Sunday, July 07, 2019

Because Science Matters

[Foto: Michael Sentef]

Another day, another lecture. This time I am in Hamburg, at DESY, Germany’s major particle physics center.

My history with DESY is an odd one, which is none, despite the fact that fifteen years ago I was awarded Germany’s most prestigious young researcher grant, the Emmy-Noether fellowship, to work in Hamburg on particle physics phenomenology. The Emmy-Noether fellowship is a five-year grant that does not only pay the principle investigator but also comes with salaries for a small group. It’s basically the jackpot of German postdoc funding.

I declined it.

I hadn’t thought of this for a long time, but here I am in Hamburg, finally getting to see how my life might have looked like, in that parallel-world where I became a particle physicist. It looks like I’ll be late.

The taxi driver circles around a hotel and insists with heavy Polish accent this must be the right place because “there’s nothing after that”. To make his point he waves at trees and construction areas that stretch further up the road.

I finally manage to convince him that, really, I’m not looking for a hotel. A kilometer later he pulls into an anonymous driveway where a man in uniform asks him to stop. “See, this wrong!” the taxi-man squeaks and attempts to turn around when I spot a familiar sight: The cover of my book, on a poster, next to the entry.

“I’m supposed to give that talk,” I tell the man in uniform, “At two pm.” He looks at his watch. It’s a quarter past two.

I arrive at the lecture hall 20 minutes late, mostly due to a delayed train, but also, I note with some guilty consciousness, because I decided not to stay for the night. With too much traveling in my life already, I have become one of these terrible people who arrive just before their talk and vanish directly afterwards. I used to call it the “In and Out Lecture”, inspired by an American fast food chain with the laxative name “In and Out Burger”. A friend of mine more aptly dubbed it “Blitzkrieg Seminar.”

The room is well-filled. I am glad to see the audience was kept in good mood with drinks and snacks. Within minutes, I am wired up and ready to speak about the troubles in the foundations of physics.

Briefly before my arrival, I learned some particle physicists complained I was even invited. This isn’t the first time this happens. On another occasion some tried to un-invite me, albeit eventually unsuccessfully. They tend to be disappointed when it turns out I’m not a fire-spewing dragon but a middle-aged mother of two who just happens to know a lot about theory development in high energy physics.

Most of them, especially the experimentalists, don’t even find my argument all that disagreeable – at least at first sight. Relying on beauty has not historically worked well in physics, and it isn’t presently working, no doubt about this. To make progress, then, we should take clue from history and focus on resolving inconsistencies in our present description of nature, either inconsistencies between theory and experiment, or internal inconsistencies. So far, they’re usually with me.

Where my argument becomes disagreeable is when I draw consequences. There is no inconsistency to be resolved in the energy range that a next larger collider could reach. It would measure some constants to better precision, all right, but that’s not worth $20 billion.

Those 20 billion dollars, by the way, are merely the estimated construction cost for CERN’s planned Future Circular Collider (FCC). They do not include operation cost. The facility would run for about 25 years. Operation costs of the current machine, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) are about $1 billion per year already, and with the FCC, expenses for electricity and staff are bound to increase. That means the total cost for the FCC easily exceeds $40 billion.

That’s a lot of money. And the measurements this next larger collider could make would deliver information that won’t be useful in the next 100 or maybe 5000 years. Now is not the right time for this.

On the risk of oversimplifying an 80,000 word message, we have better things to do. Figure out what’s with dark matter, quantum gravity, or the measurement problem. There are breakthroughs waiting to be made. But we have to be careful with the next steps or risk delaying progress by further decades, if not centuries.

After my talk, in the question session, an elderly man goes on about his personal theory for something. He will later tell me about his website and complain that the scientific mainstream is ignoring his breakthrough insights.

Another elderly man insists that beauty is a good guide to the development of new natural laws. To support his point he quotes Steven Weinberg, because Weinberg, you see, likes string theory. In other words, it’s exactly the type of argument I just explained is both wrong and in the way of progress.

Another man, this one not quite as old, stands up to deliver a speech about how important particle colliders are. Several people applaud.

Next up, an agitated woman reprimands me for a typographical error on a slide. More applause. She goes on to explain the LHC has taught us a lot about inflation, a hypothetical phase of exponential expansion in the early universe. I refuse to comment. There is, I feel, no way to reason with someone who really believes this.

But her’s is, I remind myself, the community I would have been part of had I accepted the fellowship 15 years ago. Now I wonder, had I taken this path, would I be that woman today, upset to learn the boat is sinking? Would I share her group’s narrative that made me their enemy? Would I, too, defend spending more and more money on larger and larger machines with less and less societal relevance?

I like to think I would not, but my reading about group psychology tells me otherwise. I would probably fight the outsider just like they do.

Another woman identifies as experimentalist and asks me why I am against diversifying experimental efforts. I am not, of course. But economic reality is that we cannot do everything we want to do. We have to make decisions. And costs are a relevant factor.

Finally, another man asks me what experiments physicists should do. As usual when I get this question, I refuse to answer it. This is not my call to make. I cannot replace ten thousands of experts. I can only beg them to please remember that scientists are human, too, and human judgement is affected by group affiliation. Someone, somewhere, has to take the first step to prevent social bias from influencing scientific decisions. Let it be particle physicists.

A second round of polite applause and I am done here. A few people come to shake my hand. The room empties. Someone hands me a travel reimbursement form and calls me a taxi. Soon I am on the way back to the city center and on to six more hours on the train.

I check my email and see I will have to catch up work on the weekend, again. Not only doesn’t it help my own research to speak about problems with the current organization of science, it’s no fun either. It’s no fun to hurt people, destroy hopes, and advocate decisions that would make their lives harder. And it’s no fun to have mud slung at me in return.

And so, as always, these trips end with me asking myself, why?, why am I doing this?

And as always, the answer I give myself is the same. Because it matters we get this right. Because progress matters. Because science matters.

Thanks for asking, I am fine. Keep it coming.

82 comments:

  1. I can't help comparing your situation with a larger range of problems here in hyper-polarized America. Everyone is so fixed on the correctness of of their own opinions that any kind of bipartisan cooperation has become impossible. Communication itself is also impossible.

    I don't recall what happened to the mythological Greek prophetess Cassandra, but perhaps she found a way to reconcile what she knew to be true with the ignorance that surrounded her.

    Please know that you can count on myself and many others for support, and we hope that the reasoning you represent prevails in the end.

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  2. I'm very much a layman, but really happy to have stumbled across your blog. You talk a lot of sense in a lucid and entertaining manner.

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  3. "Feyerabend felt that science started as a liberating movement, but over time it had become increasingly dogmatic and rigid."
    - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epistemological_anarchism

    It does seem that today theoretical physics (in particular) has become authoritarian, absolutist, and fundamentalist, burning heretics at the stake.

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    Replies
    1. Physics is the least authoritarian field I know of. Everybody is free to work on theories that totally contradict what more senior, "authoritative" people say, and nobody will punish them for it.

      The _idea_ that physics has become authoritarian is far more dangerous than the possibility of it actually coming true. It gives people such a distorted view of how the field actually is.

      Delete
    2. My experience had been in going to conferences and publishing in AI and programming/computing, where there is true anarchy (in the Feyerabend sense). Maybe theoretical physicists have to freedom to do likewise, but it just appears to be a more hostile field to me.

      Delete
    3. Perhaps, Philip Thrift, theoretical physics appears to be a hostile field, because you spend time reading this blog?

