Friday, June 08, 2018

Science Magazine had my book reviewed, and it’s glorious, glorious.

Science Magazine had my book “Lost in Math” reviewed by Dr. Djuna Lize Croon, a postdoctoral associate at the Department of Physics at Dartmouth College, in New Hampshire, USA. Dr. Croon has worked on the very research topics that my book exposes as mathematical fantasies, such as “extra natural inflation” or “holographic composite Higgs models,” so choosing her to review my book is an interesting move for sure.

Dr. Croon does not disappoint. After just having read a whole book that explains how scientists fail to acknowledge that their opinions are influenced by the communities they are part of, Dr. Croon begins her review by quoting an anonymous Facebook friend who denigrates me as a blogger and tells Dr. Croon to dislike my book because I am not “offering solutions.” In her review, then, Dr. Croon reports being shocked to find that I disagree with her scientific heroes, dislikes that I put forward own opinions, and then promptly arrives at the same conclusion that her Facebook friend kindly offered beforehand.

The complaint that I merely criticize my community without making recommendations for improvement is particularly interesting because to begin with it’s wrong. I do spell out very clearly in the book that I think theoretical physicists in the foundations should focus on mathematical consistency and making contact to experiment rather than blathering about beauty. I also say concretely what topics I think are most promising, though I warn the reader that of course I too am biased and they should come to their own conclusions.

Even leaving aside that I do offer recommendations for improvement, I don’t know why it’s my task to come up with something else for those people to do. If they can’t come up with something else themselves, maybe we should just stop throwing money at them?

On a more technical note, I find it depressing that Dr. Croon in her review writes that naturalness has “a statistical meaning” even though I explain like a dozen times throughout the book that you can’t speak of probabilities without having a probability distribution. We have only this set of laws of nature. We have no statistics from which we could infer a likelihood of getting exactly these laws.

In summary, this review does an awesome job highlighting the very problems that my book is about.

Update June 17th: Remarkably enough, the editors at Science decided to remove the facebook quote from the review.


Stuart said...

The reviewer lays much emphasis in highlighting that "Sabine Hossenfelder, a theoretical physicist known to many from her blog " and together with her anonymous Facebook friend who only recognizes Bee as a Blogger, are attacking your theoretical physics credentials.

JimV said...

When I saw "denigrates me as a blogger" I was outraged, since I have always thought you were a fine blogger (interesting topics and good writing), and therefore such a statement is an attack on my discernment.

However, after reading the "Science" article, I saw that was not the shade of meaning intended, since there was no implication there that you were a bad blogger. So I guess the meaning intended was "denigrates me as just-a-blogger", that is, it did not mention your actual qualifications (such as degrees, experience, publications, and winning the prestigious Edge essay contest).

Anyway, my reaction illustrates the fact that any disagreement with one's considered position is apt to cause a negative emotional response.

Among other things which would make this a better world, trying to understand other people's positions with some charity would be a main one.

Very little was said in the review that was not subjective, and subjective opinions would be colored by the disagreement. There is a long-running thread at this site which has been blighted but such subjective and uncharitable opinions (in my subjective opinion).

As to not having a simple solution, as the cliche has it, the first step to any solution is to accept and understand the problem. I do not see how anyone could argue that the book was not aimed at that starting point (based on what I have read about it here; my pre-ordered copy has not yet arrived).

Djuna said...

Hi Sabine,

Thank you for your review of my review. It was an interesting read.

Let me comment on a few things. If you read closely, you will notice that I don't actually give my opinion about what you criticize. That is not my task as a reviewer; I just analyze how well I think you have made your argument. I have not said that there is no validity to your point, and I do not think that either. I guess given my research background that is hard to accept; but I'm a bit surprised you found it necessary to become so ad hominem.
For what it is worth, I would also like to mention that my recent work is not motivated by naturalness arguments, not because I think the analyses I have done before are "mathematical fantasies", but because (like you) I prefer to stay as close to experimental results as possible, and rely less on theoretical arguments (and because we have some interesting new experimental probes). I would really hope researchers are allowed to change their mind about their research motivations, surely that is the exact thing you hope to achieve?

