Vote!

Normally I avoid politics here, but these are not normal times. What follows is a request to my US readers, followed by some general remarks about the disturbing state of US democracy. Sorry, but if you want to discuss any of this, it will have to be elsewhere (internet comment sections are part of the problem…).


To those not planning on voting for Donald Trump
:

  • If you’re planning on voting for Hillary Clinton: please be sure to get out and vote, by early voting if available in your state or on Election day. This is extremely important, with the election likely decided by who cares enough to turn out and vote.
  • If you’re planning on not voting: please rethink this. One can in many elections make a reasonable case that the differences between the candidates aren’t great, so, why bother? If there ever were a US election where that was not true, this is it.
  • If you’re planning on voting for a third-party candidate: again, that might make sense if the differences between the two viable candidates were not great, but that is absolutely not the case here. More specifically, if you’re a progressive planning on voting for Jill Stein, please look at what happened in 2000. People who did the same thing in Florida (voting for Nader then) gave us George W. Bush as president, which was a disaster for the progressive cause. I also urge you to look deep within your heart and ask yourself whether your behavior is a realistic engagement with the world, or self-involved moral posturing.


To those planning on voting for Donald Trump
:

Please don’t. I see two main arguments for doing this and I think they’re both misguided.

  • You agree with Trump more than Clinton on important policy issues. Whatever policy issue you have in mind, I think if you look into it you’ll find that whatever Trump says now, at some other point he was saying something different. There’s little evidence Trump has fixed views on any policy issue (other than the desirability of better tax treatment for real estate development projects). If you think Trump will, for instance, appoint Supreme Court justices that share your moral values, note that he has reportedly told Peter Thiel that he would like to appoint him to the Court. Thiel is a gay, radical libertarian Silicon Valley billionaire from San Francisco with highly eccentric views. I doubt you share his moral values (since virtually no one else does, right, left or center).

    Note added: This same argument applies to those opposing Clinton and supporting Trump’s election on grounds such as “she’s a war-mongerer, unlike Trump”, since (on some days) Trump claims to oppose US military interventions abroad. If you really believe that “Make America Great” means Trump will institute a policy of restraint on the use of the US military, I think it will likely be just a few weeks into the Trump administration before you find out that you, like your right-wing brethren in flyover country, have been conned.

  • You’re angry at well-off coastal elites who you feel look down on you and your culture, and you want to spit in their face by voting for Trump. If so, you are quite right to feel the way you do. From a lifetime spent among such elites I can tell you that, yes, they do look down on you. Most people here in New York City probably do think you’re an ignorant racist. Your problem though is that Donald Trump is one of us. He’s a well-off New Yorker through and through, looks down on you every bit as much as others. If elected he will govern in the interest of his tribe, not yours. If you think otherwise, you’ve been conned. All you will accomplish by a vote for Trump is to convince people in New York, Washington D.C. and California that you really are even more ignorant than they thought, a racist fool taken in by an obvious con.

How did we end up here?

Whatever happens, I think the huge question facing US democracy is that of how, in an election contest between a competent, honest centrist candidate and an unqualified con artist, we’ve ended up with the majority of the electorate convinced that the first of these is the one with serious ethical problems. American politics has become a reality TV show, with the plot line all about convincing people that a contestant is unethical and dislikable, and so should be voted off the island.

That the right has pursued this tactic against the Clintons since the early 90s is not surprising, since it’s much more effective than arguing the issues. What’s destroying US democracy though is not just one side’s decision to do this, but that the other side, instead of fighting back, has been joining in. The most outrageous example of this is the Clinton email server “scandal”, which is and always has been an absurdity. The attacks on Hillary Clinton’s character based on this have not come just from the right, but also from the left. I every so often look at the Drudge Report, as well as lefty sources (The Intercept, Firedoglake=Shadowproof, Naked Capitalism, etc), and, on this topic, you can’t tell the difference between right and left.

Most damaging though is the behavior of the mainstream media, in particular that of the New York Times, whose coverage of this issue has been atrociously unfair to Clinton. This is not new behavior for them, it goes back to the first Clinton administration, during which they promoted endless similar nonsense (Travelgate, Whitewater, etc., etc.). At the time I found it hard to understand why they were doing this, with one conjecture that it had to do with reporters and editors harboring some sort of resentment, intent on taking down the Clintons a notch (“they think they’re so great, we’ll show them, expose their dirty laundry”).

