String Theory Fan

One of the weirder battles of the String Theory wars became known to some as “trackbackgate”, referring to arguments over the arXiv’s policy of not allowing trackbacks to this blog. I’ve mercifully forgotten the details of the story, other than that I wasted a lot of time arguing the issue with the authorities at the arXiv and Cornell, an argument that I finally lost. If you’re interested in the history, a couple blog entries you could start looking at would be this and this.

At some point the arXiv’s policy changed, and some trackbacks to blog entries here started to appear, as well as trackbacks to all sorts of media stories that linked to the arXiv. A little bit of checking seemed to indicate that trackbacks would appear if I linked to papers not in hep-th, but wouldn’t appear when I linked to hep-th papers. A recent example would be this blog entry, which linked to and discussed this paper. This made me a bit curious about what the arXiv current trackback policy might be, but from past experience I figured that trying to contact them to find this out was unlikely to get me anywhere.

One day recently it occurred to me that a way to find out something about this would be to start up another blog, write a posting linking to an hep-th paper and see what happened. It’s quite remarkable how little time it takes to start up a blog, so an hour or so later String Theory Fan was on the web, with an About section:

This blog will be devoted to discussing the latest exciting developments in string theory, our best hope for a fundamental unified theory of particle physics and quantum gravity.

The author is an academic actively studying this fascinating subject.

a first blog entry spouting hype about string theory, the multiverse and how uninformed critics were, and a second one linking to and superficially summarizing a randomly chosen recent multiverse paper.

Well, I still don’t know what the arXiv’s policy is about trackbacks to hep-th papers, but the data shows that while Not Even Wrong doesn’t seem to qualify, String Theory Fan does:

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30 Responses to String Theory Fan

  1. Kea says:

    The shady activities of the arxiv are now well established. Fortunately, alternative sites such as vixra make the arxiv essentially redundant, even if professional ass kissing keeps it alive.

  2. Wyman says:

    I do hope research universities keep this in mind when Cornell comes to them begging for help paying arXiv’s server bills.

  3. Bee says:

    Well, that’s a little bit embarrassing for the arxiv admin isn’t it?

    In any case, it must be difficult for them to deal with the trackbacks. They probably want to preserve a certain quality standard so will try to avoid trackbacks to random crackpot sites. You can’t automate quality standard, so they will have to check them by hand. This inevitably brings in personal opinions and subjectivity and will occasionally cause problems. Not saying there’s a good reason to not list trackbacks to your blog in particular, I’m just saying the problem is one where such things are prone to go wrong every now and then.

  4. Pingback: Dodgy trackback policies « viXra log

  5. Stucker says:

    Peter,

    I’m usually critical of your activities, but this time, I have to admit, my hats off! :)

    Well done!

    Best,
    Stucker

  6. Syksy Räsänen says:

    Excellent, Peter.

  7. Anon2 says:

    LMAO. Very funny. Their “policy” is string worship. But they probably don’t even realise how subjective they are.

  8. Fabio says:

    Hilarious. But you should have held out for a supportive link from Lubos before you spilled the beans.

  9. String mafia says:

    to proof that you are a real scientist, the next step is publishing a paper about the Multiverse with your colleague Sokal

  10. Peter Woit says:

    Fabio,

    While Lubos approves of the string theory fanboy aspect of the blog, he’s not big on the Multiverse, so I doubt he would endorse “String Theory Fan”. To find someone willing to endorse both string theory fanboydom and Multiverse pseudo-science, it seems you need an arXiv hep-th moderator.

    By the way, does anyone know why most multiverse papers like the one I linked to are in hep-th and not gr-qc? I’d have thought qc=quantum cosmology was exactly their topic, and they typically have no connection to HEP. Maybe the gr-qc moderators wouldn’t allow them…

  11. Alejandro Rivero says:

    Bee, the problem is that they automate quality standard, in other sense: once some decision about blocking has been evolved into code (Perl or any other matching algorithm, I dont know), it seems very hard for the next ArXiV moderators to review and remove them, specially when/if moderators and programmers change with time. For robot scans, for instance, it seems that the ban is kept ethernally. Death penalty for your IP.

