Friday, August 06, 2010

Rumors

    "Look at all these rumors surroundin' me every day
    I just need some time, some time to get away
    From
    From all these rumors, I can't take it no more"

A month ago, Tommaso Dorigo wrote a blogpost Rumors about a light Higgs. I usually just ignore such blogposts. That day, I was in a particularly foul mood and bothered to leave a comment that expressed very clearly my disapproval of such rumor spreading. (You'll find it in the comment section to Tommaso's post, I'm the "not verified B".)

In his post, Tommaso puts forward the opinion that rumors are a handy tool to make science more interesting. I think he's in the first line trying to make himself more interesting. In any case, the topic stayed on my mind. Last week, Dennis Overbye from the NYT wrote a nice essay on rumors in astrophysics that spread at light speed:
"One culprit here is the Web, which was invented to foster better communication among physicists in the first place, but has proved equally adept at spreading disinformation. But another, it seems to me, is the desire for some fundamental discovery about the nature of the universe — the yearning to wake up in a new world — and a growing feeling among astronomers and physicists that we are in fact creeping up on enormous changes with the advent of things like the Large Hadron Collider outside Geneva and the Kepler spacecraft."

The first physics rumor that I can recall hearing of was the discovery of the top quark. It is also one of the very few rumors I've heard that later actually got confirmed. It's not that I don't hear rumors about some alleged signal in some experiment. I certainly find this interesting and thought-stimulating. I think it's quite natural that one talks about this with colleagues, and discusses the probability of it being confirmed and wonders about the implications. But I don't publicly distribute these stories. Nowadays, sooner or later, I'll find that rumor on some blog and then possibly even in a newspaper. Sometimes, by the time I read about it, I already know the rumor wasn't confirmed.

Well, Tommaso's rumor wasn't confirmed either. But the question that stayed with me is whether rumors constitute a valid vehicle to get science across. I don't think so for the following reasons.

First problem is that while it might draw interest in the short run, it erodes trust as well as interest in the long run. Science lives from accuracy more than any other field. The more often people read claims that something maybe was discovered, but then it wasn't, the less attention they'll pay if they read it again. Quantum gravity in cosmic rays! No wait, nothing to find there. Quantum gravity in gravitational wave interferometers! No wait, nothing to find there. Quantum gravity at the LHC. Well, let's see how that goes.

Second problem is one of principle. If rumors are considered a useful tool to draw attention, why not make up a few? It's easy enough, isn't it? Last week for example, I talked to a friend who was just visiting CERN. He doesn't want his name mentioned, but he told me...

Third problem is that these rumors tend to circle around a few presently particularly popular topics or institutions, and if they dominate the news the vast majority of topics remains uncovered. Let's face it, most people on this planet still have no clue how a laser works and are confused by something called the particle-wave-duality. Their understanding of physics is stuck in the middle of the last century, if not some centuries earlier. There's plenty of physics that needs to be brought across more urgently than the latest rumor about dark matter detection. Yes, you might think that's dull. But you think it's dull because you're being fed constantly with the highly speculative, allegedly groundbreaking, maybe-discoveries. I myself would sometimes rather read a useful, popular, introduction about a not-quite-as-hot topic in a field I don't work on rather than quotations about the latest controversy.

Last month, when I saw the July issue of Scientific American on Stefan's doorstep, I was thinking "Oh, no." The headline read "Is the Universe Leaking Energy?" I was thinking, they probably picked some way-out random paper from the arXiv and are trying to proclaim that there's something fishy with energy conservation in General Relativity. Einstein was wrong! Stefan later said, he had exactly the same thought when he saw the headline. Reading the article however, I was pleasantly surprised: Tamara Davis has provided a well-written, insightful and entertaining explanation of, yes, just standard physics knowledge! She writes about symmetries and Noether's laws, conserved quantities, and about time-dependent backgrounds. She explains why there is no conflict between the seeming violation of energy and and accepted physical laws. It's textbook knowledge, yet it made it the title story. That's the sort of articles that we need more of.

54 comments:

Physicalist said...

I agree.

It's bad enough when journalists treat some new study as established science. ("Scientists have discovered that eating jelly beans helps avoid traffic accidents! News at 10.") I always tell people that they should wait ten years or so before dropping their skepticism; science takes time.

Playing up mere rumors is far worse. We should expect that the majority of these rumors won't pan out, and this can lead people to be skeptical of results that are well established, and it can also spread disinformation when people hear something once but don't find out that it's later disconfirmed.

tspin said...

Rumors are perfectly fine as long as they are clearly labeled as rumors. I enjoy them and the discussions they initiate and if it weren't for bloggers like Tommaso I would have no access to them.

Journalists should not feed them to general public, but what can you do. And even if they do it's really not a big deal, it's certainly less harmful then the outright BS that is regularly being fed by the "science" channel or some such.

