Earlier this year the Bogdanov brothers published Le Visage de Dieu, yet another book dealing with their ideas about the big-bang and pre-big-bang physics. This follows their earlier Avant le Big Bang, and L’équation Bogdanov : Le secret de l’origine de l’Univers? a book that they somehow got Lubos Motl to take credit for. I haven’t seen the new book, but it seems that it takes off from George Smoot’s comment that looking at the CMB was like “seeing the face of God.” Somehow the brothers have managed to get well-known cosmologists Robert Wilson, Jim Peebles and John Mather to contribute pieces to the book.
In other Bogdanov news, I hear from a Paris correspondent that an interesting document has recently come to light, a report commissioned by the CNRS after the Bogdanov Affair made headlines back in 2002. For press coverage of this, see here, here, here. The CNRS critique, from November 2003 is detailed, harsh and devastating. For instance, about Igor Bogdanov’s thesis (which ended up being published in multiple copies in several respectable journals, including the highly thought of Classical and Quantum Gravity), the conclusion is “la valeur de ce travail est nulle”, this work is of no value.
Update: For another informative article about the Bogdanovs, from this summer, see here.
On the subject of Avant le Big Bang, we had a Horizon (popular science) programme here in the UK recently on the very topic. The title actually was “What happened before the big bang?” The obvious answer to this question is “I have no idea, and neither have you”, which is more or less where they got to, but not before taking in extensive and largely contradictory contributions from Linde, Penrose, Smolin, Turok, and a few others I had not heard of. Still – it was interesting to see the world’s largest vacuum chamber and the gravitational wave detector on the way.
What? Peebles contributed to Bogadanov’s book?
It would be good to check whether Robert Wilson, Jim Peebles and John Mather knew that their pieces were being used for this book, before assuming they did.
The CNRS report on Grichka Bogdanov’s math thesis describes his results in one page. It says (translating from the French) that they are “presented with great naivety and with errors which demonstrate the author’s misunderstanding of a concept that is taught at the maîtrise level.”
“It would be easy, but cruel, to list the numerous errors which spatter this text, for example “SO(2,2) has no matrix representation” (p. 17). We shall content ourselves with observing that the space Σtop that he uses is simply the Cartesian product of R2 by (R3 ⨯ R3)/SO(3) and that this removes any potential meaning from the phrase “unique singular point” which is the essential [foundation] of the statements in this chapter, and [equally removes any potential] relevance of this study to the “Initial Singularity” of space-time.”
“In conclusion: one of the eight chapters of this thesis contains a construction at the level one might find in an undergraduate essay, but very badly written: the other seven contribute nothing to mathematics.”
The report spends much longer — 15 pages — dissecting Igor Bogdanov’s physics thesis. It concludes:
“Unfortunately, even a rapid reading evokes strong suspicions about the scientific contribution and about the quality of presentation of this work; and a deeper analysis only confirms these suspicions. It seems that the text contains no coherent construction. On the contrary, this work is a constellation of incoherencies, of serious confusions and of propositions so imprecise as to be incomprehensible. The conclusion of this report, based on the detailed analysis presented below, is clear and unambiguous: according to the criteria set out above, the value of this work is nil.”
Well, I guess one could give them credit for pulling off a moderately successful scam, inasmuch as some reputable people felt compelled to spend valuable time exposing it, and granted them some publicity in the process. If you’re enough of a narcissist, that feels like success. (“I don’t care what they say about me, as long as they spell my name right.”)
“Bogdanov” is hard to spell
Does anyone have an actual link to the CNRS report?
There is a link in the posting:
It’s unclear to me though whether this is the full CNRS report or just an appendix to it. If there is a more complete version of the report somewhere, I haven’t seen it.
Peter, What do you mean by
“This follows their earlier Avant le Big Bang, and L’équation Bogdanov : Le secret de l’origine de l’Univers? a book that they somehow got Lubos Motl to take credit for”?
How do you know that Motl did not write the book? I thought he wrote on his web site that he did.
I don’t know what the real story of the “Bogdanov equation” book is, just that it must be a very odd one, and that in matters involving the brothers, things are often not what they are claimed to be.
I don’t actually have a copy of the book, but from its table of contents, some chapters sound like Lubos, others, not so much. The first chapter, available on-line, just doesn’t seem to me at all like something Lubos would write. But, again, who knows….
Here is the first part of the CNRS report :
The full report is supposed to be published in a few weeks.
FYI: the Marianne link to the CNRS report is just the overview, the non-technical pages. There should be an appendix for each thesis detailing the criticism. The CNRS is in the process of clearing it for release to the general public.
