Various News

  • First a sad piece of news, via commenter Bob Jones. It seems that David Kazhdan, a well-known representation theorist, was hit by a truck Saturday morning while bicycling in Jerusalem. He’s in the hospital, with his condition described as “very serious”. I hope he manages to recover soon from this accident.
  • On a much happier note, I spent Saturday at the Simons Foundation attending a day-long program celebrating the work of Pierre Deligne. More technical talks were in the morning, with Goncharov giving a talk on this material, and Illusie discussing the mathematical significance of several letters he had received from Deligne.

    Deligne’s contributions to mathematics are immense, and go way beyond his many published works. Quite a few mathematicians have received letters like the ones Illusie discussed, laying out all sorts of new ideas. Some of these ended up getting worked out in detail by students and others, with Deligne’s name not necessarily attached. To this day, Deligne continues to send highly helpful hand-written letters about mathematics to people, although I understand that these days they arrive not by snail mail, but as a scan sent by e-mail by a secretary. These letters make up a huge resource for mathematics, perhaps someday a way will be found to archive them and make them more widely available.

    In the afternoon, Brian Conrad and Ravi Vakil gave some very good more general talks, with one theme the Weil conjectures that Deligne was responsible for finishing the proof of. The day ended with reminiscences of Deligne from Illusie, Saint-Donat, and Dennis Sullivan (since Sullivan couldn’t be there, his contribution was read off a cell-phone by Jim Simons).

    Contemplating Deligne’s remarkable career is rather awe-inspiring. For more about him, a good place to start is this page at the Simons Foundation, which includes videos of an interview of Deligne by Robert MacPherson. See also this recent piece by Illusie, which makes the point that one of Deligne’s achievements was to bring together two great but disparate currents in mathematics, the abstract algebraic geometers around Grothendieck, and the representation theorists working on what is now called the Langlands program.

  • For yet more unification of mathematics and physics, last week the Mathematical Institute at Oxford hosted a conference on Number Theory and Physics, associated with talks celebrating the Institute’s new building (see here and here). Witten’s slides are available here and here, a blog posting by Bruce Bartlett is here.

    Via Jordan Ellenberg and Mathbabe, there’s the news that Andrew Wiles took the occasion of the building opening ceremony to warn about the abuse of mathematics by the financial industry. By the way, the new building is described as housing 500 mathematicians and staff, which seems to me truly huge, quite a bit bigger than any other math institute I know of.

  • A journalist at Science magazine got not just one, but 157 open access science journals to accept a bogus completely incompetent paper. One could take this as conclusive evidence for the problem with open access journals, except that he didn’t try this also on conventional journals, and many believe that they too would publish something just as bad.
  • Brian Leiter has a discussion here of some data here about the fraction of philosophy Ph.Ds that are able to get tenure-track jobs. I had always thought that academic philosophy Ph.D.s were likely to have even worse job prospects than theoretical physicists. If you believe these numbers at all though, your job prospects as a philospher are dramatically better than similar numbers for physics theory Ph.D.s. My guess is that, at least in the US, theoretical physics Ph.D.s have very roughly a 20% chance of finding a permanent academic position, while the data here shows 60% of similar philosophy Ph.D.s with permanent positions. If you’re in a physics theory Ph.D. program, and at all interested in the philosophical side of the subject, perhaps you should immediately look into changing departments.
  • As always, multiverse-mania shows no signs of slowing down. For the latest, see articles in the new issue of Nautilus here and here.
  • Just a few short hours until the 2013 Physics Nobel announcements, with speculation raging about what the Nobel committee will do about the Higgs discovery.

Update: It’s Englert and Higgs for the Nobel. I still think that, for a prize recognizing the theorists who figured out the Anderson-Higgs mechanism, there’s a name missing in that list.

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16 Responses to Various News

  1. Jeff M says:

    It’s clear why the job market in math is so much better than physics, since we teach so many service courses, and don’t have to rely on majors. I’m confused as to why it would be so much better in philosophy though, unless it’s supply, are there many more physics Ph.D.s? At my university the math department has 31 full time faculty, if you eliminate stats and math ed, there are 13 pure math folks. The philosophy department has 7, and physics is 5.

  2. Kuas says:

    I hope the Nobel committee finally does the right thing and awards the physics Nobel to Gordy Kane for correctly predicting the Higgs mass. It’s been a long time coming and Gordy isn’t getting any younger.

  3. pa says:

    i think the odds of getting a job doing theoretical physics are way higher than 20%. sure, it’s not easy but in my experience, people who did reasonable phds and werent burned out during their postdocs all get jobs within 4 – 5 years after their phd. i’d estimate the odds being closer to 60-70%, with it being 80 – 90% if you remove those who start postdocs feeling really burned out.

    the jobs might follow fads though.. topological phases or graphene or some fad in biophysics.. but people do get hired doing theoretical physics all the time in the US.

