I had thought that the wormhole story had reached peak absurdity back in December, but last night some commenters pointed to a new development: the technical calculation used in the publicity stunt was nonsense, not giving what was claimed. The paper explaining this is Comment on “Traversable wormhole dynamics on a quantum processor”, from a group led by Norman Yao. Yao is a leading expert on this kind of thing, recently hired by Harvard as a full professor. There’s no mention in the paper about any conversations he might have had with the main theorist responsible for the publicity stunt, his Harvard colleague Daniel Jafferis.
Tonight Fermilab is still planning a big public event to promote the wormhole, no news yet on whether it’s going to get cancelled. Also, no news from Quanta magazine, which up until now has shown no sign of understanding the extent they were taken in by this. Finally, no news from Nature about whether the paper will be retracted, and whether the retraction will be a cover story with a cool computer graphic of a non-wormhole.
Update: Dan Garisto goes through the Jafferis et al. paper, noting “Turns out it looked good only because they used an average (a fact not specified in the article).” and ending with
The unreported averages for the thermalization and teleportation signal make a stronger case for misconduct on the part of the authors.
I don’t understand why Fermilab was planning a public lecture promoting this, and with what has now come out, it should clearly be cancelled.
Update: I like the suggestion from Andreas Karch
Quanta magazine could make a video where the wormhole authors share in vivid detail the excitement they felt when they realized that their paper isn’t just overhyped but actually wrong.
Update: Garisto has a correction, explaining that the averaging is not the problem with Jafferis et al., rather that the teleportation signal is only there for the pair of operators involved in the machine language training, not there for other pairs of operators that should demonstrate the effect. In any case, best to consult the paper itself. If Jafferis et al. disagree with its conclusions, surely we’ll see an explanation from them soon.
Update: The Harvard Gazette promotes the wormhole publicity stunt, with “Daniel Jafferis’ team has for the first time conducted an experiment based in current quantum computing to understand wormhole dynamics.” As far as I can tell, that’s utter nonsense, with the result of the quantum computer calculation adding zero to our understanding of “wormhole dynamics”.
Update: Video of the Lykken talk now available, advertised by FNAL as Wormholes in the Laboratory.