More recently I’ve come to the conclusion that what’s going on here has to do with the world-view of much of the liberal, educated class that I’m a part of. After some success at addressing ancient problems of racism, sexism, homophobia and the like, many have become impossibly self-righteous and devoted to moral posturing, intent on ferreting out reasons to “call out” others and show their moral superiority.

When political arguments are about issues, they’re often not very rational and it has always been thus. What has changed in the US is that political arguments are now dominated by obsession with the supposed moral failings of others. We’re experiencing a perfect storm of the demagoguery of the right meeting the obsessive self-righteousness of the left, all mediated by journalists who see their primary role as taking down and exposing the supposed moral failings of our leaders. I don’t think we’ve seen this before in our history, and it threatens to upend the basic premises of a working democracy.

It’s very hard to know what kind of craziness we’ll have to deal with if Trump is elected. His agenda is purely that of getting attention for himself and “winning”, I doubt even he has any idea what he’ll do if he wins. On the other hand, unfortunately it’s all too clear what’s going to happen if Clinton is elected. The Republicans will launch endless investigations and attacks on her character in an attempt to make sure her presidency is not a success. The left will join in, and the New York Times and much of the rest of the media will nearly every day feature a new story about what is wrong with Hilary Clinton and with whoever joins her administration and attempts to govern the country in the best interest of its citizens. I don’t see see how this fever breaks, and it’s very hard not to see bleak days ahead for this country.

Update: From talking to various people I realized that one reason some Democrats and those on the left don’t see the “top secret email” business as being as absurd as I do is that they have no idea what these emails were. For that story, see this from the Wall Street Journal and this from the Washington Post.

One reason many people may not be informed about this is that they get their news from the New York Times, where the only mention of this I can find is a snide remark in this story.

Update: Based on some emails from people misreading this posting, it seems I have to make the following clear

  • I DON’T think Trump supporters are ignorant racists.
  • I DON’T think Peter Thiel is immoral (eccentric ≠ bad).

I DO think that

  • Left-wing news and commentary sites
  • New York Times political reporters and editors, together with others at mainstream media outlets
  • Jill Stein and people who support her candidacy

have joined the right in an unholy alliance to try and discredit Clinton, based on completely absurd accusations regarding her use of email. This has led to a serious danger that the US will elect a con artist and fascist demagogue as President next week, or, failing that, destroy hopes for a successful Hilary Clinton administration.

Update: A correspondent points out that I haven’t addressed one reason some on both the Left and the Right (including those at the lefty websites I mentioned) are supporting Trump and trying to destroy Hilary Clinton. They believe that the advent of Trump will “break open the current oligarchy’s Pandora’s box”, with the destruction of the US democratic system making way for a wonderful new system that will grow and flourish in the wreckage. I didn’t mention this nihilist argument for Trump because there is no rational argument against the desire to deal with a problem by smashing everything around one. Sure, that will work, it will get rid of what is bothering you, you’ll feel better and, as long as you’re well enough off, other people will be the collateral damage hit by the debris, as well as those that have to clean up the mess.

Those who think this way though should at least be honest that that’s what they want, and not hide behind dishonest demonization of Hilary Clinton over bogus accusations about her email. The left’s joining with the Republican party to weaponize dishonest accusations about ethics and use those to bring down whoever they disagree with is something that will live on and make sure that what emerges from the wreckage will be even uglier than what was destroyed.

I also added something above, making clear that the arguments to Trump supporters also apply to his Leftist ones.

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Various Links

  • The 2016 LHC proton-proton run is now over, with delivered (41.07 CMS/38.4 ATLAS) and recorded (37.82 CMS/35.5 ATLAS) luminosities (in inverse fb) far above the goal for this year of 25. Together with last year’s data, the experiments now have 41.63 (CMS) and 39.4 (ATLAS) inverse fb recorded at 13 TeV, close to the LHC design energy of 14 TeV. It is likely that preliminary results will be reported at an “end-of-year jamboree” in mid-December, with more to come at the winter conferences.

    I’d guess that these new results will see improved bounds on SUSY particles, and that David Gross and Lubos Motl will have to pay off their long-standing bets that the LHC would find SUSY (Gross’s bet with Ken Lane is here, it says 50 inverse fb of LHC data, sum of CMS and ATLAS now about 80). Unfortunately, I’m afraid that losing these bets won’t affect their devotion to SUSY.

