Monday, November 19, 2018

The present phase of stagnation in the foundations of physics is not normal

Nothing is moving in the foundations of physics. One experiment after the other is returning null results: No new particles, no new dimensions, no new symmetries. Sure, there are some anomalies in the data here and there, and maybe one of them will turn out to be real news. But experimentalists are just poking in the dark. They have no clue where new physics may be to find. And their colleagues in theory development are of no help.


Some have called it a crisis. But I don’t think “crisis” describes the current situation well: Crisis is so optimistic. It raises the impression that theorists realized the error of their ways, that change is on the way, that they are waking up now and will abandon their flawed methodology. But I see no awakening. The self-reflection in the community is zero, zilch, nada, nichts, null. They just keep doing what they’ve been doing for 40 years, blathering about naturalness and multiverses and shifting their “predictions,” once again, to the next larger particle collider.

I think stagnation describes it better. And let me be clear that the problem with this stagnation is not with the experiments. The problem is loads of wrong predictions from theoretical physicists.

The problem is also not that we lack data. We have data in abundance. But all the data are well explained by the existing theories – the standard model of particle physics and the cosmological concordance model. Still, we know that’s not it. The current theories are incomplete.

We know this both because dark matter is merely a placeholder for something we don’t understand, and because the mathematical formulation of particle physics is incompatible with the math we use for gravity. Physicists knew about these two problems already in 1930s. And until the 1970s, they made great progress. But since then, theory development in the foundations of physics has stalled. If experiments find anything new now, that will be despite, not because of, some ten-thousands of wrong predictions.

Ten-thousands of wrong predictions sounds dramatic, but it’s actually an underestimate. I am merely summing up predictions that have been made for physics beyond the standard model which the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) was supposed to find: All the extra dimensions in their multiple shapes and configurations, all the pretty symmetry groups, all the new particles with the fancy names. You can estimate the total number of such predictions by counting the papers, or, alternatively, the people working in the fields and their average productivity.

They were all wrong. Even if the LHC finds something new in the data that is yet to come, we already know that the theorists’ guesses did not work out. Not. A. Single. One. How much more evidence do they need that their methods are not working?

This long phase of lacking progress is unprecedented. Yes, it has taken something like two-thousand years from the first conjecture of atoms by Democritus to their actual detection. But that’s because for most of these two-thousand years people had other things to do than contemplating the structure of elementary matter. Like, for example, how to build houses that don’t collapse on you. For this reason, quoting chronological time is meaningless. We should better look at the actual working time of physicists.

I have some numbers for you on that too. Oh, yes, I love numbers. They’re so factual.

According to membership data from the American Physical Society and the German Physical Society the total number of physicists has increased by a factor of roughly 100 between the years 1900 and 2000.* Most of these physicists do not work in the foundations of physics. But for what publication activity is concerned the various subfields of physics grow at roughly comparable rates. And (leaving aside some bumps and dents around the second world war) the increase in the number of publications as well as in the number of authors is roughly exponential.

Now let us assume for the sake of simplicity that physicists today work as many hours per week as they did 100 years ago – the details don’t matter all that much given that the growth is exponential. Then we can ask: How much working time starting today corresponds to, say, 40 years working time starting 100 years ago. Have a guess!

Answer: About 14 months. Going by working hours only, physicists today should be able to do in 14 months what a century earlier took 40 years.

Of course you can object that progress doesn’t scale that easily, for despite all the talk about collective intelligence, research is still done by individuals. This means processing time can’t be decreased arbitrarily by simply hiring more people. Individuals still need time to exchange and comprehend each other’s insights. On the other hand, we have also greatly increased the speed and ease of information transfer, and we now use computers to aid human thought. In any case, if you want to argue that hiring more people will not aid progress, then why hire them?

So, no, I am not serious with this estimate, but I it explains why the argument that the current stagnation is not unprecedented is ill-informed. We are today making more investments into the foundations of physics than ever before. And yet nothing is coming out of it. That’s a problem and it’s a problem we should talk about.

I’ve recently been told that the use of machine learning to analyze LHC data signals a rethinking in the community. But that isn’t so. To begin with, particle physicists have used machine learning tools to analyze data for at least three decades. They use it more now because it’s become easier, and because everyone does it, and because Nature News writes about it. And they would have done it either way, even if the LHC would have found new particles. So, no, machine learning in particle physics is not a sign of rethinking.

Another comment-not-a-question I constantly have to endure is that I supposedly only complain but don’t have any better advice for what physicists should do.

First, it’s a stupid criticism that tells you more about the person criticizing than the person being criticized. Consider I was criticizing not a group of physicists, but a group of architects. If I inform the public that those architects spent 40 years building houses that all fell to pieces, why is it my task to come up with a better way to build houses?

Second, it’s not true. I have spelled out many times very clearly what theoretical physicists should do differently. It’s just that they don’t like my answer. They should stop trying to solve problems that don’t exist. That a theory isn’t pretty is not a problem. Focus on mathematically well-defined problems, that’s what I am saying. And, for heaven’s sake, stop rewarding scientists for working on what is popular with their colleagues.

I don’t take this advice out of nowhere. If you look at the history of physics, it was working on the hard mathematical problems that led to breakthroughs. If you look at the sociology of science, bad incentives create substantial inefficiencies. If you look at the psychology of science, no one likes change.

Developing new methodologies is harder than inventing new particles in the dozens, which is why they don’t like to hear my conclusions. Any change will reduce the paper output, and they don’t want this. It’s not institutional pressure that creates this resistance, it’s that scientists themselves don’t want to move their butts.

How long can they go on with this, you ask? How long can they keep on spinning theory-tales?

I am afraid there is nothing that can stop them. They review each other’s papers. They review each other’s grant proposals. And they constantly tell each other that what they are doing is good science. Why should they stop? For them, all is going well. They hold conferences, they publish papers, they discuss their great new ideas. From the inside, it looks like business as usual, just that nothing comes out of it.

This is not a problem that will go away by itself.


If you want to know more about what is going wrong with the foundations of physics, read my book “Lost in Math: How Beauty Leads Physics Astray.”


* That’s faster than the overall population growth, meaning the fraction of physicists, indeed of scientists of general, has increased.

279 comments:

«Oldest   ‹Older   201 – 279 of 279
Dr. Perry Daneshgari said...

I just bought the audiobook. It will be downloadable on December 4th. Thank you Sabine.

Ian Miller said...

Given that there is a lot of crackpot stuff out there, the question then is, if something quite novel turned up that was of somewhat better quality than that listed by Phillip above, but was not a speculative approach to a problem for which there is no satisfactory answer such as the dark matter question, how many people would try to unravel its consequences? My guess is, very few. The reason is that there is just too much stuff out there that nobody really has the time to devote to unravelling something that is not in their immediate interest area, and by definition this will not be in their immediate interest. From what I gather, until Eddington's observations very few really took much notice of Einstein's relativity and the literature was very much smaller back then. (It is also interesting that Newton predicted such gravitational bending of light, but differed from Einstein by a factor of 2, and a case could be made that Eddington's results were made to support Einstein rather than that they convincingly did.) So, is it possible that there are clues or advances out there, but they have been ignored? If so, it would be extremely difficult to find them.

Lindsay Forbes said...

You are absolutely right. Time will tell.

Marco Parigi said...


/"I just think some of your readers may like to be aware that there are some interesting alternatives to General Relativity floating around the Peer Reviewed Journals."

References, please.

https://arxiv.org/abs/1302.2775
This above paper was accepted by EPL (Europhysics letters) on the 11th February, 2013.
It is short and to the point. The maths is simple and elegant. It has been deemed quality since it has passed peer review.
It took me all of 10 minutes to work out that it had merit.
It requires only a mild breaking of General Relativity. There are solid reasons for this, especially since The Galaxy Rotation Problem was not one that Einstein sought to solve. If he had, he would not have Accepted dark matter, but would have been happy with a modified inertia that kicks in with the low accelerations at the edges of galaxies.