I don't see why Tommaso or anyone should change his blogging habits because there are idiots out there who might not be able to tell a rumor from truth.

stefan said...

Dear Bee,

Reading the article however, I was pleasantly surprised: Tamara Davis has provided a well-written, insightful and entertaining explanation of, yes, just standard physics knowledge! ... That's the sort of articles that we need more of.

That's true - but I have doubts if it is a good idea to market such articles with New Scientist-like title pages ;-)

Regarding rumors, I think there is a blurred distinction only between rumors about discoveries and reporting of tentative results. Of course, rumors covered in news reports should be based at least on some facts...

But I remember quite a lot of completely legitimate reports about tentative results that came out to be spurious (fifth force, cold fusion, 17 keV neutrino, pentaquarks, ...).

I think reports about such findings are fine, but they should make clear that the results are tentative. And they should explain why these results create excitement among researchers. This last part could be quite instructive for readers, even more so than the actual facts reported.

Maybe that's also an aspect Tommaso had in mind – when something (say, a rumor) creates a lot of excitement among some people, this can create interest in the topics these people care about.

Cheers, Stefan

Uncle Al said...

A surgeon does not juggle scalpels during surgery to amuse orderlies. Theory is already giggles,

http://snarxiv.org/vs-arxiv/
http://snarxiv.org/vs-arxiv/highscores/

The Standard Model arrives massless. 26 inserted parameters fit the curves. No Higgs, no SUSY, no SUGRA...

1) Neutrinos are 100% left-handed (spin antiparallel to velocity). Antineutrinos are 100% right-handed. This is observed.

2) Massed neutrinos must be Majorana and their own antiparticles. Neutrinos are massed: neutrino flavor oscillation during travel. Neutrinos are their own antiparticles: neutrinoless double beta-decay.

(1) + (2) is a problem. Undetectable 10^15 GeV point particles see-sawing the problem, like a desperately reworked Higgs, is humor not rumor.

Physics bobbles chirality. A postulated mirror symmetry is falsifiable. Socks and left shoes cannot detect left feet, but right shoes can. All the cordwainers are chemists. Physics is struck dumb. Ignorance is not a form of knowing things.

Bee said...

Hi Tspin,

I don't see why Tommaso or anyone should change his blogging habits because there are idiots out there who might not be able to tell a rumor from truth.

If you write publicly, you have responsibility. There will always be people who don't understand what 2 sigma means or who didn't get the details and you know that. We live in a world where it's printed on cigarette packs that smoking kills. That's the level on which you would have to mark your rumors for them to be responsibly. Basically, you'd have to start your writing with a flashing banner saying: The following is probably wrong and you'll never hear about it again.

I have no illusion that anybody is going to change their blogging habits, but I think I've explained very clearly in my post why I think they should: because, in the long run, spreading rumors works against, not for, communicating science to the public. Best,

B.

Bee said...

Hi Physicalist,

Indeed, it didn't occur to me, but you're probably right that loads of rumors that later aren't confirmed increase the skepticism about the validity of scientific discoveries in general. Best,

B.

Bee said...

Dear Stefan,

Well, they have to market it somehow. I don't care much about the wrapping as long as the content is okay.

Of course the line between a rumor that shouldn't be proclaimed and a tentative result is somewhat blurry. But the line distinguishing between what is and what isn't a measurement that has a plausible prospect of changing our understanding of the world and is thus worthy of publicizing seems to be shifting more and more towards: let's just write about it, at the very least it will get us attention.

Oh, yeah, the cold fusion is probably a particularly bad example. In the end, what has it caused, all these reports: disappointment with science. Best,

B.

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Bee,

As it comes to the value of rumours in science the way I have it figured is they represent to be the same depth of quality of knowledge most people have about just about anything else. That is I find what most call knowledge is a compilation of facts both right and wrong with little understanding of any of them to any significant degree. The sad thing being the quality of the knowledge they have has little to do with how it’s distributed or even if it be right or wrong, yet rather rests with how it’s acquired.

That is from my experience with people there are what I would recognize as two types of learners, with one being the “route learner” and the other the “conceptual learner”. Knowledge for the route learner is simply the process of accumulation and reutilization of facts, while for the conceptual learner it is the process used to consider and discover concepts which are then reasoned to be compared with what is first perceived as the facts or their own initial observations. I have also observed throughout the years that the vast majority of people are route learners and not conceptual ones. Unfortunately I have no explanation for this observation and yet am firmly convinced that unless and until this can be significantly altered, whether things put out there stand as being either rumour or not will make little difference in respect to the general state of knowledge.

Best,

Phil

Kay zum Felde said...

Hi Bee,

rumors are mad until they are established or withdrawn. And you are right, people sometimes or often don't know what's going on. Think about this black hole rumors at LHC. Someone in the US wanted to go to court to stop the experiments at Cern, or was this a rumor too ? I don't remember.

