Tuesday, July 02, 2013

“String theorists have to sit in the back.”

In March, Lawrence Krauss took part in a discussion hosted by an Islamic group at University College London. He evidently did not expect what he saw upon arrival, that all women were sitting in the back and (according to this newspaper report) men were prevented from sitting among the women. This YouTube clip captures Krauss’ refusal to be part of such an event, and his request that the segregation be quit. His demands were eventually met.

There is some disagreement in the newspapers on whether or not the gender segregation was voluntary. Be that as it may, I can understand Krauss’ reaction and would probably have done the same.

Reason I’m telling you this is not that I’ve suddenly become an activist for women’s rights in Islam, but that a month later Krauss’ gave a public lecture in Stockholm (I was not there). He was introduced by a guy called Christer Sturmark, and I recommend you listen to this yourself, at 1:20 – 2:10 min


“I now realize that maybe I should have warned Professor Krauss that our audience here is also segregated. String theorists have to sit in the back. I hope that’s okay.”
So there’s this guy, Sturmark, who tells us on his website that he’s editor of a journal for cultural and intellectual debates and who, on Wikipedia, is described as “prominent debater on religion and humanism in Swedish media.” This “intellectual” evidently thinks it’s funny to pretend that string theorists have to sit in the back of the room, like suppressed and disadvantaged women in certain religious groups. To make matters worse, he is clearly reading his introduction off, so it’s not like that was the kind of spontaneous joke that came out wrong. It was a deliberately made comparison. It was probably made because he thought that it would amuse the audience. And though I can’t say that they were exactly rolling on the floor, you can hear some laughter in the recording.

Sturmark doesn’t seem to have an education in physics (according to Wikipedia he has a BA in computer science), so it appears fair to say that he probably doesn’t know what he’s talking about. And evidently he thought it okay to make jokes about string theory without knowing what he’s talking about. Because everybody does it, right? Imagine he’d have said “Material scientists have to sit in the back. I hope that’s okay.” Haha. Wait. WFT?

My problem isn’t so much with Sturmark himself – the world is full with guys who think they’re oh-so-smart and who need a haircut. He’s hardly the first to make fun of string theorists, and he probably won’t be the last. No, my problem is the impression that jokes and condescending remarks about string theorists have become acceptable in general.

This isn’t an “intellectual debate”. This is a sickening way of making brainless jokes about a whole group of scientists. Yes, some of the stuff that they work on will turn out to have no relevance for our understanding of nature. The same can be said about literally all research areas. Yes, some of them seem to have gone off the deep end. But one shouldn’t extrapolate from single points of data.

No, I’m not a string theorist. No, I’ve never even worked on string theory. No, I’m not married to a string theorist either. Or if, he’s hiding it well. Yes, I think more attention should be paid to making contact to experiment, that’s why I work on the phenomenology of quantum gravity. I want to know how to describe quantum effects of space and time and, whether you like that or not, string theory was and is still among the best candidates.

I think it’s really bad taste to make fun of scientists just because they are interested in certain research questions. What worries me much more than the bad taste though is that scientists of course take note of the public opinion, consciously and unconsciously. Scientists make deliberate efforts to keep discussions and evaluations objective in order to be able to make accurate assessments of the promise of certain research directions. And this strive for objectivity is greatly skewed by publicly ridicule.

In comparison to the struggles for women’s rights this is a petty issue of course. But it’s about a topic, quantum gravity, I care deeply about, even if the biggest part of the world doesn’t.

Having said that, if you watch the first 15 minutes or so of Krauss’ lecture you’ll note that he makes a whole series of jokes and fails to elicit laughter from the Scandinavians, which is quite amusing in its own right. If you’ve ever given a talk somewhere in North Europe, you can probably relate. He didn’t exactly help his situation by self-deprecating remarks about the USA - Italians might have been laughing their butts off, but Swedes are much too polite for this. Be that as it may, Krauss’ lecture is well structured and well delivered, though I guess that most of you won’t actually learn anything new from it.

63 comments:

CapitalistImperialistPig said...

Finally! A stirring defense of one of the world's most cruelly disadvantaged minorities.

Tommaso Dorigo said...

As a polite Italian I am deeply offended by your remark ;-)

T.

Arun said...

