Latest Links

  • On the LHC front, new results will be announced at the Hadron Collider Physics Symposium in Kyoto, which opens November 12. Jester has a good summary of what to look for on the Higgs front here. The new results should be based on about 12-13 fb-1 of 2012 8 TeV data (this past summer’s used about 5 fb-1 each of 2011 7 TeV data and 2012 8 TeV data). Unblinding of the results should have taken place recently, so soon about 6000 physicists will know what the news is and start talking about it…
  • The latest Scientific American has a cover story about particle physics that comes under the “This Week’s Hype” heading. It’s called “The Inner Life of Quarks” and discusses models in which quarks and other elementary particles of the standard model are composites of more elementary objects called “preons”. The fact that the papers on the subject it refers to are from 1979 should make one suspicious: an idea that hasn’t had major developments in 33 years is a dead idea. Besides the overwhelming experimental evidence against preons (with the LHC bringing in many new much stronger negative results), the idea has huge inherent problems. The main issue is that one is trying to put together composites with masses as small as MeVs (or lower, if you try to do this with neutrinos) while the data says that things are point-like up to TeV scales, with just the forces you know about up to such scales.
  • For the latest on Paul Frampton’s troubles as the victim of a scam that has left him in an Argentine jail, see this article entitled Imprisoned UNC professor thinks he deserves a raise. I’m assuming this was before his trip to South America, but at some point Frampton clearly did some extensive research, comparing his salary ($107K) to those of some of his illustrious peers ($203K-$532K according to him, just using data from public universities). Not clear though that this was really something to bring up in his argument about whether the university should still pay him even if he’s in jail.
  • I only recently heard the old news that Fields Medalist Vaughan Jones has left Berkeley to take a job at Vanderbilt University. Evidently one reason for doing this was a salary number of the sort that Frampton covets.
  • Freeman Dyson has a piece in the New York Review of Books about Jim Holt’s new book Why Does the World Exist (see my take here). Not much in the review actually about Holt’s book, but Dyson takes the opportunity to enter the ring in the fight over nothingness with some late blows aimed at the philosophers. He doesn’t think much of modern philosophy, ending with:

    The great philosophers of the past wrote literary masterpieces such as the Book of Job and the Confessions of Saint Augustine. The latest masterpieces written by a philosopher were probably Friedrich Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra in 1885 and Beyond Good and Evil in 1886. Modern departments of philosophy have no place for the mystical.

    There’s a Chronicle of Higher Education piece about this here, Brian Leiter’s blog hosts a discussion here.

  • I’m loathe to post anything about US politics here, since it’s a depressing and omnipresent topic these days, but for an HEP angle, see this in Science from Adrian Cho, and this in the NYRB from Steven Weinberg. Don’t even think though of posting comments about politics here…
  • Greg Moore recently gave the Felix Klein lectures in Bonn on Applications of the six-dimensional (2,0) theory to physical mathematics . Video here, lecture notes here.
  • This week at Stony Brook there’s a conference in honor of Blaine Lawson’s 70th birthday. Lawson is a great person and a wonderful geometer; I very much enjoyed getting to know him a little bit during my days as a physics postdoc at Stony Brook. He was one of several examples that convinced me that leaving physics for mathematics would at least promise hanging out with nicer people. I’ve been too busy this week to get out to Stony Brook, had formed a crazy plan to bike out there this weekend for Nigel Hitchin’s talk Sunday morning, but a nasty cold has put an end to that plan (Sunday’s weather prediction for an approaching hurricane might in any case have made a long bike trip not the best idea in the world). Videos of the talks are available here.

    Happy Birthday Blaine!

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32 Responses to Latest Links

  1. M Uppal says:

    It’s JIM Holt, Dr. Woit.

  2. Peter Woit says:

    Oops, fixed. Thanks!

  3. Joe says:

    Thanks for the links. It’s always a pleasure to read your posts.
    One question: When exactly will we be able to know Higgs’ spin?


  4. Peter Woit says:


    Thanks. I haven’t paid much attention to the spin measurement issue, since as Jester points out, it seems highly unlikely to be anything but zero. Maybe someone better informed than me can comment, but I’d guess that since I haven’t seen any analysis of this in this summer’s data, the modest amount of new data since then isn’t going to make enough of a difference for CMS or ATLAS to be able to say something about the spin next month.

  5. Dario says:

    “2008 data” should be “2012 8 TeV data” probably.

  6. MathPhys says:

    Any clue who makes $532,000 as a physicist in a public US university?

  7. MathPhys says:

    Right. Of course. I should have known. Because when I first heard about it, it was described as “More than the football coach”.

  8. Shantanu says:

    Peter, since I don’t have subscription to scientific american, who wrote the article?
    Also did the article claim that this isa prediction of string theory?
    I do hope people complain about such articles.

  9. Peter Woit says:

    Thanks, fixed.

    Yes, it’s Weinberg. The UT football coach however makes $5.2 million/year.

