This Week’s Hype II

LHC-related hype is coming fast and furious this week during my vacation, with Vanderbilt University yesterday issuing a press release headlined Large Hadron Collider could be world’s first time machine. It’s based on this paper, and the Vanderbilt press release explains:

Weiler and Ho’s theory is based on M-theory, a “theory of everything.”

The press release has been picked up by lots of other media outlets, including CBS News and UPI.

It’s rather impressive that these tests of M-theory at the LHC will not only provide evidence for other universes, but allow time travel in this one.

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49 Responses to This Week’s Hype II

  1. causality says:

    “Causality-Violating … (anything)”. Oh dear, if you can violate causality then you can probably work your way around the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Make a perpetuum mobile!

  2. anonymous says:

    I bet there are a lot of people who would like to go back in time and change their theories right now. Maybe the Multiverse folks can use the LHC to go back in time and uninvent this concept (and if they are real generous, maybe they can plant some papers in a few journals detailing how mathematically ridiculous it is).

  3. David Bailey says:

    This is an example of the scourge of image consultants! God particles, recreation of the big bang, and now time machines!

    Non scientists are not stupid, and they know that vast amounts of money are spent on these projects, and that less and less comes out of them except hype!

    The science community should realise that resorting to image consultants is like taking cocaine – a short term ‘solution’, but a long term disaster. Think for a moment about people’s current disillusionment with politicians in general – part of this is because politicians have overdosed on image consultancy!

  4. Peter Woit says:

    Dave Bailey,

    I don’t think the multiverse or outrageous claims about the LHC are the fault of image consultants. It’s physicists themselves who have gotten used to getting attention for spouting nonsense and are happy to do it themselves without any need for encouragement. The press will always lap this stuff up if physicists are willing to provide it.

  5. Michael says:

    Peter,

    it depends on which physicists you are talking about. Speaking for at least a segment of the HEP experimental community, it is extremely frustrating when some outspoken colleagues try to grab some glamor by making inflated and extravagant claims. The rest of us who are more sober and less addicted to the limelight can only suffer these fools. The cocaine analogy is a good one – some people want a high but everyone pays the consequences.

    Another example is all the hype expounded a decade ago for the ILC. The result was a proposed machine that would not have delivered the physics needed and therefore would have led to the death of the field. Instead, we suffered the embarrassment of a project that was not supported by the whole community because many people resisted the hype and did not jump on the bandwagon led a noisy and boisterous subset of the community.

    Michael

  6. Peter Woit says:

    Michael,

    I had in mind theorists, too many of whom seem to think it’s a good idea to issue press releases promoting absurdly unlikely speculative ideas. This isn’t something that I’ve seen experimentalists engage in.

  7. cf says:

    I had in mind theorists, too many of whom seem to think it’s a good idea to issue press releases promoting absurdly unlikely speculative ideas. This isn’t something that I’ve seen experimentalists engage in.

    Cold fusion?

  8. TedUnger says:

    We have been promised Earth-consuming black holes, a new Big Bang, marauding aliens from another dimension, and enough antimatter to build our own USS Enterprise – but there’s been nothing from these CERN scientists except some lousy boring data on physics! They better at least give us some time travel or else!

    You know that is what Joe Public is thinking.

  9. David Bailey says:

    I’d say the problem is wider than high energy physics. Terms like “quantum teleportation” seem pretty absurd, when compared to the Star Trek version, and even the term “quantum computer” makes me feel a little uncomfortable, because it is far from clear if there is a realistic chance of scaling the idea up to anything resembling a computer – certainly I’d be happier if they reserved the term for something with >1000 (say) q-bits coupled together. Then of course there is the invisibility cloak…..

  10. Pingback: Time Travel Poem « Log24

  11. Roger says:

    Michael, can you tell me some names of these sober physicists, so I can credit them? Are they willing to be quoted? As far as I can see, they all make silly and extravagent claims.

