Not a Joke

A week or so ago I wrote up as an April Fool’s joke a posting claiming that the Stanford theoretical physics group was joining a new Templeton foundation devoted to religion and science. At the time I had no idea of the degree to which Templeton-funded pseudo-science has infected mainstream cosmology. This joke turned out to be much closer to reality than I had imagined. In my quick research before writing it, I had missed the fact that the Templeton Foundation two years ago organized a symposium at Stanford on the topic of Universe or Multiverse?. The participants, presumably funded by Templeton, included a large fraction of the senior Stanford ITP faculty (Dimopoulos, Kallosh, Linde, Susskind). Someone also wrote to me to tell me that Gerald Cleaver had spent a sizable amount of time at Stanford at Susskind’s invitation, something I was completely unaware of when I picked him to co-direct the Templeton institute with Susskind. Finally, Mark Trodden reported in the comment section that “When I was out at LCWS04 at Stanford a couple of weeks ago I was dismayed to find out that there was a Templeton conference going on at the same time and that a number of prominent people were attending it rather than LCWS04.”

One of the other attendees at the Templeton conference was Alexander Vilenkin, and yesterday Lubos Motl had a report on Vilenkin’s talk at Harvard on “Probabilities in the Landscape”. Lubos explains in some detail what a load of pseudo-scientific nonsense this all is, and I’m in complete agreement with him, down to his last paragraph about how “Finally, I am sure that various people who have a similar opinion about the anthropic thinking will use this admitted frustration as a weapon against string theory.” Certainly. By the way, Vilenkin’s research is funded by a Templeton grant.

It seems that Cambridge University Press will be publishing a volume this year also entitled “Universe or Multiverse?” based on the Stanford symposium. It’s being edited by Bernard Carr, a professor of Mathematics and Astronomy at Queen Mary College in London. He’s the recipient of a Templeton grant for a project entitled “Fundamental Physics, Cosmology and the Problem of our Existence”. When he’s not working on cosmology and religion, he is President of the Society for Psychical Research, which investigates poltergeists, parapsychology, survival after death, etc. You couldn’t make this stuff up. “Universe or Multiverse?” will include as least one sensible article, Lee Smolin’s Scientific Alternatives to the Anthropic Principle, which explains clearly why the Anthropic Principle is not science.

Another participant in the Stanford symposium was Robin Collins, and he’s contributing an article on “A Theistic Perspective on the Multiverse Hypothesis” to the Cambridge volume. He’s supported by the Center for Science and Culture of the Discovery Institute, a right-wing organization dedicated to promoting “Intelligent Design” research. The Discovery Institute has just started up a new weblog devoted to Intelligent Design called Intelligent Design The Future which has drawn scorn from (among others) Sean Carroll and Jacques Distler. Jacques claims to have fallen off his chair laughing at this posting with its claim that “mainstream physics is now quite comfortable with design in cosmology” and question “Why should inferring design from the evidence of cosmology be scientifically respectable, but inferring design from the evidence of biology be scientifically disreputable?”, but again I’m with Lubos that this is not funny. Actually it’s scary.

It’s becoming increasingly clear that the theory of evolution is under concerted and well-funded attack in the United States by a wide array of religious fanatics and pseudo-scientists, who are doing everything they can to stop the teaching of evolution in US schools and promote the pseudo-science of Intelligent Design. This is a fight that scientists need to join, but the extent to which pseudo-science has already infected mainstream physics and cosmology is becoming dangerous and is going to make it very difficult to effectively answer the Intelligent Designers. Susskind is giving a talk at Brown soon entitled The Cosmic Landscape: String Theory and the Illusion of Intelligent Design. Unless he’s gotten even crazier than I would have imagined, I guess he’ll be claiming that the string theory landscape/anthropic principle stuff he has been pushing only appears to support Intelligent Design. Behind it all is not an intelligent designer, but a wonderful physical theory called string theory. But the reason Intelligent Design is pseudo-science is that it is a non-predictive framework. It doesn’t predict anything, so you can’t test it and show that it is wrong. This is exactly the situation that string theory is in these days, and, for the life of me, I have no idea what response physicists can now honestly make to someone who says: “Look, you have a non-predictive framework involving a very complicated and incomplete mathematical structure that you believe for emotional and sociological reasons. I’ve got a different non-predictive framework tracing everything back to an Intelligent Designer, and I think mine makes more sense than yours.”

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45 Responses to Not a Joke

  1. Juan R. says:

    Modest scientists life:

    Take a problem (normally a problem important from application side); apply the scientific model developing the necessary number of new concepts and mathematical tools and obtain solution. If resolution is bad, begin again or abandon the problem. If it is good, then obtain “fame” but continue working.