I applaud Krauss for taking a stand against segregated seating, but wonder whether he should be debating such a person in the first place.
http://freethoughtblogs.com/butterfliesandwheels/2013/03/women-over-there-please-no-exceptions/
"...
Hamza Tzortzis, most famous for declaring that “we as Muslims reject the idea of freedom of speech, and even the idea of freedom”"

Nidnus Rep said...

Sturmark is a militant materialist / skeptic. He has written a few very provocative articles in both Svenska Dagbladet and Dagens Nyheter. As far as I know he even managed to create a split in the Swedish humanist movement. My general impression of him is that of a very negative character, a bit in line with Randi or the like.

// String theorist :)

L. Edgar Otto said...

I am sure Krauss is a great promoter of religious values... culture itself is fair game as a humorous thing for the buffoon comedians reading from the Book of Seinfeld.

No, I am not going to listen to any more of his lectures or books and hardly regard this excellent blog post as a rant. It is the truth.

Your defense of science and objectivity in search of a meaningful description is commendable - and a great honor to women so essential for human rights and science itself. Alas, true equality only exists in Armenia on this count. (not even Sweden).

Tommaso I am in the middle row and well that comment cracks me up!

Arun said...

Here is what Hamza Tzortzis says now.
http://www.hamzatzortzis.com/clarifications-and-responses/clarifying-my-views-on-freedom-of-speech/

The essential limit on the freedom of speech that Hamza and co want is to re-institute the idea of blasphemy.

Arun said...

http://savvyskeptic.com/the-big-debates-islamoratheism-which-makes-more-sense-lawrence-krauss-hamza-tzortzis/

I am sorry, but Krauss vs Tzortzis is no intellectual debate either, no scientist worth anything should be sharing a stage with Tzortzis. I think Krauss let his atheism override any good judgment.

Nemo said...

Dear Bee,

I heartily agree with what you write in this article.

Way too often, in Physics blogs and in discussions below popular news articles etc, as soon as certain BSM physics keywords, topics in cosmology, etc are mentioned and yes of course, it gets worst and wildest as soon as somebody mentions string theory, the comment section is full of people who mostly are not qualified from their background and physics knowledge to judge these topics properly, but have nevertheless the lightheartednes or audacity to spit and spat on an these research directions and people working thereon. I just remeber the comments to your previous nice article ... ;-).

So as sadly observe, people working on certain fundamental physics topics should in the opinion of too large a fraction of the public not only sit in the back, but hide in the underground or disappear alltogether.

Good string theory jokes I enjoy and they sometimes make me chuckle for weeks :-D, but what one reads in comments below blogs, online articles, and sometimes even in news article that should report correctly about physics but try to start flame wars instead, is not meant as a friendly joke at all. People doing these scornful comments really think that certain groups of physicists has no longer the right to be treated as humans :-/

That is why I in physics blogs often only read the article itself and avoid looking at the comments to closely.

If I were working on string theory, I would probably not say this in the context of a cocktail party or anywhere in front of a non expert audience to avoid meant serious hostil and scornful comments etc today ... :-/

peter-w-morgan said...

You're right that hitting string theorists when they are somewhat down is reprehensible, and it is perhaps a sign of the times that you feel that string theorists might need to be defended, but it might also have been in bad taste to scorn physicists who maintained that string theory was the way to go. That scorn was heaped liberally by string theorists ---over the decade 1995-2005, say--- continues to feed some sense that string theorists may be reaping what they sowed. For physicists it's quite personal, not just laughter, because there's a sense that this was not just scorn, it was, more fundamentally, a matter of funding decisions. For string theorists now it's personal for the same reason.

The tendency for laymen now to laugh at string theorists reflects a depth of feeling that any academic who has socialized with physicists might well have come across. The person you berate for not knowing enough about string theory to scorn it may have talked to enough physicists to have been knowledgeable about the social landscape. Comparison of the situation of women in Islam with the situation of string theorists in physics, however, seems indeed problematic.

peter-w-morgan said...

Sorry. That should have been "but it might also have been in bad taste to scorn physicists who maintained that string theory was not the way to go". The interface for posting comments in blogger is awful.

Unknown said...

but then...Krauss made fun of lawyers in his speech when he was talking about Hubble, is someone going to write a whole article about that too?

Red C said...

"If I were working on string theory, I would probably not say this in the context of a cocktail party or anywhere in front of a non expert audience to avoid meant serious hostil and scornful comments etc today ... :-/"

Well, me being a string theorist, I view it just the other way around. As if scientists were not able to face up against the adversaries of science!

