Breakthrough Prize on TV

You can watch the recent Breakthrough Prize awards ceremony on TV tonight, 6 pm on the Science and Discovery channels. The Science Channel has a site with videos of highlights of the evening, the complete list of which is:

  • Christina Aguilera singing “Beautiful”.
  • Larry Page of Google talking about himself and Google.
  • Mark Zuckerberg talking about the universe and the “masters of string theory”, which is “our best hope for one explanation of reality”.
  • Michael C. Hall talking about his own cancer, then bringing on Jimmy Wales to talk about a cancer researcher.
  • Sergey Brin of Google talking about himself.
  • Sergey Brin’s wife Anne Wojicki talking about herself, and about her husband’s DNA (which supposedly indicates an increased risk for Parkinson’s, so research on curing that is important).
  • Lana Del Rey singing “Video Games”.

I’ve heard a rumor that one mathematician was actually allowed to say something, for 30 seconds. Will have to wait for the show tonight to see if that was true…

Update: Just saw the show. There was a nice video shown of the mathematicians saying some things about math in general. Unlike the rest of the scientists, they weren’t given their award by a star or starlet, but were brought on stage together already holding their awards, and Richard Taylor said something for 20-25 seconds on everyone’s behalf. I also hadn’t realized that a sizable part of the show was two promotional segments for Hollywood movies (the ones about Hawking and Turing).

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Breakthrough Prize on TV

  1. amirpouyan says:

    Science and Propaganda* Channel Presents!

    *Propaganda is a form of communication aimed towards influencing the attitude of a population toward some cause or position

  2. David Appell says:

    How many explanations of reality does Mark Zuckerberg need?

  3. Peter Woit says:

    The Science channel does carry a lot of propaganda for science, and that’s not necessarily such a bad thing. The Breakthrough Prize business does fit into that, one of its themes is that science is valuable, deserves more recognition. Another theme though is that Silicon Valley billionaires belong up there with Hollywood and music-world celebrities on TV. They’re paying for it, so I guess they should get what they want.

  4. Bernhard says:

    This is great material for a South Park episode.

  5. Nobody says:


    “… not necessarily such a bad thing.”

    Are you sure? Where would the multiverse and other such corruptions be without all the money associated without the publicity? The politicized nature of show biz is powerful. Look at what politics did to climate science. I’d say that physics is playing Russian roulette with this ‘star’ business. Some money might be generated, but you’re losing your soul.

    Run the publicity seekers out of the business and turn down the big star prize money (if you can resist the corrupting lure).

  6. Nobody says:

    “without the publicity”

    Cut and paste error: “with the publicity”

  7. Peter Woit says:


    I don’t really think that money has much to do with what’s causing the multiverse problem (and its predecessor, the string theory unification problem). In general, I don’t think the people driving this are doing it for the money. They’re doing this because doing something real is hard and frustrating, while this is much easier, and it’s easy to fool oneself. As always, the people you see on TV are going to be the ones who are most interested in being on TV. But in a world with no TV science channels, no large book advances, and no billionaires giving prizes, I think we’d have the same problem (although the public would be less aware of it).

    What traditionally keeps a lid on this kind of nonsense is that other scientists, especially ones in your own department, will stop taking you seriously if you start doing this kind of thing, start ignoring your opinions about who to hire, start discouraging students from working with you, etc. The real money danger here is that a colleague spouting pseudo-science is one thing, a colleague spouting pseudo-science who has just won a respected $3 million prize, has a large grant from the Templeton Foundation, is bringing large donors to the university, and attracts students because of his/her TV appearances is a more challenging problem. And even if your colleagues know not to take you seriously, that may be less true for university administrators.

  8. anon. says:

    Peter. Are multiverse TV adverts simply a symptom of the problem that alternative ideas are *less interesting* to viewers? In other words, there are people talking about multiverse ideas to lay persons in an exciting way, but the guys with really interesting work don’t go on TV to issue adverts, partly because they’re busy actually doing stuff, and partly because it’s not trivial but requires complex math to explain.

Comments are closed.