I’d really much rather ignore the activities of Lubos Motl, but his unethical behavior recently has sunk to new lows, and it seems necessary to point this out and encourage others to take appropriate action.
When Lee Smolin’s new book The Trouble With Physics first became available recently on Amazon, Lubos immediately posted a “two-star” review of the book, one that immediately had a large number of votes that it was “helpful”, likely generated by Lubos himself. The review is thoroughly dishonest and designed to mislead anyone who might consider buying the book (“Lee reveals his intense hostility against all of modern physics”, “Lee proposes a truly radical thesis that it is wrong for mathematics to play a crucial role in theoretical physics”, “He also denies the difference between renormalizable field theories and the rest”, “one of his rules says that the conclusions must be accepted by everyone if their author is a person of good faith”, etc., etc., etc…). The dishonesty includes the use of two stars rather than one, since Lubos is well-aware that Amazon is more likely to immediately delete one-star reviews.
After a while, another review appeared, a positive 5-star review. At some point, it seems that Amazon deleted Lubos’s review, perhaps because some people had, quite justifiably, clicked on the link that allows one to report a review as inappropriate. Lubos then posted on his blog a rant about this. Later on, he somehow managed to get the 5-star review deleted, and his own one reinstated (and removed his blog posting). At the present time, the only review of Smolin’s book on Amazon is the dishonest one by Lubos. This situation provides yet another example of the kind of disturbing behavior of parts of the string theory community that Smolin has detailed in part of his book. Unfortunately, if people just ignore what Lubos is up to, we end up with situations like the current one at Amazon, so I encourage people to consider what action they can take to do something about this. As for Amazon, the answer to dishonest speech is honest speech, so I encourage people to post honest reviews there of the book, I’ve just done so (and if you want to review my book while you’re at it, that’s fine too…).
Lubos still has up on his blog an offer to pay people $20 for writing bad reviews of my book. I’ve complained to people in the Harvard physics department that this kind of professional behavior by one of its faculty members is unethical and not the sort of thing protected by academic freedom. I’ve also pointed out to them that Lubos regularly publicly claims that his colleagues share his views (most recently in the Amazon review where he goes on about Smolin visiting “us”, and what “we” “mainstream physicists” think). While it appears that at some point an attempt was made by someone at Harvard to get him to suppress his extreme political views, I’ve seen no evidence whatsoever that anyone in the string theory group at Harvard has a problem with his behavior in defending string theory. This is also true of the larger string theory community, which remains almost unanimously (Aaron Bergman is the one exception I can think of) unwilling to publicly criticize Lubos’s tactics. A common recent defense of string theory against its critics is that its proponents hold power because they have triumphed in the “marketplace of ideas.” It’s not a pretty sight to see how this triumph is being defended now that there are other voices in the marketplace.
Update: About an hour and a half after I posted this, my positive review of Smolin’s book had accumulated a bunch of “helpful” votes, Lubos’s a bunch of “unhelpful” ones, and, I’m guessing, a bunch of reports as “inappropriate”. His review then disappeared. My sympathy goes out to whoever it is at Amazon who has to moderate this kind of controversy. Since Lubos is such a poster boy for the problems of string theory, I should say that I’d be happier if his review had not been deleted, but remained there, countered by other, more honest reviews.
Update: I see that Lubos’s “one-star” review of my book is now back up (carrying the original date, why’s that?) with the comment:
My review has been erased four times because the author keeps on encouraging other enemies of science on his discussion forum to report my review as inappropriate. This is not fair and is a reason why I returned to 1 star.
Well, his review is inappropriate, so I can see why people click on the link that reports this. Again, I’d prefer that it stay up there to show how string theorists behave, but that others with more honest reviews submit them also. Besides, like most authors these days, I do periodically check my Amazon sales ranking, and, as far as I can tell, when his review is there, sales improve. Go, Lubos!
Update: OK, now his review of my book has disappeared, and the one of Smolin’s has reappeared. Depressing, my sales should soon head downward, but I’m glad Lee’s will do better.
Update: Lubos is indefatigable, both his reviews are back, mine now says:
My review has been erased five times because the author keeps on encouraging other enemies of science on his discussion forum to report my review as inappropriate. This is not fair and is a reason why I returned to 1 star. Please don’t trust the counter of helpful votes either. It is being distorted by the visitors of Peter Woit’s blog who are directly controlled by the author of this book.
It seems that I “directly control” visitors here. Wow.
I’m guessing Amazon must have some sort of automated system, which apparently deletes reviews that receive a certain number of “inappropriate” votes, but allows the review to be edited slightly and resubmitted.