Regards,
Marco

Marco Parigi said...

Hi Ian,

If we just stick to short papers with relatively simple terms ideas that have passed the quality control of peer review in a reputable journal, the number of crackpot theories reduces dramatically.

Again, it doesn’t take much more than a word or two to voice an expert opinion from a well respected science blogger, for any number of well researched alternatives to the mainstream.

Regards Marco

Phillip Helbig said...

"https://arxiv.org/abs/1302.2775
This above paper was accepted by EPL (Europhysics letters) on the 11th February, 2013.
It is short and to the point. The maths is simple and elegant. It has been deemed quality since it has passed peer review."


Does look interesting at first glance. Maybe at second glance. If true, it is not really an alternative to GR, but rather a new theory which has GR as a limit. Still, that would be interesting. If true.

As you say, it has been published in a reputable journal. Of course, that doesn't prove that it is correct. Occasionally even crackpot papers get published in otherwise good journals.

What throws me a bit is that he uses his theory to explain the Pioneer anomaly, which I believe has now been explained by more conventional means. If so, that would presumably rule out or seriously compromise his theory.

Ian Miller said...

It is interesting to note what qualifies as a "crackpot" theory. Obviously there are some out there that are just plain silly, but the simple rash labelling of o something that people don't like because it doesn't fit their preconceived notions could well still be inhibiting progress. Some historical examples of what I mean:

Aristarchus of Samos. He had this ridiculous idea that the planets orbited the sun. He had also made some measurements and deduced the sun was enormous compared with the earth, which was why it was in the centre. Aristotle was the reference point, so the measurements were accepted but not the theory.

Mikhail Lomonosov. He showed the conservation of mass in chemical reactions before Lavoisier, and proposed atoms and molecules. Because he lived in Russia, i.e. then in backwater, nobody took any notice, and it wasn't as if the literature was flooded back then.

Rejection by Peer review. In 1845, J J Waterston had a paper rejected, the referee for the Royal Society saying, "The paper is nothing but nonsense". That was the established view of the kinetic theory of gases.

Maths jumping on the bandwagon. A clear example was "anomalous water". Quantum computations clearly showed there was real additional stability to polywater, and many papers "proving it" found their way to Nature and Science. One such participant went on to get a Nobel prize (although that particular aberration was not mentioned).

Do we really think we have suddenly got better?

Phillip Helbig said...

"Obviously there are some out there that are just plain silly,"

John Baez's crackpot index makes it easy to separate the wheat from the chaff. :-)

"but the simple rash labelling of o something that people don't like because it doesn't fit their preconceived notions could well still be inhibiting progress. Some historical examples of what I mean:"

Sigh. Fortunately, today theories don't triumph because those with other opinions are burned at the stake. Yes, we can learn from history, but we shouldn't overlook that we have learned from history. On the whole, arguments today are more rational. In the words of Stephen Jay Gould: "A man does not attain the status of Galileo merely because he is persecuted; he must also be right." In the words of Carl Sagan: "But the fact that some geniuses were laughed at does not imply that all who are laughed at are geniuses. They laughed at Columbus, they laughed at Fulton, they laughed at the Wright brothers. But they also laughed at Bozo the Clown."

Marco Parigi said...

Philip Heilbig said

What throws me a bit is that he uses his theory to explain the Pioneer anomaly, which I believe has now been explained by more conventional means. If so, that would presumably rule out or seriously compromise his theory.

The "conventional means" used to "explain" the Pioneer anomaly needs to be looked at far more critically. In short, the conventional explanation is that thermal effects on the Pioneer and Voyager probes *could*, *potentially* cause an effect to the probe of a magnitude commensurate to the anomaly. The anomaly is such that the space craft does not go as far as gravity, momentum etc. dictate, ie. it always bounds the spacecraft to the Sun more than expected rather than less. Thermal anomalies should be any directional, and should on average cancel, all other things being considered.

This mentioned (modified inertia based) prediction is different in that it gives a calculated magnitude and direction to Pioneer style anomalies, and precisely at what point they should be evident (Past Saturn+). The predictions could better predict the motion of New Horizons, and its deviation from expected, while the "thermal" explanation just adds an omnidirectional uncertainty, which has little to no utility in comparison, *even if true*.

I would not hold a more mathematical explanation to the Pioneer Anomaly issue against a concept of modified inertia that has predictive utility. Quite the opposite. We should be favouring explanations with predictions that can be tested, if they exist. In this case, it does.

regards

Marco

Jos said...

Interesting comments from the book of Richard Hamming: "The art of doing science and engineering", which, to a certain extent, resonate with yours:

"Experts in looking at something new always bring their expertise with them as well as their particular way of
looking at things. Whatever does not fit into their frame of reference is dismissed, not seen, or forced to fit
into their beliefs. Thus really new ideas seldom arise from the experts in the field. You can not blame them
too much since it is more economical to try the old, successful ways before trying to find new ways of
looking and thinking.
All things which are proved to be impossible must obviously rest on some assumptions, and when one or
more of these assumptions are not true then the impossibility proof fails—but the expert seldom remembers
to carefully inspect the assumptions before making their “impossible” statements. There is an old statement
which covers this aspect of the expert. It goes as follows:
“If an expert says something can be done he is probably correct, but if he says it is impossible then consider getting another opinion.”

"In my opinion the Institute for Advanced
Study at Princeton, N.J has ruined more great scientists than any other place has created—considering what
they did before ore and what they did after going there. A few, like von Neumann, escaped the closed
atmosphere of the place with all its physical comforts and prestige, and continued to contribute to the
advancement of Science, but most remained there and continued to work on the same problems which got
them there but which were generally no longer of great importance to society."

KInd regards, Jos.

Phillip Helbig said...

The "conventional means" used to "explain" the Pioneer anomaly needs to be looked at far more critically.

OK, cards on the table. Do you believe that cold fusion is real? Unlike the pioneer anomaly, no-one except crackpots thinks that cold fusion works (if it did, those folks would be rich). So this guy's theory explains something which doesn't exist. Got it.

Neil Wilkes said...

Really?
How is that then please?
Fusion power is still, 50 years and countless billions upon billions of dollars later, the power source of the future and probably always will be. You do not even know it can be done.
Dark Matter is another Unicorn search. How many null results must there be before somebody stands up and says "maybe we need to have another look at our core assumptions"?
This never happens and never woll when careers depend on continued funding and everybody marks their own homework.
It is definitely time to rethink and stop confusing maths with reality.

Neil Wilkes said...

I have read this three times now and still cannot work out what you actually mean.
Can i please ssk outright if you agree with the article or not?

Ian Miller said...

Phillip, How sure are you that we have actually learned? The idea that he must be right works well for assessing the past, but how do you know in the present? What the past has shown is that being right means that following the accepted paradigm. The problem is, what is ignored by that paradigm? You mention cold fusion. Now we now know that was wrong, but I assure you that at least one of those guys (I knew him) was a very careful experimentalist. Obviously the interpretation was wrong, but what was actually going on?

About the same time there was polywater. Eventually we learned that the water condensed in silica capillaries did not polymerise, but rather it dissolved silica. There are two consequences that are put under the rug, so to speak. The first is, absolutely nobody has any idea why water could dissolve fused silica under those circumstances, but the scathing that followed meant that nobody would risk their reputation trying to find out. Why is that a sign of advancement? A second point is that quantum computations "proved" the stability polywater. It was NEVER shown what was wrong with those computations, and the same programs went on to produce a large umber of papers. OK, slightly more sophisticated than the antics of Bozo the clown, but does it make you happy? Going further, one of the proponents went on to modify the programming and sell and sell them, but ONLY on the basis you were forbidden to examine the code. Is that the way you think science should proceed? Some think so, because while polywater did not enter the citation, one got a Nobel prize. We that good.