    The author is Don Lincoln. String theory doesn’t really play a role, although I think he mentions that string theory could explain preons (also that LQG could…)

  10. Steve L says:

    Hi Peter, I love your site. I took undergrad complex analysis from Prof. Lawson at UC Berkeley in 1974 or so. Even back then I believe he was well known in the minimal surfaces biz. He was an excellent teacher, very clear and full of enthusiasm for the subject, friendly and approachable. Glad to see him mentioned on your site. Happy birthday Professor Lawson! Students never forget a good teacher.

  11. Tienzen (Jeh-Tween) Gong says:

    Preons are dead, but prequarks are not.

  12. Dario says:


    this edition by Scientific American is even worse…

    Gong Tienzen:

    of course prequarks are dead as well, and for the same reasons as preons are. Quarks are not composite, as experiments on their size, magnetic moment and interactions show. There is no hint of compositeness, and worse, there is not even a way to consistently *imagine* compositeness of quarks. Quarks are not composites of other particles.

  13. Peter Woit says:


    Your SciAm link goes nowhere for me. Is this to the Don Lincoln story?

  14. BJM says:

    Dario’s link worked for me. Maybe you can get to it via
    Click on “Frontiers of Physics” under “From the Archive”

  15. BJM says:

    Actually, just
    does it.

    Here’s the list of contents:

    The Dawn of Physics beyond the Standard Model; Frontiers of Physics; by Gordon Kane

    The Search for Relativity Violations; Frontiers of Physics; by Alan Kostelecky

    Solving the Solar Neutrino Problem; Frontiers of Physics; by Arthur B. McDonald, Joshua R. Klein and David L. Wark

    The Mysteries of Mass; Frontiers of Physics; by Gordon Kane

    The String Theory Landscape; Frontiers of Physics; by Raphael Bousso and Joseph Polchinski

    The Future of String Theory: A Conversation with Brian Greene; Frontiers of Physics; by George Musser

    Atoms of Space and Time; Frontiers of Physics; by Lee Smolin

    A Cosmic Conundrum; Frontiers of Physics; by Lawrence M. Krauss and Michael S. Turner

    Information in the Holographic Universe; Frontiers of Physics; by Jacob D. Bekenstein

    That Mysterious Flow; Frontiers of Physics; by Paul Davies

  16. Peter Woit says:


    Thanks. I’ll look and see if I can find a copy of that, but it looks like it’s a collection of old articles, some of which were featured here as “This Week’s Hype”…

  17. Jim Martindale says:
    will get you a taste of Don Lincoln’s article. The preview has a comment section.

    For those without access this is from beyond the pay wall:

    The first is size. The Standard Model treats the quarks and leptons as pointlike—that is, particles with zero size and no inner structure. Finding a nonzero size for those particles would provide powerful evidence for preons. Measurements have shown that protons and neutrons have a radius of about 10–15 meter. Experiments at the world’s leading particle colliders, past and present, have searched for evidence that quarks or leptons also have a measurable size. Thus far all the data are perfectly consistent with zero size or with a nonzero size as small as about 0.0002 to 0.001 times the size of a proton. To distinguish between those two possibilities (zero size versus very, very tiny), we need to make more precise measurements. The LHC is a discovery machine, and the huge amount of data expected from its current collisions and a scheduled upgrade in the accelerator’s energy are two ways in which we can expect to learn more about the size of quarks and leptons.


    The future of hunting for structure within the quarks and leptons is brighter than it has been for a long time. As you read this article, my colleagues and I are combing through the huge amount of LHC data already taken. We are searching for evidence that quarks and leptons have a nonzero size. We are looking for a fourth generation of quarks and leptons and for some evidence that the force-carrying particles also have generations—that the W and Z bosons, which mediate the weak nuclear force, have heavier cousins.

  18. braiding says:

    Do these objections to preons and pre-quarks also apply to Bilson-Thompson braiding?

  19. Kavanna says:

    There’s zero evidence for quark or lepton substructure. How to get MeV masses from TeV+ dynamics? Pack a powerful spring into a small space, use E=mc^2, and you get a correspondingly large mass. Hard to see how this doesn’t create another hierarchy problem, and a gratuitous one to boot.

    The philosophers who push the “why is there something?” idea are a sad lot. They seem not to understand why questions of this sort cannot be answered as framed, as if Hume or Kant had never lived. This rot is a product of Heidegger and his acolytes, not the Anglo-American “analytic” philosophy that once dominated many philosophy departments. Unfortunately, Heidegger et al. is the origin of the post-modernist disease that has destroyed much of the humanities in the US and elsewhere in the last 30 years. Dyson is right — the last great Western philosopher was Nietzsche. In the 20th century, only Wittgenstein can even be thought of on the same level.

    (Peter – I’ve liked Not Even Wrong since it was published. Your book, and Smolin’s, said out loud what so many were saying in private, but couldn’t risk saying publicly. It also helped me to understand what had happened to the once-productive, open, and competitive world of high-energy physics I was once a part of and how it became a closed cult.)

  20. Anonyrat says:

    Offtpoic, hope you are weathering Hurricane Sandy well!