Update: Lubos seems to have managed to get my review of Smolin’s book deleted, as well as one of the 5-star reviews of my book. I can’t compete with him in terms of fanaticism, so will just have to take people’s advice and ignore what he is up to in terms of manipulation of Amazon reviews. Smolin is a new father and also doubtless too busy for this. People who don’t like this situation are free to try and do something about it, by writing reviews, or contacting Amazon, Lubos’s employer, or the people he refers to as “us” in his review to make them aware of what is going on.
Studies in Human evolution is another area of science filled with much ‘religious’ fervor. It is also another branch of science that wants to provide a TOE (for all things human) and tends to try to make it’s case to the public directly. It is also interestingly enough a group that makes its case by arguing that its opponents are idiots and don’t deserve to be listened to or even argued with.
I have never waivered in my support for evolution as the explanation for why we are all here and yet I have never waivered in my conviction that this mode of argument is beneath ‘real’ scientists.
Just for the record, a recently deleted blog entry about a $20 prize:
I see. Also while I did feel some hostility towards math physics etc. in your earlier comment I did not notice it in your later one so maybe it was not really there. From what I heard, while mathematicians regarded Goedel’s Theorem as a beautiful piece of mathematics it almost did not influence they way mathematics is practiced and not so much the way mathematicians regard mathematics. In any case, any way you want to take your nice analogy it comes pro-string theory.
I also think from what I heard that while Brower ideas and constructivism had some influence in some areas of computer science, they did not have significant influence on mathematics itself. But at the time when Brower went lecturing about his ideas he was accepted almost as a hero and people where excited from the prospect of a revolution in mathematics.
Of course, I cannot say if you are right when you say that Brower was right. It looks that this is not what most mathematicians think and probably very few really know the details of constructivism. Maybe others can comment more about it.
Be that as it may be, Brower had some alternative theory. Is the anti-string movement came to the point where there is some alternative theory (even if very partial or incomplete or a little strange)?
So, after all these posts and endless arguments–counter-arguments we (most of us atleast) seem to have arrived at a broad concensus:
Ignore that little guy from Cambridge, and move on to real discussions!
Where is Connes heading with his programme?
What background is necessary to work on the “Yang-Mills and Mass Gap” problem outlined by Witten and Jaffe [Clay Millenium Problems]?
Topic 2 amusingly should be in Woit’s early training, according the wikpedia: “Peter Woit’s earliest work verified Edward Witten’s 1979 quantum chromodynamic formula for the eta-prime mass in terms of the second derivative of the vacuum energy.”. So perhaps a blog entry will appear some day. The question of course is not about a mass sum rule, but about a proof of a gap in the mass spectrum of QCD, ie about the fact that QCD-binded objects get some mass.
Topic 1 will move this week, as Connes will take a couple hours in the Newton Institute to expand about this preprint. Connes his goal I can not tell, it is a sort of cross fertilisation between gauge theory and geometry and in principle it is one of a series of examples to clarify which is the right generalisation of (differential) geometry to algebras beyond the commutative case. Physics could benefit because the axioms seem to impose restrictions to the possible gauge groups and its representations.
In deeper layers this programme would help to understand foundamentation of QFT. For instance it is amusing that the absence of anomalies, which is a quantum requeriment, appears here as a geometric requeriment, Poincare duality. Also, there is a paralell programme running, by Connes Kreimer Moscovici and some other interested people, looking at the renormalisation group from new perspectives.
“It is being distorted by the visitors of Peter Woit’s blog who are directly controlled by the author of this book.”
That’s why I always wear a tin-foil hat.
anon raises an interesting question that I see cropping up here somewhat regularly. Namely: “what is the relationship between the online blogging community and the rest of the physics world?”
He (she?) says that the conflict between Peter and Lubos is irrelevant because the activities going on in the blogs are not a part of the professional activities of being a scientist or academic. But there is clearly some overlap and this relationship is changing and being negotiated on a daily basis. If that poster is still reading, I wonder if he could comment on what he thinks a more appropriate role for blogging would be in professional scientific discourse?
It’s silly to claim that the “larger string theory community” is “unwilling to publicly criticize Lubos’s tactics.” Most string theorists are unaware of, or don’t care about, the exchanges between the two of you.
All of your exchanges with Lubos have two things in common: you and Lubos. If you don’t like him, ignore him. If he goes to far then deal with it as you see fit, but don’t expect someone else to do it for you.
There are lots of string theorists who read your blog. I think that most of them, like any good scientist, are genuinely interested in and open to criticism. Treating them as if they are part of some nefarious string theory conspiracy, intent on silencing a critic, will only convince them that you don’t have anything worthwhile to offer.