Anyone can be wrong, and that is not shameful. You mention Sagan. One of his statements, after doing some photophysics, was that the primitive atmospheres of planets could not sustain ammonia because of UV degradation, and hence ammonia would be gone from young planets, if it were there in the first place, in decades. This is a clear case of firmly believing in experimental data (which is good) but overlooking something very important, probably because, being a physicist, he did not know of it. That is that ammonia is extraordinarily soluble in water. Anyway, a measurement of some seawater trapped in rocks 3.2 billion years ago showed that there was almost as much ammonia as potassium, which, if we assume all volatiles were emitted proportionally to their current presence means that about 10% of the nitrogen was present as ammonia. This is almost completely unknown because the data is mentioned 2/3 the way through a paper, because the author, being interested in other things, merely reported it and never abstracted it.

I am sorry but I am far from convinced we are that much better. We do have more experience and we have sorted out more rubbish, but that does not mean we are better.

David Bailey said...

Philip Helbig wrote:

"On viXra, Phillip Helbig, and David: if you have an hour or so of your life free, by all means read a sample of what’s on viXra."

Your point is well made, assuming that the refereed papers referred to by Marco Parigi, are indeed located there! I do realise that there is a lot of crackpot stuff!

Perhaps could be more specific.

Daemon Nice said...


Great article, I will seek out your book.


Back in the day, a hundred plus years ago many scientists came from wealthy families and did not rely on their scientific endeavours for an income, this is not the case today. Back in the day, reproducibility and falsification were just as important as coming up with a new theory. Not so today. Especially since many findings are coming from test facilities funded with billions of dollars and the results of which are accepted without any verification. Who has the means to reproduce their research?

How much is in fact accepted in science today that really has not been properly tested? Far too much as there is no great popularity to be gained falsifying a claim.

Is dark matter just a placeholder name for something not yet known or is it an indication that there is something terribly wrong with the maths that deduce its presence?

Then there are the gatekeepers of peer-reviewed journals? And worse yet, mass media distorting the actual findings for an eye-grabbing headline. Or how much corporations control the results of research.

And then there is as Max Planck allegedly said with respects to new science requiring the deaths of old scientists to gain acceptance.

When anomalous observations are made that were not predicted by a model, it is time to question the model even if it has been around for decades. This does not happen for over those decades egos became overinflated and rather than doubt themselves, they seem to prefer to bury it.

And then there is the Velikovsky Affair which clearly offended many in the scientific community that it resulted in a book burning mentality and criticisms by those who had not even read the book. In the end, most of his predictions ended up as true, yet even though this was so, astrophysicists still denounced him to the point that Carl Sagan in his show Cosmos claimed all of V's predictions were wrong.

Marco Parigi said...


The "conventional means" used to "explain" the Pioneer anomaly needs to be looked at far more critically.

OK, cards on the table. Do you believe that cold fusion is real? Unlike the pioneer anomaly, no-one except crackpots thinks that cold fusion works (if it did, those folks would be rich). So this guy's theory explains something which doesn't exist. Got it.


The paper has a very good mathematical explanation for the Galaxy Rotation relations that defy conventional Newtonian Mechanics. The pioneer anomaly is a whole other set of papers. So is cold fusion/LENR.

I feel it is best to refer to literature on each point separately. What do you mean by “believe”. I think the peer reviewed literature is more balanced and nuanced with regards to the pioneer anomaly than your suggestion that “it doesn’t exist”.

Regards
Marco

Marco Parigi said...

Vixra is a pre-print archive. The idea is to publish there in advance of submitting or passing the peer reviewed process. The trick is to find things duplicated there (where it is open access) that have passed peer review at a reputable journal (often behind a paywall of some sort). Because it is easy to publish to Vixra, it does attract people who have trouble being heard, including crackpots. I think it does serve a purpose to be able to talk about a potential or published paper.

Regards
Marco

bud rap said...

@Phillip Helbig,

"On the whole, arguments today are more rational."

Absent empiricism it is possible to have rational arguments about the number of angels that can dance on the head of a pin - or the number of quarks for that matter.

JeanTate said...

A response to Ian Miller's long posts (and some of Marco Parigi's).

viXra is new and dramatically lowers the barrier to getting an idea published (in a broad sense). I think it would be almost trivial to get most if not all of your "six impossible things before breakfast" (two gold stars if you recognize this quote) published. So your historical cases are hardly comparable.

You wrote: "Obviously there are some out there that are just plain silly, Well, yes. Have you wasted an hour or so of your life actually reading a random sample of what's on viXra? Of course, if "some" means "likely well north of 95%" ...

(David Bailey: I wrote that, not Phillip Helbig)

No doubt there are some really cool ideas which, if investigated somewhat rigorously, would turn out to be pure gems. But how to find them? Marco Parigi wrote "The trick is to find things duplicated there (where it is open access) that have passed peer review at a reputable journal (often behind a paywall of some sort)." Indeed. Does anyone have an even vaguely practical way of doing this?

Here's a thought: if instead of writing posts here, how about we all spent that time reading and reviewing some viXra publications? Suppose we did that, how much of a dent would we have made, in terms of sifting candidates for really cool ideas that might pan out from those which are just plain silly? My guess: perhaps 0.001%. And in the time we took to do even the most cursory of reviews, the number of new viXra publications would likely be many times more than the ones we reviewed.

JeanTate said...

@Neil Wilkes and @Daemon Nice: how well do you think you understand what "dark matter" is, as used by an astronomer or astrophysicist? One who specializes in extra-galactic astronomy (full disclosure: I am one of these) or cosmology? From what you write, my guess is "not at all".

Yes, particle physicists, in general, would love for it to turn out to be some undiscovered particle or three. However, if it turns out to be something to do with a different theory of gravity (and no new particles), the historical work of astronomers, astrophysicists, and at least some cosmologists would not be affected at all (at least, not directly). And if it is some sort of superfluid or condensate, well party time!

Oh, and re this (Neil Wilkes): "Fusion power is still, 50 years and countless billions upon billions of dollars later, the power source of the future and probably always will be." Fusion power has been at work, shaping life on Earth (and much more), for ~4.5 billion years; but for the Sun's fusion power, we would not be here.

JeanTate said...

Daemon Nice wrote: "And then there is the Velikovsky Affair which clearly offended many in the scientific community that it resulted in a book burning mentality and criticisms by those who had not even read the book. In the end, most of his predictions ended up as true, yet even though this was so, astrophysicists still denounced him to the point that Carl Sagan in his show Cosmos claimed all of V's predictions were wrong."

No, most of his predictions ended up not being true, except where they were so vague that it is almost impossible for them to not be true.

But let's not debate this here. How about you start a thread on this topic, in the International Skeptics Forum, Science, Mathematics, Medicine, and Technology board? I promise to participate if you do.

JeanTate said...

Jos wrote: "There is an old statement which covers this aspect of the expert. It goes as follows:
“If an expert says something can be done he is probably correct, but if he says it is impossible then consider getting another opinion.”
"

And from where does this other opinion come? From Velikovsky? From an author of a viXra publication?

When will we - those who post comments here - start to sketch, even in broad terms, what might be practical approaches to deal with all the stuff that seems to upset so many of us? And no, "burn down Princeton's IAS" (or similar) is not such an approach ...

Marco Parigi said...

From previous thread:
No doubt there are some really cool ideas which, if investigated somewhat rigorously, would turn out to be pure gems. But how to find them? Marco Parigi wrote "The trick is to find things duplicated there (where it is open access) that have passed peer review at a reputable journal (often behind a paywall of some sort)." Indeed. Does anyone have an even vaguely practical way of doing this?

Yes! There is. Trawl through reputable peer reviewed journals for interesting theories that may have a grain of truth. If you are at a University, you may be able to access that directly, but for independent scientists like me, one can then search for a free to view version in the pre-print archives *Of the same title* Then at least there is that quality control implicit in the peer review process that generally gets around the assumption that if it is from Vixra or mentions a particular Pioneer Anomaly or whatever, that it doesn't automatically get lumped in with crackpots.