    Self-important scientists life:

    Choose a problem (a problem important for obtaining notoriety); apply the scientific model and obtain an adequate resolution. If this is not possible, choose one of several possibilities:

    – falsify the data forcing the fit with your “marvellous” theory (e.g. Pons cold fusion).
    – ignore the failure and begin a new theory named equal for notoriety purposes (e.g. string theory)
    – take a good idea by other less recognized man (including coworkers and students) and publicly like if were your (e.g. Rutherford).
    – ignore the scientific method and use other methods like religious faith, trivial like antrophic, metaphysical, own ones (developed specifically for the occasion), etc.

    If you are critiqued by “stupid” scientists, attack fierily them (this is familiar for us here 🙂

    Remember that you are right and other are stupid because you are… The Best.

    *****************************************

    Comparison:

    – The first scientific searches true, the other searches notoriety.

    – The honest scientist talk using a firm discourse (of course can evolution), the other modifies his discourse (yesterday I said black, today I say white, tomorrow I say black again) when he needs.

    – The first helps to colleagues, the other puts obstacles to the progress of others.

    – The first is mainly interested in the solving of important society problems (e.g. energy crisis, cancer cure, etc.). The second ignores agony of people and just claim for more funding for studying a “stupid thing” that only helps to him or herself (by obtaining notoriety).

    – The first scientist admit that there is interesting disciplines and other scientists. The second think that just his/her field is important. The rest of science is trivial or only “engineering”.

    Of course, Weinberg, Witten, Hawking, Greene, Schwartz, etc. belong to the group of self-important physicists.

    Note: Of course, initially both Weinberg and Witten did some significant progress in science, but now they are more focused on self-importance than in real progress.

    Peter, I remember that you wait that Witten recognizes that all string endeavour is a waste of time. This will succeed on one of two possibilities: there is a new theory where he can be selfimportant once more (highly improbable because Witten is old enough for beginning again from zero even if you develop that theory), there are significant experimental data showing his theory is wrong (also highly improbable because current string theory is not falsifiable).

  2. Aaron says:

    Why not e-mail Nima and ask? I’m not so up on the phenomenological details.

  3. Joăo Carlos says:

    I don’t think medling religious point-of-view with scientific research can lead to any good. The best example I know is Lysenkoism in (now defunct) USSR. You know: atheism is a religious point-of-view…

  4. Peter says:

    Hi Aaron,

    It’s the landscape I’ve been claiming is inherently unfalsifiable pseudo-science, not split supersymmetry. Sure, I’m willing to believe that split supersymmetry is in principle falsifiable, if you could go to arbitrarily high energies. But the question I can’t get an answer to is whether it is falsiable at the LHC, although people seem to claim it makes predictions for the LHC. Sure, if the gluinos are high enough mass you’re doing supersplit supersymmetry, which we know is a joke. But, to ask the same question I’ve been asking in a different form: if split supersymmetry predicts a gluino below a certain mass, what is that mass? You’re telling me that if you push the mass too high, coupling constant unification won’t work, but you’ve got a lot of free parameters to play with. At what mass does coupling constant unification conclusively fail? And, assuming the LHC runs for a few years at design luminosity, up to what mass will it see these gluinos? Will its reach be high enough to falsify the idea of split supersymmetry? I’m still not getting an answer to this….

  5. Aaron says:

    Peter, you’re wrong about split supersymmetry. You may be unhappy with the philosophy — you’d certainly not be the only one — but, in and of itself, it is simply a fine tuned model. It is falsifiable. And fairly easily falsifiable, IIRC. I can’t quote luminosities for you, but the gluinos cannot be too heavy as they’re there to ensure coupling unification. I don’t know the mass bounds offhand, but they’re there. You either see them or you don’t.

  6. Peter says:

    Hi JC,

    I think the landscape pseudo-science is a result of string theorists being unwilling to wave the white flag. By any sensible version of the scientific method, once you realize that the speculative hypothesis you’ve been investigating is, if consistent, unable to predict anything, you’re supposed to abandon it and try something else. I find it just shocking that serious physicists are unwilling to acknowledge this, and would prefer to totally trash the subject and turn it into a pseudo-science.

  7. JC says:

    Peter,

    Why do you think otherwise legitimate physicists, end up indulging in pseudo-scientific activities like the anthropic principle? Do you think it’s the equivalent of them waving a white flag?

    If I didn’t know any better, one reason I would think that some physicists would use to justify indulging in pseudo-science, would be that all their personal “pet theories” were a washout and that they’re engaging in desperate measures to salvage their life’s work. Admitting defeat is a hard thing to do for many folks’ egos.