      Delete
  4. Thank you for sharing those thoughts.
    I am no physicist nor scientist, only interested layman. One of my hobbies has been physics for forty years.
    So my opinion counts here absolutely nothing... :-)
    Nevertheless I find your approach interesting and think it is good and important what you do. Keep going as well as you can, I wish I could support you more than with good words, but that is out of my reach. Good luck!

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  5. > Finally, another man asks me what experiments physicists should do.
    > As usual when I get this question, I refuse to answer it.
    > This is not my call to make.
    >I cannot replace ten thousands of experts.

    Your excuse does not convince me.
    Nobody can replace ten thousand experts, right?

    > Someone, somewhere, has to take the first
    > step to prevent social bias from influencing scientific decisions.

    OK.
    And why is this someone not you?

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    Replies
    1. Franzi,

      I am afraid I do not understand your question. I try to listen to my own advice and take steps to counteract cognitive biases to the extent that I, as a single, person can do that. (See the recommendations here.)

      But, try as I may, I cannot disentangle myself from the social and information network that I am part of. So really what I do will not make much difference unless sufficiently many members of the group do the same.

      "And why is this someone not you?"

      Well, what else do you think I can do than explaining to scientists that it is relevant? This is a serious question. Look, to me this is the biggest problem the world faces today. Maybe you don't believe it is, fine, but to me it is. If there is anything more I could possibly do to improve the situation, I would be happy to do it.

      Delete
    2. Franzi: Nobody can replace ten thousand experts, right?

      Correct, and that is her point! You are asking why, if 10,000 physicists can write a thousand detailed proposals in a single year, why can't Dr. Hossenfelder write a thousand detailed proposals in a single year?

      Because one person cannot replace ten thousand workers. Not in the detailed knowledge and research and marshaling of details required to write a decent proposal, not in the manpower this requires, not even in the typing speed this requires -- she would have to complete four new proposals every working day.

      The most she can do is tell those 10,000 experts working on proposals something they should understand about the science of science, what doesn't work, what doesn't show any promise, and why, and what does work. She can teach them something scientists of all people should be able to understand, that there is no logic in producing proposals they way they have been, but there is logic in approaching the problem from a different angle that has been far more successful in the past and logically is far more likely to succeed in discovering new physics. And the FCC is not it.

      Due to human nature, it could also undermine her credibility if she did put forward her own proposal to be funded, because then the enemies of her message would assert she attacks them out of her self-interest, to kill their funding and thereby free up funds for her own project.

      And she is taking the first step to to prevent social bias from influencing scientific decisions! Or more accurately, she has, she wrote a book on it and published it. She is now taking the second step, giving as many public lectures on this as she can, to talk to directly to scientists to basically give a class on her book and try to convince at least a few that science is on the verge of placing a huge generation-killing bet they are going to lose, with massive consequences in terms of both finances and decades of stagnation and thwarting progress in the field of fundamental physics. When it doesn't pay off, it may well kill the field altogether, because governments are not going to keep funding this shit for a century without a payoff, and it has already been 40 years.

      Franzi: And why is this someone [leading the charge] not you?

      It is her! She is fighting in the trenches between the seats and the whiteboards, defending plain and simple logic against the emotional outbursts of the very people that should understand plain and simple logic better than anyone, but feel so threatened by this plain and simple logic they would censor it, and will do what they can to keep anybody from even hearing it, lest those fool PhDs be convinced by this plain and simple logic.

      You aren't paying attention.

      Delete
  6. Sabine, I'll admit it : I've been following this blog since 2010, which is a very long time now. And I am impressed by your tenacity, integrity, and sheer willpower. And yes : what you do needs to be done. But why by you ? Why do you feel called to be Cassandra, and take this huge load upon your shoulders ? Haven't you done enough for science ? Many people, in your place, would say : look, if those idiots want to spend their lives on a wild goose chase, well, let them,I stopped caring about them. Why can't you ? Is it another form of "don't quit " ? Why torture yourself trying to save the Titanic ? Plus : fundamental physics won't save the climate, heal cancer or better the living standards of the poor. Why do you think it is worth it ?

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    Replies
    1. Denis,

      Yes, yours are wise words.

      I have in the past months tried to leave the topic behind because, if I am being honest, it's intellectually unsatisfactory. You may even have noticed that from my blogposts. Recall that I spontaneously began writing about climate change some while ago?

      Well, here's what happened. I ended up writing for the NYT opinion page, about the curious case of Tim Palmer and his quest to pull together a supercomputing center for high resulution climate models.

      The costs? About $1.1 billion, distributed over 10 years.

      In response to my Op-Ed, several people got back to me to ask whether that's a typo. Should it maybe have been $11 billion?

      It's not a typo.

      And this is science which we need to make political decisions that inform the investment of hundred of trillions of dollars. It's not getting done because the climate folks can't get the money together. This makes my brain hurt. Like, seriously, someone please explain this to me. How can this shit be real?

      So, ironically, my attempt to escape particle physicists just made me realize how ridiculously inappropriate the huge amounts of money they want are given the utter lack of societal relevance. And here I am going on about this again. (And, I am afraid, more to come next week.)

      But, yes, I hear you and I have the best intentions to write about more interesting topics...

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    2. Anyway. You taught me a lot those past years. A lot ! And I do admire your probity, even if I can not understand it. But words are cheap. So there should be a nice little suprise somewhere. What can I say ? I can not offer you encouragement, only my sincere sympathy. Denis

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    3. Science projects are nearly always hyped up and lack dispassionate cost-benefit assessment. For two decades climate science has had difficulty making reliable predictions, indeed falsification quickly leads to new euphemisms (currently, the "climate emergency"). Is such science, or research on any other fashionable topic, worthwhile? In the absence of cost-benefit assessment, major funding decisions necessarily are political. No surprise, then, that ambitious scientists make outlandish claims.

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    4. Highly doubtful that the denial of $1.1 billion to climate research computing has anything to do with funding for particle physics. More likely, the decision reflects some weakness of the project or climate change denialism in the leading political party in the US. The overall funding profile in the US is supportive to high-performance research computing.


      Delete
    5. Pavel,

      You are right, I don't think the two have anything to do with each other. But maybe they should, just to put things into perspective.

      Delete
    6. Annual funding for climate science in the US exceeds $2 billion, spread across a number of agencies (this excludes technology, loans, tax credits, etc). This is significantly larger than funding for nuclear and particle science, which is less than $1 billion each.

      Delete
    7. With regard to the NYT piece, I'm wondering about this: "But these computing resources are more than any one institution or country can afford"

      I've heard this many times. The reason that one nation can't afford them is that they have dozens of other expensive multinational projects. If 9 people take 9 minutes to eat 9 apples, how many minutes do 100 people need to eat 100 apples? In other words, instead of funding, say, 1/20 of 20 huge international projects, why not choose one and fund it 100% Perhaps not ideal for international collaboration, but it might save something on overhead costs.

      The argument would work if there was something so expensive that essentially all the research funding of one country couldn't handle it, but is that really the case? Probably Germany could fund CERN by itself, at least if it dropped funding for other international projects. But these could be picked up by other countries because they would no longer have to contribute to CERN.

      Of course, there are advantages to international projects, but the funding argument doesn't make sense to me.

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    8. Phillip,

      Yes, you are right, the less polite but more accurate formulation would have been that of course some countries could afford it, they just don't want to.

      As to institutions. It's not the amount of funding that national science foundations decide over without national policy, that being the point.

      In any case, personally I think it would make a lot of sense for this being an international initiative.

      Delete
    9. Yeah, Sabine, we agree concerning the $1.1bln remark!!! :) :) Let me correct myself that I should have noticed that your NYT piece talks about the European funding, for which the climate change denialism is probably less relevant than in the US. However, the anti-science forces are strong in either place and care little about fine hair-splitting of funding within science. Your affirmation of the importance of science matters.

