Friday, May 18, 2018

The Overproduction Crisis in Physics and Why You Should Care About It

[Image: Everett Collection]
In the years of World War II, National Socialists executed about six million Jews. The events did not have a single cause, but most historians agree that a major reason was social reinforcement, more widely known as “group think.”

The Germans who went along with the Nazis’ organized mass murder were not psychopaths. By all accounts they were “normal people.” They actively or passively supported genocide because at the time it was a socially acceptable position; everyone else did it too. And they did not personally feel responsible for the evils of the system. It eased their mind that some scientists claimed it was only rational to prevent supposedly genetically inferior humans from reproducing. And they hesitated to voice disagreement because those who opposed the Nazis risked retaliation.

It’s comforting to think that was Then and There, not Now and Here. But group-think think isn’t a story of the past; it still happens and it still has devastating consequences. Take for example the 2008 mortgage crisis.

Again, many factors played together in the crisis’ buildup. But oiling the machinery were bankers who approved loans to applicants that likely couldn’t pay the money back. It wasn’t that the bankers didn’t know the risk; they thought it was acceptable because everyone else was doing it too. And anyone who didn’t play along would have put themselves at a disadvantage, by missing out on profits or by getting fired.

A vivid recount comes from an anonymous Wall Street banker quoted in a 2008 NPR broadcast:
“We are telling you to lie to us. We’re hoping you don't lie. Tell us what you make, tell us what you have in the bank, but we won’t verify. We’re setting you up to lie. Something about that feels very wrong. It felt wrong way back then and I wish we had never done it. Unfortunately, what happened ... we did it because everyone else was doing it.”
When the mortgage bubble burst, banks defaulted by the hundreds. In the following years, millions of people would lose their jobs in what many economists consider the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s.



It’s not just “them” it’s “us” too. Science isn’t immune to group-think. On the contrary: Scientific communities are ideal breeding ground for social reinforcement.

Research is currently organized in a way that amplifies, rather than alleviates, peer pressure: Measuring scientific success by the number of citations encourages scientists to work on what their colleagues approve of. Since the same colleagues are the ones who judge what is and isn’t sound science, there is safety in numbers. And everyone who does not play along risks losing funding.

As a result, scientific communities have become echo-chambers of likeminded people who, maybe not deliberately but effectively, punish dissidents. And scientists don’t feel responsible for the evils of the system. Why would they? They just do what everyone else is also doing.

The reproducibility crisis in psychology and in biomedicine is one of the consequences. In both fields, an overreliance on data with low statistical relevance and improper methods of data analysis (“p-value hacking”) have become common. That these statistical methods are unreliable has been known for a long time. As Jessica Utts, President of the American Statistical Association, pointed out in 2016 “statisticians and other scientists have been writing on the topic for decades.”

So why then did researchers in psychology continue using flawed methods? Because everyone else did it. It was what they were taught; it was generally accepted procedure. And psychologists who’d have insisted on stricter methods of analysis would have put themselves at a disadvantage: They’d have gotten fewer results with more effort. Of course they didn’t go the extra way.

The same problem underlies an entirely different popular-but-flawed scientific procedure: “Mouse models,” ie using mice to test the efficiency of drugs and medical procedures.

How often have you read that Alzheimer or cancer has been cured in mice? Right – it’s been done hundreds of times. But humans aren’t mice, and it’s no secret that mice-results – while not uninteresting – often don’t transfer to humans. Scientists only partly understand why, but that mouse models are of limited use to develop treatments for humans isn’t controversial.

So why do researchers continue to use them anyway? Because it’s easy and cheap and everyone else does it too. As Richard Harris put it in his book Rigor Mortis: “One reason everybody uses mice: everybody else uses mice.”

It happens here in the foundations of physics too.

In my community, it has become common to justify the publication of new theories by claiming the theories are falsifiable. But falsifiability is a weak criterion for a scientific hypothesis. It’s necessary, but certainly not sufficient, for many hypotheses are falsifiable yet almost certainly wrong. Example: It will rain peas tomorrow. Totally falsifiable. Also totally nonsense.

Of course this isn’t news. Philosophers have gone on about this for at least half a century. So why do physicists do it? Because it’s easy and because all their colleagues do it. And since they all do it, theories produced by such methods will usually get published, which officially marks them as “good science”.

In the foundations of physics, the appeal to falsifiability isn’t the only flawed method that everyone uses because everyone else does. There are also those theories which are plainly unfalsifiable. And another example are arguments from beauty.

In hindsight it seems perplexing, to say the least, but physicists published ten-thousands of papers with predictions for new particles at the Large Hadron Collider because they believed that the underlying theory must be “natural”. None of those particles were found.

Similar arguments underlie the belief that the fundamental forces should be unified because that’s prettier (no evidence for unification has been found) or that we should be able to measure particles that make up dark matter (we didn’t). Maybe most tellingly, physicists in these community refuse to consider the possibility that their opinions are affected by the opinions of their peers.

One way to address the current crises in scientific communities is to impose tighter controls on scientific standards. That’s what is happening in psychology right now, and I hope it’ll also happen in the foundations of physics soon. But this is curing the symptoms, not the disease. The disease is a lacking awareness for how we are affected by the opinions of those around us.

The problem will reappear until everyone understands the circumstances that benefit group-think and learns to recognize the warning signs: People excusing what they do with saying everyone else does it too. People refusing to take responsibility for what they think are “evils of the system.” People unwilling to even consider that they are influenced by the opinions of others. We have all the warning signs in science – had them for decades.

Accusing scientists of group-think is standard practice of science deniers. The tragedy is, there’s truth in what they say. And it’s no secret: The problem is easy to see for everyone who has the guts to look. Sweeping the problem under the rug will only further erode trust in science.



Read all about the overproduction crisis in the foundations of physics and what you – yes you! – can do to help in my book “Lost in Math,” out June 12, 2018.

132 comments:

Koenraad Van Spaendonck said...

Hello Sabine,

Another significant intrinsic element contributing to the continuity of what you describe, is public funding.

Banks noticed how governments (read the tax payer's hard earned tax money) 'saved' them from total collapse. And they know that they'll do it again.

Physicists, aside from private fundings obviously, get payed regardless of wether or not they produce new physics.

If no cure no pay was the modus operandi, then eternal group think would quickly change into survival of the fittest.

However, one cannot expect physicists to produce new physics time and time again, obviously.

And so the root of the cure lies in physics education I believe. (Aside from rebuilding the theory assessment standards.)
The individual potential of students, and later researchers should be much more rewarded, rather than forcing them to work along the same method and with the same stepping stones.

Diversity is the mother of intelligence problem solving (and yes, specialism is the father).
This also requires extra recruiting from high school students with other aptitudes than strong mathematical skills.

This would also require the rather'feudal' top-down character of theoretical physics institutions, to change.
Very very difficult.. Finland leads the way these days,I'm very curious what their changed education system will yield in say 30 years from now.It could be expanded to universities.

(Link Finland ed. :
http://bigthink.com/design-for-good/the-latest-school-reform-in-finland-introduces-a-new-way-to-look-at-subjects


Best, Koenraad

Jonathan Starr said...

Sabine,

Is there anything people from outside "The Scientific Community" can do to help on this one? Your diagnosis and policy prescriptions seem eminently reasonable and worthy of pursuit but they are for the people on the inside. For the rest of us do you see any areas to focus on? I always feel nervous when pointing out deficiency in the scientific system to the laymen. I worry that I am degrading the reputation of the whole "measurement is possible if you can't measure it's best to remain skeptical till you can" project.

I don't let this stop me from making fun of string "theorists" as I am comfortable "No true Scotsman"ing them (real scientists make measurements not math; tho I must admit my narrowness of thought maybe a side-effect of an engineering background) but I try not to beat on the social sciences too hard as they take measurements and mostly it seems their poor results stem from human brains being a real-hard problem not entirely from lack of rigor on their part.

Not that you have to have an answer for what people on the outside should do to help just that if you do, I'm interested to hear it.

J* someone with a head of fuzzy thoughts

Dr. Ajay Tripathi said...

Excellent, analysis, though I may not be able to buy, but I understood what you were thinking & pointing . For physics & Psychology both, I would like that scientist community should look broad , there is a lot of Indian Ancient works in Physics theory as "Sankya Model" & in Pshycology as in "Raj Yoga, Advaithya model & Other works like Bhagwat geeta especially 18th chapter & Tripura Rahasya book" . Phycologist should see them, and give them a chance to understand that Human has not mere 2 state viz disease & other normal like every other jack & joe. But human mind has another state called "Turiya" or third state which is described in Indian model and especially emphasized on. Any want to contact me can reach me at twitter @drajaytripathi . thanks for excellent article

Theophanes Raptis said...

"But science only supports certain narratives based on representations (models) as approximations of an ultimate Truth. Politics on the other hand, as the supreme, vintage point for decision making appears quite weaker, not so for the lack of specialists but mostly, for serving interests of which the motives have nothing in common with rationality as they draw their power directly from the most dark part of human "psyche" tied up with both the knowledge and sometimes, the instinct of death. At the meeting of these two forces, just like in the Greek mythos of the marriage between Chaos and Nyx, an ideology of progress is born, thst is, the specific justification of the decisions of "Auctoritas" under a messianic approach to history in both parts of the political spectrum. At the same time, the size of the concrete, material violence of the antagonisms for the imposition of such progress upon various populations is eventually silenced."
Technofeudalism, 2007

Matthew Rapaport said...

Philosophy is not immune either. One might say that physics and philosophy together reinforce group think especially in the direction from physics to philosophy but it goes the other way too

Curiously Fearless said...

Alexander Unzicker identified groupthink phenomenon in physics years ago. Groupthink seems to be ubiquitous anytime there is information overload. Looking forward to reading about what we - yes we! - can do.

CFT said...

You might also consider the role of 'politics' in the scientific community. When you have one overwhelming political 'viewpoint', something odd is going on, and the politics stops looking like politics and more and more like ideology.

I for one found no desire whatsoever to be surrounded by people who called anyone who didn't agree with their personal political viewpoints 'ignorant' or "antiscience". It very much reminds me of Russia where they have 'elections' with just one candidate, and everyone sits around patting themselves on the back for having made such a well informed decision.

