- The Perimeter Institute’s public lecture series tonight will feature Neil Turok on The Astonishing Simplicity of Everything. I think Turok is one of the few theorists speaking to the general public who has got the story of the current situation right: the LHC and CMB results point to the Standard Model + simple model of cosmology, ruling out many of the complicated models that have enthralled theorists for decades. By all rights, this should change the behavior and attitudes of theorists, I hope talks like his will have an effect. In any case, it should be vastly better than the last one of these, devoted to a misleading sales job for a failed theory.
- Nature magazine has a very good piece by Davide Castelvecchi on Shinichi Mochizuki and his impenetrable proof. It gives an accurate picture of the current situation: still virtually no experts have been able to understand Mochizuki’s claims well enough to evaluate whether he has a valid proof. One counter-example is Ivan Fesenko, who is organizing a December workshop that may clarify the situation.
- The big news this week is the physics Nobel for the discovery of neutrino masses. I haven’t written about this partly because I’m pretty ignorant about the history of the experiments awarded the prize (or, more accurately should have gotten the prize, not just a single person from the experiment), and the web is full of well-written coverage of this. The issue of the theory of neutrino masses is a fascinating, but quite intricate one, and some day I hope to write a bit about it, but lack the time right now.
- Tommaso Dorigo has a posting here about the great Italian theorist Guido Altarelli, who passed away last week.
- At some point I came across a list of the top donors to US political campaigns and was a little bit surprised to see that Jim Simons was on it, at number 7. I also noticed that someone else at his hedge fund spends even more on politicians than Simons does: Robert Mercer, a computer science Ph.D., is at number 4 (better informed people have pointed out to me that these numbers only include some publicly reported categories of donations). The Washington Post has a profile on Mercer today, which explains that he’s one of the people we have to thank for Ted Cruz (Mercer is the top donor in the US to 2016 presidential campaigns, according to this).
In terms of funding politicians and science, increasingly it’s the hedge fund guy’s world, we just live in it. I’m a big fan of much of what the Simons Foundation does, less so of Mercer’s science funding, which goes to the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine. The people there seem to be interested in climate denialism, surviving nuclear attack, and getting ahold of your urine.
Physicists and mathematicians don’t always have huge success in the hedge fund business. Robert Stock, a physics Ph.D from Carnegie-Mellon, seems to have gone from trying to blow up missiles with lasers to instead having more success blowing up a hedge fund, Spruce Alpha.
Update: According to today’s New York Times, for the 2016 presidential election cycle, Mercer is the number two donor in the US, at 11.3 million. Simons is way, way down the list at 550,000. Their list of donors is heavily dominated by the financial industry (64 individuals or families), with the next largest number from the oil and gas industry (17 individuals or families).