      Delete
    10. Sabine,

      Do keep in mind that your little crusade for sanity in science funding really does have implications beyond, say, funding of the FCC.

      I remember, nearly forty years ago, Helen Quinn at SLAC complaining that young physicists thought that coming up with new, more refined definitions of "naturalness" was a substitute for actually doing physics.

      It has, of course, become much, much worse in subsequent decades. There is a real danger that young people today with an interest in science, seeing the mass media coverage of science, will conclude that real science is silliness about opening a portal to a parallel universe (to mention your recent post).

      I'm a long-time fan of science fiction and am happy with hyperdrive, telepathy, parallel universes, and all the rest -- in sf. But it's not science, and all scientists used to be clear on the difference.

      So, your emphasis not only on testability but also on the fact that new theories have to be motivated by existing problems and constrained by existing knowledge and reasonable projections from existing knowledge... all that is essential to public understanding of science in general.

      In climate science, for example, there are, on one side, people who simply reject applying basic principles of heat transfer and thermodynamics to the atmosphere and, on the other side, people who think that prediction of future climate is now settled rather than a very difficult, ongoing research project.

      Almost all public discussions of climate change on both sides demonstrate a shocking ignorance of the reality of actual scientific research.

      Perhaps the most important role we scientists play in society is to explain to our fellow citizens how and why science is able to (partially) explain the nature of the universe.

      And, your work really is helping to advance that goal.

      Delete
    11. "Phillip,

      Yes, you are right"


      Finally! :-)

      Delete
  7. Yep, It is not fun to tell to the the Children's who believes that Santa Claus will comes at Christmas with their toys ... that Santa Claus do not exist and the toys comes from their parent's budget following a superstitious cultural ritual to deceive kids and transform them in wishful thinking apes who will nurture beliefs in Benevolent Magical Entities coming to satisfied their desires ...

    Physicist must to accept that the sign '=' is just an abstraction of balance ... and not something that can escalate on itself in an infinite ocean of fantastic symmetries that 'underlies behind existence' ... The Universe can be absolutely agnostic about Mathematical Abstractions ... and most of those mathematical abstractions can be considered a post-processing by-product ... Nothing related to a fundamental language for describing existence as It is ... just The way That The Apes deploys a Language of Balances and Equilibrium ...

    Today, AI is giving to Everybody the hints of a new form of deploying Knowledge without requiring to escalate into abstract mathematical symmetries and their inner iterations of hidden variables that tends to end in Imagination, Fantasies, Wishful Thinking, Desires and a massive metastasis of Pandemic Self-deception in Academia, Scientific Research and Politics ... Who ends trying to justified their 'Disneyland alike Mathematical Fantasies' as if those are 'Meaningful and Relevant Truths' ... and collectively rejecting to deal and fix the everyday life issues that can affects the progress of the specie into The Realms of Truth, Reality, Empirical and Practical Information Environmental Networks, Integrative Systems and Negentropy's Challenges ...

    It is not difficult to compare this generation of self-deluded 'rationalists' apes with the self-deluded 'religious' apes who ostracize Galileo and/or Burn Bruno ... The same beasts but holding different Myths ... Their common Natural Selection 'spec', Apes nurturing Self-deception and Tribalism around The Self ...

    But Don't worry, Santa Claus does not exist but If You becomes self-less and behave well during this year, Daddy and Mom will give to You the Christmas Gifts ...

    Of course, If You nurture yourself and behave selfish, forget about Christmas gifts ... Then, You will receive nothing in Christmas ...

    https://www.pnas.org/content/early/2019/06/21/1821458116

    ---------------------------------

    P.S. : Yep, It is not fun for Bee, but For Us, Bee's pastimes in Apelands are funny ...

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  8. Sabine, I liked what you wrote and perceived the uncomfortable time you'd to go through. And also I feel your answer to "why I am doing this" is very laudable. Congratulations for your use of phsychology as a way of giving the best responses.

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  9. Though I would argue with you about some details of your message, in general I feel very sympathetic to the greater narrative you are trying to bring across. Thank you for keeping up this fight!
    It seems to me that the common saying that "it's not theories that die, it's theorists that die" has a lot of truth to it. So I think it's young scientists and the public that need to hear your message, not those that keep denying that their research has reached a dead end. This would probably also be more gratifying for you.

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  10. What you are doing is very lonely and often with little supportive feedback. Often it is only our sense of integrity and love for what we believe science is about that keeps us going. As time goes on, the truth will eventually out. It always does.

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  11. It's sad to see 'middle-aged' and 'elderly' people fighting over scraps at the periphery of science. The stubborn rejection by both sides of anything outside their own beneficial sphere represents concentric rings centered on a common core. Their group is a subset of your group and group affiliation influence is invisible internally in both instances.

    I'm also sorry to see such a capable mind as your own so contemptuously dismissing what you don't want to hear, as is the case with your audience at this presentation. You also fight the outsider just like they do.

    Some others, including myself, share you aversion to hurting people and, like yourself, I find myself somewhat reluctant to continue to press my case. In the unlikely event that an idea as simple as my own is correct I am fearful of the negative career consequences for many and, also like yourself, continually ask myself why I continue. So far my answer has been that knowledge matters. But I'm beginning to question whether it really does matter to others who claim so.

    You are wasting yourself on these arguments Sabine. Perhaps some idea you originate or foster can produce sufficient understanding of the structure of the universe to lead us to an energy source that frees us from the hazards of the current options​.

    If you wish to break the shell imprisoning particle physics you will only do so with a radical idea. Eric Weinstein suggested looking even to the cranks and crackpots – be one.
    Although 'middle-aged', it is not impossible for this radical idea to come from you and this can only happen if you have the strength to free your mind from its habituated paradigms.

    How may a university physicist who also has all of the responsibilities of being a mother possibly do this? I believe you can.

    I'm enough of a dreamer to disagree that “fundamental physics won't save the climate, heal cancer or better the living standards of the poor” and think it has the potential to do all of these things plus much more. At one time I think you thought so also. I know that life tends to suck things out of you but perhaps you will again dream the dream you started with. I hope so. For some of us everything else is a supporting act.

    Perhaps we are all fools on a fool's errand but this is all we have. It doesn't last for long and we must make the most of it.

    Best wishes, as always.
    Agnosco

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  12. Because science matters.

    Here, Sabine, we are in complete agreement. Do not give up!

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  13. "Why am I doing this?" Because Science Matters. There, you answered your own question. You pursue truth in physics evangelism because humanity benefits from genuine scientific discovery not jobs programs for educated elites.

    Maybe you are really crying "Uncle"? If that's the case there are plenty of Bee-Blog readers eager to help, lean on us for help and see what happens.

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  14. There has to be a way to start a talk in front of a group to which you're an "outsider" so that your comments don't just go in through one ear and out the other. I get the impression that your audience listened to you and then proceeded to ask the same questions and make the same comments that your talk intended to address, as if your talk didn't happen. This must be frustrating.

    Maybe an electronic "preconception/prejudice" detector at the door, which ensures everyone enters the room with an unbiased and receptive mind?

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    Replies
    1. aydemir,

      Yes, exactly this. It's extremely frustrating to explain the same thing over and over again only to see scientists make the very mistake you just pointed out.

      Like the people who claim that if arguments from beauty sometimes resulted in good theories, that must mean that arguments from beauty are good guides to theory development. After I just pointed out that this disregards the cases where such arguments did not work and also, there's no reason to think it works.

      Or the people who insist that something is "funny" with the mass of the Higgs after I just explained that it's a bad idea to rely on intuition for probabilities in distributions for which we cannot collect statistics.

