about this subject, and there seem to be several of those around.

  27. Kyle says:

    Happy Birthday Peter, hope your next year is a fine one.

  28. Eric Baum says:

    Scott,
    don’t know if I’ve read *all* the responses, in fact I just did a quick web search, and found a response that I hadn’t read by Holdren to Lomborg’s response to his Sciam critique. I don’t have to get past the paragraph 2 to feel strongly that its more of the same tendentious obscurantism. Paragraph 1 has no content except insult. Paragraph 2 is:

    “As my review for Scientific American acknowledged, Lomborg�s energy chapter does contain a number of propositions that are correct (such as the observation that there is large potential in renewable energy sources and energy-efficiency improvements).The problem with the chapter–and the rest of the book as well–is that, as a famously brief review of a long paper submitted to a professional journal once put it, `What is right in this document is not new, and what is new is not right.’ ”

    Yeah, Lomborg couldn’t have put it better himself. He doesn’t claim anything new. He just claims to be surveying the literature, contrasting popular and political statements with the contents of the scientific papers. Sounds to me like Holdren still doesn’t want to challenge anything of content in what Lomborg is saying.

    Eric

  29. LM says:

    Lubos Motl says: “Climate science and climatology has always been – and it still is – attracting the weakest students of physics and related fields in most universities I know”

    A-ha! Now we see the reason for Lubos’s hostility- he sees the climate scientists as poaching prime recruits for string theory!

  30. Scott says:

    eric this is peter’s blog so I am not going to get into this with you but you read the first paragraphs of a 7 page responce, and decided how the rest of the article was be. Your retarded.

  31. Scott says:

    oops, i meant, “was going to be”. so i guess i’m retarded too.

  32. woit says:

    This kind of argumentation about scientific issues that sheds no light whatsoever on them and degenerates into personal attacks just annoys me. Please discuss this topic elsewhere, I’ll delete any further comments here about this.

  33. island says:

    This has convinced me it’s a complicated subject, full of people who have a political ax to grind and no real dedication to objectively looking at the science.

    As Arun’s ‘food-for-thought’ indicates, this also stereotypically includes most of the same ideologically pre-inclined that commonly argue both sides of the creation/evolution debate.

    Politics destroys honesty in science.

    Happy birthday.

  34. Eric Baum says:

    Scott,

    Not really. If it was going to have content, it wouldn’t have begun with paragraph of gratuitous insults. In fact, it would be hard to imagine a
    presumably respected scientist writing a paragraph of gratuitous insults, much less beginning a paper with it, if I hadn’t seen it.
    And it follows a previous critique (Holdren’s first one) which was basically
    the same deal. And it’s not like Lomborg didn’t have content. He said:
    A is my message, and X didn’t anywhere object to it. If X wanted to
    come back and say yes he did, and if he was a scientist used to communicating to other busy scientists, he would have placed a topic sentence somewhere near the beginning that said “A is in fact wrong for the following reasons, as the remainder of this paper will show”.

    The fact that your correspondance is about on the level of Holdren’s should either make you proud, or serve as further evidence of the intellectual weakness of the position, which do you think?

    Eric

  35. woit says:

    Eric,

    I’ll leave this comment in place since Scott is the one who started the name-calling. But please, stop. I didn’t want discussion of this topic here because I was pretty sure that it would quickly deteriorate, but I had no idea of how quickly….

  36. Theo says:

    Happy birthday Peter from someone who has read your blog quite a lot recently but been lax in writing any comments so I just wanted to say thanks for the entertainment and insights.

  37. misslemon says:

    I wonder how most “string theorists”* or physicists would feel about having the verdict drawn up on their research by climate scientists, chemists or biologists. Get my point?
    *note separate category

  38. Happy Birthday Peter – very belated. Even though I don’t know enough string theory to have a strong opinion, I think it’s very valuable to have critics like yourself to try to keep them honest.

    And Lubos – happy Phd-averssary!