Certainly, to be *referred* to a particular Vixra paper by someone you trust is also a way to avoid the chaff that makes up most of the bulk of Vixra papers.

regards
Marco

M. E. said...

"Suppose we did that, how much of a dent would we have made, in terms of sifting candidates for really cool ideas that might pan out from those which are just plain silly? My guess: perhaps 0.001%."

0.001% might still produce more results than staying within the sanctioned discourse.

Ian Miller said...

A response to Jean Tate

Actually, I was unaware of viXra until reading this blog stream, so the short answer is, no I haven't. However, I am intrigued by the 0.001%. Fair enough - you stated it was a guess, but to do better, since in implies 1 in a hundred thousand, you would have to read a million of them to have any faith in the figure. The problem with guessing numbers out of thin air is they tend to become extreme.

As for our being better than historical cases, why do you think we are? Really bad ideas that are fundamental are also rather unusual. Most of the sillies are just trivial and easily spotted because thy don't go anywhere or offer anything. I found examples from recent times, but I was not really looking for them. Each one of those recent ones had some feature that impinged indirectly on some of my personal research and annoyed me at the time. The rules of the blog prevent me from elaborating on that, but the emphasis is on indirectly, but sufficiently for me to become aware that they were there. To have several examples that indirectly (for example, cold fusion was simply I knew one of the participants) hit the fringes of your own research, which is fairly narrow, then it is at least suggestive that there is really a lot more out there of which I am unaware. Having said what I said above, I must not try to guess a figure.

Unknown said...

Sabine — thanks. Very much enjoyed your book, "… Lost in Math", especially your repeated injunction regarding flawed assumptions. That said, consider Max Planck's fundamental assumption, "All matter originates and exists only by virtue of a force… We must assume behind this force the existence of a conscious and intelligent mind. This mind is the matrix of all matter.” Einstein and Erwin Schrödinger explicitly concur. Frank Wilczek also, though not quite so explicitly. That assumption appears to have guided some rather remarkable progress. What would happen in modern theoretical physics if we made that assumption, even if we didn't believe it?

Shayne Wissler said...

It would be a very ironic shame if no one in this thread had mentioned Adam Becker's new book, "What Is Real?: The Unfinished Quest for the Meaning of Quantum Physics?":

https://www.amazon.com/What-Real-Unfinished-Meaning-Quantum/dp/0465096050

This book gets to the heart of why contemporary physics is what it is.

Ian Miller said...

Jean Tate asked for a suggested means of sorting out this mess of literature, so here is my go. I don't actually read journals; I read tables of contents, then look at an abstract, and then, if it strikes my interest, I go to the article. In short, I don't look at articles unless I have some idea what their content is, and usually from the abstract I can guess the likely quality. Not only that, but I am seldom wrong, although in fairness a lot of what I read is experimental data, so maybe that is far more likely to have its nature clear from an abstract.

Anyway, from that, my suggestion. We need a computerised curating service. It would have to categorise things (maybe difficult) and have tags so that the user could have it sort what sort of paper they were seeking, then have a title, author, one or two sentences, then a link. As a list example (which I hope won't be interpreted as anything but an example that could be improved):

"On the electrodynamics of bodies in motion"; A Einstein. The consequences of a fixed velocity of light on relativity. (link)

I think the use of one sentence to get the essence of the paper will help sort the chaff.

7TowersSeen said...

I know this may sound crazy , but I believe that physics will come to a breakthrough when they turn their attention to the micro biology of this earth. I intuit that it will spark a thought to venture down an avenue that hasn't been considered. Meaning that thoroughly exploring micro biology will trigger and open thought process. After all we are woefully inadequate in our understanding of microbiology existing today right here on planet earth. In my personal opinion we need to do away with terms such as bad or good bacteria , fungi . In a living system these micro critters do what sustains life, its only when we create environments that allow for the dominance of certain types that the problems arise and those that are essential for life in these circumstances are labeled bad. For instance , aphids , thrips, certain mites are considered bad bugs but on the scale of reality these have a prolific reproduction capacity due to they feed myriads of other higher order insects that can easily contain acceptable population levels. Instead we provide environments where these critters are able to flourish while making inhospitable for what would normally consume them.

JeanTate said...

@M. E. : "might" is a mighty powerful word! ;-) I might win the next $US1 billion PowerBall lottery; my sister might be attacked by a shark AND a polar bear, while swimming off Bondi Beach; you might win a Nobel Prize for both Physics and Economics in the same year; ...

JeanTate said...

A response to Ian Miller.

Yes, my numbers are off ... the viXra site itself says there are only ~27k submissions (no mention of how many have withdrawn though), of which ~half are under Physics. So perhaps 0.03%?

Re: "As for our being better than historical cases, why do you think we are?" I'm not sure I commented on whether they are better; I simply said that the volume of easily accessible "alternatives" is vastly larger than it was when (most of) your cases first arose. This makes the task of identifying possibly good new, fundamental, ideas considerably more difficult, if one is to be "fair" in evaluating what's been published. The (relatively modern) ideas that both you and Marco Parigi seem somewhat enamoured with are surely picked somewhat at random, and just as surely overlook many which - if only you knew about them - might (!) be equally deserving of your favor.

And that's the point, surely? As a practical approach to addressing the concern raised in this blog post, it's next to useless, isn't it? I mean, however bad the present system is, it is surely better than one based, essentially, on patronage, wouldn't you say?

7TowersSeen said...

Environment, time and scale can change most all interactions to the myriad of things involved. changes to all at once happens , sometimes changes to one takes centuries ie Environment via scale needs to take consideration. there is a fourth in this equation and Geoffrey West the physicist needs to be addressed. Ideas he puts forth should be explored i think .. New avenues need to be discovered and remember never throw out the baby with the bath water!

Mark Reimers said...

Sabine,
You mention that you have discussed elsewhere your advice for physics; however there are no links to your proposals. Would you kindly add such references?
thanks
Mark

Mark Reimers said...

Sabine,
Where have you given your advice for physics in detail?
Mark

Sabine Hossenfelder said...

Marc,

In this very comment section. Yeah, I actually do expect that people read all previous comments before posting a new one because really I do not like having to repeat myself endlessly.

Marco Parigi said...

@jeantate
And that's the point, surely? As a practical approach to addressing the concern raised in this blog post, it's next to useless, isn't it? I mean, however bad the present system is, it is surely better than one based, essentially, on patronage, wouldn't you say?

My practical approach as I was initially intimating was to suggest that reputable bloggers such as Sabine ought to mention alternative ideas, with the provision that they have passed peer review. She may have come across them herself in her research, or have been pointed to them at some stage. Patronage implies that she or anyone would have to agree with the alternative or vouch for it.

Something like “idea X exists. This is the peer reviewed paper if you are interested. I personally don’t agree it is worth pursuing because mainstream idea Y has got it covered.”

When no one is aware of peer reviewed alternatives, not everybody is going to see the grain of truth that gave the author the motivation to persist through the harrowing process of peer review. If all respected bloggers stick strictly to explaining mainstream and only mainstream ideas, no progress is going to be made on the very problem this blog post shines a light on.

Regards Marco

Ian Miller said...

To Jean Tate.

I agree that patronage is a very bad system to rely on, especially since it favours the fallacy ad verecundiam. The examples I have quoted were not at random, although they may have come through a rather tortuous path from my interests. I most certainly agree we badly need a better way of finding what is out there, however I suspect scientists won't find it because they are too busy doing science, and most others won't because they don't really understand the subtleties of science. Not exactly Catch 22, but similar.

Phillip Helbig said...

"Vixra is a pre-print archive. The idea is to publish there in advance of submitting or passing the peer reviewed process. The trick is to find things duplicated there (where it is open access) that have passed peer review at a reputable journal (often behind a paywall of some sort)."

arXiv is a pre-print archive as well, so same idea. So why viXra (which is arXiv spelled backwards; have to love that originality!)? Because arXiv keeps crackpots out. My guess is that much less than one per cent of viXra papers appear in reputable journals. There is no trick. If the paper appears in a reputable journal, the author can mention this in the viXra entry.