      Or the people who make arguments from popularity and authority after you just explained them that these are not scientific arguments.

      Could go on, but if you've followed the comments here (and on twitter & facebook) you will have seen plenty more of examples.

      Delete
    2. Do you put into consideration that
      instead of us not listining we did
      listen but do not find arguments you
      bring forward convincing?
      Do you listen to our counter-arguments?
      E.g. Frank Wilczek's review of your
      book is respectful and quite positive.
      He clearly made an honest attempt to listen, right?
      Did u too, to his critical remarks?

      You have a point that the search for
      theories that simplify our
      understanding of physics has failed
      repeatedly in the last 40 years.
      That may be a good reason for you
      personally to give up. But clearly
      society has to continue this search
      (at least on a modest budget).
      You yourself admitted this when you
      expressed the conviction in the last
      sentence of your book that this
      quest for more beauty in physics will eventually
      be successful. And you would
      gladly continue this quest and immediately stop
      your whining when a permanent position
      to do so would be offered to you.
      Do you agree?

      Delete
    3. Franzi,

      "Do you put into consideration that
      instead of us not listining we did
      listen but do not find arguments you
      bring forward convincing?"


      That's right, you didn't find my arguments convincing, and rather unsurprisingly so. But that's not how it works in science. You can't just say "oh, I don't think that's convincing". You have to come up with a reason for why that is so.

      "Do you listen to our counter-arguments?
      E.g. Frank Wilczek's review of your
      book is respectful and quite positive.
      He clearly made an honest attempt to listen, right?
      Did u too, to his critical remarks?"


      I interviewed him for my book and I already explained in my book what's wrong with his argument. I am not sure why you think that him ignoring my reply documents he is listening. Did you actually read the book?

      "You have a point that the search for
      theories that simplify our
      understanding of physics has failed
      repeatedly in the last 40 years.
      That may be a good reason for you
      personally to give up. But clearly
      society has to continue this search
      (at least on a modest budget)."


      As I have repeated a seemingly endless amount of times, we are not done in the foundations of physics, so it's not like we can just pack our bags and go. Really, did you read anything I wrote?

      "You yourself admitted this when you
      expressed the conviction in the last
      sentence of your book that this
      quest for more beauty in physics will eventually
      be successful."


      No, you have that backwards. What the last sentence says is that whatever breakthrough we make, we will come to find it beautiful.

      "And you would
      gladly continue this quest and immediately stop
      your whining when a permanent position
      to do so would be offered to you.
      Do you agree?"


      That's an ad-homimem attack (and a stupid one in addition). You refuse to lead a scientific argument and instead try to make this discussion about me.

      If you want to continue this discussion, please sign with a full name and let us know what your scientific background is, if any. Then we can have a talk about who is "whining".

      Delete
  15. The problem Dr. Hossenfelder, a first class theoretical physicist, faces is what Schopenhauer calls the "Will", typical for a religion. You cannot argue with someone who is convinced in a religious doctrine, because it is impossible to argue with rational arguments against his Will. In this situation it is typical that those who understand the least about the problems facing fundamental physics argue most. I like to call it religion in the guise of science.
    As it appears to me one fundamental problem of unifying general relativity with quantum mechanics is that general relativity belongs to the classical Poincare group of theories in contrast to quantum mechanics which belongs to the unitary group of theories. Dr. Hossenfelder understands this, but how many of her critics?

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    Replies
    1. Mr. Winterberg,
      I also have the strong impression that the official physics today have a lot of a religion. And that this is the reason why discussions are very difficult and boring.

      And you are truly right that general relativity and quantum mechanics are treated by a different mathematical formalism. But isn't it the primary question, what the physics is behind both subjects? And why the content of these physical approaches is so incompatible? (albrecht)

      Delete
  16. @sabine, castaldo, and others

    Franzi's comment may not have been clearly formulated, but it touches a point. Namely, that Sabine feels perfectly entitled to replace ten thousand specialists when it comes to giving her opinion about whether a certain experiment should, or should not, be built. But then shies away behind the "ten thousand physicists" argument when asked what experiments we should actually do and why.

    And when she did suggest something (I think she did somewhere in this blog), her list is rather unprepossessing. Just the shopping list that any other physicists could suggest if asked.

    All in all, it boils down to the simple fact that it is easier to destroy than to construct.

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    Replies
    1. Opamanfred,

      So it's like this. If I do not spell out what to do, people like you will complain that I am not to be taken serious because I do not spell out what to do.

      If I do spell out what to do, they will complain I am not to be taken serious because I do.

      This is a deliberate attempt to create a lose-lose situation for me.

      Fact is:

      (a) I do have my own opinion of course, but

      (b) I do not think my own opinion is the master's word and certainly do not think it should replace the judgement of the community.

      What about this is it that you cannot comprehend?

      Delete
    2. What I do not comprehend is point (b): "I ... certainly do not think [my opinion] should replace the judgement of the community". But you do think exactly that concerning, e.g., a future collider!

      Delete
    3. Opamanfred,

      No, you misunderstand that. I make a scientific case, I come to certain conclusions. I put forward these conclusions. This isn't a matter of opinion. As long as no one comes up with a reason why my argument is wrong, the conclusion will stand.

      But needless to say, it's not good to leave this discussion up to me, as a single person, because that increases the risk of mistakes. If you want to complain about that, then please complain to the other 10,000 people who refuse to even think about the subject and instead ignore what I am saying.

      Let me be concrete: It's not my opinion that 40 years of bsm theory-development in the foundations of physics were unsuccessful. Check the literature if you don't believe it.

      It's not my opinion that that next larger particle collider would be more expensive than all other currently proposed experiments in the foundations of physics. You can check the numbers for yourself if you don't believe it.

      It's not my opinion that arguments from beauty are not correlated with theoretical success, that's a fact. Look up the history books if you don't believe it.

      It's not my opinion, but a fact, that arguments from consistency have been remarkably successful in theory development.

      It's not my opinion that there currently is no sound scientific reason to think there is something fundamentally new to discover in the energy regime of the next larger collider, there really isn't any such reason. (This one isn't all that easy to find out by checking the literature, but feel free to ask your trusted particle physicists of choice.)

      I take this together and arrive at conclusions that I offer to you because that's how discourse works. This does of course not imply that I think that discourse should end with me (though in practice, it does).

      Delete
    4. Opamanfred: it boils down to the simple fact that it is easier to destroy than to construct.

      What exactly is she destroying? The FCC has not been built yet, so all she is destroying is the bad logic and lies being deployed as an excuse to spend $20B and build it.

      It is, indeed, far easier to destroy a building than it is to build one. But if the building is structurally unsafe, sometimes destroying it is the right thing to do.

      If before the building is constructed, we look at the plans for building it and discover they don't make any sense, so the building is going to be unsafe and waste a lot of money on top of that, are we wrong to advocate vociferously against its construction? No.

      Do we need our own plan for a building to do that? No.

      Can we still point out that other architects use science to produce safe buildings, and we can use the money to do that, without specifying any specific other buildings or sites? Yes.

      By your logic, nobody can argue against something that scientifically speaking is almost certain to fail, because that kind of naysaying is just tearing somebody down.

      Well, science shouldn't be up to a vote, nor should it be subject to proof-by-authority or proof-by-fame. The minority can be right and the majority wrong, especially when the majority advocating for the FCC consistently refuses to answer to the logic of Dr. Hossenfelder's arguments!

      Yes, it is easier to destroy than to construct, but they haven't constructed anything! Not physically, and not in terms of a logical argument.

