Quick Links

Posting has been light recently, partly since I’ve been working on writing up notes for my course (more about that soon), but largely because there hasn’t been a lot of news to write about in the math-physics world. The LHC shutdown yesterday, with the latest online machine status report now saying:

No beam for a while. Access required. time estimate: ~2 years

It will take about that long to replace magnet interconnections and do other work required to get the LHC working at an energy close to the design energy of 7 TeV/beam (seems likely they’ll be trying for 6.5 TeV/beam).

Results from the full 2012 data set for the Higgs are likely to be released soon, at Moriond in early March. Not much in the way of rumors available about this, which may have something to do with no surprises in the data. I hear there will also be, as expected, yet more stringent limits on SUSY reported.

For a US-centric series of reports on HEP and future plans, see talks here at a meeting this week at Fermilab.

On the cosmology front, there should be big news next month with Planck finally reporting results on March 21 (see here), to be followed by a conference dedicated to the results a couple weeks later.

No matter how cosmology is doing as a science, the Templeton Foundation is doing its part to promote its non-scientific aspects, with major funding for projects designed to promote and institutionalize the subject of “Philosophy of Cosmology”. Just before the Planck data release, DAMTP will host a Templeton-funded conference on “Infinities and Cosmology”, which will include two lectures by Michael Douglas on “Can we test the string theory landscape?”. Templeton is also funding a three-week summer institute in Santa Cruz to “promote understanding and research” on topics like “reasons for believing in a multi-verse, anthropic arguments, the metaphysics of laws and chance, why anything at all exists.” If you want to spend three weeks this summer among the redwoods discussing such topics, and collect a check for $2500 from Templeton, apply now.

Sometimes I make fun of pseudo-scientific research favored by some Northern California physicists by speculating about the role of marijuana in their research efforts. On a much more serious note, Southern California’s John Schwarz and his wife Patricia have been involved in admirable efforts to change US policy against investigating medical uses of marijuana, with Schwarz writing an editorial here last year, and speaking at a conference in DC next week.

For more evidence of how ideas about string theory have worked their way into US general cultural life, a couple people have pointed me to Adam Gopnik’s piece about Galileo in last week’s New Yorker, which contains the following:

Contemporary historians of science have a tendency to deprecate the originality of the so-called scientific revolution, and to stress, instead, its continuities with medieval astrology and alchemy. And they have a point. It wasn’t that one day people were doing astrology in Europe and then there was this revolution and everyone started doing astronomy. Newton practiced alchemy; Galileo drew up all those horoscopes. But if you can’t tell the difference in tone and temperament between Galileo’s sound and that of what went before, then you can’t tell the difference between chalk and cheese. The difference is apparent if you compare what astrologers actually did and what the new astronomers were doing. “The Arch-Conjuror of England” (Yale), Glyn Parry’s entertaining new biography of Galileo’s contemporary the English magician and astrologer John Dee, shows that Dee was, in his own odd way, an honest man and a true intellectual. He races from Prague to Paris, holding conferences with other astrologers and publishing papers, consulting with allies and insulting rivals. He wasn’t a fraud. His life has all the look and sound of a fully respectable intellectual activity, rather like, one feels uneasily, the life of a string theorist today.

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21 Responses to Quick Links

  1. srp says:

    Pet peeve with articles like Gopnik’s: They are so caught up in the battle of Reason against Faith that they fixate on the Copernican issue (where Galileo’s contribution was as much polemical as substantive) and never consider Galileo’s best justification for caving in to the Inquisition: He was about to revolutionize science with his work on kinematics, and death would have prevented him.

  2. leaning tower says:

    I’ve climbed up the Leaning Tower of Pisa. There is a sign at the bottom which says “Please do not drop objects off of this tower.”

  3. tmp says:

    Templeton has money and it can fund anything it likes. The Church of Galileo’s day also had plenty of money (and power). But the Copernican system won out anyway, eventually. Galileo could see the moons of Jupiter, the phases of Venus and the shadows of mountains on the Moon. Obviously others saw these things too (eventually) . Experimental data was ultimately the key to the success of the `new science’. So it is with string theory today: endless theorizing will neither prove nor disprove any `world view’. But `big science’ data is expensive and hard to acquire. So Templeton and suchlike will be around for a while.

  4. lun says:

    While the LHC is down for two years, RHIC risks being definitively shut down.

    I would say this is big news, both for experimental reasons (it is the last accelerator of truly international significance remaining in the US) and for theoretical reasons (discussions of applicability of string theory to the matter RHIC produced featured quite prominently on this blog and “string wars” in general)

  5. norhic says:

    DOE wants to build FRIB (Facility for Rare Isotope Beams) at MSU = Michigan State University, also there is BNL/RHIC and JLAB/CEBAF. Both BNL ad CEBAF have been trying for years to host the EIC = electron-ion collider, a sort of mini-HERA. But DOE does not have enough money to fund all these facilities. Big science costs big money.

    Organizations like Templeton can fund conferences, but I doubt Templeton could pay for RHIC operations year after year.

  6. Surendra says:

    Moriond = Englert Nobel Campaign. ULB Physics lead is heading the conference.

    Last year the same conference leads tried to name the Boson the “BEH Boson” even as BE had no boson in their 1964 paper.

    Peter Higgs’ campaign was January 9th – 11th in Edinburgh for Higgs Institute opening. Led by his handlers and John Ellis.

    Tom Kibble’s campaign (and to lesser extent GHK) is on March 13th at Imperial College for TK’s 80th birthday. Weinberg is heading over for this. http://plato.tp.ph.ic.ac.uk/conferences/Kibble80/index.html

  7. GB says:

    Doesn’t anyone spare a thought for Jeffrey Goldstone for a Nobel?

