Miscellaneous Links

  • There’s an interesting discussion amongst philosophers at Brian Leiter’s blog about the effects of Templeton money (and I contributed my two cents…). In other Templeton news, they’re funding a new “literary science magazine” called Nautilus. Also via Leiter, they have awarded $3 million to two philosophers at Saint Louis University (“one of the largest grants SL has ever received in the areas of the humanities or the sciences”) for them to study the subject of intellectual humility.
  • In the category of rumors I’ve heard from so many reputable sources they must be true and I can’t really be violating confidentiality, W. Hugh Woodin is moving from Berkeley to Harvard, and Simon Donaldson from Imperial College to the Simons Center at Stony Brook.
  • Via Simon Willerton at the n-Category Cafe, Edinburgh now has a gallery with a wonderful collection of portraits of seventy mathematicians, including commentary from Michael and Lily Atiyah, an online version is here.
  • The publisher sent me a copy of Tony Zee’s new GR textbook, Einstein Gravity in a Nutshell, which I very much enjoyed looking through. Zee takes the textbook concept to new levels of informality, so it includes a wealth of interesting and amusing comments, spread throughout the text, footnotes and endnotes, including quite a few about quantum gravity. At over 800 pages, it’s a pretty huge book, including a lot of conceptual material (as in his QFT textbook), but more calculational detail than the QFT book. Undergraduate physics students should find this quite an approachable text (unlike the QFT one, which I think you need graduate level training to really follow).

    This definitely is a text for physicists, not mathematicians, with the geometry taking a back-seat. Differential forms and orthonormal frames don’t appear until nearly the end of the book. Personally I’ve found using the same language of connections on principal bundles to do gauge theory and gravity to make the most sense, but this involves getting familiar with quite a bit more formalism than most physicists are willing to deal with.

  • I’d been curious to hear more about recent work of Jacob Lurie and Dennis Gaitsgory on Tamagawa numbers, and had been waiting to see a paper from them. Turns out there’s something much better: Lurie has been teaching a course about this at Harvard this semester, with notes appearing here. For some indication of why you might take an interest in this if your interest is gauge theory, see here.
  • While about the only bipartisan agreement in Washington these days is that something must be done to deal with the terrible problem of the shortage of STEM graduates in the US, someone has noticed that there actually is no shortage, see here.
  • This past weekend there was a conference in honor of Bruno Zumino’s 90th birthday at Berkeley, and one can hope that some version of the talks might become available online here.
  • A hot topic in HEP remains that of when the failure of the SUSY picture that has been heavily over-sold for several decades will finally be acknowledged. From the list of titles at the Zumino conference, Maiani’s was “Supersymmetry: not time to give it up, yet”. Cormac O’Raifertaigh reports here that Nati Seiberg is saying “only certain aspects of minimal models had been ruled out so far. As for the future, who knows?”. (now corrected, see Cormac’s blog). Physics World has a story here, with Ben Allanach claiming that “data taken at the LHC have excluded roughly half of supersymmetry’s parameter space” and that now one has to wait until 2015 when, if SUSY is right, it will be found nearly immediately:

    “My hopes are pinned on the next run,” he says. “The energy jump now is going to make the big difference. And if supersymmetry is the correct theory of nature, I would be expecting to see a big signal within the first month. If it doesn’t crop up, I’ll then be getting pretty depressed.”

    Bill Murray of ATLAS makes the excellent point that

    “Proving [supersymmetry] wrong would be as important as proving it right,” he says. “Null results are hard to sell to newspapers, but they are really important to scientific progress.”

    Killing SUSY will be one of the great achievements of the LHC, and complaining about this might be kind of like being upset that Michelson-Morley didn’t find the ether.

Update: I’ve been pointed to an impressive photo of Robbert Dijkgraaf that unfortunately did not make the Atiyah Gallery.

Update: The New York Times has a story today about the new Templeton-funded science magazine Nautilus.

Update: The news from Britain is that Stephen Hawking has joined the academic boycott of Israel, cancelling plans to attend a conference there this month. Please discuss your views on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict elsewhere. There’s no way I’m going to moderate such a discussion, and there are now surely dozens of other sites carrying this story where comments are encouraged.