Emmette Davidson said...

Jean Tate Jr., As for one impossible thing I’m seeing superfluid/condensate vis a vis dark “matter”; wouldn’t viscosity have to be negative to flatten the curve? Dark energy might somehow do the trick, but isn’t that tied not to such concentrated stuff? If not, truly there is a foundational problem, perhaps bringing even QCD into question, eh? But honestly, besides exorcising mysticism of stuff’s generations, why mightn’t substituting neutrinos for gluons too be simpler? ~ © aka Alice, alas not the Queen

Phillip Helbig said...

Philip Helbig wrote:

"On viXra, Phillip Helbig, and David: if you have an hour or so of your life free, by all means read a sample of what’s on viXra."


Please get the attribution right. This looks like I recommended that people read viXra.

Phillip Helbig said...

"six impossible things before breakfast" (two gold stars if you recognize this quote)

Please send me my gold stars via email. :-)

Alice laughed. “There’s no use trying,” she said: “one can’t believe impossible things.”

“I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”


Lewis Carroll (a.k.a. Charles Dodgson, Oxford mathematician who was "fond of children, except boys" and was one of the first photographers to photograph nudes) in Through the Looking Glass, one of the handful of books which I have read more than once.

Phillip Helbig said...

"Here's a thought: if instead of writing posts here, how about we all spent that time reading and reviewing some viXra publications? Suppose we did that, how much of a dent would we have made, in terms of sifting candidates for really cool ideas that might pan out from those which are just plain silly? My guess: perhaps 0.001%. And in the time we took to do even the most cursory of reviews, the number of new viXra publications would likely be many times more than the ones we reviewed."

There's already a system for that: it is called "submitting the paper to a respectable journal". If a paper is accepted, then the author can mention this at viXra. Few if any such papers are accepted (most probably aren't even submitted, as many viXra authors see traditional journals as hidebound defenders of the orthodoxy).

Phillip Helbig said...

Jos wrote: "There is an old statement which covers this aspect of the expert. It goes as follows:
“If an expert says something can be done he is probably correct, but if he says it is impossible then consider getting another opinion.”"


And from where does this other opinion come? From Velikovsky? From an author of a viXra publication?


Arthur C. Clarke: "If an elderly but distinguished scientist says that something is possible, he is almost certainly right; but if he says that it is impossible, he is very probably wrong."

Lindsay Forbes said...

Well I'm a 'crackpot'. Although I do take my science seriously as an amateur I have nowhere else to go. Corrections welcome. As it says on viXra, there's no point in sending unsolicited emails to the pros. So viXra here I come thanks in part to this thread.

Ian Miller said...

There can be legitimate reasons for going to something like viXra. One is simply to leave a record, and to give others a reference where it can be downloaded. It may be noted that the probability of its being read by somebody browsing may verge on zero, but the same may well apply to many peer reviewed journals. There are very few journals where you get new readers through browsing. One final point - it may be the easiest place to leave a record. I once wrote a review wherein I found over sixty different types of experiments that strictly speaking falsified the view that had become sufficiently accepted to find its way into textbooks. The previous reviews in the field had got around the problem these papers presented simply by ignoring them, which, while not strictly scientific or ethical, was effective. I then discovered there were no journals that would be read by anyone in the field that did not require page charges and which would consider a logic analysis. Quality of argument was irrelevant - they did not publish logic analyses. Yes, maybe it could be rewritten, but when you do not work for an institution and publications do absolutely nothing for your career, why bother? Leave it, or put it somewhere like viXra. (Note then viXra did not exist.) So, maybe I am a crackpot - beware!

JeanTate said...

@Marco Parigi: I don't get why viXra needs to be in the mix at all. Surely all that counts is that a paper got published in a (good) relevant peer-reviewed journal? Whether the author used viXra along the way, or merely polished their paper by singing to their cat is irrelevant, isn't it?

There is one, very practical, way to tell if your (or your fave) left-field idea has legs, at least in some cases: use it to build something, sell it, and retire a multi-billionaire. For example, somewhere among the many posts here, recently, mention was made of the ideas of a P.M. Robitaille. Well, as his idea obviously allows "free energy", go ahead and build a free energy generator, commercialize it, and watch the bazillions of dollars roll in! (the odd thing is that, apparently, none of Robitaille's fans, nor the man himself, seems to have realized this inevitable consequence of his ideas). Many cold fusion ideas seem of a similar kind: forget banging your head academia's door, go build a generator based on your ideas, and sell it!

Perhaps we can divide "alternative ideas" into two classes: those which appear as a paper (or papers) in a relevant peer-reviewed journal, and those which don't.

For the former, one day you're likely to have someone else come across your paper - during the "literature search" phase of a paper of your own perhaps - and in reading it realize there's gold there ... the rest will become history. Otherwise, keep working! Develop your radical new idea, write more papers on it, etc. And to get some publicity, discuss it in Physics Forums (they are OK with discussion of 'against the mainstream' published paper, but not of ones that aren't published; I do not know if there are similar places for things other than physics) ... you will get noticed! Provided that you actually engage in a discussion.

For the latter, best not bombard tenured professors at universities with your wonderful insights; instead, test your idea in the International Skeptics Forum (you will need to have a thick skin) or Cosmoquest Forum (you had better be very well prepared). If it's got legs, someone will likely encourage you to go further, and suggest how you could develop it to the point of being OK to submit to a relevant peer-reviewed journal.

Finally, be aware that there are plenty of predatory journals out there, many claiming to be "peer-reviewed" (most are "pay-to-publish" too). Publishing in those is about as useful as publishing in viXra.

So, some of my thoughts on what - practically - can be done with alternative ideas (other than moaning and whinging about how unfair "the system" is). What are yours?

JeanTate said...

@Phillip Helbig: yes, you do get two gold stars, but sadly they are available for pick-up only, on an as yet undiscovered Oort Cloud dwarf planet. ;-)

@Emmetta Davidson: I gave superfluid/condensate as an example of something quite left-field, but which might (to use Jos' mighty word) one day work, somehow or other.

@Lindsay Forbes (and to some extent Ian Miller): I contend that you do, in fact, have many places to go, including one that involves you teaching yourself enough of the field you're working in to be able to write something that would be accepted by a relevant peer-reviewed journal (no, don't bother sending your first draft paper to Nature or Science).

@Marco Parigi: you do know, don't you, that (for example) Stacy McGaugh (and Mordehai Milgrom, and ...) has managed to get some papers very much against the mainstream (on dark matter) published in very good journals (such as MNRAS)?

scientious said...

I was surprised when I read this. Even though you talked about physics, you could just as easily have been talking about the search for AGI in computer science. Computational theory based on Church-Turing works quite well. But, when we try to get to something like human reasoning and understanding, it all falls apart. The predictions don't work, the models don't work, so we move on to the next version of wishful thinking. There is the same hope that the next supercomputer, next Watson, or next Alpha Zero will somehow give us a clue of how to get to AGI but it never happens. Obviously, there is a gap in the theory. This doesn't stop people from creating new theories like Global Workspace and IIT which may have proponents but no evidence. It doesn't stop nutcases like Kurzweil, Harris, and Musk from projecting AI to world-ending, superhuman levels even though none of AI projections work. It's the same situation in that it is easier to create a new algorithm or a new variation on neural networks than to delve into a new theory or create a new science. Nothing changes.

There is one thing though. There is some research that might be able to help science in general. If the research can be completed then the earliest it would be published would be 2021.

Marco Parigi said...

Phillip Helbig There's already a system for that: it is called "submitting the paper to a respectable journal". If a paper is accepted, then the author can mention this at viXra. Few if any such papers are accepted (most probably aren't even submitted, as many viXra authors see traditional journals as hidebound defenders of the orthodoxy).

