A Few Items

Just a few items:

  • The Simons Foundation has announced a new Origins of the Universe initiative, which will fund efforts to “develop testable predictions about string theory, quantum gravity and a cosmological ‘Big Bounce.'” I don’t think even all of Jim Simons’ money will be enough to fund a real “prediction of string theory”, but the fake kind can be had rather cheaply. I was interested to see in this presentation from the NSF that grants from Simons and other private sources are starting to change the way they do business:

    One major challenge affecting Theory is the entrance of non-traditional (private philanthropic) funding sources. NSF has developed new procedures for evaluating overlapping sources of funding and introducing such evaluations into the proposal review process.

    I’m curious how they are dealing with this. If someone is being funded by Simons, will the NSF/DOE also fund them? Will the NSF/DOE stop funding fields that are being heavily financed by Simons/Templeton/Kavli? Does this have anything to with the NSF/DOE cuts in HEP theory funding of recent years?

  • The latest AMS Notices has a couple of articles about gravitational radiation, see here.
  • Yesterday a two week graduate summer school on automorphic forms and the Langlands program started. Lectures are being given by Kevin Buzzard and are on video here. Buzzard has set up a web-site for the lectures here.

    In his first lecture he explained that Richard Taylor’s CalTech lectures in 1992 (scans of Buzzard’s notes here) had a huge effect on him, and the plan of his lectures is to cover an updated version of some of the same material, ending up by getting to the latest developments, now available solely on a blog here and here. Buzzard also explained that in 1992 he devoted his time in LA to working on understanding the lectures during the week, going to raves on weekends. No news on whether MSRI is making similar arrangements for weekend activities of students in the summer school.

  • Two new articles from Michael Harris: The Perfectoid Concept: Test Case for an Absent Theory and Do Mathematicians Have Responsibilities?.
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10 Responses to A Few Items

  1. nikita says:

    Funding, no strings attached. Sorry, could not help.

  2. Egan says:

    The article about Perfectoid spaces from Harris is really fascinating. Easy to read for a non specialist and full of info and context.

  3. Bill says:

    Michael Harris’ article was great but I did not see the point of the discussion at the end: “How much of the fanfare around Scholze is objectively legitimate, how much an effect of Scholze’s obvious brilliance and unusually appealing personality, and how much just an expression of the wish to have something to celebrate, the “next big thing”?” One the one hand, nobody questions the opinion of the experts that all the textbooks on the subject will have to be rewritten. On the other hand, if the point was to put the invention of perfectoid spaces on the same level with the invention of complex numbers then the article was not very convincing.

    By the way, was the article written as the Fields medal laudatio? 🙂

  4. Peter Woit says:

    I don’t see any attempt to argue that the invention of perfectoid spaces is on the level of the invention of complex numbers, he’s just noting that our understanding of the significance of all mathematical concepts is provisionary and subject to change. While Harris does like to raise questions he then doesn’t answer, this one I think gets answered (as “this is as objectively legitimate as it gets”) later on.

    Yes, it does look like parts of this article could get recycled for a different purpose next year. In some sense the article has a similar goal to the expected laudatio, to make the case to non-specialists that some mathematical work is objectively important.

  5. Marc Sher says:

    I was the NSF High Energy Theory Program Director a few years ago for a year and a half. I haven’t directly spoken with anyone at NSF regarding the specifics recently, but know some general practices (of NSF, not the DOE – I know nothing about the DOE). None of what I say comes from the NSF – it is my memory of what things were like a few years ago.

    “If someone is being funded by Simons, will the NSF/DOE also fund them?”
    There are plenty of people who get funding from both Simons and the NSF. It is a violation of federal law for someone to get NSF funding for a project under which they are also funded by someone else, however most physicists have several projects and can separate things out. In fact, in a grant proposal one is required not only to list current and pending support, but to discuss how that support would overlap (if any) with the work in the proposal.

    “Will the NSF/DOE stop funding fields that are being heavily financed by Simons/Templeton/Kavli?”
    Fields funded by the NSF HE Theory program are entirely determined by the proposals received. The fields of the panel members are also proportional to the fields in proposals sreceived (subject to obvious round-off issues, etc.). The NSF HET program doesn’t “decide” what fields to fund.

    “Does this have anything to with the NSF/DOE cuts in HEP theory funding of recent years?”
    The NSF HEP theory budget, to the best of my knowledge, has not been cut any more than the Physics Division as a whole. I’ve heard that this is not the case for DOE theory, but don’t have direct knowledge.

  6. Peter Woit says:

    Thanks Marc. I do wonder though what the “new procedures” are and what the thinking at NSF is about what they’re calling a “major challenge”. Given the way theorists (and their grad students and postdocs) work, it seems that it must be tricky to keep separately funded projects separate (what if a grad student funded by project A has an idea about project B?).

  7. Marc Sher says:

    Peter – I don’t know what the “new procedures” are. I imagine it is a “challenge” if private foundations begin steering the direction of physics, rather than having physicists do that. I don’t have an answer to that. As far as grad students changing ideas, we all understand that projects change direction (which is why NSF gives “grants” and not “contracts”) – I imagine if non-overlap morphed into overlap, the Program Director should be informed.

  8. It’s striking to see private philanthropies described as non-traditional funding sources for mathematics. Historically, NSF-style open civilian government grants are far and away the exception, and the NSF math system was itself modeled on philanthropic and military programs.

  9. Art says:

    From the “it could be worse” department, in today’s NYT, AI researcher Gary Marcus “look[s] with envy at my peers in high-energy physics”.

  10. jonW says:

    Regarding the DOE, it looks like their spending programs are completely mothballed now in any case. Just the other day there was an extremely thoroughly researched article from Vanity Fair that is very much worth reading despite its being predictably depressing: http://www.vanityfair.com/news/2017/07/department-of-energy-risks-michael-lewis

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