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37 Responses to Miscellaneous Links

  1. cormac says:

    My bad, my Seiberg quote wasn’t very accurate, I have corrected it on the blog. What Nathan actually said was
    “…even if supersymmetry is not realized in the energy range explored by the LHC, it is still and will always be important. The impact of supersymmetry on theoretical physics and on mathematics has already been huge and it will continue to be essential..there are many parallels with other theoretical ideas that did not solve the problems they were designed to solve but turned out to be crucial in other contexts”

    Re PW comment above that “Killing SUSY will be one of the great achievements of the LHC” , I’m not sure what you mean; I don’t see how the LHC can do anything except rule out certain models. And even if some successor to the LHC does, this doesn’t preclude the idea that the general principle of a symmetry between fermions and bosons might be right at some level…which I think is how the cosmologists see UFT

  2. Alex says:

    Half of Susy parameter space? Killing Susy? That doesnt make sense, what on earth is Ben on about?

  3. Peter Woit says:

    Hi Cormac,
    I changed the posting to reflect the inaccuracy.

    I’m curious to follow how SUSY proponents are dealing with the current situation. Do they admit that the idea of electroweak-scale SUSY breaking, solving the so-called “hierarchy problem” is now pretty much dead (since if you believed that picture, you should have seen superpartners at LEP and the Tevatron, and the extra factor of four in energy at the LHC so far should have finished the idea off). Or do they hang in there, insisting that the next energy jump, by a factor of 13/8, will finally vindicate them? I think the more sensible ones see the writing on the wall.

    I don’t disagree really with the revised quote from Seiberg. If the field replaces the idea that a MSSM broken SUSY extension of the SM is the way to pursue unification with the idea that SUSY as a general concept may have some connection to reality, in a way we don’t yet know, that will be progress. And we’ll have the null result from the LHC to thank, so it’s quite important. On the other hand, if all the null result from the LHC achieves is inducing prominent theorists to keep moving up their SUSY mass estimates a la Gordon Kane, that will be just a sad chapter of scientific history.

  4. Peter Woit says:


    I also wonder what measure Allanach is using on SUSY parameter space.

  5. Bill says:

    I will be very surprised if Jacob Lurie does not win Fields medal next year.

  6. MathPhys says:

    Now that I have accepted the fact that string theorists will keep on pushing the masses of the superpartners higher and higher, year after year, I also to accept the fact that anti-string theorists will express disapproval and disappointment every time that happens. Nothing will change.

    The susy debate has officially moved from the domain of science (“Let’s see what the experiments say” ) to the domain of ideology (“There is no way, no way in hell, that anyone can rule out supersymmetry” ).

    Since there is no point, and no reason, to argue with another man’s religious beliefs, let’s talk about something, please.

  7. Kyler says:

    Actually Jacob Lurie’s class is being taught at Stanford, where he is currently visiting.

  8. GT says:

    I believe that Donaldson is actually splitting his time 8 months/4 months between Simons/Imperial, rather than moving altogether.

  9. cormac says:

    Hi Peter, many thanks for the revised text.
    Re e-w SUSY breaking, I don’t know, only the SUSY theorists themselves can answer that, as you know! yes, Natt’squote is great, I immediately thought of Yang-Mills

  10. Marcel van Velzen says:

    “Killing SUSY will be one of the great achievements of the LHC, and complaining about this might be kind of like being upset that Michelson-Morley didn’t find the ether”

    Well, things are not always that simple: Due to the constant speed of light, all fundamental particles in the electroweak theory have to get their mass from the omnipresent Higgs field. (As far as we know now a particle is not composite (and so by definition fundamental) if and only if 1 it is massless or 2 gets its (rest) mass only from the Higgs field). So Michelson-Morley did find some kind of ether when they found that the speed of light was constant. In that respect I agree with Cormac above “the general principle of a symmetry between fermions and bosons might be right at some level”.

  11. Krzysztof says:


    Funding interdisciplinary activities across science vs philosophy borders is not trivial, whereas ‘the question of God’ is obviously one of the central ones in philosophy (be it in a positive or negative way…), so why you have problems with these funds by Templeton? Are you maybe part of the S. Weinberg et al. efforts?