  12. Peter Woit says:

    Alejandro and Bee,

    The little information I have about this is that yesterday someone connected to the “String Theory Fan” blog from an arXiv trackback administrative page, and looked at all the “String Theory Fan” pages. Soon after that, the trackback appeared. This was definitely not automated, but I have no idea who was doing this, or what criteria they were using to decide whether “String Theory Fan” was trackback-worthy.

    I’m not very surprised they found the site trackback-worthy, partly because they now seem to be operating under a very loose standard, allowing trackbacks from all sorts of postings from non-scientists (e.g. Slashdot). What is surprising is that even under this newer loose standard, my postings are still often being judged unworthy. These decisions seem to be being made manually, not automatically, but, again, I have no idea who is making them or what criteria they are using.

  13. Anon2 says:

    “… I have no idea …”

    Very tactful of you! (Surely, you don´t need top be Einstein to work out from the list of arXiv advisers, those who are old enemies of your blog.)

  14. Peter Woit says:

    Anon2,

    I’m sure a certain member of the physics arXiv advisory board from the University of Texas has something to do with all this, but exactly what remains a mystery. Some of those who know him tell me he’s a reasonable guy, whose hands are tied by the true powers-that-be in this business. Seriously, I don’t actually have any idea what arXiv policy on this now is, or who is implementing it.

  15. nbutsomebody says:

    An excellent step.

  16. I am not sure your experiment proves much, except that a trackback can be approved quickly. Maybe someone dislikes you personally, or thinks you are a physics traitor, or thinks you are too negative about mainstream physics, or is offended that you attack sacred cows, or sees you as a threat to physics funding. It might be useful to do an experiment to distinguish these possibilities. Maybe you (or some reader) can start a blog that directly attacks the multiverse as unscientific, or says that the LHC is a big waste of money. Maybe you could throw in some Lubos-style rants.

  17. Janne says:

    Once again the true colors come out. Pathetic.

  18. younghun park says:

    Roget Schlafly
    Your critic on Peter may be right.
    I agree that Someone seems to dislike him and his act.

    But, his writings make us think about what is true science.
    Someone likes the concept of Multi-universe
    and the others dislike the concept of Multi-universe.

    It’s not important that someone likes or dislike
    that concept. The important thing is whether we are
    going on the right way or not.
    His blog makes us think about that question.

    “Which way Now physics is going on?”
    “That way is right or not?”

    Maybe, it will be answered after the result of experiment
    shows up through LHC.

    I believe his critic on current physics will make current physics more healthy. I hope to see his active critical life.

  19. Benni says:

    Peter, If you want your trackbacks to appear, then make your comments at scirate.com.

    This is a site where one can comment on arxiv papers. Trackbacks from that site are allowed, and any comment on a paper will automatically produce a trackback to the comment linked to the paper. (unfortunately, the comments are sometimes uninformed. For example, if someone does not like a paper, he can leave misleading claims on scirate on the article. Those rants then automatically produce a trackback that gets linked to the paper on arxiv.

  20. El Punko Rubio Herreras says:

    Yo, that is so el unprofessional to have done that, hombre. You will come to regret that, el mucho, grande mucho.

  21. Gphillip says:

    Their policy seems very clear. You are on the wrong side of the argument. You can either change the fundamental physics of the Universe, or learn to live without trackbacks. Trackbacks are so great, I’d suggest you change the fundamental physics of the Universe. Of course there are others who have been trying to do just that for decades, but I’d say you have just as much chance at it as they do. Good luck!

  22. sheldon says:

    Why exactly is it so important to have trackbacks from the arXiv to this blog? I am reminded of the quote by Sheldon Flender from the Woody Allen film “Bullets over Broadway”

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0109348/quotes

    Sheldon Flender: [bragging] I have never had a play produced. That’s right. And I’ve written one play a year for the past twenty years.