Uncle Al said...

I knew assistant prof Bob Grubbs at Michigan State when he pursued (absurd) olefin metathesis. Denied tenure, he did manage a Nobel Prize later on for succeeding. Carbon-carbon bonds can be cheated.

Physics is a profoundly-managed ass whose lowest priority is success - all science (the elephant), then tortoises all the way down. Civilizations that labor for administration horribly collapse.

The best answers require knaves, accidents, strangling footnotes, reaching for blue roses. Modestly fund heresy. Administer afterwards.

Xavier Llobet said...

The 2008 mortgage bubble may not be the best example, as the behaviour was driven. It was a time bomb implanted by the Clinton administration. The help to single mothers had been cut, to encourage them to find work, and, to compensate, the banks were forced into lending in impoverished neighbourhoods: they had to have a minimum percentage of mortgages.

The rest is history.

Louis Tagliaferro said...

Great article I didn't see you mention what I believe is the biggest obstacle to any substantive change; as individuals most people believe this behavior is not applicable to themselves. I don't know how you go about changing that because we are very rational about seeing groupthink in others while exempting ourselves.

Sabine Hossenfelder said...

Louis,

It's what I was referring to when I wrote "people unwilling to even consider that they are influenced by the opinions of others."

Sabine Hossenfelder said...

Xavier,

Thanks for pointing out.

Sabine Hossenfelder said...

Jonathan,

You can either address the issue in a field-specific way, or in a general way that applies to all fields.

For the former, you'll need to know about the particular issues and keep asking about them. Post-group selection and hypothesis shopping may be typical examples for psychology. In the foundations of physics the typical questions would be 'why believe in naturalness?' or "How does falsifiability make this hypothesis plausible?" or maybe you may want to point out that if you don't need assumption A (say, the multiverse or string theory) to make prediction B (say, the CMB observations), then observation B isn't evidence for A.

It is (sadly enough) ridiculously easy to do this kind of thing. A lot of astrophysicists who proclaim that the Bullet Cluster has ruled out modified gravity don't know the first thing about modified gravity. String theorists like to forget that the cosmological constant is positive. WIMP enthusiasts like to forget that WIMPs were supposed to be observed 30 years ago. Axion fans like to forget the original axion was ruled out as soon as it was proposed. And so on. There are many ways to annoy theoretical physicists. Keep on doing it because it will prevent them from forgetting the "well known problems."

The more general way is to ask scientists if they have protection from social pressures, or maybe specifically if their institution keeps track of the number of papers they publish and the number of citations they attract. You may ask if they could change their research direction if they wanted to (most would run into severe funding difficulties). Or you may simply ask to point out shortcomings of their research projects, in case they "forgot" to mention. Most of them will not bluntly lie.

marten said...

Overproduction normally leads to lower prices. I can't find any evidence of lower prices (salaries) in connection with the overproduction in question. I would like to know why. Any info I have missed?

If there is no market for science, we really must care about that. The market for make believe is gigantic.

Michael Smith said...

You have chosen a very good topic for presentation. Good examples - dark matter and the grand unified theory. You might also have chosen multiverse or string theory. But like Lee Smolin in his "The Trouble with Physics" the cure(s) is very difficult to envision. Smolin really didn't have a clue.

One big problem is balancing freedom of the press with scientific analysis. Any gibberish in physics can be rightfully published by any journal for any reason (or not). About the only method I can envision to help one wade thru the bushels of worthless theory is to have journals place a stamp on the title page something like, "probably fiction".

The other method is to keep preaching to the youngsters and eventually the dark energy boys and the othres will eventually disappear (after taking a big share of funding). I believe that was Planck's cure for physics. Disheartening, we have not move an inch in a century to cure worthless physics.

Patrice Ayme' said...

Thinking is hard, duplicating, easier. Leading is hard, following is easier. The herd is reassuring. Discovering really new ideas is telling the multitude, it needs to change its brain. It’s tiring to said multitude, even aggravating. Big bosses are not really interested by new ideas which would endanger the hierarchy they dominate.

Moreover, most new ideas will turn out to be wrong. Really new ideas are not just irritating and scary to the multitude, they are frustrating to the would-be inventors.

So how do we encourage new ideas? We make sure that “publications” and “metrics” are not what really matter in a research career. Society should also make sure there are plenty enough careers to serve the demands of inquiring minds (as was the case in the 1950s, 1960s). There are many domains where research need more individuals working: say to explore the best cathodes for batteries…. What jobs will people do when robots take over the less added mental value jobs?

We need a society with a maximum of minds thinking creatively (to do so, divert money from the money changers, the financial “industry”, to research and teaching). To survive the biosphere needs us to establish a democracy of thought.

However, “social networks” have, instead encouraged undemocratic ways (selling people’s souls to other marketers), and tribalization (with a system of likes). Tribalism is an old instinct, made for group think of one hundred or so. Now we have social networks encouraging group think in hundreds of millions (the spread of radical Islamism through the Internet being a case in point). “Social networks” have tapped the tribal instinct, the lowest instincts, encouraged, and financialized, tribalization.

Why? Because, under the “Democratic” leadership, under Clinton, Goldman Sachs took over. Even before he was elected, Robert Rubin, ex-CEO of Goldman Sachs, told Clinton what he would need to do to be re-elected. Clinton exclaimed: “You are telling me my re-election will depend upon f**king bond traders?” Clinton did as he was told by his Sec. of the Treasury, Rubin, and dismantled all the safeguards laws and regulation set up in 1933 by president Franklin Roosevelt. That enabled large banks and bank like entities to leverage themselves massively, using nonlinear “financial derivatives”. The world’s financial derivatives market (adding all the values of all the outstanding contracts) is more than 1.2 quadrillion dollars, twenty times world GDP.

In the past (say 1960) that market was neglectable. In China, it’s unlawful. Most money is created by private banks. If, since Rubin’s work in the 1990s, that money is invested in financial derivatives, it’s as much that is not disponible for research and teaching, hence the rat race there. And yes, rats are not the smartest beings.

Matthew Rapaport said...

There is yet another issue in this whole business that the political and economic viewpoints ignore. There are genuine difficulties, both theoretically and pragmatically, with deciding which and how research will be funded. Who (and how) draws the line between worthwhile alternatives and patent nonsense. There is a big grey area here. It isn't easy to do and there is only so much money to go around

Michael John Sarnowski said...

Well said!

milkshake said...

Feynman once wrote: "There is no authority who decides what is a good idea. We have lost the need to go to an authority to find out whether an idea is true or not. ... in physics today, the relations are extremely good. A scientific argument is likely to involve a great deal of laughter and uncertainty on both sides, with both sides thinking up experiments and offering to bet on the outcome. In physics there are so many accumulated observations that it is almost impossible to think of a new idea which is different from all the ideas that have been thought of before and yet that agrees with all the observations that have already been made. And so if you get anything new from anyone, anywhere, you welcome it, and you do not argue about why the other person says it is so."

This was in happier times (1963)

The tribalism is a defensive mechanism of people in the fashionable programs that run into serious difficulties. The fight is about the share of public money and about the freedom of choice for the talented graduates who are just starting their research career

Cyberax said...

"It was a time bomb implanted by the Clinton administration. The help to single mothers had been cut, to encourage them to find work, and, to compensate, the banks were forced into lending in impoverished neighbourhoods"

Sorry, but no. This is a scientific blog so let's actually do some numbers.

The amount of mortgages forced by the CRA (Community Reinvestment Act) which is commonly referred as "lending to poor people" was insignificant in the overall picture. Majority of subprime loans were made by companies not regulated through the CRA: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Community_Reinvestment_Act#Purported_relationship_to_the_2008_financial_crisis

The timebomb, though indeed was planted during Clinton administration.

The banks were allowed to use their regular FDIC-guaranteed capital for speculation (Glass-Stegall repeal). This basically exploded the market for derivatives. Before the repeal a bank could make a mortgage and get a predictable steady ~1% per year return on it (after inflation adjustment and overheads). After Clinton, a bank could make a mortgage, "collateralize" it and immediately resell with a ~10% markup.

And so that's how banks started loaning left and right. After all, you make a loan and you immediately get a huge return on it. And you don't really care what happens with it later.

Jean Pestieau said...

Already in the 11th century, the Arab physicist Ibn al-Haytham, the initiator of the scientific method, had an approach to truth similar to the one of Sabine: “The search for truth is arduous, the road that leads to it is full of pitfalls. To find the truth, one must set aside one's opinions and not trust the writings of the elders. You must question them and submit each of their assertions to your critical spirit. Rely only on logic and experimentation, never on the affirmation of one another, for every human being is subject to all sorts of imperfections; in our quest for truth, we must also question our own theories, with regard to each of our research to avoid succumbing to prejudice and intellectual laziness. Do so and the truth will be revealed to you.” More on: http://www.d-meeus.be/physique/Ibn_al-Haytham_Tangier_3may2018-1.pdf

peter cameron said...

Sabine,

Excellent article. Can see you most correctly won't relent until our desks are graced with tattered copies of your book. I give up, next stop amazon.

so how to find one's way in such a flock/gaggle/giggle? seek out the oppositional defiance disorder folks that managed to survive? Do you find a tad of that in yourself? Of your self in that?

Like the Buddhist 'skhanda' outline of the steps by which conciousness emerges from form. It could be thought of as a complex of tuned feedback loops, a series of very tight filters, with emotional tone being the first. Time constant of fight or flight is tens of milliseconds, that of relaxation response tens of seconds. For many of us, almost all 'interpersonal' interactions are initially biased by at least a little fear. To communicate effectively requires emotionally safe space.

First pass thru emotional tone sees no threat in abstract external form of new perspectives, which mind synthesizes into pre-conscious 'perception', whose form and structure is examined by the next stage, the volitional formations. Physicists are big on volitional formations. What of paradigm shift gets thru that makes it to the consciousness.

Consciousness generates internal form in response to the external form, examines with what is basically the same set of filters. Paradigm shift hits the wall at the first filter, at emotional tone. First priority is stability in system of complex feedback loops. What manages to leak thru (no such thing as a perfect filter) withers under examination by volitional formations.