  12. Peter Woit says:


    I’ve written extensively about Templeton here on the blog (search on “Templeton” on the main page if interested). It’s a complicated subject, but the simple part is that they’re spending hundreds of millions of dollars with the goal of bringing science and religion together, and I strongly believe they are best kept apart, especially when it comes to fundamental physics. I also strongly believe that discussions of religion on internet blogs are basically always stupid and a waste of time, so, please, not here….

  13. Krzysztof says:


    Of course I will obey… but let me just stress that above I was not talking about religion, but about philosophy. Unless you think that there is only philosophy of science there, my argument is still valid I would think, and I hence do not get your point – you think there is misuse of funds? But then we might consider closing all humanities… Please, keep in mind that I am just asking an academic question (in the direct sense:) and not trying to bring closer religion to fundamental sciences.

  14. Peter Woit says:


    My concern here is about the Templeton Foundation’s very well financed goal of injecting religion into this (and I think this is the same concern being discussed on Leiter’s blog). It’s not a “misuse of funds”, they are very clear about what they are trying to do, and they have every legal right to do it. I just think that people need to be aware that, for instance, when they all of a sudden see “Philosophy of Cosmology” conferences, talks, blogs, books, etc., there is a reason for this. A very wealthy group devoted to bringing religion and science together has decided this is an effective way to spend their money. Some of what comes out of this will be perfectly respectable science or philosophy of science, some of it will be pseudo-science (the multiverse), and some of it will be dubious injections of religion into science, but, in any case, people should be made aware of what is going on here.

  15. Krzysztof says:


    I promise this is my last post and I shut up, but you mix two things I think:

    1. I agree – multiverse is not physics, and its (very many) promoters should not claim so, but that is not the same as doing some properly labeled, inter-disciplinary stuff.

    2. Fundamental science naturally, ‘by definition’, is raising philosophical questions. Many of us are very curious what is ‘meaning’ of physics – is for example the probabilistic QM end of story etc.

    Finally, I think you are a bit oversensitive to religion – it plays so little role in the ‘western’ academia anyway.
    (And it is not all bad maybe at the end – two greatest revolutions in cosmology were led by priests – Copernicus and Lemaitre – after all :)

  16. Peter Shor says:

    Re: the STEM job non-crisis report, let me point out that you can prove anything with statistics. One quote from the report:

    “For computer science graduates employed one year after graduation (i.e., excluding those unemployed or in graduate school), about half of those who took a job outside of IT say they did so because the career prospects were better elsewhere, and roughly a third because they couldn’t find a job in IT. ”

    This means that many of those who took a job outside of IT did so because these were better jobs. I don’t know what these jobs are, but I am assuming many of them are reasonably high-level (since they’re better than the IT jobs these students were offered). Do we really want to fill them with technologically illiterate people?

    That, of course, depends on the job, and the report doesn’t give enough detail to answer this question.

  17. aether says:

    Let’s main some sense of historical perspective. The Michaelson-Morley experiment never disproved the luminiferous aether. The theory simply became more and more contrived as new data came in. For example Lorentz-Fitzgerald and the length contraction idea was introduced to explain some of the observed null results for the aether wind. But as more measurements were made, the theoretical constructs became more and more artificial. But the theory was never disproved per se. What happened was that Einstein introduced the Special Theory of Relativity, and that not only explained all the observed data, but it was able to fit new results without modification of its basic principles. And so people simply abandoned the aether theory in favor of relativity. So about LHC and SUSY, nothing will ever disprove SUSY. The models will simply get more contrived. What needs to happen is that an alternative theory will come along, which can explain all observed phenomena (explain naturalness?) and also fit all future measurements without change to its fundamental principles. That simply hasn’t happened yet, but that’s the way theories die out.

  18. Chris W. says:

    On the conference in honor of Bruno Zumino, see this post from Steve Hsu, with photos of a few of the participants.

  19. paddy says:

    @Peter Woit concerning Brian Leiter’s blog:
    My head is aching attempting to follow the arguments pro and con (I think) of the potential of bias on accepting Templeton funds. The only phrase that comes to my bewildered mind is “slippery slope”–a locale where I believe these folks frolic and you are just pissing in the wind…so to say.

  20. ca$$$$h says:

    It’s all well and good to turn up one’s nose at Templeton funding, but the fact remains, one needs funding anyway, and where do you propose to get it?