Rather, I know the subject a trillion times better than those laymen who have no clue what they talk about, and as such I can give a defense and retort that they just stand there speechless with open mouth!

Sabine Hossenfelder said...

Red C,

I hear you. When I said that scientists are influenced by the public opinion, I did not necessarily mean they'll give up in the face of ridicule. Some will be deterred, other ones will go into defense. Either way, it's an influence that polarizes, biases, and interferes with objectivity, and I don't think it's healthy for science. Best,

B.

Zephir said...

/* I’m not married to a string theorist either. Or if, he’s hiding it well */

With famous landscape of 10E+500 string theory solutions you can be never sure, that the physics which your husband is currently dealing with doesn't already belong into realm of some variant of string theory - no matter how much obscure it may appear at the first look. In this respect every attempt for forceful segregation of string theorists from the rest of physicists may remain futile in advance.

Sabine Hossenfelder said...

Arun,

It's a question I generally find difficult to answer. When should one engage in an argument in the hope of convincing if not the opponent then at least some in the audience. And when should one conclude that somebody is entirely beyond reason and not worth that effort, or might talking to them actually be harmful. Is there any good way to draw that line? Best,

B.

Sabine Hossenfelder said...

Nidnus,

Thanks for the background... I had never heard of that person before (I don't pay much attention to the Swedish press). Makes me wonder how he got to do the introduction (and lead the discussion after that). Best,

B.

deepak said...

Hi B,

I'm a researcher who entered the field via the LQG sector, being initially skeptical of the stringy approach. Over time, I have learned that we laugh at string theory/ists at our own peril. Any researcher who thinks that the methods and principles of string theory will not eventually be part of some unified quantum gravity framework, is seriously misguided.

Cheers,

Deepak

coraifeartaigh said...

Well said Bee, By the way, it is a very nice lecture, but I was depressed to see a top physicist like Larry still attributing full credit for the discovery of the expanding universe to Hubble.

Not to be a pedant, but this is ahistorical in at least two ways. In the first instance, it was Vesto Slipher who first observed the redshifts of the nebulae, and deduced from those redshifts that the nebulae were distinct galaxies rushing away from one another.
Second, while Hubble established distances for some of the nebulae, and the famous empirical relation between redshift and distance, he did not interpret the finding in terms of an expanding universe (that was Lemaitre). In fact, Hubble resisted the idea of an expanding universe throughout his life, so it's ironic that so many people credit him with the discovery.
I gave a talk on this at Larry's origins centre, I guess he mustn't have thought much of it!

Zephir said...

/* one of the world's most cruelly disadvantaged minorities */

AWT definition of string theorist: "a person, trying to apply Lorentz symmetry to its violation (concept of extradimensions)"

Olle Häggström said...

Dear Sabine,

It makes me sad to see your reaction to Christer Sturmark's introduction. Fortunately, it is based on a misunderstanding: you've misunderstood his intention entirely.

I know Christer fairly well (and have even written op-eds and similar stuff with him; see e.g. http://www.expressen.se/debatt/manga-forskare-ar-som-martha-louise/) - well enough to know that he had no intention with his remark to mock string theorists. He is manifestly a non-expert in physics, and he knows better than to take stands in a scientific debate that he doesn't understand and where there are respected scientists on both sides. (In fact, it was precisely for this reason that he made me cut one line from the original draft of the aforementioned op-ed.)

I take, with great certainty, his intention with the joke to be to mock the very idea of a segregated audience. I believe that he felt entirely certain about the consensus in the room - a consensus among himself, Krauss and the audience - about the wrongness of such segregation whatever the categories defining the segregation may be. So certain about this was he that, in order to make the point even stronger, he chose for his pretended segregation a group with which he knew that Krauss had had scientific quarrels. He knew that Krauss knew that no such disagreement would be legitimate grounds for segregation, and he thought he knew that everyone in the audience would understand this.

Maybe this last thing was a misjudgement - your reaction suggests that it was. Maybe he was clumsy. But in that case, he was clumsy in a way that I, too, might have been in the same situation. Until I saw your reaction it had honestly not crossed my mind that his joke might be interpreted in the way you did. But now I know better, and will perhaps be a little more careful in similar situations in the future.

Yours sincerely,

Olle

CapitalistImperialistPig said...

Olle,

I'm surprised that it could be taken any other way.

Nemo said...