      When that is the case, destroying bad logic is the best thing that can be done for science; if we think Science Matters. And it is not as easy as you think.

      Delete
  17. Well, to be fair... what did you expect? (Rhetorical question, I know you got exactly what you expected). You address a bunch of really smart people, first of their class, and tell them: "your work, the way you approach it, and what you ask from society, is all wrong". Of course they'll become livid and lash out at you. They are only human.

    But they are smart people, the can't unheard what you said; they will ruminate on it, they will come to reason. It will be a slow process, and younger researchers will be more easily and more deeply persuaded than established scientists, but if there's nobody to at least expose them to a well reasoned argument for change, they will grow up to become established scientists with the same biases and entrenched in the same ineffective ways.

    And it has to be an outside voice, sadly. Historically, things have never changed from within, change always comes from the outside. It's hard for somebody with a brilliant career to wake up one day and think: "Hold on a minute! None of this makes any sense at all!". They got where they are because it the status quo worked for them.

    They are very lucky to have an outside voice who understands their field and can build an argument that can get through to them. And their reactions only confirm that you're getting through, when they fall into mob mentality it's because they can't be reasonable and disagree with you. They are angry at you because that's easier than being angry at themselves. They will get over it, they're intelligent people. IMHO, it's all about planting the seeds and let them grow over time.

    I can only hope there are people like that monitoring my field as well. If I'm doing something fundamentally wrong, I want to know (ASAP). Sure, I'll get angry, mock them and lash out at them, but I will eventually accept reality. At least it's been like that in the past, I need to think I'm still capable of such change.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, sadly enough, it is what I expected. I guess that some part of me hoped (continues to hope) they'll understand it is in their own interest to put into place measures to prevent social biases from affecting scientific decisions.

      Delete
  18. “To make progress, then, we should … focus on resolving inconsistencies in our present description of nature, either inconsistencies between theory and experiment, or internal inconsistencies.”
    I think that this is very true. But even in obvious cases a discussion seems tabooed. For instance in context with the name “Einstein”.
    I had mentioned already that Einstein has (in a handwritten letter to Lorentz) stated that rotation, for example the Foucault pendulum, is in conflict with his theory (particularly GRT). But the beauty of his theory has a higher rank for him than this conflict. (If you doubt it, I can send you a facsimile of Einstein’s letter.) I have asked several German professors of relativity about this statement. There was no interest to clarify this point.
    There are also logically questionable convictions in particle physics, some of which I have once successfully discussed with a leading particle physicist. But only temporarily; after some time the result was negated again.
    So, in my understanding, the situation is much worse than you describe it.

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  19. The woman who thought the LHC taught us a lot about inflation seems to reflect an early idea. It was thought the inflaton might be the Higgs field. The absorption of the 3 Goldstone bosons by W^± and Z was thought to put an end to the inflationary period. This though would have lead to far more that 60 e-folds and the universe would be largely a dark void. Inflation occurs much earlier than standard model physics in the early universe. So this idea was abandoned. I think it was finally buried around 1987 or so.

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    Replies
    1. It has recently made a revival and, yes, that's what I also think she was referring to. Alas, the LHC did of course not tell us whether that's correct (or whether inflation took place to begin with).

      Delete
    2. I am trying to recall how this worked, but there is some difficulty in making the numbers work for trying to get the inflaton to be the Higgs field.. Currently inflation is thought to kick in at around 10^{-36}sec into the start of this cosmology and last about 10^{-32} sec. The scale for the start of this event is around 10^9 ℓ_p and so the cosmological constant for this false vacuum is maybe around Λ ~ 10^{-18}/ℓ_p^2 ~ 10^{48}cm^{-2}. Then for Δt ~ 10^{-32}sec then exp(t sqrt{Λ/3}) ~ exp(100), which is close to the more detailed calculation of 60-efolds. Now if I were to assume the Higgs field were involved the vev is √2×125GeV = 177GeV and so the same induced cosmological constant would be around Λ ~ 10^{36}cm^{-2}, which is appreciable. The length scale 10^{-18} cm and a time around 10^{-28}sec for this process. This would mean exp(t sqrt{Λ/3}) ~ exp(1). I guess I may have remembered wrong in that this would not give enough e-folds.

      There is then maybe some phenomenological wiggle room that would give more e-folds. Maybe the inflationary vacuum is set at 10 TeV for the sphaleron mass. This would give a fair number of e-folds. I am not sure what people are cooking up these days. I sometimes do ponder where all these scalar fields fit into some coherent scheme. Is there some general scheme for types of phase transitions as is now being found with quantum critical points, edge states and Haldane chains?

      Delete
  20. Argumentum ad verecundiam.

    Weinberg and Gross believe in string theory.
    Glashow and Veltman don't believe in string theory.
    Wilczek believes in supersymmetry but does not seem to have a strong opinion about string theory.
    't Hooft believes in hidden variables.
    Nobody cares about what Politzer believes in, and the Japanese guys don't speak English.

    Are there more Nobel laureates in particle theory alive today?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Carlo Rubbia, Martinus J. G. Veltman, Peter Higgs, François Englert

      Delete
  21. Science matters because "It works!" (Richard Dawkins)

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  22. Replies
    1. Phillip,

      It's a complicated story that I couldn't see fit into the blogpost and also it really doesn't matter for the context. But the brief version is roughly this.

      This was early January 2006. (So 15 years is somewhat inaccurate, really 13 and a half.) At this time I already suspected (but didn't have good arguments to explain why) that the LHC would not see anything besides the Higgs and certainly not what I had proposed to work on for the fellowship. So I was afraid that, intellectually, I would be wasting my time with further five years research on a topic that I didn't believe in any longer.

      I had also, just a week earlier, gotten an offer for a three year postdoc at Perimeter Institute. So I had an alternative that research-wise was better (or so I thought at the time), but of course it was a shorter contract and no additional funds for collaborators. Ie, career-wise going to PI would clearly be a dumb move, especially seeing that it would be hard to get back into the German network.

      I tried to negotiate with the German Research Foundation that the fellowship be postponed, but that negotiation failed. And when push came to shove and I had to chose one, I chose Perimeter.

      Still feel bad about this, because the reviewers had all the effort of reading and evaluating my proposal only to then see me not taking the money. In any case, that's what happened.

      Delete
  23. Possible things (including creation and destruction myths) avoid collisions according to the first law of thermodynamics. In other words: false predictions (even in QM) must prioritize being created in the past and destroyed in the future. Use whatever symbols you want to use, but inverse squaring differentiates between non-fiction (science) and fiction (creationism and destructionism).

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  24. I would think this is exactly the sort of research Sabine is talking about - https://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap190708.html. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MeerKAT). While not in direct competition with a Future Circular Collider (FCC), the reality is that the FCC siphons off significant amounts of research dollars that could fund projects like this.

    ReplyDelete
  25. I read you book after hearing you speak some time ago on NPR's Science Friday (I think that was the show) and it seems to me that you are doing something for a purpose. That's not always easy but I ,and others, appreciate what you're doing. Science is, after all, about discovery. Thank you!

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  26. Hi, Ms. Hossenfelder. You're the Pete Buttigieg of theoretical physics. By that I mean you have a remarkable ease talking one-on-one with the public. Just as it has made “Mayor Pete” a bona fide US presidential contender, I’ve no doubt it makes you outstanding in your field

    Thanks,
    Steve

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  27. You are a heroine! Keep on keepin' on.

    Gregory Benford

    ReplyDelete
  28. Sabine, physicists are not idiots. Already in 2006, a lot of them had understood what was the most likely result from LHC. They just did not say publicly what they say privately. Scientists have to deal with careers, code of conducts, mortgages...

