Wide World of Links

Some short items of a wide variety of kinds:

  • Witten has posted to the arXiv a long paper about the work on superstring perturbation theory that he has been doing. Superstring Perturbation Theory Revisited, together with two papers of background material (see here and here) weighs in at 400 pages. For an explanation of the main points, you might want to start with one of Witten’s recent talks on the subject, for instance this one at Strings 2012.
    Witten doesn’t make much in the way of claims for the significance of this work, portraying it more as a project of going through the foundations of the subject of how you define higher loop superstring amplitudes in a much more careful way than was common during the mid-late 80s when this was a hot topic of research. The technicalities here are ferocious, well beyond my expertise. It will be interesting to see if this project revives interest in the subject and others start working on it again.
  • Also on the arXiv is a new paper from Paul Frampton, with affiliation now including the Centro Universitario Devoto, part of the prison where he is unfortunately still incarcerated in Argentina. He argues here that he is still able to fulfill his duties as a University of North Carolina professor from Devoto prison, but doesn’t seem to have gotten the university to agree about this.
  • There’s a conference at DESY this week on Lessons from the first phase of the LHC, with talks on Friday discussing “Where could SUSY be hiding?” and “Searches for new physics at the LHC: some frustration, but no despair…”. For some additional context to the SUSY issue, I recently ran across this talk from SUSY 02, 10 years ago, which argued that SUSY arguments implied that “superpartners are probably being produced” at a new collider that had been running for a year or two (the Tevatron Run II at that time).
  • The SCOAP3 consortium has announced a plan to support commercial journals publishing HEP papers, paying them 1000-2000$ per HEP paper they publish according to a complicated formula. Elsevier would get about $2.4 million/year for papers in Physics Letters B and Nuclear Physics B, but somehow reduce its subscription fees to compensate. I don’t understand at all how this is supposed to work (obvious problems include that of why anyone would subscribe once it was all open access, and what the mechanism is to stop publishers from increasing revenues by publishing more second-rate papers). Nature has an article explaining more about what is going on here. Steven Harnad describes the scheme as Unnecessary, Unscalable and Unsustainable, Peter Coles as “Particle physics volunteers to be fleeced…”
  • String theory advertising available here, Sean Carroll commentary about this here.
  • At Foundations of Physics, Gerard ’t Hooft has a new paper which doesn’t seem to be on the arXiv, On the Foundations of Superstring Theory (you may need a subscription to read it). Here’s the abstract:

    Superstring theory is an extension of conventional quantum field theory that allows for stringlike and branelike material objects besides pointlike particles. The basic foundations on which the theory is built are amazingly shaky, and, equally amazingly, it seems to be this lack of solid foundations to which the theory owes its strength. We emphasize that such a situation is legitimate only in the development phases of a new doctrine. Eventually, a more solidly founded structure must be sought.
    Although it is advertised as a “candidate theory of quantum gravity”, we claim that string theory may not be exactly that. Rather, just like quantum field theory itself, it is a general mathematical framework for a class of theories. Its major flaw could be that it still embraces a Copenhagen view on the relation between quantum mechanics and reality, while any “theory of everything”, that is, a theory for the entire cosmos, should do better than that.

    There’s a recent blog posting about this here, including commentary from ’t Hooft himself.

  • If you’re trying to keep up on reaction to Mochizuki’s claimed proof of the ABC conjecture, try looking here. Still I think a very long ways to go before experts understand this well enough to evaluate whether this is a solid proof.
  • I recently heard from Nick Carlin, who has unearthed the following scientific documents: Strange Particle Interactions in a Bubble Chamber and The Angular Correlation of Polarization of Annihilation Radiation, from late 1977 or spring 1978. Handwritten commentary is from William J. Skocpol and Robert V. Pound.

Update: Some frustration, but no despair is now on-line. The first slide is pretty amusing…

Update: More news about the latest in Paul Frampton’s case here.

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22 Responses to Wide World of Links

  1. Tony Smith says:

    As to SCOAP3 and
    “… why anyone would subscribe once it was all open access …”
    the Register has a 26 Sep 2012 article entitled
    “High-energy physics opens up”
    that says
    “… Instead of fronting up for high subscription fees,
    libraries will fund the per-article open access fees …
    This will either reduce, or replace entirely, library subscriptions …”
    so
    it may be that individual users will now have to pay $30 per article
    if they go to a university library to get papers from the web.

    Tony

  2. Peter Woit says:

    Tony,

    The “libraries will fund the per-article access fees” is referring to the journals getting $1000-$2000/article, and in return making them available for free on the web. So, if you had to go to a university library to get access to such articles, once this goes into practice, you can stay home and get access from your computer for free. This is the positive side of this story.

    On the other side, there’s the question of why, when some mathematicians and physicists are trying to get the literature out of the grips of Elsevier so that the scientific community would no longer have to pay them, this plan does the opposite, providing them with a $2.5million/year revenue stream to pay for “open access” to articles that are already available on the arXiv.

    The article Tony refers to is at

    http://www.theregister.co.uk/2012/09/26/open_access_high_energy_physics/

  3. Deane says:

    I had a great time talking to your colleague Shouwu Zhang today at tea about the abc conjecture and number theory in general. He really can explain the whole history of number theory up to today more clearly than anyone else I’ve ever talked to.

  4. Peter Woit says:

    Hi Deane,

    Well, does Shouwu believe it? In any case, we’re hoping he sees the light and doesn’t permanently move to Princeton…

  5. chris says:

    what a wonderful paper – thanks for the link.

    i mean the one by ‘t Hooft of course.

  6. Raisonator says:

    Indeed, a wonderful paper – found interesting new arguments.

    I am reminded of a statement by John Bell way back in 1990.