    Written in 1946 when Brookhaven National Lab was being planned, and a sequel in 1956

    Take away your billion dollars

    Arthur Roberts, 1946

    Upon the lawns of Washington the physicists assemble,
    From all the land are men at hand, their wisdom to exchange.
    A great man stands to speak, and with applause the rafters tremble.
    ‘My friends,’ says he, ‘You all can see that physics now must change. Now in my lab we had our plans, but these we’ll now expand,
    Research right now is useless, we have come to understand.
    We now propose constructing at an ancient Army base,
    The best electronuclear machine at any pace.

    Oh — It will cost a billion dollars, then billion volts ’twill give,
    It will take five thousand scholars seven years to make it live.
    All the generals approve it, all the money’s now in hand,
    And to help advance our program, teaching students now we’ve banned.
    We have chartered transportation, we’ll provide a weekly dance,
    Our motto’s integration, there is nothing left to chance.
    This machine is just a model for a bigger one, of course,
    That’s the future road for physics, as I hope you’ll all endorse.

    And as the halls with cheers resound and praises fill the air,
    One single man remains aloof and silent in his chair.
    And when the room is quiet and the crowd has ceased to cheer,
    He rises up and thunders forth an answer loud and clear:
    ‘It seems that I’m a failure, just a piddling dilettante,
    Within six months a mere ten thousand bucks is all I’ve spent,
    With love and string and sealing wax was physics kept alive,
    Let not the wealth of Midas hide the goal for which we strive.

    Oh – take away your billion dollars, take away your tainted gold.
    You can keep your damn ten billion volts; my soul will not be sold.
    Take away your army generals, their kiss is death I’m sure.
    Everything I build is mine, every volt I make is pure.
    Take away your integration and let us learn and let us teach.
    For beware this epidemic, for colitis I beseech.

    Oh, dammit – engineering isn’t physics – isn’t that plain?
    Take, oh take your billion dollars. Let’s be physicists again.

    1956, ten years later (sequel)

    Within the halls of NSF the panelists assemble.
    From all the land the experts band their wisdom to exchange.
    A great man stands to speak and with applause the rafters tremble.
    ‘My friends,’ says he, ‘we all can see that budgets now must change.
    By toil and sweat the Soviets have reached ten billion volts.
    Shall we downtrodden physicists submit? No, no — revolt!
    It never shall be said that we let others lead the way.
    We’ll band together all out finest brains and save the day.

    Give us back our billion dollars, better add ten billion more.
    If your budget looks unbalanced, just remember this is war.
    Never mind the Army’s shrieking, never mind the Navy’s pain,
    Never mind the Air Force projects disappearing down the drain.
    In coordinates barycentric, every BeV means lots of cash,
    There will be no cheap solutions, — neither straight nor synoclash.
    If we outbuild the Russians, it will be because we spend.
    Give, oh give those billion dollars, let them flow without an end.

  21. Peter Woit says:


    I think I agree with you. By now I can’t even figure out what it is that Tim Maudlin was trying to argue with me about there, presumably I missed his previous point so my response caused a complete divergence from coherent discussion. In any case, the various relevant arguments seem to have been made multiple times.


    If Templeton will fund the next energy frontier accelerator, I’m all in favor of having theologians speak at the Lepton-Photon and other conferences where results are announced.

    For those who just can’t get enough Templeton, at the Leiter blog I did learn of a bizarre Templeton-funded contribution to mathematical logic, see here:


    For more discussion of the physics/God/Templeton issues, Sean Carroll has this:


  22. ca$$$$h says:

    Has anyone suggested to Templeton to fund the next energy frontier accelerator? Or maybe a detector? Or at least R&D into, say, a muon collider?

    Private organizations (e.g. Keck) do fund telescopes. Telescopes are cheaper, relatively speaking, maybe 1B, are quicker to build, and the results yield better PR for the funding agency. A serious problem with accelerators is the induced radioactivity. One can’t just build even a low energy accelerator in one’s back yard, even if 100% privately funded. The radioactivity automatically makes the device subject to many federal regulations.

  23. Galileo's Meme says:

    I think the funding for “free will” studies is what needs to be regarded with the greatest wariness. Free will appears to be a major hobby horse for the current right-wing establishment–presumably for for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is certainly the way it is constantly trotted out to defend the USA’s draconian sentencing requirements and staggering incarceration rate, and the bourgeoning private prison industry that feeds off of them.

