Short Items

The Tevatron has been performing well, producing record-high weekly luminosities. Fermilab director Oddone has announced that plans to shut-down the accelerator complex for yearly maintenance work are being canceled this year, instead the plan is to run the Tevatron straight through the year, with a shutdown not until spring 2009. The current proposal to DOE is to run through FY 2010 (i.e. until September 2010), by which time the expectation is that integrated luminosity would be more than double the current value of nearly 4 fb-1.

The budget situation for US and British HEP continues to look rather grim. Durbin and several other senators sent a letter to the Senate Appropriations Committee requesting that supplemental funds for FY2008 be found to stop lay-offs at Fermilab. Senators Clinton and Obama did not sign the letter, which seems especially remarkable in the case of Obama, since Fermilab is in the state he represents. For the latest in the sad story of UK physics funding cuts, see here.

As far as FY2009 goes, Congress is on more or less exactly the same path as last year. Attempts to rein in earmarking were defeated, and committee hearings, including those on the science budget, show no signs of interest in making any tough decisions (to cut military/Iraq war spending, domestic spending, raise revenues) now. See some commentary here. Presumably decisions will ultimately get made by the same mysterious staffers in the same mysterious way as last year. This year the betting is that there actually won’t be a budget until deep into the fiscal year, with Congress waiting for a new president rather than negotiate with Bush. This will leave US science programs operating under a continuing resolution, financed at FY 2008 levels into FY 2009.

The P5 committee is meeting in Washington today to put together recommendations for how US HEP should proceed, under various possible funding scenarios over the next few years. For more about their deliberations, see their web-site here. The last public meeting of the group was at Brookhaven, talks there are available here.

Some other recent or upcoming conferences include one at ICTP, one at Warwick on TQFT and string theory (see Marcos Marino’s notes here), and the Linde-fest at Stanford.

Talks at the Linde-fest included many serious and informative ones about current cosmology research, together with a large helping of Multiverse madness, since Stanford is ground-zero for this phenomenon. The string cosmology talks were mostly devoted to showing that some string compactification or other can reproduce any conceivable experimental result. Several speakers discussed Boltzmann brains, perhaps one of them was the one who so annoyed Lawrence Krauss recently. Max Tegmark promoted future measurements of the 21cm hydrogen line as being very promising for cosmology, the same point was made here by Scott Dodelson. Lance Dixon gave a talk on the finiteness of N=8 supergravity. He describes conversations with string theorists who would like to interpret this result as indicating that string theory would still be necessary to deal with the asymptotic nature of the perturbation series (not clear why the same problem in string theory doesn’t bother them). One problem with this is that string theory doesn’t have the same symmetries as N=8 supergravity. Witten gave a talk on his recent work, much the same as one he gave at Stony Brook last week. I hope to write about that in my next posting.

See here for an interesting talk at the KITP in Santa Barbara from Albert de Roeck about what to expect from the early stages of the physics run at the LHC.

Michio Kaku’s new book The Physics of the Impossible is getting some attention, especially in the UK. A Fox News story headed Physicist Says Time Travel Is Not Only Possible, but Likely claims that:

… in Blighty [that’s the UK], Kaku’s being treated as if he’s Doctor Who informing dim-witted humans about the wonders of the Universe, with front-page treatment Wednesday in both the Daily Telegraph and the Guardian. Even the normally staid Economist is chiming in.

while, in the US:

… outlandish claims in books are recognized as, well, a good way to sell books.

Here in New York, my colleague Brian Greene’s World Science Festival is getting off the ground, with a press conference held this week described here.

Sabine Hossenfelder, Michael Nielsen and Lee Smolin are organizing a conference at Perimeter this semester on Science in the 21st Century.

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19 Responses to Short Items

  1. Bee says:

    Thanks for mentioning our conference!

  2. Flip says:

    Thanks for another set of great updates.

  3. Lloyd says:

    Hi Peter,

    I recall some time ago you announced that you are about to write down some of your original research in a research paper. If I remember correctly the topic was representation theory and quantum field theory or some such.

    How is that going?

    Best wishes,

  4. Peter Woit says:


    I’m working on some new ideas (involving representation theory) about the mathematics behind the BRST formalism and how to handle gauge symmetries. I have a partially written paper now, hope to get something finished and done this summer. I probably should be spending less time on the blog….

