Discover Interview

The February issue of Discover Magazine contains an interview of me by writer Susan Kruglinski. I haven’t seen the magazine itself, and it’s not yet on the newsstands here, but a friend who subscribes was kind enough to send me a copy of the article. There’s a picture of me sitting underneath the blackboard outside my office taken by a photographer. The day he came I had a migraine headache, so was looking rather grim, not my usual cheery self.

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19 Responses to Discover Interview

  1. mathjunkie says:

    So, what was the interview about?

  2. MathPhys says:

    What do you think it’s about?!

  3. woit says:

    String theory and the blog, mainly. The title is “The Dean of Debunkers”….

  4. MathPhys says:

    Great title, Peter. Could you please make it accessible here?

  5. Dumb Biologist says:

    Perhaps the mantle can be shared with James Randi?

  6. woit says:

    Sorry MathPhys, but I think Discover wouldn’t want me putting up their copyrighted content on my web-site.

  7. Peter, your photo seems pensive as well as stern and it kind of goes with the folded arms and title. Discover seems to like slightly surreal photos of people. For the interview, you must not have had a migraine or too many off topic comments that day cause it was great. Respectful and understanding of why the field went in the direction it did, but very clear that more people need to be thinking in more directions. I feel like I’m giving an opinion on a movie while not wanting to give away too much.

  8. Quantoken says:


    It is NOT true that just because it’s Doscover copyrighted material you can not re-produce it here on your blog. You have a right to fair use of copy-righted materials, persuant to the law, Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107

    As a matter of fact, you and your colleagues are already routinely exercise your title 17 section 107 rights, by photo copying published articles without having to contact the publisher.

    The law says: “Notwithstanding the provisions of sections 106 and 106A, the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright.”

    Clearly if you quote the article here for purpose of education and discussion, and not for making money, you qualify for the fair use clause.


  9. Quantoken says:

    All you need to do for such fair use, is attach such a declaration note, in its exact format as below:
    In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.
    As a matter of fact, if you search on the web that exact sentence, you find many occurances.

  10. woit says:


    I’m not completely convinced by your legal argument, and in any case I’d rather just not get involved in this. There’s nothing much in the interview that isn’t already said many times elsewhere on this blog. The Discover people, the writer, the photographer are all trying to make a living by putting together pieces like this, hoping someone will pay some money for them. I’d rather encourage people to support them by at least buying a copy of the magazine every so often. It would be a shame if magazines like this all go out of business because their market dries up as everyone expects everything to be freely available on the internet.

  11. Thaed says:

    I loved the Discover article, but I’m a lawyer, not a math guy, so I was curious what the equation is on the blackboard above your head?

    Michael Crichton is also fond of the expression “Not even wrong.” I first read that phrase in an interview with him in some magazine.

  12. Peter says:


    The photographer asked me to write something on the blackboard, that was the best I could come up with at short notice. The top line is just the path integral for a quantum field theory like the standard model. The bottom line is the integration map in equivariant K-theory. What I’ve been working on is understanding the relation between this physics and this math, can’t say that I’ve figured it out yet, but there’s something there….

  13. MathPhys says:

    Some of us have seen a photograph of a very well known physicist standing facing a blackboard, arm extended with a piece of chalk in hand, chalk touching blackboard, blackboard is covered with equations. Looks very impressive. A great physicist in action. Too bad the handwriting on the blackboard is that of a longterm collaborator.

  14. Chris Oakley says:

    What – so were the Feynman Lectures a put-up job then? I know that Leighton and Sands helped write the books, but this is a revelation. So were the students looking at a hologram of the great man navigating around Leighton’s equations while the real Feynman was playing bongos or testing out cheesy chat-up lines in hostess bars … ?

  15. woit says:


    I asked MathPhys privately what he was referring to (no, despite what Lubos thinks, I’m not MathPhys). It wasn’t Feynman, but a more obscure picture of a more obscure physicist, one I wasn’t aware of. I’ll respect his desire to keep his comment nearly a private joke, but thought I’d mention that it wasn’t about Feynman (which would have been my guess too).

  16. MathPhys says:

    Definitely not Feynman. Besides, Feynman never had long term collaborators, let alone any scientific collaborators in any sense (I don’t think of those who wrote his books on the basis of his lectures as collaborators). Only those who personally knew the man that I have in mind will recognize him from my comment, so I’ll leave it as a private joke.

  17. Thomas Love says:

    We on the West Coast get the magazine late so I just read the article last night. I agree that string theory is not even wrong, but I said that about the standard model years ago (unpublished) so I don’t understand your love affair with it. I was at the AMS summer meeting in Salt Lake City in 1987 when Witten gave a week long series of talks on string theory. I laughed out loud, it was so absurd. Another phrase I like: It’s crazy, but is it crazy enough? In a letter to the editor of Physics Today I wrote: Nature comes with no strings attached.

  18. anon says:

    Nature has no strings attached! How does that translate into Latin? It should be adopted as the motto of objectivity. 🙂

  19. Thomas Love says:

    In describing string theory to a friend, with thousands of little strings wiggling around, I realized “This is a bucket of worms.”

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