I am a bit puzzled as to why me sketching the dominant opinion of the field for the reader is an example of group thinking. I would think that this context is relevant for prospective readers of your book; you are discussing the sociology of the field, after all. I certainly was hopeful that I would read more about your vision for the future of the field, for example from the interactions with philosophers you mention, but was disappointed. Your alternatives (mathematical consistency and connections with data) do not actually seem in tension with the arguments you attack, and it was not obvious to me that you intended for them to be replacements. If you had gone into detail about how, for example, you would suggest an LHC search strategy would change, then that would have been interesting.

I do not think this discussion is really constructive at the moment so unless you are interested in discussing your future vision of the field further, I will leave it at this. Thanks.


Sabine Hossenfelder said...


You should look up ad hominem, you are using it incorrectly.

Uncle Al said...

Observation versus Official Truth, Galileo versus Aristotle, Popper’s facts versus Bayes ideas.

(0) M-theory is a Cauchy horizon, an unlimited number of mathematical but not physical vacua, the multiverse.
1) Baryogenesis happened.
2) Sakharov conditions demand trace chiral anisotropic vacuum toward hadrons.
3) Sakharov tests to sufficient sensitivity through chemistry.

Decades of contemporary physics’ vast arenas fear an hour in a microwave spectrometer, a day in two differential scanning calorimeters, months in an Eötövs experiment, a sounding rocket literal vacuum free fall. Look – for where are Dr. Croon's (proper) victories?

Bill said...

Some say tomato, some say tomahto. Some say SUSY, some say susy. Have read the Google Books excerpt of your book, and am looking forward to buying and reading it. Best wishes!

Phillip Helbig said...

In this context, "ad hominem" refers to an argumentational fallacy in which one counters an argument not with, errm, counterarguments, but rather by attacking the person (as opposed to what they say). In this sense, "attacking the person" means criticizing them for something which is irrelevant to the debate.

I don't know what the reviewer thinks is ad hominem. If she is referring to the claim that her previous work makes her a strange choice for reviewer, then this is indeed an ad-hominem argument in the broader sense: to exaggerate, the truth of a proposition is independent of the competence of the speaker (the biggest fool can say that the Sun will rise tomorrow, but that doesn't make it dark). It is certainly possible for a reviewer a book where author and reviewer don't agree. It would also be strange to pick a reviewer known to share the opinions of the author. On the other hand, the stuff about the anonymous Facebook post does address her arguments, so it is not ad-hominem.

Tanner said...

Now I have to read the book, keeping a printout of the Science review next to me :). Then I might leave another comment.

Sabine Hossenfelder said...


I note biographic details of the reviewer to make it clear that she is unlikely to be objective. I did not, however, claim something she wrote is wrong because of who she is, which would have been an ad hominem argument.

Having said this, she seemed to have expected a book directed at people in the field, as both her review and the comment above indicate. I don't know why this is, but I can see that anyone with such an expectation would be disappointed. This is a book written for the public, not for my colleagues. Not that this excuses making false statements about the book's content (or absence of content for that matter). Best,


Lockley said...

I have had your book on order for a week. I read the review of "Lost in Math" in Science this morning.
To be honest: I found that it encouraged me to read your book and confirmed the wisdom of my purchase.

I have recently read an number of popular books by noted Theorists. Carlo Rovelli is one author that comes to mind at the moment. His book on Quantum Gravity and his book on Time come to mind as the most recent. It seems to me that your book, as described by the Amazon advertisement, follows the trend I sense in the popular works of other physics professionals;
Angst at time boarding on despair? Max Tegmark's work may not withstanding.

Tom said...

> That is not my task as a reviewer; I just analyze how well I think you have made your argument.

That and odd references to something someone said on Facebook??

Michael Musson said...

‘...tells Dr. Croon to dislike my book because I am not “offering solutions.” ‘

This made me laugh. Your problem is that you didn’t offer an infinite landscape of solutions for string theorists to really latch onto.

naivetheorist said...


