This Week’s Hype/Fake Physics

On the Fake Physics front, Jerry Coyne at Why Evolution is True has a post claiming New evidence for the multiverse-and its implications. You would think that recent history should have made clear the danger of using Youtube videos as a reliable source of information, but this posting is based mainly upon a Youtube video, one that claims Evidence for a Multiverse in NASA and ESA Satellite Data? (Coyne seems to have missed the question-mark).

As usual, a large part of the problem here is people looking for material helpful to their arguments, without worrying much about whether the material is accurate or not. In Coyne’s case, he wants to counter the theological fine-tuning argument with the multiverse counter-argument, which requires a multiverse with a wide variety of different physical laws. The Youtube video he found makes the standard tenuous argument that the CMB provides evidence for inflation, inflation should be eternal, thus there should be a multiverse. As I explained in detail here, the models of inflation one supposedly has “evidence” for are not models that lead to the kind of multiverse of different physical laws that Coyne needs for his argument with religion.

I should make it clear that I’m on Coyne’s side in the argument of evolution vs. religion, but scientists arguing on the basis of science should take care that they’re using good science if they don’t want to discredit themselves. And, as a general rule for anyone who cares about what’s true and what isn’t, looking for things on Facebook or Youtube that help your side of an argument is now an extremely bad idea.

The question of how to stand up for truth in a post-truth era was the main topic of this year’s Nobel Week Dialogue (video here). David Gross gave a rousing and inspirational talk on Truth and the Scientific Method (starting about 36:30), which ended with the assurance that “Science will survive Donald J. Trump and his ilk”, because of its rigorous honesty and grounding in experimental testability. Gross is someone well-aware of the multiverse Fake Physics danger, although he didn’t mention it. I’d feel a lot better about his Stockholm talk though if I hadn’t just recently attended this disturbing one.

: Some more fake physics today, from the Russians, courtesy of Sputnik News. See here for propaganda about “a testable theory on how matter behaves inside a black hole” which is also supposed to describe quark-gluon plasmas at the LHC and RHIC . This is all based on this paper, which has no such thing.

This entry was posted in Fake Physics, This Week's Hype. Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to This Week’s Hype/Fake Physics

  1. Daniel Tung says:

    Regarding the part of your Inference article on inflation and multiverse, isn’t it that eternal inflation itself, without any input from superstring theory, already implies the idea of multiverse? This is also why Paul Steinhardt and a few others oppose it so strongly.

  2. Peter Woit says:

    Daniel Tung,
    In my article I was trying to point out that actual models of eternal inflation being advertised on this Youtube video and elsewhere are single inflaton field models with a simple potential, which produce a multiverse of universes with the same physics. To get a multiverse of universes with different physics, you need something much more complicated, and this is where string theory gets brought in.

    Steinhardt’s objections to eternal inflation were discussed in detail here
    I think they’re essentially the same as Spergel’s (and shared by most physicists): if your theory is unfalsifiable, you’re not doing science, and that’s what’s going on here.

  3. Pingback: Peter Woit on what's wrong with Jerry Coyne's argument for a multiverse | Uncommon Descent

  4. Palmer says:

    Peter, you talk about the danger of using youtube videos as a reliable source of information. But this seems like too broad a brush to be taken seriously. Are all youtube videos to be treated equally? Why is a youtube video necessarily any less reliable than a blog post?
    In the case of the video linked to by Coyne, it’s an interview with George Efstathiou
    who is not just a cosmologist but an award winning CMB Specialist and the spoke person for the European Space Agency’s Planck CMB probe. Why should i take a blog post written by a non cosmologist more seriously than a video interview of this more than qualified cosmologist?

    You claim “The Youtube video he found makes the standard tenuous argument that the CMB provides evidence for inflation, inflation should be eternal, thus there should be a multiverse.”I think there is a more to the video than what you imply. The question asked of Efstatuhiou was not just is there evidence for inflation and is inflation eternal? But whether or not the Planck data favours models of inflation that are eternal.His answer is yes and that this leads us to a multiverse. He even said this was the most important result from Planck. Now if you want to disagree with Efstathiou on this you need to give us a reason why he is wrong. To simply say he said it on a youtube video and hence dismiss it won’t do.

