Tuesday, January 15, 2008

This and That

Science Anthology 2007


  1. Congratulations on your Marketplace of Ideas article! Here is something more for your readers who enjoy sounds from space.

  2. Congratulations, Bee!

  3. I know already of a potential post for the 2008 anthology :-)

    Thanks for the great Illustration for the Return of the Boltzmann Brain ;-)... Seems like a good occasion to eventually try to understand what this is all about...

    BTW, if someone is, like me, wondering why there are no pictures yet from yesterday's Mercury fly-by by the Messenger probe, there is a great coverage at the Planetary Society Weblog - data have not yet been transmitted to Earth yet. There was some "interference" with the Ulysses probe which was flying over the Sun's north pole, also yesterday, and also wanted to transmit some data ;-)

    Best, Stefan

  4. Stefan, I hear that the first image from the unseen side will be down on the ground within the next hour.

  5. Dear Amara, Dear Christine:

    Thanks! I am really happy the article made it. It has been the writing that has been the closest to my heart last year, given that several of my friends and colleagues decided to leave academia almost at the same time, for essentially the same reason: disappointment with the state of affairs and the gap between what they, maybe romantically, wish science would be and what it actually looks like. Unfortunately, I have the impression this gap is getting larger, partly due to the trend that those who dislike the status quo will rather leave than try to change something about it. Sometimes I am afraid I sound a bit too idealistic, but most of what I say I actually mean in a very pragmatic way, and I think it is very doable to change something about the present trends that I don't believe are good.



  6. Dear Bee, yes, it's an honor! And it will cause some to think. :-) And also made me wonder if I should have submitted my one and only blog (large) post last year (also close to my heart).

    Dear Stefan: The spectacular Messenger image is now here.

  7. Dear Bee,
    I wonder whether it is really appropriate to laugh at Don Page in the manner of your posting at PW's site? Or am I misinterpreting you? Sorry if that's the case. But bear in mind that PW's site has degenerated into a place where PW sneers at people, while proposing borderline-crackpot theories of his own --- it's really no better than the Reference Frame in many ways. So your remarks about Page's papers are likely to be interpreted in that light. I don't know Page personally but we all know that he has done brilliant work and is entitled to a *proper refutation* if [like me] you don't agree with him. I am disturbed by this Woitian "Look at all these idiots from California" nonsense --- jeering as a substitute for serious argument --- and I hope you won't be a party to it. Again, apologies if I misunderstand your intentions.

  8. Hi Bee,

    The Boltzmann brain theory suggests it is possible that a duplicate of my brain could exist and is floating around the universe. I’ll have to quote Einstein on this one when he reminded:

    "God is subtle but he is not malicious." 

    By the way, congratulations for making the list. Well deserved!



  9. Saturn sounds metallic. Another set of interesting sounds are on the acoustic monitoring program in the Pacific ocean.

    The basic idea is that there is a depth in the ocean where sound waves tend to reflect so that instead of following a 1/r^3 law with distance r, their energy falls off only at a 1/r^2 rate.

    They have recordings of various sea mammals, mostly whales, and man made sources. In addition, they have very intersting sounds that were so loud that they were heard all the way across the ocean, but do not have an identified source. Some of these are similar to sounds made by whales but supposedly would require a source "much larger than a blue whale".

  10. Hi Other:

    Indeed, you are misinterpreting me. I find the title of one of Page's papers funny, therefore the above illustration. Besides this, I was merely wondering out aloud why the paper didn't get published. I have occasionally noticed that more senior researchers don't seem to bother submitting papers to print journals. Given that the publication process is often incredibly annoying, and they don't have to worry about their publication list anymore, I can relate to that.

    I am disturbed by this Woitian "Look at all these idiots from California" nonsense --- jeering as a substitute for serious argument --- and I hope you won't be a party to it. Again, apologies if I misunderstand your intentions.

    Well, if you've been following this blog for a while then you should know that my philosophy is live and let live. If X is interested in Y and is lucky enough to be paid for it, I don't mind, whether or not I find it interesting. There are probably enough topics that I find interesting that would make others yawn as well. The thing with fundamental research is it is incredible hard to predict what will come out of it, or whether something that was *yawn* until yesterday suddenly gets a new spin. I can't say though I was happy about the NYT article, because it sheds a somewhat odd light on the people in the community, the largest part of which doesn't engage in that discussion at all.

    Hope that clarifies my opinion.



  11. To me the flaw with these Boltzmann brain papers is that they don't have the right physics for the universe much less the right physics and biology for self awareness.

    I can personally verify that odd people are treated well here. People into odd things can be a little creepy if they have too much self-importance invested in it (I try not to do that).