" I don’t know why it’s my task to come up with something else for those people to do. If they can’t come up with something else themselves, maybe we should just stop throwing money at them?". we should stop throwing taxpayer money at them regardless of the merit of their research programs. let the russian oligarchs, the silicon valley plutocrats and the hedge fund managers support their research and their research institutes. taxpayer money should only be used (if at all) on research projects that can provide actual benefit to the taxpayer. It's only reasonable that if the government is going to steal from people (and taxation is theft by definition even if the government makes it legal) it uses that money on behalf of the victims of the theft.

naive theorist

manyoso said...


You make this claim in your review:

/"Different concepts are conflated throughout the book (for example, technical naturalness, which has a statistical meaning, and mathematical elegance) and are somewhat mockingly referred to collectively as “beauty.”/"

Although I haven't read the book yet I wonder at this because Sabine has been *very clear* on her blog about how she uses the word beauty and it does not at all mocking in tone:

Perhaps you are projecting onto Sabine your own bias with this statement and not making a factual claim? If you believe it factual and not just a reflection of your bias can you perhaps cite page and verse of where you think she conflates naturalness and elegance or how she is using a mocking tone when she uses the word beauty when her interoculators also use this term?

Juan Collar said...

You are fighting the good fight, don't dismay.

Unknown said...

It was a really weird review.

"An academic dialogue might have been more appropriate, however; the choice to write for a lay audience is limiting."
I can't imagine how an academic dialogue would be more appropriate. Perhaps there is a worry that this is airing the community's dirty laundry? Tattling on a sibling? It's true no one likes a tattler, and yet...

And starting off with "Someone else complained on Facebook" is extremely strange. What is added by this flourish? Do people actually like reading Facebook comment section hot takes in Science reviews? If I were to guess at the purpose of a book review section, it would be to perform a quite opposite function.

"Hossenfelder interlaces direct quotes from the interviewees with her own interpretations of what they mean (and, often, why she thinks they are wrong)"

It's a telling parenthetical. I imagine if these interlacings were more agreeable, the reviewer would be more agreeable. Hmmm.

Helen said...

@Djuna, are you that much identified with your research topic that attacking it attacks you? :) Because there was no other mention about your person.
(I would read about your vision and I was disappointed ... what audience is this language supposed to be addressing? This is not silicon valley and it is not an elementary school.)

"My reaction illustrates the fact that any disagreement with one's considered position is apt to cause a negative emotional response."
For one, I understood the phrase as "she denigrates the fact that I am a blogger", and reading your interpretation only added confusion. It sounds like there is an emotional response being had by you, and you dig in improbable linguistic places to justify it.

I thoroughly enjoy people already reacting to this book by using out-of-place arguments. Ad hominem where there is none, exaggerated misinterpretations in order to accuse you of emotional response, demanding you to do the failed theorists' job by proposing solutions, saying that the book would be useful twenty years ago but not now, saying that LHC can come up with more while ignoring the predictions it falsified (the last two from comments on Not Even Wrong). The list will go on and it'll be lovely.

Emily Bremer said...

The review doesn't say she expected a book directed at the field just that it fits into an awkward middle ground of being too technical for a lay audience but not deep enough for a professional audience so its not clear who the best audience was.

As for ad hominen its true that you don't literally say "I reject her arguments because of her background" but I don't think thats the standard for ad hominen any more than the standard of proving public corruption should be a politician saying "I am making this decision because I was given money". The question is, is there evidence in your blog whether you were appealing to personal and not just logical reasons for disagreeing. Even if you weren't making the ad hominen falacy in your own mind the blog certainly steers people to look at the personal more than the logical

As for whether the book provides "half hearted" or "concrete" solutions its a little subjective (and book reviews are subjective!) In the end I guess people will make up their own mind after reading the book

Unknown said...

I ordered the book long ago, and look forward to its arrival! Go Sabine!

sean s. said...

The thing I found strangest about the review was that writing for a lay audience is "limiting". Still waiting for the book to magically appear on my Kindle/Fire, I understand that you might not have delved as deeply as you would in a technical paper, but one gets the sense that your reviewer does not want lay persons watching physicists "making their sausage".

