Various News

Now back from vacation in a much warmer location than New York. Some things I noticed while away:

  • I see that Paris has a bid to host the 2022 ICM. Everyone should strongly support this, one can’t have too many excuses for a trip to that city.
  • I’m pleased to see that Sabine Hossenfelder will now be a columnist for Quanta magazine. She’s starting off with a piece on asymptotic safety. Also recommended is her new arXiv preprint on fine-tuning and naturalness.
  • There’s an Indian interview with Nati Seiberg, much of which consists of defending string theory research against the accusation of being a science with no scientific evidence. It’s more or less the usual defense that, despite failure as a theory of unification, string theory research has led to other progress in fields such as condensed matter, astrophysics, cosmology and pure mathematics. One problem with this is that it’s very unclear now what “string theory research” really is these days, other than a sociological term. About the failure to find SUSY as predicted, he says:

    One idea is that we will find SUSY particles at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) but this hasn’t happened yet. So given that it hasn’t, I think the odds that it would happen in the near future are very small. It’s not a likely scenario. If you had asked me 10 or 20 years ago, I would have thought it was quite reasonable that they would find it. But they haven’t and that idea did not prove to be right. But people who worked on it should not be penalised for it because they just laid out possibilities and things that experimentalists would like to have.

    I don’t think the issue is whether to “penalize” people for working on SUSY, but rather just to acknowledge that the failure to find SUSY at the LHC has important scientific implications, providing significant evidence against heavily promoted speculative ideas about supersymmetric extensions of the SM and superstring unification.

  • To keep up on the latest hot trends in particle theory, and sometimes find an excuse for a trip down to Princeton, I periodically take a look at the IAS High Energy Theory Seminar listings (available here). I was surprised to see that this week they’ve invited Steve Hsu to give a talk about something having nothing to do with HEP theory. His topic is “Genomic Prediction of Complex Traits”, a topic motivated by his long-standing interest in finding genetic determinants of intelligence.

    I heard from Hsu back in 2011, when he wrote to ask me if I would publicize this study, which he wrote about here. Hsu was looking for volunteers of “high cognitive ability” (he thought most theoretical physicists would qualify), who would get “free genotyping and tools to explore their genomes”. You can read some more debate about this here. A few years back he wrote an essay for Nautilus about how genetic engineering will one day create the smartest humans who have ever lived.

    Until a year or so ago I used to follow Hsu’s blog, finally stopped after getting sick of reading his defences of Trump and Steve Bannon. Besides the interest in race determining intelligence (see for instance here), Hsu has what seems to me a disturbing interest in the politics of racial resentment, from the white/East Asian side, which shows up in his fondness for Trump/Bannon. This also shows up in his involvement in a campaign to get Harvard to stop its current affirmative action policies and admit more students of East Asian descent.

    No, I’m not going to allow any arguments over this topic in the comments section. Such arguments immediately descend to an extreme level of stupidity, whatever the IQ of those involved.

Update: I just noticed that Steve Hsu has a blog post about this here, which surely is a better place to discuss what he’s up to.

Update: The Economist has an excellent piece about the problems of HEP physics and status of some non-collider experiments looking for BSM physics.

Update: See here for part two of Jerry Alper’s report from the event discussed here.

Update: Perhaps the audience at Friday’s IAS HEP theory seminar can ask the speaker whether his methods for analyzing people’s genetics can be used to tell whether they come from a “shithole country” or not.

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15 Responses to Various News

  1. ronab says:

    “But people who worked on it should not be penalised for it …”

    However, people who didn’t find SUSY and related SM extensions convincing and therefore chose not to work on them were often penalized by not getting jobs. Seems now that a little penalization running the other way would actually be very reasonable.

  2. steve hsu says:

    Hi Peter,

    I hope you will come out for the talk on Friday. This area of computational genomics is advancing very fast and although it is not exactly physics it is understandable for most physicists and (at least in my opinion) quite interesting. Re: genomics of intelligence, the effort we started way back in 2010/11 was aimed at finding just a few genetic loci associated with intelligence. The state of the art has progressed significantly since then, with ~1k variants now identified at genome-wide statistical significance. We are on the verge of building crude predictors for adult cognitive ability based on genotype. Predictors already exist for other complex phenotypes like height.

    Re: Trump and Bannon, I’ve mostly described myself as a centrist Democrat (Bill Clinton and Obama voter, etc.), but I really think Trump (for all his faults) is not getting a fair shake in the mainstream media, on college campuses, etc. It’s understandable if we disagree about politics — this is a particularly polarized time in the US.

    Re: Harvard admissions, there is a fair amount of evidence that Harvard and other elite universities are discriminating against Asian-Americans, as with Jews in the early part of the last century. I think that greater transparency (which Harvard has resisted) would help resolve whether discrimination is actually taking place. There are civil lawsuits as well as investigations by the DOJ in progress that will shed significant light on this topic.

  3. Chris says:

    Found this interesting statement from Sabine Hossenfelder’s blog:

  4. Peter Woit says:

    Hi Steve,
    Yes, about Trump/Bannon I think we’re just going to have to disagree. And I’m afraid your enthusiasm for predicting adult “cognitive ability” based on genotype just strikes me as creepy and dangerous. Sorry though, none of this is anything I want to encourage discussion of here (and I just noticed you have a blog entry about the talk, so can host discussion there).

  5. Tim says:

    One thing I don’t hear much about is string theory’s failure as a theory of QCD. I realize no one talks about it now because we have QCD, but it seems to me that we have not one, but TWO data points of string theory failing to be the next big thing.

    I’m sure the subject is complex (and interesting!). What can we learn from the failures and why do they keep happening? The older ones are interesting because despite being potentially less relevant, they might be better understood …

  6. Robert A. Wilson says:

    The competing bid for the ICM2022 is from St Petersburg, definitely one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. I for one would much prefer a good excuse to re-visit St Petersburg, over a good excuse to re-visit Paris.

  7. Peter Woit says:


    I added that as an update.

  8. zzz says:

    Alper calls him “Wittin” six times. not a good sign.

  9. Low Math, Meekly Interacting says:

    I watched the video of the Kavli Conversations event.

    The Teutonic caricature that comes across in the Alper piece is not what I witnessed.

  10. Shantanu says:

    Peter: At least Nati has conceded that SUSY will never be found in the near future.
    Some small admittance.

  11. John Baez says:

    Someone should tell Jerry Alper that “Ed Wittin” is really “Ed Witten”. How embarrassing!

  12. Alex says:

    I prefer Saint Petersburg better for 2022 ICM

  13. Andy says:

    @John Baez: it seems like point 8 of the famous index you created back in 1998 is in need of an update…

  14. Sebastian Thaler says:

    More fun from Sean Carroll:

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