  • Paul Steinhardt gave a colloquium at Fermilab last month with the title Simply Wrong vs. Simple. In it he explained “why the big bang inflationary picture fails as a scientific theory” (it doesn’t work as promised, is not self-consistent and not falsifiable). This is a complicated topic, but Steinhardt is an expert and one of the originators of the theory, so if you want to understand the problems of some common arguments for inflation, watching this talk is highly recommended. Steinhardt’s talk was part of a Fermilab workshop, Simplicity II.
  • On the multiverse front, Sabine Hossenfelder’s Mom has Sabine to set her straight. For professional physicists, instead of getting set straight there’s the usual Templeton funding for the opposite, in this case a workshop on Fine-tuning, the Multiverse and Life.
  • Paul Ginsparg discusses various issues having to do with the arXiv here and here, with an emphasis on the question of how to decide which preprints to reject (they have my sympathy on the difficulties involved). Ginsparg notes that they decided not to have comments/discussion of papers there, but to have “trackbacks” to discussions hosted elsewhere. Still no indication of why trackbacks here are banned.
  • Theoretical physicist Walter Greiner passed away a couple weeks ago. He was the author of a series of textbooks, one of which in particular, Field Quantization, I found very helpful when I was trying to figure out some details for the book I was writing.

Update: I just noticed that Witten’s Commemorative Lecture for the Kyoto Prize is available here. It’s a very interesting account by him of his career and point of view.

Update: In case you think fine-tuning is a central question in physics, besides the Templeton-funded workshop in Sydney, you can consult the website of a Templeton-funded program, or buy this book by a Templeton-funded author. There’s also a talk by Aron Wall, given to a Rutgers University apologetics club. Wall’s conclusion is that either God or the Multiverse did it, and he comes down on the side of God (because of the Resurrection of Jesus business).

Update: Also on the Templeton front, they are funding a new $7.2 million Black Hole Initiative, which advertises itself by

The BHI will be the first center worldwide to focus on the study of black holes, and as such it offers a unique naming opportunity for potential donors.

Templeton is paying for the first three years of this. To get some idea of the scale of this project, the yearly grant is roughly half the size of the NSF grant to each to the two largest US centers in pure math and in theoretical physics (MSRI and the KITP).

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Final Draft Version

I finally have finished a draft version of the book that I’ve been working on for the past four years or so. This version will remain freely available on my website here. The plan is to get professional illustrations done and have the book published by Springer, presumably appearing in print sometime next year. By now it’s too late for any significant changes, but comments, especially corrections and typos, are welcome.

At this point I’m very happy with how the book has turned out, since I think it provides a valuable point of view on the relation between quantum mechanics and mathematics, and contains significant amounts of material not well-explained elsewhere. I’m simultaneously rather unhappy with it, very much aware of a long list of ways in which it could be improved. Any of these though would require putting more time into the project, and right now I’m thoroughly sick of it, desperately wanting to think about other things. So, this is pretty much it.

I’ve learned a huge amount by writing this, and I hope to apply some of this in work on several different new projects. As I work on these, perhaps I’ll do some more writing that would partially take the form of new chapters extending what’s in the book. We’ll see…

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A New 30 GeV Particle?

Last night a preprint appeared on the arXiv, with a re-analysis of old 1992-5 LEP data, looking at the dimuon spectrum for b-tagged (identified as involving a b-quark) events. An excess around 30 GeV was found, which would indicate a possible new particle around that energy. The author quotes various significance numbers for the bump, with look-elsewhere effect included, of 2.4 to 2.9 sigma.

Thinking a bit about the look-elsewhere effect here, something very funny is going on. To properly compute the look-elsewhere effect, one really should know how many other channels the author looked at and found nothing, but there’s no mention of looking at other channels. Why did this particular physicist decide to go and reanalyze LEP data, looking only at the b-tagged dimuon spectrum (and it seems he’s doing this by himself)? It’s hard to understand why anyone would do this, unless perhaps they had heard that one of the LHC experiments might be seeing something in the b-tagged dimuon spectrum, say, around 30 GeV.

We’ll likely find out more about this story soon. If the LHC experiments haven’t been looking closely at this particular channel, they will do so now. 30 GeV is low enough that I don’t see why you would need the Run 2 13 TeV data, this should be in the older Run 1 data.

I should make the obvious remark though: this is an extraordinary claim, and the evidence for a new particle is very far from the extraordinary level. So, at a high confidence level, the probability is that there’s nothing there.

For much more about this, Tommaso Dorigo and Matt Strassler have just put out blog postings.

Update: Tommaso has an update with more about this: the author was not a member of ALEPH and that collboration does not support this but thinks this is bogus. It appears that the signal is spurious, with the muons coming from semileptonic b decays, not a new particle. Still a mystery: why was this physicist looking at this old data for one very specific signal?