That would be an odd objection: proponents of all kinds of theories frequently write articles and books for the lay audience (which we appreciate) so I see no basis for questioning your decision to do likewise. I wonder if this weak objection is in lieu of having little or nothing to object to.

But as PT Barnum said, there's no such thing as bad publicity; this review will get some people to buy and read your book who might not have otherwise.

sean s.

Pascal said...

Should I buy an ebook of "lost in math" (then kobo, I don't have kindle) or an old-fashioned hardcover?
I don't like science e-books because when you have pictures - tables - equations - etc.. they are very often hard to read (not to mention colors, which disappear completely).
Do you have any of those in your book ?
If it's just interviews and comments on the interviews, an ebook will be fine.

JSV said...

Being a blogger is not a sign of scientific weakness. It is a sign that you choose to do 'science communication' to help a wider audience understand. I would only find blogs suspicious if they suggested original research but were not backed up by published papers, or they did not provide references.

Zafa Pi said...

Given the evolution of academia I find your criticisms quite natural and your suggestions beautiful.

Mitchell said...

Sabine said

'research topics that my book exposes as mathematical fantasies, such as “extra natural inflation” or “holographic composite Higgs models”'

This remark blew my mind a little - I must have assumed that the bulk of the critique was aimed at the high end of theoretical speculation, like supersymmetric grand unification and string theory - but now even concrete models of inflation or a composite Higgs are deemed 'mathematical fantasies'! That's only a small step beyond what has been experimentally validated - how is any kind of new theorizing at all to be possible?!

But OK, I see it comes back to "naturalness", i.e. avoiding finetuning. Croon's work was motivated by a search for models whose parameters don't have to be finetuned; you would rather look for more fundamental problems that would still be there even if finetuning is allowed.

EliRabett said...

Beauty as Hossenfelder uses it would be better put as concise or perhaps even better parsimonious. The theories that physicists like are remarkably condensed and the problem with what we have now to replace the standard model is that they sprawl and it is difficult to see where they apply. SH's argument is basically a call to those working in the "foundations" to tighten up their arguments and applications thereof

Sabine Hossenfelder said...


The blogpost you mention is actually a brief summary of a longer section in the book. So, yes, I am very clear on exactly what I mean by beauty.

Sabine Hossenfelder said...


That's right, I am in fact criticizing the general methodology of model building, not just string theory or guts. The way it's currently pursued it's pretty much guesswork ("fantasies") based on arguments of beauty (like naturalness and symmetries and so on), which allows you to quickly cook up theories that have almost zero chance of being correct. That a theory is falsifiable is necessary, but of course not sufficient, but that's something theoretical physicists in the foundations prefer to forget. I explained this here. Carlo Rovelli recently had a paper in which he made pretty much the same point.

Sabine Hossenfelder said...


No, that's not how I refer to beauty. I summarized here what I have found physicists mean when they speak of beauty. For more details, please see the book.

Sabine Hossenfelder said...


The book contains 15 or so black and white figures which are (with two exceptions) vector graphics. I don't have a Kindle myself, so I can't tell, but I would guess they shouldn't be too hard to display.

Sabine Hossenfelder said...


I am not so much disagreeing as simply pointing out what is factually wrong with the review

a) Naturalness is not a statistical measure. You don't need a PhD in physics to understand that you can't derive statistical probabilities from a single point of data.

b) I have a section in the book with recommendations for improvement for the field, and I have an appendix with a list of general recommendations for science in general, so the criticism that I don't offer solutions is flat out wrong.

Besides this, I am merely summarizing the remarkable lack of self-reflection (and of editorial oversight). We have here a reviewer who thinks it's a good idea to start a review by quoting an insult from an anonymous facebook friend (srsly?) which she then refers to as "the dominant opinion" (huh?) and agrees with even though it's wrong (I can't even).

That after reading a book in which the author explains the problems with cognitive biases. The ones we find here: 1) false consensus effect 2) social reinforcement 3) information cascades and probably 4) halo effect, the latter since I am guessing the comment must have come from someone she considers an authority in one way or the other.

