Back to the Usual

I’m now back to regular internet access, in London for a few days after a trip to East Africa, where I managed to see the November 3 total solar eclipse through light clouds from a location in Northern Uganda. From checking various news sources, it looks like the main pieces of HEP-related news that I missed weren’t very surprising:

  • The LUX experiment reported stronger limits on WIMP dark matter, ruling out various claims for evidence of such dark matter particles at relatively low mass. For more about this, good sources are Resonaances, Matt Strassler, and Tommaso Dorigo.
  • The $3 million Fundamental Physics Prize as usual identifies “Fundamental Physics” with string theory, with the announcement that the nominees for the 2014 prize are 5 string theorists (Polchinski, Green/Schwarz, and Strominger/Vafa). I confess that I can’t figure out exactly how this prize process is supposed to work. The announcement says that the nominees get a “Physics Frontiers Prize”, a shot at the $3 million, and

    Those who do not win it will each receive $300,000 and will automatically be re-nominated for the next 5 years.

    What I don’t understand is that Polchinski already got such a nomination and prize last year (and the $300,000 consolation prize for not getting the $3 million). It seems that he is getting another identical prize this year, with another $300,000 or $3 million. On the other hand, the only non-string theorists ever to win this prize (last year’s condensed matter group Kane/Molenkamp/Zhang) didn’t get a second one this year, and it’s unclear if they still have a possible $3 million payday in 2014. Perhaps the rules are different for string theorists, the idea being that you just can’t give too many prizes for string theory.

    I’ll bet that Green/Schwarz will be the 2014 winners, on the grounds that if you’re going to hand out lots of prizes for working on the superstring, its co-discoverers should be among the first in line. While this means that Polchinski will only get a second $300,000, it’s in his interest to lose as many times as possible before winning.

    As for the $100,000 prizes for young researchers, this year was different than last year. The winners (Cachazo/Minwalla/Rychkov) were two Princeton Ph.Ds and one ex-Princeton post-doc, whereas last year is was one Princeton Ph.D and all three were ex-Princeton post-docs.

  • In other news, Max Tegmark, known for his work on the multiverse, is running a “Project Einstein”, which has found 400 theoretical physicists and mathematicians who have agreed to have their genes sequenced. The idea is that they are “math geniuses”, but no one seems to know what will be done with the genetic data for these geniuses. It’s unclear who these “geniuses” are, but we do know that one person who was asked and declined was Curt McMullen. His reaction to this project was what I suspect was a common one:

    “I thought it was strange that it was called ‘Project Einstein’, which seemed designed to appeal to the participants’ egos,” he says. He asked the project’s staff and the New England Institutional Review Board, which approved the study, to explain how results would be used. “The uniform answer to my questions was that ‘we are not responsible for how the information is used after the study is completed’,” he says.

    If Project Einstein identifies a common gene among its participants, and uses the knowledge to breed a race of übermenschen, they may find they have selected not for unusual mathematical genius, but for unusual ego.

Update: I realized there’s one other remarkable thing about the six winners of the “New Horizons in Physics Prize”. Besides all having a close Princeton connection, none of them has a job in the US. It seems US physics departments are not buying what Princeton is selling right now…

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94 Responses to Back to the Usual

  1. Low Math, Meekly Interacting says:

    S.B. – One needs to seriously consider what traits and background are likely required to hold a physics or mathematics professorship at a top-tier university, and if it’s possible to control for selection bias such that the signal:noise allows one to reliably identify alleles that would be responsible for innate quantitative ability in the general population. I’m guessing the answer is a resounding no. I don’t see how using a random selection of public-domain genomes as a baseline could help.

  2. Bob Jones says:

    Armin Nikkhah Shirazi,

    Your last post makes no sense. Polyakov’s prize citation mentioned “quantization of strings in non-critical dimensions” and “gauge/string duality”, and your response was “Have quantized or any other kind of strings been empirically shown to exist?”

    It’s obvious from your question that you have no idea what kind of strings we’re talking about here. The term “non-critical” means that these are not the superstrings that are used to model elementary particles. Here we’re talking about lower dimensional theories that are important for theoretical reasons. For example, Polyakov has done a lot of work on Liouville theory, a two-dimensional conformal field theory theory which is important in a variety of toy models of quantum gravity. It makes no sense to ask whether such a theory has been empirically tested.

