Fake Physics

2016 so far wins my lifetime award for most depressing and disturbing year ever (on the front of the larger world one reads about in the newspaper and elsewhere, personally things are fine, thanks). Perhaps the most disturbing thing has been seeing the way in which people’s access to information about the larger world has become more and more dominated by what has become known as “Fake News”: stuff which is not true, but which someone with an agenda successfully gets others to believe. This is a problem that goes far beyond obvious nonsense fed to rubes on Facebook, to the point of including what a lot of my well-educated colleagues believe because they read it on the front page of the New York Times.

I have no idea what to do about this larger problem and no intention of further discussing it here. I’ve started to come to the conclusion though that the most disturbing trend in theoretical physics of recent years may best be understood as a related phenomenon: “Fake Physics”. The first few weeks of 2017 are seeing a flood of examples of what I have in mind, including for instance:

Note that the above examples are just ones written by physicists or reporting claims of physicists, there are also philosophers, theologians and others putting out similar articles, although without the claims to scientific authority coming from the physicists.

Fake Physics VII just appeared and is rather bizarre. It essentially argues that the idea of assuming a Multiverse and using it to make statistical predictions doesn’t work. But instead of drawing the obvious conclusion (this was a scientifically worthless idea, as seemed likely to most everyone else), the argument is that we need a “revolution in our understanding of physics” that will make the idea work.

Fake Physics shares several characteristics with Fake News:

  • It’s clickbait. While getting anyone to pay attention to the solution of a difficult technical problem in quantum field theory is likely to be nearly impossible, topics like “What happened before the Big Bang?” and “Did you know that there’s someone exactly identical to you somewhere else in the multiverse, and they’re dating Scarlet Johansson?” are sure crowd-pleasers. This motivates some physicists, and even more journalists, with the latter having the much better excuse that their livelihood depends on getting people to click on their stories.
  • It’s a propaganda tactic designed to mask failure. The main reason for the current mania for the Multiverse is the failure of the string theory unification program. Some who have invested their lives in this program have decided to use this sort of Fake Physics as an excuse to avoid admitting failure.
  • The group driving this is small but determined, ideology-driven and well-funded by rich people with an ax to grind. The majority of the community is unwilling to take on the unpleasant and unrewarding task of challenging them. While Multiverse Fake Physics plays a large role in media coverage of fundamental physics, partially because of funding from the Templeton Foundation, there are very few actual papers on the subject and “research” in this area is a small fraction of what theorists are doing. Most physicists just hope that if they ignore this it will go away.

Unfortunately Fake Physics is not going away, but becoming ever more widespread. While I don’t know what to do about Fake News, I think there still is a chance to successfully fight Fake Physics and hope others will help with this.

Update: There’s more

  • Fake Physics IX explains that the Many Worlds multiverse and the cosmological multiverse are one and the same. Sean Carroll is featured.
  • Fake Physics X includes the following from Carroll:

    David Chalmers does a wonderful job at making an important point: “A virtual world is just as real as a physical world.”… what’s real to one person might be virtual to someone else.

People at Hacker News are discussing this. There I’m accused of “misleading people” by making them think the cosmological multiverse is the same thing as the Many Worlds interpretation. Oy.

Update: Thanks to a commenter for pointing out Fake Physics XI, courtesy of Science Friday. As usual, the same vigorous ideologues promoting Fake Physics, the same dearth of voices pointing out the problems with it.

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61 Responses to Fake Physics

  1. Jeff M says:

    Peter,

    I’m assuming it’s the site, but if you click on any of the Nautilus links they take over your browser, you lose your history for the tab your in, every page is a Nautilus page. Not that it matters much probably, but might be worth warning everyone.

  2. zzz says:

    yeah, its like a multiverse of webpages over there

  3. Peter Woit says:

    Jeff M/zzz,
    I hadn’t noticed that “feature” of Nautilus until recently. Maybe they funded its development with this recent grant:
    https://www.templeton.org/what-we-fund/grants/nautilus-magazine

    Upon further investigation looks like this inability to get back happens to those (like me) who set their browser not to save history. Best if people who want to pursue this do so with the Nautilus people.

