The Wormhole Publicity Stunt

The best way to understand the “physicists create wormholes in the lab” nonsense of the past few days is as a publicity stunt (I should credit Andreas Karch for the idea to describe things this way), one that went too far. If the organizers of the stunt had stuck to “physicists study quantum gravity in the lab” they likely would have gotten away with it, i.e. not gotten any significant pushback.

There have already been a lot of claims about “quantum gravity in the lab” made in recent years, and surely many more will be made in the future. It’s important to understand that these all have been and always will be nothing but publicity stunts. In all cases, what is happening in these labs is some manipulation and observation of electron and electromagnetic fields at low energies. None of this has anything to do with gravitational degrees of freedom. One cannot possibly learn anything about the gravitational field or quantum gravity this way. If there is a dual theoretical description of QED in terms of a “gravitational” theory, this dual description is about other variables that have nothing to do with space-time and gravity in this world.

I’m hoping that journalists and scientists will learn something from this fiasco and not get taken in again anytime soon. It would be very helpful if both Nature and Quanta did an internal investigation of how this happened and reported the results to the public. Who were the organizers of the stunt and how did they pull it off? Already we’re hearing from Quanta that the problem was that they trusted “leading quantum gravity researchers”, and presumably Nature would make the same argument. Who were these “leading quantum gravity researchers”? Why weren’t any of the many other physicists who could have told them this was a stunt consulted?

It’s pretty clear that one of the organizers was Joe Lykken. After I wrote about his talk at CERN a month ago, someone told me that Dennis Overbye at the NYT was looking into writing about Lykken’s claims. I found it odd that the NYT would be interested in this, now it’s clear that the behind-the-scenes publicity campaign was starting already a month ago. If you look at Lykken’s slides, there’s no mention at all of the work he had done and knew was about to appear in Nature, but the whole talk is structured around arguing that such a quantum computer calculation would be a huge achievement. I still don’t know what to make of his claims in the Quanta video that the result of the Google quantum computer calculation was on a par with the Higgs discovery. Does he really believe this (he’s completely delusional) or not (he’s intentionally dishonest)?

It’s extremely unusual to not distribute a result like this on the arXiv before publication, to instead keep it confidential and go to the press with embargoed information. By doing this though you control the first wave of publicity, since you pick the press people you deal with and the terms of the embargo. One thing that first mystified me about this story is why Natalie Wolchover at Quanta was quoting comments from me on a different issue in her story, but hadn’t asked me about the article and its “physicists create wormholes in a lab” claims. One possible explanation for this is that the terms of the embargo meant she could not discuss the Nature article with me. I have to admit that if I had heard from her or any other journalist that a group was about to hold a press conference and announce publication in a major journal of claims about quantum gravity in a lab, and would I respect embargo terms so they could share info with me and get a quote, I would have said no. Likely I (and others in a similar situation) would immediately have gone and written a blog entry about how a publicity stunt was about to happen.

Update: I just noticed that the “It from Qubit” community will be gathering Monday thru Wednesday in Princeton and Thursday thru Friday in New York. One of the Princeton talks will be from one of the Nature authors (Jafferis), talking about “Emergent Gravitational Dynamics in Quantum Experiments” (no abstract, may or may not be explaining how he created the wormholes). This would be an excellent occasion I think for this community to discuss what can be done to stop publicity stunts like this one from discrediting their subject. The New York component will be invitation only, at the Simons Foundation. Presumably the Quanta people will be there to discuss with them the huge damage to their reputation they just suffered because of the publicity stunt. I’d be curious to hear how this goes from anyone participating.

Update: Something I should have linked to before is Scott Aaronson’s blog posting about this, and the comments there. One that I think is of interest explains that SYK at large N is not precisely dual to a 2d gravity theory as one often sees claimed, and has other useful explanations of issues with duality claims.

Update: According to Spiropulu on Twitter, at 2:15 Eastern Time today you can watch Jafferis talk about this stuff to a workshop at Princeton here.