    In the context of gauge/string duality, the strings just provide a mathematical reformulation of gauge theory. We know that the particles of the standard model are well described by gauge theory, so these strings are definitely relevant for describing nature. It makes no sense to ask whether they have been empirically observed.

  3. Peter Shor says:

    At some point soon, they will run out of worthy candidates that have any connection whatsoever with Princeton. I don’t think they’re anywhere close to running out of string theorists, though.

  4. tristes_tigres says:

    I wonder, does the origin of prize money bother any of the recipients? Perhaps, that explains the size of the prize. Harder to refuse on ethical grounds if the sum is irregularly large.
    NYT reported that Lawrence Summers was forced out of the Harvard presidency in some part due to the unease of the faculty over his role in Russian “economic reforms” of the 90s. So there’s a real possibility of some recipient refusing to play supporting role in Mr.Milner’s recasting himself as respectable philanthropist. Not any of string theorists so far, though. No impractical Grisha Perelman-like characters there.

  5. venp says:

    Re “Project Einstein”: Genome-wide association studies are common these days in studying possible genetic causes of medical conditions. You take, say, 400 persons with type 2 diabetes and compare their genome with that of 400 healthy individuals and see if a gene mutation exist in the diabetics but not the others. I suppose the next step in the “Project Einstein” is to send 400 letters to some of us non-geniouses for the second sample. I certainly hope I don’t get one of those:)

  6. Armin Nikkhah Shirazi says:


    I guess a big difference between you and I is that if somebody asked me: “Have black hole event horizons ever been empirically observed?” It would have never occurred to me to answer by saying :”Yes, analogues of the black hole event horizon have been empirically observed in microstructured optical fibers.”, but evidently this is the kind of answer you are quite comfortable with giving.
    Do you see what is wrong with it? I’ll help you: It is not an answer to the question asked, but an answer to related but distinct question: “Have relations that characterize black hole event horizons been empirically observed in other systems?”
    And so it is with your answers to my first set of questions: As far as I can tell, in all of your answer you presented analogues, usually in condensed matter, as if they were the real thing.
    Now, I don’t think that you are so uneducated so as to not be able to tell the difference. But if that true, then it is hard to escape the conclusion that you conflated the two questions on purpose, the purpose being to convince people that those theoretical predictions have the same empirical standing as the theoretical predictions of, say, quarks and the CMB.
    So, while I do think that your last post is a vast improvement over your previous posts in respect to the quality and tone of your arguments (credit where credit is due) it has not yet changed my impression that you are trying to fit facts to a position at which you have arrived because of an emotional commitment, not because evidence led you to it. I wished you would make a sincere attempt to reflect on what I am saying, but in my experience this kind of appeal usually falls on deaf ears.
    The reason I disagree with your assessment of the second set of answers is that it fails to take into account a purely psychological effect that tends to bias us against fully appreciating the most significant achievements in fundamental physics.
    When children first learn to read, they read letter by letter, but as they become proficient, the individual letters “disappear”, so to say. They no longer “see” the individual letters, only the words. This is universal phenomenon that happens with anything that serves as a building block for higher level concepts, and in particular with our most fundamental scientific concepts. But just because we no longer “see” them, it doesn’t mean that they don’t “dominate” our thinking (to use the FPP citation word in the last sentence) in every aspect of research in the relevant field. We just fail to appreciate it on an ongoing basis because this is a psychological shortcoming of us humans, and I think your use of the term “pre-history” reflects just such a psychological bias.
    Also I believe this has quite a paradoxical consequence: If, say, the theory of quarks were *less* well established empirically (say, we had only condensed matter analogues available as empirical evidence), then its discoverers would seem *more* eligible to for an FPP because their theory was not yet established enough to fade into the background. To me that is just perverse, we should not in effect penalize scientists precisely because they have made contributions that are far more outstanding than those of the rest of us.