  8. Surendra says:

    Goldstone needs a better campaign manager 🙂 MIT won’t stoop to that.

    However, one can’t help but think his snub already occurred in 2008 as he should have won with Nambu. Of course Cabibbo should have won with K and M that year also. So the 2008 Nobel could have been a couple different prizes and split across a couple years.

    Hopefully the committee gets more creative on the Higgs issue.

  9. Peter woit says:

    Enough hijacking of the comment section of this posting for Higgs Nobel discussion. Unless of course you have inside information about what the Nobel committee is doing about this, in which case that would be news, please share….

  10. steve newman says:

    speaking of the cosmology front-
    there was big news last month -http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2013/01/130111-quasar-biggest-thing-universe-science-space-evolution/

    but no one seems to be talking about it.

    a mainstream group of astronomers has discovered the largest cosmological
    structure ever seen. Large enough to defy the cosmological principal that the
    ‘standard model of cosmology’ is based on. They published in Monthly Notes of the Astronomical Society.

    The discussion of this, so far, non existent.

  11. cormac says:

    Many thanks for those links Peter, I wish I had remembered Moriond in time.
    Re Cambridge conference on the philosophy of cosmology, I disagree; I think it looks very interesting. I don’t think DAMTP, or individuals like John Barrow and George Ellis would participate in something shoddy. Such conferences seem to me to be a worthwhile effort to consider the philosophical aspect of modern problems in physics

  12. Peter Woit says:


    I have no doubt that the DAMTP conference will discuss the multiverse at the highest level possible. But I think it’s worth noting that conventional sources of funding for science typically would not fund this kind of conference, that the funding is coming from an organization which has its own agenda. That agenda is not to promote good science but to get as much attention as possible for certain kinds of pseudo-science which support their world-view.

  13. Shantanu says:

    Peter, this is probably OT, but what ddid you think of Arkani Hamed talk at stsci?

  14. Henry Bolden says:

    Some big announcement about dark matter from Sam Ting at MIT is coming soon according to this article in the Globe and Mail (a Toronto newspaper):


    Anyone here know what the “big news” is supposed to be?

  15. Peter Woit says:


    I don’t think there’s anything new there. For a more extended version of the same thing, see Arkani-Hamed’s series of lectures at the IAS a couple years ago at


    For those interested, Shantanu is referring to the talk here


  16. uair01 says:

    Interesting to see John Dee mentioned in this context. I always felt that his experiments with angel communication and his analysis of the Enochian language somehow feel like early modern science. The endevour was based in magical thinking but the methods were revolutionary and – in their way – rational.

    I like your analogue with modern string theorists. Angelic language indeed!

    BTW, this is a great book on this subject:
    Renaissance curiosa : John Dee’s conversations with angels, Girolamo Cardano’s horoscope of Christ, Johannes Trithemius and cryptography, George Dalgarno’s Universal language
    Shumaker, Wayne / Center for Medieval and Early Renaissance Studies / 1982

  17. chiz says:

    More details on Ting’s press conference here. A paper is being submitted to a high energy physics journal in a couple of weeks. He doesn’t yet have sufficient data to report the entire energy range AMS can pick up, in a statistically meaningful way. He may, possibly, have evidence that the spectrum is dropping off at some energy in a way consistent with a theory of dark matter. Or, possibly, he may not.

  18. chiz^2 says:

    In other words, let’s have a press conference to drum up publicity, maybe to procure more funding, maybe to establish a timestamp for later use for priority claims ~ “I told you so.” But when it comes to specifics, it’s just a set of vague statements. Maybe Ting has evidence of “something” maybe he does not. But let’s hold a press conf anyway. Not the Ting of the J particle anymore. But I don’t really blame Ting for doing this (and I don’t blame string theory either). That’s modern physics (or should I say fiziks?).

  19. Hamish says:

    Good luck with the lecture notes…you will have a hard time topping this debut by a Columbia colleague!


  20. Peter Woit says:

    This story is based on the AAAS conference, a huge yearly event partly designed to get the press to come hear about ongoing science research, so kind of like a huge press conference. The timing wasn’t chosen by Ting. He’s famous for not running a tight ship and not releasing results until absolutely certain. It’s not implausible that he just wasn’t quite ready this week.

  21. Kavanna says:

    It’s nice to see that the reality of string theory is spreading further into the educated lay public. It’s a terrible bust, like the post-bubble economy. Much has been squandered on researching dead-ends while ignoring serious scientific questions.

    The obsession of Reason versus Faith mars a lot of the coverage of string theory and related issues. In late medieval and Renaissance times, these categories were not anywhere near as sharply distinct as they are today. Applying that kind of thinking to understanding these thinkers and their times (NOT just the theories that survived later scientific scrutiny) is completely out of place.

    The irony is that string theory fits all the definitions of a faith-based pseudo-science, with a thin veneer of rationalizing with the Standard Model to make it look plausible.

    OTOH, what the Templeton people are promoting seems fine. They’re stimulating thought and debate, not including or excluding anyone on non-scientific criteria, and so on. (Only the question of “why is there anything at all?” lies entirely outside science.) With the rise of modern cosmology and the issues surrounding quantum measurement, which seems to require a thermodynamic selectivity — related to life and consciousness, but not requiring them — a lot of old questions included in the pre-modern Aristotelian physics — questions of intentionality and teleology — once again become legitimate scientific questions. Our answers and means of arriving at those answers will, of course, be quite different from 500 years ago.

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