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    Replies
    1. Alessandro,

      I haven't called anyone an idiot.

      As to your claim that "a lot" of them had understood this in 2006, maybe. I don't know. Maybe you are right, but I find it hard to make a quantitative estimate.

      I have certainly spoken to people who told me (pretty much literally) that these were just stories invented to sell the LHC. (None of them ever agreed to be quoted on that, surprisingly.)

      On the other hand, a lot of them actually seemed to believe the naturalness story. Maybe they were good liars, or maybe I am bad at detecting liars, but if so, then why are they saying now they are "confused" that their predictions didn't pan out?

      Also, why do I still have to cope with so many people who continue to make the same arguments, just that they now make them for the next larger collider? Maybe I am not cynical enough, but in my impression most of them actually believe there is something to find at the next energies (or at HL-LHC).

      Delete
  29. Sabine, first of all, I would like to apologize that I did not attend your seminar talk last Friday. I would have really liked to talk to you in person, but I was sitting in a measurement hut in Hamburg working on the next generation of particle detectors that can take data at the LHC (*). So, I am one of those what you would probably call “experimentalists”.

    I think you make a very important point in your last comments. You said, you left the field as you did not believe in the topic anymore. This is perfectly fine and a personal decision that has to be respected and should not be commented on here, but I have the impression that most of the exchanged arguments in the article and comments above are about believes or guiding principles from theories. However, unfortunately, I get also the impression that the conclusions drawn in the end are about the experimental methods.

    I would like to drop a quote here from a wise person that resonated a lot with me. He said: “Theorist HAVE TO have believes, experimentalists are FORBIDDEN to believe in anything”. If I have any guiding principle as an experimentalist, it is that one. The intrinsic job of any experimentalist is to
    a) falsify theories (yes it is easier to destroy than to create and it is btw the only thing we can do in an empiric science) and
    b) to explore uncharted territory in the hope to find something unexpected.
    On our way there, we accidentally develop things like the WWW, web cams, computer tomography, PET scanner, etc because we just need those technologies (*) ;-).

    I am not going to comment on approaches of theoretical model building in particle physics as this is not my main field of expertise (and I think it is good scientific practice to only contribute where one has expertise), but leaving all that behind: Don’t you think experimentalists can also make the claim for a purely data-driven approach, to perform scattering experiments at energy scales that have not been explored so far just because we DON’T know what we will find there? Isn’t that also fundamental research? Couldn’t experimental findings (or even more the non-findings) be valuable input to theorists which might get inspired in the one way or the other in their model building by that?

    In many of the comments and also in your replies I get the impression that the picture is drawn that there is an epic fight between “the particle physics community” and you, because you are questioning our methods. There is this message conveyed that “the community” is just blindly continuing to do what they always used to do and you are the only one raising questions. Please correct me if I misunderstand this, because this is one of the points that annoy me the most in this whole thread, because it is just not true.
    In fact, there is a very vital and healthy competition of ideas on methodological approaches on how to explore the uncharted territory within the community. By no means all the “10000 experts” are having the same opinion, but there is a scientific discourse about that. This, however, is done non-agitatedly (well, sometimes still a bit passionate - as passionate as physicists can be :-)) at conferences and workshops and not in a blog. That’s why this wrong picture could be created for you or the readers here.

    I am curious to hear what you think about that and I hope my post will not be abused as another “I am a victim of the backfiring particle physics community” reply as I really tryed to keep the post very objective.

    (*) Only a side note, as this is not the main point I want to make here: Nobody talks about the innovative aspect of particle physics pushing technologies further. These spin-offs developed by the particle physics community have immense impact on society even if no “new physics” is found.

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    Replies
    1. Benedikt,

      1) Yes, experimentalists can "explore uncharted territory". This is the "just look" argument. It is #1 on my list of nonsense arguments for a bigger collider, congrats.

      2) You state

      "there is a very vital and healthy competition of ideas on methodological approaches on how to explore the uncharted territory within the community"

      What makes you think it is "vital" and "healthy". This is a serious question, please take a moment to think about it. To me it looks sick, incestual, and stuck in 1970s thinking.

      3) "I hope my post will not be abused as another “I am a victim of the backfiring particle physics community” reply as I really tryed to keep the post very objective."

      Had you been sincere about your try, you would not have accused me of playing the victim. I assure you that all the crap I have to endure that I have written about here (and elsewhere) actually happened.

      4) "These spin-offs developed by the particle physics community have immense impact on society even if no “new physics” is found."

      That's #11 on my list of nonsense arguments for a bigger collider.

      Delete
    2. Dear Sabine,

      thanks for your reply and thanks for pointing me to your other article. Interesting to read your thoughts. However, please allow me the comment that just putting an argument on a list, labeling it "non-sense arguments" and pointing out that I just hit some of those arguments does not make my arguments more right or wrong. That's simply how a discourse work. One puts out a thesis and tries to convince other with arguments. There is a fair portion of subjective conclusions in your statements and so is probably in mine. Again, this is totally fine, but it should be kept in mind in all the discussions.

      Have you been at the strategy workshop in Granada this year where the update of the European Strategy of high energy physics for the next 5 years has been discussed in a first round? This workshop was open to everyone and was well announced. I would consider this the adequate forum for the whole discussion and probably not at a photon science seminar at DESY (not a particle physics seminar as it might be understood from the original article (*)) or in this blog. But, I want to state clearly that this is my personal opinion and everyone is of course free to do as he/she wants!

      One last word: It was definetly not my intention to offend you with the comment on the backfiring. If you felt offended, I apologize! I hoped for a respectful reply, which I got. Thanks. Maybe I was mislead by the fact that in many of the other reader's comments you are seen as the victim and you get the reassurance to continue your lonely "fight" against the "bad" particle physics community. Okay, I might exaggerate here a bit ;-), but this is how it comes across.

      (*) the format of this seminar is still making me scratching my head to be honest: a quantum gravity physicist discusses in a photon sciences seminar the future of high energy physics. For a person not in the field this might all sound the same, but these are three VERY different fields of research...

      Delete
    3. Benedikt,

      If you make an argument and I explain why that argument is wrong, you should stop repeating your argument or explain why my response is wrong. You have not done that. Neither, for that matter, has any particle physicist. That means, as of status today, it is fully reasonable to refer to these arguments as nonsense.

      "There is a fair portion of subjective conclusions in your statements"

      Which? Please stop making vacuous accusations.

      "Have you been at the strategy workshop in Granada this year where the update of the European Strategy of high energy physics for the next 5 years has been discussed in a first round?"

      We both know that I haven't been there. And why would I? I know enough about particle physics to know that you would just ignore what I am saying. I don't like to waste my time.

      "a quantum gravity physicist discusses in a photon sciences seminar the future of high energy physics."

      I do not work in quantum gravity, I did not know what this seminar series is about, and I did not talk about the future of high energy physics, I spoke about the content of a book I have written. It just so happened that many people in the audience wanted to talk to me about the future of high energy physics. What do you think why that is?

      Delete
    4. “you should stop repeating your argument or explain why my response is wrong. You have not done that. Neither, for that matter, has any particle physicist.“

      I’m an ex-particle physicist, but I’ll try to explain why your response to the “just look” argument is wrong. In fundamental physics, probing higher energies is especially important. The reason is that we are working with an effective field theory, which means that there is no way to know what lies beyond the maximum energy that we have probed.

      There are some subtleties in this argument, but a good example of how it works is LEP, which preceded LHC. LEP ruled out a Higgs boson up to 115 GeV. You could have kept LEP running at the same energies until the end of times, it still wouldn’t have found the Higgs at 125 GeV. Collecting more data and getting better precision has its merit, but it is no replacement to higher energies.

