Summer School

This is the time of the year when young particle physicists usually want to go to school, more precisely, a “summer school” held in some pleasant location. These typically have a series of survey lectures on the hot topics of the subject, aimed at the level of advanced graduate students and postdocs. These days, the lectures are often available on-line in some form, so anyone interested in learning some more about currently active research topics can do so, even if they have to miss the summer travel aspect of the school.

Here’s a partial list of some of the larger such programs:

Theoretical Advanced Studies Institute in Elementary Particle Physics: String theory and its applications, Boulder, Colorado June 1-25

Summer school on structures in local quantum field theory, Les Houches, June 7-25

50th Cracow School of Theoretical Physics, Zakopane, Poland June 9-19

2010 European School of High-Energy Physics, Raseborg, Finland June 20 -July 3

Summer School on Mathematical String Theory, Blacksburg June 21-July 2

Cargese Summer School on String Theory: Formal Developments and Applications, Cargese, Corsica June 21-July 3

PASI School on Quantum Gravity, Morelia, Mexico June 23-July 3

Prospects in Theoretical Physics: Aspects of Supersymmetry, Princeton July 19 – July 30 (why Princeton as a location to travel to for the summer is a bit of a mystery…)

Cargese Summer School on Physics at TeV Colliders, Cargese, Corsica July 19-July 30

International School on Strings and Fundamental Physics, Munich July 25-August 6

PSI Summer School on Particle Physics: Gearing up for LHC Physics, Zuoz, Switzerland, August 1-7

SLAC Summer Institute on Neutrinos, Stanford, August 2-13

Clifford Johnson is blogging from the quantum gravity school in Morelia, where he’s shocked to find the “totally bizarre” situation that the students there aren’t very enthusiastic about string theory. He attributes this to their ignorance:

Here’s the really odd thing about all this … : While this is a school on Quantum Gravity, after talking with the students for a while one learns that in most cases the little they’ve heard about string theory is often essentially over 20 years out of date and almost always totally skewed to the negative, to the extent that many of them are under the impression that string theory has nothing to do with quantum gravity at all! It is totally bizarre, and I suspect it is largely a result of things that are said and passed around within their research community.. So there are a few students here and there who have some familiarity with strings, huddling together at times for warmth in a sea of miscommunication, misinformation, and strange preconceptions.

I find it extremely hard to believe that the students at this school are ignorant of claims that string theory is a unified theory including quantum gravity, more likely they’re just unconvinced and more interested in other approaches.

Lubos reacts to this by noting that Clifford is finally encountering reality:

Clifford Johnson seems to be surprised that almost all the students have been brainwashed by various anti-stringy misconceptions. Clifford has clearly been living outside the reality at least for 4 years, and so have many other serious high-energy physicists.

and then goes beyond Clifford, arguing that the problem is not just ignorance, but sub-normal intelligence:

There’s no string theory group in Mexico – another fact that shouldn’t be shocking given Mexico’s average IQ around 85. The IQ increment needed to go from non-stringy quantum gravity to string theory is around 20.

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14 Responses to Summer School

  1. Mantis says:

    Lubos rant is really hilarious.

  2. alfredo says:

    Hi Woit,

    you write:

    “I find it extremely hard to believe that the students at this school are ignorant of claims that string theory is a unified theory including quantum gravity, more likely they’re just unconvinced and more interested in other approaches.”

    I would love to agree with you on this, but I can’t. It is a fact that the high energy and gravity community in Mexico is out dated and has promoted a negative attitude towards not only string theory but basically any new physics idea in the past 20 years. By this I do not mean that there has been a critical attitude (that would be nice), it is just negative as a matter of “principle”.

    One of the many consequences of this (the one that I think hurts the most) is that students usually work on old and uninteresting (in the sense of the community) problems. This in turn disables them in terms of competition in the international market. In Mexico it is still relatively easy to find a position at a state University. There is no much competition.

    Of course there are many other factors involved, but I do think the attitude of the old guard has been essential.

    Now, regarding Lubos. I don’t think you should take it to seriously when he comments on the IQ stuff. In some sense, I wish that was the problem! He likes to tease, and the you fall!! 😉

    Un abrazo….