  8. Peter says:

    Hi David,

    Well, you now seem to agree that Weinberg doesn’t describe his bound as giving a “prediction”. He’s careful to avoid this misuse of terminology, even if many others with an agenda of passing off pseudo-science as science aren’t so careful these days.

    Your example of falsifying split SUSY by finding something it doesn’t predict is kind of silly. By the same reasoning I could argue that of course split supersymmetry is falsifiable because it is incompatible with angels with trumpets blaring being produced in a 14 TeV proton-proton collision, so if the LHC sees an angel with a trumpet blaring coming out of the interaction region, then split supersymmetry will be falsified. Clearly this is an abuse of what people generally mean by falsifiability: the theory is supposed to make a definite prediction that something will happpen if you do a certain experiment. The prediction should be definite enough that the theory must be wrong if you do the experiment and don’t see the predicted behavior.

    Your example of long-lived gluinos is better. So now, what does split supersymmetry predict for the mass and lifetime of these gluinos? How much integrated luminosity will the experimenters at the LHC have to acquire and analyze so that they can rule out split supersymmetry?

    We still completely disagree about the significance of Weinberg’s bound. Again: as far as the CC goes, the statement: “there’s a multiverse out there with a random distribution of CCs” is experimentally indistinguishable from the statement “I don’t have a clue what determines the CC”. You’re doing pseudo-science not science when you start going on about this statement giving scientific predictions. You’re doing dishonest pseudo-science when you start crowing about “Weinberg’s successful prediction” when it’s:

    1. Not really a prediction.
    2. Off by at least an order of magnitude anyway.

    There’s nothing inherently wrong with people investigating the multiverse hypothesis, if they have an idea about how to get a legitimate scientific prediction out of it. All I’ve seen so far coming out of such investigations is pseudo-science, without even a plausible idea about how they’ll ever get a real prediction. I’ve specifically asked people doing this kind of work to tell me what they expect to be able to really predict. For a while the answer was the scale of supersymmetry breaking, but recently they have given up on that, and they don’t have any other answer.

    You may not find very worthy my spending my time complaining that the landscape is pseudo-science. I happen to think it’s a lot more worthwhile than trashing the field of theoretical physics by turning it into a pseudo-science, or allowing one’s colleagues to successfully do so without raising any objection.

  9. Quantoken says:

    David said: “As for split susy, it’s very simple to falsify: find squarks or sleptons at LHC. It also provides a distinctive smoking gun in the long lived gluinos.”

    It’s neither simple nor easy. What if nothing is found? It is always much more difficult to prove something does NOT exist, experimentally, than to prove that something DOES exist.

    Actually I would say it is impossible to prove something does NOT exist. For example there has NOT been a conclusive experiment proving that ghost does NOT exist, although no experiment showing it exists either. You can replace the keyword ghost with sghost, ghostino, sghostino, or god, sgod, sgodino. Same thhing can be said.

    You could well claim that squarks exist at an energy unreachable by LHC, or claim that the cross section of interaction is too small that the LHC has not run for the many million years needed to detect a single event yet. Or the ultimate fudge factor would be the squarks do not interact with the rest of the world in any of the 4 know forces, since it only interacts using sforces. Certainly no one knows what a squark that only interact with sforces would look like.

    All the new English words invented by super string theoretists are making me dizzle already.

    Quantoken

  10. David says:

    Oops – sorry. Forgot to sign my name to the last post.

  11. Anonymous says:

    I think everyone would accept the criticism that Weinberg’s work on the cc isn’t as predictive as his work in other areas. I’m happy that we’re in agreement about this. A clear statement of his view can be found in the 97 paper where he says the calculation “suggests” a value of the cosmological constant at the bound, goes on to explain how this exceeds observational limits by an order of magnitude (this was before the supernovae observations) and then descends into bayesian analysis in an attempt to rectify the situation.

    As for split susy, it’s very simple to falsify: find squarks or sleptons at LHC. It also provides a distinctive smoking gun in the long lived gluinos.

    But these details cloud the main point. We have a big problem with the cc. And Weinberg’s calculation remains the only one to give a value in the right ballpark. Either you reject this fact and continue to look for a new mechanism. Or you treat it seriously and study the (potentially unpalatable) consequences. Both approaches are valid, presenting interesting scientific questions that can hopefully be answered with work. And both approaches are more worthy than launching polemics from the sidelines, denouncing anyone who dares consider the latter.

  12. Anonymous says:

    “If you guess a theory and then seek money to test it, you are promoting belief”

    Yep, you believe in Money.