Having said that, I have written a few book reviews myself, so allow me to add that this review shouldn't have passed the editor. To begin with it doesn't actually tell the reader what the book is about. Hint, it's about "How Beauty Leads Physics Astray." Instead it tells the reader that the author isn't popular with the reviewer's friends. It is also common to compare new books to older books on similar topics, and to tell the reader what's new in this book. We find nothing of that sort in the review. Instead the reviewer complains that the book isn't what she expected and she'd prefer if I had written a different book. o_O



Space Time said...

This part of the review

"Hossenfelder interlaces direct quotes from the interviewees with her own interpretations of what they mean (and, often, why she thinks they are wrong)."

only deepens my concern that the interviewees didn't have the opportunity to respond to your objections.

Sabine Hossenfelder said...

And here is "Space Time" again, still commenting on books he or she hasn't read.

Space Time said...

Why do you single me out? There twenty or so people here who havn't read the book and have commented on it! And I didn't comment on the book! I just said that this particular part of the review deepened my concern. How is that a comment on the book!

Are you saying that that part of the review is incorrect?

Sabine Hossenfelder said...

Space Time,

I don't know what the reviewer was referring to so I can't tell. I certainly add explanations to the interviews so that the reader can follow the discussion.

Having said this, we may as well just get straight to the point and save us both a lot of time. You will dislike the book because you dislike me and you dislike what I have to say. You will go and look for something to complain about and you will find something to complain about and then you will be back here and tell us about your complaints. Why not just be honest about it? You already have an opinion and no one is going to change it.

JimV said...

Helen (if you are still reading this comment thread), re: "For one, I understood the phrase as "she denigrates the fact that I am a blogger", and reading your interpretation only added confusion." I am sorry my writing was not clear and confused you. My initial reaction, as I wrote, was the same as yours - that the reviewer must have denigrated Dr. Hossenfelder as a blogger - but then I read the review itself and couldn't find where that was done, could you? (She mentioned Dr. Hossenfelder is a blogger, which she is, but not in an overtly negative way, I thought.) Anyway, I couldn't, so I concluded Dr. Hossenfelder must have meant what she wrote in a slightly different way. Does that explain what I was trying to say more?

Then I realized that my reaction to what I had thought the reviewer had written mirrored the response the reviewer herself seemed to have had to the book, and that it is a natural reaction which we must all guard ourselves against, since it can get in the way of understanding what the writer really meant. So I thought it was worth writing a comment about, but maybe not.

A lot of my comments seem to be taken the wrong way, that is, not as I intend them. It must be partly or wholly my problem. Probably I shouldn't comment so much, but nobody seems to write letters or emails much anymore, so it is a main opportunity of social communication for me. (I am prejudiced against Twitter and Facebook in that I would rather communicate with some people deeply than a lot of people shallowly.) Anyway, I am sorry to have written something which you didn't like, and hope you have/had a good day otherwise. (Apology too if this comment seems like more of the same.) Hey, I have an idea: I will stop commenting after this for at least three days as a penalty.

Space Time said...

Alright, then.

Daryl McCullough said...

I appreciate Sabine's criticisms of much of what goes on in modern foundational physics. However, I do wonder whether the reason for all the floundering around is not so much because of the approaches theoreticians are taking, but because the problems left to be solved in foundational physics are just really hard.

In physics, there are times of explosive progress the time of Newton, and then the 19th century with electromagnetism and thermodynamics, and then the early 20th century with quantum mechanics and relativity. Progress was steady (but not explosive, in my opinion) from the 1920s til nearly the end of the 20th century, with the development of quantum field theory, and the theory of black holes, and the development of the Higgs mechanism, and the development of electroweak theory and QCD. But in my opinion, it seems like progress has sort of ground to a halt in recent years. Not that there's been no progress, but it has been at the edges, nothing to excite the non-expert.

But maybe, rather than this being due to the flawed approaches (multiverse theory, supersymmetry, string theory, holographic models, loop quantum gravity, etc.), it might be that there are times when all the low-hanging fruit has been picked, and it just takes a long time of floundering around before people discover where the next round of progress might come from.

sean s. said...

Space Time;

Why do you single me out?

The explanation is easy.