    Serious odd researchers very much realize they are odd and know it can be a liability when they work in conventional areas that they may even consider more important.

    Peter does seem to be getting grumpier over time about odd discussions but he perhaps is worried about the liability of those discussions on his blog (they can keep more conventional people away).

  12. Dear Bee,
    I recommend reading
    this glenn greenwald article on salon.com, even though you may have to endure an advertisement to do so.


  13. Congrats, Bee! And Saturn sounds very sci-fi, just like the sounds from old movies, etc. Weird.

  14. Dear Arun:

    Hey, nice to see you are back. Thanks for the link. This is certainly interesting, though I haven't followed any of the actual discussion, so not sure what to say. Judging from the photo that guy John King looks like he practices chest hair removal, so it is an instant disliking. More seriously, I think such bitching, doubting each others credibility, is probably part of journalism. It shouldn't take overhand though. To me the important thing there, as in science, is plurality. It is not so much a problem if one journalists or one TV stations sheds a maybe overly nice light on something, but if all others do the same (or there are no others). As long as people argue, the system is reasonably healthy. Best,


  15. other,

    Nice attempt to both insult me and intimidate Sabine while hiding behind anonymity. Cute. Luckily I don't think she's easily intimidated. And I've developed a thick skin.

    Since I don't propose any "theories of my own" on my blog (and am often criticized for this), it's hard to figure out what "borderline-crackpot" ideas you have in mind. The one thing I have promoted rather heavily recently is my interest in Geometric Langlands and QFT, maybe that's what you have in mind, in which case you might want to help out Ed Witten by telling him what you think of this, in case he doesn't read blogs.

    I admit that it's getting increasingly hard to be polite about the kind of anthropic BS that is being promoted as science by more and more serious scientists. I'm not sure what a "proper refutation" of Don Page's claims that maybe there's a multiverse because God likes having lots of universes around would look like. As for a "proper refutation" of the endless anthropic pseudo-science going on, there are only so many times one can patiently point out that this stuff doesn't give either a testable prediction, or any plausible path leading to one.

    I'm open to constructive suggestions from anyone about what can be done to fight the pseudo-science that is spreading dangerously throughout certain areas of theoretical physics. I don't actually own a light-saber, so can't use that. Making fun of it is the best I've been able to come up with so far, and has had some success, but I'd be happy to hear about a better way.

  16. And, about the "idiots from California" business:

    1. I don't think the people involved in this are idiots and have never referred to any of them as such. I disagree strongly about a specific subject with them, but don't make the mistake of thinking people I disagree with are stupid. Some people I disagree about some things with (e.g. Witten) are definitely smarter than I am.

    2. I'm actually quite fond of the California coast; it includes some of my favorite places in the world. I spent a very happy year working in Berkeley, and take any chance I can get to go back there or several other places in California. That the great majority of Boltzmann Brain researchers are in California struck me as a peculiar fact worth mentioning, but no criticism of California or Californians was intended.

  17. Dear Bee,
    Nice you noticed I was missing :)

    Anyway, that was first in a series about the quality of political information that we get in the US.

    Number 2: Missing
    Presidential candidate


  18. It's nice to see your writing gets the well deserved recognation. I would say, ideology aside, your blog ranks up there with Peter Woit's and Lubos Motl's as the most consistently interesting science blogs. If there's any complaint, as a very casual reader I often cannot keep up with your prolific output...

    Keep up the good work!

  19. "I would say, ideology aside, your blog ranks up there with Peter Woit's and Lubos Motl's ...."

    Oh boy. Poor Bee!

    Anyway I am glad to hear that I was mistaken and that you, Bee, were just having some fun. But: if you had had this fun *here*, on your own blog, then its harmlessness would have been clear. On *that* blog, it could be taken for yet another exercise in character assassination. You [and I] don't post on Motl's blog for that very reason. Context is all.

    Well, I know that you are very keen to fight against the degeneration of the blogosphere, so I should have realised that you didn't mean any harm. Sorry.

  20. Hi Other,

    Apology accepted. I admittedly don't find Chickenbreeders comparison too accurate either, but I think he was roughly referring to output of interesting posts, and I guess he meant it in a nice way. As to the actual content and audience, I don't think there is too much overlap between NEW, TRF and us.

    On *that* blog, it could be taken for yet another exercise in character assassination. You [and I] don't post on Motl's blog for that very reason. Context is all.

    I don't know why you don't post on Lubos blog, for me the main reason is that its a complete waste of time discussing with him. He isn't interested in what you say, but only wants to make a show in which he looks good by whatever means. I have no problem with Peter's blog, I don't always agree with what he says, but (as far as I can tell) he has always been treating people fairly.




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