Consciousness generates new internal form. Loop iterates until convergence below some on-the-fly calculated limit, re-establishing balance between sympathetic and parasympathetic, between fear and fun. Paradigm shift is big jump in that entrenched system, at every step.

The mind is a beautiful thing, the stability remarkable, and it appears our only hope for the planet is saucer intervention. Get out the tinfoil.

JimV said...

Xavier Llobet, your explanation does not fit the facts, as pointed out by the Wikipedia article on the 2008 Financial Crisis:

Government housing policies, over-regulation, failed regulation and deregulation have all been claimed as causes of the crisis, along with many others. While the modern financial system evolved, regulation did not keep pace and became mismatched with the risks building in the economy. The Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission (FCIC) tasked with investigating the causes of the crisis reported in January 2011 that: "We had a 21st-century financial system with 19th-century safeguards."[1]

Increasing home ownership has been the goal of several presidents, including Roosevelt, Reagan, Clinton, and George W. Bush.[2] The FCIC wrote that U.S. government affordable housing policies and the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) were not primary causes of the crisis, as the events were primarily driven by the private sector, with the major investment banks at the core of the crisis not subject to depository banking regulations such as the CRA. In addition, housing bubbles appeared in several European countries at the same time, although U.S. housing policies did not apply there. Further, subprime lending roughly doubled (from below 10% of mortgage originations, to around 20% from 2004-2006), although there were no major changes to long-standing housing laws around that time. Only 1 of the 10 FCIC commissioners argued housing policies were a primary cause of the crisis, mainly in the context of steps Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac took to compete with aggressive private sector competition.[1]

JimV said...

P.S. Speaking of group-think and inconvenient facts, as has been pointed out many times, the percentage of defaults among Community Reinvestment Act mortgages was lower than the industry average for USA mortgages during that time period.

Michael John Sarnowski said...

I am reminded that doctors get one class for drugs and one class, if any, for nutrition. Statistics is difficult. I really think people should have at least 3 statistics classes for a masters degree and a couple more for a doctorate degree.

Ian Miller said...

I agree with most of what you say, and well done for saying it. I agree that 10,000 papers predicting new particles at the LHC borders on the ridiculous, however we must allow for some such speculation. For example, I would approve of a paper that gave some sort of reason for why dark matter might be . . ., and if it were, it would show the following properties . . . Sometimes it doesn't hurt to give the experimentalists an idea what to look for, especially at the LHC where they discard most of their data and only keep what they think is going to be interesting.

Tam Hunt said...

I certainly agree that groupthink is a problem in physics but the Germany/Hitler example doesn't seem accurate in terms of public knowledge about the mass murders. That only became known after the end of WWII. There were mass roundups and concentration camps that had the active or passive support of Germans, as you write, but the mass murder "final solution" was a different matter. Or so it seems to me given my knowledge of that era. Perhaps you will correct me on my knowledge of this era since you of course live in Germany and are German.

Tam Hunt said...

More generally, I think groupthink is the natural state of affairs for us ultra social bipeds known as humans. We like to think scientists can rise above but it's very hard to rise about what "everybody" else thinks or does and be truly independent. We generally kill those people as heretics...

Unknown said...

Good on you!

Unknown said...

"Measuring scientific success by the number of citations encourages scientists to work on what their colleagues approve of. Since the same colleagues are the ones who judge what is and isn’t sound science, there is safety in numbers. And everyone who does not play along risks losing funding" You are right. See articles below.

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/49664045_Bibliometrics_as_Weapons_of_Mass_Citation

Antoinette MoliniéGeoffrey BodenhausenGeoffrey Bodenhausen

https://www.ethz.ch/content/dam/ethz/special-interest/chab/chab-dept/department/images/Emeriti/richard_ernst/Publications/Ernst-Follies-Bibliometrics-Chimia-64-90-2010.pdf

Richard R Ernst , Nobelist gives a clarion call as " And as an ultimate plea, the personal
wish of the author remains to send all bibliometrics and its diligent servants to the darkest omnivoric black hole that is known in the entire universe, in order to liberate academia forever from this pestilence. And there is indeed an alternative: Very simply,
start reading papers instead of merely rating them by counting citations!

We must thank R Ernst in pointing out that literature and music has been spared from metrics

Cheating by citations. Watch out for cheats in
citation game. The focus on impact of published research has created new opportunities for
misconduct and fraudsters, says Mario Biagioli in this article below.

https://www.nature.com/polopoly_fs/1.20246!/menu/main/topColumns/topLeftColumn/pdf/535201a.pdf

Kris Krogh said...

Hi Bee,

I'm sure Xavier meant well by his comment on government-mandated housing spending as the cause of the 2008 morgage crisis, but I don't think you owe him a thank you.

Here is what Paul Krugman, Nobel Prize winner and economic columnist for the New York Times says about that:

...the true story of what happened is deeply inconvenient to some very rich and powerful people. They and their intellectual hired guns have therefore spent years disseminating an alternative view that the money manager and blogger Barry Ritholtz calls the Big Lie. It’s a view that places all the blame for the financial crisis on — you guessed it — too much government, especially government-sponsored agencies supposedly pushing too many loans on the poor.

Never mind that the supposed evidence for this view has been thoroughly debunked, or that before the crisis some of these same hired guns attacked those agencies not for lending too much to the poor, but for not lending enough. If the historical record runs counter to what powerful interests want you to believe, well, history will just have to be rewritten. And constant repetition, especially in captive media, keeps this imaginary history in circulation no matter how often it is shown to be false.


Here's the full column, with supporting links:

https://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/18/opinion/the-big-short-housing-bubbles-and-retold-lies.html

If you look up Krugman on the Internet, you'll see all sorts of ad hominem attacks on my hero. But he's one of those amazing people who is as accurate and honest in his field, and dedicated to finding objective truth, as you are in yours.

Don Foster said...


Xavier Llobet

Your comment that the 2008 mortgage bubble was caused by the Community Reinvestment Act and its promotion of lending in impoverished neighborhoods is in itself a reflection on the dangers of group think. It is a revisionist, right-leaning read of history that could lead to a repetition of catastrophic error.

Research by Manuel Adelino of the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University, Antoinette Schoar of the MIT Sloan School of Management and Felipe Severino of the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth undermines this story. In their paper, "Changes in Buyer Composition and theExpansion of Credit During the Boom," the researchers found:

"While there was a rapid expansion in overall mortgage origination during this time period, the fraction of new mortgage dollars going to each income group was stable. In other words, the poor did not represent a higher fraction of the mortgage loans originated over the period. In addition, borrowers in the middle and top of the distribution are the ones that contributed most significantly to the increase in mortgages in default after 2007. Taken together, the evidence in the paper suggests that there was no decoupling of mortgage growth from income growth where unsustainable credit was flowing disproportionally to poor people."

Mitchell said...

Just so you know... A nonphysicist in my family just caught me staring into space. I said I had just been reading a German physicist who compared the supposed groupthink in mainstream physics to Nazism. The nonphysicist recoiled and said, if I read something like that, I probably wouldn't take them seriously, even if they had good arguments.

neo said...

Bee,

do you think string theory's QG dominance over rivals like LQG AS etc, is due to its scientific merits or due to "group think"?

also since there are many more string theorists than loop, don't papers published by string theorists have a much better chance at a higher citation and h-index?


Sabine Hossenfelder said...

Mitchell,

I wrote this post because I noticed a lot of people don't understand why I wrote my book. I wrote it because the current situation rings alarm bells in my head which I have been told to watch out for, and my being German certainly has something to do with it. I don't know what I am supposed to take away from your comment other than a) you weren't able to summarize my argument or b) your nonphysicist friend doesn't understand what happened in Nazi Germany. Best,

B.

Sabine Hossenfelder said...

Tam,

What you write is also my knowledge. The biggest part of the population did at least not officially know about the 'final solution'. But you can't kill hundred-thousands of people without a large number of aids on your side. Best,

B.

Sabine Hossenfelder said...

neo,

The origin I think is neither. String theory is in many regards more "fruitful" than the other programs. I scare-quote fruitful because it's not a fruitfulness of physical relevance, it's a mathematical fruitfulness. It then adds on top though that in current academia the rich get richer, and people go where people are. So I'd guess it's a combination of both.

Let me add, since people like to jump to conclusions about my supposed opinions, that this speaks neither for nor against string theory. It merely says that the topic likely presently gets more attention than it would if it wasn't for social feedback.

Sabine Hossenfelder said...

Cyberax, Kris, JimV,

Thanks for the further clarification.

neo said...

Bee

wouldn't one remedy to "group think" and rich get richer would be for physics departments in QG to hire based on "diversity" i.e hire faculty with phd's in LQG AS GFT entropic gravity with emphasis on physical reality ?

LQG via kodama state does describe a positive cc unlike string.

Sabine Hossenfelder said...

neo,

I don't think that makes much sense. Who'd set such a quota. And what would justify it? I can't see it working.

neo said...

Bee,

physics departments create a department devoted to QG, and hiring 5-10 phD's faculty whose phd work was in LQG, AS, GFT, emergent gravity etc. w/ grad students and post docs.

they have billions in endowments and can get research grant money to fund this.

Sabine Hossenfelder said...

neo,

It's not how it works. Physics departments don't just create departments how they wish, and they don't have billions in endowments. I don't know where you take that from. And in any case, as I said I don't think that some quota invented by an anonymous commenter on a blog will convince anyone to do anything. You seem to have missed my point: There's no rationale for what you propose.

neo said...

the top universities in the world have billions in endowments, Harvard endowment is $35 billion, Yale 25 billion and stanford 22 billion.

ref https://www.usnews.com/education/best-colleges/the-short-list-college/articles/2017-09-28/10-universities-with-the-biggest-endowments

in the 1980s and 1990s many universities were establishing String theory research groups and hiring faculty to do research in string theory, and Daniel Friedman described his experience when he was approached by i think it was Rutgers.

what I am suggesting is along the same lines as what happened to string theory in 1980s and 1990s, with top universities establishing string theory research groups


Sabine Hossenfelder said...

neo,

There is a big difference between "a few universities have billions of endowment" and "physics departments have billions of endowment". As to the rest of your comment. I understand what you are suggesting. I am saying I would not approve of it for the reasons I gave above.