    Bob Jones,

    Let’s see: I wrote a long post in which I raised numerous issues, and you declare “Your post makes no sense.” because you object to one issue? Do you really believe this is a reasonable thing to say? I don’t think you need hyperbole to raise your objection, especially since actually I think you have a point. That question was originally two questions, one pertaining to quantized strings and one pertaining to superstrings, but because they sounded too similar, I decided to combine them into one question, even though, as you point out quite correctly, they are different kinds of concepts.
    That was careless of me, and you are right to criticize me for that. Thank you.

    Now concerning your last sentence: “It makes no sense to ask whether they [i.e. quantized strings] have been empirically observed.”

    If someone asked me, say: “Have gauge potentials ever been empirically observed?” my answer would be “Gauge potentials are not the kind of objects that can be directly observed, however they are associated with other objects (e.g. fields) which can produce observable effects, and such effects have been observed in association with certain gauge potentials.” I would *never* say “it makes no sense to ask whether they have been empirically observed” because that would immediately provoke the follow-up question : “Then why do they have anything to do with physics?”, and quite rightly so.
    Now, I realize that you used this language because you are trying hard to make me look like someone who doesn’t know what he’s talking about, but it would seem in your own interest to try to avoid inadvertently contributing to the growing perception that string theorists are detached from physics.


    I just noticed the allegations raised by “John” in the post above. Is this true? If it is, it is quite simply shocking. Have you blogged about this? If it is true and you did not blog about it, why not? I can’t imagine that you would not have known about it.


  7. Peter Woit says:


    Yes, it’s true. As for blogging about it, that’s exactly what I was doing when I wrote this blog entry, John was just providing more detail…

  8. Bob Jones says:

    Armin Nikkhah Shirazi,

    It’s not really clear what you’re willing to accept as answers to your questions. In the AdS/CFT correspondence, the strings capture the physics of strongly coupled gauge theories, so they’re certainly relevant for understanding the physics that we observe in particle accelerators. In this way, Polyakov’s work on string theory has led to plenty of new insights about observable phenomena.

    There are other ways in which one might answer your question. For example, a lot of recent work in theoretical physics, now recognized by Milner prizes, studies strings that propagate not in spacetime but in an auxiliary mathematical space called twistor space. It makes no sense to ask whether such strings have been directly observed, but this sort of work has led to important new techniques for computing scattering amplitudes in gauge theory, including techniques that are being used right now at the LHC. I should also point out that in condensed matter physics, there are many applications of two-dimensional conformal field theory, and such a theory can always be thought of as a theory that describes strings propagating in the target manifold.

    Note that these are all *formal* applications of string theory. In general, it makes no sense to ask whether a formal mathematical concept has been empirically observed. Thus it is meaningless to ask whether a noncritical string has been observed in an experiment. It’s like asking whether differentiable functions have ever been observed. Of course you can ask more generally whether a formal concept has any empirical manifestation, but it was not at all clear that that’s what you meant by your original question.

  9. An observer says:

    I am sympathetic to some of what you write. However, I don’t know why you entered this unseemly discussion about job offers in the U.S. It is simply true that at least some of the people on the new horizons list, had offers with *tenure* from top places in U.S. (eg Harvard.)

    It would be better to phrase your point in a neutral manner, rather than engaging in these personal arguments, when you don’t know what personal circumstances and motivations got people to settle where they are.

  10. Peter Woit says:

    An observer,
    I wasn’t making a personal argument about anyone, and the details of what job offers any one of these people has had is irrelevant. My point was just that the fact that none of them ended up in the US is statistically significant evidence for a lack of enthusiasm by US physics departments for hiring in this area. There are plenty of other indications of this (e.g. the rumor-mill), I wouldn’t have thought it was a controversial observation at all.

  11. Marcel van Velzen says:

    Who cares who gets this price. It is Milner’s money and he can do with it what he likes. Because it’s so much money it seems interesting but it really isn’t. It’s just Milner’s way of buying himself into theoretical physics.

  12. vmarko says:

    Marcel van Velzen,

    If everyone had the same opinion that you have about the prize, there would be no problem at all.

    However, if you win the Milner’s prize, and afterwards that fact helps you land a better position at some university (as happens with Nobel and Fields prize winners), then it is a problem.

    The issue with Milner’s prize is not the money, but the implications for the academia that it can bring.

