Wednesday, September 28, 2022

I’ve said it all before but here we go again

[I didn't write the title and byline
and indeed didn't see it until it
appeared online.]
For reasons I don’t fully understand, particle physicists have recently started picking on me again for allegedly being hostile, and have been coming at me with their usual ad homimen attacks.

What’s going on? I spent years trying to understand why their field isn’t making progress, analyzing the problem, and putting forward a solution. It’s not that I hate particle physics, it’s rather to the contrary, I think it’s too important to let it die. But they don’t like to hear that their field urgently needs to change direction, so they attack me as the bearer of bad news. 

But trying to get rid of me isn’t going to solve their problem. For one thing, it's not working. More importantly, everyone can see that nothing useful is coming out of particle physics, it’s just a sink of money. Lots of money. And soon enough governments are going to realize that particle physics is a good place to save money that they need for more urgent things. It would be in particle physicists’ own interest to listen to what I have to say.

And I have said this all many times before but I hate long twitter threads, so let me just summarize it in one blogpost:

a) Predictions for fundamentally new phenomena made from new theories in particle physics have all been wrong ever since the completion of the standard model in the 1970s. You have witnessed this ongoing failure in the popular science media. All their ideas were either falsified or they have been turned into eternally amendable and fapp unfalsifiable models, like supersymmetry.

b) Saying that “it’s difficult” explains why they haven’t managed to find new phenomena, but it doesn’t explain why their predictions are constantly wrong. 

c) Scientists should learn from failure. If particle physicists’ method of theory-development isn’t working, they should analyze why, and change their methods. But this isn’t happening.

My answer to why their current method isn’t working is that their new theories (often in the form of new particles) do not solve any problems in the existing theories. They just add unnecessary clutter. When theoretical predictions were correct in the past, they solved problems of consistency (example: the Higgs, anti-particles, neutrinos, general relativity, etc).

Two common misunderstandings: Note that I do NOT say theorists in the past used this argument to make their predictions. I am merely noting in hindsight that’s what they did. It’s what the successful predictions have in common, and we should learn from history. Neither do I say that theoretical predictions were the ONLY way that progress happened. Of course not. Progress can also happen by experimental discoveries. But the more expensive new experiments become, the more careful we have to be about deciding which experiments to make, so we need solid theoretical predictions.

In many cases, particle physicists have made up pseudo-problems that they claim their new particles solve. Pseudo-problems are metaphysical misgivings, often a perceived lack of beauty. A typical example is the alleged problem with the Higgs mass being too small (that was behind the idea that the LHC should see supersymmetry). It’s a pseudo-problem because there is obviously nothing wrong with the Higgs-mass being what it is, seeing that they can very well make predictions with the standard model and its Higgs as it is. 

(I sometimes see particle physicists claiming that supersymmetry “explains” the Higgs-mass. This is bluntly wrong. You cannot calculate the Higgs-mass from supersymmetric models, it remains a free parameter.)

Other pseudo-problems are the baryon asymmetry or the smallness of the cosmological constant etc. I have a list that distinguishes problems from pseudo-problems here.

So my recommendation is that theory development should focus on resolving inconsistencies, and stop wasting time on pseudo-problems. Real problems are eg the lacking quantization of gravity, dark matter, the measurement problem in quantum mechanics, as well as several rather technical issues with quantum mechanics (see the above mentioned list).

When I say “dark matter” I refer to the inconsistency between observation and theory. Note that to solve this problem one does NOT need details of the particles. That’s another point which particle physicists like to misunderstand. You fit the observations with an energy density and that’s pretty much it. You don’t need to fumble together entire “hidden sectors” with “portals” and other nonsense. Come on, people, wake up! This isn’t proper science!

There are several reasons why particle physicists can’t and don’t want to make this change. The most important one is that it would dramatically impede their capability to produce papers. And papers are what keeps grant cycles churning. This is a systemic problem. Next problem is that they can’t believe that what I say can possibly be correct because they have grown up in a community that has taught them their current methods are good. That’s group think in action.

There are solutions to both of these problems, but they require changes from within the community.

Particle physicists, rather unsurprisingly, don’t like the idea that they have to change. Their responses are boringly predictable.

They almost all attack me rather than my argument. Typically they will make claims like I’m just “trying to sell books” or that I “want attention” or that I “like to be contrarian” or that, in one way or another, I don’t know what I am talking about. I yet have to find a particle physicists who actually engaged with the argument I made. Indeed most of them never bother finding out what I said in the first place.

A novel accusation that I recently heard for the first time is that I allegedly refuse to argue with them. A particle physicist claimed on twitter that I had been repeatedly invited to give a seminar at CERN but declined, something she had been told by someone else. This is untrue. I have to my best knowledge never declined an opportunity to talk to particle physicists, even though I have been yelled at repeatedly. I was never invited to give a seminar at CERN. 

The particle physicist who made this claim actually went and asked the main seminar organizers at CERN and they confirmed that I was never invited. She apologized. So it’s all good, except that it documents they have been circulating lies about me in the attempt to question my expertise. (Another symptom of social reinforcement.)

There have also been several instances in the past where particle physicists called senior people at my workplace to complain about me, probably in the hope to intimidate me or to get me fired. It speaks much for my institution that the people in charge exerted no pressure on me. (In other words, don't bother calling them, it’s not going to help.)

The only “arguments” I hear from particle physicists are misunderstandings that I have cleared up thousands of times in the past. Like the dumb claim that inventing particles worked for Dirac. Or that I’m “anti-science” because I think building a bigger collider isn’t a good investment right now.

You would think that scientists should be interested in finding out how their field can make progress, but particle physicists just desperately try to make me go away, as if I was the problem. 

But hey, here’s a pro-tip: If you want to sell books, I recommend you don’t write them about theoretical high energy physics. It’s not a topic that has a huge market. Also, I have way more attention than I need or want. I don’t want attention, I want to see progress. And I don’t like being contrarian, I am just not afraid of being contrarian when it’s necessary.

As a consequence of these recent insults targeted at me, I wrote an opinion piece for the Guardian that appeared on Monday. Please note the causal order: I wrote the piece because particle physicists picked on me in a renewed attempt to justify continuing with their failed methods, not the other way round. 

It's not that I think they will finally see the light. But yeah I’m having fun for sure.

No comments:

Post a Comment

COMMENTS ON THIS BLOG ARE PERMANENTLY CLOSED. You can join the discussion on Patreon.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.