TransparencyCNP said...

Meanwhile, the State of the Jewish People has been dealing with returning refugees in the same way for 70 years.

neo said...

Personally i don't see much of a difference between saying Harvard University has a $28 billion dollar endowment, and Harvard physics department, as an extension of Harvard University, has billions of dollars in endowment.

do you have the same objections to string theory research groups at say Harvard Yale Princeton, in terms of "quota"? Princeton employs say 10 string theorists, would you call this a "quota"? Daniel Friedman was approached by Rutgers University to start a string theory research group sometime in the early 90s. would you call this a "quota"?

Sabine Hossenfelder said...

neo,

A physics department is not a whole university, and not every university is Harvard. How can I possibly make this plainer. How much money do you think the physics department at my university has to fund a new department? Basically nothing. And even if they had, they wouldn't be the ones to make the decision. Your idea that "hey let's just go and hire shitloads of people all over the place to make physics so much greater" is all well and fine but not realistic.

Also your further insistence on wanting me to comment on string theory at Princeton continues to miss the point. I have no problem a priori with any place hiring anyone and I will certainly not go and make recommendations for places who I know little to nothing about. My point is that they might not have been able to assess the situation very well for the reasons I lay out in my blogpost. This doesn't mean their decision was a bad one, it merely makes it more likely that it wasn't the best decision.

Unknown said...

This is a good article on p values.

https://arxiv.org/abs/1802.04888

The false positive risk: a proposal concerning what to do about p-values
David Colquhoun

His web site has a sad story.
http://www.dcscience.net/2014/12/01/publish-and-perish-at-imperial-college-london-the-death-of-stefan-grimm/

His email is there . Some extracts from his email.
"In March ’14 I then received the ultimatum email below. 200,000 pounds research income every year is required. Very interesting. I was never informed about this before and cannot remember that this is part of my contract with the College. Especially interesting is the fact that the required 200,000.- pounds could potentially also be covered by smaller grants but in my case a programme grant was expected.

Our 135,000.- pounds from the University of Dammam? Doesn’t count. I have to say that it was a lovely situation to submit grant applications for your own survival with such a deadline. We all know what a lottery grant applications are"

This man published papers and was productive. a shortfall of 65,000 pds and questions asked and .... this.

David Colquhoun gives an excellent reply to the question of less grants

Then in the following web site below David Colquhoun gives an excellent example of A Huxley. Here is the reply to @AJSTaunton

http://www.dcscience.net/2015/09/24/stefan-grimmm-1963-2014-a-memorial-to-a-victim-of-managerialism/

"I can’t agree. Do you really think that the value of a scientist’s work can be measured by the amount of money they get in grants? To use grant income as a proxy for quality is not only baseless, but it also defrauds the taxpayer. And it occasionally kills people.

I believe that Andrew Huxley (who got Nobel prize for discovering how the nerve impulse works) never had a grant. Should he have been fired?

I should make it clear that the managers who must take responsibility are senior academics. The HR people who implement the policies are just obeying orders (though that Nuremberg defence can’t exonerate them entirely).

The problem with your argument is that the people to whom you say he should have appealed are the very people who were bullying him. An appeal would have been a waste of time"

If an academic is doing good work with less money why tell him to have a target for higher money. In fact the admin should be happy at this. The question is how much money did AEinstein have when he wrote the famous earth shaking papers all with perfect intuition in 1905.

marten said...

This little poem is from Marijke Boon. I call it

Falsifiability

Cows moo;
dogs bark;
mice squeak,
doors sometimes.

Anonymous said...

I agree with your assertion. I would add another point, as the body of knowledge grows true scientific progress also requires more time for individuals to come up with 'original work'. While the internet and solving the accessibility problem counterbalanced in the not-so-distant past, this I believe has caught up with the community. Recently even economists 'discovered' it, as productivity improvement vs scientific progress stopped showing a linear relationship. And the current publication race only exaggerates this further especially when it is tied to one's career.

I guess in my area of engineering and applied mathematics, people who get sick of it end up in the industry.

Lawrence Crowell said...

I generally do not like social-science ideas on science. This entry covers a lot of stuff, which may or may not go together. I sort of felt a bit compelled to respond.

The comparison with the rise of Nazism may need some qualifications. It is my observation that on a 50 and 100 year time basis there is the rise of collective mania in some major area of the world. In the last century this happened primarily in Germany and Japan, with Italy a more minor player and where the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia could count as well. These episodes of chaos are generally a bit like the heartbeat, one major and the other minor. We have in the end of the 18th into the 19th century the French Revolution and Napoleonic wars. The early 18th century was more muted, but the 17th century saw the Reformation/Counter Reformation wars such as the 30 Year War. We are coming due for the next of these and as I read the cards the United States of America appears poised to be the big bad guy this time around. Germany and Japan have downright liberal well functioning democracies compared to what is shaping up in the USA, which if you ask me is treadling down a path into a 21st version of fascism.

With societies there appears to be something similar to what is called intermittency in chaos theory. I think chaos theory with its “devil's staircase” of behavior has to do with Laughlin wave functions, topological orders, near and far entanglements --- and oh yeah supersymmetry. This type of behavior can happen on various scales and of course with different social groups, such as professional societies or religious communities. Of course if you impose regulations and constraints on a system you can reduce this. Sometime back I numerically worked the Lorenz system and imposed driving terms with Fourier modes and in doing so the fractal dimension of the attractor could be made to approach 2 instead of being more fractional. In the social framework this seems to hold as well. The removal of regulations against highly risky investments can prevent market collapses or keep them from becoming as serious. I have some alarming concerns with respect to the growing mania over guns, gun ownership and the possibility of some form of mass insanity --- should we say “Rwanda 1994” made big.

With professional societies such as in science the concern is not so much things will get violent, but that trends could lead into a maze or blind alleys that are not productive. In a socio-economic setting this is a concern for the bio-medical field. Since statistics is mentioned I also find it interesting the bio-medical field uses p-values that are so easily twisted around, where Bayesian analysis and Bayesian regression are more resilient against that problem. Also some bad trends in bio-medical sciences can lead to life or death consequences. This could be very bad in the case of some pandemic, such as we now see Ebola recurring in DR Congo. With theoretical physics it is not quite so dire.

There is a flip side of course. If things are over regulated to prevent chaos you run the risk of stifling creativity and new thinking. While I have jaded opinions on things like “creative investing and financing” I think more intellectual endeavors should be more free.

JimV said...

"The removal of regulations against highly risky investments can prevent market collapses or keep them from becoming as serious."

Great comment generally, but I think the above statement got lost in translation, or turned around in mid-thought. That is, I think you meant, "Regulations against highly risky investments ...", not their removal.

Yes, speaking as a USA citizen, things have been getting worse and are very bad. I donate a lot to progressive political candidates, try to vote at every opportunity, and make a nuisance of myself responding to what I consider bad information to friends and on blogs, but it doesn't seem to be working. I suspect I know the answer (or one of them) to Fermi's Paradox.

Lawrence Crowell said...

Erratum. I wrote: In the social framework this seems to hold as well. The removal of regulations against highly risky investments can prevent market collapses or keep them from becoming as serious.

I meant to say that regulations against risky investment and market behavior can prevent such chaos. We are seeing more and more removal of such regulations and constraints, and such deregulation increases the probability or likelihood of such collapses. What I wrote above, and artifact of cut & paste editing, ends up saying the exact opposite.

Uncle Al said...

The Iron Law of Oligarchy: Managed endeavor always becomes management not endeavor. All else is fungible process fluid feeding managers' powers and benefits.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iron_law_of_oligarchy

68,000 tons of hyper0pure liquid argon 1.5 km underground (DUNE) with feed end huge infrastructure are primarily funding and labor. May Betelgeuse go supernova thereafter, popping DUNE's cork with neutrino detections a day before any visible signal. Then, demand three (one extra for maintenance downtimes) more DUNES –(Gran Sasso, South Africa, and southern Australia) to trilaterate the next nearby supernova. This ignores proton decay, thus requiring Hyper-K.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZyjJ4RI1F-Y

Unknown said...

Neo
There is no quota or affirmative action when it comes to faculty appointments. For undergrads and postgrad there is affirmative action. For faculty it is called " building one's empire or empire building"

Olivier Auber said...

A good modelling of groupthink
Groupthink: Collective Delusions in Organizations and Markets
ROLAND BÉNABOU,Princeton University.
https://www.princeton.edu/~rbenabou/papers/Review%20of%20Economic%20Studies-2013-Benabou-429-62.pdf

neo said...

Bee,

what I have in mind is Harvard physics department petitions Harvard University there's a need to maintain Harvard at the cutting edge of physics research, which requires Harvard to tap into its $28 billion to fund a new QG physics department, to hire non-string QG researchers like LQG AS et al.

there's also alumni and the government research grants as additional sources of funding.

in the 80s and 90s, physics departments AND universities found a way to pay for string theorists at Harvard Yale Stanford MIT Princeton etc. as Daniel Friedman recounted when he was approached by Rutgers.

How do you explain the existence of string theory research groups, faculty, and grad students at those physics departments, established in the 1980's and 90s?






Space Time said...

It is easy to complain about others or the group, but if you have to be honest how many of your papers are up to standard?

Thomas Schaefer said...

Hmm. The situation in HEP is so bad that the only apt analogies are Nazis and mortgage brokers?

We should obviously encourage diversity of thought. That is the right thing to do for many reasons, not the least being the experience of our students and postdocs. But I am skeptical of our ability to "engineer" vibrant areas of research. When I was a student AMO was in the doldrums, now it is active and vibrant. Was that because AMO had to emerge from atomic structure group think? Could it have happened faster, if only our reward systems function better? Maybe, but I doubt it.

rene anand said...

Sabine, brilliant, and thank you!

You have hit the nail on the head with your incisive analysis. Thats exactly why we now have a $trillion dollar Alzheimer's problem on our hands and NO solution. You can fool Nature (journal and reviewers), but not real nature!