Update: Just watched the livestream of the Jafferis talk. He went over in detail the paper. At the end, a few technical questions. At this point I’m seeing no evidence that anyone (other than Scott Aaronson) in this community has any problem with the outrageous hype and publicity stunts like this one being used to promote their field to the public and attract more funding.

Update: Something from Ethan Siegel, who as usual, gets it right:

There are no lessons to be learned about quantum gravity here. There are no lessons to be learned about traversable wormholes or whether they exist within our Universe. There are not even any lessons to be learned about the uniqueness or capabilities of quantum computers, as everything that was done on the quantum computer can be done and had previously (without errors!) been done on a classical computer. The best that one can take away is that the researchers, after performing elaborate calculations of the Sachdev-Ye-Kitaev model through classical means, were able to perform an analogous calculation on a quantum computer that actually returned signal, not simply quantum noise…

Wormholes and quantum computers will likely both remain topics that are incredibly interesting to physicists, and further research into the Sachdev-Ye-Kitaev model will likely continue. But the connection between wormholes and quantum computers is virtually non-existent, and this research — despite the hype — changes absolutely nothing about that fact.

To get a taste of the utter nonsense people are now getting as “News” because of this publicity stunt, try watching this ABC News segment.

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59 Responses to The Wormhole Publicity Stunt

  1. Jay Smith says:

    This whole thing amounts to a heck of a lot of egg in the face of the world’s physics community, in general, the HEP one, in particular. And at a time when sectors of western societies are already dismissive of science and scientists openly. This is bad – very bad.

  2. Ted Rogers says:

    It is somewhat encouraging that there has been so much pushback. Maybe there is finally starting to be a shift away from the “what’s the harm?” attitude toward excessive hype?

  3. Peter Shor says:

    It seems to me that the string theorists and “it from qubit” community seem to have this unwritten rule that they don’t criticize other members of this community in public. For example, when you criticized “ER=EPR” on this blog, Urs Schreiber responded on Twitter that it was not to be taken seriously, but it was just a Zen koan. And Geoff Penington said on Twitter that “no one has ever believed that”. This despite the fact that Susskind continued to give lectures where he presented ER=EPR, as described in the original paper, as an actual physical phenomenon.

    This unwritten rule goes a long way towards explaining how the journalists got misled.

  4. Peter Woit says:

    Ted Rogers,

    We’ll see. Given past experience with decades of string theory hype, I’m not so optimistic that the physicists doing this kind of thing will stop doing it, or that the journalists covering the field will stop getting taken in.

  5. Peter Woit says:

    Peter Shor,
    This kind of tribal behavior has been a big feature of the string theory community, sorry to see evidence that it is a feature of this newer community.

    One aspect of this story I don’t understand is why no one waved Natalie Wolchover away from writing about this in the way she did. I would have thought just about any of the “It from Qubit” people (putting aside Susskind…) would have recognized that her article and the video were highly problematic and advised her to tone them down. The only explanation I can think of is that the embargo terms kept her from getting the kind of advice she needed.

    Just noticed that the Simons-funded It from Qubit group will be meeting all next week in Princeton and at the Simons Foundation headquarters. Maybe some of this will be sufficiently private that people will be willing to criticize what happened, maybe even consider doing something about it. I’m also curious to know if participants will hear from people like David Spergel and Thomas Lin, who should be concerned about the reputational hit this kind of publicity stunt may cause the Simons Foundation and Quanta.

  6. Peter says:

    I’ve got a degree in physics in the early 1980s but I’ve had an uncommon career and worked 10 yrs. in “the media”. With that background, I guess I should feel some sympathy for Nathalie Wolchover, but I don’t.
    As a reporter, you know people try to use (and abuse) you. You know you’re a pawn in a bigger game. If you’re a halfway decent reporter, you know what you’re used for. And if you don’t know, you find out.
    Guarding your integrity in those circumstances isn’t always easy. But writing “It’s debatable whether the experiment furthers the hypothesis that the space-time we inhabit is also holographic, patterned by quantum bits” simply isn’t good enough; and the way she used your quotes without you knowing the context in which they would be published, is below par, to put it mildly.

