A few odd things that I’ve run into recently:

  • The IAS has a weekly meeting to discuss current topics in HEP theory. From their events calendar, next week’s meeting will be devoted to “The Cosmological Constant and the String Landscape”, with suggested readings the 28 year old papers by Weinberg on anthropics and the CC, as well as the KKLT paper (I’m a fan, see here) and its Bousso/Polchinski predecessor from about 15 years ago. I would have thought this was a very well-worn topic. The one recent reference is a defense by Polchinski of KKLT against some technical challenges, but if the intent is to discuss those, it’s unclear why they’re not in the references (and they have nothing to do with Weinberg/CC/anthropics).
  • Mochizuki has two new things on his website. One is a long discussion of the use of the words “anabelioid” and “Frobenioid”, the other is an animated video of a diagram explaining a theorem (see near bottom of here).
  • A couple years ago there was a controversy over the proof of the so-called “Yau-Tian-Donaldson” conjecture (see here), with Donaldson and his collaborators publicly complaining about Tian’s paper claiming credit for proof of this conjecture. The Tian paper was submitted to the Courant journal Communications on Pure and Applied Mathematics in February 2013, was published there in the July 2015 issue (a technical corrigendum appeared a couple weeks ago). More expertise than I have would be needed to see if the published version addresses the Donaldson et al. concerns, a quick look doesn’t indicate evidence of that.

    At the time I wrote:

    On a more positive note, perhaps this controversy will not interfere much with future progress in this area, as Donaldson and Tian are jointly organizing a Spring 2016 workshop on this topic at MSRI.

    The MSRI directory for this year though lists Tian as visiting, but not Donaldson.

  • Among the many oddities associated with string theory is the decision of a group in Philadelphia to name a group of charter schools there the String Theory Schools. I don’t think they teach string theory, just liked the name. The financing of these schools is now attracting controversy. It seems they are running into some financial trouble, involving huge real estate deals and tax-exempt bond financing. For the details of the story, see here. For some analysis, see a Naked Capitalism piece: Private Equity Asset-Stripping Strategy Meets Charter Schools to Produce Even Better Looting.
  • Presidential candidate Ben Carson has been widely (and quite appropriately…) criticized for some of his odd and non-sensical views about science. In USA Today’s factcheck piece about this, we’re told

    Carson went on to claim that the presence of stars and planets is related to the existence of multiple Big Bangs that eventually might produce an ordered universe:

    Carson: And then they go to the probability theory, and they say “but if there’s enough big bangs over a long enough period of time, one of them will be the perfect big bang and everything will be perfectly organized.” And I said, so you’re telling me if I blow a hurricane through a junkyard enough times over a long enough period of time after one of them there will be a 747 fully formed and ready to fly?

    That is not an accurate reflection of the Big Bang theory. Though some theories of the origin of the universe suggest that the Big Bang was only one of many such explosions, these theories do not state that the currently ordered existence is a spontaneous result of one of these repeated Big Bangs.

    He’s getting it somewhat wrong, but this does sound a lot like Carson has been reading about the string theory multiverse…

Update: Please do not use the reference to Carson as an excuse to post your thoughts on US politics and the ongoing political campaign. I think everyone would appreciate not having to be subjected to that topic here.

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20 Responses to Oddities

  1. s t schools says:

    Let’s not be quick to blame string theory for everything. They could have been G-String Theory Schools, and the curriculum may have included (ahem) … but the name was shortened to avoid unwanted attention from the Tea Party.

  2. Benny Oid says:

    The word is “Frobenioid”.

  3. Peter Woit says:

    Benny Oid,
    Thanks, fixed.

  4. prize says:


    Nobels coming up. NY Times editorial “The folly of big science awards”. Many other prizes pay more, and the recipients are indeed in the least need of funding, but the Nobels are the best known and the most prestigious.

  5. Shantanu says:

    Peter any rumors of this year’s nobel prize?
    Here is my guesses

    Either neutrino physics and it goes to Yoichiro Suzuki and Art Mcdonald
    Or in astrophysics/GR goes to Vera Rubin and Irwin Shapiro

  6. Peter Woit says:

    The physics Nobel announcement is scheduled for Tuesday morning. I have no idea who it will go to, seems unlikely to go to my choice, which would be to make up for their 2013 mistake of only rewarding theorists, not experimenters, for the Higgs discovery (so, a prize to ATLAS, CMS and CERN).

    At $3 million, the big prize now is the Breakthrough Prize, which will be awarded Nov. 8. For that one also, I have no idea.