  5. I’d like to nominate Peter Woit as the initiator of the “Third Superstring Revolution”!!!!

    The Third Superstring Revolution will brand as a ‘NON-SCIENCE’ string theory, superstring theory, brane theory, M-theory, (or whatever alias the subject goes by.) As a result, American academia, the U.S. government, and publishers of popular science physics books (as well as New Age-related books) will see the need to provide equal support to all valid theories which attempt to find a theory of quantum gravity or a theory of ‘Everything’.

    Well, thanks in part to Woit’s book, this month instead of buying a book on superstrings from the Scientific American Book Club, I think I’ll order “Discarded Science: Ideas That Seemed Good at the Time,” by John Grant.

  6. Peter Woit says:


    Thanks, but I think the “Third Superstring Revolution” has been the anthropic landscape/multiverse, as popularized by Susskind in his book, and promoted by a growing number of theorists. This is what is behind the increasingly widely held opinion that string theory has degenerated into non-science. Compared to this, the role played by my book was relatively minor.

  7. Copy editor says:

    Typo in link to Tegmark talk slides: try this.

  8. milkshake says:

    You know Big Sur is a very scenical place and not too far from Stanford – maybe they could organize a joint Multiverse workshop at the Esalen Institute…

  9. Peter Woit says:

    Thanks Copy Editor, fixed.

  10. I say says:

    There’s always a Multiverse workshop happening somewhere. Perhaps even infinitely many. So they say.

  11. Chris Oakley says:

    Susskind proselytising the Anthropic Landscape may not in itself demonstrate that the subject has gone into a tailspin, but the fact that the media and conference organisers give him a platform does.

    “I say”,

    You don’t know that. It could be that in the other Multiverses they speculate about the possibility of their own universe being the only one.

  12. anon. says:

    Chris, the multiverse is the most impressive prediction of string theory. What’s interesting about multiverse ‘physics’ is the way it debunks Mach’s insistence that physics should deal with what we can potentially observe. The multiverse is the exact opposite of Occam’s razor, the principle of economy in speculations. It’s a great advance because it makes physics interesting to those greats who would otherwise devote their lives to philosophy.

  13. DB says:

    Obama’s silence is in no way surprising and is quite characteristic. He is no supporter of large government sponsored research. For example, he plans to “delay” NASA’s constellation program in order to fund an early education plan. The implications are discussed further here:

    I would predict that with the support available from the likes of Obama, Fermilab’s future as the last major outpost of US HEP research is bleak.

  14. chris says:

    about obaba and hep funding: i think the us hep community put itself into a political position. essentially, the hep budget is treated like an appendix to the huge defense budget and for better or worse, it is now linked to it politically. that was a relatively easy game under neocon political leadership, but it will bite certainly be very bad if the political course changes to deemphasize military expenses. kind of like a pact with the devil..

  15. Shantanu says:

    Peter, the video of David Gross’ talk at the IPMU is now online and there was some discussion of anthropic principle and Boltzmann brains

  16. Peter Woit says:

    Thanks Shantanu,

    It seems that Gross and I may have some disagreements about string theory, but we agree about “Boltzmann Brain” papers (which he characterizes as “totally preposterous”, saying that people work on this “to my regret”). Maybe he can have a talk with Sean Carroll and convince him to stop promoting this stuff…

  17. Hendrik says:

    Michio Kaku’s book just had a scathing review at

  18. nigel cook says:

    That’s a worthless book review because it doesn’t address the main issue. It’s like an ad hominem attack, trying to debunk one thing by attacking something else. The alleged trivial errors aren’t necessarily a sign that the big arguments are wrong, and I think the reviewer is incompetent to review the book because he ignores the main arguments altogether.

    It’s simply not good enough to spot a few trivial errors in a book and then try to discredit the main message as suspect. The amount of polishing and error checking of a book written by a very busy author is mainly down to the publisher’s editor, not the author. I read a couple of earlier popular books by Professor Kaku, and found them to be well written. The fact that he writes a lot about non-speculative (non-predictive) stuff like string theory is the reason why he is so popular. Fiction outsells fact, and you can’t debunk it. If fiction sells, someone will write and publish it.

  19. Shantanu says:

    Peter probably you have seen , but see the talk by Roberto trotta
    at PI (last year) arguing against anthropic pinciple.
    Towards the end of talk (after about 1:00 hr) there is interesting discussion between Moffat and Susskind (I think at least from the voice)

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