  7. Dimitris Papadimitriou says:

    They just “trusted leading QG researchers”?! That’s really hard to believe..
    One thing that baffles me is that the whole attempt seems so naive, almost childish. The fanfare and the pomposity of the video, especially, was laughable ( or cringe worthy , perhaps- it depends on one’s point of view…).
    This kind of hype could not last for more than a few days ( at best!), so what was the intention of the people who prepared/ organized this?
    It seems almost logically inexplicable. As if they wanted any kind of publicity, even negative…
    The situation with science communication is getting worse. I don’t believe that this will change for the better anytime soon.

  8. Peter Woit says:

    The problem for journalists covering this sort of theoretical physics has always been that it is ferociously technical and obscure. Experts have enough trouble trying to figure out themselves what is going on, it’s hopeless for journalists. The standard method journalists have for dealing with this is to recognize who is a credentialed expert, call up a bunch of them, then try to evaluate what they say. If you’ve got one expert who tells you wormholes are being produced in a Google quantum computer, and a bunch who say that’s not right, you will stay out of trouble. If the majority of the experts you call up tell you that wormholes are being produced in a Google quantum computer, the natural thing to do is to get very excited about how amazing that is and work hard to bring it to the public.

  9. Peter Woit says:

    Dimitris Papadimitriou,
    Looking at that video, I suspect that all involved did believe what they were saying, which means that they’re in the grip of a delusion. Human beings are prone to delusion, especially if those around them are enthusiasts of the delusion. The idea that you’re going to “study quantum gravity in a lab” is a delusion shared by an unfortunate number of people. How to shake the deluded out of their delusion, especially when all the incentives are on the side of sticking to the delusion, is a difficult problem.

  10. Pierre says:


    I thought you’d be interested to know that the “wormhole created in a quantum computer” story is now being covered in some far-right-wing media. I won’t name them here (they’re very far-right sites, not sure if you’d allow a link here), but they’re essentially saying “isn’t this manifestly stupid? See? Why should we believe scientists when they publish bullshit like this?” and essentially use the story to argue that scientists and science journalists are all a bunch of idiots, hence why should we trust them on vaccines/climate change etc.

    This is another consequence of bad publicity stunts like this: it erodes trust in scientists.

  11. Peter Woit says:

    Thanks, interesting to hear about that, although I’d just as well not drive traffic their way. The problem though is very general. Unless they’re unusually gullible, most people, left, right and center, are going to react to the “physicists create wormholes” headline by wondering if there’s something wrong with physicists and this may also extend to other scientists. I keep wondering when other scientific fields are going to start demanding defunding of theoretical physics because of the reputational damage they’re seeing from headlines like this.

  12. Alex says:

    “I’m hoping that journalists and scientists will learn something from this fiasco and not get taken in again anytime soon.”

    Considering how systematic this has become, and how the same people seems to be always somehow involved, I really believe that they actually *want and look forward* to be “taken in” again. Which is just a diplomatic way of saying they are either delusional or intellectually dishonest. In the case of N.Wolchover, this is not the first article I have seen by her which is enthusiastic about highly controversial claims coming from the same group of ex-string theorists behind these ideas. She usually mentions the obvious caveats, but only at the end of her articles and after the strongly enthusiastic first half. Let’s not forget she has an actual bachelor degree in physics and went to graduate school in physics for some time. So, she’s not that naive and I don’t buy that “we just asked the experts” lame excuse. I recall reading somewhere that one of her favorite topics in physics was string theory and that the people she most respected worked in that topic. So, my take is that she quite understands a lot of what she writes about and likes it, she’s on the wagon, as simple as that. She believes in these ideas, I don’t think she’s intellectually dishonest, in the sense that I think she probably thinks the caveats are solvable problems (which is a common view in that research community). Regarding the other people involved, I would say there’s a bit of both of the mentioned things. About Susskind in particular, I really don’t know at this point. But it baffles me how well respected he is.