Hi @Peter-W-Morgan,

I was not yet that seriously interested in fundamental physics topics 1995-2005, I fell in love with fundamental physics at about the end of 2008, so I can not judge it...

But from my point of view, as somebody who has started to be interested in these things just some years ago, the current scorning of certain parts of fundamental physics and people working on it, which sometimes even culminates in a downright witch-hunt, looks just horrible and abominable. In particular for young physicists that want to enter such research fields this must be terrible and very unfair too, since those have certainly done nothing wrong 1995-2005.

@Red C: good for you!

Unfortunately when looking at science reporting in popular mass media, magazines such as Scientific American for example, etc, it seems to me that people like this blogger for example

http://www.math.columbia.edu/~woit/wordpress/

who constantly tries to make research he does not like disappear by vigorously expressing his negative opinion about it in the media and everywhere else, have already a too large impact on the public view and reception of science, such that they might be succeeding in the end by convincing people who have to decide about funding, that what they dont like is not worthwile :-/.

So I would probably, if I were bright enough (what I am not of course ;-)...) think twice where to put my path of career. Because of these sociological and science political issues ... And because of the cocktail parties.

Bruce Rout said...

"the world is full with guys who think they’re oh-so-smart and who need a haircut" HAHAHAHAHA!!!!!

Uncle Al said...

GR cannot be correct, yet it is physically flawless. M-theory cannot be wrong, yet it is physically meaningless. A defective founding postulate cannot be identified within derivation. The norbornyl cation sweated 1950s' chemists. It had a 2-electron 3-carbon bond outside theory. Theory grew.

Quantum gravitation must look outside. Physics does not contain unmeasurable observables, but chemistry does. The Big Bang was false vacuum pseudoscalar field decay. Parity violations are diagnostics. Opposite shoes, chemically and macroscopically identical single crystals in enantiomorphic space groups, violate the Equivalence Principle. What else remains that is trivially testable?

Zephir said...

/*I take, with great certainty, his intention with the joke to be to mock the very idea of a segregated audience*/

Only if you're living in private atemporal universe, i.e. if you don't know about the Lawrence's relation to string theory.

coraifeartaigh said...

I must say, having viewed the clip a second time in the light of Olle's comment above, I'm inclined to agree with him.
It seems to me that the Chair is poking fun at the idea of putting any group at the back (if the speaker was a musician, I suspect he would have said 'viola players' instead of string theorists).
Of course it's very clumsy satire in the light of the very real and serious discrimination suffered by so many women scientists and non-scientists in the Muslim world, but it doesn't sound like a dig at string theorists per se to me.

Giotis said...

After Olle explanation I think the intention behind the joke is pretty much clear.

The Sturmark guy thought that Krauss is involved in a big debate with String theorists.

If indeed that was the case then I can see the humour behind it; of course it would be funnier if he had said “String theorists have to sit in the front.”, teasing this way the invited speaker.

But Olle, Krauss vs String theorists is old, very old news. That’s why I assume Sabine and pretty much everyone else didn’t get it.

There was a kind of mild debate but that was a long time ago and Krauss by no means is identified in public eyes as an anti-string figure. He even considers Multiverse as an acceptable area of research as far as I know at least (but note that Multiverse is not a Trade Mark of String theory.

Anyway currently Krauss debates mostly theologians and philosophers. So a successful joke would be:

“Philosophers have to sit in the back.”

Bottom line: Failed joke due to misinformed host.

Amos said...

By suggesting that string theorists are to the physics community as women are to fundamentalist Muslims, was he insulting string theorists, or women? (Or Muslims? Or the physics community?)

Robert L. Oldershaw said...


Wow! Some people's lack of sound judgment and deafness to context/meaning is marvelously on display in this thread, not to mention an assortment of theatrical posturing.

@ Red C: Care to give us your "zinger" arguments to shut up troublemakers? I can hardly wait.

Sabine Hossenfelder said...

Olle, CIP,

Humor can be complicated, yes. I don't know what his intentions were and I don't normally second guess people's attempts at making jokes, whether or not I find them funny. I'll not argue with you about the intentions of somebody I don't know.

As I wrote in my post, what bothers me about this is not his particular joke, funny or not, but that it's become acceptable to make jokes about string theory in general. I find this a quite bizarre social phenomenom to be honest and I don't like it. I'd say the same thing if this was about LQG or CDT or what have you. I don't want such an interference with research, that's the bottomline, and I wish that people like this guy were more aware of what they're doing. Best,

B.