  12. Joe Public says:

    I have no scientific background, but this is what bothers me. 3-Dimensionality is a model for understanding our “spacial reality”. I don’t have a problem with claiming some newly discovered plane to be the “4th dimension” (discounting time, obviously)- what bothers me is using mathematical models with no empirical basis to make such wild and ubiquitous claims about x many new dimensions, and then the even more specious subsequent claims that spew forth…time travel, parallel universes etc. Not just claims that properly belong in science fiction, but claims that seem to be forming the basis for some new scientific religion. A very lucrative mythology for those who profit from it.

    Brian Greene and friends seem to be giving “realism” its most outrageous treatment since Plato. Btw- I’m all for science, and I believe it is the best tool we have to collectively model and understand our material reality, but…why can’t they see how horribly they’re abusing their own concepts?

  13. csrster says:

    “Large Hadron Collider could be world’s first time machine”

    or maybe it already has been! Did they think of that?

  14. TedUnger says:

    I know a lot of scientists have neither the skills nor the interest in sharing their findings and knowledge with the unwashed masses. But someone has to. After all, don’t you want to inspire that next great scientist? Don’t you want the public to at least appreciate and understand a bit of what you are doing?

    The public may be ignorant and superstitious, but guess who foots the bill for most science, and guess who takes it away when they don’t get what the guys in the white lab coats are doing up in their ivory towers. Brian Greene and Carl Sagan were are treated like lepers by many of their peers for daring to reveal some of the mysteries to the people.

    Apollo and SSC went away in large part because the public did not see their value. How about some of you stop whining about the publicity machine and start doing something about it? Otherwise hello new Dark Age.

  15. Allan Rosenberg says:

    If Weiler and Ho are right, then future string theorists will no doubt use the effect to send messages with the experimental proof of string theory back in time. Once we have that data (and who knows, maybe we already have it), nobody will need to actually perform those experiments. So much for Woit’s claim that we need experiments to justify string theory.

  16. Michael says:

    Hi Roger,

    sure – you can look at the blogs written at US LHC, for example. There is the famous blog by Tommaso Dorigo, the one by Gordon Watts, John Conway at Cosmic Variance, and perhaps even my own obscure blog.

    Hi Ted,

    none of us is whining about the need to promote science. I agree that it is our duty and it should be our pleasure to share our positive and privileged experiences with non-experts. I don’t look down on the public nor do any of my friends in HEP. On the contrary, efforts at genuine outreach increase every year and are far, far better than anything I saw as a student. My teenage interest in science stems from popular science articles like those in Scientific American and from science instruction in school, not from Star Trek or other entertaining but purely fictional productions. It never serves science to bait with science fiction and I would resist any tendency to do so, at CERN, at Fermilab or at my own university.

    regards,
    Michael

  17. Bugsy says:

    Michael writes:
    My teenage interest in science stems from popular science articles like those in Scientific American and from science instruction in school, not from Star Trek or other entertaining but purely fictional productions.

    I completely agree; while I found written sci fi inspiring (not so much the
    watered-down movie or tv versions, with few exceptions) it needed to be backed up with the “real thing” or I never would have gotten interested in math and science. But back then, Sci Am was far better than now:
    meatier, without the fancy graphics and sensationalism, and with the incomparable Martin Gardner in every issue.

  18. Paul says:

    When a physics department issues a press release, don’t a bunch of physicists in the department have to sign off on it?

    How many physicists would have signed off on this time-travel release?

  19. jpd says:

    “Large Hadron Collider could be world’s first time machine”

    or maybe it already will have been! Will they thunk of that?

  20. Peter Woit says:

    Paul,

    No, in American universities, typically tenured faculty members do this sort of thing without any involvement of their colleagues. It’s between them and the university administration, which typically is very interested in seeing research of its faculty promoted in the media.

  21. nonstupid layman says:

    Everybody knows that one of the purposes of the LHC is to “look back in time”; meaning to investigate the state of the universe (note: no plural s here ! ) shortly after the big bang. And it is well known too that the media reporting about different subjects ( politics, economy, science, …) tend to exagerate and amplify what they are told more and more these days to sell their stories.