Its not just group think, it out and out collusion and corruption among the aristocratic scientists who control the AD field and serve on funding panels to maintain their funding, at least in the US.

Kris Krogh said...

In response to Xavier Llobet, Don Foster wrote:

Your comment that the 2008 mortgage bubble was caused by the Community Reinvestment Act and its promotion of lending in impoverished neighborhoods is in itself a reflection on the dangers of group think.

As Don described, this is another example of a disproven idea that keeps coming back. Economist Paul Krugman has a label for such things, which I think would be very much at home in the field of physics. "Zombie ideas." He writes:

Zombie ideas — a phrase I originally saw in the context of myths about Canadian health care — are policy ideas that keep being killed by evidence, but nonetheless shamble relentlessly forward, essentially because they suit a political agenda.

The controversy over the withdrawal by the Congressional Research Service of a report showing no connection between tax cuts for the rich and economic growth is a reminder that in U.S. politics, at least, the tax cuts/growth notion is the ultimate zombie idea...

xavier llobet said...

Cyberax, JimV, Kris, Don,

Thanks for your corrections/observations and references. While I was not convinced at 100%, I was not aware that "my" explanation (provided by an USAn friend, usually reliable) was so contested. Too bad, it was neat and simple.

And now I crawl back under my rock.

Michael John Sarnowski said...

Social movements are too difficult to predict, good or bad. This is why I believe masters and doctorate people must take more statistics classes, and better yet understand the limitations of statistics. Too many people think controlling for five or six variables is enough to get good actionable conclusions. The truth is, is that there are thousands of variables to control for. The movement to standardize everything in life and make a one world government flies in the face of what evolution has done. Evolution has made tens of millions of species. Diversity is the solution that nature has succeeded with over hundreds of millions of years. It has succeeded through horrible disasters and changes. It just isn't physics people who want to make wholesale changes to society through their findings. It is probably the community of education and not their academic research that makes thing better. Just like community of any other organization that helps contribute to societal stability. It is way too impossible to predict the next Nazis or Hitler, but clearly getting on the bandwagon is one of the contributing factors to bringing about the next Nazis or Hitler.

barry_NZ said...

While this is true, I think I see an element of groupthink in commentators rushing to agree with you :)

scientists can be an argumentative lot, and at conferences people will raise alternatives, and generally not be too roundly condemned.

There are plenty of contrarians around and they don't all get chased into the shadows (although most belong there).

The scientific name for groupthink is "paradigm" and it takes a lot of evidence to induce a paradigm shift. Sometimes theories persist long after the evidence against them is clear. But on the other hand we need a shared understanding to be able make any progress.

Please fix up the propensity to publish based on poor technique (or paid bias), and make it clear which articles are opinion and which science, but let us not throw out the baby with the bathwater.

senanindya said...

My two cents:
The overproduction of papers ultimately arises from an overproduction of PhDs.
Universities love grad students as cheap labour, but post-PhD, they need to be eliminated as there aren't enough permanent positions- hence the ridiculous "publish or perish" system leading to piles of junk papers.

So maybe the problem can be removed at the source ? Stop all funding for grad students and make it illegal to teach undergrads using grad students or postdocs rather than permanent staff. (This can be implemented in government funded universities at least.)

For a start, PhD programs will implode and senior academics won't be able to artificially enhance their CVs by putting their names on students' papers.
In the medium term, this will end the rat race for academic positions and the junk publications that go with it.
In the long term, the academic community will shrink as well - but great advances were made in physics when the community was a fraction of the current size, so that's probably a good thing.

No Please, Thank You said...

You can't just look at a bunch of collision events and make a list of every particle being produced. For better or worse we depend on theorists to give us specific predictions to check - maybe a revolution in data analysis could change this, but it hasn't happened yet. As a result, as far as collider experimentalists are concerned it doesn't matter what methods theorists are using to dream up theories: as long as they are indeed falsifiable they are perfectly good guesses that we can check. Eventually someone will guess a particle that's there, and we'll have another discovery.

Complaining that theorists aren't well-motivated in their guesses only makes sense to do if you think that somehow, through a different philosophical approach, they could be guessing right more often. People that believe in "natural theories" clam to have done this. At worst they're randomly guessing things. So, as a result, if they are holding back science by seeking natural theories, then there must be another target that's better than random, which we might as well rename as natural-ness again. This implies that if they're wrong about natural-ness being the thing to look for in theories, then they can't be worse than random!

You might say, what if reality is against their feelings of natural-ness and by trying to write down natural theories they are avoiding the truth? In that case, they would succeed by inverting their sense of natural-ness, calling that the new natural-ness, and continuing to try for "natural" theories.

Don Lincoln said...

Sabine...

I agree with some of what you said, but I disagree with one statement and that was that there is no evidence for unification. I'll grant you that we don't know if grand unification is a thing, but we certainly do know of many examples of unification, e.g. celestial and terrestrial gravity, electricity and magnetism, electromagnetism and the weak force. There is a trend and, when we project the coupling strength of the known forces as a function of energy, they look as if they merge at high energy.

Prior success of a technique is not by any means a guarantee of future success, but I think you overstated your criticism.

Regarding your broader point about naturalness and beauty in theories, well I agree with all of that. Most of my colleagues would as well. I have often wondered if it is your community, which I take to be predominantly theoretical physicists, in which these attitudes that bother you so much reside. In the experimental community, we don't take any of you guys all that seriously. We'll test your ideas, sure. But we've seen too many crazy ideas to believe in any of them. While it's true that we expected to find the Higgs and hoped to find SUSY, most of our searches now are simply looking for deviations from the Standard Model in potentially-interesting places. (I'll grant you that a paper is more easily published if we can kill a theory, but it's not like we believe the theories when we do the analysis.)

And it is true that we use theoretical prejudices to convince funding agencies to support building equipment. But really we are just explorers, looking to see what we see.

I've pre-ordered your book and look forward to seeing if there is some unanticipated insight in it.

Unknown said...

The nazis did not execute those Jews, they murdered them.

Paul Hayes said...

milkshake, "This was in happier times (1963)"

Bert Schroer speaks of (the loss of) "a lively Streitkultur" that existed in those days. "A positive effect of this often somewhat rough way of communicating was that futile or erroneous ideas [...] could not survive for more than a decade."

Small town physics "Streitkultur" evolved into big city physics "street gang culture". :D

Sabine Hossenfelder said...

Space Time,

Be my judge. My publications are no secret.

Sabine Hossenfelder said...

Don,

I actually quite like the idea of unification. Especially the issue with the Weinberg angle has always intrigued me. Having said that, I don't see why the couplings should unify in one place (rather than in two), and also, if you have additional particles coming up between here and there the running will change. One of the consequences of this is that it can screw up asymptotic freedom. See eg this paper which shows what the particle content of the MSSM, SO(10), SU(5) does to the fixed-point values (see table I).


B.

Sabine Hossenfelder said...

No Please,

I've head this "argument" before and we both know it's rubbish. Most of the papers are never touched by an experimentalist and play zero role in data analysis. Sure, you need some models, good or bad, to learn how to identify a potential signal. Nobody doubts that. Best,

B.

Unknown said...

Michael Eisen, a biologist from UC Berkeley. His views

http://www.michaeleisen.org/blog/?p=1967

Replace Francis Collins as NIH Director

http://www.michaeleisen.org/blog/?p=1931

Exploring the relationship between gender and author order and composition in NIH-funded research.

Clara, once known as Nemo said...

Unknown,

you write "The nazis did not execute those Jews, they murdered them.". If you lived in Germany, you would know that
in Germany, like in many countries, we take the commandment "Thou shalt not kill" seriously: also the state has no right to kill.
In Germany, like in many countries, we are convinced that killing somebody is not a good idea. For us, it is an example of groupthink that killing by a person is bad, but that killing by the state is allowed.

In Germany we had such horrible experiences wich killing by the state, that we abolished it and will keep it abolished for the rest of time. Nobody has the right to kill. Not even hangmen or other executors. That is our deep conviction. The fact that you try to distinguish between murder and execution is an example of groupthink: we had that distinction in Germany in our atrocious past - but we are proud to have abolished this distinction in our judicial system.

Our world is full of people who do horrible things while having the best of justifications. Group-justifications gone wrong are common. In Germany, we think that every person has the right to live, because every person has a good side to it. Please understand this view, which is deeply rooted in our value system.

Sabine's text indeed highlights more examples of group think that appear at first sight.

neo said...

Bee,

suppose that observational and experimental evidence establishes a non-string QG theory like LQC prediction in CMB, these predictions are BSM differ from GR + SM, and only that framework, in this example LQC, is able to predict.

what should physics departments do with a successful BSM QG prediction, in this case LQC correctly and uniquely predicting some features of CMB

No Please, Thank You said...

Sabine,

I don't think theorists can tell in advance which theories will produce predictions that are reachable with present-day machines. Usually they don't find out that their new particle can only be ruled out at one hundred million GeV until the very end, at which point they've done so much work that they might as well publish (even if for no other reason than warning others away). I know in one case I'm (a little) familiar with it took six years and many papers before they were even confident that the theory was consistent much less reachable by *any* machine. This, combined with the fact that we just don't have enough analysts (the flux of new data and new theories is greater than the speed of data analysis, even after you take out obviously unreachable theories), explains the fact that most papers don't get cited by experiments.

Unknown said...

Jeffery Hall Nobelist 2017 interview in 2008 below
Gives his take on Vanity journals.

https://www.cell.com/current-biology/fulltext/S0960-9822(07)02369-X

Q :You sound especially grumpy about scientific luminaries: why?

A: I can't help feel that some of these ‘stars’ have not really earned their status. I wonder whether certain such anointees are ‘famous because they're famous.’ So what? Here's what: they receive massive amounts of support for their research, absorbing funds that might be better used by others. As an example, one would-be star boasted to me that he'd never send a paper from his lab to anywhere but Nature, Cell, or Science. These submissions always get a foot in the door, at least. And they are nearly always published in one of those magazines — where, when you see something you know about, you realize that it's not always so great.