Garrett said...

It may seem a bit harsh, but this is exactly how a branch of research is supposed to die. After many years of failing to produce results it becomes the butt of jokes, funding dries up, and young researchers look elsewhere. I think we're seeing just the beginning of this, and strings will become the phlogiston and ether of the twentieth century. Can't happen soon enough, in my opinion, but I'm biased.

Nemo said...

@Garrett

I strongly disagree with you.

As Bee says too (if I understand this right?), this strong and continuous negative intereference of very vocal people who have no clue what they are talking about, with parts of ongoing research in quantum gravity and other fundamental physics to bias the public view and peception, undermines and prohibits the natural working of the scientific method.

It is definitively not good, if whole areas of research, which are still acceptable and worthwhile according to the scientific principle or even work well enough, are prematurely eradicated by outsiders who are not knowledgable enough to judge things from a physics point of view.

Such happenings belong to the drawbacks of our new informed media era where everybody can put in his twopenn'orth about every topic, pretend to be knowledgable about it or even pose as an expert in the media, etc whereas nobody is listening to real experts who actually are knowledgable and therefore can reasonably judge things from a rational reasonable scientific point of view, such as the host of this physics blog for example :-/

Sabine Hossenfelder said...

Nemo, Garrett,

Nemo's summary of my concern is about correct.

See, this isn't a passive reaction to a trend in academia, which is how Garrett seems to characterize it. It's an active interference, and that's what worries me.

Of course the same thing has been going on in the exactly opposite direction previously, think of all the string theory hype that we've seen. That's equally bad because it does influence scientists (though they tend to deny it).

If you dislike public string theory hype without scientific basis because it might make the topic look more promising than it really is, then on the same grounds you should dislike public string theory ridicule.

Best,

B.

Thomas Larsson said...

Bee, do you really think that a little public skepticism is unhealthy after 25 years of unchallenged string theory propaganda? The reason why string theory is loosing steam is not what Woit or others may have said, but that the LHC has more or less ruled out supersymmetry. People (physicists more than laypeople) notice that it is string theorists who are losing their bets about what the LHC will see.

I learned very early not to talk about theoretical physics at cocktail parties. Not because people were hostile, but because the subject invoked a blank stare and complete indifference. Even if I think that the multi-dimensional Virasoro algebra is really sexy, I have still to find a female who agrees with me. This includes the five or so Nobel banquets I have attended (even if they serve Champagne rather than cocktails in the City Hall).

Besides, my impression of Christer Sturmark is similar to Per Sundin's above (not only Arabs can read from right to left).

Nemo said...

@Bee

Amen !

The interference by people who have not the appropriate knowledge can be characterized as vigorous and in the worst cases even as very aggressive :-/

If anything at all, string theory, quantum gravity, BSM physics, cosmology, etc should be discussed rationally and from a purely physics point of view in the public.

Since this is obviously no longer possible today, seing such topics taken up by too popular channels, such as TV, magazines, newspapers, etc makes me no longer happy.

As I started to be interested in these things and had not yet any clue about these topics myself, I loved reading/hearing/seeing such news and reports in the popular media, but doday I would prefer them stop talking about these issues...

It does science no longer any good the way it is done today :-/

Happily there are still some nice physics blogs out there.23

Giotis said...

If someone is worrying that String theory is loosing steam all he has to do is browse the hep-th arXiv on any average day.

The theory has grown so much that hep-th and String theory are practically synonyms.

If you remove String theory and String theory inspired papers, nothing is left (well almost).

This is the place to look to get a feeling on where current research is heading and not newspapers, magazines or blogs written by bitter people who couldn't make it in the real world and the only way they can justify their existence is by attacking the most promising scientific breakthrough of the last 30 years.

Sabine Hossenfelder said...

Thomas,

As I expressed previously, the argument by way of saying "it's been so-and-so-many years, where's my steak" totally passes me by. Who says how long is too long?

Having said that, I think you might be misunderstanding me though. There are good reasons to be skeptic and I myself am quite cheerful that no susy has been found at the LHC. (So far, they'll add, so far.) That's a discussion we can have. I am all in favor of listing the pros and the cons and so on. What I don't like is content-free criticism like string theory is religion or philosophy or (read Garrett), hasn't produced any results (arguably untrue), and so on. That kind of talk isn't going to advance science. Besides, the same could be said about other research areas in quantum gravity, it just so happens that it's string theory which has become a household name for quantum gravity and now attracts most of the fallout, while everybody else is hiding under the table, hoping not to get hit.