    (Which is a problem by itself. A reason for bankers to contract physicists instead of economists for market calculations, is that the physicist is more able to see money as a number, not as Money)

  13. Anonymous says:

    If you guess a theory and then seek money to test it, you are promoting belief, hence you need religious faith. Mathematicians from Pythagoras onward have had faith in numbers, and can easily mislead people into weirdly believing that litmus paper is not a test for real acid:

    ‘I don’t demand that a theory correspond to reality because I don’t know what it is. Reality is not a quality you can test with litmus paper. All I’m concerned with is that the theory should predict the results of measurements.’ – Dr Stephen Hawking in S. Hawking and R. Penrose, The Nature of Space and Time, Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1996, p. 121.

    At the same time, this good guy publishes books with graphs admitting that his gamma ray emission rate from black holes is swamped by the background radiation noise and so cannot be confirmed by measurements.

  14. Peter Woit says:

    Hi David,

    “Weinberg’s prediction (and it is a prediction – you should read his papers)”

    You must be a string theorist. They seem to think it is a clever put-down to tell people to read the basic papers of a subject. I’ve read Weinberg’s papers and nowhere have I noticed him claiming a “prediction” of the CC. Maybe I’m wrong, but instead of stupidly telling me to read a paper I’ve already read, please provide a direct quote from Weinberg in which he explicitly claims to “predict” the cosmological constant. He knows how to use the word, he uses it in these papers to refer to real predictions: supersymmetric GUT predictions of the weak mixing angle, and predictions of light-element abundances. In his first paper on this, he refers to his result, as I did, as a bound on the CC. In later papers he investigates possible probability distributions of the CC, but I’ve never seen him claim that the assumption of a flat probability distribution for the CC (whether motivated by the landscape or just the fact that we have no idea) allows him to “predict” the cosmological constant.

    “Any complaint that their motivation is distasteful is frankly irrelevant.”

    I wasn’t saying that their motivation was distasteful, I said they can’t get a prediction out of the landscape. You should read their paper about this (hep-th/0501082), where they note that their assumptions can lead to the Standard Model, the MSSM, split-supersymmetry, or much else besides (their paper was written before the discovery of super-split supersymmetry, hep-th/0503249, which you could also get from their assumptions). They do claim to have “predictions”, but they are seriously abusing the English language when they say this. If you think they have a prediction for the LHC, explain to me exactly what measurements the LHC experimentalists can do to show split supersymmetry is wrong. What integrated luminosity will the machine have to produce to test the Arkani-Hamed/Dimopoulos prediction and show that split supersymmetry is wrong?

  15. David says:

    That’s the spirit Peter! Ask questions to see how this anthropic reasoning holds up. What happens if we allow the weak scale to change? What about the magnitude of density fluctuations? Are there some quantities which change and others which are fixed in this framework? Are there rules to this game, or are they arbitrary? Carry on like this and you’ll soon be writing papers on the subject. It seems to me that these are interesting questions that may or may not have good answers. But I don’t think it’s reasonable to attack people for thinking about them.

    The phenomenological interest in anthropics is due almost entirely to the cc and our complete failure to understand this in any other way. Weinberg’s prediction (and it is a prediction – you should read his papers) is out by a factor of 30. And while everyone would like a beautiful mechanism that fixes the cc, this is the closest we’ve got and it deserves further attention. So what if the cc is fine tuned? Does this mean the Higgs mass could also be fine tuned? Is our understanding of naturalness wrong? What would be the consequences of this? I think asking these questions is much more worthwhile than simply being rude and shrill and insisting that it’s all obviously wrong.

    Finally: Arkani-Hamed and Dimopolous’ split susy model does what every good model should: it offers a prediction for LHC. If it’s not seen then their model is wrong. Very simple. Any complaint that their motivation is distasteful is frankly irrelevant.

  16. Peter Woit says:

    No, funding for particle theory is actually not doing that badly compared to many other things, with increases for FY 2006 in the proposed DOE and NSF budgets (although the DOE increase is negligible and doesn’t make up for inflation). In particle physics recently, it’s the experimentalists whose funding is seeing sizable decreases. Theory is relatively cheap, cutting that by a few percent doesn’t save much, unlike the experimental funding.

  17. JC says:

    Peter,

    Are there any ominous signs of the NSF and/or DOE planning to drastically reduce or outright cancelling funding for particle theory or theoretical physics in general?

  18. Peter Woit says:

    Hi David,

    If people were actually getting legitimate scientific predictions out of the landscape that would be fine, but they’re not. The Weinberg “prediction” is not a theoretical prediction. He’s just noting that the observation of galaxies implies a bound on the CC. The so-called “prediction” that the CC is some randomly distributed number below the bound is:

    1. Wrong. It seems that it is 10-100 times smaller than the bound, which is statistically unlikely. If you allow other parameters to vary, the bound is much much larger and the “prediction” is completely wrong.