Celebrity ‘PI's,’ who are no longer Professors, have too much in the way of lavished resources — by which I mean too much money to do good work! They can and do hire very large numbers of workers, but it is at-best difficult closely to interact with and properly to supervise these bloated numbers of personnel. Such Actual Investigators (AIs) cannot easily gain their boss's attention; and the latter is unable to provide the required close, ongoing scrutiny of their research. There is huge pressure on the overworked, anxious AI to bring something ‘great’ to the boss, who wants everything to go to a vanity journal. One outcome of these antics is that some bizarre stuff is salted throughout this overly conspicuous subset of the literature.

Unknown said...


Inglorious Nobelist James Watson and his low hip shots!! Such characters are toasted for their birthday!!!!.

https://liorpachter.wordpress.com/2018/05/18/james-watson-in-his-own-words/

Sabine Hossenfelder said...

No Please,

Why did you work on it?

naivetheorist said...

bee:

off-topic (i often am). re your article "The Case for Strong emergence" where your closing sentence is:

"I herewith grant you permission to believe in free will again."

query: Do I have a choice about believing in free will?

LOL

reminder: only 3 weeks until publication.

naive theorist

Space Time said...

Well, I thought my question was judgmental by itself. But since you give me permission here goes. Just because your papers are part of a smaller group that doesn't mean that the complaints you have in this blogpost do not apply to them. In my opinion, by reading a few of your papers, I think they contribute to the general noise and have very little scientific value. So why do you write them and contribute to the overproduction of low quality papers?

JimV said...

Xavier Llobet, thanks for your reply, and don't worry about being mistaken on the Internet, it has happened to a close approximation of everybody. (Certainly to me.) It is good that you do seem to worry though as it will be an incentive to check what people tell you (including what I tell you) before repeating it. (As it has been for me.)

Sabine Hossenfelder said...

Space Time,

Everyone has cognitive biases, that of course includes myself. Stunning that you managed to miss that point. Thanks for your, erm, "judgement". Now tell me what reason you have to trust your judgement.

akidbelle said...

Hi Sabine, Space-time,

apparently, considering the noise, and the full agreement of about everyone on their own judgement, natural selection is the only way of progress that remains... Then of course it's slow. (Without a meteor we would be dinosaurs... what next?)

Best,
J.

Sabine Hossenfelder said...

akidbelle,

If you have no hypothesis that can be selected, there won't be no selection.

JimV said...

I have an off-topic comment on NaiveTheorist's off-topic comment, which led me to find and read your "Strong Emergence" article. Which was very interesting.

My comment is that your counter-example function assumes a universe with infinitely-continuous (infinitely-divisible) quantities. If instead of a continuous function and its Taylor Series you had discrete values and a finite-difference equation, the first, second, third, etc. differences would not be zero (except for the trivial case). So I think your proof would not apply to a universe in which time, space, life, the universe and everything was discrete and finite. I tend to think our universe might be that way (it makes more sense to me on an intuitive level, which of course is worth only what you paid for it), so for my part I withdraw permission for NT to think he or she has free will.

(My thinking is partly inspired by engineering experience. We use Calculus to solve differential equations of the Theory of Elasticity and Vibration to design bridges, buildings, and machines as though their materials were infinitely continuous, which of course they aren't, especially alloys whose grain sizes can be seen by the naked eye. So I know, and Numerical Analysis confirms this, that Calculus is an excellent approximation to discrete systems when the discrete increments are small.)

Kris Krogh said...

Xavier Llobet,

We all make mistakes, but honesty like yours is rare and valuable. Please don't crawl under a rock!

akidbelle said...

Sabine, yes of course.

I also wondered about the group-think selection. In principle, its only reason is group survival (funding, killing, mafias, ads..). Sure you see a lot about that.

Best,
J.

Space Time said...

"Now tell me what reason you have to trust your judgement."

As I said, I have read some of your papers. It may be that I have only seen the weaker ones, point me to the ones you hold in high esteem, but they all seemed like an exercise for a first year graduate student, good for training but not mach to add to physics.

Sabine Hossenfelder said...

Space Time,

You are missing the point. I am asking you what reason you have to assume that your judgement for what "adds to physics" is objective.

Space Time said...

And why are you asking me that? My question was, if you complain about something, why do you contribute to that something? If you claim that you don't then can you tell me why do you think that you don't?

Sabine Hossenfelder said...

Space Time,

You are discarding my work as useless based on your personal judgement. This judgement has formed over your education in the field, assuming you have one. I am asking you how do you know that your judgement is not influenced by what you have seen other people do, or your noticing that I do not work on large research programs, and am not a top-cited researcher. You don't know.

Neither do I know to what extent peer pressure influences my judgement. At least I try not to use arguments form beauty. Not always successfully I will admit. Best,

B.

Space Time said...

Sabinie,

You are avoiding my question and instead asking me a question! I will give you an answer, but can you first answer my question.

Best,
(M,g)

Tony Smith said...

As to groupthink to you think it would be helpful if large collaborations were more open?

Specifically:

If an outsider to a collaboration (such as ATLAS or CMS) would like to see a histogram of events for a spceific energy range and channel in the 2017 LHC run2 and the histogram exists as collaboration work product but has not been published to the public then should the collaboration show the histogram to the outsider ?

If an insider inside a collaboration sees a histogram that has not been published to the public and has a (perhaps unconventional) interpretation of it then should the insider be permitted to discuss in public the insider's (perhaps unconventional) interpretation so long as the insider makes it clear that it is only a personal opinion and not an official collaboration view ?

If such collaboration policy changes would be useful, is there any way for outsiders or unconventional insiders to encourage collaboration rule-makers to change policy ?

Tony

t h ray said...

B,

You've whetted my appetite for your book. I'm sure I'll find it tasty, and challenging.
Best,
Tom

Unknown said...

Groups as you say can corner citations and increase h index. This leads to polarisation in academics, institute wise, country wise loyalty. The best place to see this metrics drama is in USA.

How do you increase your h factor?
Make friends
h factors increase with the number of co-authors, presumably because they will all cite papers in their own output, so it is advisable to make friends early and to add co-authors who contribute enough, but not too much. Age also makes a difference as time allows more citations to be added to your existing portfolio even if you publish no more papers.
A formal citation pact would probably count as fraud if discovered, but there is no harm
in giving friends a leg up on the understanding that they will return the compliment.
Thus, squeezing in a mention of disclosure, citing (Korsbeck, 2013) would improve her h
rating, and we could informally suggest ways in which she could recompense us in her
next paper.

A case of fraud well explained in the reference below.

Take the case of Ike Antkare who was outed as a fake in 2010 in a paper purporting
to be written by himself (Labbé, 2010). At that time, he had 102 publications and an h-index of 94 which at that time was less than Freud, (h-index of 183), but better than Einstein in the 36th position with a h-index of 84. Using one of the other Google metrics, the hm-index, Ike Antkare was in the sixth position outclassing all scientists in his field (computer science). This referenced all the other papers generated. All that had to happen to be included on Google Scholar was to refer in the paper to a paper already referenced in Google Scholar. Once on Google Scholar, of course, there were then references to Ike in all the other metrics generating systems.

Reference
Journal of Mental Health, 2013; 22(6): 467–473
© 2013 Informa UK, Ltd.
ISSN: 0963-8237 print / ISSN 1360-0567 online
DOI: 10.3109/09638237.2013.850153

Sabine Hossenfelder said...

Space Time,

I answered all your questions. You ask why do I ask you that? Because clearly you didn't understand the point of my blogpost. You ask if I complain about something why do I contribute to that something. In case you mean by "something" worthless research based on arguments from beauty, I don't. In case you mean by "something" social pressure, this isn't something I can change easily. This blogpost and my book are my attempts to improve the situation. In case you meant whether I am affected by social coherence, of course I am.

Now please answer my question. You have produced a "judgement" void of scientific content and do not hesitate to inform all my readers about your great insights. What makes you think your judgement is objective?

Sabine Hossenfelder said...

Unknown,

I wrote about this paper here.

Space Time said...

Sabine,

Let me get this straight. So, in this blogpost, you are ranting about worthless research based on arguments from beauty or from group think, or from fashion, or social pressure and what to do about it. But you have no issue with worthless research as long it isn't based on any of the above. For example if some one writes worthless papers because that's the best he can do then it is ok?

As for my judgment, don't forget that you asked me about, you said "be my judge".

"You are discarding my work as useless based on your personal judgement. This judgement has formed over your education in the field, assuming you have one. I am asking you how do you know that your judgement is not influenced by what you have seen other people do, or your noticing that I do not work on large research programs, and am not a top-cited researcher. You don't know."

Well, you guessed wrong. It is not based on any of that. There are a few reasons. One I already mentioned (how did you miss it). I have read some of your papers and they all are very trivial. As I said exercises for a first year grad student. Now that is worthless in my book. If a grad student, any not just a very brilliant one, can do that then it isn't worth publishing. Of course, I said that as well, I may have missed you best papers. Can you point them to me? Is this good enough or do you need more reasons?

As to your readers, you don't have to worry. Most of them will not read your papers and will dismiss my comments as the whining of the blog's curmudgeon (every blog has one). Those that can read them don't need my evaluation, they can form their own opinion. I bet, because of politeness, they will not share their thoughts.

(M,g)

Sabine Hossenfelder said...

Space Time,

"So, in this blogpost, you are ranting about worthless research based on arguments from beauty or from group think, or from fashion, or social pressure and what to do about it. But you have no issue with worthless research as long it isn't based on any of the above. For example if some one writes worthless papers because that's the best he can do then it is ok?"

It is unavoidable that some fraction of published research will turn out to be worthless. What I say is that scientists should try to avoid bad methodology because that will increase the fraction of useless papers above what is necessary. And the higher the fraction, the less likely we will pick promising hypotheses to put them to test. Bad methodology can be reinforced by group think. Hence, I say, take measures to limit the impact of group think. I actually don't think that's a particularly provocative point of view.

Arguments from beauty are a particular example for bad methodology. I can't change my brain, and I can't change the community all by myself, but I can try to at least not use methods I know aren't scientific.