    My take is that nobody of the involved will learn anything about this because they knew exactly what they were doing. And they will keep doing it again and again. If anything, the fiasco will make them to get better at it.

    This simply *has* to go on, for a simple reason: the absence of any actual new results and ideas in fundamental physics. People simply have nothing else to talk about, so the discussions quickly derail to the surreal. The same happens in politics.

  13. Ex YouTuber says:

    So from what I understand, no wormhole has been created in the experiment. But does the experiment really prove the ER=EPR conjecture as stated in the video? Also, scrolling down the comments below the video (which has up to now 339k views), I didn’t see a single warning comment from the viewers that no wormhole was created. Why didn’t any real expert post a comment in the comments section of that video to inform people about the “fiasco”? Another video on YouTube where the same people held a Zoom meeting is available!

  14. Peter Woit says:

    Ex YouTuber,
    As far as I know, all Quanta has done is change “wormhole” to “holographic wormhole” in the title of the Wolchover article and in a tweet. They’ve left the bizarre and delusional video as is.

  15. The discourse on Twitter about the press coverage has been morbidly fascinating. If anything, this whole affair feels like the BICEP2 business, complete with massive media coverage and pre-made breathless promotional video. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with putting out a press release when publishing work that you think is important, but waging a well-choreographed media campaign feels wrong to me, even if you’ve done something amazing.

    Have the “it from qubit” people actually written a clear technical claim, and if so, could someone point me to it? I’ve asked this before. It just seems absurd on it’s face to think that, e.g., creating two entangled photons through parametric down conversion by a nonlinear optical element is truly creating a Planck-scale wormhole in actual spacetime.

  16. Matt says:

    Regarding your question who the organizers were, my guess is that Hartmut Neven could have been one of them as well. Neven is heading Google‘s quantum AI division and has been managing their quantum computing endeavour since John Martinis brought his superconducting qbit expertise to Google in 2014. Neven also appears in the video, so at least he wasn‘t opposed to this publicity stunt.

    Google undoubtedly has deep pockets, but I always suspected that they look at quantum computing as a means to an end, rather than a means without end. Don‘t get me wrong, huge kudos to them for pushing superconducting qbits as far as they did, but in the big picture they basically have nothing to show for. After almost 10 years, they still seem to be lightyears away from any commercially viable application.

    Looking at the situation, I‘d suspect that the QC guys at Google slowly but desperatly need something to show for. So any publicity that convinces Google to keep paying the bills appears to be good for them.

  17. Klaus says:


    one of the cited “It from Qubit” abstracts contains the sentence: “We show that a very old black hole can tunnel to a white hole/firewall by emitting a large baby universe.”

    Clearly, the Quanta/Nature wormhole claims are negligible compared to this one. Imagine what a quantum computer can do if you simulate very old black holes…

    I do not know how much alcohol is needed to submit such a statement to a physics conference. No wonder that scientists are seen as untrustworthy. It seems that the authors confuse doing physics research with writing scripts for the next Hollywood movie.

  18. martibal says:

    @Peter: about defunding theoretical physics, isn’t it that this kind of “wormhole by google” actually is a good way to get some funding by non national-entities like breakthrough prize , or whatever foundation of some “visionary” billionaires that are looking for breakthrough every day? What would happen if someone, say Musk, decides that this sounds a pretty cool stuff and invest a few hundred millions dollars on this subject ? For him this would be a joke, but in theoretical physics world, this would be a great deal of money and allow this kind of bs to go on ever and ever..

  19. Dimitris Papadimitriou says:

    Ex YouTuber
    There were some “warning” comments about that video ( I tried myself) but they were few and sparse.
    And, of course, they were buried under tons of “wow” comments ( many of them demanded even the …Nobel prize for the “breakthrough”).
    That’s what is usually happening in such cases, as we all know very well.
    Trying to do a sensible or carefully critical comment that is relevant to the content of such videos is almost a pointless exercise.
    Only a few people will notice…

  20. “Why weren’t any of the many other physicists who could have told them this was a stunt consulted?”