  4. a1 says:

    just remember the etymology of ‘evangelism’ – good news, not true news

  5. Mitchell Porter says:

    This dizziness about ever-larger realities happened before, when the stars were revealed to be suns, and people were confronted with the idea of spatial infinity. Given sufficient time, the human race should be able to sort out the multiverse question: what exactly are the options; are they true, false, or unknowable; and can they be empirically judged, or is logic the only guide.

  6. Carl says:

    It’s not all doom and gloom. I just got done reading Penrose’s “Fashion, Faith and Fantasy”. And I realized that his takedown of multiverse theory works equally well as a critique of the proposal that our universe is a simulation, a piece of alleged philosophy that actually annoys me even more than multiverses.

  7. Richard J. Gaylord says:

    i guess your too politic to name the culprits who bear the main responsibility for your mood: Trump and Tegmark.

  8. Marty Tysanner says:

    While I’m not a fan of multiverse physics, I think some people may paint it with an overly broad brush by saying “It’s Not Science!” without properly qualifying their claim. There is some subtlety to whether a multiverse from eternal inflation has scientific content or not.

    Some of my research in grad school related to eternal inflation, and thus a multiverse. More specifically: How likely is it we could observe CMB signatures of collisions between bubble universes that “nucleate” sufficiently close together in an eternally inflating (de Sitter space) background? (My advisor had already been working with others on whether bubble collisions might have observable consequences, and the topic was interesting to me.) In such scenarios the multiverse of “bubble universes” grows exponentially in time as new universes continually nucleate — the available volume for nucleation grows exponentially in time while the rate per unit volume stays constant — so each time a new bubble occurs one expects a finite probability it has nucleated close enough to an existing bubble to collide with it; a collision would be very energetic and have a predictable symmetry.

    The scenarios we considered were agnostic about whether the fundamental physics inside the different bubbles (e.g., electron charge, spectrum of particle masses) were different. Freivogel, on the other hand, suggested in your “Fake Physics VII” article that different constants of Nature should exist in different bubble universes. In general that is neither implied nor required — different physics is only “required” by string theorists in the sense that eternal inflation can’t do the job of populating the huge set of string theory vacua unless each bubble nucleation can (randomly) realize any one string vacuum. Coincidentally, Freivogel at that time was also actively involved in looking at whether CMB signatures of bubble collisions might plausibly be observed.

    Alas, our conclusion was that CMB signatures of bubble collisions were likely to be unobservably small because in general they would occupy a tiny angle in the sky. Observable signatures weren’t ruled out; they were just very unlikely. At that point I lost interest in researching eternal inflation — without a plausible way to observationally test it, “multiverse physics” seems like an empty dead end to me. Nonetheless, I think those who continue to look for observational evidence of past bubble collisions are doing real science even if I personally don’t see it being ultimately successful.

    Given these qualifications and subtleties, I too have a problem with what Peter calls “multiverse mania.” I frankly don’t understand why there is enduring interest in the idea among cosmologists, given the lack of a plausible way to confront it with observations, even though almost all models of inflation imply eternal inflation, and eternal inflation in turn implies a multiverse (but not necessarily one with different physics/constants/geometry in different bubble universes). True, we can say that if inflation is a correct idea then there is a multiverse, but so what? We learn nothing new about the Universe we know and love — all we get from the deal is a “just so” story that lets us make believe we understand something we don’t. And for those who find it appealing, we also get an excuse for avoiding hard physics questions that have eluded quantitative answers for many decades, but I wonder how satisfying such thin gruel is to someone who entered “fundamental” theoretical physics with dreams of deeply understanding why Nature is as it is.

  9. Another Anon says:

    You’ll love the latest issue of New Scientist:

    https://www.newscientist.com/issue/3109/

  10. Another Anon says:

    Oops, I see you already noted that one.

  11. Petite Kabylie says:

    Peter,
    All the “Fake Physics” links you put out belong to the multiverse mania category. It would have been nice and more complete for the reader, though, if you put out also some links (if there are any this year), of “Fake Physics” that belong to the realm of particle physics or the “universe as a simulation” mania category.
    Thanks for those anyway.

  12. Peter Woit says:

    Richard J. Gaylord,

    I don’t think the “Fake Physics” problem is due to anyone in particular, and if I had to choose a short list of those who have had the most damaging effect here, it wouldn’t include Tegmark. It’s a systemic problem with how certain sorts of theoretical physics research are evaluated and communicated.