Best, Kay

Steven Colyer said...

Just as Romance and Sex are the glue that hold a marriage together, gossip is the glue that holds a culture (community/society/whatever you wish to call it) together, and rumors are the fuel of gossip.

I don't like what I just said btw, and I fought it, until I spent a decade studying the very active (and growing) field of Organizational Psychology, which contrary to the "rumor" (for the English: rumour)that it is a "soft" science, does in fact use quite a bit of Mathematics; Linear Algebra in particular.

So let's start a rumor, why not? More fuel for the fire, so to speak.

RUMOR!(<==you have been warned): Fermilab with their Tevatron are quite jealous of CERN and their LHC. Since we can all see the writing on the wall in the next decade, and the Chicago boys'n'girls are no exception, they decided they would not go quietly into the night, and would rage against the dying of their light.

Specifically, after years of trying to see if previous Tevatron runs had detected a Higgs, and utterly failing in that regard, they planted a rumor with noted CERN blogger Dorigo Tommasso, to see if he would bite, and he did. Oh, the mirth and merriment in Chicago when the repercussions hit the fan! Such meanies! Should we have expected more from a city best known for packing meat?

Plato said...

Rumors play their parts.

Trust that the tentative hold a scientist can have on reality and you can be sure that a scientist will set the record straight?:)

I mean that's the responsibility one contends with when they "know the truth" and want to "set the record straight?" That said, it said nothing about what a scientist has to do or should do, just that it comes across when there is this caring and emphatic desire that seeks to better inform society?

Overall, scientists are able to observe the consequences of and form ideas about processes that can unfold and seek to better demonstrate that if this record setting is not straight, then indeed, society itself will be sent on a delusional ride to an extreme because of.

Lest us be reminded of the "disaster scenarios," and the positioning for clarity, that one had to speak of while progressing with the LHC experiments. At last, John Steinberg.

Let's see?

String theory rumored to be true?

Ah! of course not, with a work in progress theoretically, some will cite it to be "rumor wise?"

Of course, a whole topic could then be written on the state of affairs and polarizations taken, while it was always understood that the work was theoretical. So yes, we have to be careful indeed.

Best,

Steven Colyer said...
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Steven Colyer said...

Let's see?

String theory rumored to be true?

Ah! of course not, with a work in progress theoretically, some will cite it to be "rumor wise?"


Peter Woit is way ahead of you, Plato. Click here to see what I'm talking about.

Always be skeptical of any thing you read by a Science Journalist. If the interviewee is Andrei Linde, doubly so (because somebody must always be the current holder of the George Gamow Wildest Speculator Chair).

Plato said...

Hi Steven,

I was there when Peter started:)

Let's just say for me, he was "an experiment of opposing views" gone bad( sorry Bee).:)

An exercise, in recognizing that Boid function, rumored, to be true?:)

I liked Lee's style better, even though Lee limitations were mathematically realized, he remained open, and he remained open to the idea of the curriculum of PI?:)

If your a "quantum gravity person" you keep all your options open for inspection while not "physically shutting the door."

Even if you are a famous scientists saying, and making shifts, you cannot erase the mathematical insights.:)

It's whether it is "rumored to be a basis for our understanding of the conditions in nature," LHC continues to work at elucidating theoretical perspective in a experimental settings. Nature exists while we imitate.

Phenomenological forward progressions, this always makes sense. This was the scientific responsible part of the process to see that in theory whether the theorems can work.

Plateau perspectives, give one a way in which to look at the world in new ways? Knocks one out of their current orbits:)Shocks the system.

A "tonal shift" anyone?:)


Best,

Phil Warnell said...
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Phil Warnell said...

Hi Steven & Plato,

As the rumours fly about of a lighter higgs and no sign of super symmetry, I am reminded of the common complaint people have of things always being in the last place that they look. Science however has no such complaint as it knows why that is simply being because once something is found one stops looking and thus it’s always the last place you’ve looked:-) On the other hand it is science’s job to never stop looking and on occasion with often looking in places that don’t even seem possible to exist and in so doing some of the greatest discoveries of all have been made. So for me the only consideration about rumour in science given should be in respect to their intent, that being good if it keeps us looking, while bad if it only has us stop before we thoroughly have.

Best,

Phil

tamarastro said...

Reading the article however, I was pleasantly surprised: Tamara Davis has provided a well-written, insightful and entertaining explanation of, yes, just standard physics knowledge! ... That's the sort of articles that we need more of.

>That's true - but I have doubts if it is a good idea to market such articles with New Scientist-like title pages ;-)


Funnily enough, I was pretty sceptical about the cover page too! Firstly I have to say that the Scientific American editors are a great bunch that really worked with me as an author make the article as accurate, clear, and coherent as we could make it. They get really involved, really do their research, and their help was invaluable.