    Currently the preferred defense of free will in right-wing circles seems to be an appeal to religion, but it looks to me like they want the respectablity of a “scientific” defense of free will, preferably free will of the philisophically “strong” variety rather than the namby-pamby compatibilist sort that packs little more rhetorical oomph than the physicist’s metaphorical invocations of “God”. An early attempt that mixed together some warmed-over process theology with handwaving about the delayed-choice experiment seems to have landed with a dull thud, but I doubt it will be the last we hear on the subject.

    (Perhaps not coincidentaly I’ve heard that some Chinese univeristiess are starting to push process theology as some sort of “indigenous” approach to science–and coming from an archetypically Chinese name like Alfred North Whitehead why not–maybe someone ought to look into whether some stateside group is beavering away over there as well.)

  24. Carl says:

    Galileo, you forget something.. No free will also means that the judge and the jury has no free will. Without free will how can you criticize a judge for handing out tough penalties for minor crimes?

  25. paddy says:

    Are not discussions which employ words and phrases such as “god” and “free will” a sure sign that we have gone “one toke over the line, sweet jesus”?

  26. anon says:

    Apparently there are different opinions on the “STEM shortage.” Below is a link to a discussion of a study that find results that disagree with the study you linked to.


    Hard to tell which study is closer to the truth. The same discussion goes back and forth in Germany, where companies keep complaining about a shortage of engineers etc, yet are unwilling to increase their salaries or invest in their education.

  27. Pingback: Not Even Wrong, Jonathan Dorfman @ Napier Park, Gross Calls a Top | Pink Iguana

  28. Peter Woit says:


    I don’t actually see anything in those numbers that disagrees with the other study. The numbers in your link show it takes longer to fill H1-B STEM jobs and they are better paid than average. Presumably this has always been true, and says nothing about the argument that there are plenty of US STEM graduates out there, but they are choosing to take other kinds of jobs, would take the H1-B STEM jobs if they paid better.

    The article linked to is also kind of dishonest in its use of numbers. It says STEM wages are “growing”, with an 8% growth since 2000, neglecting to mention that all the growth was in 2000-2004, with wages basically flat over the last ten years (down recently in one category).

    All in all, I see no numbers addressing the argument that there are plenty of qualified workers in the US, and that whatever problems employers are having hiring people are simply due to their offering lower wages for STEM work than for other opportunities STEM graduates have.

  29. srp says:

    All employers facing normal, upward-sloping supply curves for labor (meaning they would have to pay more to attract more workers) say they face a “shortage.” This is not what an economist would call a shortage, but it is common for managers to see it this way: “If I could only hire more workers as good as the ones I have at the same compensation level I could make more money.” But every firm tends to hire workers up to the point where it is no longer expected to be profitable, so every firm’s managers feels that they face a “shortage.”

    Strictly speaking, a shortage would only occur if the wage were artificially suppressed so that at that “going” wage quantity demanded exceeded quantity supplied. That would be like when rent controls keep rates below the market-clearing value so that more people are always willing to be tenants at those rates than there are spaces available to be rented. But nothing like that is going on in the US STEM labor market. We just have employers saying that it isn’t profitable to hire at the wages they would need to pay to attract more workers.

  30. Peter Woit says:


    Some of the companies most loudly complaining about the “shortage” though are extremely profitable (e.g. Apple and Google). It’s hard to believe that paying higher wages to attract certain employees would really ruin their business and make it unprofitable.

  31. PeterPetersonSenior says:

    This is a comment on STEM workers short paragraph. I was hiring a lot of STEM professionals, and met all range form people that can do their job to bright stars to people that destroyed all projects they were part of. On another positive note, I know history of professionals that graduated in STEM and some time later found a different line of work – sometimes using their education directly and sometimes not.

    I would say, if you think about any specialty of physics you will have to concede it applies there as well, and pretty much in any other profession with which you have close familiarity.

