Here’s a story from the boundaries of conventional physics of the sort I normally try to resist paying any attention to, but couldn’t quite help myself this time:
Last week I noticed amongst the e-mail from Jack Sarfatti that clutters my (and many other people’s) mailbox some forwarded messages about a kerfuffle involving the withdrawal of a conference invitation to Brian Josephson. Josephson is a Nobel Prize winner but, on the other hand, he seems to think that this sort of thing makes sense. In one of the messages, I noticed that Josephson defends himself by pointing out that his talks often don’t involve paranormal phenomena, giving as example a recent Hermann Staudinger lecture in Freiburg (Staudinger was a chemistry Nobelist, also my great-uncle).
This mini-scandal has now made it to a Times Higher Education story today, which starts off:
An extraordinary spat has broken out after a Nobel prizewinning physicist was “uninvited” from a forthcoming conference because of his interest in the paranormal.
Details of the conference in August for experts in quantum mechanics sounded idyllic. Participants were due to discuss “de Broglie-Bohm theory and beyond” in the Towler Institute, which is housed in a 16th-century monastery in the Tuscan Alps owned by Mike Towler, Royal Society research fellow at Cambridge University’s Cavendish Laboratory.
Last week, any veneer of serenity was shattered. Conference organiser Antony Valentini, research associate in the Theoretical Physics Group at Imperial College London, wrote to three participants to say their invitations had been withdrawn.
The current situation seems to be that Josephson, David Peat and Jack Sarfatti were un-invited, but now Josephson and Peat have been re-invited.
I had never heard of the Towler Institute before, but it sounds like a beautiful place, which physicist Mike Towler has admirably made available as a site for hosting small meetings and conferences. From the information on its web-site, this looks like the kind of place I’d find it very difficult to turn down an invitation to, no matter what the conference topic.
The conference at issue will be held at the end of the summer, and deals with what is known as “de Broglie-Bohm theory”. One can read about this many places, including this site of Mike Towler’s. The conference summary itself refers to the de Broglie-Bohm theory’s “fringe nature in modern physics”, and for more about why it is controversial see Towler’s lecture Not even wrong: Why does nobody like pilot-wave theory?.
After spending a little time learning about it many years ago, I quickly decided that I personally didn’t like pilot-wave theory, partly because it seems to me that it throws out all the deep, amazing and experimentally verified links between modern physics and mathematics that motivate what I love about the subjects, getting nothing much in return. I don’t see a good reason to believe that research in this area is going to lead to something interesting, but those who do have every right to keep trying. As they do so, they face serious problems in distinguishing crackpot from non-crackpot efforts, as this story makes very clear. Note that I have no intention of putting any time into this problem myself, so in this case I’m adopting a uniform policy of just deleting all comments arguing for or against de Broglie-Bohm. If that’s a topic you like to argue about, do it elsewhere.
There’s more here from Chad Orzel.