    I’d also like to make clear that on any scale, “Fake Physics” and the unhealthy things it has led to in the physics community are negligibly small potatoes compared to what “Fake News” has brought us and the future it promises human society.

  13. Peter Woit says:

    Marty,
    I pretty much agree, and have always tried to make clear that the argument about whether the Multiverse is science is a non-trivial one that requires actually looking at and evaluating the details of attempts to make science out of it.

    Sure, in principle you could have a theory that implies a multiverse and makes non-trivial testable predictions by statistical argument. But you don’t, as looking at any of the attempts to do this (and Freivogel’s piece) makes clear. In principle you could observe effects of another universe colliding with ours and sure, people should look for this. But there’s no evidence of this so far, and no theory that predicts an effect invisible until now, but visible with a plausible further effort. At some point efforts to see evidence of another universe by doing analysis X of the data become just wishful thinking, not science. People can do this and hope for the best if they want, but they shouldn’t be making misleading claims about what they are doing to the public.

  14. Peter Woit says:

    Petite Kabylie,
    Just as it’s worth distinguishing which sorts of “Fake News” is really a problem, among the many kinds of “Fake Physics” at the moment it’s the Multiverse Mania that’s what’s really a problem. Silly discussions of empty ideas like the “simulation argument” have always been with us and always will be, but I don’t think they’re a real danger to physics research. HEP “Fake Physics” doesn’t seem to be as big a problem now as it has been: you pretty much never hear anymore about how the LHC is going to produce black holes and discover extra dimensions, and misguided claims about supersymmetry are finally running into trouble with the reality principle.

  15. There seems to be an accelerating erosion of accountability and candor when making claims (and staking positions), much like the current political discourse where the mottos: “Never apologize,” he told Mr. Trump. “Facts are white noise” and “emotions rule” seems to prevail.

    Perhaps multiversers should consider a communal apology, or at least an “oops”. http://blogs.plos.org/scied/2016/11/30/the-pernicious-effects-of-disrespecting-the-constraints-of-science/

  16. JohnB says:

    I don’t know a lot about the physics community (mainly what I read here), but maybe it’d be worth extending the attitude of skepticism towards the physics community, to one of cynicism – and to follow the money, and see in general what kind of incentives people may have to deliberately misdirect resources in the physics community.

    If someone has a neverending research project, like the string-theory/multiverse stuff, that can’t ever be proven/disproven, then that sounds like the ultimate gravy-train to me, if that part of the community can gain enough political power and money for marketing, to convince people that this is still ‘science’, so that they can keep the funding rolling in.

    As the Upton Sinclair quote goes “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it” – the reasons for that can include self-interested malice, rather than just ignorance.

    Maybe something that some muckraking investigative journalists, with lots of harsh/bad publicity, would do a better job of researching/fixing this – rather than waiting for the physics community to sort itself out (the latter being the “science advances one funeral at a time” approach).

  17. Peter Woit says:

    All,
    Please stick to “Fake Physics”. Unfortunately I don’t see anything useful to come out of me trying to host and moderate a discussion of the much more serious problem of “Fake News” and where it has led us. Besides, I have no time for that, I have a demonstration to get to…

  18. S. P. Nova says:

    Jim Baggott’s books, like “Farewell To Reality”, are sort of relevant to what JohnB suggests.

    Unfortunately, the voice of reason is largely drowned out in the cacophony of today’s information overload, laden as it is with misdirection and outright mendacity.

  19. lars says:

    “Virtual Reality”

    If multiverse is real
    Then universe is not
    Cuz virtual appeal
    In multiverse is hot

    See Paul Davies’ “fake universe” hypothesis

  20. Anonymous mathematician says:

    It seems to me that “fake physics” goes beyond multiverse mania and universe as simulation, to things like ER=EPR, which seems to contradict established physics in so many ways that it cannot possibly be correct.

    Yet physicists are, if not jumping on the bandwagon, at least not debating it. Is silence consent?