You are like a person fretting about how someone else will ever get across a river; fretting about this while standing on the bridge that crosses the river!

You are expressing your concerns and objections on a blog site; the very place where interviewees would have the opportunity to respond to B’s objections.

I cannot speak for B, but I'd be genuinely surprised if she blocked their comments.

And since we live in our time, if any interviewee is uncomfortable commenting here, there are literally hundreds of blog sites (if not thousands) where they can express whatever they want.

And you already know this.

sean s.

Michael Gogins said...

I prefer to live in a society that glorifies and supports human excellence in all fields, as a collective commitment, so that we can all share the glory. Also of course simply pursuing our curiosity about nature no matter where it leads turns out historically to be drastically more productive than applied research because the pragmatic mind is just not imaginative enough.

Shantanu said...

Your reviews seem to more influenced by the views of your anonymous FB friend, rather than your own.

Thomas Dent said...

".. she is unlikely to be objective"

Ah, the belief that somewhere out there there are 'objective' human beings who alone have the capability to write acceptable reviews.

Nope. No such thing. Human beings are subjects not objects, whatever they do with words is inescapably subjective. An objective review would consist entirely of factual statements about the book - the name of the author, the number of pages, the chapter headings etc. - with no personal opinions at all from the reviewer. It would in other words not be a review ...

Having accepted that human beings have many different opinions and write or speak from many different points of view, we also have to accept that if someone writes controversially they will sometimes be reviewed by people on the other side of the controversy. This is perfectly fine, as long as the totality of reviews reflects the totality of opinions.

(BTW I'm not sure why Bee thinks her assessment of 'naturalness' is a factual statement. Many other people have the opposite assessment, so maybe it's actually an opinion?)

What *is* damaging would be an attempt to hide one's own subjectivity and pretend to be a source of objective judgment. The review is, in fact, rather open about where it is coming from - apparently too open for many people.

Sabine Hossenfelder said...


Surely you are aware what a slippery slope argument is, no? You are saying since no one can ever be perfectly objective, let's not even try. Let's just forget about the idea of asking scientists to disclose conflicts of interest.

Of course a review doesn't have to be objective. It's all fine by me if someone just says they don't like my book and that's that. Everyone is entitled to an opinion about what they like or don't like. But maybe you should read the reviewer's comment above. She actually thinks that she did not offer an opinion:

"I don't actually give my opinion about what you criticize. That is not my task as a reviewer; I just analyze how well I think you have made your argument."

Regarding naturalness, it's right that other people have different definitions for naturalness. Had she offered any one of them (say, sensitivity to IR values or such) that would have been no issue at all. Unfortunately she chose a definition that is simply wrong. And no, it's not a personal opinion that you can't derive a statistical distribution from a sample of one. Best,


peter cameron said...

Sabine – what comes to mind is Woit's “What the hell is going on” thread:
One ‘starting point’ of the problem goes back long before the 1974 GUT hypothesis, to the apparently benign practice of theorists to set fundamental constants (ħ, c, proton mass, Boltzman’s const,...) to dimensionless unity while forgetting that they are also setting the 377 ohm vacuum impedance Z0 = 1.

What governs amplitude and phase of energy transmission is absent from the Standard Model. Given that fields are quantized in quantum field theory, it is unavoidable the impedances of wavefunction interactions are quantized. Quantum Hall impedance is one example. Quantum impedances are associated with all forces and their potentials.

Including this one concept in one’s worldview radically alters the perspective on the present state of particle physics.

Lawrence Crowell said...

A few of these discussions reflect something that I view with considerable dismay. We are in a time when disagreements lead to an unfortunate level of acrimony. The civility in discourse has suffered considerably in recent decades, and curiously the more electronic communications media we develop the worse discourse seems to get.

I am not sure to what degree I agree with Sabine's thesis here. I will say I applaud the criticism that often theorists let the mathematics do all the talking. This is one reason I like hearing Lenny Susskind; he employs a rather minimal level of mathematics and talks more in physical terms. This is not to say I am opposed to advanced mathematics, but rather that if you are not talking physical meaning then it becomes difficult to say one is really doing physical theory. I really question if one needs to know in depth about category theory or etale cohomology and such things. I am however not so sure we live in an “ugliverse,” where rather than there being some sort of underlying elegance there is instead complete bohu va tohu or an unconstrained aperion. So the idea of their being beauty in the under carriage of reality is compelling, but I will also say that it is not mandatory in all cases.