"Well, you guessed wrong. It is not based on any of that."

*bangs head on desk*

"I have read some of your papers and they all are very trivial."

This is a great compliment for me. I am a big fan of minimalism.

"As I said exercises for a first year grad student."

Physics isn't an equation-shitting contest. You are probably also the kind of person who walks through a museum and proclaims your child could have done that.

"As to your readers, you don't have to worry. Most of them will not read your papers and will dismiss my comments as the whining of the blog's curmudgeon (every blog has one). Those that can read them don't need my evaluation, they can form their own opinion. I bet, because of politeness, they will not share their thoughts."

I sincerely hope they will not dismiss your comments, but read them for what they are: An stunningly ignorant example for the exact problem I am pointing out. You state boldly that group-think is only something that other people are subject to. It of course does not affect you. Your judgement is based on entirely objective criteria. For example, the more difficult a calculation, the more promising a hypothesis.

I don't really see the point in mentioning what I think my best papers are, so let me instead tell you what I am currently working on: Follow-ups on this and that.

And now how about you give us a link to your publication list? Certainly you will be interested in my judgement?

Best,

B.

JimV said...

My subjective opinion is that Space Time's comments in this thread have been a waste of space and time.

The Internet would be a much more valuable place if people would ask themselves before submitting, is this comment interesting or necessary? Comments that merely disagree with someone else's right to have and express an opinion rarely are.

Theophanes Raptis said...

I would say that the whole SpaceTime dialogue is pretty much an amusing proof by example of the hidden autoritarianism inherent in institutionalized research, as much as it was for other previously powerful institutions like say, Pope against Galilei and such. Some reread of Michelle Foucault's writings could be useful at this point. Then again, modern institutions are no less influenced by the same postivist utilitarianism, the instrumental rationality of modern capitalsim for which, all of us we SHOULD be disciplined robots even if there was some free sill after all, but no more robots than necessary for gauging each other's eye out - for the amusement of our elite.

Arun said...

https://liorpachter.wordpress.com/tag/columbus-egg/

Quote: "Looking back at my own career, some of the most satisfying projects have been Amerindian eggs, projects where I was lucky to participate in collaborations leading to ideas that were obvious (after the fact). Nowadays I know I’ve hit the mark when I receive the most authentic of compliments: “your work is trivial!” or “was widely known in the field“, as I did recently after blogging about plagiarism of key ideas from kallisto. However I’m still waiting to hear the ultimate compliment: “everything you do is obvious and was already known!”"

sean s. said...

B.;

I hope it is obvious that you are free to do here as you wish, but it is my opinion that Space Time's stubborn obtuseness gives you permission to ignore further comments from them. Any further responses are likely to be futile.

It’s not as if you’ve ignored Space Time’s inane questions. It appears that Space Time came here for a fight; there’s no reason to oblige.

You certainly don’t need my permission or anyone else’s; and no one needs an excuse to ignore pointless comments; but there’s no reason to contribute to the noise Space Time is generating.

I don’t want to overstep...

With respect;

sean s.

Ian Miller said...

The issue of "trivial" is interesting. The argument that a grad student could come up with those mathematics is totally beside the point. To me, the more "trivial" the mathematics, the more people will understand what your are saying, and surely that is what is important. Science should not be about "Who has the most complicated maths?" In my view, they should be the least complicated possible, consistent with getting the job done. The real question about a paper is, does it offer anything new, or take us somewhere where we would not have otherwise gone. And I happen to agree that everybody jumping on the latest bandwagon tends to be done solely for the purpose of getting the number of publications up. Not all band wagons are going in the right direction, and anything that inhibits real thinking should be discouraged.

Unknown said...

Actually, Space Time has given Bee an opportunity to surface another example of how one can be "lost in math," that is, by assuming that a theoretical result must use difficult math in order to be worthwhile. If one believed that all the worthwhile results that could be gotten with simpler methods had already been derived, then this heuristic might make sense, but that seems like a very strong assumption to make.

Jody Geiger said...

Sabine, I do look forward to better understanding the contents of your book. I can only infer the contents from a variety of sources. But I'm curious.

If a quantum model of physics (i.e. Measurement Quantization) were already published would this have a positive or negative effect on your book? Would it improve or degrade the academy's disposition in group-think? And would not such research motivate theorists to be less "Lost in Math" which brings me back to the first question?

Thanks, Jody

PS: Congrats on the honorable mention with the Gravity Research Foundation.

Sabine Hossenfelder said...

Jody,

It would have no effect on my book. Thanks to the congrats; that essay actually was a student exercise ;o) Best,

B.

Paul Hayes said...

Jody Geiger,

A "quantum model of physics" (i.e. a model of probability, sensibly interpreted and applied to physics) is already (long-) published. Despite this, there is what Ray Streater called a "quantum paradox community", lost in [stupid misinterpretations of] the math, diligently churning out probably useless and certainly mindless dross on an industrial scale.

akidbelle said...

Hi all,

I strongly disagree with most comments on Space Time sayings. Not that I agree with those comments. I do not think it was for a fight; worse and much more vicious.

To me it is a typical example where the contestant (Space Time) is shitting gasligther craps so that those who take time to think honestly will, to the very least, be busy cleaning the place. As we know, that is a very efficient line of destruction and, as a minimum, it will make the honest guys busy for a while.

Best,
J.

Phillip Helbig said...

"You are probably also the kind of person who walks through a museum and proclaims your child could have done that."

I see where you are coming from here, but that is a bad example in this case. It is easy to spot crackpot, or misguided, or confused, papers, or those that don't take recent advances into account. With some art, it is literally true that your child could have done it; there is no objective criterion for quality. I'm reminded of the experiment where paintings by an ape were exhibited, and the critics wrote their usual bullshit praising the artist. (There is also the story about an artist who visited his own exhibit and complained that the painting was upside down.) Actually, modern art is probably the best example of group think. No-one, regardless of how much knowledge they have, can distinguish the "good" from the "bad" artists, unless he knows how the group thinks. The Nat Tate hoax, even though it was fairly obvious, caught some people off-guard. And of course the Sokal hoax hit some folks really hard.

Mighty Drunken said...

Group think gets a lot of bad press but it is using a useful heuristic. If you are about to embark on something that you can't easily know the answer to, like where is the best place to invest my money. One obvious answer is to see what other people are doing. Of course there are pitfalls to this, one should check back with reality to see if it really is a good idea.

When it comes to science, it makes sense to me that funding bodies should purposefully fund different paths to solve a problem. If everyone is trying to solve the problem with the same method it suggests to me that there is at least a lot of wasted, repeated effort. If the popular path is wrong then it was all for nothing.

Space Time said...

Ok, it seems that my comments have caused a lot of grievance to some people, or at least a waste of time. So I would like to apologies to them. I will not pursue my point any more. I'd like to clarify one point. I didn't say that the more difficult the maths the better the physics. I said something logically independent, namely that if the maths is trivail and a grad student can easily do it then it is not worth publishing. Just an opinion, you can disagree with it.

(M,g)

rms said...

dear Space Time,
no need to apologize. it seemed to me that her comments had caused a lot of grievance to you.
I do not know where this "grad student" kind of test comes from, but as mathematicians used to say, theorems are either not yet been proven, or trivial. of course the whole landau & lifshitz books should be but an exercise to a grad student at some point, and their math trivial. that was never the point of the post I think. the point was if it is possible to say if a work is going to be irrelevant even before it is published just because of a manifestly wrong methodology or ideology---this, irrespective of the virtuosity or lack thereof, of the math or the philosophical arguments.
rms

Wes Hansen said...

Paul Hayes says, "Despite this, there is what Ray Streater called a "quantum paradox community", lost in [stupid misinterpretations of] the math, diligently churning out probably useless and certainly mindless dross on an industrial scale." And the "churning out" link leads to a wonderful article in SciAm about a goddamn EXPERIMENT! How fucking ironic on this particular blog post - I love it and it's certainly typical! Let me guess Hayes, it was:

"Through the lens of the TSVF, Elitzur says, this flickering, ever-changing existence can be understood as a series of events in which a particle’s presence in one place is somehow “canceled” by its own “counterparticle” in the same location. He compares this with the notion introduced by British physicist Paul Dirac in the 1920s who argued particles possess antiparticles, and if brought together, a particle and antiparticle can annihilate each other. This picture at first seemed just a manner of speaking but soon led to the discovery of antimatter. The disappearance of quantum particles is not “annihilation” in this same sense but it is somewhat analogous—these putative counterparticles, Elitzur posits, should possess negative energy and negative mass, allowing them to cancel their counterparts."

that got your asshole all puckered up!?! Group think extreme!!!! Yeah, yeah, there is no quantum mystery; I mean, fuck, Feynman even said himself, he won the Nobel precisely for sweeping the mystery under the rug, right? We musn't let a few inconvenient experiments get in the way of dogmatic bullshit, isn't that right Rappaport?

I follow the work of a solitary and original thinker who tends to ramble enthusiastic when it comes to Dirac's negative energy sea and every time I mention his work or link to his papers the group gets agitated; they call him a crank, although generally not to his face! The last time I quoted one of his papers here on Backreaction, Sabine declared war, WAR I say, on me by siccing Rappaport, Rappaport - I mean, my god, how disrespectful, on me and directing my attention to this lovely music video; never mind that "Heilung" is German for "healing process," it was still a lovely engagement - although not near grotesque enough as His Highness Uncle Al would say. I wonder what she'd do for an Encore!?!

And speaking of statistics, Hacker News recently linked to a nice article about a novel statistical analysis which shows that Slick Willie wasn't only responsible for the cum stain on the blue dress, the 2008 financial meltdown, the exponential growth in America's prison population, and the on-going opioid devastation, he's also the dirty rotten imbecile who decimated America's manufacturing sector! The group tends to think those of us who work in robotics and automation are somehow responsible so I, for one, am happy this Houseman lady (obviously not a group thinker) clarified things.

And as far as John Baez being "a cool guy," I can relate some tales indicating the contrary - but then I'm not a member of the group for certain. I mean, holy fuck you know, hypocrisy may not be the greatest of all logical fallacies but it's damn certain the ugliest!