    It is just unfair and incomprehensible of You, Peter, to take the fact that the media make “time-travel” of things like “looking backward in time” as another pretext to get started again about scientist working in the fields (note: here is a plural s) You hate. Be sure that apart from certain exceptions the scientists feel uncomfortable too watching the media reporting claims which are neither scientifically true nor pronounced in this way by them.

    Du You really think that we laymen are that stupid such that we are not capable of distinguishing a silly and exagerated headline and just laugh about it by ourselfs? It is really not necessary that You point out and term every bit of science knews You dont like (independent of it being exagerated or not, true or not true, etc) as a Hype!

    You are getting more and more unfair, destructive, fanatic and obsessed by what You obviously think is Your “holy crusade” to protect the poor innocent laymen against the demonic scientists You see everywhere in Your hallucinations.

    Get well soon!

  22. Michael, thanks for your suggestions. I did not immediately see any sober assessments of the “inflated and extravagant claims” that you complain about. On your own blog, you seem to avoid making such claims, but you don’t comment on such claims either. I would suggest that if the fools really frustrate you so much, then you criticize them on your blog.

  23. Cents says:

    To nonstupid layman:

    I am sorry that you feel Peter is not providing a useful service in pointing out the BS and hype that is part of today’s magazines business model. Besides providing interesting and timely insight as to what is going on in various areas of Math and HEP he is acting as communicator to the lay public – getting current science info out and and pointing the speculation aspect to the stupid laymen (do you think everyone is just like you). There is no shortage of speculation out there as that what sells magazines. I have been lurking here for a couple years (since reading Greene, Randall, Hawking and Smolin’s books that discuss multiuniverses and string theory and other speculative views), and really appreciate the service that Peter provides pointing out what is on the fringe versus what has solid experimental evidence. If I wanted speculative BS I would follow Michio Kaku or similar sci-fi-ish authors. Normally I would just keep lurking but I felt the comments by nonstupid were completely unfair. Since I won’t comment again, I just want to thank Peter for his blog and ask when and if you will write another layman book. Your writing style is extremely approachable and I would enjoy reading any new layman related science book that you care to write. (Yes I admit I am a fanboy).
    Nonstupid, no one is forcing you to read Peter’s blog so if you don’t like what he writes look for your Math/Physics fix somewhere else.

  24. Peter Woit says:

    Cents,

    Thanks a lot! Providing a more accurate source of information about subjects I care about is certainly one thing I hope I’m doing, and glad to hear it’s appreciated. No plans anytime soon for writing another book for layman. There are some expository writing projects I’d like to work on, but they would be at a more advanced level.

    nonstupid layman,

    You’ve completely misunderstood what this is about. The LHC as “looking backward in time” to the big bang is the usual kind of hype which isn’t worth making too much of. This is about something different, a claim that using extra dimensions and M-theory, signals can literally travel backwards in time, in a fashion observable at the LHC. This kind of M-theory inspired nonsense, spread by university press offices, is the kind of thing “This Week’s Hype” tries to point out. I think it’s worth doing, and no one else is doing it. I’ll be glad to stop when someone else starts (or, better, physicists stop doing this or tolerating it when their colleagues do it).

  25. PWfan says:

    “I think it’s worth doing, and no one else is doing it. I’ll be glad to stop when someone else starts (or, better, physicists stop doing this or tolerating it when their colleagues do it).”

    You’re a hero! 🙂

    Thanks!

  26. Yatima says:

    Backwards-in-Time signalling would make the NP complexity class accessible. Weakly godlike computational power at your fingertips, even if backed by Big Science? I’m all for it!

    http://www.scottaaronson.com/democritus/lec19.html:

    “Yes. Once we set up the CTC [Closed Timelinke Curve Computer], its evolution has to be causally consistent to avoid grandfather paradoxes. But that means Nature has to solve a hard computational problem to make it consistent! That’s the key idea that we’re exploiting.”