When it comes to supersymmetry I find the idea compelling, but I find supersymmetric standard model not so. In fact I think the SUSY standard model appears headed for the graveyard. SUSY may appear in completely different forms. So what Bee is doing here to shake things up a bit can serve a purpose.

oporter said...

peter cameron said...

"What governs amplitude and phase of energy transmission is absent from the Standard Model. Given that fields are quantized in quantum field theory, it is unavoidable the impedances of wavefunction interactions are quantized. Quantum Hall impedance is one example. Quantum impedances are associated with all forces and their potentials.

Including this one concept in one’s worldview radically alters the perspective on the present state of particle physics."

Very interesting comment. I would love to see this expanded.


Nirmalya said...

@Djuna : It is interesting that you say
'you will notice that I don't actually give my opinion about what you criticize. That is not my task as a reviewer; I just analyze how well I think you have made your argument.'

Yet a. there is little discussion on exactly how well she made the argument. Did she make a convincing case? Did she fail to do so? The review is silent. Yet this is the essential point of the book.

b. Despite your claim of withholding opinion you did not refrain from giving your opinion on her proposed solutions.

Zafa Pi said...

Dr. Croon,
I just showed your review of "Lost in Math" to my neighbor and he said,
"[Croon and other reviewers] just say stupid stuff."
I suspect he won't like your research articles as well.

jh said...

As a scientist, I want to thank you for speaking out against those who would deny the scientific process just because it’s inconvenient for them.

As the book reviewer shows, you probably won’t change their minds, but young scientists should be warned.

I have asked my lab to buy your book.

peter cameron said...

oporter - contact info is available on many blogger pages, just click on a given commenter name to see.

Sabine_fan said...

Sabine. Don't be frustrated by one weak review. Although Amazon hasn't published any comments yet, Goodreads has. I suspect you have a winner on your hands. Of course LIM is controversial, but you appear to be striking a chord with some people as well as a nerve with others. There are 15 reviews on Goodreads and 31 more who have marked it as to-read. These are people who take books seriously, and they like it.

Some short excerpts from 8 reviews:

"It's pretty interesting to see someone telling the truth, and you realise how seldom that happens. I just couldn't put this book down."

"Sabine Hossenfelder’s Lost in Math is a call to action for physics to take a good hard look at itself. It’s a necessary work that will irritate people, which is ultimately the role of a contrarian who loves a subject. Ms. Hossenfelder’s attempts to pull physics back from the borders of pure math and philosophy is admirable. As an anchor to the current realities of the field, this is a must have book for anyone exploring cutting edge theoretical physics."

"Overall, I really enjoyed the book. I already follow the author's blog, Backreaction, and it's great as well. Read this book. It's important."

"This book is a most for new science students. It will encourage them to explore unconventional and innovative paths."

"Douglas Adams said that in the whole history of written English, you will never find the combination of words: “as pretty as an airport”. Here’s another I never thought I’d see: a fun theoretical physics book."

"Really enjoyed, made me use my brain. Try it, you will like it."

"I was intrigued by this book from the start. Being a physics and math nerd, the author had me... As an experimental physicist, I found the book very enjoyable and a little disturbing. Have we been led astray? Have we left the truth of scientific research for a group think pursuit of beauty?"

Cheer up! Physics clearly needs you and Lost in Math!

Seth Thatcher said...

The best fights to watch are not in the hockey arena, it is in the physics arena of ideas. LOL.

Greg Metcalfe said...

I get my pre-order tomorrow, as an eBook. After reading the review, I wonder if I'll be able to read just the interview bits first, then do a second pass through the entire thing. Just to see if "...her heavy-handed contextualization spoils them."

If so, I'll be very surprised. When thinking about a lay physics book, the very first thing I do is see if there's any mention of it on your blog. That dates back to 2013, at the latest, with _The Theoretical Minimum_ by Susskind and Hrobovsky.

