Short Items

  • For a while now the situation with this year’s budget for science in the US has been very unclear, with threats being made of huge cuts to be instituted in the middle of the fiscal year, requiring shutdowns of labs, etc. The recently negotiated budget agreement turns out to involve only relatively small cuts for both the NSF and the DOE Office of Science, more here and here. Details still have to be determined and the legislation has to be passed, but it looks like most physics and math research will escape any serious immediate cuts. The new fiscal year starts October 1, and fighting over that budget has not even begun. From the hearings already held, it looks like math and physics research has bipartisan support, but in the new environment of significant budget-cutting, focused on discretionary non-military spending, I’d guess that budget levels for the next few years will be flat at best.
  • There’s an interesting interview with Dennis Overbye of the New York Times here. He’s noticed a problem with string theory:

    One pet peeve is press releases about papers that show that string theory is about to be experimentally tested. When you read the fine print that’s never true. There was a press release that the large hadron collider was going to test string theory. It was kind of embarassing for them.

    Scientists and science journalists just take these shortcuts And I think they become enshrined as truth in the public mind.

    He also has some comments about blogs:

    Science journalism is in a very interesting, very turbulent state I think. We still have newspapers. Some newspapers still have science reporters, like the Times. I feel like the blogs have risen up to become huge force in the coverage of science. I think the readership now is very fragmented. I think a lot of people get their information from blogs, where people can be more casual or more arcane if they want to be. I think even at my newspaper there’s a difference between people who read the science times and the font page. There are a lot of these different layers of coverage going on.

  • In the category of “string theory about to be experimentally tested” nonsense that Overbye refers to, no press releases this week, but we do have a special section of Science News with an array of over-hyped stories about Cosmic Questions, with the one on string theory assuring us that:

    Even then, the LHC will be far from powerful enough to re-create the single, unified force that physicists believe existed for a fraction of a second after the Big Bang — you’d need a collider as big as the universe itself for that. But the LHC might be able to test some of the predictions made by the leading theory that joins gravity and the other forces.

  • In the category of something I just put on my list to try and find time to listen to, there’s a Science Friday program featuring a discussion about Science and Art between Cormac McCarthy, Werner Herzog and Lawrence Krauss.
  • In the category of talks I’d like to hear but can’t, Graeme Segal will be giving the Felix Klein lectures in Bonn next month, on the topic of Three Roles of Quantum Field Theory.
  • Update: Two more

  • According to a new preprint, CDF’s observed suspicious bump that made the New York Times “is a generic feature of low mass string theory”. No word yet on whether there’s going to be a press release. I guess this also means that if D0 doesn’t see the bump, that pretty much rules out low mass string theory since its generic feature is not observed, right?
  • Langlands has written a very interesting review for Mathematical Reviews of Ngo’s paper proving the fundamental lemma.
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    12 Responses to Short Items

    1. Bee says:

      “you’d need a collider as big as the universe itself for that”
      Last time I read that I believe the collider was as big as the Milky way. Just out of curiosity, does anybody know of an estimate for that?

    2. chris says:

      i remember a seminar on planck scale colliders where the conclusion was that they can’t be built. the thing that came closest was the Unruh collider – it consisted of two orbiting black holes. so i guess it is a bit up to your fantasy and to what you call a collider, but i doubt any serious size estimate can be given at all.

    3. Pingback: Salem News « Log24

    4. petergreat says:

      When will D0 have enough data to confirm or disprove the CDF finding?

    5. Paolo Valtancoli says:

      I think that CDF bump reveals that physicists are only a bunch of fools.

    6. Peter Woit says:


      Assuming similar magnets, collider energy scales linearly with size. So, very roughly saying the Tevatron is 1km in radius and gives collision energies of 1TeV=10^3 GeV, you need a factor of 10^16 to get to the Planck Scale. If I believe Wikipedia the Milky Way is 10^17km or so in radius, so a Planck scale collider would fit nicely.

      One other problem is luminosity, since interesting cross-sections fall off quickly with energy. It might not be possible to get sufficient luminosity to produce a useful number of events. Then there’s the minor problem that string theory doesn’t actually predict anything about what will happen if you built such a machine…

    7. neo says:

      One thing that gets ignored when people talk about milky way sized (or larger!) colliders is that it would take at least 300K years for a beam to circulate, so in our reference frame the data would be very slow coming in even if we were somehow to have one.

    8. neo says:

      Scratch that–I guess you could have a very large number of detectors.

    9. Yatima says:

      Well, I wonder what the business end of the collider (the thingamabob that corresponds to the Schroedinger Cat) would have to look like for Planck-Scale events to be detectable. Calorimeters made of thin slices of neutronium?

    10. A.J. says:

      Calorimeters made of thin slices of neutronium?

      You’re also going to have to work pretty hard to shield the detector from background effects, like the occasional gamma ray burst. You think the TGV caused calibration problems…

    11. Yatima says:

      Under “believe it or not”, Michio Kaku is being interviewed about the striken Fukushima 1 plant and manages to be even more catastrophist as the Japanese governement. It’s very bizarre and unfortunately rather unhinged:

    12. Peter Woit says:


      A quick read of what Kaku has to say doesn’t seem to me that unreasonable. Accurate information about what is going on at that reactor seems to be hard to come by, and the Japanese government has every reason to minimize the dangers to stop panic. Kaku quite possibly is maximizing the dangers, for his own reasons. I wish it was clear that he had gone way beyond the realm of plausibility. If someone knows an authoritative source that shows this convincingly, that would be reassuring.

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