    2. Not a real prediction of a physical theory. It’s exactly the same prediction I would make by saying “I have absolutely no clue whatsoever about what the physics of the CC is, so all I know is that, because I see galaxies out there, it’s some random number below Weinberg’s bound”. There is no real link here between a physical theory and an experimental observation of the kind one normally means when one uses the word “prediction”. The “landscape” is just an absurdly complex model that has exactly the same implications as not knowing a thing about what is going on.

    As for Arkani-Hamed/Dimopoulos, I don’t believe they have a legitimate prediction either. They make a large number of assumptions, of dubious relation to any underlying theory, then end up with some very vague “scenarios” of what might be seen at the LHC based on those assumptions. A real prediction would be to tell us something that the LHC should see based on the landscape, such that if the LHC didn’t see this, the landscape was wrong. They don’t have anything like this, neither does anyone else doing this kind of “string phenomenology”, and I think anyone who thinks seriously about the implications of these 10^500 or more vacua should quickly realize that no one will ever be able to extract a legitimate scientific prediction from this framework.

    While any individual can certainly justify taking Templeton money, I think anyone who cares about science should be worried to see funding decisions being made by people whose agenda is not to promote good science but to promote religion.

  19. Wolfgang says:

    Peter,

    you wrote
    > And I think it’s a terrible idea for
    > physicists to get into bed with them [Templeton]

    In the past, physicists ‘got into bed’ with all
    kind of supporters with irratinal motives,
    e.g. cold-warriors (the DOE is a relic of this time).

    In the end the motive is not important, only
    the results and they should be scrutinized and
    critized according to the scientific method.
    It is the responsibilty of the scientific
    community to keep the quality standards high.
    (And you and your blog are very important contribution
    to this effort by the way.)

  20. David says:

    Peter, it looks like there are two seperate issues here:

    1) Emminent scientists with proven track records are attempting to think deeply about speculative ideas which appear completely crazy to others. Some, like Weinberg, even had the temerity to make an experimental prediction based on anthropic reasoning. Others, like Arkani-Hamed and Dimopolous, are continuing this ridiculous trend, making assumptions and following the reasoning through to extract experimental predictions from fine-tuning scenarios.

    This abandonment of science from some of its leading stars is appalling. People simply shouldn’t consider these ideas as it’s obvious that they’re wrong and won’t lead anywhere.

    2) Other leading scientists, like Dyson and Vilenkin, are receiving money from templeton, an organisation which clearly has an agenda that many of us disagree with. While there’s no suggestion that templeton is dictating the research of these people, it’s disgusting that they would accept the money, especially in the current climate where the DOE are showering departments with funds.

    I agree that we should try to get serious scientists to sit up and discuss how we can stop this happening in the future. We must act now. Before it’s too late.

  21. Quantoken says:

    Peter said: “I don’t think anyone should be forcing anyone to work on anything in particular. But when leading figures in a scientific field decide to abandon science … serious scientists should sit up, take note, and start debating why this has happened and what can be done about it”

    No one should be forced to accept or reject any ideas. It is essential to protect freedom of mind for science to be healthy. Freedom of mind means any different opinion, no matter how far fetched you think it is, shall be tolerated. Burning Bruno alive definitely is not protecting science.

    Ever since I learned Darwin’s evolution theory, I was deeply impressed by its simplicity and profoundness. It’s not even science, it’s pure logic. Survival of the fittest. Isn’t it absolutely true logically, that the more fitting you are, the more surviveable you are? It’s not even logic, it’s linguistics, since what it means some spices are “fitting”, is simply defined as that they are more likely to survive the environment.

    So, while other scientific theories may need to be tested by experiments. There is not even a need to test the Darwin’s theory by experiment or observation, because it is already correct by definition and logic. It’s one of the few truely universal truth, as much true as “1+1=2”.

    You can applying darwinism to almost anything, including to the researchers’ community. Scientists are paid scientists merely because they are the result of natural selection rules imposed by the system, only those fit the system survives. So if anything is wrong with the science community, we should look for problem in the system, instead of pick on individual person.

    I think there are roughly two stages of development of the scientific inquiries. In the early stage, in which I envy, are the era from Newton to Einstein, where scientists’ inquiry of science are free from interference by the daily chore of providing for a living and family. These scientists are either from prestigious family background, thus have sufficient resources to support their daily life and they can concentrate their mind on science research, like Newton. Or, in the case if Einstein, he had an alternative day time job and his scientific inquiry is independent from what he did to make a living.

