Media Events in Paris

Tomorrow I’ll be in Las Vegas, on my way to southern Utah, so will miss a couple of math-physics media events taking place in Paris. At 2pm on Sunday, Lubos Motl will be appearing at the France Television booth at the Salon du Livre, together with the Bogdanov brothers, to sign copies of his new book L’equation Bogdanov: Le secret de l’origine de l’Univers?. In other Lubos news, I recently heard a rumor that he is now the scientific advisor to the president of the Czech republic.

On Monday, a day-long symposium on the topic of how mathematics and physics are covered in the press will be held at the Institut Henri Poincare. One focus of the symposium is the celebrity exceptional Lie group E8, which last year kicked up media-storms for both the classification of unitary representations of its split real form, and for Garrett Lisi’s attempt to use it for unification. Jean Iliopoulos will be speaking on the topic of the hopes and controversies surrounding string theory, and I’d be curious to find out what he has to say about this.

Update: More information about the E8 talks here, Lubos’s impressions of Paris here.

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37 Responses to Media Events in Paris

  1. milkshake says:

    Czech prez Klaus is an ex-prime minister. He does not make policy decision (including decisions about science) anymore, as a prez he is just a titulary head of state that talks to other dignitaries and gives speeches.

    He is quite an ideologue who derives much of his recognition from his outspoken opposition to EU bureaucracy, socialist state and enviroactivism. Klaus is economist by training so he could use some help with preparing his anti-global-warming arguments. It has been a love fest between him and Lumo for quite some time.

  2. theoreticalminimum says:

    Peter,

    Have you, or are you planning to, read Motl’s book?

    I have read a review written by a French guy named Christophe de Dinechin, who writes the blog “Grenouille Bouillie”. As one can read, he points out many expository and factual shortcomings of the book.

  3. Lubos fan says:

    Chapter 1 (Le grand mystère de l’Origine) of L’equation Bogdanov by Lubos Motl is freely available from the publisher in PDF format: http://www.presses-renaissance.fr/extraits/9782750903862.pdf

  4. MathPhys says:

    The backcover says that Motl is the author of a fundamental paper on string theory. Really?

  5. Robert says:

    I find it surprisingly well written, the first chapter of Motl’s book, and quite entertaining.

  6. Jos says:

    Well, in page 4 of the pdf. it says “le temps de Planck” = 0,1 sg. I thought it was smaller :-)

  7. Rien says:

    Enjoy southern Utah, that’s one of the most beautiful and bizarre places on Earth.

    The Czech president supposedly has the same mistaken view of global warming as Lubos. But anyway, did Lubos write the book in French or is it translated?

  8. chris says:

    oh my god, i thought this was a joke first. really interesting though, that someone knowledgeable can hype the bogdanov brothers while dismissing people like smolin as crackpots. what has the world come to…

  9. MathPhys says:

    I’m confused. What is Motl’s position of the B Brothers?

  10. Chris Oakley says:

    Hi MathPhys,

    My understanding of the situation is something like this: The Bogdanov brothers, though well-known in France as TV science presenters, crave legitimate academic credentials. So they write theses & publish papers on quantum gravity that, though containing a lot of buzzwords, are generally regarded as having negligible scientific content. Peter W (and John Baez, and many others) say so publicly. Lubos then, on the basis that anyone who Peter thinks is charlatan must have something going for him, then takes the brothers’ side, writing a book that is vaguely supportive, but mostly just a platform for his own opinionated ramblings. Because of the Bogdanov’s celebrity status, the book gets published, and Lubos gets on French TV.

    Or have I missed something here?

    As for the Scientific Advisor to the Czech government job, if this rumour is true, then I can only assume that is because they want a climate change sceptic on their books. I wonder if he has told them that climate change is something that he only does as a hobby? Probably not.

  11. Mondrian says:

    Just found this:

    http://www.xkcd.org/397/

    cheers

  12. Concerning Motl’s book, I wrote a short review here (in french).

  13. anon. says:

    Fabien’s review translated into English by Babelfish.

  14. Chris Oakley says:

    Hi Fabien,

    Even with my poor French, I like your review. Any chance of an English translation here? (Babelfish is, I am afraid, not really up to it).