      And beyond higher energies there is very little that can be done in the foundation of physics. Astrophysics can gives us some clues about the nature of dark matter and cosmology might give us some clues about the big bang. That's about it.

      You can do experiments in the foundation of quantum mechanics or tabletop experiments for quantum gravity. I have no objection to these, but essentially we know what the results would be – nature behave exactly according to our equations. People have been complaining about quantum mechanics being “counter intuitive” for almost a century now, yet every experiment in the foundation of quantum mechanics ended with the conclusion that “spooky action at a distance is real”, “it really is a particle and a wave”, “entanglement is real”, “wave function collapse has no side effect”, etc.

      If you asked me to make a bet, I would bet on the FCC not finding any Beyond the Standard Model physics. Yet, even if that would be the outcome I still think that the FCC would be success (assuming it reaches the energies and luminosities that they are promising).

      Delete
    5. Udi,

      Thanks for a reasonable response, much appreciated.

      You claim:

      "In fundamental physics, probing higher energies is especially important. The reason is that we are working with an effective field theory, which means that there is no way to know what lies beyond the maximum energy that we have probed."

      You are claiming here that for all other experiments that probe new parameter space we actually know what will be observed. Like, say, dark ages in the early universe. Particle physicists, it seems, already know what will be observed and therefore think that it's better to build a larger particle collider.

      This, I am sorry, is not a serious argument. It merely demonstrates that you have very little idea about what other experiments are even trying to measure. Needless to say, any new experiment will be probing new parameter space and, needless to say, in any of these cases there is the possibility that the experiment finds something new.

      Look, I understand that you personally think highly energetic particle collisions are an important avenue to pursue even if it doesn't make scientific or financial sense. Fine with me. But this is a value judgement and I suggest you do not mix value judgements with the science and the facts.

      Fact is, there is no reason whatsoever to think that doing particle collisions at the next higher energies is more likely to just coincidentally find something ("just look!) than any other experiment that explores new ground.

      On the very contrary, there are actually experiments where we have much better reason to think we will see something new.

      "You can do experiments in the foundation of quantum mechanics or tabletop experiments for quantum gravity. I have no objection to these, but essentially we know what the results would be – nature behave exactly according to our equations."

      There are table-top experiments (not yet feasible but hopefully in a decade or two) where we actually have reason to think that the results will demonstrate new effects. Ie, the situation is exactly the opposite from what you claim: Good reasons to see something in other experiments. No reasons to see something at higher energies. If you cannot follow, please let me know and I will explain this again.

      The same is the case for astrophysical measurements. We already have evidence that something odd is going on out there as with dark matter and dark energy. Measuring more precisely what is going on is certain to tell us more about a situation we do not understand.

      The same is not the case for a larger collider, which may very well tell us nothing whatsoever about dark energy and dark matter.

      "People have been complaining about quantum mechanics being “counter intuitive” for almost a century now, yet every experiment in the foundation of quantum mechanics ended with the conclusion that “spooky action at a distance is real”, “it really is a particle and a wave”, “entanglement is real”, “wave function collapse has no side effect”, etc."

      This is entirely tangential to the question of whether to build the FCC, but let me mention that of course the reason that they always find the same is that they always make the same experiments (Bell-type tests).

      Delete
    6. “You are claiming here that for all other experiments that probe new parameter space we actually know what will be observed. Like, say, dark ages in the early universe.”

      I never said that. On the contrary, I specifically said that astronomy has and will teach us more about fundamental physics. What I am talking about are experiments that just test that existing theories are correct where there is no reason to think that these theories would fail.

      For example, LIGO. The discovery of gravitational waves by LIGO was hailed in the media as a “proof that Einstein was right”. We already knew that Generel Relativity is right. We rely on it every day when we use our GPS. GR without gravitational waves was never an option. LIGO also discovered that when black holes merge they create chirping waves, exactly as it was predicted. The real value of LIGO is as a tool for astronomical observations. I think that LIGO is an amazing experiment and I am glad that it is being funded. But from the point of view of fundamental physics it has not taught us anything new.

      “Needless to say, any new experiment will be probing new parameter space and, needless to say, in any of these cases there is the possibility that the experiment finds something new.“

      The tricky part is to decide which “new parameter space” is interesting. We have a lot of experience with gravity at 9.8 meters per seconds squared. I think that you would agree that we shouldn’t expect to learn much from studying gravity at 10.8 meters per seconds squared, even if this specific value was never tested before.

      If you want we can discuss the merits of specific experiments. I think that I can fairly safely claim that we shouldn’t expect to learn anything fundamentally new from any experiment that studies the “foundations of quantum mechanics”. Same goes for experiments that try to test if gravity is really quantized. I can tell you the answer – it is. I am mentioning these fields, because these seem as the types of experiments that you suggested as better alternatives to a new collider.

      There are some other interesting experiments such as neutrinos, cosmic rays, dark matter detectors and astrophysics. Some of these experiments study interesting parameter spaces that could never be covered by an accelerator. Still, there is no replacement to accelerators for covering the most interesting parts of the parameter space – higher energies.

      Delete
    7. Udi,

      "What I am talking about are experiments that just test that existing theories are correct where there is no reason to think that these theories would fail. For example, LIGO."

      LIGO did not just test that GR is correct. Gravitational waves are a way to learn more about what is out there in the universe, which is what we are now doing.

      The FCC, on the other hand, will indeed "just test that existing theories are correct where there is no reason to think that these theories would fail" and there is nothing you can do with that knowledge. So, I am willing to agree that we should not build it.

      "The tricky part is to decide which “new parameter space” is interesting."

      I have tried to put such an argument on a solid basis and eventually came to the conclusion that it is not possible, neither by way of mathematical arguments, nor by way of historical examples. If you manage to do it, that would be interesting, but in absence of that, I think we should stick with solid arguments. The most solid argument is currently that resolving inconsistencies has historically been a reliable guide to breakthroughs, hence we should focus on that.

      If you know of any better argument please let me know.

      "I think that I can fairly safely claim that we shouldn’t expect to learn anything fundamentally new from any experiment that studies the “foundations of quantum mechanics”. Same goes for experiments that try to test if gravity is really quantized. I can tell you the answer – it is. I am mentioning these fields, because these seem as the types of experiments that you suggested as better alternatives to a new collider."

      In both cases we have inconsistencies in the current theories that require solution. In the case of quantum gravity, we know the range in which it must happen. That's as solid as predictions get and I am positively sure there will be a Nobel Prize for it. Will a larger collider help with it? No.

      In the case of quantum foundations, it's not clear in which parameter range that solution must happen, so I would agree the case isn't as water-tight. On the other hand, the experiments are inexpensive and there has been pretty much no work on finding arguments to constrain the parameter range, so if we could maybe put a little more effort in that, the discovery potential is huge.



      Delete
  30. Sabine,
    Your "just look" argument is largely based on the fact that the collider is very expensive. It is fair to say that there is some dose of subjectivity in determining when smth becomes too expensive. You also say " we should invest in experiments that bring the biggest benefit for the projected cost", but there is no objective measure of "benefit" here. You have your own measure of benefit, and that is fine, but again it it fair to say that it is, at least in part, subjective.
    Third, the idea that the money going into the FCC will be taken away from smaller projects is far from certain. Perhaps some of it, but how much? More subjectivity.

    Benedikt has backed over backwards to be polite with you, but you seem completely impermeable to even the softest of criticisms. I have no interest whatsoever in HEP, nor the FCC. I would just like to see a two-way debate, not a monologue.