Update: The talk today by Nate Odell of CMS at the LPC Physics Forum at Fermilab is not public, but the title is: “Dimuon 29 GeV analysis”. Any guess whether that has something to do with this story about 30 GeV dimuons?

Posted in Experimental HEP News | 25 Comments

Math Items

A few mathematics items:

  • David Ben-Zvi’s overview talk about Representation Theory as Gauge Theory given last month at the Clay conference in Oxford that I attended is now available online, as slides and video. Other talks from the conference are here.
  • My fantasy that I might try and understand arithmetic algebraic geometry by reading Tate’s collected papers keeps getting delayed as the AMS puts off publication (now scheduled for January 18 of next year). While the books are not available, at least Milne’s review is.
  • A couple weeks ago there was a Beyond Endoscopy conference at the IAS, at the same time I gather functioning as an 80th birthday celebration for Langlands. There’s a write-up by Langlands of his talk here. I think it can be described as the current Langlands take on “Geometric Langlands”.
  • No recent news I’m aware of concerning Mochizuki and the the abc conjecture, but Inference magazine has just published a long article by Ivan Fesenko giving his take on “Inter-universal Teichmuller Theory”.
  • The Breakthrough Prize symposium this year is scheduled for December 5 at UCSF, so I guess that means the prizes will likely be announced and awards ceremony held December 4, if things go like in recent years. I have no idea who will get the $3 million math prize since it’s a relatively new prize and there is a whole world of accomplished mathematicians who would make good candidates. One can be pretty sure though who won’t get it, arguably the most accomplished young mathematician around, Peter Scholze (since he turned down the junior version last year).

    I have a modest proposal for whoever is awarded the prize: if you’re financially pretty well set already, how about doing the math community a huge favor? Donate the money to your university to endow a faculty position, then use the influence and moral high ground this will buy you to try and convince the Breakthrough Prize people to make this a policy. In the future, the winner gets a $3 million check made out to their institution to endow a position in their name. Then they could even try again with Scholze and perhaps get him to accept.

    At the same time, there will also be a $3 million physics award. For a while these things were going pretty uniformly to string theorists, then they turned around and started giving them to experimentalists. I have no idea what they’ll do this year.

Posted in Langlands, Uncategorized | 23 Comments

YITP at 50

The past couple days the YITP at Stony Brook has been celebrating its 50th birthday. It was started back in 1966 by C. N. Yang and has been an active center for theoretical physics ever since. The ITP at Stony Brook was as some point renamed in honor of Yang, now it’s officially the “C. N. Yang Institute for Theoretical Physics”. I was a postdoc there in 1984-87, when it was just the ITP, and Yang was still the director. I had been hoping to go out to Stony Brook for at least one day of the event, but unfortunately other things have kept me here in New York.

Luckily, with today’s technology one can watch the talks online (see here) and follow what happened at the conference. I’ve watched a few of the talks, and they give a good survey of the kind of work that has been going on at the institute over the last 50 years. One aspect that isn’t emphasized in the talks (although there’s a little bit in Fred Goldhaber’s talk) is that the institute is in the same building as the mathematics department with, at least back in my day, some physicists and some mathematicians even having offices nearby on the same floor. Being able to talk to and learn from some great mathematicians (soon after Yang, in 1968 Jim Simons came to Stony Brook and brought together a world-class mathematics department) was a big influence on me during my postdoc years. These days, with the Simons Center for Geometry and Physics, Stony Brook is one of the great centers of mathematical physics.

The last talk of the event was a public talk by Ashoke Sen on What is String Theory? (slides here), one which made me think that maybe it wasn’t a bad thing that I hadn’t made it out to Stony Brook, since I might have been there for this. Sen’s talk was a depressing compilation of ancient hype and misleading claims about string theory, with the standard multiverse excuse for why it predicts nothing at all about particle physics.

My time at the ITP coincided with the early years of this kind of string theory hype, which got started in late 1984, about the time I got there. By my last year there (exactly 30 years ago, 1986-87), everyone in the physics community had already been subjected to a couple years of this kind of thing, so much so that Ginsparg and Glashow had published in spring 1986 their Desperately Seeking Superstrings article, noting that

…years of intense effort by dozens of the best and the brightest have yielded not one verifiable prediction, nor should any soon be expected.

They worried that

Contemplation of superstrings may evolve into an activity as remote from conventional particle physics as particle physics is from chemistry, to be conducted at schools of divinity by future equivalents of medieval theologians.

which many at the time thought was kind of harsh, but in retrospect looks quite prescient. I doubt that even they thought that anyone in the physics community would sit still 30 years later to listen to a talk like Sen’s.

