The Professor, the Bikini Model and the Suitcase Full of Trouble

Fresh off its great long article about the Higgs, the New York Times is devoting a similar amount of space to the other big mind-blowing high energy physics story of the past year or two, Paul Frampton and his adventures in South America. This coming weekend’s New York Times Magazine has a feature article on The Professor, the Bikini Model and the Suitcase Full of Trouble, which covers the whole amazing story well.

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24 Responses to The Professor, the Bikini Model and the Suitcase Full of Trouble

  1. Bee says:

    Well, after that article he’ll probably be drowned in marriage proposals…

  2. Mark says:

    Peter is Paul Frampton respected in the physics community? I couldn’t tell if he was all hype and ego or contributed in a meaningful way to HEP.

  3. Phil says:

    Wow, what a story. i feel sorry for Frampton and hope others will read his story and learn from it!

  4. Marc Sher says:

    Mark—

    Paul Frampton has made major contributions to HEP. A paper I wrote with him in 2001 just hit 250 citations — he has 271 published papers with 7000 citations. So he has always been considered a solid physicist (and has a remarkable high number of PRLs).

    However, the community was surprised by his talk a couple of years ago comparing himself to Newton — it raised some eyebrows and had some concerned about his health (he is 68). And his last few papers have been a bit odd.

    I don’t know what happened in South America. I suspect he knew more than he’s letting on (but not as much as the authorities think). When he returns a year from this May, we should all give him the benefit of the doubt and hope he can get back into physics.

  5. Z says:

    I’m surprised no one has mentioned an autism-spectrum disorder like Aspergers. But I don’t know anything about Frampton besides what I’ve read — however, what seems to really define him is his blinding ego.

    HEP theory in the last 30 years seems to be centered around egos, their pet theories and respect in the community. It’s been 30 years since the W/Z discoveries. If you define “meaningful contribution” in HEP theory as something beyond the standard model and GR that is experimentally confirmed, almost no one has made any such contribution. I’m no sociologist, but if the community’s respect is the only criterion for being a good theorist, then this environment seems ripe for creating potentially detrimental egos.

  6. john McAllison says:

    @Mark, yes I was thinking exactly the same about Paul Frampton – no denying his stellar academic record, but what about his creative contributions to the physics community?

    This is where Microsoft Academic comes in handy:
    http://academic.research.microsoft.com/Author/12899234/paul-h-frampton
    385 publication, 286 citations.

    Now let’s compare this to Ed Witten:
    http://academic.research.microsoft.com/Author/2582335/edward-witten
    398 publications, 41,013 citations (yes, it really does say 41,013)

    Is it fair to say that roughly, Paul Frampton’s contributions to physics are possibly 1/20th those of Ed Witten’s?

  7. Marc Sher says:

    John McAllison—Microsoft Academic is garbage. Frampton has 6900+ citations. Look at http://inspirehep.net/search?ln=en&p=f+a+frampton%2C+p&of=hcs&action_search=Search for a listing of all 6900, if you wish.

  8. Curlo says:

    The ratio of the citations that McAllison quotes from Microsoft Academic is closer to 150 than to 20. However, the ratio of the Spires citations that Marc defends is roughly 14 (100,000 of Witten compared to 7,000 of Frampton), so close to 20, indeed ! The number of published work is almost the same (268 published works compared to 252).

  9. john McAllison says:

    Mark Sher, OK:

    http://inspirehep.net/search?ln=en&ln=en&p=witten%2C+edward&of=hcs&sf=&so=d&rm=&rg=25&sc=0

    Edward Witten has around 100,000 citations, H-index 143, compared to Paul’s H-index of 43. For further comparison, Stephen Weinberg has an H-index of 94.

    So based upon this, I think it’s fair to say that Paul Frampton is/was a world class physicist, but not necessarily in the division of current/past top world class physicists.