Regarding your party conversations, sorry, but if it doesn't have breast hair I wouldn't call it sexy either. Best,

B.

Sabine Hossenfelder said...

Giotis,

Well, if you look at the arxiv you have to take into account the time-delay between a mood swing and the impact on research output. This can be anything from a couple of years to decades. So I don't think the arxiv publications are a good measure. A better measure would be the number of students who start in any given research direction. But even there you have a time-delay because they're not usually free to chose but have to take what's being offered. Besides this, the bulk of work these days is in AdS/CFT and while that's a string-theory spin off, there isn't actually much strings in there, which is why it attracts a lot of people from other communities.

Having said that though, I would agree that there are too many people working on string theory. In fact I think that's a main reason why they're attracting criticism. It's not that everybody thinks it's research that plainly shouldn't be done, but that it's out of proportion. And if there's too many people working on it, most of them will be doing incremental for not to say pointless things.

Of course, instead of string theory, funding should go to quantum gravity phenomenology. But then you already know I would be saying that :p Best,

B.

Sabine Hossenfelder said...

Nemo,

I agree with you except that I don't want them to stop talking, I'd rather see more sensible discussion. Unfortunately, the same has been the case for me, that I enjoyed reports on these topics much more before I started working on it myself, because it's just so terribly frustrating. The problem is partly self-made of course, because there've been people going around making unreasonable claims about phenomenology and now the readers come back and ask whatever happened to that. (That was predictable, no?)

We actually talked about this at our recent workshop for science writers. One can't really blame journalists for picking up grandiose claims. Or should we expect them to be more cautious?

Best,

B.

Sabine Hossenfelder said...

Peter-w-morgan,

As I said in reply to somebody else above, I disapprove of content-free hype as much as of content-free criticism. This doesn't advance science, it just polarizes people and eventually wastes everybody's time. The problem is that both the scientists themselves as well as journalists and public figures (in lack of a better word) underestimate the influence. We're social animals. People listen to others, and care what others think about them, opinions don't float in empty space. Objectivity is difficult to maintain. In contrast to what some pop psychology outlets might led you to believe, we're not born being good scientists. Some evolutionary traits are not conductive to science and being influenced by the public opinion is one of them. Best,

B.

Nemo said...

Hi Bee,

yeah I am way to curious to not still read interesting articles in nice physics blogs. I have just learned to ignore certain comments of some notorious, I guess in the physics blogosphere well known and ubiquitous commenters :-D.

I am not sure if it is fair, to blame the scientists to a larger part for the current not so good situation we now have concerning popular science reporting. To me it seems that there are way to many cases, where I got the impression that the popular channals themeself or the journalists or editors themself are rather up to sell maximally controversial stories, excite heated debates, etc (I guess you know what I mean, the Scientific American and Nature are among these bad examples today) instead of rationally informing the public about science. For example to attract a larger readorship, sell more copies, etc.
Sometimes the journalists do not even take the pain to ask or interview real experts working on the topic they want to report about, but cite loud nonothings and wannabes who gladly take every oppurtunity to pose as experts about fundamental physics in the media :-/.

Of course, there are black sheeps among both groups. But to me it seems the controversial reporting at the expence of scientific correctnes has largely increased in the last years and this kind of "science reporting" seems to predominate more and more unfortunately.

Giotis said...

"and I myself am quite cheerful that no susy has been found at the LHC"

??

Could you care to explain? Why are you cheerful?

Thomas Larsson said...

"Who says how long is too long?"

I just did, didn't I?

"if it doesn't have breast hair I wouldn't call it sexy either."

OK. Black holes are not sexy.

Confusion said...

Christians are joked about because of silly things bishops say, atheists are joked about because of silly things that Dawkins says, existentialists are joked about because of silly things Sartre said and string theorists are joked about because of silly things leading string theorists say.

"the world is full with guys who think they’re oh-so-smart and who need a haircut" and the world is equally full of physicists who overestimate their philosophical sophistication (in fact, those groups overlap ;)) and make grandiose claims to The Truth, with no experimental evidence nor philosophically sound reasoning to back them up. That kind of behavior results in you and your peers being made fun off. (Please note: this is just an observation of 'what is'. I'm not saying this is what 'should be').