    That is the era when science research was much more healthier, because no financial factors play any role to impact scientific thinking in any way.

    But that has changed completely, nowadays science is no longer just a curious inquiry of individuals regarding the nature. It has been turned into a huge industry where millions of people jump into it for the purpose of making a living of bread and butter.

    Once that happens, science is no longer pure, no longer healthy. That’s because at any given moment of time in history, bread and butter is always much more important than freedom of thinking. You can’t think if you are hungry, and you can’t survive if you do not eat. Simple, right? Put it simple, once your scientific research activity is connected to earning your bread, you are no longer a free thinker, since your research activity will have to earn your bread and allow you to survive in the system.

    That is why so many people would blindly follow the main stream ideas. Each individual may believe that he/she had the freedom of thought and he/she independently chooses to trust the main stream, and there was never any pressure to force them to do so. What they don’t understand is they are the result of natural selection. The system constantly eliminates people of dissident opinions so only the main stream will dorminate in the field.

    What we need to change is minimize the natural selection power of the system. We need to look at the source of the funding. Appropriation of research funds are now dorminated by some powerful figures who has a very strong bias towards some particular ideas, and aginst some others. The more so, the more Darwinism will be in play in the field and more thorough the science will be purified that only the main stream voice remains. And that’s dangerous.

    The fundings must be appropriate by some one who does NOT have such bias. And it must be diversified in such a way that different ideas have equal opportunity of getting funded and supported. And let the scientific reasoning become the only eliminating factor in deciding what ideas is right and what is wrong, let NOT the financial factors play a role. This is the only way to allow science to return to a healthy state.

    To this end, I would support and endorse Templeton, as well as other private sources, to donate money to support science research. The matter is, if there is just one Templeton, it’s biased. But if there are different Templeton biased towards different directions, it is more likely cancel out and the whole system will have a better chance of being none-biased, due to such diversification.

    Quantoken

  22. Peter Woit says:

    I don’t think anyone should be forcing anyone to work on anything in particular. But when leading figures in a scientific field decide to abandon science (and are encouraged to do so by funding from a right-wing-financed organization devoted to promoting the interests of religion over those of science), serious scientists should sit up, take note, and start debating why this has happened and what can be done about it.

  23. David says:

    Freeman Dyson is another that has shamefully taken large sums of money from the templeton foundation. And, it appears that Vilenkin has combined his important work on cosmology with more speculative anthropic-like pursuits for years.

    There’s clearly a disease in the community. I think we have to face up to the fact that many of our leading scientists, despite making enormous contributions in their past, are now unable to decide for themselves which research path to follow. Something should be done about this. Do you think there’s some way we can force these people to work on what we want? It’s such a waste.

  24. robert says:

    More pedantry, I’m afraid. G.H. Hardy was a socialist, albeit of the etiolated Bloomsbury variety. He sported a picture of Lenin on the walls of his rooms in Trinity College and was, for two years, President of the Association of Scientific Workers.

  25. Carl Brannen says:

    I see that the spirit of G.H. Hardy chimed in here a few days ago, and that now we are talking about religion and physics. As far as I know, Hardy was neither Jewish nor socialist, but he did get a letter from Ramanujan (also neither Jewish nor socialist) with the formula 1+2+3+… = -1/12. Frankly, I’d rather prefer to take money from the Templetons.

    Carl

  26. Anonymous says:

    ‘Science is best defined as, in the first place, objective knowledge, plus, in the second place, the activity to enlarge, and make use of, this permanent and universal knowledge. Scientific objectivity stubbornly and irrefutably exists and refers to the permanent and universal knowledge of facts and phenomena of nature which are independent of any individual’s whim: political affiliations, ideological persuasions, moral beliefs, and so on….

    ‘The most striking instance of the mix-up between science and ideology, and that which generated the greatest harm is the following: Many elements of so-called ‘modern physics’ (relativity, quantum) were rejected by the Nazis because many (but by no means all) of their creators happened to be Jews or socialists or both. In this way, the military defeat of Hitler sealed the fate of twentieth century theoretical physics. As Hitler was (morally) wrong, those who criticise modern physics must be (scientifically) wrong, too.’ – Theo Theocharis, ‘Science and Society’, Wireless World, July 1981, p. 52.

  27. Anonymous says:

    That the ID crowd would somehow glom onto the anthropic variants of string cosmology has been a fear of mine for quite some. It’s a slippery slope when prominent physicists try to curry favor with the public by “sexing up” their work with references to God and stuff, however oblique. On the bright side, it will be entertaining to see Lubos Motl be sued someday for teaching non-creationist cosmology, under some “academic freedom” law devised by his political buddy David Horowitz.