I was considering buying Woit’s and Smolin’s books, since I am deeply interested in theoretical physics in general and string theory in particular. I changed my mind. Reading the last post on this blog, what I see is some childish dispute about negative reviews being pushed in and taken out of Amazon.com. Who do you think cares about this? This is ridiculous. Where are the deep, noble thoughts and demeanor of people like Einstein and Bohr? Are they being replaced by ridiculous disputes and insult exchanges between angry bloggers? This is very disapointing, very sad, because I thought that blogs would bring a real progress in the exchange of ideas in physics. But this proves I was wrong. Just the opposite is happening. After all, you are no Einstein nor Bohr, a thing I should have realized from the beginning. I will now remove all physics blogs from my browser favorites. I don’t want to have my mind polluted anymore by such rubbish.
String Theory is not falling into disrepute in the public mind despite the antics of Motl and Susskind, it’s falling into disrepute because of them. The public may not be able to understand anything about the scientific (or, more realistically, philosophical) questions at issue, but they can tell who is wearing a black hat. When one side bullies and blusters, and the other responds with measured argument, it’s obvious who the good guys are.
A bully usually has a crowd of hangers on. They don’t seem to stick around long after he takes a punch, though.
Woke up late today, then after a lazy morning logged in to find far too much here to deal with, and in my e-mail a link to a review of my book and Lee’s by Susskind. I’ll write a bit later about the Susskind review, and, just to brace you for the shock, I’ll have some positive things to say about it.
I deleted a bunch of the more off-topic comments here, will try and respond briefly to a few of the others:
anon (who thinks I’m being disingenuous about Lubos):
I’m using the term “poster boy” in the sense not of someone who is representative of a problem, but an extreme, exaggerated case of a problem, as in posters of exceptionally cute and suffering children used to get people to contribute money for medical research or to alleviate poverty. Lubos is in no way representative of string theorists, but his arrogant conviction that people who disagree with him are idiots, that string theory is the only possible way forward for particle theory, that string theory has been hugely successful, etc. are exaggerated forms of attitudes that I’ve found to be all too prevalent among string theorists.
Anon (who thinks I don’t have a representative sample),
I mentioned certain people explicitly because they are ones who publicly make their views known, thus inviting a public response. I don’t think I’ve anywhere claimed that they are typical of string theorists. Among string theorists whose views I’m aware of, but haven’t mentioned, one large group consists of perfectly reasonable people who are responsible scientists, with whom I just happen to have a scientific disagreement about the prospects for string theory. There also are a significant number of others who, in one aspect or another, exhibit Lubosian behavior. Some of these do this as anonymous commenters here and I don’t know who they are. In other cases I’ve witnessed or have reliable first-hand accounts of such behavior, but I don’t think it’s appropriate to identify such people here. I’m not in any way claiming to know what fraction of the string theory community thinks what.
I don’t think that your claim that Lubos’s blog and his attacks on critics of string theory is, like his sexual behavior, purely part of his private life, and not part of his professional life, is in any sense supportable. I doubt he feels that way, for one thing. The whole question of what role blogs play in the professional activities of scientists is a complicated and interesting one. I see this blog as part of my professional activity, if you ask Jacques Distler, I suspect he sees his the same way (although he sees mine differently…).
As for what I think Harvard or his colleagues should do about Lubos, let me make clear that I complained to them specifically about his offer to pay people to write bad reviews of my book (and this offer seems to recently have been taken down). For the rest, all I’ll say is that if one of my colleagues in my department was behaving the way he is and I was aware of it, he’d get an earful from me about what he was doing, and if he kept doing it, I would take steps to make sure that the targets of his behavior knew I did not support what he was doing.
Lubos’ disgraceful review of Lee Smolin’s book has been removed. I wonder how long it will be before a) Lubos posts yet another review and b) Amazon gets tired of hosting him.
Aaron – “Intervene”?
This is silly. Lubos isn’t a child. There’s no big string theory boss who tells us all what to do. Frankly, I don’t see why anyone should stop him. I don’t like what he has to say most of the time, but he’s got every right to say it.
Grow up and ignore him. And stop blaming an entire community for your inability to do so.
Lubos has every right to engage in a campaign of libel and personal vilification? I have my doubts. Since Peter has made himself a public figure in this debate, winning a libel suit might be difficult, but Lubos has been extreme enough that it might be possible. It is possible that Harvard is liable for any damages too, since they give him the platform, let him use their logo on his web site, etc.