    Best, 🙂

  13. Marcel van Velzen says:

    Marko: “If everyone had the same opinion that you have about the prize, there would be no problem at all.” that is why I expressed my opinion 🙂

  14. Not only does the Fundamental Physics prize identify fundamental physics with string theory, but it also identifies fundamental physics almost exclusively with theory rather than experiment. I wonder if Robert Millikan or Albert Michelson would have been nominated for this prize had it been around then.

  15. Philip Gibbs says:

    Curious Wavefunction, There was the special FPP given to representatives of LHC, ATLAS and CMS.

  16. GooGoo says:

    I liked McMullen’s comment! Well said.

    This “Einstein Gene” business reminds me of the letters from “Who’s Who of High School Students” explaining they want to include such a brilliant and wonderful person as yourself. By the way, of course you will want to buy the (not inexpensive) volume….

    A possibly relevant fact to all this is that I met a relative of Einstein, who certainly possessed the Einstein gene, but evidently this was a gene for niceness rather than
    the gene for math or physics.

    I would hazard to guess that William Shockley would be behind this project, after of course including his own person as one of the donors, but then again he must have passed on to other universes by now.

    On to the Millman prize: I can’t help but wishing that some billionaire would use their money in a way which would actually benefit the science. It is quite right that although zero teaching is not a good idea for most, too much teaching, especially of the repetitive variety, can kill your research and your love of the subject. Thus, what could really be of help is a shotgun approach of many small grants funding reduced teaching loads, including sabbaticals. Arguably the money would be much better spent in this way than by heaping yet more rewards on the same few names (i.e. the star system). These people already have great positions, and in the best cases are motivated by a real love of science and not by yet more money.

  17. David Nataf says:

    There is an unhealthy obsession on this board with prizes. It reveals how the better solution is simply to do away with all prizes.

  18. Typhoon says:

    All this talk of prizes reminds me of the following aphorism:

    “Prizes are like hemorrhoids, sooner or later every a**hole gets one.”

  19. Laymammal says:

    The Nobel in Physics has exclusively been given to theorists only after their theory has been confirmed by experiment. In the future, the Nobel in Physics may have to alter its criteria to theories which are mathematically consistent both internally and consistent mathematically with confirmed theories like QM. The Genius of Strings is that it’s internally consistent and also consistent with almost Every possible theory that may be confirmed.

  20. CFT says:

    Ok, because this ‘Project Einstein’ is even being considered at all makes me cringe. Why on earth would anyone like Einstein (in particular since he was a Jew) even want his name associated with a eugenics breeding program considering who was actually trying to do such breeding during the first half of the 20th century? Call it for what it is. Eugenics. And for those who need to be reminded what that really is;
    noun plural but singular in construction \yü-ˈje-niks\
    : a science that tries to improve the human race by controlling which people become parents

    Full Definition of EUGENICS

    : a science that deals with the improvement (as by control of human mating) of hereditary qualities of a race or breed
    It appears that stupidity and evil dressed up as science never goes out of fashion. I think anyone who wants to connect the name ‘Einstein’ with such contemptible research objectives should consider having themselves gene sequenced for a ‘Fascist’ or ‘complete idiot’ gene, then be surgically neutered in order to gain a first hand empathy and understanding of what they were advocating.
    I would also ask anyone with a whit of common sense (rather than what goes for pure mathematical ability apparently) to consider the implications of what would happen if said such ‘Einstein’ project actually succeed by some dumb luck. What would the product of such a project think (mathematically or otherwise) of the idiots who wanted to control his/her very being, not by loving acceptance, nurture, argument, or education, but by the objectives of animal husbandry? I’d much rather prefer we keep the like of Khan Noonien Singh inside Pandora’s little bottle of cautionary fiction, and be extra careful not to spill.

  21. birdie says:

    Eugenics that eliminates intelligent female genes, and selects for arrogant groupthinkers. Yeah, that will work.

  22. Marcus says:

    CFT you just lost it. If some couples or individuals want to try to have extra intelligent or, say, musically talented children that is certainly their right. It is a personal choice and represents individual liberty–in this case the freedom to use available scientific studies and methods to try to improve the life of one’s offspring.