Despite your insistence that there is a system with no better alternative, the system is allowing fundamental physics to get lost in Maths. The pool of people that are part of the overhaul required (Lindsay and Ian included) have no choice but to join the hordes of crackpots where there isn’t such an artificially high barrier of entry for new ideas.

My point is saying that even if you do pass the bar with an elegant new idea into a respectable journal, bloggers like Sabine have no incentive whatsoever to rock the boat with mentioning something that say, potentially disproves Dark Matter. Again, I don’t mean her to endorse ideas she disagrees with, but not mentioning them, even a single word about them gives me the impression of pretending that these alternatives do not exist in the peer reviewed literature.

I am saying that via omission, she is guaranteeing a clean run for complex mathematical ideas to be studied without hope of external call to account for wasted resources.

Regards
Marco

Ian Miller said...

Jean Tate suggested that one proceeds by adopting "one that involves you teaching yourself enough of the field you're working in to be able to write something that would be accepted by a relevant peer-reviewed journal". Now, of course one has to have very good background to provide an alternative idea in a form that is convincing, but I draw your attention to the original topic - the problem is about the stagnation in the fundamentals. Suppose the idea is something like the fundamentals of quantum theory need changing and the problem lies in the formalism used. How could you get a peer reviewed journal to accept a paper if you don't use their formalism, yet your argument is the formalism leads you astray. And NO, that is an example of the conceptual problem with what you say and it does not mean I am attacking quantum physics. My point is the very top peer reviewed journals have a fairly heavy rejection rate, and therefor favour the status quo. That may be very desirable, but not if you don't like the stagnation in the fundamentals. The lesser journals do not get read that much.

There is another problem with the fundamentals. As another example, you are probably not going to solve dark energy because there is only one basic type of observation. That topic would usually, and quite properly, involve general relativity. That leaves two alternatives: (a) a clip-on to GR, but that is not changing the fundamentals - that is merely a new idea; (b) altering GR, but you can't possibly fit that into one paper, and it is very unlikely you can make enough progress in what you can get into one paper to convince the referees to let it through. Maybe you can and maybe I am wrong, and unfortunately I don't have any novel new world-shaking theory to put this to the practical test.

So I don't know the answer, but my view is, if you are in a hole, stop digging and try constructing steps. If we are really worried about stagnation in the fundamentals of physics, my view is it is time to start trying different things. Relying o the traditional approach only is unlikely to work because it has got you into the perceived problem. Maybe the alternatives are not going to work either, but why is it so bad to try? Who is allowing the alternatives hurting?

Phillip Helbig said...

"As it says on viXra, there's no point in sending unsolicited emails to the pros."

True, this is usually futile. However, submitting your paper to a respectable journal is not.

Phillip Helbig said...

"True, this is usually futile. However, submitting your paper to a respectable journal is not."

Just to be clear, it might be futile in the sense that it won't get published, but it won't be in the sense that someone who knows something about the topic will actually look at it and give you an informed opinion. (This might be an editor, rather than a referee.)

Lindsay Forbes said...

Ian's post reminds us that this thread started about stagnation in the fundamentals and he puts it much better than I could.
But thanks for the pointers. Physics Forum looks fun and another source of info.
Unsurprisingly my interest is in Dark Energy. (don't worry Sabine, no self promotion here). I don't have the quotes to hand but I have read and heard many times things like, "as nobody has a clue what D Energy is maybe an 8 year old will come up with a clue, or, someone will have to come with a crazy idea. As Ian says, these will never appear in the journals. When the solution is found it will be a long and hard struggle.
To paraphrase Groucho Marx - I wouldn't read any journal that accepted a paper from me.

Lindsay Forbes said...

Phillip, my comments on this blog reflect the frustrations of one who can never hope to be published in arXiv or the respected journals. Approaching 3 score and 10, time is running out. Also, although I was tops at Euclidean geometry 50 years ago, I gave up when faced with imaginary numbers. I have a penchant for real things in maths and the cosmos.
What is amazing however is that I can sit here in my dotage with no more than a cheap smartphone and access all this. An old man in the presence of giants.
I will continue to work up my ideas and drop them into viXra for posterity. Who knows, maybe I'm crazy enough to be right???? and it slows down the creeping senility.
I did enjoy your paper on the flatness problem and may quote it when I move on from Dark Energy to the Big Bang. Why? because it supports my ideas. Isn't that always the case.

Phillip Helbig said...

"Physics Forum looks fun and another source of info.
Unsurprisingly my interest is in Dark Energy."


If you have questions, you can ask in the newsgroup (I know, old school in these days of blogs and Web 5.0 or whatever, but it does have its advantages) sci.physics.research. It is a moderated group and the main reason for that is to keep out crackpot stuff (spam is less of a problem these days, as spammers have moved from posting in newsgroups to threatening people to send them some bitcoins otherwise they will delete their data via a virus). On the other hand, submissions do not have to be "research quality" and honest questions (as opposed to those posed merely to steer the conversation to someone's pet theory) are welcome. It is read by a range of people, from crackpots through interested folks through those with a background in physics to professors.

Ian Miller said...

Phillip wrote "Just to be clear, it might be futile in the sense that it won't get published, but it won't be in the sense that someone who knows something about the topic will actually look at it and give you an informed opinion. (This might be an editor, rather than a referee." I hope this is the comment of someone who does not know what actually happens. Because of Sabine's rules, I have a problem describing details, but look at the history of two of my submissions. Just to clarify, you may feel I am a crackpot, but while I never worked in academia, other than as a post doc, and spent 30 yrs of my life self employed, I have approximately 100 papers in peer reviewed journals and I was on the editorial board of a journal for ten yrs.

Paper 1 (to Phys rev) 1st submission - referees recommended for acceptance, except one required a paper to be acknowledged in the intro. I did not really see the relevance, but OK. It went to a new referee and the same thing happened, but if that was what it took. This went on for another two cycles, then there was nothing. After a long time (over a year, as I recall) I wrote to the editor asking what happened. I was informed that he had sent it to yet another reviewer, he had rejected it, so go away. I never saw the grounds. I submitted it to another journal and it was accepted without further comment so it is out there, but if you think that is the appropriate way to go about things, I don't.

Paper 2. This is more difficult to describe without saying what it is because it was based on what I believe is an error in the mathematical logic of a major "advance" that arises from the misuse of formalism. I submitted this to several papers, the editors rejecting it as being unsuitable for their journal. One took ten months to do it, and said they were returning it so that I could more promptly find another journal. Promptly? Finally one actually reviewed it. The comment: This is wrong. The maths are trivial. Note no clue where it was wrong. I later found a book written by a leading expert in the topic, and the book was about this topic. There was a blunder about some side issue. I wrote pointing it out. He replied and said I was right, and it would be corrected in edition 2. I explained my argument existed that contradicted his conclusion - would he care to show me where I was wrong? Of course. So I sent it, and never heard from him again. If you think it is that easy, feel free to contact me privately and I will send it, BUT only on the condition that either you find what is wrong with it, or you publicly admit you cannot fault it. Up to the challenge???

JeanTate said...

@Ian Miller: yes, it’s a good idea to get back to the topic of fundamentals.

Let’s talk about what your (one’s) paper with an alternative needs to have. It should be free of obvious internal inconsistencies. It should “reduce to” well-established physics in the appropriate limits. It should be demonstrably consistent with the appropriate, well-established experimental results and observations. To do these things, the alternative needs to be quantitative.

Surely these are not very high bars, are they?

In my several years of every now and then skimming some alternatives that I come across, I have yet to see any that comes even within a light year of meeting these basic requirements (well-established alternatives excepted, of course). And if the alternative does pass muster, I think it would have little difficulty getting published in a relevant peer reviewed journal (just not Science or Nature).

Don Foster said...

Sabine,

Perhaps the sufficiency of calculation is an impediment to deeper theoretical understanding. I am curious about two things in particular.

Whence the lawful regularity of the universe’s physical events?
Why does the universe far and wide, little and large tend toward some species of undulating dynamic?