  15. Gilbert says:

    Well, here’s one. I hope Fabien doesn’t mind:

    The “science” section of large bookstores, jammed between “esoterica” and “personnel development” was already chalk full of “Canada dry” physics, courtesy of the Bogdanov brothers, when an ex-Harvard professor (so it says on the cover), known for a highly nuanced internet site, jumped in to offer his support (The Bogdanov Equation, the Secret to the Origin of the Universe? Lubos Motl, Presses de la Renaissance, 2008, 240 pages, 19 €). The reason, if “reason” is really the appropriate term here, is easily summed up: only theories involving strings make any sense (p.199), all those who think otherwise are idiots (cf. p. 105 where the author modestly explains that he has become a sort of messiah for having proved a conjecture in a competing theory). As the first critics to point out the absurdities in the articles of the Bogdanov brothers were not string theorists, the Bogdanovs deserved support. In short, the enemies of my enemies are my friends. That’s all that was needed for Professor Motl (have I mentioned he used to teach at Harvard?) to sign a book to the greater glory of the twins. The author’s style, which one could compare to that of a Japanese tourist guide (to your left Galileo’s telescope, to your right Newton’s apple), with a dash of self importance thrown in, is often very bogdanovien, especially during the introduction, in pomposity (“The Ultimate Secrets of the Universe”) and blunders (“Alexander Euler”). But enough suspense: nowhere in this book will you find even a hint of the Bogdanov equation. But by the time you put it down, you will have solved the Motl equation.

  16. Chris Oakley says:

    Excellent!

    Oh – and did you mention that Lubos used to teach at Harvard?

    I assume “Canada Dry” one translates as “Mickey Mouse” (unless it’s a reference to those crackpot not-totally-convinced-by-string-theory lunatics at PI).

  17. Coin says:

    I recently heard a rumor that he is now the scientific advisor to the president of the Czech republic.

    It seems like this is the kind of thing that it would be in principle possible to get a definitive answer on one way or the other rather than having to reply on rumors.

  18. Fred says:

    So this book is pretty funny. It has absolutely nothing to do with the BD brothers (who *are* cranks any way you slice it) or their physics and everything to do with LM managing to weasel his way into getting a book published without undue expense and hassle.

    Consequently the physics enclosed is pretty solid (despite the usual hysterics Motl injects in his discussions) and if you like the style of his website, sort of funny. On the other hand it is indeed a little bit *too* opinionated and does read a bit like some sort of glorified advertisement for LM’s views on physics

  19. Gilbert, thanks a lot for your translation. It is much better than anything I could have written myself. As for Canada Dry, I’m not sure it is known in the US : this is a beverage that is supposed to “taste like alcohol, but is not alcohol.”, as the commercials put it.

  20. Gilbert says:

    Hi Fabian, Chris,

    My pleasure. I had been wondering about the Canada Dry reference myself. I couldn’t translate it as it was already in English, and wasn’t sure what to make of it. Back in the day, right around the first superstring revolution, the ads for it made a point about how it was “not too sweet”, which left me scratching my head. Thanks for clearing up that it’s meant to be something like “looks like physics, sounds like physics, but tastes like…. Well, not physics.”

  21. ad says:

    Canada Dry is dry ginger ale. It’s used as a mixer, eg. brandy ‘n’ dry. Clayton’s I always thought was the ‘drink you have when you’re not having a drink’.

  22. Professor R says:

    Hi Peter,
    interesting thread as always.It reminds me of a query I had about your book.

    If I remember correctly, you had a whole chapter on the Bogdanov Affair – it made for v interesting reading, but I remember being a bit puzzled about the connection to string theory (and more so when I looked up the papers). Their work certainly seemed to be a fairly typical example of meaningless hyperbole, but not particulaly in the area of ST – was your point that this stuff is facilitated by the vageness of the whole string theory edifice?

    Apologies if I’ve misremembered – I don’t have your book to hand as I’m on holiday….regards Cormac

  23. Their work certainly seemed to be a fairly typical example of meaningless hyperbole, but not particulaly in the area of ST

    There is a general point to be made that part of current “formal high energy theoretical physics” has become a rather complicated mess which, while doing very fine in the hands of some, has gotten rather out of control here and there, being neither math nor experimental science. Which is the reason why way back when the Bogd.-brother’s thing came out, there was for a short while the suspicion that maybe they were intentionally playing a game with the theoreticl physicis community, the way Alan Sokal did to the Social Sciences back when, which suffered from similar disease of partial degeneration.

    String theoretically motivated work and quantum gravity research in general has its grand share in the part of theoretical physics that would admit Sokalification, but it’s not restricted to that. Ironically, in an age where, due to plenty of new experimental data, cosmology has become a fruitful exact science, much of what is being done in “theoretical cosmology” is little more than story telling.