If you have a problem with that, then shouldn't your problem actually be "that jokes and condescending remarks about [whomever] have become acceptable in general". In which case it's a bit unfortunate that the fire had to come so close to your home before you noted?

First they came for the E8 theorists, but I said nothing, because I wasn't an E8 theorist...

Sabine Hossenfelder said...

Giotis,

For personal reasons. After my diploma, I knew I wanted to do BSM physics, and essentially had a choice between SUSY and black hole stuff (large extra dimensions at that time). As you can tell from my publication list, I decided against susy. And, needless to say, I've been wondering for 13 years whether that was a good decision. Best,

B.

Sabine Hossenfelder said...

Nemo,

If Nature and SciAm are *bad* examples, then what is the rest??
Best,

B.

Sabine Hossenfelder said...

Confusion,

I don't understand your dismissive comment. Yes, the world is full with people who make condescending jokes. No, I don't like that. But no, I'll not spend the rest of my life complaining about everybody who ever makes a condescending remark about somebody because that would be futile. But yes, I'll express my disapproval if it happens on my front door, much as everybody else would do the same at their front door. Call it a localized reaction.

You are saying essentially I'm not allowed to complain about what happens on my front door if I don't complain about what happens at everybody's front door. Sorry, but it's just not an argument I can take seriously. Best,

B.

Zephir said...

/*If you remove String theory and String theory inspired papers, nothing is left (well almost).*/

This is indeed a nonsense, especially in the light of the fact, the string theorists are getting "inspired" with another theories often in an effort to make their theory more specific and predictable. And if we remove nontestable predictions from contemporary theoretical physics, then nothing very much will remain just from string theory.

Nemo said...

Hi @Bee

ok, this was probably a bit too harsh. Generally about other parts of science, Scientific American and Nature probably still deliver nice and well researched articles.

But concerning fundamental physics, since too long a time now they write nothing but dismissive articles that do nothing but add to the negative public opinion you observe in the dismissive comments to this article too. In many recent articles they rather interview or cite philosophers, dismissive bloggers, and other non experts etc for their opinion, instead of discussing correct objective physics backed up by the knowledge of experts that actually work in these fields.

Sabine Hossenfelder said...

Nemo,

Really, do you think so? This hasn't been my impression.

Nature by and large doesn't write a terrible lot on fundamental physics/quantum gravity. Yes, they've had some quite bizarre philosophical pieces on the Higgs and "the end of science" during the last year. I have no clue why they publish this stuff. I mean, do they really have an audience that wants to read this? I read it when my blood pressure is too low :p But then recently they had a piece on the bh firewall. Which I disliked for several reasons, but you certainly couldn't call it 'dismissive.'

And SciAm, they've had several things on multiverses and dark matter and holography, AdS/CFT, and so on. And New Scientist, if I recall that correctly, recently had a whole bunch of articles on the quest for a theory of everything. My biggest problem with these things is not that they're dismissive, but that the reader gets little to no impression on how far 'out there' some of these proposal are in the physics community. Best,

B.

Unknown said...

It is just a joke. Are you becoming a sad swedish feminist, that you no longer understand jokes?

Sabine Hossenfelder said...

As I wrote, it isn't the joke that bothers me. I don't find it funny, but then that's a matter of personal taste. What bothers me is that he thought it's a good idea to make this joke, meaning he thought that the majority of the audience would approve and that he doesn't care it's a display of public and empty criticism of a research area.

Sabine Hossenfelder said...

And for all I can tell I'm neither sad nor Swedish nor a feminist.

amused said...

Hi Bee,

I think one needs to distinguish between string theory and string theorists.
String theory is a respectable and well-motivated research topic. Even for its original purpose as a low-energy effective theory of the strong nuclear interactions it is still interesting, and even more so as a theoretical model of quantum gravity (even if it only turns out to be a toy model).
On the other hand, my heart bleeds for the noble and altruistic string theorists who are starting to get reflected back at them a very small fraction of what they have radiated out.

We should all heap as much scorn, ridicule and derision as possible on them for their blinkered hubris over the last 30+ years, in particular for all the unfounded hype and their insistence that theirs was the only worthwhile research topic to pursue in "fundamental" theoretical physics. If we do that intensively enough then maybe it will prevent this grotesque and harmful sociological phenomenon from happening again for a long time. I don't know if it will work, but it seems worth a try. :)

Nemo said...