For example, last week the NASA Insight spacecraft made a successful landing on Mars. We saw scores of happy people pass by the podium giving exuberant “high-fives”. Comforting to find that so many educated individuals can collaborate with clarity of purpose, create such an intricate device and pilot it successfully to the surface of a distant planet. Well done, and another apparently unneeded confirmation that physical laws determined on Earth also apply on Mars.

Yet why is that the case? Why is the universe so universally and intimately well governed across temporal and spatial dimensions that vary by many orders of magnitude? Why is the latest atomic clock is expected to lose only one second in thirteen billion years and we can estimate the half-life of a proton to be an astounding 10^32 years? Mathematics is a wonder at description, but does in itself govern dynamical time evolution of events? Is it an answer to say that this is simply the way it is or is there a more fundamental principle at work, some sort of topological basketry that constrains dynamics to normative behavior?

And then, next to the sauna we observe a small pool of cool water with a surface area of about three m^2. It is undulating in a seemingly random fashion with small areas smoothly rising and falling at a tempo of about 3 Hz. Because they are catching color from an evening sky, the effect is meditative and leads toward another sort of reflection. Why does the universe tend toward iterative, wave-like and cyclical dynamic motifs that vary in temporal and spatial dimension across many orders of magnitude? Why does the soliton phenomenon, first observed from horseback, also occur at the atomic level? Why do Yves Couder’s tabletop experiments produce hydrodynamic quantum analogs? Is there common relation? Each of the many mechanisms that exhibit iterative dynamics have their own hard-won equation and calculations that may be experimentally confirmed. But, these are descriptive and not fundamentally explanatory.
I would like to understand whether these are viable questions.

Marco Parigi said...

Phillip Helbig said "As it says on viXra, there's no point in sending unsolicited emails to the pros."

"True, this is usually futile. However, submitting your paper to a respectable journal is not."

Just to be clear, it might be futile in the sense that it won't get published, but it won't be in the sense that someone who knows something about the topic will actually look at it and give you an informed opinion. (This might be an editor, rather than a referee.)



Having personally done these things and more at various times, various strategies work to get experts to look at something and give an informed opinion. Different things will work perfectly well at various stages of formulation of alternate theories by an independent scientist. My experience was with cometary science, but I see no reason that it won't work the same way in theoretical physics.

At an early stage of formulation, comment threads on science blogs gets the attention of experts that have no skin in the game. Informed opinions are polarised against new ideas, but at some stage, they say - You really need to write a paper (like duh). In some ways it is because they just don't know, but feel likely it will fall short of being something that would pass peer review. A lot is learned about ones own new idea.


The next step is doing a read through of papers that are analysing the same data but doing a separate analysis with your own idea. Generally, if the new idea is far superior in terms of utility and coherence you are onto something that you can lock down for yourself. In theory it should be publishable - In practise, it is mocked and ridiculed by reviewers and potential reviewers.


The step after that is to use the utility and coherence inherent in your own idea to easily find errors in the papers being published without this "secret weapon". Many errors are found, and most will be denied by authors as being errors, but occasionally you find some gems that you can demonstrate with a couple of diagrams. That is the point where emailing the author/expert directly is fruitful. Egregious errors should be found anyway, especially when there is dozens of authors, but due to the complexity of working without some of the tools implicit in the new idea, they more easily slip through the system. Your idea won't even be talked about, far less accepted, but it can definitely make you look smart and that you know what you are doing. In this way, emails to experts can work.


Thirdly, when getting something submitted that has a reasonable chance of passing peer review, it is not the idea, but something acceptably provable associated with the idea that has half a chance. Even in such a sterile case where the data stacks in your favour, the level of dismissiveness in even open minded reviewers is palpable. The comments tend to be in the line of

- The tools and maths you used are nowhere near sophisticated enough.

- The point you are making is answered to satisfaction in many other papers.

- You are contradicting a lot of established science.


So little to no informed opinion from submitting a paper on even the hint of this actual new idea that has put one ahead of the game.

There is far more contributors from the "retired scientist" "independent scientist" line in comment threads of good blogs such as this one. My own advice to myself is to keep plugging away from many different angles. If it is getting success (that is tangible only internally to your idea to start with), keep talking about it. Especially as new information comes to light from the "big" science experiments and space probes. If you are right, new data should fall your way, and eventually, someone of note will notice.

regards
Marco

Sabine Hossenfelder said...

Folks,

I have no idea why this comment thread degenerated into a discussion of how to publish a paper, but I would suggest you come back to the topic, that being the lack of progress in the foundations of physics.

Ian Miller said...

Sabine, my point was that the difficulty in publishing an idea that questions the status quo is the cause of the lack of progress in the foundations. The foundations are the most basic aspects.

Neil Wilkes said...

I agree fully with Ian Miller here - the current peer review system is in great part to blame for the stagnations simply because of the way it functions.
It was set up to prevent open season with silliness but it has degenerated into the scientific equivalent of the old trade union Closed Shop arrangement. There - that shows my age!

Emmette Davidson said...

Jean Tate Jr., It’s an impossible thing (as proved), which with a certain sort of modified/emergent gravity (that seems intent still on geometrizing the quantum) following generic modified gravity (concept sans theory) in lieu of particle dark matter (placeholder from before SUSY went missing) make four. Two left; so do have another, as after-all, one is sufficient.

p.s. I once contemplated that mighty word (three days -- at least). Seems to me an apt compromise, between promise and command: timshel. ~© aka Mighty Mouse, Mary P. Artemis, ostensibly ζ

Marco Parigi said...

Folks,

I have no idea why this comment thread degenerated into a discussion of how to publish a paper, but I would suggest you come back to the topic, that being the lack of progress in the foundations of physics.


It appears that there is some kind of consensus amongst your commenters that the lack of progress in the foundations of physics is because not enough bloggers are listening to the comments in blogs :-)

The conversation went rightly towards the resistance to new ideas being a key factor with the stagnation in physics and other sciences. This is very closely related to the barrier created by incentives inherent in the science publishing game. Sabine, being an insider and knowingly part of the problem you are highlighting, it has probably escaped your attention that from an outsider, being lost looks a tad convenient for those whose livelihoods depend on the process of finding things out. From the outside, Dark Matter and Dark Energy look to be disproven IMO. There are too many jobs in research that would be made obsolete overnight if such conclusions Passed peer review.

As it stands, no reviewer would pass anything unequivocal that would go along those lines. A constant stream of hedged ideas results, adding to that sense of being lost.

Regards Marco

Sabine Hossenfelder said...

Marco,

I couldn't care less what kind of consensus you think there is among my commenters, I am not interested in hosting a discussion on how to best spam researchers with crackpot papers. If you think that 'dark matter and dark energy look to be disproven' you merely document that you do not have the faintest clue what you are even talking about.

Lindsay Forbes said...

Sabine, re "not interested in hosting a discussion on how to best spam researchers with crackpot papers."
I've followed this blog from the start and found it informative and interesting. My take is quite the opposite of your comment and I've picked up a few tips about what I can and system do, such as viXra. I take consolation that it's not just us amateurs who have problems getting ideas recognised.
It does look like part of the stagnation problem is caused by a system designed to discourage original thinking. If the comments and examples in the blog are correct, I'm appalled that science has allowed this state of affairs. Also discouraged but not beaten, I'll unscramble my daft theories and write my paper (s) and send them off to viXra before I finally recycle my atoms.
Thanks for this blog and keep fighting the good fight.

Don Foster said...

So...
Where would one turn to find philosophical discussion of why the universe from top to bottom is a lawful endeavor? Clearly, we would not be commenting here if that was not the case, but how is it made manifest? Is it simply naive to consider there must be some overarching principle that keeps it all on track in such astounding detail? Surely someone has been curious about this.

JeanTate said...

Sabine,

I think many who have posted comments on this particular blog post are trying to address the core issue you wrote about.