    If we look more deeply at the debate over inflation and the multiverse. Both sides of this debate seem to agree with Efstathiou. Note Steinhardt and his colleagues said in this paper:
    “The plateau-like potentials selected by Planck2013 are in the class of eternally inflating models, so the multiverse and its effects on predictions must be considered. “
    Guth and his colleagues replied:
    “First, they argue that the plateau potentials favored by Planck will lead to eternal inflation, and hence the measure problem [40]. We agree that if the observable inflation occurred on a plateau-like potential, eternal inflation seems very likely.”
    What is in this video? It’s Efstahtioua claiming that these flat potential models favoured by Planck produce a multiverse. Something then that many other cosmologists seem to agree with. And yet again not just any old cosmologists, but the very ones you have quoted in the past. It’s a claim not just on youtube but in the peer reviewed literature.
    As to your comment that “the models of inflation one supposedly has “evidence” for are not models that lead to the kind of multiverse of different physical laws that Coyne needs for his argument with religion.”. i think this is a poorly informed statement. Have you ever watched a debate between a theologian and an atheist on fine tuning? Did you watch Caroll versus Craig? The theologian often argues that fine tuning is explained by necessity, chance or design. How do they rule out necessity? By appealing to string theory and its landscape.

    Now I’m with you on this Peter, there is no evidence for string theory so there is no reason from the perspective of fine tuning alone, to rule out necessity and invoke a multiverse. But as Craig appeals to string theory to rule out necessity then Coyne can use this evidence for the multiverse to rebut him. If Craig wants to doubt string theory then Coyne can raise the possibility of necessity. Its seems then that this “evidence” is relevant to the debates Coyne has in mind and so he is wise to quote it. Out of 1) necessity 2) a multiverse or 3) design by an immaterial mind. it seems like the multiverse is the only one with any evidence in favour of it. I agree the many pocket universes of eternal inflation might turn out to be all the same without different constants. This would a very boring multiverse yes. But surely the existence of many pocket universes ups the probability that 2 is the right solution and given the complete lack of any evidence for necessity of immaterial minds it seems that is all Coyne needs.

    If you want to help Coyne and his fellow travellers refute The Trump supporting Craig and his acolytes it might be helpful to explain how you deal with the fine tuning argument yourself. Criticising Coyne for quoting a well respected cosmologist without providing any reason to doubt them other than the claim is being made on youtube does not seem like a well thought out response to me.

  5. Peter Woit says:

    Herbert Palmer,
    You completely ignore the main point I keep on repeating: the “eternal inflation” single-field inflaton models for which (tenuous) evidence is claimed do not give you the kind of multiverse you want for your arguments with theologians (to get this you need something much more complicated, like string landscape models, for which you have no evidence at all).

    No, I haven’t watched Carroll vs. Craig, I think that kind of thing is a complete waste of time. For those who think it is worthwhile, if you want to invoke scientifically untestable ideas about a multiverse as a possible explanation for fine-tuning, you can do so if you want, they’re just as good as what the theologians have. Just don’t claim that CMB measurements provide scientific evidence for this, because it’s not true.

    Sorry, but I just don’t understand why anyone who wants to engage in these arguments thinks it’s a good idea to abandon the high ground of actual, tested science and start invoking untestable pseudo-science and misleading claims of evidence that’s not there. I don’t see at all why that’s either necessary or desirable: why sell the public on fake physics because you find it convenient to make a debating point in a tedious argument?

  6. Pete Best says:

    Peter, this article spells out the conflicting opinions on inflation. There is data and reasoning to back it up so it’s not merely fake physics as you appear to be suggesting. Sure it’s not full proof (what science is?) but alternatives to inflation and the issues it addresses are no better or worse than inflation.

    So although inflation has its critics and is slated as not science by your good as well as others it does have data from Planck and it does therefore have more merit than you appear to be suggesting I am suggesting. Inflation may have too many models and hence can predict anything but the data leans towards some form of inflation did take place.

  7. Peter Woit says:

    Pete Best,
    This posting is not about inflation, but about Jerry Coyne’s article claiming “evidence for the multiverse and its implications” (the implication for him is the multiverse argument against theologians invoking a deity responsible for fine-tuning). The “Fake Physics” is the multiverse of universes with different physics that Coyne wants for his side of the argument. There is zero evidence for such a thing.

  8. Palmer says:

    Hello Peter, thanks for taking the time to reply. I do feel your reply misses the mark though. Your only complaint left standing seemed to be that the evidence is not for the type of multiverse that Coyne needs to dispute the theistic fine tuning argument. But then you admit you haven’t spent any time researching what points are actually used by theists to make these arguments. But as I explained to you in my post , had you watched such debates, you would know that theists need string theory ( or something else like it that can change the constants of nature) in order to support a key premise in their argument.
    Here is a quote from the Bill Craig in his debate with Sean Carroll.