Maybe you should check it out Peter. The publicity should be great for your book. And Harvard has really deep pockets if you win!
Is ignoring and permitting a crime itself criminal? I’m not sure, but I’m sure it isn’t innocent.
I’m not the litigious sort, generally of the opinion that if one finds oneself hiring lawyers for anything other than routine paperwork, one has made a bad mistake of one kind or another. As for suing Lubos, my father was a lawyer during the early part of his career, and one piece of wisdom he imparted to his sons was “never sue anyone who doesn’t have any money”. On the question of my extremely wealthy alma mater, I seriously doubt that, if push came to shove, the administration there would support illegal behavior by one of its faculty members that might be tied to the institution. The fact that Lubos removed the offer that I complained to them about may be evidence for this. I kind of doubt that he did this unprompted.
Lubos has every right to engage in a campaign of libel and personal vilification?
Libel has a very specific legal meaning. Being a dick is not included, the last I checked. I don’t think much of the internet would survive if it were.
My layman’s understanding is that, legally, libel is the act of writing and publishing untrue things with reckless disregard for whether or not they are true, for the purpose of defaming someone’s reputation. It appears to me that there is a good argument that Lubos’s reviews of my book and Lee’s on Amazon are examples that fit the definition.
I suspect though, that there is an insanity defense against libel accusations, and it appears that Lubos would have no trouble finding colleagues who would testify on his behalf.
I don’t think it’s fair to compare an evolutionary biologist to LM. Remember evolution has 150 years of data supporting it, while string theory, at present, has zip. Michael Shermer’s “Why Darwin Matters” clearly points out the differences.
In my opinion none of the strong sentences that Peter quoted
from Lubos’ amazon critique:
”Lee reveals his intense hostility against all of modern physics”, “Lee proposes a truly radical thesis that it is wrong for mathematics to play a crucial role in theoretical physics”, “He also denies the difference between renormalizable field theories and the rest”, “one of his rules says that the conclusions must be accepted by everyone if their author is a person of good faith”
Can be regarded as libel. (I am not a legal expert though.) As I said, I even did not find his Amazon critique inappropriate unlike some of his posting on this blog. (And some comments on him do sound like libel.)
I cannot understand the obsession with Lubos. It certainly does not support in any way the case you are trying to make, Peter. (OK maybe I can undesrtand it. Still I think it does not support the case you are trying to make and the quality of this blog.)
On the other hand, Stefan cncensus is good and his topic 2 looks like a great topic.
(I have a wonderful romantic theory though based on maximum nicyhood principle to explain why for Lubos who gave up old strings with his home, family, neighborhood and homeland for the sake of new strings in string theory, his vested interest in these string theory is unusually high which explains everything.)
Please re-read my comment.
I wasn’t saying either string theorists or evolutionary theorists are ultimately wrong. All I said was supercilious dismissal of those that disagree with you is a tactic that should be beneath every serious scientist … unfortunately, it’s not.
peter your review of lees book was deleted
I think that if Lubos keeps spending all his time blogging and reviewing other people’s work, instead of doing research as he is being paid to do, he is going to perish academically. If he goofed off that much at a real job, he would be laid off for lack of productivity.
Sorry, I must have been unclear. What I meant was that the biologists aren’t taking the point of view you suggest but rather the ID/creationists are misrepresenting what science is and often the known facts as well. The public can often be fooled about technical issues and people in science don’t know everything either. Further, misrepresentation is, in my view, what LM is often about.
I thought you left us a long time ago. I hope all is well.
I’m beginning to be confused about who represents what. Lubos is a charming fellow, we’re told, though his blog output, which is all that I have available to make a judgement, doesn’t reveal any hint of charm. That means Lubos’s own blog does not represent himself, unless when we say “Lubos is charming” we really mean “Lubos is charming, except when he is obnoxious”. If on-line activities do not represent a person, then no wonder no one cares about whether various tactics used are ethical or unethical, because they do not represent the person.
Peter, please don’t get paranoid like Lubos. You don’t know whether Lubos got your review deleted. It could have been other string theorists, who may or may not have been reading his blog. With you and Lubos publicizing this deletion war, others may get into the act.
It is very simple, when Motl goes up for tenure send copies of his very best to the Harvard Corporation.
Motl’s most impressive record of bad behavior is probably this one (see the comment’s section), attacking a quantum gravity student in the occasion of her grandmother’s death.
Peter Woit, please do forget about this tragic personage. I know this theme can be quite entertraining for many, but I think it is enough for some time already.