  24. MathPhys says:

    Urs,
    Are you saying that the B Brothers were serious? I thought it’s now accepted that they were not.

  25. chris says:

    it’s now accepted, but there was the suspicion for a short while that they were.

  26. anonymous says:

    Have you seen this one?

    http://xkcd.com/397/

  27. Peter Woit says:

    Cormac,

    In the book I wrote about the Bogdanov story mainly because I thought it raised important questions about how this kind of speculative research gets evaluated in an environment where speculation has gotten out of control and the standards that keep it in check have broken down. This wasn’t specifically about string theory, and some people gave me grief claiming it was an unfair hit on string theorists.

    In retrospect though, I think it was not unfair, that the problems raised by the Bogdanov affair have become much worse in recent years. Almost all of the book was written before the Landscape nonsense got going. Part of the reason the Bogdanov papers are obviously over the edge is that they go on about “before the Big Bang” in a hyper-speculative mode. At the time, this was fairly unusual behavior, now it’s mainstream cosmology, at least as practiced by string theorists.

    Another reason for including the Bogdanov story was that I couldn’t resist including a quote from an e-mail written by someone who observed the response of some members of the string theory group at Harvard, who seemed to be having trouble recognizing obvious nonsense. Again I was criticized for this as an unfair characterization of some string theorists. Now we have one of those string theorists writing a book promoting the work of the Bogdanovs. I rest my case on this one…

    Finally, I think the Bogdanov story was important because it clearly demonstrated that the refereeing system in theoretical physics has broken down, as they were able to get nonsense papers published in several reputable journals. The response to this, and the latest plagiarism scandal, where journal editors have decided to either ignore or defend plagiarism, shows that the situation here has gone from bad to worse.

  28. milkshake says:

    when Bogdanovs affair came up Lubos claimed that Harvard string theorists discussed Bogdanovs – and they concluded that the Bogdanov brothers made a valid (if dim) effort and the main reason why ST community did not object to those papers was that they were just little below the average so no-one really cared, etc.

  29. “MathPhys” and “Chris”,

    not sure what you are referring to. By their own account, their work was not meant as a joke.

    Imagine how immensely famous and reputed they could have become by instead claiming afterwards that the papers they managed to publish in journals were meant as a joke.

  30. chris says:

    Urs,

    this is from your perspective. i.e., they would have risen in the eyes of hephysicists. but they only care about their public image because this makes them the money. and they needed a ph.d. for that.

    i think it is just so plain simple.

  31. Chris Oakley says:

    It may just be that the Bogdanovs are choosing their moment. They may yet do a “special” on French TV going through the whole story of their PhDs and papers, explaining how the whole thing was devised simply to demonstrate to the world just how stupid and gullible the so-called “smart” people are.

    They just want to snare a few String Theorists first and probably would have done the expose already but for Lubos’s book.

  32. YBM says:

    ” … that they go on about “before the Big Bang” in a hyper-speculative mode. At the time, this was fairly unusual behavior, now it’s mainstream cosmology, at least as practiced by string theorists. “

    Beware Peter ! This kind of sentence, with a bit of magic in the translation process, could likely be quoted in the next B&B’s book…

  33. Theoretical cosmology is and has been overly speculative even if it didn’t come, as they say, “string inspired”. “String cosmology” proper does not really exist, in the absence of anything but a perturbative formulation.

    The power of Einstein’s insight allows people to write down a simple ordinary differential equation in one or two variables, point to it and translate it into fantastic stories about the origin of the universe. While nice, this has lead to strange outgrowth.

    I’d dare say that the problem one sees in theoretical cosmology is to a large degree also a result of activities of the school of Hawking et al.

  34. MathPhys says:

    Does Lubos say that the B Brothers are serious scientists? I find this hard to believe.

  35. MathPhys says:

    I have just read this

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bogdanov_Affair

    and it contains the whole strory. I now know that Motl actually defends them.

  36. Hans de Vries says:

    You can search the book, and yes…. it has three entries for Woit and four for Smolin.
    In the introductions Lubos “reveals” a private email of Woit to the
    brothers where Peter says that the brothers may certainly
    have found new and interesting results but the problem is that to be able to readily understand the significance of what they have written requires an expertise held by only a handful of people in the world…..
    He goes on to claim that Smolin also isn’t capable of understanding
    the mathematics used by the Brothers. Next in line is Franz Wilczek.

    Regards, Hans

  37. Thomas Love says:

    Peter, According to

    http://www.nndb.com/people/195/000165697/

    you are a string theorist! Rather funny considering that they mention NEW!

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