    “Now there are three possibilities debated in the literature for explaining the presence of this remarkable fine-tuning: physical necessity, chance, or design. The question then is: Which of these three alternatives is the most plausible? On the basis of the evidence we may argue:
    1. The fine-tuning of the universe is due to either physical necessity, chance, or design.
    2. It is not due to physical necessity or chance.
    3. Therefore, it is due to design.
    Physical Necessity?
    Consider the first alternative, physical necessity.
    This alternative seems extraordinarily implausible because the constants and quantities are independent of the laws of nature. The laws of nature are consistent with a wide range of values for these constants and quantities. For example, the most promising candidate for a Theory of Everything (T.O.E.) to date, super-string theory or M-Theory, allows a “cosmic landscape” of around 10500 different universes governed by the present laws of nature, so that it does nothing to render the observed values of the constants and quantities physically necessary.”

    Or consider another example from IS There A God.Info

    “Currently the most promising possibility for a ToE is string theory, but Stephen Hawking said: “Does string theory predict the state of the universe? The answer is that it does not.” In other words, string theory does not provide the physical necessity for the universal fine-tuning.”

    So you see that the theist needs string theory to rule out necessity. Coyne does not need string theory. If it turns out that string theory is false then necessity cannot be ruled out by the theist. And so they can’t follow through to the conclusion of God. If string theory is right ( or at least the landscape or something like it) then Coyne needs something to generate multiple worlds to populate the landscape. The multiple bubble universes of eternal inflation seem like a good candidate. However if string theory is right in that the constants of nature could easily be different but there’s no way to generate multiple worlds, only then Coyne is in trouble. So evidence for other bubble universes supports Coyne’s case whether or not these other bubble universes have the same or different properties to our own. You are just wrong about what is needed in these debates from Coyne’s point of view. And the reason you are wrong is , by your own admission, you don’t pay attention to the said debates. The Carroll/Craig debate is considered the number one debate on this topic by most in my experience of attending these sorts of debate environments. So that fact you haven’t watched even that one, is very telling.

    Moreover Coyne never claimed any evidence for the string theory landscape and neither did the video. If you look up the word multiverse in the dictionary it does not mention the string theory landscape . Here is the OED’s definition:
    “A hypothetical space or realm consisting of a number of universes, of which our own universe is only one.”
    Bubble universes of eternal inflation seems to fit that, even if its a boring multiverse where they all have the same values.

    So there is absolutely nothing fake about claiming evidence for eternal inflation and calling that a multiverse.

    Coyne himself acknowledges there are different ways to conceive a multiverse. Coyne also brings up caveats about why the evidence presented is not decisive “Now, according to this video, we’ve gotten some evidence for the multiverse, though our Official Website Physicist™ notes (see below) that the new evidence isn’t terribly decisive.”
    The video itself mentions that inflation could still be wrong or perhaps misunderstood and gives caveats about why the evidence presented might not show the multiverse to be true.The video itself had a question mark at the end and you said “Coyne seems to have missed the question-mark Coyne published”. But those caveats that were on the video are in his post. So if anyone was missing something, it is you. What you see then in both the video and Coyne’s blog post then is yes excitement about potential evidence for a multiverse, but also nuance, caveats and thoughtful discussion.
    All of which are absent from your blog post.
    You made accusations about fake news, dubious sources and comparisons with Donald Trump. None of this stands up to scrutiny.
    And one of the most prominent intelligent design blogs is already using your blog post to rubbish their arch critic Coyne.

    I suggest you need to provide some sort of apology or retraction. I loved your book “Not Even Wrong” but now it seems that you are the one using hyperbole that is not supported by the evidence.

  9. Peter Woit says:


    Sorry, but I’m not going to waste more time involved with the mountain of stupidity of intelligent designers,, Bill Craig etc. If you, Coyne, Carroll or anyone else wants to spend their time this way, it’s a free country. But, the fact of the matter is that CMB observations do not provide any significant scientific evidence for the argument you want to make. Taking stuff off Youtube to make a bogus scientific argument against the believers does nothing but discredit science and scientists. You and Coyne should just stop doing it. You have plenty of perfectly good arguments, why discredit science by making a bad one?

  10. Palmer says:

    But you haven’t shown any evidence of any bogus science. All you have is a straw man argument. You are claiming no evidence for a string landscape. But no one is claiming evidence for the string landscape. You say you need the string theory landscape to make the point in the debate. But these are debates you admit you have never watched. So I explained why the string landscape is actually irrelevant and your response is just to ignore my argument and make the same accusation.