Unfortunately, many such comments are more about the unfairness, they may say, of the current system of peer-review, especially when it comes to vetting papers by “outsiders”. In general. A poor analogy might (ha!) be that to at least some there is an institutional bias against outsiders, perhaps somewhat akin to the sociological barriers women and some minorities face.

Few, but more than none, have tried to focus on the foundations, but they are somewhat drowned out.

Myself, I think this perceived barrier is well worth discussing ... just not here, as comments on this particular blob post.

So, to get back on track, I think one of the best posts is Phillip Helbig’s, where he points to an online resource which any outsider with what they think are cool new - developed - ideas on the foundations of physics can get a quick sanity check.

JeanTate said...

While it’s somewhat borderline, as a paper on foundations of physics, it does show that closely related new ideas can be the subject of papers published in relevant peer-reviewed journals (A&A in this case): https://arxiv.org/abs/1712.07962 ... it is, sorta, based on GR, and aims to provide a unified explanation of both DM and DE! :)

Phillip Helbig said...

"I hope this is the comment of someone who does not know what actually happens. Because of Sabine's rules, I have a problem describing details, but look at the history of two of my submissions."

I don't have any direct experience :-) but I hope that this isn't the rule. I am aware of some cases where some "independent researchers" submitted some papers (which, admittedly, were not "obviously crackpot") and got a sensible rejection notice (even the submitter saw the light, which speaks for him).

You should be able to find my email address and email with more details, so as not to hijack the comments here.

Unfortunately, I don't have time to look at proposals, though if something is obviously wrong maybe I can let you know.

marcusl said...

Your argument is provocative, if a bit reminiscent of the sentiment at the end of the 1800's that all the interesting physics had been done. I would urge caution in the use of statistics, however, particularly in the 100-fold increase in physicists since then. It is probably safe to say that most physicists in 1918 were in academia or research institutions working on the big questions of the day (relativity, cosmology, quantum mechanics, etc.). That changed dramatically after World War II with the rise of solid state electronics, technology in consumer goods, the military-industrial complex, computers and the like. In the 1950's, 36% of physicists worked in industry according to the APS, rising to 56% in the 1990's. I haven't found current numbers, but based on the number of "quants" flooding to the finance industry in the past 15 years and the huge draw of modern companies like Google doing machine learning, autonomous driving, data mining and so forth, I'd expect the fraction in industry to be bigger still. Thus your 100-fold increase in physicists working on physics problems might be a much smaller, so your stagnation looks less severe. (And, like the situation in 1900, huge advancements might be just around the corner). Although it is tangential to your thesis about stagnation in science, I think that the productivity of physicists in industry is huge, judging from the pace of technical innovation, so it may be that the focus has shifted. Mabye physicists doing basic physics research are becoming a small group in it for the love of physics, just as they were a century ago.

Ian Miller said...

My recent comments have been along the lines that one reason for the stagnation is the inability to communicate; there is a difficulty in getting papers accepted AND read. The fact you can get it published somewhere is irrelevant if nobody takes it up.

Another reason may be cultural. Academic society works in a similar style to the old gilds. One is rewarded for lots of papers with lots of citations, and you are not rewarded for being different. Accordingly, the priority is to publish lots of papers following the prescribed paradigm. Because science has expanded, there are lots of areas where the current paradigms can still produce lots of papers, so most people who are successful stick with them. The obvious places where exceptions would be made, like dark matter, say, are hindered by a lack of data to work on, so progress is seemingly slow. I suspect that the dynamics that give rise for the need for dark matter or modified gravity needs a breakthrough in inspiration, but it is hard to se what will generate that. For example, when Einstein got the idea to start relativity, he had a problem that had a distinct value - the velocity of light was constant. That is an extra fact that meant Galilean relativity could not be correct, but it required a very specific alteration that yielded to geometry. Things like dark matter or dark energy do not, as far as I can see, have that awkward fact that forces a precise change. Maybe I am wrong there.

Emmette Davidson said...

Ah, not a hint of geometrizing the quantum for that one, which is at least not a negative. And for negative viscosity there’s negative mass; how quaint. It’s always good to attach physical significance, though better were it also not impossible (being somewhat like Bethe’s backreaction, which just might be a hint). Nonetheless, best one must have unified darks also grandly quantized, as surely Occam’s master key fits all the locks. ~©ξ

Marco Parigi said...

spam researchers with crackpot papers. If you think that 'dark matter and dark energy look to be disproven'

I urge everyone who reads this blog to look at Sabine's fantastic videos explaining the current state of Dark Matter and MOND. I've watched them several times and I believe the disproof of dark matter as explanations for galactic rotations is mathematical and complete. The connection between galactic rotations acceleration dependence and Cosmic acceleration attributed to dark energy is also mathematically stated in the MOND video. The truth is in there to disprove dark matter and dark energy - Of course other viewers views may vary on this point.


As Sabine correctly states, MOND is wrong, and the dismissal of Dark Matter as the source of Galactic rotation relations does not make MOND right. So something else must be right, and the maths of MOND may be a guide. However, the situation this leaves theoretical physics is untenable (having two wrong theories as the only options being seriously considered) until a new theory of everything emerges from the chaos. Thus the best strategy is to hold tight within the "tribe" of theoretical physics and dismiss outsiders as crackpots. After all, theoretical physicists got into this mess - they can get out of it eventually given time.

Another great article that Sabine pointed me to was how smart people are vulnerable to putting tribe before truth, and that may or may not be important in this case. To get to the truth requires curiosity more so than intelligence. If you are curious, research the many variants of MOND style theories and be prepared or happy to have your mind changed, and you may get closer to the truth in the process.

https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/why-smart-people-are-vulnerable-to-putting-tribe-before-truth/

Regards, Marco

Marco Parigi said...

JeanTate said: A poor analogy might (ha!) be that to at least some there is an institutional bias against outsiders, perhaps somewhat akin to the sociological barriers women and some minorities face.

I think that is a very good analogy. It is very easy to discriminate against outsiders with impunity. The very style of argument of anyone who is not being "coached" by the institution they are working for is easily and immediately recognisable as different (not to mention the lack of institutional affiliation in any submission is immediately obvious also).


I'm not saying that all reviewers discriminate, but that the ones that do can completely avoid suspicion, and have absolutely no risk of any repercussions in the case of discriminating against institution independent researchers.


We are not here to talk about that, but any kind of prejudice in review or anywhere in the STEM sciences is harmful to the science as well as the individual being discriminated against. Sometimes it happens well below the radar.

regards

Marco

scientious said...

@Sabine Hossenfelder

> I have no idea why this comment thread degenerated into a discussion of how to publish a paper, but I would suggest you come back to the topic, that being the lack of progress in the foundations of physics.

I agree with you. I see a very similar lack of progress in AGI and it seems to be for the same reasons.

There are mountains of data and there are people conducting experiments everyday. The problem seems to be that the amount of information required to identify patterns is beyond what most theorists can handle. You've heard the saying that if you are a hammer then everything looks like a nail. If you have strong expertise in one area then you will necessarily bend new information to fit that mold. There is a profound contradiction in that these are highly specialized areas of study which also require general knowledge to see the big picture. But, if you don't know what the big picture is then you have no basis to narrow your field of knowledge. One person can't know everything and since AI has zero comprehension there is no tool as yet to assist.

Unknown said...

Peter Shor wrote:
"This is roughly how I discovered the quantum factoring
algorithm.... I thought about it on and off for maybe
a year, and worked on it moderately hard for a month or
two when I saw that it actually might work."

Out of curiosity, did you ever read the sci.physics Usenet newsgroup back in those days? In Feb 1994 (just a few months before your preprint came out) there was a discussion about the possibility of an algorithm using quantum superposition to factor numbers. As I recall, most of the comments said it was a stupid idea and clearly not possible. :)

Peter Shor said...

@Unknown: I did read newsgroups occasionally back then, but I don't recall that discussion at all, which probably means I missed it.

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