This and That

  • Since everyone wants to hear about the faster-than-light neutrinos, here’s some additional information about why I don’t believe it. Jon Butterworth explains here the problem with timing the neutrinos at the CERN end. In a postscript, a senior member of OPERA points out that he and four other senior members of the collaboration kept their names off the paper. Their reasoning seems to have been that this is a very preliminary, likely wrong, result, being sold as more robust than it is. Tommaso Dorigo had a similar analysis to Butterworth’s up on his blog early on, but was induced to take it down because the release to the press and the associated hullabaloo had not yet taken place.
  • I had been wondering what had happened to the million dollars from the Millenium Prize that Perelman turned down. The Clay Mathematics Institute has recently announced that the money will go to fund, for the next five years, a postdoctoral position at the Institut Henri Poincaré, to be called the Poincaré Chair.
  • A sign of the times: today’s HEP seminar at the IAS was titled “Is SUSY still alive?”. I wasn’t there, so don’t know what the answer was, but clearly the question is now being asked.
  • The Tevatron will shut down on Friday for good, ending an era. There’s an article about this in Science magazine here. Gordon Kane was expecting SUSY to be discovered by this machine, but that didn’t work out, and he’s no fan of Fermilab management:

    But Kane argues that the Tevatron underperformed all along because of weak management at the lab and the Department of Energy, which funds Fermilab. “It could have performed much better and done much more,” he says.

    Reaction to this from Nicholas Samios was:

    “I would not trust a theorist to talk about management,” Samios says.

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    35 Responses to This and That

    1. Tom says:

      A million bucks only pays for five years of a postdoc? Mathematics must pay a heck of a lot better than experimental HEP does.

    2. chris says:

      it should have been named Perelman Chair at the very least.

    3. mo says:

      A million bucks only pays for five years of a postdoc? Mathematics must pay a heck of a lot better than experimental HEP does.

      I guess they meant an endowed chair funded by interest income. A million dollar endowment yields these days about $40k in income which is barely enough provided the administrative overhead at IHP is very low.

    4. Piérick says:

      chris says: “it should have been named Perelman Chair at the very least.”
      I do not want to offend the work of Perelman but, IMHO, he has not yet accomplished a sufficient work so that we can claim to substitute its name with that of Henri Poincaré…

    5. Peter Woit says:


      It doesn’t appear to be an endowment, since it is not permanent, but only for five years. This does seem to be a lot of money to pay for a postdoc for five years.

    6. Bobito says:

      Why working in a Mediterannean, crisis-affected country is a bad idea: a million dollars would pay my salary for the rest of my life, and retirement too (remember, no need to adjust for inflation, since austerity measures cut my pay yearly).

    7. martin says:

      They probably mean many postdoc positions.

    8. EscherBach says:

      aha! the long awaited experimental proof of string theory.

      Of course, ST is also compatible with this result being hokum (phew!) 😉

    9. EscherBach says:

      referring to MathPhys’ link above

    10. Peter,

      The cost of an employee is huge, sometimes more than twice sometimes of what the salary is, thanks to government regulations and internal bureaucracy. For example: benefits, insurance, travel, etc. Payroll is often 60% of expenses, so a $100,000 salary at Poincare seems reasonable.

    11. francois says:

      Regarding the seminar at IAS, there is a popular saying that states that:

      When the title of a talk is a question, then the answer is most likely NO…

    12. Peter Woit says:


      It’s still unclear though how this can add up to 200K/year to fund one postdoc, unless the postdoc is extremely well paid. Maybe there is more than one position, or maybe not just the postdoc is getting funded.

    13. mgr says:

      A theorist can be a good manager, for example Neils Bohr and his institute of theoretical physics (now named after him). Oppenheimer was a theorist and manager of the Manhattan Project. Isaac Newton was Master of the Mint and by all accounts he ran the place well. (But was Newton a theorist or a mathematician?) Experimentalists can also be good managers. Both theorists and experimentalists can also be outrageously bad managers. Being a good manager is a skill unto itself. What could the Fermilab management have done better, with the Tevatron? They could have operated it to higher energy. The Tevatron magnets run at 7.7 Tesla (approx) to reach a beam energy of 1 TeV. Operation at higher energy would have required a higher magnetic field, also higher operating costs. There was also a scheduling problem for collider vs. fixed-target operations. Remember that the Tevatron also operated as a fixed-target proton synchrotron, not exclusively as a p-pbar collider. The Fermilab management eventually built the Main Injector, which could deliver beam for neutrino physics in parallel with Tevatron collider operations. The integrated luminosity could perhaps have been higher, but it is not clear how that could have been done any better than it was. It is not so simple to figure out what more the Tevatron could have done.

    14. Coin says:

      “it should have been named Perelman Chair at the very least.”

      I would question whether Perelman himself would want that.

    15. EscherBach says:

      No doubt Perelman is fine with “Poincare” name for the Chair, for obvious reasons.

      $200,000 per year might include expenses and travel for organising annual seminars. Also $1million dollars don’t get you as many euros as it used to, and the trend could be downward (depending on which currency has the biggest crisis over the next few years)

    16. BJM says:

      Maybe million dollars is not to be all spent and the plan is to revisit what to do with the remaining sum after five years.