    David Shayne: Yes, but that’s because you’re a genius. And the proof is that both common people and intellectuals find your work completely incoherent. Means you’re a genius.

  23. Peter Woit says:

    sheldon, Benni

    I don’t actually think it’s of much importance to have trackbacks from the arXiv to blog entries here, so am not about to devote any more time to arguing the issue with them or figuring out some way around what they are doing.

    But the arXiv itself is of central importance these days for the health of particle theory and several other academic fields. How they handle the tricky issue of moderation is of interest, so I thought devoting a couple hours to this test project was worthwhile. But, that’s probably already more time than was sensible….

  24. Neville says:

    This episode is a hoot! Thanks for the entertainment.

    Life is supposed to be fun.

  25. Lenny says:

    Peter,

    While you are right that your experiment suggests that arxiv’s trackbacks are not managed in a serious way, I’d join with others in agreeing that nor are they a serious thing about which to worry. Moreover, there is a danger to feeding the caricatural anti-establishmentarianism manifested by some of those on the fringe of legimitate science – there is a difference between wild, credible ideas and junk – and for the arxiv to be useful it is essential that the latter be excluded – that’s not the old boy network – that’s good management.

  26. Tim van Beek says:

    The arXiv is a central part of the hep-th community at least, so the way it is run and moderated is an important topic, certainly.

    IMHO the next step would be to set up a blog like “string theory fan” and include watered-down versions of original rants, for example:

    “LQG is just stupid. I know it because I once met a LQG expert, talked to him and he was just unable to understand what I said. Plus their Hilbert space is not separable.”

    And

    “Modular localization in axiomatic QFT is plainly wrong, because it is not part of string theory, therefore I don’t know what it is, which proofs that it has to be wrong. If it were right, it would be part of string theory. And it would be supersymmetric”.

    (In case anyone thinks that this is certainly not “watered-down”: The relevant blog archives are all available online).

  27. Steven Jones says:

    i know this is a bit dark, and i might be wrong, or not even wrong, but sometimes i get the feeling that if we threw all the blog posts and comments and trackbacks into the trash, physics would not be harmed in any way, and may even be enhanced, as the snarky, handwaving, entrenched regimes of failure faded to naught, allowing new ideas to blossom.

    never have so many insiders been paid so much to do little more than set up criterion and networks to define others as crackpots, beginning with the premise that their own non-theories, decades-old dead ends are non-crackpottery.

    a little humility across the board would be a great thing, for until one comes up with a meaningful postulate and equation, how does one know that one is not a crackpot?

    i suspect that this reality eats at a lot of people in modern physics.

    for instance, when this is respectable research at major institutions:
    http://www.amazon.com/Eerie-Silence-Renewing-Search-Intelligence/dp/0547133243/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1277494776&sr=8-1
    http://www.amazon.com/Physics-Impossible-Scientific-Exploration-Teleportation/dp/0307278824/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1277494816&sr=1-1

    what constitutes crackpottery?

    I mean just look at the titles.

    Physics of the Impossible: A Scientific Exploration into the World of Phasers, Force Fields, Teleportation, and Time Travel

    The Eerie Silence: Renewing Our Search for Alien Intelligence

    Imagine Einstein, Bohr, Feynman, Dirac, or Pauli having anything to do with the above titles….

  28. kevin strings says:

    why the above titles reflect most exalted physics!

    crackpottery would be something like:

    The Eerie Silence: Renewing Our Search for Phasers, Force Fields, Teleportation, and Time Travel

    or

    Physics of the Impossible: Renewing Our Search for Alien Intelligence

    now books like these would be crackpottery!

  29. Peter Woit says:

    I don’t think the two titles you mention are very highly thought of at most research physics departments, and their authors are not modern-day analogs of Einstein, Bohr, etc.

    For a better example of something that is mysteriously highly thought of at certain physics departments (although not so highly thought of at many others), see

    http://www.amazon.com/Cosmic-Landscape-String-Illusion-Intelligent/dp/0316013331

  30. Hank says:

    Certainly a damaging finding. I remain unconvinced that entrenched bias will lead to better science.