  21. Marty Tysanner says:

    Peter,

    Yes, you have distinguished in the past between efforts to detect bubble collisions, which is “real” science, and unscientific, unsupported claims and breathless hype about the multiverse on the the other hand. I wasn’t thinking of you when cautioning against painting “multiverse physics” with an overly broad brush.

    JohnB,

    I’m sure you can find various instances where researchers work to misdirect resources to enhance their own career prospects. After all, researchers are human too (most of them anyway!), and there seems to be no shortage of people who are more interested in enhancing their own position than working toward the greater good.

    On the other hand, it is a long, arduous and often discouraging path to get through grad school, and then post docs after that, in order to secure a faculty position at a research university. Research physicists tend to be quite smart and most could easily command better pay (and probably have better career advancement prospects) in industry compared to being a faculty member or researcher in a national lab. On the other hand, working for a company means adopting that company’s R&D goals, which may be very different from pursuing one’s own passion — that’s the trade-off as I see it, and there is no shortage of people who are willing to give up better pay so they can work toward something they believe in.

    What I’m getting at is that working in a university or national lab is not a good path to riches for the great majority of theoretical physicists, so the “follow the money” idea doesn’t apply to institutional research the way it does to industry and politics. I believe most theoretical physicists seek grant money and promote their research program because they honestly believe in it, and not because they cynically think that excessively hyping their program means more riches for them and a bigger empire of grad students and postdocs for them to manage. There simply are other, easier ways for them to gain riches and power than doing theoretical physics.

  22. Death By Hiccups says:

    Fake Physics: I think you’re right with some aspects of this picture despite generating large size influence and feedback entirely or mostly on their on own steam, are nevertheless of a secondary or non-fundamental order or else simplistic in and of, the being of that. The media and the majority of the interested public like the multiverse for essentially the same reason as the scientists: It’s the easy road. It doesn’t take much immersion (any, necessarily) before the far-reaching insights to burble in the region of the stomach, the excitement and euphoric emotion that in the end is about a revived hope-that-we-can-believe-in for transcendental survival of the tragedy of old age and death. Easy to make a documentary with all the same feelings and accolades of our colleagues. Easy to absorb a popular book and feel all the things that promise what we most want if we cannot be the best;our equivalence, as a personal potential, in a different life. There’s no such thing as a counter-factual in a multiverse.
    The easy way is the rational way, that’s always been the truth. Why go the hard way if there is an easy way. It takes a lot of up front richness to see it different. Science was the jewel in the crown of doing things the hard way. It’s immensely inefficient at the level of a single life. But over the centuries it supplanted all else and created a new world. Those amazing insights that are so addictive particularly to the scientist who otherwise will be lucky to get half as much for a whole lifetimes work. The hard path has no answer for that.

  23. Peter Woit says:

    JohnB/Marty,

    In general I agree with Marty: the motivation for physicists here is mostly not about money. There is one sense though in which people really should follow the money. If you trace back where a lot of these Fake Physics stories come from, you find that they’re funded by the Templeton Foundation. This foundation is the largest funder of Fake Physics, and a big part of the problem. They have an ideological commitment to bringing together religion and physics, and put a lot of money behind it, money going both to journalists and to physicists.

  24. srp says:

    Press release: Peter Woit says that in another universe you are dating Scarlett Johansen! Click here for the details of your relationship!

  25. Peter Woit says:

    Anonymous mathematician,
    Personally I’ve never been able to figure out what ER=EPR is supposed to mean. Straightforwardly interpreted, it’s obvious nonsense, clearly it is supposed to be interpreted as some sort of speculative statement about some class of speculative theories of quantum gravity. Presumably experts on the subject can give more of a characterization of what this class of theories is and what kind of statement is being proposed, but personally every time I’ve tried to look into this I’ve ended up deciding that other projects looked like more promising ways to spend my time.

  26. dirk bruere says:

    I really don’t see why you are so against multiverse theories. As you say, little research is being done in that field, so they are hardly subtracting from the successes of String Theorists (ie none at all when it comes to proof). For the general public, they are fun. As they are for philosophers. Anyway, good luck with the ongoing failure of fundamental physics – I’m sure a new generation of String workers sucking the life out of all other possible routes to the mythical TOE will bring rich rewards.