  27. Paul says:

    Peter, you might be very interested in the recent string debate at

    http://www.amnh.org/news/tag/isaac-asimov-memorial-debate/

    It’s got Greene, Smolin, Freese, Gates, Levin, Gleiser, and Tyson debating.

  28. Bernhard says:

    There should be some kind of political action against these clowns, really. Society is paying for this time-travel garbage which has no chance of explaining fundamental theory, is not science, not even good sci-fi. Even when people promoting this are competent in their fields, something should be done do punish them. Perhaps go tell on them to some piss-off congressman who knows nothing about science and willing to not see tax-money spent on this crap. Than after one or too time loosing funding perhaps the Universities would consider themselves not allow this kind of crap to be promoted.

  29. Bernhard says:

    … anyway, this sounds a bit extreme, and it is I admit, but it pisses me off no end, see this kind of things on the papers. I see no reason why this people have so much power and recognition but in the end what´s really worse is that these are the people with job deciding powers (on the theoretical side)!

  30. Peter Woit says:

    Nemo and Paul,

    See previous mention of this in “Short Items” posting.

    Bernhard,

    In this case and others, I think the people and institutions putting out dubious press releases don’t have much influence in the field. Consider it just evidence of the odd nature of the 21st century American university (50 years ago, if one of a university’s faculty members was working on time travel, the administration would probably not issue a press release about it).

    It would be helpful if prominent physicists contacted by journalists about stories like this would be willing to make forceful and colorful statements. In this case though, I guess the stories were just based on the press release, with no real reporting. Also a sign of the times….

  31. CarlH says:

    While Peter and others should never give up the good fight, keep in mind that you are up against something that has gone on for a long time.

    When Percival Lowell was using his wealth and influence to promote intelligent canal-building beings on Mars over a century ago, there were plenty of professional scientists who showed why there could be no such thing on the Red Planet.

    Take a wild guess who the media focused on and gave disproportionate amount of publicity to. Plus, Lowell apparently gave some very enthralling lectures and was a very good popular writer. I have read two of Lowell’s books on Mars and I have to admit, I can see how he could convince a lot of people there were ETI one planet over.

    I think we are going to have to wait for the human species to become a different and more educated creature before we can expect the majority of people to logically gravitate towards views such as those being espoused here. It’s going to be a long wait.

  32. Shantanu says:

    Peter, am still eagerly waiting for your comments on ASimov debate which btw is on youtube

  33. Peter Woit says:

    Shantanu,

    I just got back from vacation, and there’s a long list of things I need/want to do that seem a lot more appealing than watching the Asimov debate. Maybe I’ll get around to it, maybe not. I’m much more interested in what other people think about it.

    Also, I pretty much know what the debaters each are likely to say on the topic, and readers of this blog probably know what I’m likely to say about what they say. So the marginal utility of me watching and writing about it may not be very high…

  34. Zathras says:

    If the goal of this blog is to take down the massive amounts of science hype out there, the proper course is to do more than just a blog. How do movements get started in science? By articles and conference proceedings. Are there any articles on the arXiv that lay out the problem of hype in science? How about a session at an APS meeting which goes through what is hype and why it hurts science. With just a blog the believers will nod their heads, the trolls will troll, and everyone else will never get the message.

  35. Shantanu says:

    Peter the session was quite interesting and I did learn something new from the discussions and worth a look.
    Jim Gates (JG) does not believe in extra dimensions. He was contradictied by Brian Greene who said that extra dimensions are instrinstic to string theory.
    JG also said that this nobel prize winner found applications of string theory in graphene. He also said that everything is a matrix (which I don’t think anyone
    else including Brian understood). Marcelo Gleiser pointed that he is skeptical about grand unifcation and even things like unification of electricity and magnetism works only in a limited sense (that is in vaccuum in absence of sources) and
    he doesn’t think electro weak theory is a true unification of electricity & magnetism.
    Katie Freese pointed out that LHC and dark experiments may provide evidence for super-symmetry which might pave the way for string theory. At the end of the debate Neil Tyson (who btw did an excellent job in moderating the debate) grilled Brian a bit as to why “string theory has not made much progress”. Brian’s reply was that the questions we are addressing are much more profound and insisted that there had been progress(he mentioned applications to RHIC etc)
    I think that’s a short summary from my side.