  7. Bernhard says:


    I also have no idea, but wouldn’t be really fair to give a prize to Rubin and forget W. Kent Ford. The work for which Rubin is most recognized for is co-authored by him and in this particular case the Nobel committee wouldn’t be able to use the excuse of just acknowledging the group leader like they did with Powell. But anyway, not much to discuss, maybe the prize this year will in the end go to solid state physics or alike.

  8. Pingback: “String theory” charter schools? | Uncommon Descent

  9. Thomas Larsson says:

    Kajita instead of Suzuki, otherwise you were right, Shantanu.

  10. Shantanu says:

    Yes Suzuki was the spokesperson of Super-K from 2002 until recently. Kajita was the co-chair of the atmospheric neutrinos and proton decay group which announced
    10 sigma evidence for non-0 neutrino mass.
    It should have been awarded to Totsuka who initiated SK, but unfortunately the committee was late as he passed away in 2008.

    That said, its still not clear to me what non-0 neutrino mass has told about physics beyond standard model, string theory etc.

  11. Bernhard says:

    The Nobel committee keeps making these kind of mistakes. Why not give the prize to the whole Super-K collaboration? It’s a huge disservice to science to create these false myths around one person and give the public a wrong idea about how science works. And that should be the point of these prizes. It’s so typical of Swedish mentality this leadership/boss thing (no matter how much they will deny this till death). Peter, sorry for the off-topic comments, last one from me.

  12. AcademicLurker says:

    I was predicting Rubin and Shapiro. Good thing I didn’t bet any money. My reasoning was that since they’re 87 and 85, respectively, the prize for dark matter should be awarded soon if it’s going to be awarded at all.

  13. Regretacles says:

    Sno and super kamiokande had some systematics which actually left the question open. Kamland nailed it. I wish Stuart was still around to help me see how to find this all amusing

  14. David Nataf says:

    It’s not clear if dark matter should ever get a prize. What’s “proven” is that the gravitational mass of matter in the universe , assuming GR or even Newtonian gravity, is ~5x higher than what one would get from baryons.

    The exact meaning of that is debatable until WIMPs are confirmed.

  15. Low Math, Meekly Interacting says:

    I’ve seen a lot of grudging approval of the latest Physics Nobel. While some show the usual unbridled enthusiasm for the pick, there’s a significant amount of chatter on the interwebs expressing the opinion that while the prize is probably deserved, it’s also one of the most boring, anticlimactic subjects ever to be so honored. There are no deep concepts here about BSM physics. The math is fairly trivial. We haven’t actually learned anything interesting (Dirac or Majorana?) about neutrino mass, and the mere fact that it exists is hardly surprising. And so on.
    Me, I’m just glad someone still thinks experimental verification in particle physics is extremely important.

  16. Peter Woit says:


    I think the attitude that it’s not interesting to study the neutrino sector is quite wrong-headed. It’s not just a copy of the quark mass matrix, mixing-angle story. The possibility of Majorana mass terms, and the fact that a right-handed neutrino state would be something quite different than anything else, neutral under all the SM forces, mean that there is definitely something new to study. Maybe there’s a hint lurking there of a new insight into the SM, it would be absurd not to look. And, obviously, the discovery and measurement of neutrino mass terms is a significant advance in our understanding, well deserving of a Nobel prize.

  17. NeapTide says:

    I think Peter Woit is right on target. The theory of neutrino mass/mixing may not be challenging, but the experiments are quite challenging. In the end physics needs experimental/empirical proof. And then the theory of what causes neutrino mass/mixing is a `tail of the dragon’ just as CP violation is… the dragon is BSM physics.

  18. Neil says:

    Boring and anti-climatic subject? Remember the solar neutrino problem, which was considered so puzzling that there was even a serious (or maybe not so serious) suggestion that the sun’s fusion engine had shut down temporarily.

  19. Low Math, Meekly Interacting says:

    Hi, Peter & NeapTide,
    Well, yeah! There’s obviously been considerable letdown in the wake of the Higgs discovery, and related anxiety about the future of collider physics, given the lack of hints about what energy scale is now necessary to probe to have a good chance of discovering something new. What better prospects are there, experimentally, than in neutrino physics? And besides, the work done on improving these detectors to help explore foundational questions appears to be accelerating progress in the field of neutrino astronomy, with obvious positive side-effects for astro- and nuclear physicists. Seems to me there’s tons to love about neutrino physics, and the “meh” the latest Prize has gotten in some quarters is pretty surprising to me.

  20. Low Math, Meekly Interacting says:

    Sorry, should have written “fundamental”, not “foundational”…

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