    I do not buy for a second that the people who wrote these articles didn’t know other physicists think this is bullshit. They knew it, they just thought they’d — as usually — get away with it.

    As you undoubtedly know, I have been very outspoken about this, it’s one of the examples of quantum hype in my last year’s video, and I also commented on Overbye’s wormhole piece from two months ago here.

    Granted, maybe those journalists don’t watch my videos but the vast majority of them are on twitter. After all, it’s their JOB to have an eye on these things. And a few years ago I wrote an article for (oh the irony) Quanta Magazine that one shouldn’t confuse mathematical black holes with real ones. It was also the last piece I wrote for them.

    The bottomline is that they had all the information to properly judge the new paper, they just thought that most physicists, as usual, would keep their mouth shut when confronted with bullshit headlines because they have this idea that any kind of attention is somehow good attention.

    I am extremely grateful for the outcry over this headline because I hope it’ll send a message that science news readers wand to read about real science, and that that, in return, will have an impact on research in the field.

  21. Another comment on your somewhat broad-sweeping statement:

    “There have already been a lot of claims about “quantum gravity in the lab” made in recent years, and surely many more will be made in the future. It’s important to understand that these all have been and always will be nothing but publicity stunts.”

    I am afraid I have to disagree because there are some experiments that quite plausibly have a chance to see weak field effects of quantum gravity in the laboratory. I understand that that’s not what you had in mind — you were referring to analogies and simulations for which your statement is entirely correct — but let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater.

    I wrote about this possibility a few years ago here, and for all I can tell the experimental groups have since slow but steadily made progress.

  22. Frank says:

    One more curious thing. In HEP author names are usually alphabetical. When they are not, the order should indicate who contributed the most (first author) to who contributed the least (last author). Spiropulu is the last listed author, but the piece by Wolchover describes the group as being led by Spiropulu. So which is it?

  23. Peter Woit says:

    Thanks, your caveat is right, there could be lab results actually relevant to quantum gravity. I should have specified that what I’m referring to are all such claims involving a supposed duality, with the gravity stuff taking place on the other side of the duality from the physics being studied.

  24. Peter Woit says:

    Thanks, I hadn’t noticed that, and the ordering is interesting The first two authors are Jafferis and Zlokapa, which I guess means they are the ones who did most of the work, presumably Jafferis the general theory, Zlokapa (an MIT student) actual calculational work. Putting Spiropulu at the end, while Wolchover calls her the leader of the group suggests that what she led was the PR effort.

  25. Peter Woit says:

    You’re right, any potential NSF/DOE defunding could be more than made up by billionaires who want to go through the traversable wormholes.

    The money from Jim Simons though flows through the Simons Foundation, and I’m curious what its director (David Spergel) thinks of all this.

  26. Peter Woit says:

    The people doing this refer to supposedly analogous structures in toy models using the same name as used in a physical theory. Part of the problem here is that after spending too many years in a toy model, you can forget that it’s not the real thing. Journalists then often seem to think that there’s no reason to make clear to the public the difference (i.e.use a misleading headline, bury the fact that it’s a toy model deep in the article).

  27. tulpoeid says:

    Frank and Peter,

    No; it’s among the common practices to put the PI at the end of the authors list. I’ve worked for years at a lab where this was the practice, and I know it’s elsewhere as well.

  28. Peter Shor says:


    You may be in the position of the boy who cried wolf. You have criticized so many things in physics, some of which many physicists perceive as actually valid (like dark matter), that the Quanta Magazine people may not be paying attention to you anymore.

    And while I realize that your criticisms of dark matter have a lot more caveats in them than your criticism of calling simulations “wormholes,” this may not be apparent to journalists.

  29. Peter says:

    Peter W.,

    “The problem for journalists covering this sort of theoretical physics has always been that it is ferociously technical and obscure.”