  36. thanksgod says:

    Thanks god that in Europe all is well in contrast to what is going on in the US as it seems.
    Evereybodyhere can investigate what he wants and what he is interested in, including quantum gravity or other fundamental questions, without being threatend by religious fanatics who want at any cost to eradicate certain research directions. Sorry but it is really insane what is going on and what some people are saying here …

  37. Peter Woit says:

    thanksgod,

    Sorry to have to tell you this, but, based on the e-mail addresses they leave and the IP addresses they are coming from, as many as half of the more vocal commentators here come from Europe, including the “religious fanatics who want at any cost to eradicate certain research directions”.

    However, both in Europe and the US, I don’t think there’s any danger that those who comment on this blog or others will eradicate any particular line of research. Physicists issuing ridiculous press releases promoting their line of research might manage though to convince some of their colleagues that what they do is not to be taken seriously.

  38. Peter Woit says:

    Shantanu,

    Jim Gates and I were once invited together to debate string theory, but disappointed our hosts by agreeing on most things. He (and others, e.g. Warren Siegel) don’t think string theories in 10d give viable unification, they’re interested in making sense of “non-critical” string theories in 4d. So far this doesn’t give viable theories either, but you can argue it’s a more promising thing to work on than 10d strings, which have been a failure.

    It would have been interesting if Tyson had asked Freese whether, since supersymmetry at the LHC was evidence for string theory, wouldn’t no supersymmetry at the LHC be evidence against it? And at what combination of luminosity/beam energy would she give up on supersymmetry if it wasn’t seen by then? For Brian an interesting question would be whether he thinks there has been progress in the area of string theory unification. This raises the interesting issue: is the landscape progress or not?

  39. Shantanu says:

    Peter,
    I think Marcelo pointed out that some early LHC results already rule out a lot of parameter space in SUSY, but K.Freese didn’t quite agree. People also talked about the anticpated PLANCK results. but it was not obvious to me what that rules out or not.

  40. Shantanu says:

    a typo in my prev. posting
    “he doesn’t think electro weak theory is a true unification of electricity & magnetism”.
    I meant
    “he doesn’t think electro weak theory is a true unification of weak nuclear force and electromagnetism” , since both weak nuclear force and electromagnetism
    retain their individual identities.
    also one interesting question asked by Neil was whether people worked on extra time dimensions and the answer was yes (I couldn’t catch the name of the person who worked this, but apparently this is complicated). No one mentioned neutrino experiments anywhere in the debate.

  41. supsym says:

    The “establishment” will not give up on supersymmetry just because it is not found, at the LHC or anywhere else. People did not give up on the luminiferous aether just because it was “not found”. Instead they invented more and more contrived explanations. Remember that Lorentz-FitzGerald length contraction was actually invented to accomodate the null result of the Michelson-Morley expt. The aether theory was NOT abandoned, it was **modified**.

    What really killed the aether theory was that Albert Einstein could explain all the observed phenomena with a simpler alternative scheme which was demonstrably more successful. New observations fitted well with relativity, **without** the need to tinker with the foundations of relativity.

    So … bottom line … people just lost interest in the aether. The same happened with phlogiston — people just lost interest because there was a better alternative explanation for things.

    Supersymmetry will only go away when “something else” comes along which can do a better job of explaining known things, and can explain new things without revision of its foundations. But that requires “new things” to be found (new particles at the LHC). The “non-finding” of superpartners is neither here nor there.

  42. younghun park says:

    supsym
    good! I feel what you said is good, very good.

    The problem we have is not that SUSY is wrong, but, there is not the alternative theory, the other creative idea against SUSY and String theory to explain the experiment.