    By using words like “stupidity” and “evil” and “Fascist” you are in effect using hate speech to limit individuals’ personal rights and liberties by harshly disapproving propaganda. Since a government mandate is not the issue the word “eugenics” is irrationally applied–since it has the connotation of state mandate interference with reproductive choice. What you are doing resembles fundamentalists who use rhetoric to stir up hatred against doctors who perform abortion, so that abortion clinics eventually get firebombed, or shut down on technical grounds by legislatures.

    So please cool it with the irrational outrage against reproductive choice.

  23. vmarko says:


    “If some couples or individuals want to try to have extra intelligent or, say, musically talented children that is certainly their right.”

    Assuming that project Einstein is successful in finding a “math gene” (whatever that may be), how would your couple of individuals go about making their child extra intelligent? The parents either do or do not have the gene, they have no choice in the matter. And if they manipulate their genetic material to introduce the math gene artificially, that’s very close (if not equivalent) to eugenics.

    Either way, the “math gene” most probably doesn’t exist. There is overwhelming evidence that capacity for doing math is not hereditary, or otherwise we would already have several Fields medalists or Nobel winners from the same family by now (Milner prize notwithstanding)… 😉

    Best, 🙂

  24. Marcus says:

    Hi vmarko,
    I have no interest in arguing about whether math ability is heritable. To me it seems even a bit off topic. I just couldn’t let CFT’s over-the-top hate speech about reproductive choice pass.

    For you, apparently, the word “eugenics” has no connotation of state-control. According to your example “eugenics” can be a matter of individual couple’s choice when they are getting ready to have a baby.
    That kind of eugenics is increasingly common these days where heritable factors have been identified, and I think of it as morally neutral. As long as you are clear about what you mean I have no problem with what you say. Just don’t foam at the mouth about it, OK? :^D

  25. Anonyrat says:

    You can read the first college-level textbook on eugenics – “Applied Eugenics”, by Paul Popenoe and Roswell Hill Johnson published in New York, 1918, here:

    Left as an exercise to the reader: trace the effects of those ideas on modern US politics.

  26. Yatima says:

    CFT says:

    Ok, because this ‘Project Einstein’ is even being considered at all makes me cringe. Why on earth would anyone like Einstein (in particular since he was a Jew) even want his name associated with a eugenics breeding program considering who was actually trying to do such breeding during the first half of the 20th century?

    Please do not open this particular can of worms as there are very, very disturbing ideas being bandied about and actually actively acted upon by the “state” of a certain Middle Eastern country at the present time, which drives me to despair in the human race. Though it confirms that people are mainly driven by self-aggrandizing aggressive myth, not history or introspection. Einstein must be spinning so fast he is probably dragging the frames around his grave.

  27. Peter Woit says:

    Enough about eugenics and related hot-button political issues, although I realize that the “Einstein Project” does bring them up. Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be much news in math or physics, but I’ll try and find something to change the subject…

  28. chiz says:

    I’m puzzled as to what a “math gene” would be. There is evidence, from neurology and linguistics, that our brains are wired for number, and that small numbers are treated differently from large numbers, so there is clearly something genetic going on with regard to a number-sense. But that’s not the same thing as a math gene. I can hardly be the only person who, on having told friends and family that I was doing a degree in maths, was then faced with friends and family assuming that I was good at arithmetic and would, say, be the ideal person to be treasurer of a local club. Do you really need a number-sense to do muck around with group theory or Fourier transforms? My best guess is that you need a capacity for abstract, or, even, very abstract thought.

    In any case, even if there is a math gene, it doesn’t automatically follow that it will show up in genome sequencing or that it is heritable. Genetics and heritability have become decoupled over the last decade.