Watch Jim V., if Hossenfelder doesn't moderate this he's going to go insult Peter Woit on Woit's own blog - but yet he has the audacity . . . Well, anyway, nice post Sabine . . .

Lawrence Crowell said...

I can think of one big example of where Space Time is wrong. In the early 20th century the work of Poincare and others was very mathematically advanced. Einstein published his paper on special relativity in 1905 that employed rather basic if not outright elementary mathematics.

Kris Krogh said...

Phillip Helbig,

"My child could have done that," is hardly an original criticism for a piece of museum art. Does someone who needs to parrot that expression strike you as a creative, original thinker familiar with the artistic process?

For a different take on the Sokal affair, see Mara Beller's "The Sokal Hoax: At Whom are We Laughing?"

https://www.mathematik.uni-muenchen.de/~bohmmech/BohmHome/sokalhoax.html

For those with access to the original article in Physics Today, that includes some wonderful caricatures drawn by George Gamow of Niels Bohr lecturing to a handcuffed and gagged Lev Landau, and another of Wolfgang Pauli as Mephistopheles in the story of Faust:

https://physicstoday.scitation.org/doi/10.1063/1.882436

Space Time said...

Lawrence,

Your example doesn't change my opinion. Einstein's work was not elementary to do. It may be easy to learn, but if you pose the problem to grad students who are completely unfamiliar wit relativity they will not be able to solve it. At least not all, not even most. My opinion is still the same if a grad student can easily do it himself (not just follow, but actually do it) then it isn't worth publishing.

(M,g)

Phillip Helbig said...

"My child could have done that," is hardly an original criticism for a piece of museum art. Does someone who needs to parrot that expression strike you as a creative, original thinker familiar with the artistic process?

Saying someone is "parroting" something just because he agrees with someone else or uses an expression someone has used before is not a valid criticism, at least if, as here, it is used correctly. What is "the artistic process"? Much modern art is bullshit, mental masturbation, an attempt to impress people. It has nothing to do with conventional art. Even the "experts" can't distinguish real from bogus without meta-information.

For a different take on the Sokal affair, see Mara Beller's "The Sokal Hoax: At Whom are We Laughing?"

Been there, read that; it misses the point.

sean s. said...

Space Time;

I didn't say that the more difficult the maths the better the physics. I said something logically independent, namely that if the maths is trivail and a grad student can easily do it then it is not worth publishing.

That seems contradictory, unless you think there is “good physics” not worth publishing.

If the difficulty of the math is independent of the “goodness” of the physics; then the decision to publish or not should be independent of the difficulty of the math.

My opinion is ... if a grad student can easily do it himself (not just follow, but actually do it) then it isn't worth publishing.

I don’t see any reason to decide on the quality or value of the work based on the grade-level of the writer. High-school kids can and sometimes have made important contributions to the STEM fields; there’s no good reason to be biased against grad students.

I assume you don’t actually have a bias against grad students; if my assumption is correct then you are not saying what you really mean.

sean s.

Space Time said...

sean s.

I am not sure what was unclear. If the maths is trival then it isn't worth publishing, it doesn't say anything about the case when the maths is not trival. It might be worth publishing or it might not be.

You also misunderstood what I wrote about grad students. I said if any grad student can do it then it is not worth writing it up. I also said that there are brilliant grad students, but if any can do it, well how hard can it be.

(M,g)

JeanTate said...

Something missing: independent discoveries, especially in observational astronomy.

They can be made by anyone with the right equipment, which may be nothIng more than a PC, a good internet connection, and some free software. The online astronomy datasets include many excellent surveys, many of which have not been well “mined” for outliers and “something odds”. And that’s not counting what amateur astronomers occasionally find, with their “backyard telescopes”.

You don’t need to be even an undergrad student to make such discoveries, though nearly all need access to serious telescope time to verify and extend. And the barriers to getting anything like these discoveries published, even in MNRAS, are very high, unless you have “an institutional affiliation”.

There’s an AURA paper from a year or two on this, Marshall+? Am unable to search for it just now, let alone post links.

sean s. said...

Space Time;

If the maths is trival then it isn't worth publishing, it doesn't say anything about the case when the maths is not trival. It might be worth publishing or it might not be.

This leaves only two options:

1. you ARE saying that “the more difficult the maths the better the physics” (which you have denied), or
2. your comment is trivial and insignificant.

This binary choice is because there is no clear, objective line between “trivial” and “not trivial” math. This makes your comment useless, trivial and insignificant. If it’s not, please explain.

You also misunderstood what I wrote about grad students. I said if any grad student can do it then it is not worth writing it up. I also said that there are brilliant grad students, but if any can do it, well how hard can it be.

Again, you imply there’s a clear, objective line that in fact does not exist.

Is there any math that 100% of all grad students can do? That is what “any” means: 100%

If I asked you what percentage or fraction of grad students had to be unable to do some math in order to qualify a physics paper for publishing, you’d probably reject the question; but how then is your idea utilized? This comment of yours also appears to promote a useless idea; it may also be trivial and insignificant.

By itself, the difficulty of the math should not matter. There’s more to physics than math. The worth of any physics paper is not determined by the math alone.

sean s.

JR said...

The latest blog entry also illustrates how an insightful theorist and critic of the mainstream can display a very serious lack of judgement. Comparing scientific peer-group-pressure-induced bias with the holocaust is a mistake of, at best, extreme political and historic naivity. I assume you will argue that your point is technically correct. To me it seems simplistic and I suspect historians and sociologists studying the holocaust will have a more complex story to tell than "it happened out of peer-group-pressure". But be that as it may, even if you were factually right, the comparison still leaves a very foul flavour in my mouth. The monstrosity of the holocaust is such that picking out a detail from it to make a point about scientific publishing is inappropriate, because it appears to trivialise the crime. Context matters.

a said...

String theory says what?

Kris Krogh said...

Philip Helbig,

I didn't mean anything fancy by "familiar with the artistic process." Just some genuine acquaintance with the sorts of things the artist had to do to create that painting your child could have done.

Of course, like everybody else, I know which art I like and imagine that it means something. But from hanging out with an amazingly talented artist friend, I recently learned I've been suffering a little from the Dunning-Kruger effect. (Incompetence that prevents a person from recognizing his own incompetence.) Maybe it's just me, but I imagine that's also true for most people who say their child could have done what they see in an art museum.

I don't entirely disagree with you about modern art, and don't want to defend it -- any more than I would "modern physics." Both worship at the altar of abstraction for abstraction's sake. However, to the credit of the art and philosophy communities, they found their way past their "modern" phases much more quickly. (I have yet to hear the expression "post-modern physics," but think the current revolution in quantum mechanics will take us there before long.)

Yes, there is group think in the art community, but I don't see the physics community as any better in that respect. You mentioned modern art paintings hung upside-down where nobody seemed to notice. Mara Beller's article points out that in two separate editions of Quantum Theory and Measurement, Wheeler and Zurek, eds., two pages of a seminal paper by Bohr were accidentally transposed -- with the same result.

You say Beller's article criticizing members of the Copenhagen school of quantum mechanics misses the point, where Alan Sokal does not. So, metaphysical nonsense claiming that quantum-mechanical complementarity should be the basis of everything, including the social sciences, is OK as long as it comes from respected physicists?

It's true we owe a huge debt to the physicists of the Copenhagen school. As Heisenberg explained, quantum mechanical measurements become real only when a physicist reads the dial on an experiment. And without such measurements we would not exist. I pray 10 times every day in the direction of Copenhagen, in humble thanks for my existence.

APEppink said...

“Sabine Hossenfelder said...
Tam,

What you write is also my knowledge. The biggest part of the population did at least not officially know about the 'final solution'. But you can't kill hundred-thousands of people without a large number of aids on your side. Best,

B.
11:49 PM, May 18, 2018”

How sadly true. Precisely analogous to the abortion slaughter here in the US and elsewhere.


Phillip Helbig said...

"You say Beller's article criticizing members of the Copenhagen school of quantum mechanics misses the point, where Alan Sokal does not. So, metaphysical nonsense claiming that quantum-mechanical complementarity should be the basis of everything, including the social sciences, is OK as long as it comes from respected physicists?"

No, bullshit is bullshit, no matter where it comes from. The point is that Sokal planted a hoax in a leading journal of the field, whereas the stuff you mention is more or less the private opinion of the people concerned and is neither what they are famous for nor does most of the community think highly of it.

Phillip Helbig said...

"The monstrosity of the holocaust is such that picking out a detail from it to make a point about scientific publishing is inappropriate, because it appears to trivialise the crime."

Groupthink did play a role in the Holocaust. (Most serious historians see the ultimate cause in the Treaty of Versailles, which was much too hard on Germany (which lost the war, but didn't start it.)

However, why does mentioning something in connection with the Holocaust trivialize the crime? No-one compared the state of prisoners in concentration camps to academics today.

This cuts both ways. Out of fear of "trivializing the Holocaust", other (sometimes much larger) genocides are not discussed as often as they should be (Stalin killing several tens of millions, the Armenian genocide, and so on).

Hubert R said...

Quotation:
Read all about the overproduction crisis in the foundations of physics and what you – yes you! – can do to help .....
Does "what you can do - yes you" also apply for normal people or just for scientists ?

kind regards,
Hubert R

Phillip Helbig said...

And the barriers to getting anything like these discoveries published, even in MNRAS, are very high, unless you have “an institutional affiliation”."

Not sure what you mean here. While some journals do require an institutional affiliation, MNRAS does not. And what is "even in MNRAS"? MNRAS is one of the half dozen or so leading journals in the field. Your comment makes it sound like bottom of the barrel.

sean s. said...

JR;

Whether or not a reference (like B’s) trivializes the Holocaust or not is entirely subjective. You are entitled to think it does; I am not so sure myself.

Of course, there was more to the Holocaust than groupthink (“peer-group-pressure”), but there’s always more than just groupthink. However, groupthink is what turns a bad idea into a cult or a horror.

There also is a danger to treating the Holocaust as a “sacred taboo”; we might begin to think it was a one-off. It wasn’t. We might begin to think it was something that cannot happen again, or here. It can.

sean s.