So buying a book by you, after reading your blog posts on the same topic for some time, didn't actually involve a decision. Nor would it have if I'd read the review first. Tomorrow evening is going to be a pleasant one.

Don Foster said...

Hi Bee,

I just watched a video in which the Holographic Principle was touted as the “most significant advancement in physics in the last thirty years.” Be that as it may, I am wondering if, in regard to the thesis of your new book, the Holographic Principle is an example of a physics that is “lost in math”?


Danimal said...

I work in computational condensed matter and biophysics, and so find emergent behaviors as interesting as the quest for the ultimate constituents. But it's very engrossing to follow the debates in high energy theory. I enjoyed reading "The Trouble with Physics" in 2006, and will definitely read "Lost in Math".

Just read "Boltzmann's Atom" by David Lindley and one thing that strikes me is that there was a lot of messiness and intellectual conflict in the development of statistical mechanics, so much so that it arguably contributed to Boltzmann sadly taking his own life. But the theory which emerged is a beautiful and useful one.

It seems as if high energy physics needs more of that messiness and informed conflict. Having the constraints of experiments clearly in mind tends to bring out that messiness and honest conflict.

As fascinating as it is, it seems as if string theory skips the messy stage and the difficult process of engaging with nature at the limits of our experimental knowledge. And goes straight to the beauty stage.

I think there will be a lot of beautiful new high energy physics in the future, but only after the messiness or "ugliness" is engaged in as a whole community. There was no real alternative to doing this in developing stat mech (or quantum for that matter), but now it seems it needs to be a conscious choice and priority set in the field.

Haven't read the book yet, but it sounds like zsabine's guidelines are an effort to help set those priorities.


deepak said...

This is not a comment neither on the book nor on the review, having read neither one so far. It is a comment on the present state of high energy theory.

We are in the midst of an ongoing revolution in high energy physics which is as significant for our view of how nature works, as relativity was for our conception of spacetime or quantum mechanics was for our conception of reality.

No revolution has ever occurred without strong disagreements surfacing or without professional differences merging into personal ones. It is natural that this latest revolution will also have its share of heat and light generated by the clashing of great minds.

In the midst of all this back and forth it can be difficult for the professional, let alone the layperson, to distinguish facts from opinions and personal attacks from reasoned criticisms. It is easy to lose your cool and easy to lose sight of the argument in the heat of the debate.

What is clear is that the old consensus of string theory as providing the ultimate theory of quantum gravity and all other things, is severely and justifiably under attack. String theory has led to many beautiful developments in topology, conformal field theory and many other mathematical topics. However, the insistence of its discoverers and promoters of it being the only and ultimate consistent theory of Nature has had the unfortunate effect of draining resources - intellectual, monetary and social - in favour of research into the "string landscape" or "eternal inflation" rather than several other far more grounded research topics.

What is especially interesting, amusing but also somewhat distressing is to see how the old guard of string theory has in recent years come around to the realisation of the importance of quantum information and tensor networks in constructing viable quantum gravitational models; all the while those ideas have, for the past two decades or more, been the cornerstones of an approach to quantum gravity long derided by string theorists - loop quantum gravity.

For instance the tensor networks now in much demand due to the interest of people such as Susskind, are nothing but the spin networks which were discovered by LQGists in the early 90s!

Of course, this is not to say that string theory, by any stretch of the imagination, is "wrong". As a quantum field theory of extended objects it is a perfectly viable theory, but to claim that in its present form it is a viable theory of quantum gravity or quantum geometry is wishful thinking.

What is needed is for people from both LQG, String theory, emergent and analog gravity, and quantum information, to set aside their individual egos and come together to contribute their personal insights into constructing a grand synthesis of a new framework for quantum gravity.

Of course, expecting people who have invested their entire careers into one or either approach to quantum gravity, to put aside their individual egos and collaborate with the "others" might be the ultimate in wishful thinking!

In the meantime perhaps I should pick up a copy of Sabine's book, since if nothing else, it certainly seems to be a fun read!