  43. Bernhard says:

    thanksgod,

    I do research in Europe and have certainly no problem with people investigating quantum gravity. It’s a really interesting subject. Actually even time-travel per-se as an (highly) theoretical speculative direction can has its value, like guys like Kip Thorne demonstrated. Asking the question on how much the laws of nature are allowed to be bent is part of the fun. On the other hand as a direction of research String Theory offers nothing. It failed in every single problem which aimed to solve and makes absolutely no prediciton. Of course if someone is willing to embark in such a sinking boat I have personally also nothing against it. But scientists must be responsible and not make really retarded public claims like leaving someone thinking that M-theory at the LHC will provide evidence for other universes and or time travel, which is complete crap. For this kind of think I have no patience or sympathy.

  44. Nathalie says:

    I wouldn’t worry about the Ho-Weiler paper. The LHC physicists can’t even imagine how they could experimentally observe that the secondary vertex appeared before the primary one.

    supsym
    I agree with your main message that people tend to lose interest … However, your historical account is not correct. Michelson didn’t know that he had proven the non-existence of the aether. If he was sure of having made such a great discovery he would have at least mentioned it in his Nobel lecture 1907. The great Lorentz believed in aether when he gave his Nobel lecture in 1902 (15 years after the Michelson-Morley experiment). For him the fact the “atoms” of aether were smaller than the ordinary atoms was not such a big deal.
    It is never easy to abandon an idea that has fascinated you for years just because it happens to be wrong.

  45. mm says:

    Michelson (and Morley) never claimed to demonstrate the non-existence of the aether. They could not. They could only test a hypothesis and report a null result. MM performed many versions of their expt (rotating mirrors) to test (and rule out) various hypotheses. But it was up to the theorists to explain the data using the aether, or something else.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michelson%E2%80%93Morley_experiment

    The LHC, for its part, can only report null results of searches, but not that “supersymmetry does not exist”. But note the following:

    a) The aether theory made concrete predictions (“solar wind”). These were tested (MM) and null results were found.
    b) MSSM in that respect does not make any specific predictions. If LHC does not find superpartners, MSSM is not “ruled out”.
    c) Things will only change if the LHC (or ILC or whatever) **finds something**, then the theorists will have to explain it. A continuation of “not finding anything” will not change the status quo. The more new physics found, the better. But even if new stuff is found, it is only if and when a competing explanation can do a better job, then MSSM will go away. And if MSSM explains the data … hah!

  46. Chris Austin says:

    shantanu,

    “also one interesting question asked by Neil was whether people worked on extra time dimensions and the answer was yes (I couldn’t catch the name of the person who worked this, but apparently this is complicated).”

    Two-time physics is developed by Cumrun Vafa in the context of F theory, which is something like type IIB string theory oxidized to 10 space dimensions and 2 time dimensions. F theory is being vigorously developed by Jonathan Heckman, who has published or co-authored 19 articles on it in the past 3 years. There is a separate development of “two-time physics” by Itzhak Bars.

  47. Kenneth Vatz says:

    For whatever it’s worth, I reviewed Brian Greene’s latest book, “The Hidden Reality….,” on Amazon, and it is easily found there under “one star reviews” of the book. What I said is entirely derivative, since I am not a physicist, and is based mainly upon the books I cited at the top of the review, including, most importantly, “Not Even Wrong.”

    More people than not have found the review “helpful,” although I did get one rather nasty comment calling it a “crank review,” to which I responded as objectively and dispassionately as I could. Well, maybe I could have been nicer…. 🙂

    In this review I was really expressing my own disappointment at having had the idea of string theory, multidimensionality, and parallel universes taken away from me after all these years of assuming this would be the ultimate GTE once it was proven experimentally. I guess it all has to do with the natural human desire and need for intellectual closure, even when it can’t be achieved.

  48. Mich Zimmerman says:

    I know I’m jumping in way late here, but:

    cf –

    BA-ZING!

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