    You’re very mild for Nathalie Wolchover. As I understand it, she was given news under embargo. That alone should have made alarm bells ring. It’s a trick providers of information often use to give undue weight to something. Every halfway decent reporter knows that. So the first question you ask yourself when given the embargoed news is: “Why is it embargoed? Interesting, relevant news doesn’t need embargos.”

    The second question a halfway decent reporter asks is: “Why me?” An embargo puts you in a difficult position. You can’t talk to a credentialed expert and try to evaluate what they say, because you can’t tell them what your questions actually are about – it’s embargoed. So you ask them a few general questions. The experts give equally general and usually polite answers, which invariably sound quite meek when confronted with the forcefully made and detailed statements by the provider of the embargoed information.

    I could go on forever, but I won’t. Quanta made a fool of itself here.

  30. martibal says:

    Simon’s foundation has an excellent reputation among mathematicians, right ?
    Are they related to the hype, or are they just hosting a conference on a related topic ?

  31. math says:

    I am not sure I understand everybody’s criticism here.
    The publication’s authors have attempted to address a small aspect of a vast question in fundamental physics and published their result in a well reputed journal (vetted through a peer review process, AFAIK).
    Are you criticizing their scientific result or the aggressive PR operation  they have orchestrated?
    About the latter, everyone is doing PR’s these days. People need to «sell» their stuff (to attract funding, apparently…). The science is still valid (or else please explain why the published result is wrong and should not have been published).

  32. Peter Woit says:

    The Simons Foundation is funding this sort of research with a large grant, see
    the conferences this week are part of what is funded by that grant.

    It looks though like the PIs of the Simons grant and the authors of the publicity stunt are a disjoint set.

  33. Peter Woit says:

    The scientific result I assume is correct, but it is not of any substantial significance and should not have been published in Nature. The authors ran a computation on a nine-qubit quantum computer and got the expected result, showing nothing more than that the Google machine works as expected. The publicity stunt aspect of what they did goes way beyond anything I’ve seen theorists do before.

  34. martibal says:

    math: since when does the refereeing process means embargo ? Basically all maths results are freely available on arXiv much before they get published in a journal. The paradigmatic case is Perelman’s proof of Poincaré conjecture. The same is true, maybe less systematically, for high energy physics.
    One may understand that the publication of the Higgs discovery is under embargo (given that there are two collaborations that work on the subject and this is really a huge result). But none of these is true in the quanta case.

    “People need to «sell» their stuff (to attract funding, apparently…). ”
    That would be hearable (also discutable) if there were actually “stuff” to sell. Selling science as the last season of whatever Sci Fi series ruins the credibility of the field. One really does not need that at the moment.

  35. George says:

    Just by looking at the comments under the Youtube video, I can tell for certain that the public has been completely misled about the actual content of this work. And that will, in the long term, damage the trust between public and scientists, I am afraid.

  36. clayton says:

    in experimental groups (and also in astro), it’s very common to put the PI at the end — eg the final author of is Martinis, who was the head of the group and did all the press for it. The breakdown is very roughly “actual major contributors to the entire paper first; people who worked on a section or two, or who did direct mentoring of people in the first group, come second; people with private data, instrumental knowledge, etc., that we couldn’t have done without, but who didn’t do lots on the paper itself, third; people who got the grant money and oversaw stuff last”

  37. anon says:

    PI as the last author is common in experimental physics (as well as chemistry and life sciences, as far as I know), but I’ve never seen it happen in astrophysics. Maybe it happens in instrumentation groups, which are closely related to experimental physics.

  38. Steven Bratman says:

    I engaged in some twitter back and forth with Thomas Linn on the subject. His stonewalling and defensiveness was depressing. I offered as constructive criticism that if an expert is mentioned in an article, and that expert feels the article is utter nonsense, it would be appropriate to mention this. He insisted that the article already did so by including the words,”said Woit, a critic of AdS/CFT research.” As you’ve explained, you gave those quotes in an unrelated context, which might excuse Quanta if they were unaware of your opinions. But he also told me that he knows all about your thoughts on the subject, and told me I was “partisan” because I found your opinion on the subject credible. Sigh.