    So to repeat, the string landscape is irrelevant , it is not needed, you are wrong. Why are you wrong? Because the theists usually claims fine tuning is explained by either necessity, chance or design. The theist uses the string landscape to rule out necessity as a possible explanation for the constants of nature. If you watched the Caroll/Criag debate or others you would know this. If the string theory landscape is right but eternal inflation (or something like it) is false, then there is no way to populate the landscape and the theist can rule out necessity and chance and claim design is the winner. But if we have someway to populate the landscape, and eternal inflation would seem to do the job, then chance cannot be ruled out. And if the string landscape is false then necessity can’t be ruled out either. So the theist needs the string theory landscape to be true and eternal inflation to be false. As long as they are wrong about one of those things, their argument fails.

    The evidence Coyne points to then does help his case. Is it a knockdown piece evidence ? No, but he never claimed it was. It’s something that helps his case, nothing more, nothing less. Please don’t argue against a straw man. As far as I can see, out of necessity, a multiverse or design by an immaterial mind, the multiverse is the only one that has even a shred of evidence in favour of it. If you have evidence for some other option, let’s see it.

    If you are going to tell us whats useful in a debate against the ID crowd it would be helpful if you actually did so, rather than telling us what not to say. It would be helpful if you knew what these people actually said rather just imagining what is said. I read your blog a lot, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen you give what you think is the correct response to the fine tuning argument. Why is that? Maybe i missed it. But it’s too easy to criticise someone else when you have having zero to offer in their place. Why don’t you watch the debate and tell us how you would reply? oh yes i forgot its beneath you. This “higher than thou” attitude is actually what gives science a bad name. Meanwhile the religious right are on campuses, promoting their videos online and making their arguments which some people find persuasive or those that already persuaded find empowering. And your preferred strategy is to say nothing to counter them. I’m not convinced that has worked out well. Now they in power and using that power to attack science.

  11. Peter Woit says:

    The problem is that the “evidence” Coyne is trying to use is not evidence for a of model of inflation that populates a landscape, it’s evidence for a model of inflation with no landscape. If you believe the model that supposedly this is evidence for, you predict a multiverse of universes with exactly the same fine-tuning problem you started with. Claiming evidence here for the different kind of multiverse you want is just misleading and dishonest, and the way Coyne is doing it (via promoting a dubious Youtube video) is a really bad idea. Defending this kind of activity just discredits the naturalist side of the debate with theologians. You should be arguing with Coyne and getting him to stop, not arguing with me.

    I don’t engage with these theological debates because I don’t think they have anything to do with the serious problems now facing us. The awful post-truth collapse of democracy we are facing is not driven by theologians and believers: Trump and Rupert Murdoch don’t believe in God, they believe in the power of the Big Lie . By ignoring truth and science in your desire to score a point in an irrelevant side-show, you’re discrediting the fact-based opposition to this. Fake physics is not going to solve the problem of Fake news, it’s going to make it worse.

  12. Palmer says:

    Peter, Happy New Year to you. I don’t believe you addressed anything I said but just keep singing from the same old hymm sheet. So I’m afraid I will have to end the discussion of the multiverse here. But if you think Trump and Murdoch can take power without their army of religious believers you are quite mistaken. Just look at Craig and many other influential Christians endorsement of Trump. Perhaps some data on how the faithful voted might help. 80% of white evangelicals voted for Trump whereas 70% of “none’s” voted for Clinton. So it does not look like your claim that post truth is not driven by believers is supported by the data.

  13. Peter Woit says:


    White believers voted (like most categories of white people) for Trump. African-American believers voted (like all categories of African-Americans, except the crazy ones) heavily for Clinton. Neither of these facts is relevant to the issue here of whether it’s worth discrediting science with untrue claims about the multiverse.

    Sorry all, that’s it for the political discussion.

  14. pete best says:

    I thought the idea of the multiverse came from the notion of inflation and the inflaton field that is potentially endless so how can you say that inflation is no relevant to the conversation?

    I had never heard that standard Guth inflation always had the same physics (perhaps different initial conditions) and it needs string theory in order to have 10^500 possible multiverses thus negating the need for the anthropic principle. I did a search around this but didn’t find anyone say this was indeed the case? Can you demonstrate this is indeed what inflation (standard or new inflation) states please ?

  15. Peter Woit says:

    pete best,
    There are an infinity of “inflation” theories, I don’t know what the “standard one” is. The ones typically used involve a single inflaton field, with a simple potential, it is these that claims are being made to supposedly have CMB evidence for. A single inflaton field with a simple potential is not going to give you a multiverse with the wide array of physics you need.

Comments are closed.