    Q: “I’m sorry, does that mean that you say relativity and quantum mechanics are not compatible?”
    J. B.: “No no I can’t say that, because I think somebody will find a way of saying that they are compatible. But I haven’t seen it yet. For me it’s very hard to put them together, but I think somebody will put them together, and we’ll just see that my imagination was too limited. Well, as the people in that department work at present, they are not coming to this question, because the superstring is still formulated within traditional quantum mechanics, and you still have the superposition principle which is maybe the root of all these things. But it could be that as they go further into that, they find that it just won’t work along the traditional lines, and at some point they’ll have to give up the superposition principle.”

  7. Clark says:

    Vesselin has found a serious problem in the Mochizuki proof. Terence Tao believes :
    ” it would be difficult to be optimistic about the proof until this issue is somehow resolved “

  8. Peter Woit says:

    Clark is referring to this:

    http://mathoverflow.net/questions/106560/philosophy-behind-mochizukis-work-on-the-abc-conjecture/107279#107279

    It’s very hard to follow this discussion on mathoverflow, the format is really wrong for this. Instead of a chronological discussion, one just sees the latest version of a continually edited “answer to a question”, with a random selection of comments that make no sense as such (one can get all the comments easily, but the ever-changing nature of the text they are referring to is a big problem).

    My understanding is that others have also tried looking at Mochizuki’s paper by starting with a claim in it that is of a kind they are expert at, but that looks like it might me too strong. They find counter-examples, but then later realize that buried somewhere way back in Mochizuki’s work was an explicit assumption that they hadn’t noticed was being made, so there was nothing wrong with the claim. I’m curious whether this might be happening here. Maybe we’ll know soon.

  9. harryb says:

    Very interesting paper from ‘t Hooft – thanks – seems to be downloadable without subscription.

    ‘t Hooft seems to have a live love-hate relationship with ST, summed up maybe by after noting he does not want to critique ST, he states later:

    “The reason for writing this note is simply that the author suspects that
    superstring theory can be improved considerably, or can perhaps be replaced entirely by something better.”

    We feel his pain. Good luck.

  10. John says:

    Peter,

    Can you comment on this recent paper claiming that superstring theory is incorrect?
    http://arxiv.org/abs/1209.5772

  11. Peter Woit says:

    I’ve already deleted several off-topic comments today from people who want to discuss papers that make grandiose claims that are probably wrong, so should probably delete John’s also. But since it’s an overhyped claim about string theory, and it takes 2 minutes of looking at that paper to realize what is going on, here goes:

    John,

    The claims about superstring theory in that paper are nonsense. The paper is purely about classical physics, and the “string-like” classical field configurations discussed in it have nothing to do with quantum superstring theory, whatever it might actually be.

  12. Thomas says:

    Concerning Mochizuki’s work: Aside the ABC conjecture, he writes about many other interesting issues, like his very interesting thoughts on how to see anabelian geometry, or on Arakelov theory and those deformations of number fields. As nice as a proof of the ABC conjecture would be, would such new ways to see things not be even more interesting?

  13. Deane says:

    Peter, I really hope Shouwu stays at Columbia but it’s a tough choice for him. As for Mochizuki’s claimed proof, he said that Mochizuki has to be taken seriously so he plans to work through the paper or papers very carefully.

  14. Jeff McGowan says:

    OK, question from a mathematician. I was bouncing around the links, and got from “Why String Theory” over to Joseph Conlon’s homepage at Oxford. I glanced at his CV and noticed that he splits his publications into ArXiv and “other published papers” and the other papers consist of just 3, there are a whole lot of ArXiv papers. Do ArXiv papers really count in physics? I mean a mathematician would list ArXiv papers, even on a CV, but usually as “pre publications,” and sometimes only if they have already been submitted somewhere. They certainly don’t really count for anything, job wise. I can’t imagine there’s anyone in maths at Oxford who has only 3 refereed publications. I actually know of someone who didn’t get tenure because they wouldn’t count two papers that had been accepted but had not appeared yet.

  15. Paul Wells says:

    Peter,

    Do you know if there has been serious attempt by the physics community to help Paul Frampton? Have there been any representations or petitions to the U.S or Argentinian governments ?

  16. tt says:

    looks like most of those arxiv papers are also published in peer reviewed journals

  17. Jeff McGowan says:

    tt, wow, right you are (well, more or less in one refereed journal, since almost all are in JHEP) Strange way to list them I guess, in math you wouldn’t list ArXiv reference, though everything essentially is on ArXiv. Everyone just assumes that if for some reason you don’t have journal access you’ll just Google the paper to find the free version.

  18. Shantanu says:

    Peter and others,
    people should have a look at Ed Witten’s talk nearly 10 years ago
    at Lepton photon 2003 symposium at Fermilab
    http://vmsstreamer1.fnal.gov/VMS_Site_02/Lectures/LP2003/Witten/index.htm
    He was worried that LEP had not discovered supersymmetry.

  19. Peter Woit says:

    Shantanu,

    That talk was interesting, in that it was not just hype, but also explained some of the problems with SUSY. These have just gotten much worse since then (proton decay not showing up, flavor-changing processes not showing up, etc.)

    “Looking back, for example, to the summary talk (by David Gross) at Lepton-Photon 1993, I see that by ten years ago SUSY was already described as the “standard non- standard theory” (he also gave a list of its successes and drawbacks rather similar to what I am explaining today) …. That is getting to be a long time.”

    If ten years is “getting to be a long time”, what do you call twenty years?

  20. Michael Shain says:

    The Guardian of 27 September has a pithy blog posted by Lily Asquith: “Desperately Seeking SUSY”
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/life-and-physics/2012/sep/27/susy-higgs-lhc

    It sums up the present state of affairs very nicely.

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