Number 999 or 1000

According to the WordPress software, this is either post 999 or 1000 on this blog, depending on whether you count one I haven’t gotten around to finishing. I’m not sure that number is reliable anyway, since there are various anomalies due to a long-ago transition from Movable Type to WordPress. Some other statistics: 27,089 approved comments since the beginning (March 2004), 84,259 spam comments since the latest spam filter was turned on a couple years ago, 510,530 page hits last month (mostly spam, robots), and 8,842 subscribers at Google Reader.

The blog has turned out to be far more of a success than I ever expected when it was first started. There were few similar blogs back then, with Jacques Distler’s Musings having been around for a while, and Sean Carroll’s Preposterous Universe just starting up. Lubos Motl’s Reference Frame quickly followed, I gather somewhat in response to mine. These days, Musings seems to have gone dormant, but Sean and Lubos are still at it. I haven’t kept track of physics blogs in general, but there are now quite a few that deal with particle physics in one way or another. For particle phenomenology, Resonaances is a great source of information, for experimental HEP Tommaso Dorigo has a wonderful blog, and Philip Gibbs at viXra log does a great job of keeping track of the state of the LHC (for the latest, see here).

There’s also now a huge variety of research-level math blogs, including a very active blog by Fields Medalist Terry Tao. The new site Mathblogging.org is an exhaustive source of information and links. The big recent change in the math blogging world is the amazing phenomenon of MathOverflow, which features many of the best young mathematicians around carrying on the sort of conversations about research-level mathematics that traditionally go on in math common rooms. In an odd way, mathematics has often been somewhat of an oral tradition, since the impenetrability of much of the literature often meant that the only way to learn about something was to find an expert and get them to explain it to you. Now you can do this on-line, and this may significantly change how mathematics is done. Just as listening in to common room conversations was a great way to learn things, poking around the links on MathOverflow can provide quite an education. The moderation system somehow maintains a high level of discussion, although sometimes it lets its hair down to allow discussions like the ongoing one about Mathematical “Urban Legends”. There one can learn that one’s suspicions about string theorists educated at Princeton are correct, with Jeff Harvey contributing the following:

Since the OP gave a physics example, here is another one, also at Princeton. Why are they always at Princeton? Student finishes his presentation on very mathematical aspects of string theory. An experimentalist on the committee asks him what he knows about the Higgs boson. He hems and haws and finally says “well, it was discovered a few years ago at Fermilab”, Experimentalist: “Can you tell me the mass?” Student: “I think around 40 GeV.”

This was more than 20 years ago and actually happened. I was there. The student passed, but the next year all Ph.D students working on string theory were required to take a course on the phenomenology of particle physics.

There’s now a physics version of mathoverflow starting up, but so far it seems to me much less successful, with far too much in the way of the high-school level topics and un-informed discussion that plagues most internet physics discussion forums. There are some examples of serious questions and well-informed people writing in, so maybe things will improve and it will turn into something very worthwhile, replacing much of what is now going on at blogs.

I’m surprised to still be doing this nearly seven years after starting, but now doesn’t seem to be the time to stop. Particle theory has long been a rather intellectually dead topic, but whatever the news is from the LHC, it promises to shake the field up in one way or another, a process that should be interesting to follow. In coming weeks I may try and find time to learn some more about the features of WordPress, adding some features to the blog, or at least refreshing its rather tired look. Don’t be surprised if its appearance starts to change, or at least become unstable…

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23 Responses to Number 999 or 1000

  1. Noname says:

    “Particle theory has long been a rather intellectually dead topic”
    Ha, ha, ha… You mean to say the part of it you actually understand?

    [Initially, I deleted this, but finally decided to leave it. It does represent well part of the experience of blogging these past few years. No way to know who this is, other than that they're at CERN. Maybe it's the Princeton Ph.D. from Jeff Harvey's story....]

  2. Barbara says:

    I think you missed a detail. It’s not just young mathematicians talking to each other on MathOverflow. In fact, I think its main strength is the range of users, going from grad students to retired professors.
    Other than that, it is totally awesome.

  3. Lee Brown Jr. says:

    Congratulations on #1000! Your blog has inspired me. I look forward to reading more.

  4. Chris Austin says:

    “In coming weeks I may try and find time to learn some more about the features of WordPress, adding some features to the blog, or at least refreshing its rather tired look.”

    I hope it won’t become necessary to download megabytes of superfluous data to read a post, as with some blogs. I find N.E.W. a very good source of quick information.

  5. El Cid says:

    Student finishes his presentation on very mathematical aspects of string theory. An experimentalist on the committee asks him what he knows about the Higgs boson. He hems and haws and finally says “well, it was discovered a few years ago at Fermilab”, Experimentalist: “Can you tell me the mass?” Student: “I think around 40 GeV. … The student passed, but the next year all Ph.D students working on string theory were required to take a course on the phenomenology of particle physics.”

    Peter, really do you think I am stupid? I can’t believe it. Maybe, you think Princeton University is like Capillas’s School.

  6. Justin Hilburn says:

    There is a proposal for a high level physics site on stack overflow. It would be mathoverflow to physics.SE’s math.SE.

    http://area51.stackexchange.com/proposals/23848/theoretical-physics

  7. Shantanu says:

    Peter and others, sci.physics.research is still good (even though
    most scientists no longer post there).
    I learned of many interesting papers and results (Which are usually
    ignored in mainstream physics/astrophysics literature) through
    that.

  8. D R Lunsford says:

    10 OPTION BASE 0

    So 999=1000 anyway.