  4. kevin dowd says:

    I liked the Nautilus piece.

  5. Bobito says:

    “Open access” is a terrible name for “author pays”. Let’s stop letting unscrupulous publishers like the AMS getaway with this doublespeak.

  6. Andrea says:

    One piece of news you may have missed is that the Dannie Heineman Prize for Mathematical Physics has been awarded to Greg Moore this year for “eminent contributions to mathematical physics with a wide influence in many fields, ranging from string theory to supersymmetric gauge theory, conformal field theory, condensed matter physics and four-manifold theory.”

    Hugely deserved, by any objective measure.

  7. Eli Rabett says:

    At the risk of starting a riot, let Eli point out three things about the philosophy job market.

    First, the level of support for philosophy doctoral students is much lower, not a lot of personal fellowships/research assistantships. Many in the softer arts go out an get jobs between masters and doctorates, etc.

    Second, philosophy professors don’t have or need large teams to support their lifestyle as is the case for high energy experimental groups

    Third, in the US there are a lot fewer international students of philosophy who graduate and stay, competing for jobs.

    All of these factors limit the number seeking positions in philosophy.

    Of course, what physics and philosophy have in common, is given the small number of undergraduate majors, many places are trying to wipe out the departments leaving only service courses.

  8. DPB says:

    The BBC are reporting that the Nobel prize has been awarded to Peter Higgs and Francois Englert.

  9. amused says:

    The “open access” journals scene seems more than a little sinister… I was almost sucked in recently after getting solicited by the “Journal of Physical Mathematics” – normally I would ignore, but in this case the message was semi-personalized and when I took a look at the editorial board there were respectable people on it, including someone I know a little bit. On the one hand sending a paper there makes no sense – why would anyone pay to publish a paper in a new journal with unestablished reputation rather than publish for free in an established and (supposedly) reputable journal? It could only make sense if someone wanted to boost his/her number of publications with low-quality papers that wouldn’t be publishable in a reputable journal.
    On the other hand, if the people on the editorial board were serious about trying to build up this journal, and one of them had been responsible for my “invitation”, then maybe I should submit something there…
    However, googling the publisher led to this wikipedia article, from which it is clear that this shouldn’t be touched with a ten foot pole!

    According to the wikipedia article, one of the delightful practices of this open access publisher is to list people on editorial boards without their consent, and then decline to remove them when they ask… Presumably that explains the respectable-looking editorial board in the case above.

    Another thing, my “invitation” mentioned a 20% discount on the publication fee if I submitted the paper by a certain date..but there is no information either in the email or on the journal website about how much the publication fee actually is… Apparently it is only revealed after the paper is accepted.

  10. amused says:

    Another interesting article about the open access journal scene
    here. It seems that besides the legitimate OA publishers there is now a substantial group of bogus publishers who are basically operating a scam. (This aspect doesn’t seem to have been mentioned in the Science article.)

  11. Peter Woit says:


    Where do you get your numbers? If you look here
    you’ll see there are around a dozen people getting HEP theory faculty jobs each year for the past few years. Do you really think this is 60-70% of the number of Ph.Ds in the subject each year?

  12. M. Mahin says:

    For a critique of the latest Nautilus article claiming multiverse evidence, see my post
    “‘Secret Codes of the Multiverse’ Debunked” at
    Secret Codes of the Multiverse Debunked

  13. Aquiles says:

    I do not think Anderson would have deserved it.

    First, his work on symmetry breaking was not explicitly related to weak interactions, not even to particle physics.

    Second, Dr. Anderson did all he could to avoid the Higgs particle to be discovered.

    (and third, he already got a Nobel)

    It would have been really absurd to have Anderson added to yesterday’s list.

  14. Lun says:

    Regarding the maths/physics/philosophy intersection
    What do you think of the recent sciam article
    About the interpretation ambiguity of QFT??

  15. Peter Woit says:


    I read that but couldn’t get much out of it. I guess I just don’t see that there’s an “ontology” problem with QFT, that “it does not tell us what a photon or quantum field really is”. At the level the author seems concerned with, we have a precise definition of the QFT, and to me, that’s what it really “is”. I can’t fathom what sort of answer to the question of what a “quantum field theory really is” the author would find satisfactory. Yes, obviously it’s not a “field”, it’s not a “particle”, and it’s not any other word or combination of words in the dictionary. But I don’t see what the problem is the author wants to solve. One could point specifically to details of the definition and identify things that one finds unsatisfactory about that, but I don’t see that happening in this article.