  27. Alan says:

    There was one piece from Nautil.us (not given above) titled The Not-So-Fine Tuning of the Universe by Prof. Fred Adams which doesn’t look like Fake Physics. So he says that the universe isn’t so fine-tuned. Just wondering if first, how true is this and second, if anyone can enlighten me whether this goes against the multiverse concept. So, more wriggle room for the fundamental constants.

  28. Konstantinos says:

    I see how some of the links mentioned are just garbage (especially the *cough* Templeton’s *cough* purely philosophical ones), but the article written on the site of the Astronomy magazine shouldn’t be among them. Actually it goes against the popsci wave and notes that the most important part of a physics (or in general, scientific) hypothesis is to be falsifiable. Something that most (or every?) multiverse (as well as other “revolutionary”) hypotheses lack.

  29. Shantanu says:

    Peter, something OT. David Gross giving a public talk at Spenta Wadia fest
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mLvuC14keQg

  30. Doug McDonald says:

    Its not just fake physics. Its fakechemistry, biology, indeed any hard science.

    The correct term, which Peter used, is “Clickbait Physics”. My chemistry colleagues …
    even the best … absolutely insist that it is necessary. The University management
    just loves it. When I confront them all but one .. the best one … insist it isn’t “wrong”
    , “its just hype, and its necessary as clickbait”. I specifically offer any piece hyping
    the great future we face (Yes! the future will be better than the past — we’ll all
    live longer and better lives”) due to research in any field beginning with “nano”.
    One was so farfetched I literally ROTFL in my secretaries’ office when I
    looked at the poster.

    When I was a grad student we would have said “this will make missiles obsolete …
    photon torpedoes based on it will travel at the speed of light, and even push through
    fog”. (That one, of course, except for the “obsolete” part, is now reality.) My career suffered because I am simply unable to conjure up hype that excites folks used
    to “journalisticly correct hype.”

  31. Peter Woit says:

    Alan,
    Yes, that’s one problem the “fine-tuning” argument, and that piece does a good job of explaining it.

    In general I’ve found that the Nautilus people generally put out high-quality articles. The large number of dubious multiverse ones, including a lot of theology, which is not normally their thing, I found surprising.

    Konstantinos,

    Just as few Fake News pieces acknowledge not caring about whether they are true or not, most Fake Physics doesn’t acknowledge that it is giving up on science, instead claims that what they are talking about is testable. As with Fake News, you have to look into it to see if it really is what it is claimed to be. I think if you look into the claims about evidence of other universes described in the Astronomy article, you’ll find they don’t stand up to serious examination (At the time they appeared in 2015, Jennifer Ouellette wrote a piece debunking them).

    Doug McDonald,
    The hype problem is much more widespread than the Fake Physics problem, of which hype is only a part of the story.

  32. Anonymous says:

    (disclaimer: I am not a physicist, nor do I play one on TV)

    Science reporting has been in shambles for a very long time, and with the rise of facebook and the ad economy, I have seen headlines like “You too could live forever like this one strange organism!” that, when you trace back the interpretation of an article that summarizes a summary of an abstract, the actual paper being reported on is about anhydrobiosis not previously seen in a particular variety of nematode.

    This sort of reporting is written by those with neither a desire to spread knowledge nor an understanding of the subject matter. It is there to make money, and the patronizing “wow, your mind is blown!” language of the writing drips with this cynicism.

    Joining them are those that wish to build a religion on paradigm-shaking beliefs. Again, a cynical cash grab based not on the potential merits of a hypothesis, but based on mysticizing the observable and testable universe.

  33. Peter Woit says:

    Anonymous,

    On the whole, I don’t think the Fake Physics problem is coming from journalists, but from physicists. There’s some bad science journalism out there, but if you avoid the obviously low quality journalism sources, what you find are journalists on the whole doing a pretty good job of explaining claims being made by serious physicists. Yes, many journalists can’t resist covering Multiverse Fake Physics, but they’re doing it because well-known physicists are pushing it.

  34. serious question here says:

    is it fake physics news if the news media report claims from respected physicists in papers, one example of which is Verlinde’s recent paper on gravity which tries to explain away dark matter?

    Verlinde published a paper in entropic gravity in 2016 that does away with the need for dark matter, and the news media called him the next Einstein.

    fake physics news or genuine physics news?

    if genuine physics news, since it is based on an actual physics research paper by an actual physicist, Erik Verlinde,

    there are of course research papers written by string theorists on the multiverse.