    Happy anniversary

    -drl

  9. nbutsomebody says:

    I agree that discussion of urban legends is a little diluting. However it is extremely entertaining, also for non-mathematicians.

  10. C. J. Mozzochi says:

    Keep up the good work, Peter!

  11. I came here to say exactly what Justin Hilburn said. Hopefully we’ll have a good theoretical physics research site soon!

  12. Tim van Beek says:

    Particle theory has long been a rather intellectually dead topic…

    the most depressing feature among severy really depressing ones is – at least for me – that in the 21st century there is a need to discuss – with tenured physicists – what a “test” of a physical theory is, see e.g.

    String Theory and the Real World by Gordon Kane.

    This resets the whole topic to a pre-aristotelian level. Maybe we should just walk away and never look back…

  13. MO guy says:

    I’ll have it known that if questions like the urban legends one become too common (called big-list questions), the NARQ (NotARealQuestion) squad will be there to MOp the floor with their smoldering remains (ooh, a mixed metaphor!).

  14. Chris Oakley says:

    1,000 posts? It seems like just yesterday when this blog and its followers were just a small (but mostly well-educated) group of malcontents and misfits … the days before you started filtering comments (what has happened to Quantoken, I wonder? – no, forget I asked). I thought that the principles of scientific enquiry were generally agreed upon, but a few hundred string theorists have proved me wrong. It is nice to have somewhere on the internet where they are nonetheless taken seriously (along with the basic rules of English grammar).

    You were talking about improvements, for which I am grateful, especially since you are not being paid for any of this. One thing is the annoying “1y -12m” showing up in tooltips to express a recent time; another thing is that it would be quite useful if in the sidebar, or something, there was some explanation as to what is possible in terms of mathematical formulae, HTML, etc. in the comments section.

  15. Myke says:

    Peter nice work on reaching 1000, keep it up! Think very carefully before you change your blog’s format! It works well and doesn’t need fixing. Tired is perhaps a euphemism for lack of confidence, which shouldn’t exist in considering your blog…

  16. Thanks for your site. I’m not a scientist, but I enjoy reading about it and thinking about it. I’ve learned a lot from Not Even Wrong.

    When I was a teenager, I wondered what would happen when physicists came up with theories so good they would very very hard to test. I had no idea that the Standard Model, coming into existence at that time, was such a theory. But your blog and those who respond to it make me wonder even more…

    What I wonder is this: if there is no practical way to test a theory, does this just sort of automatically turn people who in an earlier age would have been good empirical scientists into theologians and mythologists?

    In an institutional and sociological sense, what can be done to enforce intersubjectivity?

    Thanks,
    Mike

  17. ohwilleke says:

    Congratulations! I particularly commend you for taking the opportunity to recognize other blogs rather than just your own at this milestone. My blog, started in July 2005, recently had its 5000th post and I can’t claim to have been as gracious.

    Your thousand post count also deserve special attention because you are in the camp of bloggers who post in multiple paragraphs, rather than single sentences or sentence fragments as many of the high post count bloggers do, something that makes your blog worth reading, especially in a relatively arcane field where analysis can add considerable insight.

    The fact that your noise to signal ratio in the comments is 3-1 also indicates that a lot of people find this a worthwhile place to want their spam to be (I did a recent purge of years of comment spam and found that about one in ten of my comments was spam.)

    Perhaps we should to the analysis of your posting timing that Résonaances did, which seems to indicate that the end of the blog (or maybe the end of the world or the end of particle physics) is due sometime in 2012, per the Mayan calendar. ;) After all, if it is true at enough physics blogs, the sigma might get low enough to make it publication worthy as a metatheory of physics.

  18. Mean and Anomalous says:

    Thanks for the blog, and thanks for the book; keep it up.

  19. Jeff McGowan says:

    Congrats on the longevity Peter, fun to check in to the physics world once in a while. As for mathoverflow, great resource, funny story. I was at a math conference in the fall, and we were talking about it. One of Thurston’s students, very well known person, ton of students etc., was saying how great it was that Thurston had been following/posting on it, but that it got kind of depressing because he would read Thurston’s posts and just think “why do I even bother?”

  20. John Baez says:

    Congratulations on your 999.5±0.5th post, Peter!

    Michael Goggins wrote:

    What I wonder is this: if there is no practical way to test a theory, does this just sort of automatically turn people who in an earlier age would have been good empirical scientists into theologians and mythologists?

    Another option is for them to become mathematical physicists: that is, to study the theory as rigorously as possible. In the absence of experimental evidence, this another way to keep from “playing tennis with the net down”. Witten is the most famous example of someone who has taken this tack.

  21. Arun says:

    Congrats on the 1000th post (at the 5sigma confidence level!) Here’s to the next 1000! Will the Higgs have been discovered by #2000?

  22. Thanks for the fish. Your blog and book have been thoroughly enjoyable and I have learnt a lot of interesting facts from them. One thing that I wish you would do more often is write book reviews since I really like them.

  23. Shantanu says:

    Peter and others,
    I am still concerned that the only branch of experimental particle physics in which there has been a lot of progress since 1998 (viz neutrino physics) makes absolutely no connection with any theory or hyped extensions to standard model(string theory, ADS/CFT. supersymmetry etc).
    See this webpage for quotes by various physicsts (including string theorists such as Pierre Ramond after super-k announced result for non-0 neutrino mass.
    Maybe if string theorists are reading this, they could point out what will theta_13 be?

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