  29. Marcus says:

    “Enough about eugenics and related hot-button political issues, although I realize that the “Einstein Project” does bring them up. Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be much news in math or physics, but I’ll try and find something to change the subject…”

    A propos changing the subject, have you thought any about the paper just posted by Roberto Percacci, Astrid Eichhorn and Pietro Donà?
    “Matter matters in asymptotically safe quantum gravity”.
    Evidence supporting that approach to quantum gravity is bad news for SUSY and extra dimensions, it turns out. Here’s the abstract:
    “We investigate the compatibility of minimally coupled scalar, fermion and gauge fields with asymptotically safe quantum gravity, using nonperturbative functional Renormalization Group methods. We study d = 4, 5 and 6 dimensions and within certain approximations find that for a given number of gauge fields there is a maximal number of scalar and fermion degrees of freedom compatible with an interacting fixed point at positive Newton coupling. The bounds impose severe constraints on grand unification with fundamental Higgs scalars. Supersymmetry and universal extra dimensions are also generally disfavored. The standard model and its extensions accommodating right-handed neutrinos, the axion and dark-matter models with a single scalar are compatible with a fixed point.”

  30. Philip Gibbs says:

    Describing a project to look for genes related to intelligence as eugenics is like calling an experimental test for relativity an act of nuclear war. I think Einstein would have appreciated the difference.

  31. Bernhard says:


    Not a “extra, extra” news, but perhaps something to change the subject.

  32. CFT says:

    I did not intend to open a can of worms, or offend actually, but I did wish to call it for what it was. I am also fully aware my existence is only possible because someone was not given license to tinker with my DNA to suit their preferences of who I should be, flaws, quirks and all.
    @Peter, Please let me respond to Marcus, I don’t mind him taking his shots as long as I can respond in kind to his labeling my arguments with ‘over the top hate speech’.
    Deciding to have a child and exposing them to music or mathematics in hopes they will gain an appreciation for such subjects is one thing; The child will be making a choice (exerting their liberty, and their freedom if you will) if they decide to pursue such a discipline. Deciding you are going to exert absolute control over another person’s gender, sexual predisposition, politics, height, intelligence, and abstract intellectual pursuits and hobbies is quite another thing… with horrifying implications. Considering who has been deemed unworthy of existence over the years in the pursuit of said “improvement”, I find your use of the words ‘liberty’ and ‘freedom’ quite ironic and disturbing, since you are advocating the right to basically predetermine a potential child’s nature (or soul) to your ‘choice’ and not allow them the right to determine their own preferences or desires. I’m also quite certain many world governments would also love to make use of such a capability to make certain some of their own additions were added to your list of improvements in the name of ‘the greater good’ and benefit of society.
    Please take your seriously misplaced ‘hate speech’ comment and file it where the solar photons don’t directly interact. Disagreement with a person or concept is not ‘hate speech’, a ‘thought crime’ or whatever academically approved politically correct jargon you want to use to silence discussion or debate. If you haven’t, try to read ‘1984’ before you pull any more newspeak out of your hat and see if it’s really the way you want to go, and possibly go watch the movie “Man of Steel” for entertainment, noting the plotline entirely revolves around a child conceived without a genetically predetermined disposition or societal function. I found it remarkable that the super intelligent parents of the ‘superman’ figured out that their own species relentless desire to control every last aspect of intelligent life in the name of scientific perfection and social harmony was the cause of their civilization’s stagnation and downfall. Krypton had given up on the uncertainty of teaching and learning in favor of the predictability of genetic programming. People don’t learn and grow very much when they are given little or no choice in what their preferences are and what they do, so Mr. and Mrs. El decided to break with their world’s engineered fate and let their son choose his own destiny, for himself to decide what kind of a man he was going to be. By doing so, Lara and Jor El affirm a concept of that so many people seem to have forgotten. The right to choose, freedom and liberty, did not begin with or end with the parent, nor are they the sole property of one generation to lord over the next, they are the birthright of the child as well.

  33. Peter Woit says:

    Really, enough. Part of the problem here is that the “Einstein Project” doesn’t seem interested in explaining what they will do if they find the “math genius gene”…

  34. David Nataf says:

    Peter, I am guessing that the long term goal would ge to use it as a guide in undergraduate and graduate admissions where it would probably be more accurate than GRE scores.

    Also to select which nine year olds can go to math camp.

  35. paddy says:

    For two days now I have been thinking this chain is indeed “back to the usual”.

  36. @Peter Have you made any (toy) models of your own? Certainly that would qualify as a great new post and topic. It would be extremely educating to hear what kinds of thoughts and ideas contemporary professionals have in order to create TOE, other than ST.

    That’s just my 2 cents.