    17. Bernhard says:

      I find a bit curious the claims that the top quark “had to be there”. Had to be there like what? The Higgs? SUSY? I think Kane put in SUSY the same kinf of faith, perhaps even more faith. I remember when I was in a school for which David Gross was the director. The question raised for the audience was “what was the last big discovery in HEP?”. Someone shouted “the top quark!”. Dave Gross turned around and said loudly with a grumpy voice “iiit was a confirmation!”. Perhaps. What is the difference compared to the Higgs tough? Easy to say something had to be right after you know the answer…

    18. Reply to Bernhard says:

      Wasn’t the top required to be there for triangle anomaly cancellation?

    19. Bernhard says:

      Reply to Bernhard,

      Sure. There were indeed strong reasons to believe the top quark would be discovered. These reasons were proved to be correct, but I don’t think they are stronger than the reasons we have to believe the SM Higgs should also be there. My point is that you can’t be sure until you really detect it. This attitude of “of course it will be there because my model said so” is what put us in this situation of over confidence with SUSY. Guys like Kane were not really worried about discovering SUSY, but simply confirm it, since of course the s-partners would be there to “solve” the hierarchy problem, explain dark-matter etc etc. The success of the top-quark prediction is undeniable but could have been proved wrong too, for some reason. We were right and that’s nice but we won’t be always right.

    20. besnard says:

      I’ve counted 12 papers already (with 2 replacements) about OPERA in the arXiv, just for today !

    21. J says:

      “francois says:
      September 28, 2011 at 11:45 am
      Regarding the seminar at IAS, there is a popular saying that states that:

      When the title of a talk is a question, then the answer is most likely NO…”

      FYI: there was actually a talk a bit earlier at BNL with the title “Is SUSY dead?” I think although this title is a question the intended answer was most likely YES 🙂

      Peter: I like the amusing comment from Nick.

    22. Craig Dukes says:

      The Tevatron magnets run at 4.2 T, not 7.7 T, half the LHC magnet design field of 8.4 T. At the present the LHC magnets are at about the same field as the Tevatron magnets.

    23. Every time I keep hearing about this FTL neutrino nonsense, I think of this recent xkcd comic!

    24. Reply to Bernhard says:

      The reasons to expect the top quark were much stronger than the reasons to expect the standard model Higgs. A triangle anomaly renders the theory fundamentally inconsistent. No Higgs or other-than-standard-model Higgs doesn’t violate consistency, it only violates the Standard Model.

    25. Bernhard says:

      Reply to Bernhard,

      Triangle anomalies are solved within models (e.g. in the SM is solved family by family separately while other models solve them between families) . It is perfectly possible to build a QFT without a top quark making an arrangement to cancel it out. Sure you can´t find many of such models since model building in HEP starts with the SM, but a top quark does not make QFT inconsistent it makes the SM and other models inconsistent. I´m not saying the top quark solution was not a expected one, quite the contrary, but I´m not convinced it makes the “theory” (which by the way?) inconsistent. Within a certain framework, like the SM, but not necessarily, is unavoidable, but this is not to say is unavoidable as a general rule. It´s like you are saying “model building rules for renormalizable QFT depends on the existence of a top quark”. That´s not true.

    26. Reply to Bernhard says:

      All I can say is that an alternative-to-the-top anomaly canceling solution would be revolutionary.

    27. Bernhard says:

      I still think you´re talking about the SM.

    28. Reply to Bernhard says:

      Use the particles known prior to the top consistent with the then known facts, and tell us how anomaly cancellation does not require the top or why we don’t care to have an anomaly-free gauge theory.

      Over and out.

    29. Bernhard says:

      Sigh… Anomaly cancelation where my friend? In the SM, I have no idea how to do that. But if I’m allowed to throw in the theroy whaetver mirror particles (with high mass) that I want mass that’s not difficult.

    30. Pingback: Uncommon Descent | Skeptical mathematician Peter Woit on the faster-than-light neutrinos …

    31. Reply to Bernhard says:

      Sigh, you’re mixing up “known experimental facts” and “standard model”. If prior to top discovery, you were able to throw something together with no top **and** no anomalies that was compatible with the then-state of experimental knowledge, that would have been a valid competitor(then) to the standard model. Either such a model was proposed but is hidden behind the veil of time, or physicists were singularly unimaginative back then. Or the existence of the top was postulated on a very sound basis. Contrast with the Higgs. Right now, there are plenty of alternatives to the standard model Higgs, none of them yet ruled out by experiment.

    32. Eric says:

      Dear Bernhard,

      It is well-known that the anomalies from the the quarks are canceled by the anomalies from the leptons in the SM, separately within each generation. Once the bottom quark and the tau lepton were discovered in the 70’s, it was clear that the top quark should exist in order to satisfy the anomaly cancellation. Since the anomaly cancellation is within each generation, one could add any number of generations of quarks and leptons to the SM and still cancel anomalies.

    33. Peter Woit says:

      Eric, Bernhard, Reply to Bernhard,

      Discussion of this not-very-interesting off-topic question has gone deep into pointlessness. Enough of this.

    34. Pingback: The world reacts to superluminal neutrinos « THING IN ITSELF

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