My own attitude at the time was that superstring theory was just one in a sequence of fads that had gotten the attention of particle theorists, with one to two years the usual decay time for such things. So by 86-87, I figured this one was now past its sell-by date and would soon be on the way out. How wrong I was.

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Retraction at Annals of Physics

Retraction Watch reports that Annals of Physics has removed a recently published article by Joy Christian, replacing it by a publisher’s note that just says:

“This article was erroneously included in this issue. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause.”

The paper is available on the arXiv here. Christian’s affiliation in the abstract is listed as “Oxford”. This refers to the Einstein Centre for Local-Realistic Physics which is not at Oxford University, but at a location in the town that I think I unknowingly walked past on my way to go punting last week. The only person involved with the centre who lists an academic affiliation is Dr. Jay R. Yablon (MIT), who appears to be a patent attorney in Schenectady.

This story brings back memories of the Bogdanov affair of 2002, one aspect of which was the publication by the Bogdanovs in Annals of Physics of a paper that, as far as I could tell, made little sense. That paper was never removed or retracted. The editor-in-chief when the Bogdanov paper was accepted was Roman Jackiw. Frank Wilczek took over from him and said at the time that he was hoping to improve the journal’s standards. The current editor-in-chief is my Columbia colleague Brian Greene.

Comments are off since I would rather not host a discussion involving the merits of this paper. I haven’t tried to seriously read it, and don’t want to spend time doing so. In the Bogdanov case I spent (wasted…) a lot of time reading their papers, so felt comfortable discussing them, not about to do the same in this case.

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Back

Now back from traveling, regular blogging will resume. Here are a few items:

  • I was going to write something yesterday, explaining that this year’s physics Nobel would surely go to the LIGO trio who have gotten every other major physics prize this year. Luckily I was too lazy to do that yesterday, since this morning’s news is that it instead went to Haldane, Kosterlitz and Thouless, work going way back to the early 1970s. When I was doing my thesis work trying to figure out how to find a lattice version of topological invariants of gauge fields, I started out looking at the case of the 2d XY model which they had studied, where the topology is much simpler.

    Congratulations to them, probably next year for the LIGO guys…

  • My colleague Daniel Litt has started up a really nice blog.
  • Some sort of time warp back to the days of pre-LHC hype of the last decade seems to have occurred while I was in Germany, leading to lots of media stories like this one.
  • In Heidelberg among the people I met were Dirk Huylebrouck, who reminded me that there’s lots of great material in the Mathematical Intelligencer, including his “Mathematical Tourist” column, and Barry Cipra, one of the authors of the AMS’s What’s Happening series.
  • John Baez is involved with a new project, funded by DARPA, that he describes here.
  • Last week there was a conference in Madrid devoted to the question Is SUSY Alive and Well?. Of the talks I looked at, the only one with a sensible answer to the question was that of Alessandro Strumia.
    Update: A commenter points to this very interesting survey of the participants.
  • In case you haven’t heard what’s going on in Leicester, Tim Gowers explains here.
  • I was very sorry to hear of the passing last Saturday of Joseph Birman, a theorist at CCNY, and husband of my colleague Joan Birman. Some information about one aspect of Joe’s work is here, perhaps more about other aspects will appear soon.
Posted in Uncategorized | 20 Comments

Still Not Even Wrong

A while back Tushna Commissariat of Physics World came to talk with me at Columbia, partly to discuss the topic of “Not Even Wrong, ten years later”, and that has now been turned into a podcast available as Still Not Even Wrong.

I’ve now forgotten what I said then, but presumably I still agree with it. This coming week I’m traveling and won’t have much time to deal with the blog, so comments from me may be few and far between.

Update
: There’s an appreciative blog post about this here from ZapperZ.

Posted in Not Even Wrong: The Book | 11 Comments

Heidelberg Laureate Forum

This week I’m in Heidelberg, attending the Heidelberg Laureate Forum, where I’ll be writing some blog posts for their website (which should appear here). You can follow talks on their website, either in real-time as streaming video, or by watching a talk video later on.

This event brings together mathematicians and computer scientists. More specifically winners of the Fields Medal, Abel Prize, ACM Turing award and Nevanlinna Prize come to give talks and interact with a large group of young researchers (and various hangers-on such as myself).

Update: I wrote blog entries for the HLF about Faltings, Ngo, Wiles, Atiyah and Voevodsky. Now on my way to London, will spend the next week in England, mostly in Oxford.

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