Did you notice that the title of the article was "Is the Universe Leaking Energy?" but on the cover it became "The Universe is Leaking"?! I actually argued rather vehemently against the question as the title because I thought it was misleading, but the editors won out with the argument that it was a rather catchy question and it was clear from the article that the answer was no. Imagine my surprise when I found out it was the cover story, and that on the cover the question had become a statement! Still, after a moment of dismay I decided that in the scheme of things it's rather a small complaint. As long as the public are getting their dose of good science I'm pleased. (And I hope I managed to write what could be called good science!!)

Zephir said...

In brief, energy conservation law cannot be violated in theory, the derivation of which is based on energy conservation law....

Rastus Odinga Odinga said...

I thought that the Davis article was pretty dreadful actually. First she carefully and correctly explains that the cosmological redshift is not a Doppler effect. Then she calmly dismisses this absolutely fundamental distinction as "semantics" and tries to concoct a way of arguing that the energy of a photon both is, and is not, conserved. Then there is a lot of drivel about the "relative kinetic energy of comoving galaxies" etc etc etc. The author could have just said: according to Noether's theorem we should not expect energy to be conserved in a spacetime with no timelike Killing vector, and in fact it isn't: that's what redshift is. The end."
Instead all we get is pages of waffle designed to make people feel less upset about that fact that energy isn't conserved in cosmology.

Actually I suspect that the author is suffering from the exact reverse of the phenomenon everyone is deploring here: saying that energy is not conserved sounds sensational, and she wants to avoid a sensational conclusion at all costs.

Plato said...

Hi Phil,

I am reminded of the common complaint people have of things always being in the last place that they look

It sounds like a "retrospective view of something past tense?":)

That's part of the realization, that when looking back, it may seem strange that the new thoughts could ever had been as concepts grasped, had one not taken the journey.

Part of the success, is assuming an ideal about what a future could garner if only it had only been accepted and grokked sooner?:)

As we both know, the quantum gravity issue is far from concluded.

Best,

Luke said...

Bee,

Thanks to you I read the article in Scientific American that I saw on my friend's table. It was actually quite good. Nice to see a description of Noether's theorem for the general public.

Bee said...

Zephir: Why don't you read the article? Conservation laws follow from symmetry principles. The conservation law you have in General Relativity is *not* one for the total energy. What's conserved there instead is something called the stress-energy-tensor. Best,

B.

Bee said...

Hi Tamara,

I think you got across a big bunch of knowledge there. And no, I hadn't noticed the different headlines. Best,

B.

Steven Colyer said...
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Steven Colyer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Steven Colyer said...

Hi Plato,

You wrote:
If your a "quantum gravity person" you keep all your options open for inspection while not "physically shutting the door."

I do keep all my options open. I was 99.999 percent against superstrings up until the Fermi result (singular) of a year ago regarding Lorentz scale invariance, so I'm only 75% against it now. At this rate, in about 4 years I'll be the world's number one Landscape Anthropist and cry out in the wilderness: "FORGIVE me Lord Susskind and Lord Polchinski! Forgive me my Lords! I was blind but now I see!"

I highly flipping doubt it though. I can spot a sales job a mile away, and SST strikes me as a classic textbook example.

Anyway and at the risk of sounding like a broken record, SST borrowed heavily from Solid State Physics, so it's no surprise its giving back to Condensate. I will ALWAYS be intrigued by any theory that explores extra dimensions, but as far as I can tell we live in a three dimensions of space and one very unidirectional dimension of time Universe, and I'd love as much as you and the next guy and gal to see proof that we don't.

You also wrote:
Even if you are a famous scientist saying, and making shifts, you cannot erase the mathematical insights.:)

SST has always struck me as intriguing mathematics. That's one step above "Interesting" and one step below "Great." But Math isn't Physics. It might apply to the real world, it might not. Physics needs Math moreso than the other way around.

If my memory of Issacson's Bio on Einstein serves correctly (and it may not), I believe Einstein placed 5th out of 6th of the 6 Physicists who graduated in their undergraduate class. The guy who finished first was Einstein's best friend in those years, Marcel Grossmann. Grossmann would go on to Head the Math Department there at Zurich. He would turn Einstein on to the so-important Non-Euclidean Geometry of Riemann when old Albert got stuck on the Road to General Relativity. And so we can conclude ...

Einstein was even a genius at picking the right friends!

Bee said...

Hi Kay,

Yes, there were really people trying to get CERN stop the LHC. That wasn't a rumor. It also wasn't based on a rumor, it was based on plain misinformation and mass-hysteria that, unfortunately, the press fed. They luckily stopped doing this at some point. I found it really irresponsible to scare people with made-up catastrophe scenarios. The trials never went anywhere, the LHC is running nicely, and we're still alive. In hindsight, it's a very sad story about the role of the media in "communicating" science. Best,

B.