    Finally, are you realizing that all practicing physicists have basically deserted this blog, with few exceptions? You end up being surrounded by yes-men who always agree with you, conspiracy theorists who think that physicists are greedy money-grabbers, and delusional characters who believe they have debunked Einstein.
    Perhaps that should give you pause.

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    1. Opamanfred,

      "Your "just look" argument is largely based on the fact that the collider is very expensive."

      This is doubly wrong.

      (1) The "just look" argument is not my argument. It is an argument made by particle physicists in order to justify spending on their large collider. I have explains that this argument is nonsense.

      (2) It is not nonsense just because the collider is expensive but because "just look" is non-discriminatory. It does not explain why, of all of the possible ways we could spend the money, this is the best one. The reason of course, why the argument doesn't explain that it's the best way to spend the money is that it's not the best way to spend the money.

      "Finally, are you realizing that all practicing physicists have basically deserted this blog, with few exceptions? "

      I do not know who reads my blog. How do you? I certainly know that they think ignoring me will help them. That's a bad miscalculation, but I do not mind because it certainly makes my life easier.


      Delete
  31. Dear Sabine

    Again a post that creates an urge inside of me to comment here something like: "Well done. Thank you so much for keeping this up, don't let anybody get you down.". And in some sense that indeed are thoughts that rush through my mind.

    But there is one thing more. I am aware how easy it is to write that and how far away I am from the zone where the mud is thrown at you. Imagining that makes me really feel a mixture of anger, frustration and sadness and a lot of empathy for you. And finally also a profound admiration of your courage. I wanted to share that, there is really much more apprechiation than I could express by words.

    Best, Pascal

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    Replies
    1. Pascal,

      Thanks for the kind words. It does help a lot to know that some people understand why I am doing this.

      Delete
  32. Apologies if you've already covered this ...

    In regard to "there are breakthroughs to be made", how do you regard experiments to explore the "g-2 anomalies"? Quark-gluon plasmas? Attempts to detect the cosmic neutrino background? The many experiments which might be called "nature of neutrinos"?

    I ask partly because none of these are centrally motivated by "foundations of physics" considerations (though they certainly play a part) - none have anything directly to do with quantum gravity, say, or dark matter. However, they're all neat, from an experimental perspective, and relatively cheap to boot.

    ReplyDelete
  33. Hi SABINE, !!!

    I hope your day is going well.

    Time is short, so I'll comment
    in two ways.

    Quickly ...

    I don't know how you do it.
    Some people may think it easy
    to go from point 'A' to point
    'B' ,. give a speech or presentation,. talk to people
    - and go back to point 'A'.

    Really, ?
    Even minus details, ...

    You had me at
    'six hour train ride'. lol !

    And simply...
    How about a tri equ ?

    Science Matters
    = True scientists matter
    = You Matter. !

    Thank You.

    BTW I like your latest post.
    Will comment if (time)

    Love Your Work.

    ReplyDelete
  34. I've been thinking about what you wrote in this post, Bee, and am puzzled about the following: in high energy/particle physics, not much has happened, experiment-wise, in the last half century or so, other than finding the Higgs, fleshing out the Standard Model, and accumulating a number of anomalies.

    In astronomy/astrophysics it's been very different. Every new window has turned up things no one expected, much less predicted; whether radio (OK that's more than five decades old), x-ray, far-IR/microwave, gamma ray, and now GWR and high energy neutrinos.

    Why, do you suppose, astronomy/astrophysics is such a fertile field (for surprising discoveries if nothing else), and particle physics is not?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. JeanTate,

      This is a very interesting question. I haven't thought of this before, but here are some aspects that come to my mind.

      Part of the reason is certainly that in cosmology/astrophysics we mix together fundamental with not-fundamental physics. The not-fundamental part contains a lot of emergent/complex and partly even chaotic phenomena that stretch over many orders of magnitude. This is much harder to predict, hence there are more surprises to find.

      As a result of this, experiments in astronomy basically always have "guaranteed" results because you will learn something about the universe that is new and you have never seen before. (Think 21 cm astronomy.)

      This only explains part of the reason though because phenomena like dark energy and dark matter (and maybe the present anomaly in the Hubble rate?) are not of that kind. These are roughly speaking long-distance phenomena, ie, basically the opposite end of high-energy. So maybe the cosmos is trying to tell us something here that we don't fully understand.

      Yet another factor that seems relevant is that astronomers have managed to keep the costs of their experiments manageable more successfully than particle physicists. (LIGO, eg, had a total cost of less than a billion dollars.) I don't know why that is. Maybe bad luck or maybe lack of effort.

      Particle physicists seem to feel entitled to funding for historical reasons (and are now surprised that isn't working any more). Astropeople on the other hand have known for a long time they need to struggle, so it seems possible to me that they have just tried harder.

      Delete
    2. Bee, it's strange to think that some astro projects have modest cost (Hubble! SKA! JWST!), but compared with the proposed FCC, they are, in fact, modest.

      In hindsight, some of the discoveries should not really have been surprising (super-massive black holes, neutron stars, the hot plasma that comprises the greatest baryonic mass in galaxy clusters, even the shells Stacy McGaugh wrote about in his recent blog post); was it at least in part due to conservative thinking by astropeople (love that word!) of the day? OTOH, GWR people just kept plugging away until LIGO; chalk one for persistence ... but why so many BH-BH mergers? And how did BH-BH binaries with those particular masses (mass range) come to be?

      Delete
  35. @ppjm @Philip Thrift
    "Perhaps, Philip Thrift, theoretical physics appears to be a hostile field, because you spend time reading this blog?"

    Of course ppm is right on this. It's simple confirmation bias! You know, Philip, one of the things Sabine has tried to explain hundreds of times here...
    Sadly, for some readers, the only contact they have with real physics and physicists is through this and a few other blogs. Which of course completely skews the picture.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Opamanfred,

      If you think that I made a mistake in my argument, please let me know which. I strive hard to avoid biases but of course I make mistakes. You are not helping by raising empty accusations.

      Delete
  36. Sabine,
    It is no mistake of yours.
    I was only pointing out that, by basing one's information only on this blog, one can get the impression that physics is a highly hostile field. And ironically, this impression is due to a confirmation bias, something that you yourself have denounced many times.

    I find it sad that some people get the idea that physics is
    "authoritarian, absolutist, and fundamentalist, burning heretics at the stake" (as Philip Thrift says). It does not at all correspond to the reality that I see at conferences, meetings, working places.

    My only criticism to your attitude is: Why don't you respond to such outrageous claims of physics being "authoritarian, absolutist, etc.."? Is it because you agree with them? Why don't you point out to Philip Thrift that he is succumbing to a confirmation bias?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Opamanfred,

      Thanks for the clarification and sorry for the misunderstanding. I actually agree with you that physics is not overall a hostile field. Any such sweeping generalization is certain to be wrong.

      As you have probably noticed, I don't respond to all comments, simply because I don't have the time to. I am largely hoping that commenters here help each other.

      I am especially prone to not look at comments that are posted (a) by people who have posted before and proved to be unproblematic and (b) that are not directly addressed to me. The comment you mention is one of those.

      Having said that, I think it is interesting to hear what impression people have of the discipline, regardless of whether that is correct.

      Delete
  37. Hi Sabine,
    I won't even try to pretend that I have an opinion regarding what you talked about that day, but I wanted to let you know that my husband, who is a theoretical physicist (and introduced me to your blog), attended your talk, and despite working in DESY, he completely agreed with you. Maybe it's because he's there for a short time...
    Thank you for making Physics a little bit understandable for laymen.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. BasiaBlue,

      Thanks for the feedback, much appreciated.

      Delete

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