  35. Peter Woit says:

    serious question here,

    I’m not talking about fake physics news, but about Fake Physics, a concept that I don’t think really applies to preliminary speculative work like Verlinde’s. He has an idea the validity or usefulness of which is unclear, he’s discussing it in a paper, and that’s getting reported in the news. This is perfectly normal scientific activity and its normal press coverage.

    If after a lot of investigation, it turns out that “entropic gravity” is a useless untestable idea that tells us nothing, but Verlinde keeps working on it and promoting it, with serious financial backing, lots of press articles appearing, and his colleagues unwilling to stand up and tell people it’s an idea that doesn’t work, then we’ll be in the realm of Fake Physics.

  36. Maximillian G. Tresmond, Esq. says:

    Why is the Templeton Foundation pushing the multiverse idea?

  37. Peter Woit says:

    Maximillian,

    The Templeton Foundation’s mission is to bring science and religion together, it was set up for this purpose by the late Sir John Templeton. They have been funding and pushing Multiverse research for a long time, since it fits very well with their mission, blurring the boundary of science and religion. The recent Nautilus multiverse articles fit well with their point of view, getting both theologians and scientists to discuss the topic.

  38. Balazs says:

    I’m an engineer, not a physicist, so I’m not familiar with the mathematical fundamentals of the inflation filed, but it seems to me that the concept of multiverse is based on the assumption that the inflation field (if it exists) is going through random fluctuations, so at any point in space it has equal chance of producing a new bubble universe with random properties. So my question is, why do physicist assume (without having any observational evidence) that the inflation field is random? It’s basically a scalar function that (if exists) we don’t know anything about, so why can’t it have any particular shape. Why can’t it have a characteristic feature localized somewhere that will produce just one universe and that’s it… Of course in that case we would need to explain why it looks like that, but complete randomness also needs explanation.
    I’m looking for an answer that is not than it’s because of the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, because we don’t know if that applies to a hypothetical inflation field.

  39. Peter Woit says:

    Balazs,

    The conjectured inflaton (not “inflation”) field is supposed to be a quantum field, not a classical field. It has energy and couples to gravity, you certainly can make models like this, with probabilistic behavior implied by quantum mechanics. These come with a huge freedom even for a single inflaton field since you can choose the self-interaction potential.

    One problem for even a single inflaton field is getting any signficant testable predictions out of this. Much more seriously, the actual theories being promoted (string landscape) are vastly more complicated, involving hundreds of inflaton-like fields and all sorts of other structures, with no well-defined theory that governs them. So far, this is a completely empty idea since it predicts nothing (or everything, which is the same thing…)

  40. George S Williams says:

    Actually. it’s no longer Fake Physics, it’s now Alternative Physics.

  41. Darrell Burgan says:

    I’m not disagreeing with the POV expressed here, just genuinely curious: what qualifies an idea as “real” physics? Is it merely falsifiability or is there more to it than that?

    As a non-physicist outsider, maybe I’m oversimplifying, but it seems to me the real problem is that the line between science and fun speculation seems to be eroding, not that speculation is in and of itself wrong.

  42. Zach D. says:

    I’d like to see you back up your comment about fake news appearng in the NY Times with evidence. (Of course all news outlets make mistakes at times, and all will occasionally have an employee who doesn’t play by the rules. But if you’re going to point the finger at that news outlet, I assume you feel that fake news is not the exception for them.)

  43. NoGo says:

    Are there other scientists, blogs, or publications that systematically push back against fake physics like you do?
    I know that Sabine Hossenfelder occasionally does, but that’s the only other one I am aware of…

  44. John says:

    So what does fake physics and fakes news have in common? It’s that fake stuff can be pushed by anyone with an agenda and you can no longer rely on credentials or the previous standards of the publishing site. It really comes down to “reader beware”.

    At the end of the day we can no longer accept as fact anything that is published. And that is a sad state of affairs.

  45. Zack Yezek says:

    This all seems to me to stem from a simple but unpleasant reality- most of fundamental physics has been stagnating due to a lack of new information from experiments.

