Frist Filibuster

For the last couple days students at Princeton have been protesting the Republican’s plan to invoke the “nuclear option” and stop Democrats from filibustering a small number of Bush’s judicial nominees. This protest has taken the form of organizing a “filibuster” in front of the Frist Campus Center at Princeton, which was underwritten by Senator Bill Frist (Princeton ’74). Today Edward Witten and his wife, physicist Chiara Nappi, have joined the protest. I can’t tell what Chiara is reading from, but Ed is using a bullhorn to regale the crowd with passages from Introduction to Elementary Particles by David Griffiths.

Many thanks to my correspondent who wrote to me today to tell me about this.

Update: It seems that Josh Marshall of the Talking Points Memo weblog had something to do with this. Ed and Chiara got awarded a Privatize This! Talking Points Memo t-shirt, and there are still two more available.

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16 Responses to Frist Filibuster

  1. JC says:

    On the other side of the coin in an unrelated way, I’ve heard of many stories about graduate admissions committees in less “scientific” areas, from folks who have served on them. In some departments like economics, business, finance, law, etc … many folks have mentioned they actually prefer applicants with a math/science/engineering background, than a liberal arts or social science background. This is the case even if the applicants with the math/science/engineering background have very little to no background knowledge of economics, business, finance, law, etc …. My best guess is that they must think that folks with a math/science/engineering background have an easier time picking up a new field of study relatively quickly. (I don’t believe admissions committes are doing this because of a lack of “qualified” applicants).

    I haven’t heard as much about the coverse case, with somebody with a liberal arts or social science background applying for graduate school in math/science/engineering. The closest cases I’ve heard of over the years were folks who either minored in math, and/or took some more higher level math courses beyond freshman calculus, linear algebra, and statistics. A few other cases I’ve heard of were folks who worked in a university or government lab on some research projects, and were able to get some reference letters and/or even their name on some papers published in a half-decent peer-reviewed journal.

    Other than that, it seems to be more of a longshot in going from liberal arts/social science to math/science/engineering, than the other way around.

  2. Peter Woit says:

    I don’t personally know anything about how Witten was admitted to Princeton, but I’d guess he took some courses at Brandeis in math and physics, did well in them and did very well on his GREs. His father was a physicist, so he probably picked up a lot of math and physics growing up. From looking at a lot of graduate school admission folders, I can say that the kind of thing one looks for is

    1. some excellent letters of recommendation

    2. excellent performance in at least a few higher level courses

    3. excellent standardized test scores.

    Its quite possible Witten managed to put together these for his application, even though he majored in a non-scientific subject.

  3. anon says:

    Yah, I’m sorta curious how that’s possible too. (the previous poster’s question)

  4. quantumhobby says:

    How could Ed Witten have been accepted into the applied math program at Princeton without having majored in math or physics as an undergrad? I thought you needed to have recommendations and a demonstrated potential for research to get into a top-notch grad program in the sciences. I majored in business as an undergrad and I always assumed it would be impossible to get into a good graduate science program, coming from that background. I know Witten is a brilliant guy, but it seems like that must have been difficult, even for him.

  5. Alejandro Rivero says:

    should we link this thread to the previous comments of Lubos blog about the left-windy side of physics?

  6. Peter Woit says:

    I believe that Witten graduated from Brandeis in 1971 with a major in history and a minor in linguistics. He published an article in the Nation in 1968 when he was 17, but I don’t think he ever worked for them. He did work on the 1972 McGovern campaign, then entered graduate school at Princeton in 1973 (he started in the applied math program, soon switched over to the physics department).

  7. R Gambi says:

    Wilczek’s contribution was pretty cool. He read a few excerpts from Einstein and Minskowski’s original papers on relativity.

  8. anon says:

    I don’t know if this is true, but I heard Witten orginally graduated from Brandeis with a degree in Journalism (or a related field?), and only after a brief stint with the Nation, did he choose to become a physicist. In a way, it’s not terribly surprising, but still cool. (Is this story true, or just urban legend?)

    He should do more of this stuff. Very cool guy.

  9. Alan R. says:

    Frank Wilczek has apparently joined in, too. His name appears on the list of speakers.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Does this make them liberals, or merely respectful of Senate traditions?

  11. Anonymous says:

    Why didn’t he read from GSW? Too embarrassed?

  12. William Lynn says:

    Why is it not referred to as the “Nucular” option?

  13. D R Lunsford says:


    “Somethin’ happenin’ here – what it is ain’t exactly clear”


  14. Chris Oakley says:

    Reminds me of this, which inspired a passage in Brideshead Revisited, although Witten’s recitals are IMHO of more value than Eliot’s The Waste Land. I have to say, though, that I probably would have chosen Weinberg, Vol. I in preference, but this is a quibble.

  15. tgl says:

    He must be demonstrating the nuclear option.

    Wacka, wacka, as Fozzie The Bear would put it.

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