  3. Anonymous says:

    You have to be up to date with current literature for your ideas to be taken seriously. That’s about the only difference between a crackpot and a serious scientist with a non-mainstream research interest. Even if the current literature (such as string theory) may turn out to be crap, people who think they can work on something (such as quantum gravity) without knowing the current literature is destined to reinvent the wheel again and again and make little progress.

  4. Ricardo says:

    Hi Peter,

    Regarding Lubos comment there is a string theory group in Mexico, although small, and they even have annual meetings:

    I am a grad student at UNAM, and you’re right when you say there is a group of people “unconvinced and more interested in other approaches” when it comes to strings as a unifying theory, I myself am one of them. I should also mention that people working in string theory in Mexico are more geared towards duality than finding a TOE, at least in my perception.

    I agree with Alfredo (Hi Fefo) that there is a tendency from the old school to resist change, but then again I know people who are working on loops, noncommutative geometry and some other less “trendy” stuff

  5. Peter Woit says:

    Alfredo and Ricardo,

    Thanks a lot for the comments on the situation in Mexico, very interesting to hear. I’m still dubious though about Clifford’s claim that Mexican students “are under the impression that string theory has nothing to do with quantum gravity at all!”.

    As for whether Lubos is serious, that’s always hard to tell, but I do think that the ideas that string theorists are smarter than other theorists, and that skepticism about string theory indicates a lack of intelligence are among his deepest and most sincerely held beliefs.

  6. Why is that hard to believe? Did someone get a Nobel prize for using string theory to solve quantum gravity? Is there some scientific paper that proves that there is some relation?

  7. Bill K says:

    “people who think they can work on something (such as quantum gravity) without knowing the current literature is destined to reinvent the wheel again and again and make little progress.”

    It depends on who you are. Feynman used to say, if you read what’s in the literature you’ll just repeat the same mistakes they made.

  8. Cesar Laia says:

    Just crashed in your blog, and I am really shocked with the IQ stupid joke.

    I had to see it, and rest of the text by Lubos did not help.

  9. Lee Brown Jr. says:

    I really enjoy this blog. I have been working independently on quantum gravity after being out of school and completely out of physics for a decade. I think I am representative of the newer generation.

    One major reason why I avoid string theory, is that the best minds have worked on it for 30 years, and to what end? There is no result you can point to and say that it was a real contribution to our understanding of Nature. Not only that, there is nothing you can point to as a significant calculation.

    If guys like Witten get nowhere (from an outsiders perspective), then what chance is there that a more human mind will do better? Moreover, if an idea is truly insightful and meritous, then usually it reaps rewards in fairly short order. SR, GR, Schrodinger Equation, the Dirac Equation, QED, QCD , all contributed soon after proposition.

    Younger researchers are not as emotionally and professionally invested in string theory. Abandoning it for more fertile, more tractable pastures only makes sense.

  10. Valentina says:

    It really “amuses” me to see where the link about Lubos takes you to.
    I’m Italian so I apologize for my English but, as we say in my country, I think the guy needs a good one, where one means psychiatrist.

    His pretending to be some kind of superior being just testifies the huge inferiority complex he must have.

    Sorry to be so rude. I’m really “intolerant” towards racist people.

  11. Marcus says:

    I’m curious to know what the mix of students at the PASI quantum gravity school was like. Can anyone say roughly what percentage North/South American? Or what universities they mostly came from?

    I’m happy that there was finally such a panamerican QG school. Already in Europe there have been several QG schools of this type—one or two weeks, for graduate students (and others) starting research and wanting an introduction to active topics. I think the first European QG school was in spring of 2007 at Zakopane ski resort in Poland. About time this practice gets a start in this hemisphere.

  12. Chris Oakley says:


    The issue, ultimately, is funding. If, in industrial research, your boss offered to pay £1,000 for you to go on a conference/workshop/symposium in Barbados/Bermuda/Bahamas you would probably say, “No thanks, I’d rather have the money – then I can go to one of these places with my family and not have to sit through a whole lot of boring seminars.” This option is not available in academia – no cash is on offer if you choose not to go. So think of the whole conference/summer school thing as a charity that provides exotic vacations to those on meagre salaries.

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