  28. Quantoken says:

    Mark T.:

    It is not news that scientists ARE driven by the funds that support them. It’s the theory of evolution and darwinism applied to the scientists themselves. survival of the fittest.

    The only reason that Templeton supported cosmologists is a small number, is that the Templeton money is a small porportion, comparing with the bigger cake. If say the Templeton money becomes the 99.9% of the whole cake, guess in which camp will you will find most of your cosmological colleagues in, Mark? And would you be able to continue to support your family and do research etc, with no funding? Would you???

    And don’t assume that as long as you accept Templeton money, without necessarily supporting their view of the world, you are OK. You do not automatically get funded by Templeton as long as you are willing to come forward timidly. There is a natural selection process here. They certainly are more inclined to support some one who are more likely endorse their agenda. And who can say that those in the power of controling public money, does not have an agenda, or some sort of bias, of their own, to endorse some particular point of views and suppress some others?

    It doesn’t matter if you think you can keep yourself clean by remaining scientifically honest, while receiving money from a source that has its agendas. The point is you are constantly being subject to the natural selection rules of the system and only those fit the system will manage to survive.

    If you look at a gold fish in a fish tank. You wonder whether it likes or hates its fluffy tail, which makes it so hard for it to move around. But it doesn’t matter, it rely on the food put in by the owner to survive. And it’s up to the likeness of the owner to decide who shall survive and breed offsprings, and who shall perish. So a gold fish has a fluffy tail only because the one feeding it prefer to see a fluffy tailed gold fish.

    That darwinism point of view explains why some of the crackpots, like super string theory, global warming, big bang, etc, could become fashionable and mainstream. Because these point of views obviously appeal to some of the people in power that has their own point of view and agendas.

    Quantoken

  29. Arun says:

    In these times, restating the obvious perhaps may be forgiven.

    Whatever our faith in science to probe all of Nature, science, in practice, has boundaries, that are set by the limits of our experimental abilities.

    In the past, I think the boundaries of science were recognized. Today, we are under the illusion that there are no more boundaries.

    Knowledge can be arrived at by any means – by super-Witten mathematics, or Kekule’s dream of a benzene ring – but it enters the realm of science only when it becomes experimental. Otherwise, it is, at best, scientific speculation. Such speculation should never be mistaken for the real thing.

    The whole enterprise of science was founded on not seeking explanations beyond our ability to experiment or observe, to abandon the unknowable as being outside the realm of science, and to hope that one day our capabilities would grow to be able to address these. Right now, Theories of Everything are outside our experimental reach, and are, at best, scientific speculation.

    -Arun

  30. D R Lunsford says:

    “Does God’s light guide us or blind us?”

    -drl

  31. DMS says:

    Actually, the Templeton Foundation (and variants) as possible significant sources of funding in the future for physics is reminiscent of the situation in economics, where ideological think-tank funding and *visibility* for economics (like supply-side economics) far exceeds the unbiased sources of funding for economics in academia. Or the situation in medicine, where studies often promote the health benefits of their sponsor’s products.

    It will take only a few physicists, not hard to find in times of spending cuts, to cause great damage. Seems like there already are a few (who should know better) doing this.

    Depressing times indeed.

  32. Mark Trodden says:

    I couldn’t agree more with Peter’s comments about the Templeton Foundation. There is no excuse for scientists taking their money and those who do so threaten the reputation of the subject and elevate Templeton’s ideas by association.

    I do think it is worth pointing out that the number of cosmologists involved in Templeton funded research is quite small. I wouldn’t describe it as an extensive infection. By far the vast majority of my colleagues have never used Templeton money, never attended a Templeton conference, and find the whole thing silly. Nevertheless, Templeton activities are high profile (by design) because the Foundation has managed to get some well-known people to come to their conferences. I agree with you that these people are hurting science, particularly in the current climate.

    I also worry that the disastrous federal funding situation in the US right now may tempt more people to consider taking Templeton money. They won’t believe in the goals of the Foundation, but it won’t matter – they’ll be supporting it by association.

  33. Peter says:

    Fixed the bad URL.

  34. Auger says:

    I see there is a intelligent stance taken here about responsibility. Is there any chance for those who visit here to demonstrate what a responsible scientist would be and the view that would be acceptable to yourself Peter, Sean and others who comment here about our universe?

    Somehow, I now see any attempts, as a explanation here supported by templeton foundation as a clear and present sanction of irresponsible scientists and theoretics.

    I want to be responsible, and want to emulate responsble people

    Help!