Bee said...

Hi Phil,

It's an interesting distinction you draw for how people accumulate knowledge, though not sure how it relates to the issue of rumors in particular? I probably would have said everybody learns en route, just that some chose their route while others just trod along wherever the path they're on may lead them an pick up things along the way. Best,

B.

Phil Warnell said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Phil Warnell said...

Hi Bee,


Yes I would agree the difference between what I call a route learner and a conceptual one is not something easily discerned. In short a route learner’s knowledge would present as that of a computer’s database where its application only relates when cross referenced to be matched with the same or very similar situation(s). For a conceptual learner more importance is given to how things come to be considered as true as to the reasoning and observations that support them.

I guess what I’m saying is that I find that some people for reasons yet unkown think as scientists, while most do not. That is for most it’s only important what they think to be knowledge serves to work for them, while for the few they are never satisfied until they know how and occasionally why things should be taken as true. That is in realizing facts on their own have limited or little utility, while well considered and understood concepts can take one a long way, even in having them disproved. So for the route learner rumour or not makes little difference as to whatever the source what do they actually know; while for a conceptual one rumour presents as being little danger resultant for what is required for them to find they know anything.
.

” Whereas our argument shows that the power and capacity of learning exists in the soul already; and that just as the eye was unable to turn from darkness to light without the whole body, so too the instrument of knowledge can only by the movement of the whole soul be turned from the world of becoming into that of being, and learn by degrees to endure the sight of being and of the brightest and best of being, or in other words, of the good.”

-Plato- Allegory of the Cave

“I want to know how God created this world. I am not interested in this or that phenomenon, in the spectrum of this or that element. I want to know His thoughts; the rest are details.”

-Albert Einstein


Best,

Phil

Steven Colyer said...

Phil, isn't it spelled "Rote" learning, not "Route" learning, or is that yet another example of the difference between Canadian/England versions of how to spell words, compared to American English speakers?

Heck, in America, we actually call it "German Rote" learning. Is that a slam on the Germans? I hope not, if so I'll stop using it. One needn't explore Physics very far before one is in awesome amazement of German/Austrian/Swiss contributions to same.

Plato said...

"Gravity cannot be held responsible for people falling in love. Albert Einstein"

Hi Steven,

Einstein was even a genius at picking the right friends!

Who would have known in looking in "this last place" that it would have provided the key to Einstein's success?

It's true then, even Howard Burton knew and suspected what was needed was a degree of understanding could revolutionize the perspective, not only of the world around us, but of how we could look at the cosmos too.

One does not say because "Non euclidean is so abstract" there is no use? But instead, recognizes a basis in nature that was not discernible until a revolution took place in answering the fifth postulate?

Each one gave a flawed proof of the parallel postulate, containing some hidden assumption equivalent to that postulate. In this way properties of hyperbolic geometry were discovered, even though no one believed such a geometry to be possible.Seminar on the History of Hyperbolic Geometry, by Greg Schreiber

Let's say "A biologist" may form his perspective around physics and learn the concepts.

He then goes back to what he knows. He has been profoundly changed, not by mere coincidence of logical correlations phenomenological expressed, but what he has truly grokked as a scientist "could be used" according to the way the concepts work.

Used in other venues?

He does not discount the process of responsibility and progression, nor do I.:)

And yes, it is more then just the elements them self that I see, but more like "the substance of our choices" expressed:)

My, all the time it had just been a thinking mind?

The biologist though knows it is not reducible, yet, even here the idea has not been fully serviced, yet he can conclude as, it so.

See, the subtle hints could have been given for us to go with a biologist point of view(from their ole friends that influence), and it was by such a suggestion the same such advice was given?:)

Best,

Phil Warnell said...
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Phil Warnell said...

Hi Steven,

You have me there as I’m not really sure. By the way that’s the disadvantage of being Canadian as both American and English spellings are commonly used and nothing to determine which is correct. By the way when someone says to me they don’t know or are not sure it is an indication for me they are a conceptual learners, as they are never ashamed of their ignorance as that being one of their few givens, One thing I am certain of as preferring it be English it isn’t rumor yet rather rumour:-)

Best,

Phil

Plato said...

These matters of fact are - like all matters of fact - not necessary, but only of empirical certainty; they are hypotheses. We may therefore investigate their probability, which within the limits of observation is of course very great, and inquire about the justice of their extension beyond the limits of observation, on the side both of the infinitely great and of the infinitely small. On the Hypotheses which lie at the Bases of Geometry.Bernhard Riemann

Translated by William Kingdon Clifford

[Nature, Vol. VIII. Nos. 183, 184, pp. 14--17, 36, 37.]