  21. Peter Woit says:

    Thanks, but I’m in Nebraska. When classes were canceled I decided to start a short planned trip to Yosemite early, rented a car and started driving west. Wyoming tonight Yosemite Thursday night.
    Back in NYC next week where it seems to be quite a mess.

  22. David Nataf says:

    What does it mean for a proton to have a “size” of 10^-15 m and for an electron to be “point-like”?

    Protons don’t have a “size”, they have an interaction-dependent cross-section, and so do electrons.

    What am I missing?

  23. Yatima says:


    “Dyson is right — the last great Western philosopher was Nietzsche.”

    Maybe so; then there is Sartre and Alissa Rosenbaum. Now, I would like to imagine Nietzsche’s disgust when told that the world can – as far as we know – be accurately and objectively described by appropriate mathematical formalisms that instead of “a will to power” seem to exhibit “a demand for symmetry” instead. He would probably pop a vein in his forehead.

  24. adsfasdfsss says:

    loath not loathe

  25. Chris Austin says:


    The non-zero spatial extent of atomic nuclei was first detected by observing that for elastic scattering of electrically charged particles on fixed targets, the measured scattering cross section at the largest scattering angles was, for sufficiently large projectile energies, smaller than the Rutherford scattering cross section calculated for a point-like nucleus. The reduction in the large-angle scattering is due to the electrostatic potential energy of the projectile, e.g. an electron, no longer increasing with decreasing distance between the projectile and the centre of the target nucleus once that distance is smaller than the nuclear radius, so that Coulomb’s law no longer applies below that distance.

    If electrons were made of preons, then the preon distribution would have some non-zero spatial extent, and Coulomb’s law for the electrostatic potential energy between an electron and a positron would no longer apply for separations smaller than that spatial extent, which would again result in reduction of the elastic scattering cross section at large scattering angles in comparison to the result expected for point-like electrons and positrons, for high enough energies of the electrons and positrons in a colliding beam experiment such as LEP.

    The same principle would apply if quarks or gluons were made of preons, since the scattering cross sections of individual quarks and gluons can be indirectly detected by the “jets” of hadrons they lead to, at the LHC.

  26. harryb says:

    Peter, as ever, great set of issues to delve into and follow – many thanks. In Europe, this blog is continually quoted as a key “hard” science venue. Now, at the risk of your wrath re not commenting on politics after mention of the Weinberg NYRB article, let me try a quick reference to Nate Silver’s new book, The Signal and the Noise – would be interesting to get your thoughts on it. Two reasons: one, its a very good read on statistics and probability, and the second half of the book is a very convincing case for approaching nature, and life in general, from poker to probability of extra-terrestrial life using a Bayesian framework. Two: he is a huge proponent (on this basis) of demanding that any premise or theorem be based on a falsifiable prediction. To this end, his increasingly well-known fivethirtyeight blog – – sticks its neck well out on the upcoming US election (spoiler – 80% likelihood Obama re-elected).
    Finally – a rigorous Bayesian approach to String Theory seems well overdue. Lack of evidence of SUSY at the LHC should cause any prior probability of ST being valid now downgraded to a (much?) lower posterior.

  27. jg says:

    To add another potentially useful link for readers, the Royal Society has made most of its publications open access until 29th November 2012, so if (for example) you ever wanted to compile a collection of every Dirac paper published in ‘Proceedings A’ go here

  28. layman says:

    I hope you did not miss this one

    and will comment on it.

  29. Gert says:


    maybe the lack of LHC Higgs rumors is due to a disappearing Higgs signal. Is all of CERN now busy covering up the result that the bump is getting smaller and smaller?

  30. Peter Woit says:


    Maybe the lack of Higgs rumors is due to CERN covering up the disappearance of the Higgs, maybe it is due to my being on vacation. Let’s see what happens later next week…

  31. A.J. says:


    That evidence computation is rather non-trivial. To do it from first principles, you’d need to start with a definition of string theory, and work out the probability of various TeV scale experiments. This is effectively impossible, even if you’re willing to take a matrix model as a non-perturbative definition; we simply do not know how to do these computations. Instead, people make additional assumptions, such as “string theory is well-approximated at low energy by the perturbative MSSM, with the following susy breaking pattern”. This gives you an (uncontrolled) approximation to the true evidence function, and now you can turn the Bayesian crank. But you’re now testing the joint hypothesis “string theory is true” AND “my uncontrolled approximation is accurate”.

    This fact is what makes arguments about string theory so boring. We can’t make unambiguous Bayesian judgements (in this sense the theory is certainly ‘not even wrong’), so we’re reduced to arguing about our priors on the conditional distribution of our ancillary assumptions.

  32. harryb says:

    @ A J
    Understood and thanks
    Yet given latest SUSY probability downgrades you’d think the trend is just instinctively against ST
    And maybe your greater point is that if any theory resists a reasonable Bayesian test you should be deeply suspicious – a la Mr Woit
    By the way – Nate Silver did good on the prediction front.

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