  35. Quantoken says:

    Steven why do you need to be on the slow side of wisdom? Is patching up a mis-spelled URL label really that hard?
    Click here

    Quantoken

  36. I would be very cautious in labelling people as pseudo-scientists just because they are willing to consider the possibility that intentional action in some sense is a part of (even grand) design of the Universe. The undeniable fact is that Universe seems to be tailored for life.

    To me the use of fine tuning to deduce “predictions” from a theory otherwise unable to predict anything, is bad science. But why not pose the fine tuning as an additional challenge for the theories of everything? And why not be even more ambitious and ask whether the gap between religious and scientific world views might be filled after all. Perhaps future physics could say something non-trivial about consciousness and about what is behind religious experience?

    Biological evolution is accepted as a fact and the mere scale invariance of physical laws suggests evolution in all scales. The challenge would be to understand this evolution as part of properly generalized laws of quantum physics.

    It is practical to start something from which is not understood. Quantum jump has remained more or less a complete black box thanks to the silly attitude of theoreticians towards clear thinking without formulas, which they label as “philosophy”. It is perhaps not too weird a guess that the anatomy of quantum jump could provide a royal road to a deeper understanding.

    For instance, could one imagine that the quantum state representing universe is gradually replaced by a new one in a continual re-creation (you can call it self-organization if re-creation makes you emotional)? This requires a new view about time distinguishing between experienced time having quantum jump as chronon and the geometric time of physicist. Of course, also the notion of time is one of the black boxes, or should I say taboos, of recent day methologically oriented theoretical physics.

    Given infinite number of quantum jumps already occurred, a universe containing/possessing advanced intelligence could develop. Universe would be at the same time a theoretician able to even test his/her theories by patiently by jumping around the quantum landscape of states of the Universe, whereas the theoretician predicting and living in a single deterministic universe is strictly speaking not able to test his theory. The more general view about time would also resolve the problem about initial values at the moment of big bang. The problem disappears since the initial values change quantum jump by quantum jump.

    Just a proposal, do not kill the messanger or, listen at least the message before doing it;-),

    Matti Pitkanen

  37. Stephen says:

    Not Found
    The requested URL /www.math.columbia.edu/~woit/blog/archives/000059.html was not found on this server.

    Apache/2.0.53 (Unix) mod_perl/1.99_12 Perl/v5.6.1 mod_ssl/2.0.53 OpenSSL/0.9.7d PHP/4.3.10 Server at http://www.math.columbia.edu Port 80

  38. Quantoken says:

    Peter:

    It’s shocking to me. But never to me. A while ago I posted this comment on Lubos’s blog, since I could not believe a famous guy like Leonard Susskind could be so intelligently challenged.

    Since Sean is reading here, I am still curious to know whether he thinks a 3-torus universe should be Lorentz invariant or not. And why? 🙂

    Quantoken

  39. JC says:

    Why do some physicists accept any of these Templeton grants in the first place? Is NSF and/or DOE funding so bad today that theorists are searching for other sources of funding?

  40. Peter Woit says:

    Hi Sean,

    I suppose I should have made clear that the Templeton foundation has somewhat different goals than the evangelical anti-evolution right. While looking around the net, I did run into the following for instance

    http://www.answersingenesis.org/docs2002/0806templeton.asp

    But still, I don’t think the Templeton foundation’s goal is to promote good science, it is to promote Templeton’s own view of religion and science. And I think it’s a terrible idea for physicists to get into bed with them.

    On the question of the role of the religious right in American politics, Templeton himself has made clear which side he’s on:

    http://www.newsmax.com/archives/articles/2004/6/26/111715.shtml

  41. Sean says:

    It might seem like splitting hairs, but it’s probably worthwhile to distinguish between “people who believe in God and look for evidence in the universe we observe” and “people who deny the basics of evolution and cosmology.” For the most part, the Templeton folks are in the former category and the Discovery Institute is in the latter, although of course there is some blending between them. I strongly believe that they are both *wrong*, but I wouldn’t classify the Templeton folks as anti-science in the way the Discovery folks are.

    (I can’t believe I am actually defending the Templeton Foundation, however mildly.)

  42. Peter Woit says:

    Thanks for mentioning this. I did notice this, but forgot to include it in the posting. I’ll add it now.

    Peter

  43. Simplex says:

    Peter, last year when Smolin posted “Scientific Alternatives to the Anthropic Principle” which made Susskind so mad (and you blogged the ensuing fracas) the original arxiv posting said that Smolin’s essay was intended for the book “Universe or Multiverse” to be published by Cambridge. It probably still says that. I dont know any more particulars.

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