Hello and welcome back to my YouTube channel. Today I want to tell you how particle physicists are wasting your money. I know that’s not nice, but at the end of this video I think you will understand why I say what I say.
What ticked me off this time was a comment published in Nature Physics, by CERN Director-General Fabiola Gianotti and Gian Giudice, who is Head of CERN's Theory Department. It’s called a comment, but what it really is is an advertisement. It’s a sales pitch for their next larger collider for which they need, well, a few dozen billion Euro. We don’t know exactly because they are not telling us how expensive it would be to actually run the thing. When it comes to the question what the new mega collider could do for science, they explain:
“A good example of a guaranteed result is dark matter. A proton collider operating at energies around 100 TeV [that’s the energy of the planned larger collider] will conclusively probe the existence of weakly interacting dark-matter particles of thermal origin. This will lead either to a sensational discovery or to an experimental exclusion that will profoundly influence both particle physics and astrophysics.”Let me unwrap this for you. The claim that dark matter is a guaranteed result, followed by weasel words about weakly interacting and thermal origin, is the physics equivalent of claiming “We will develop a new drug with the guaranteed result of curing cancer” followed by weasel words to explain, well, actually it will cure a type of cancer that exists only theoretically and has never been observed in reality. That’s how “guaranteed” this supposed dark matter result is. They guarantee to rule out some very specific hypotheses for dark matter that we have no reason to think are correct in the first place. What is going on here?
What’s going on is that particle physicists have a hard time understanding that when Popper went on about how important it is that a scientific hypothesis is falsifiable, he did not mean that a hypothesis is scientific just because it is falsifiable. There are lots of falsifiable hypotheses that are clearly unscientific.
For example, YouTube will have a global blackout tomorrow at noon central time. That’s totally falsifiable. If you give me 20 billion dollars, I can guarantee that I can test this hypothesis. Of course it’s not worth the money. Why? Because my hypothesis may be falsifiable, but it’s unscientific because it’s just guesswork. I have no reason whatsoever to think that my blackout prediction is correct.
The same is the case with particle physicists’ hypotheses for dark matter that you are “guaranteed” to rule out with that expensive big collider. Particle physicists literally have thousands of theories for dark matter, some thousandths of which have already been ruled out. Can they guarantee that a next larger collider can rule out some more? Yes. What is the guaranteed knowledge we will gain from this? Well, the same as the gain that we have gotten so far from ruling out their dark matter hypotheses, which is that we still have no idea what dark matter is. We don’t even know it is a particle to begin with.
Let us look again at that quote, they write:
“This will lead either to a sensational discovery or to an experimental exclusion that will profoundly influence both particle physics and astrophysics.”No. The most likely outcome will be that particle physicists and astrophysicsts will swap their current “theories” for new “theories” according to which the supposed particles are heavier than expected. Then they will claim that we need yet another bigger collider to find them. What makes me think this will happen? Am I just bitter or cynical, as particle physicists accuse me? No, I am just looking at what they have done in the past.
For example, here’s an oldie but goldie, a quote from a piece written by string theorists David Gross and Edward Witten for the Wall street journal
“There is a high probability that supersymmetry, if it plays the role physicists suspect, will be confirmed in the next decade.”They wrote this in 1996. Well, clearly that didn’t pan out.
And because it’s so much fun, I want to read you a few more quotes. But they are a little bit more technical, so I have to give you some background first.
When particle physicists say “electroweak scale” or “TeV scale” they mean energies that can be tested at the Large Hadron Collider. When they say “naturalness” they refer to a certain type of mathematical beauty that they think a theory should fulfil.
You see, particle physicists think it is a great problem that theories which have been experimentally confirmed are not as beautiful as particle physicists think nature should be. They have therefore invented a lot of particles that you can add to the supposedly ugly theories to remedy the lack of beauty. If this sounds like a completely non-scientific method, that’s because it is. There is no reason this method should work, and it does as a matter of fact not work. But they have done this for decades and still have not learned that it does not work.
Having said that, here is a quote from Giudice and Rattazzi in 1998. That’s the same Guidice who is one of the authors of the new nature commentary that I mentioned in the beginning. In 1998 he wrote:
“The naturalness (or hierarchy) problem, is considered to be the most serious theoretical argument against the validity of the Standard Model (SM) of elementary particle interactions beyond the TeV energy scale. In this respect, it can be viewed as the ultimate motivation for pushing the experimental research to higher energies.”Higher energies, at that time, were the energies that have now been tested at the Large Hadron Collider. The supposed naturalness problem was the reason they thought the LHC should see new fundamental particles besides the Higgs. This has not happened. We now know that those arguments were wrong.
In 2004, Fabiola Gianotti, that’s the other author of the new Nature Physics comment, wrote:
“[Naturalness] arguments open the door to new and more fundamental physics. There are today several candidate scenarios for physics beyond the Standard Model, including Supersymmetry (SUSY), Technicolour and theories with Extra-dimensions. All of them predict new particles in the TeV region, as needed to stabilize the Higgs mass. We note that there is no other scale in particle physics today as compelling as the TeV scale, which strongly motivates a machine like the LHC able to explore directly and in detail this energy range.”So, she claimed in 2004 that the LHC would see new particles besides the Higgs. Whatever happened to this prediction? Did they ever tell us what they learned from being wrong? Not to my knowledge.
These people were certainly not the only ones who repeated this story. Here is for example a quote from the particle physicist Michael Dine, who wrote in 2007:
“The Large Hadron Collider will either make a spectacular discovery or rule out supersymmetry entirely.”Well, you know what, it hasn’t done either.
I could go on for quite some while quoting particle physicists who made wrong predictions and now pretend they didn’t, but it’s rather repetitive. I have collected the references here. Let us instead talk about what this means.
All these predictions from particle physicists were wrong. There is no shame in being wrong. Being wrong is essential for science. But what is shameful is that none of these people ever told us what they learned from being wrong. They did not revise their methods for making predictions for new particles. They still use the same methods that have not worked for decades. Neither did they do anything about the evident group think in their community. But they still want more money.
The tragedy is I actually like most of these particle physicists. They are smart and enthusiastic about science and for the most part they’re really nice people.
But look, they refuse to learn from evidence. And someone has to point it out: The evidence clearly says their methods are not working. Their methods have led to thousands of wrong predictions. Scientists should learn from failure. Particle physicists refuse to learn.
Particle physicists, of course, are entirely ignoring my criticism and instead call me “anti-science”. Let that sink in for a moment. They call me “anti-science” because I say we should think about where to best invest science funding, and if you do a risk-benefit assessment it is clear that building a bigger collider is not currently a good investment. It is both high risk and low benefit. We would be better off if we'd instead invest in the foundations of quantum mechanics and astroparticle physics. They call me “anti-science” because I ask scientists to think. You can’t make up this shit.
Frankly, the way that particle physicists behave makes me feel embarrassed I ever had anything to do with their field.