The real question is why that report was left to snooze at the bottom of a drawer in the first place!
The report YBM links to does a good job of demolishing the idea that the Bogdanovs did any serious science, but seems to whitewash the failure that led to them both getting Ph.Ds. The names of those responsible for allowing this are blacked out, and the claim is made that this is such an unusual case that it’s not worth doing anything to keep it from happening again.
More interesting might be the internal discussions at the journals that published the Bogdanov articles….
“.. whitewash the failure that led to them both getting Ph.Ds. The names of those responsible for allowing this are blacked out,”
These very pages that are linked (or something equivalent to them, but I think the same) were available a number of years ago without the blackouts. Parts of the reports on the theses were also made available.
I remember one of them. It was like “.. this is revolutionary, very deep, …”.
“… and the claim is made that this is such an unusual case that it’s not worth doing anything to keep it from happening again.”
The scary thing, Peter, is that it does happen on a regular basis. I can tell you of a specific example of a thesis (also on string theory) that was approved in the late 80’s (the glory days of string theory) by very well known scientists at a very well known university.
We now know that everything in this thesis was either wrong or plagiarized. None of the examiners had a clue. Those of us who suspected foul play in advance couldn’t say a word. One becomes very unpopular for rocking this type of boat.
But it also happens on a daily basis in papers that are being refereed for publication. How many referees are actually willing or able to re-derive the technical details of a technical paper. If it sounds reasonable, you approve it and hope for the best. But reasonable can turn out to be totally wrong.
John Baez has some very interesting links on all this…last updated 2006:
This is one reason why advisers should never feel steamrolled into accepting or sticking with a student they feel is not up to the level, PARTICULARLY if they suspect the student is dishonest….someone with delusions or no scruples who can then parlay their PhD into money or influence. And who but a borderline sociopath would try that anyway?
Bugsy, if someone is dishonest or wrong then this doesn’t have to do with adviser ethics. It’s much simpler. On the other hand what you suggest is tricky, since the inverse occurs a quadzillion times more often.
To the case itself — a friend of mine is a talented artist; yet I see her how her and her peers are willing to accept any piece of art, as long as it’s self-proclaimed as abstract, no matter how silly, meaningless or downright bad it is (and I don’t think that all abstract art is meaningless), reaching a point where they deny themselves the right to taste and critical ability. I still don’t get why they do so, especially considering how this diminishes the value of their own works, although I have some ideas: a wish for paving acceptance for themselves, a wrong notion of abstract, and the rules of the market, among them.
I could end with a grande phrase outlining certain similarities but I think it’d be redundant 😐
Speaking of sketchy to non-existent journal reviewing standards, see the recent exploits documented on the SCIgen blog.
If you’re thinking of establishing a publication record in computer science you could try SCIGen yourself. 🙂
Glad to see that people do not tire of pointing out how easy it is to publish absolute crap in the most respected journals, as the Bogdanovs did. I wish to support those here that stressed that such is not seldom and involving bad apples, but that the problem is systemic and growing.
My few cents to this subject I wrote about involving the subject of nanotechnology, where such is also going rampant (not quite as easy to use as SCIgen, but I thought of doing something similar with this paper generator):
“La valeur de ce travail est nulle”? I wasn’t aware that French were the official language of the “physical community.” A franco-french revenge about a cartoon character, or a real scientifical “huge problem”? To say the truth, in many year I’ve seen many valueless works, the least of them not being the supersting and other supercheries, without any bearing of any kind with empirical data. For me, controversies about for instance the climatgate is a better loss of time.
clmasse: i do not think the CNRS reports intended to be the voice of the physical community, but only the voice of CNRS, dealing with a problem internal to the french university (namely is it or not a scandal that a university delivered the Bogdanoff a PhD diploma ?). And one may also wonder whether they would have been such a mess if they were not (ex)-TV stars ? I mean, is their paper really the worst ever published in Class. Quant. Grav. or any other good journal ? At least from a surrealistic-poetry point of view, claiming that “the Big Bang singularity is aligned with Foucault pendulum” is not so bad 🙂
Also it should be emphasize that thanks to their TV program (which I find a crap) many people hear about science. Is it better to hear about almost-zero-value science, or not to hear about science at all ? Of course it would be better to hear about good science on tv, but there is no hope to find a science program prime time on some national network.
A last comment: it is also not so clear that they are dishonest. They worked several years on their PhD without being paid. So to some extend they may believe in what they say, even it what they say sounds total nonsense.
Many of the things they did ‘after’ their PhDs, including the Prof Yang alias e-mails, websites for research institutes that do not exit, etc, etc, make it clear (to me) that they are less than honest.