I attach special importance to the view of geometry which I have just set forth, because without it I should have been unable to formulate the theory of relativity. ... In a system of reference rotating relatively to an inert system, the laws of disposition of rigid bodies do not correspond to the rules of Euclidean geometry on account of the Lorentz contraction; thus if we admit non-inert systems we must abandon Euclidean geometry. ... If we deny the relation between the body of axiomatic Euclidean geometry and the practically-rigid body of reality, we readily arrive at the following view, which was entertained by that acute and profound thinker, H. Poincare:--Euclidean geometry is distinguished above all other imaginable axiomatic geometries by its simplicity. Now since axiomatic geometry by itself contains no assertions as to the reality which can be experienced, but can do so only in combination with physical laws, it should be possible and reasonable ... to retain Euclidean geometry. For if contradictions between theory and experience manifest themselves, we should rather decide to change physical laws than to change axiomatic Euclidean geometry. If we deny the relation between the practically-rigid body and geometry, we shall indeed not easily free ourselves from the convention that Euclidean geometry is to be retained as the simplest. (33-4)Einstein See:Einstein on Geometry and Experience

Best,

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Steven,

Rumour has it that Steven Colyer has forsaken his interest and study of physical science to instead dedicate himself to mathematical research. The tricky thing being, even though the source of this rumour can’t have it disregarded one is left wondering as with the rumour regarding Bret Favre’s intentions, having the same directness of source, what each actually means in respect to knowledge. Then again that’s the beauty of science as rumours are often able to be discerned as to what they represent being in such regard with the aid of reasoned observation:-)

Best,

Phil

Plato said...

HENRI POINCARE

Mathematics and Science:Last Essays

8 Last Essays

But it is exactly because all things tend toward death that life is an exception which it is necessary to explain.

Let rolling pebbles be left subject to chance on the side of a mountain, and they will all end by falling into the valley. If we
find one of them at the foot, it will be a commonplace effect which
will teach us nothing about the previous history of the pebble;
we will not be able to know its original position on the mountain.

But if, by accident, we find a stone near the summit, we can assert that it has always been there, since, if it had been on the slope, it would have rolled to the very bottom. And we will make this assertion with the greater certainty, the more exceptional the event is and the greater the chances were that the situation would not have occurred.



In order to arrive at the conclusive results of Peter's Steinberg's synopsis for a conclusion at allaying fears, there was a trail of information that was laid out in the form of "strangelets?"

Rumored(US spelling) to be true? :))

Any detective work of course included looking into the idea of these strangelets and what those working the lawsuits grabbed onto.

I was just the detective.:)

In recent years the main focus of fear has been the giant machines used by particle physicists. Could the violent collisions inside such a machine create something nasty? "Every time a new machine has been built at CERN," says physicist Alvaro de Rujula, "the question has been posed and faced." Sorry link expired.

In 1983,

But particle physicists have this covered. In 1983, Martin Rees of Cambridge University and Piet Hut of the Institute of Advanced Study, Princeton, pointed out that cosmic rays (high-energy charged particles such as protons) have been smashing into things in our cosmos for aeons. Many of these collisions release energies hundreds of millions of times higher than anything RHIC can muster--and yet no disastrous vacuum collapse has occurred. The Universe is still here.

This argument also squashes any fears about black holes or strange matter. If it were possible for an accelerator to create such a doomsday object, a cosmic ray would have done so long ago. "We are very grateful for cosmic rays," says Jaffe.
A Black Hole Ate My Planet-link also expired.

I won't bring this up again.

Best,

Plato said...

On better reporting days.:)

Light Deflection at the Sun

Best,

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Steven,

After more careful scrutiny I find you are indeed correct in having it called rote rather than route, as rote defines in the online dictionary as “a memorizing process using routine or repetition, often without full attention or comprehension: learn by rote” .However what nailed it for me is a statement I found written by Francias Bacon, that since being he was not only a founder of the scientific method. yet even more so clearly an Englishman:-) Please excuse the religious overtones of the following quote yet it has Bacon have the meaning of rote as something not rooted in considered thought. More interesting I find this as additional reason to understand that rote learning and rumour to be even more strongly connected; that is as neither something arrived at by rote or rumour requires no means of confirmation.


The Scripture saith, The fool hath said in his heart, there is no God; it is not said, The fool hath thought in his heart; so as he rather saith it, by rote to himself, as that he would have, than that he can thoroughly believe it, or be persuaded of it.


-Francias Bacon- Of Atheism


Best,

Phil

Steven Colyer said...

Hi Phil,

You wrote:
Rumour has it that Steven Colyer has forsaken his interest and study of physical science to instead dedicate himself to mathematical research.

There's no rumor about it, Phil. I have. As much as I like Physics, I am sick and tired of the totally IMMATURE Strings v Loops Wars, not to mention the utterly stupid Internal SuperStrings Theory Civil War (Susskind and David Gross being the 2 respective generals, like Grant (Gross, the winner IMO) and Lee).

I write about my reasons here, I see no reason to repeat myself here at Bee's and Stefan's fine website.