    After many years of personal involvement, my impressions are:
    1) There is tremendous shortage of very high level engineers. You taught a lot of students yourself, and you know that there is a whole distribution of talents – from genius to great to average to below average to some that graduated with lowest possible grade. The final GPA ofter correlates with engineer’s performance for many years after graduation, sometimes forever. The top talent is rare, also education is to a large extent a memory exercise on BE, BS or MS level, creativity is somewhat different talent.
    2) People receiving a (specifically) engineering degree are not necessarily working by their major specialty (either immediately, or after a few years). There are a lot of people in sales, support, etc. that do well. There are people that decide they just want to do something different, and no one can force them.
    So the point is to bring talent into the country. There is a protectionist uproar pretty actively going on, and it is understandable. However bringing 20 STEM professionals to find 1 that makes all the difference for their company is very important (that is assuming that company acts as meritocracy, and many most dynamic are). And having this talent makes it possible for their a bit less talented coworkers to have jobs where they can do just as important footwork after the new concept is invented.

  32. Peter Woit says:


    I’ve never heard the argument before that the US needs to bring in large numbers of mediocre engineers in order to also get a small number of highly talented people. In the academic fields I know of, the most highly talented people from outside the US are generally recognized as such, there’s active competition among US universities to hire them, and as far as I know there’s never a significant problem getting them visas to work in the US.

    If the H1-B program only applied to exceptional job candidates that the hiring company was willing to pay an exceptionally high wage for, it wouldn’t be an issue.

  33. PeterPetersonSenior says:

    I think we are in agreement on H1-B – at least regarding the goal to get exceptionally talented people. However there no way to definitely verify one’s abilities, not until after they start working. This is why my 1 in 20 guesstimate.

    As for paying exceptionally high wage for exceptionally good performance – this was always my approach. And this is where I was hitting the shortage. I understand that other companies may have different attitudes, but I don’t think the primary motivation is to get cheaper mediocre engineers for all of them.

    A short remark about Apple – Apple is very profitable, but you may be aware of the debate going on in investing community whether after Steve Jobs demise Apple has enough talent to move company forward (and stock price dropped exactly because of profitability percentage drop). I am sure Jobs was not the only reason for Apple’s rise, but often there is a need for just a handful of people that make a lot of difference even for company of Apple size.

  34. PeterPetersonSenior says:

    Sorry for sending second response in a row. Just one observation – when you note: “In the academic fields I know of, the most highly talented people from outside the US are generally recognized as such, there’s active competition among US universities to hire them, and as far as I know there’s never a significant problem getting them visas to work in the US.”
    Let me turn the question other way around and ask: what is instead accepting talented people from anywhere in the world, we decided to fill the positions by US born and educated people. Surely, we are graduating more than enough PhD s to fill all academic positions? With all H1-B reasoning attached? I am sure, this would not be ideal.

  35. tt says:

    umm, actually that sounds good to me.

  36. Peter Woit says:


    Sure, if US academia couldn’t hire exceptional non-US citizens, you could still fill all academic positions, but that would seriously weaken many departments. But, still, I don’t think the issue of exceptional cases is relevant to the debate I’m seeing over H1-B. There people are talking about dramatically expanding a program that is already bringing in over 100,000 people, only a small fraction of whom are exceptional cases.

  37. G P Burdell says:

    When you think of hiring STEM graduates, don’t think in terms of hiring established researchers; think of accepting graduate students as teaching assistants. Because that’s the equivalent level of knowledge and understanding. Even the most talented ones will need years of experience and further training to become fully contributing professors and researchers. Yet most companies today look for a newhire with a particular set of skills (that they find using key-word searches of resumes), and expect skill levels capable of almost immediate contribution on major projects with essentially no further training.

    Add to that that in most companies, any further training (formal or informal) is now almost always confined to an employee’s private time. (I’ve been told by corporate-level software development managers that they expect an employee to be “enthusiastic” enough to learn new technologies on their own, not at company expense — even while those people are working 12- and 14-hour days with no overtime pay.) And since most engineers change jobs several times, actual mentoring is almost unheard of.

    Then, the starting salaries for these positions, whether for graduates or for those with experience, haven’t advanced beyond inflation in the last decade — in fact, some went down during the recession.

    Hence the compaints about the “shortage” of “qualified” STEM talent in the U.S.

    For these companies, most engineers are cogs in their machine — interchangeable parts. If they can buy a cheaper cog, then they buy it; hence the H1-B Visa push, using the self-created “skills shortage” as an excuse.