  39. clayton says:

    in astro it differs very much between theory and then what you might call interdepartmental experiment (which is most of them) and single-department experiment (where it can be idiosyncratic). In the first case there wouldn’t really be a PI as such, and in the second case you’d be in the “thermodynamic limit” of PIs (where there’s so many that they all become alphabetical again). I had in mind the final one, which indeed would often be either a small experiment or the instrumentation paper for a larger experiment but centered in one particular group.

    Regardless, it seems that this particular piece is following the PI-last standard inherited from experimental groups.

  40. Peter Woit says:

    Steven Bratman,
    I saw that Twitter exchange. In general it’s really depressing that both Lin and Wolchover seem to not understand the problems with what they have done. I did go back and reread more carefully the Wolchover article. The main quote from me is completely out of context and misleading (it quotes a 6 month old email from me about AdS/dS, which has nothing at all to do with this story, in a context set out as being about the experiment.)

  41. The hype in the press about this was so outrageous that I went and looked at the actual article in nature. There is no hint of this crazy hype in either the blurb about the article in Nature, or in the abstract to the article itself. All quite sober and no hint of “creating” a wormhole. The blame for this sits squarely on the press and not on the journal.

  42. Somdatta Bhattacharya says:

    You guys are indulging in ad hominem. What exactly is wrong with what Jafferis had to say today?

  43. Peter Woit says:

    Laurence Lurio/Somdatta Bhattacharya,

    Nature isn’t completely blameless, they devoted their front cover to a picture of a “Holographic” wormhole and a claim that this work was “a step towards investigating quantum gravity using quantum computers”, although the Brown-Susskind summary of the research inside the issue says “the results of this experiment cannot teach us anything that could not be learnt from a classical computation, and will not teach us anything new about quantum gravity.”

    As for the Jafferis talk, nothing wrong with it, but it would have been an excellent opportunity for at least one person in the audience to confront him about why he had participated in the publicity stunt based upon this work.

  44. Adam Treat says:

    One reason you might not see pushback on Jafferis talk is that the blame for the hype is being placed on the experimentalists. At least that is what Matt Strassler has to say on his blog. He says that he’s known Jafferis for over a decade and considers him a young genius and that he’s not responsible for the hype, but rather the experimentalists are… I take his comments to mean that he blames Spiropulu and Google for launching the media campaign for which young Jafferis was unknowingly being used. See here.

  45. Peter Woit says:

    Adam Treat,

    I’ve learned a lot more about how this was done today. One thing I learned is that Spiropulu has been planning this for about four years (i.e. trying to find some kind of calculation that can be done on a quantum computer that could be sold to the public as “first quantum gravity in a lab” or “physicists create a black hole/wormhole in the lab”). Doubtless the Google people were happy to sign on and make their machine available for the stunt. From what I can tell, Joe Lykken (a theorist, not an experimentalist), was also part of the planning.

    If you take a look at the video, Jafferis doesn’t play a really big part, but he’s filmed together with the whole group of them, played along, and cannot have been unaware of what the stunt was that Spiropulu was trying to pull off, and his own role in it.

  46. Young researcher getting a chance at a Nature paper isn’t going to complain too hard if the senior collaborators are drumming up some publicity.

  47. Somdatta Bhattacharya says:

    Why focus obsessively on the publicity stunt and not on what they are actually doing. Also no one confronted him because it wasn’t the appropriate forum. BTW, the bigger story is unfolding in Matt’s blog today ICYMI.

  48. Ex YouTuber says:

    This YouTube video shows that all of them are accomplices; that the blame should not be put on Spiropulu alone:

  49. tulpoeid says:


    If your comments are used out of context, you should demand that they get deleted from the article and that the edit is mentioned explicitly. At the very least, the editor has the obligation of mentioning your ask for retraction next to your comments if they are kept in the article.

    In other hype, not anything as spectacular, but Maryland theorist uses the landscape as solid base to tell the public that there are no laws of physics.

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