    Is it really so surprising that many theorists have been spinning their wheels or going off into la-la land for the last 40 years? The many null results and experimental falsifications of various GUT theories, flavors of SuperSymmetry, etc. are non-trivial and useful data in their own right, but only in a negative sense. My own guess is that real progress will originate in the neutrino sector, the first place the Standard Model finally made a flat-out wrong prediction and the one place we already have experiments probing new physics. Because unification has stalled out for the time being due to insufficient data, and won’t really go anywhere until we get some more.

  46. Peter Woit says:

    John,
    Unfortunately I think the problem is not just that of lower standards at publishing sites. On the physics side, physics journals have always published a certain amount of nonsense and popular science publications have covered this. The Multiverse fake physics campaign is something new I don’t think we’ve ever seen: a concerted ideological campaign by a group of people with the best credentials at our best institutions, with multi-million dollar funding behind them, funding not subject to review by their peers. The problem isn’t that popular science publications have lowered their standards to report this, it has always been their job to report claims made by scientists with these credentials.

    I don’t want to moderate a discussion of the disturbing story of US democracy and Fake News here, and will delete further comments about this, but since it’s my blog, my thoughts about this are the following:

    Besides the well-known, well-funded right wing Fake News machine that has come to dominate the political reporting scene in recent years, the rot goes deeper. Even the most reliable of our news sources (e.g. the New York Times ) have been infected with this, and show no signs of having any idea how to counter Fake News. As far as I can tell, they seem to have often decided that vigorously fighting Fake News would make them appear to be partisans, so at time have joined in the Fake News business hoping it will make them look less partisan and thus more credible.

    What I have in mind in particular (responding to Zach D.) is the behavior of the New York Times toward Hillary Clinton, their campaign of Fake News attacking her character. This has a long history, going back to the first Clinton administration (Travelgate, Whitewater), and continuing through the past year (email server, Clinton Foundation). Some of their writers (e.g. Maureen Dowd) have now written literally hundreds of pieces attacking Clinton’s character. I didn’t understand why they were doing that in the 1990s, even less so this past year. I suspect their editors thought that there was no way she could lose this election, so using her as a punching bag was harmless sport.

    At least with their last disastrous promotion of Fake News (publishing Judith Miller on Iraq), they seem to have realized they made a mistake. They show no evidence now of understanding what significance of what they did during the Clinton-Trump campaign. Their Public Editor is an idiot. After defending the most egregiously awful things they have done, this weekend she announced that she has found something they did wrong: not reporting absurd accusations about some computer server belonging to an obscure part of the Trump organization, see
    https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/20/public-editor/trump-russia-fbi-liz-spayd-public-editor.html
    This level of stupidity at an organization of this importance is scary.

    If I had any idea what to do about Fake News I’d open comments here and try to do something. I do see what needs to be done though about Fake Physics: people in the physics community need to step up and take some responsibility. The problem is not going away.

    NoGo,
    Besides Sabine I’m having trouble of thinking of anyone. Lubos on some days will rant about the Multiverse, but having him on your side tends not to be helpful, as string theorists have discovered.

  47. Michael says:

    I think you should reinvestigate “Fake Physics VI” (the one from astronomy.com) as it doesn’t exactly fit your bill of fake physics. While the title is certainly clickbait-y, the article takes the point of view that physical theories need be testable and discusses a cosmological multiverse where interactions at the boundaries of the universes could be relevant in interpreting anomalies in the CMB. They are quick to acknowledge that this is just a suggested theory, and there are other possible explanations for their data which require further investigation.

  48. Peter Woit says:

    Michael,
    Sorry, but I disagree. One feature of Fake News is that the writer often goes on about what a problem Fake News is, that luckily for the reader, what they are reading is from someone aware of the problem, and willing to help them get the real stuff.

    Same with Fake Physics: bogus claims to have real testable science are often framed by a discussion of what a problem it is that others have been making untestable claims.

  49. Patrick Harris says:

    Hello Dr. Woit,

    Did you want “Fake News IX” and “Fake News X” to read “Fake Physics” IX & X? Or are was the distinction deliberate? Just curious…

    Thanks for the great discussion!

  50. Peter Woit says:

    Patrick Harris,

    That was a mistake, fixed. Thanks for pointing it out!

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