Sure, you’re right, there’s no way to know. But, mysteriously, in the past, Lubo’s Amazon reviews have often appeared with an almost simultaneous large number of “helpful” votes. Maybe he has a large number of people who agree with him and closely follow his activities, maybe he’s pretty adept at manipulating Amazon’s system.
I pretty much do ignore what Lubos writes on his and other blogs (the example you gave of grotesque behavior is far from the only such), but the (succesful) attempt to maniupulate Amazon rankings is kind of different and seemed worth pointing out to people.
While, of course, Lubos was nasty in the example you gave he can be, and often is, much worse than that. While by searching archives, you could find these worse examples (Mahndisa points one out in your example), I suggest you save yourself the time. Just watch The Reference Frame from time to time and you’ll certainly see more of these. BTW I’m sure Mahndisa appreciated your comment. I also agree with Peter about the Amazon rankings. There LM is using misrepresentation and misinformation to try to keep information from as many people as possible. This is not what one expects from a Harvard Asst. Professor.
Then if this post is to be really useful for the general public, I suggest you make it appear as on of the first links when one searches google on LM.
This is very interesting:
One can easily see evidence of this behavior point by point in LM and his ilk’s behavior (see “Significant Correlations”).
BTW, a similar situation to the particle physics is beginning to develop around Big Bang, dark matter and black holes in astrophysics.
**BTW, a similar situation to the particle physics is beginning to develop around Big Bang, dark matter and black holes in astrophysics.**
Anonymous, I don’t understand what you are saying. Could you be a bit more specific?
The last amazon sales rankings on this thread on 2 September over a week ago, when it looked like this:
**as of today 12:15 pacific, or 3:15 PM your time, the Amazon general physics bestseller list was
#2 Elegant Universe by Brian Greene
#4 Douglas Giancoli college physics text
#5 a Stephen Hawking book**
As of 9:30 AM pacific this morning 10 September the lineup was roughly the same. Some titles added for comparison
#3 Elegant Universe (Greene)
#4 Douglas Giancoli college physics text
#7 BHoT (Hawking)
#10 RtR (Penrose)
#27 Cosmic Landscape…Illusion of Intelligent Design (Susskind)
#28 Hyperspace…Parallel Universes, Time Warps… (Kaku)
#30 Warped Passages (Randall)
Hello Peter and Lee,
Where would be the best place to discuss Lubos’ review of your books (NEW, TROUBLE) from amazon, and your response to Lubos’ criticism?
Issues to consider:
Is Lubos criticism of NEW/TRouble substantitve?
Does he offer strong counter-arguments?
Is Lubos factually correct in his criticism?
What are some counter-arguments to Lubos’ claims?
For example on Smolin’s & Woits book Lubos claims
“For example, he dedicates dozens of pages to speculations about the divergent amplitudes at finite orders of the perturbation theory – amplitudes that have been proven to be finite. ”
Is Lubos factually 100% correct, and if so, then Smolin & Woit would be incorrect?
Another Lubos critique of Woit and Smolin
“There are also frequently repeated speculations that string theory and M-theory don’t exist and many other similar “ideas”, together with the most popular myth that string theory can’t be experimentally tested. Neither of these things is supported by any results in the scientific literature”
Incidentally Lee, if you are reading this Lubos says
“The interactions between Lee Smolin and mainstream physicists are interesting. Lee often visits us. We smile at each other and Lee is being politely explained why his newest theories can’t really work. Lee says that he understands these arguments. Then he returns to a conference or a journalist and repeats that all of his theories have been perfectly proven, while offering even more unusual theories. The newest theory says that the neutrinos are octopi swimming in the spin network. Believe me, we like him but it is not always easy to take him seriously.”
Is Lubos factually correct about Lee? Has the unnamed Harvard string faculty taken the time to explain to Lee why he’s wrong, and Lee ignores it?
If you want to discuss Lubos’s views, please do it at his blog. I won’t be participating, because it would be a huge waste of time, and, in any case, I’m banned from posting any comments on his site. In the past he has deleted anything I’ve written there (which should give you some idea of how interested he is in discussion with anyone who disagrees with him and knows what he talking about).
As for the points you bring up, Lubos is just lying. Superstring amplitudes have not been proven to be finite above two-loops, and string theory cannot be experimentally tested. From past experience, there’s no point in trying to discuss such questions with him, he’s a pure ideologue with no interest in what might actually be true. I’ve written a posting here responding to his absurd and dishonest “review” of my book, but am not going to spend more time on this.
I definitely agree with commenters who have complained that there is too much Lubos discussion here. Please don’t submit more unless there is something extremely new and interesting to be said on the subject.