He Bee,

the new incoming low level scornful comments even attacking you are not unexpected, they are due to the fact that a certain blogger, who is part of the problem you describe in your nice article, has now linked to this post and people like Unknown, Amused, etc are coming from there (maybe you know which blogger I mean ;-) ...).

But I still think reasonable people agree that science should naturally follow the scientific method without negative interference by people who are not knowledgable enough and that the current situation with these people advocating an outhright wich-hunt against certain science/ scientists is not good.

It is best to ignore the new scornful comments, I just wanted to explain where they come from and will ignore theme hereafter too ;-)

Arun said...

Nemo wrote: ....But I still think reasonable people agree that science should naturally follow the scientific method without negative interference by people who are not knowledgable enough

Which is fine, but it is people who are not knowledgable enough who pay the taxes that are the ultimate source of funding for most of this science. Trust is required for this arrangement to work and scientists may have forfeited that. There is a book coming out at the end of the month, by Alexander Unzicker & Sheilla Jones, titled, "Bankrupting Physics: How Today's Top Scientists are Gambling Away Their Credibility". We'll see if that case is made, when the book comes out.

The Publisher's Review is available here.








Nemo said...

Hi Arun,

yes I know what book you are talking about. In his first book, Mr. Unzicker makes such an outright full mouthed fool of himself LOL :-).

He substitutes his lack of basic knowledge about even well established 19th century physics such as quantum mechanics, the standard model of particle physics, general relativity, etc by hate speach and more often than not personal attacks and insults by name of well known physicists over several hundred pages. In addition, he displays an amazing and pompous audacity by thinking he is entitled to tell perfectly capable professional physicists what they are allowed to think about, research, how they should do their job etc ...

At the strings 2012 conference in Munich last year, Mr. Unzicker really took the cake by attacking E. Witten after the public lecture in a long embarassing monologue that could be stopped neither by the organizer nor by the speaker who tried to answer Mr. Unzickers "question". It was cristall clear that this Gentelman showed up in this public lecture with the only purpose to deposit his shit in front of the audience.

After this heroic deed, he proudly boasted about it on the web site of the blogger I mentioned and whom he obviously tries to imitate or even beat in scornfulness, but amusingly his ideal did not approve Mr. Unzicker's great deed, because it was too ... I have no word for it ... even for him LOL :-D

For the German speaking audience: the first book of Mr. Unzicker (who is a teacher and not a researcher in physics, he has a PhD in Neurology or something along these lines) is titled "Vom Urknall zum Durchknall" and the second one "Die Physik auf dem Holzweg".

amused said...

Nemo wrote: "....But I still think reasonable people agree that science should naturally follow the scientific method without negative interference by people who are not knowledgable enough"

Are you knowledgable, Nemo?

Do tell us your definition of `knowledgable' and how one qualifies for that.

Is Joanne Hewitt knowledgable?

Sabine Hossenfelder said...

JoAnne Hewett.

amused said...

Thanks for the correction Bee :)
I guess she's not related to the Australian tennis player then..

Hans Heum said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Hans Heum said...

"If you’ve ever given a talk somewhere in North Europe, you can probably relate."
Are you referring, at least in part, to your talk this spring in Bergen? I was in the audience, and while I'd love to laugh out loud at all your humoristic points or sarcastic remarks (and probably had to restrain myself not to), you're probably right that we're generally a too polite audience for that. Which is kind of sad, I suppose. Rest assured, though, I greatly enjoyed your introduction to your line of work, and your blog has since then provided me with a lot of much-needed motivation for continuing study in physics, as well as positioning you as among my top inspirational people. Keep it up, and don't be disheartened by our somewhat tense audiences - I for one would love for you to come back sometime!

Sabine Hossenfelder said...

Hi Hans,

Don't worry, it doesn't bother me. I just find it interesting, the cultural differences, esp when you contrast North America with Northern Europe. I've been in Sweden long enough to be very sure there's nothing wrong with the North European sense of humor :o)

I'm glad to hear that you liked my talk, esp because I was feeling truly terrible that day, and in fact got ill upon returning home. That I had missed my connecting flight from Oslo the previous evening and arrived in Bergen close to midnight clearly didn't help my condition. If you need more inspiration, why don't you come and visit our institute, we got some support for students. (You can find the information somewhere on our website, if you can find it.) Best,

Sabine