  10. bw says:

    The tone and title of this article unfortunately plays up the stereotype of physicists as bright, but socially inept. That this is written for the general public for this Sunday Times Magazine section makes it worse. 408 on-line comments already posted to the NY Times as of this Friday night (9:17 p.m. EST) before the article even appears in print on Sunday means this will be a highly popular article. And many of the comments snicker at highly intelligent people who can’t function in the real world.

  11. Leopold Bloom says:

    It’s deeply shameful that so many in the physics community have rallied around this criminal. Seems that it’s ok to commit a serious crime if you are a physicist.
    And for those who really believe that he didn’t know about the cocaine: I’m not even going to try to sell you a bridge; I reserve that for the merely gullible, not for people with mental disabilities.

  12. CPV says:

    “The tone and title of this article unfortunately plays up the stereotype of physicists as bright, but socially inept.”

    Hmm…have you actually met any physicists…especially good theoretical physicists?

  13. SC says:

    but you’ve got to look at how much of an advance each paper was, too, so 1/20th might be an overestimate

  14. Shantanu says:

    Btw this maybe controversial pov, but don’t think large citations necessary means
    a good paper. For example, Randall-Sundrum model has lots of citations even though there is a single shred of evidence that it is right.

  15. imho says:

    I fully believe that we all should support our fellow Physics brothers and sisters… BUT Frampton was very likely trying to smuggle cocaine into Europe, how many young kids were going to die over his activities? Granted he was lonely and he probably did it for some imagined life with a bikini model, but we as a community need to have higher standards.

    Were this some urban teenager from the barrio bring drugs into one of our communities we would feel differently. I say leave him in prison… Actions have consequences.

  16. Marcus says:

    Leopold Bloom:
    For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. (Matthew 7:2)

  17. Thomas says:

    Marcus:

    Do you mean to apply the same dictum to what we say about every (ex-)inmate of Devoto prison who seems guilty?

  18. Jonathan says:

    It is quite clear from the article that he’s guilty. His sentence (a year or two of house arrest after a short stint in prison) is pretty light given the crime. It is kind of sad that a serious physicist would get caught up in this, but do keep in mind the effect of addiction and that he was trying to contribute to this problem solely out of self-interest. I think people should stop rallying around him, but at the same time I think once he gets out of jail he should be treated as before, since he did do his time.

    I wonder if UNC will fire him due to his having committed this kind of crime. I guess they’ll have to make a decision on this at some point.

  19. gs says:

    Not to incite an off-topic discussion of the Drug War, but to put my reaction into context:

    Having only known the rudiments of this situation and being a strong opponent of the “War on Drugs”, I had been giving Frampton the benefit of the doubt. However, if the article is correct, I’d find him guilty.

  20. Peter Woit says:

    Please, the “War on Drugs” is definitely off-topic, thanks. If you want to discuss that, a posting about Frampton on Slashdot has just appeared, see

    http://yro.slashdot.org/story/13/03/09/186229/the-manti-teo-of-physics

  21. gs says:

    Apparently Frampton knew what he was doing. Apparently he was doing it for money and other personal gain, not as an act of idealism or civil disobedience.

    Apparently this is not an Aaron Swartz scenario.

  22. If I may chime in as the subject of this discussion, I wish to state
    categorically that I am not, and have never been, an intentional
    smuggler of illegal substances. When I checked in a bag belonging
    to somebody else, which admittedly showed bad judgement, at
    Ezeiza airport in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on January 23, 2012 I had no
    knowledge or suspicion whatsoever that the bag contained any illegal
    material hidden within it.

  23. Peter Woit says:

    Thanks Paul.

    (Yes, that comment was posted from Buenos Aires).

    This may be a good time to close off this thread, since the discussion has kind of degenerated, with Slashdot a better place for this. I’ll take the liberty of ending with my own comment that, while reading the Times magazine story made it hard not to come up with one’s own conjectures about what really happened, I also realized that they were probably not worth much. Any news story like that one presents a very small selection of edited information, giving one the misimpression that one knows more than one does about what happened.