  37. Hendrik says:

    Peter, a good topic for a post would be the ResearchGate website. It seems to be rivalling the ArXiv.

  38. Mathematician says:

    Hendrik, you cannot possibly be serious. ResearchGate keeps sending me fraudulent emails purporting to be from my co-authors, trying to trick (phish) me into “confirming” the details of papers. With these kinds of scammy tactics, I wouldn’t touch that website with a stick.

  39. Hendrik says:

    Dear Mathematician, well you should Google it first before you make up your mind. Almost everyone in my subfield of mathematical physics belong to it (have profiles on it), and many very well-known mathematicians are on it.

  40. Mathematician says:

    Hendrik, I don’t believe you. ResearchGate is very obviously a scam outfit.

    When ResearchGate founder Ijad Madisch says things like “I want ResearchGate to win the Nobel Prize”, nobody should be surprised by ResearchGate’s sociopathic practices.

  41. Oldster says:

    Mathematician: ” ResearchGate keeps sending me fraudulent emails purporting to be from my co-authors, trying to trick (phish) me into “confirming” the details of papers.”

    I’ve received many requests from ResearchGate to “confirm” papers as my work, but in every case, when I look at the details, I find one of the authors on these papers shares my last name and first initial, even though it’s not my work. I simply click on the button that tells them it’s not my work. It seems to me that ResearchGate is making a very innocent mistake here, using some computer program to scan for my name on papers, and not filtering the results as carefully as a human searcher might. That’s not a “scam”, it’s just a somewhat simple scanning program …

  42. Mathematician says:

    Oldster, your experience is not relevant to the discussion because you know you are not an author of the quoted paper, so you won’t fall for the scam. That’s just like when you get an email about suspicious activity in your account at PQR bank, when you know you have never even had an account at PQR bank. But other recipients who do have accounts at PQR bank may fall for a scam. Your comment does confirm though that the emails seem to be automatically generated. It also shows people are too apt to attribute innocent motives to nefarious conduct.

    My experience, which is typical, is this. For i=1,…,n I have received an email purporting to be from my coauthor ABC_i to paper XYZ_i. Now ABC_i is indeed my coauthor on paper XYZ_i, as ResearchGate has factually correctly “scraped” from some source. But if I am to take this email at face value then my coauthor (and colleague/friend/etc.) endorses and is involved in ResearchGate and has made a conscious choice to reach out to me personally, via this email, to suggest I become involved too. In reality, ABC_i knows nothing of this email, and may never have even heard of ResearchGate. Despite the fact that the email clearly states that it is from my coauthor ABC_i, it is in fact sent by ResearchGate in a deliberately fraudulent attempt to deceive me about the true nature of the email, and to trick me into becoming involved based on the apparent endorsement of ResearchGate by my coauthor ABC_i to paper XYZ_i (for i=1,…,n).

    There is no doubt in my mind that ResearchGate has intentionally set out to deceive the academic community. They have even used their claims of large numbers of participants (who’ve been tricked into joining, if the numbers are real at all) to attract millions of dollars in investment. I think the FBI or SEC should investigate these guys.

    Academia should avoid ResearchGate like the plague.

  43. Oldster says:


    I agree I haven’t received such emails, even where I have a paper with a coauthor which ResearchGate has managed to locate, and query me about. I have received emails stating that other researchers from my institution (“Retired”) have joined ResearchGate, and asking if I wouldn’t like to talk to them. Since “Retired” is a very broad “institution”, the emails are a little ridiculous, but hardly malicious. Everything I’ve seen so far seems to fit into such categories. I have used ResearchGate to message authors for a copy of their paper, and then forgotten about it when I heard nothing back for a long time.

    Unless I receive something like you describe, I can’t really comment on your experience, except to say nothing like that has happened to me. I suggest you complain to ResearchGate directly if you feel they’re abusing the site. If that happens to me, I will do that, because I’ve found the site is otherwise useful for legitimate contacts from time to time …

  44. tulpoeid says:

    “If Project Einstein identifies a common gene among its participants, and uses the knowledge to breed a race of übermenschen, they may find they have selected not for unusual mathematical genius, but for unusual ego.”

    Kudos. I wish email sigs were still trendy.

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