Phil Warnell said...

Hi Steven,

To some degree I can understand your feelings and yet I think you would have hardly found a time when such bickering didn’t exist in respect to physics. Math may seem to be less plagued and yet if your research is more fundamental as in set theory you are bound to discover things similar; like as for instance if the axiom of choice should be legitimately considered as being such. Actually the late great Bertrand Russell was so frustrated by seemingly endless debates such as this he switched as to dedicate the last part of his life to philosophical considerations and thus based on your reasoning I wouldn’t be surprised you end up the same;-)

.”Suppose there is a town with just one male barber; and that every man in the town keeps himself clean-shaven: some by shaving themselves, some by attending the barber. It seems reasonable to imagine that the barber obeys the following rule: He shaves all and only those men in town who do not shave themselves.
Under this scenario, we can ask the following question: Does the barber shave himself?
Asking this, however, we discover that the situation presented is in fact impossible":
 If the barber does not shave himself, he must abide by the rule and shave himself.
 If he does shave himself, according to the rule he will not shave himself.

-supposed corollary of Russell’s Paradox (as found in Wikipedia )

Anyway regardless of what I think I do wish you all the best in respect to your decision.

Best,

Phil

Steven Colyer said...
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Steven Colyer said...

Hi Phil,

You wrote:

To some degree I can understand your feelings and yet I think you would have hardly found a time when such bickering didn’t exist in respect to physics.

I can think of one VERY important time it didn't exist, Phil, and that was in the time of Einstein and Bohr. We have gotten ... so far ... away from that. Because of in spite of their disagreements, they still respected each others' genius and opinions, and remained friends.

See much of THAT, toDAY, Phil?

Bohr after all, won all three of their greatest debates regarding QM. Were it a (Soccer)/Football score, it would be

Bohr 3 Einstein 0

That would be the score. Except ... Einstein DID get Bohr's goat by vexing him a puzzle just before lunch at one of the Solvays, and THAT IS THE famous photo of Bohr trying to explain something to Einstein, and Einstein ignoring and smiling and looking smug at the camera.

AFTER lunch, after consulting with Heisenberg and Pauli, Bohr came back and won the argument regarding Quantum Mechanics.

A picture can tell a thousand words, but it can also tell a thousand lies.

Why, Phil?

Well it really doesn't matter, that's just the way it is.

Thank you for the Barber analogy, Phil. That's why when when I walk into a barbershop of multiple barbers I don't know, I pick the guy the WORST haircut, because I pretty much assume he didn't cut his own hair. :-)

Neil B said...

The important thing is that Tommaso called the post "Rumors about ..." so he wasn't pretending the rumors were more than that. I think it's newsworthy that such thoughts are floating around and it can stimulate thought. As long as things are well framed and accurately assessed (to the rough sense possible in such cases) there is IMHO little to complain about per se (that is, other than any specific complaints about this or that detail, as usual re any piece.)

stefan said...

Hi Tamara,

thanks for dropping by and commenting on the "making of" of your SciAm article!

I have to admit, I haven't read it yet, but I was kind of relieved when I saw the author and first paragraph: So it was not a promotion of some highly speculative half-baked idea, but the explanation of a well-established but surprising (at least to me...) concept.

BTW, I found your older paper, "Expanding Confusion" (astro-ph/0310808), highly enlightening - I can recommend it to anyone interested in cosmology.

Cheers, Stefan

Zephir said...

/*..what's conserved there instead is something called the stress-energy-tensor...*/

You didn't understand it. For example Peano algebra is based on commutativity of addition, associativity of addition and multiplication. These principles therefore can be never violated in any result, derived by using of this algebra in formally rigorous way. It doesn't matter, whether certain result considers it for some particular values only.

In special relativity, the conservation of energy/momentum law corresponds to the statement that the energy/momentum tensor is divergence-free. This energetic bilance is just generalized to curved spacetime by replacing partial derivatives with their curved-manifold counterparts, covariant derivatives from differential geometry. With this additional condition the covariant divergence of the energy-momentum tensor, and hence of whatever is on the other side of the equation, is zero and you get the simplest set of what is called Einstein's (field) equations.

Zephir said...

Let's talk about it in physical/phenomenological way: under which situation the total energy in general relativity may not be conserved? Where we could observe it?

Bee said...

Zephir: The total energy in General Relativity is just not a conserved quantity, period. It's in general not even well-defined. Where can you observe it? Eg. redshift of a photon in the gravitational field. The energy of the photon is not a conserved quantity, it decreases if the photon moves away from the gravitating body. Or, why don't you go and just read the SciAm article? Best,

B.

Zephir said...

/*..The energy of the photon is not a conserved quantity, it decreases if the photon moves away from the gravitating body...*/

Just because this photon raises in gravitational field and it loses potential energy during this - this result is based just on the assumption, the total energy of photon energy is constant. If it wouldn't, we could develop perspetuum mobile based on red-shift.

