Celebrity News

A selection of celebrity math/physics news:

  • Jane Fonda’s blog has a report on My Meeting With Stephen Hawking. Hawking told her “You were my heart throb”, admitting that Barbarella was what he had in mind.
  • MIT has put online a video of a lecture given in December by Jim Simons. Simons tells some of the story of his remarkable career and gives some advice about doing math. The financial news this morning reports that Simons’s Renaissance Technologies is now down in Brazil doing high-frequency trading. The story is illustrated with a photo of Gisele Bundchen super-imposed on what appears to be Simons lecturing on differential K-theory.
  • Someone has come up with an Einstein Index to rank theoretical physicists using a new citation analysis. According to this index, Juan Maldacena outranks Steve Weinberg and Ed Witten by a sizable amount. Further down the list, Sean Carroll and Murray Gell-Mann get the same ranking.
  • Brian Greene’s new book on the Multiverse is getting a lot of attention, with mostly laudatory reviews. For an alternate take, see the review at Bookforum by Charles Seife.
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    22 Responses to Celebrity News

    1. milkshake says:

      the Seife’s review of Greene’s book apparently conflates the Landscape multiverse with many-worlds interpretation of QM. I wonder if the distinction is made clear enough in the book.

    2. Steve says:

      The Einstein index does not look too bad for comparing young scientist within a subfield of physics. Having said that, there is no index that works when comparing scientists across a timespan of many decades.

      Peter, your Einstein index is a miserable 180. How come? 😉

    3. Peter Woit says:


      Well, I guess it’s because I’m not the next Einstein…

    4. Cesar Laia says:

      PG de Gennes died some years ago…

    5. Rien says:

      I’d say that any index that doesn’t put Weinberg on top is flawed 😉

    6. Thomas Larsson says:

      How would Einstein score on the Einstein index?

    7. Chris Oakley says:

      I cannot help thinking that Hawking “blew it” slightly … I mean, there he was, surrounded by gullible actors. He could have said anything he wanted and they would have lapped it up. Instead of these quips about getting out of teaching due to his disability and Hanoi Jane being “hot” in Barbarella (although the latter, I admit, is a perfectly sound observation), he should have spun some yarn about being in contact with beings from the 11th dimension and then started warning them about the compactification that was due if the Earthlings did not spend more money on theoretical physics …

    8. Fabio says:

      Ah, the latest silly ranking index. These are always fun. I think the results tell us more about the field itself over time than they do about the individuals being ranked. Clearly you can see citation inflation at work. Also you can see increased herding tendencies in a field starved for good ideas.

    9. noEinstein says:

      I don’t get it. In making up the ranking, he did not include Weinberg’s books, but he included Maldacena’s review which is similar to a book. If Weinberg’s books our counted, he jumps way ahead of everyone. Clearly, all books and reviews should be excluded from the ranking.

    10. Shantanu says:

      Peter, this maybe old news and could be on your website. but the talks of 20th anniversary of INT are
      This includes a talk by Howard Georgi on history of QCD and particle physics from 50s to 80s (sans string theory)

    11. Anony-Mouse says:

      I was recently looking through some classic papers from the 40’s and 50’s, and one very striking thing is how few references they have. Most of them cite fewer than five other papers total. Nowdays, the norm is to cite anything that is even tangentially related to what you are doing. 50 or more references seems common. I wonder if anyone has studied when and why this change took place.

    12. neo says:


      Einstein’s 1905 special relativity paper cited exactly ZERO papers. Maybe the Einstein index should depend on how few cites an author can accomplish in a published paper.

    13. thomas says:

      I posted this over there, but I’d like to inject into the discussion that one reason people would dislike citation indices is how obviously they get gamed- the pressure to publish, the jokes about the minimal publishable unit, the politics of who gets a cite or a coathorship, the random cites of papers that the authors haven’t read or think are viewed as influential just to pad the bibliography- and the concern that taking citation indices seriously would lead to more noisy politics and get in the way of doing science

    14. the Dude says:

      A very interesting ranking of the top theoretical physicists was done in the Discover magazine a few years ago. “With Smolin’s aid, DISCOVER has scoured the landscape and found six top candidates who show intriguing signs of that Einsteinian spark. Smolin is too modest to say so, but he might qualify as a seventh;” The results are published here:


    15. Chris Oakley says:

      Hi Dude,

      Interesting list.

      1. Lisi. Unification based on E8. Currently no contact with the real world.
      2. Hawking. Radiation of black holes. Not currently measurable.
      3. Milgrom. MOdified Newtonian Dynamics. Explains galactic rotation without invoking Dark Matter.
      4. Amelino-Camelia. Doubly special relativity. No experimental evidence.
      5. Markopoulou-Kalamara. Works on loop QG , for which there is no experimental evidence.
      6. Witten. Promotes Superstrings, for which there is no experimental evidence.

      It looks to me as though the only one of these who has a theory that actually explains real physical phenomena is Milgrom. Citation counts unfortunately, are a poor substitute for this attribute.

    16. Giotis says:

      Well I’m sorry to say that but putting Witten in the same category with some of the members of this group it’s kind of a sacrilege. Some of them will be thrilled if they could just shake his hand.

      I wouldn’t say that Witten is the next Einstein but that Einstein was the Witten of his time.

      He is many classes above anyone we know.

    17. Bugsy says:

      And sometimes a wrong paper is cited many times with all the recent
      citations remarking that the proof had been found to be false (as it was based on another false but previously much-cited paper)
      …won’t name names, to save the guilty from further well-deserved embarassment!

    18. Geoff says:

      How does Randall’s coauthor Sundrum not appear as high on the list?

    19. chris says:


      with all due respect, but this should be a list of top physicists. Witten did some pretty good physics, ok. but there are people like Weinberg, Glashow, Wilson, Gell-Mann, ‘t Hooft – please. What does Witten have to show in terms of physics that would come close to the standard model, the renormalisation group, quarks or the renormalizability proof of nonabelian gauge theories?

    20. El Cid says:

      I don’t see John Ellis in the list WTF?

    21. Amber Zee says:

      “Einstein-indices for well-known theoretical physicists and cosmologists. The Einstein index is plotted vertically, and each scientist is listed by the search term used in Google Scholar. Nobel laureates are shown in amber, others are listed in blue.”
      So,physics and cosmology blogger Sean Carroll has entered the bottom end of this level which, without any doubt, makes him the physics blogger with the highest Einstein index. At levels above 6,000 we see true giants emerging. Well-known names like Stephen Hawking reside at this level.

    22. anon says:

      Amber, Carroll only made the list because the author forgot to exclude review articles.

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