/* Why don't you go and just read the SciAm article?*/
This is why I'm just explaining, what's wrong with it.

Bee said...

Zephir: The SciAm article deals with General Relativity, which is a theory that has been confirmed to excellent precision, and the artile clears up quite common misunderstandings about conservation laws. If you think there's anything wrong with General Relativity or with the notion of energy in General Relativity, what you should be doing is the following: You go and and write a paper about it. I am absolutely not interested in further demonstrations of your ignorance and unwillingness to think about what I'm saying. You know what this means. Good bye,

B.

Tommaso said...

Hi Bee,

somebody pointed me to your post here. I of course disagree with you -this much you knew.

So you blame me for "trying to make myself more interesting" through blogging rubbish. I think you are overestimating me if you believe I knew beforehand how big the bubble would have gotten.

More in general, if you can claim that making yourself interesting is not one of the reasons of your own blogging, please do so -it would be a rather steep one.

About your three points:

1 - I disagree, there is no cry-wolf effect. On the contrary, if people read what the Higgs is only when it is discovered, they forget it the next day. Keep it in the press and make it a race between US and Europe, with false claims every six months, and they will remember what it is, and learn some physics in the meantime.
Prove me that there is a cry-wolf effect in science popularization: I dare you. The truth is the opposite, and yours is only common sense.

2 - Why not making up rumours ? Because we have a credibility. My rumour was a honest-to-god rumour: I can prove it to you in private -and besides, apart from the fact that there were indeed people who rumoured the thing, there indeed is a 3-sigmish effect in Tevatron data; only, the Tevatron exps made every effort to conceal it, since it is most probably a systematics-driven thing.
In any case, making up false rumours won't bring you very far. That's the problem with your second point.

3 - is it a problem that the rumours concentrate on overhyped things ? I disagree. Make quantum optics more exciting and people will want to read about it. But don't blame me for only discussing about what I know, and for it being by chance a topic under the spotlights.

Cheers,
T.

Bee said...

Hi Tomasso,

Sure, I know you'd disagree. If it was obvious whether or not spreading rumors is beneficial for the community in the long run, why would I find it worth discussing here? So thanks for sharing your point of view.

I never said or hinted at you blogging "rubbish," that wasn't the point of what I was saying. Basically I was asking you to consider the possible consequences of what you're doing. I don't think it will help creating and maintaining interest and confidence in physics in the long run. You might disagree, but you know what they say: Opinions are like assholes, everybody has one. Now you know mine. Opinion I mean. Of course you couldn't know what the consequences of your blog post would be. But you've been around long enough to know exactly this was a possibility.

About your three points: 1) Oh yes, there is. What planet do you live on? What do you think where all this cynicism about the use of science and progress in certain research programs, may that be oncology or quantum gravity, comes from? 2) Can you reliably speak for everybody? Can you? 3) I actually think quantum optics is interesting and would like to read more about it. Problem is that what I read instead are repetitions of the same hypes.

And no, making myself more interesting is not and has never been a motivation for my blogging, believe that or not. Best,

B.

M*P*Lockwood said...
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M*P*Lockwood said...

I firmly believe that the fault for elevating this rumor to "news story" lies with the "science reporters."

I seem to recall Tommaso's blog posting being quite clearly labeled as rumor and speculation. In fact, I revisited the post just now and indeed the title itself is "Rumors About A Light Higgs." That would be clue #1. Secondly, it is appearing on a BLOG. Then the posting begins with a few notes about the opinions on science rumors and a disclaimer that the author knows nothing whatsoever about the truth or falsehood of the rumor. Then the next section is titled "The Rumor."

This seems like pretty clear labeling to me. In fact, when I first saw a story on this on a bona fide news website, the headline began "Blog Reports on a Rumor..." - and it is at that point that the "science reporter" should have realized that they did not have a news story at all.

I can speak for the moderately informed laymen here, of which I am one. I understand when a rumor is a rumor. I know that "evidence of" something does not mean that it is conclusive. I can tell when New Scientist headlines are being sensationalist. I do like hearing about rumors and speculation because it is part of the story of how science is done and I like hearing about how it unfolds.

I understand the concern about eroding trust in science, and I do admire your dedication to getting things right Bee. I just think that the trust erosion danger is very low in this case. I would guess that nearly all the people who read a story on "signs of the Higgs particle" fall into one of 3 categories: They know enough to know when something is speculative, or they are going to willfully misinterpret whatever is written anyway, or (probably the biggest proportion) they will skim and come away with the general impression that "scientists are still looking for that Higgs thing."

This is just my own speculation! When the 'canals' of Mars turned out to be 'channels' did people lose their faith in scientists? Did people lose their interest in the search for extraterrestrial life?