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Off to London March 25, 2007

Posted by dorigo in astronomy, personal, science, travel.
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This morning I am flying to London for the conference on Cosmology held at Imperial College. Here is their poster:

Weather in London this week is going to be fair. I wonder how cloudy it will be in the conference room, since I intend to miss no talks this time. It should be quite interesting… And the final treat will be Louise’s contribution.

Why does a particle physicist go to a Cosmology conference, anyway ? Well, I am tired of hearing the matter discussed around me and being unable to understand the issues well enough. Cosmological questions of the highest level, such as “what is the universe made of” are far from having been answered exhaustively, and current ideas are quite counter-intuitive and unconvincing to me. I could – and I did, to some extent – buy a few books and study things there as any other student would, but the top-down approach of listening to what are the most pressing issues nowadays makes some sense to me…

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Comments

1. delio - March 25, 2007

Tommaso, can you please summarize the Riofrio-files as you see them? It seems to me that I’m missing something. I’ve spent a whole afternoon trying to making sense of the blog-war around her, and I cannot see how she’s ever come to address the audience at the Imperial College. Google scholar does not track any peer-reviewed paper by her, she’s blamantly lied about her affiliations, her theories can be easily dismissed by a not even professional physicist, and she’s quite apparently suffering some form of politically biased paranoia. What’s your feeling about this? Would you please write a few lines about this issues when you come back?

2. dorigo - March 25, 2007

Hi Delio,

ok… I understand your confusion. Let me say straight away that the conference organizers (from which I am presently sitting less than 10 feet away, since I am blogging from the registration room at the 8th floor of Blackett Building at Imperial College) are not newcomers, and if they have decided to give Louise a chance to talk is because they appreciated her Abstract. If there are other reasons, I’ll try to find out this week – I intend to meet Louise and get to know more details of the issue.

Having had a good idea worth a peer-reviewed article is not a prerequisite, IMO, to have another one worth a conference. So I would not put it as a requirement to apply for a talk. However, I must confess I am totally unqualified to determine whether Louise’s ideas are utter nonsense or brilliant. To me, they appear a nice, if a bit exotic, way to reconcile with data which has so far been interpreted with just as outlandish models, including dark energy – something I really cannot digest, no matter how much alcohol I take.

It is, if you want, the same situation that there is in particle physics with Supersymmetry and String Theory: I am willing to buy anything that tries to explain things differently. Carl Brannen’s studies may be frowned upon, but who is putting forward a prediction for particle masses these days ?

As for her political paranoia, I believe Louise might – just might -have gone a bit off the mark defending herself from the annoying attacks of the establishment, instantiated in the e-mail she published. However, I sympathise with her, because I know she must have felt horribly, and I do know it is hard to react with exactly the right measure of force to these kinds of attacks.

I hope Louise will take her time to answer you directly here. In the meantime, I can only promise I will try to give some report of what goes on at the Conference….

Cheers,
T.

3. Tony Smith - March 25, 2007

delio said about Louise Riofrio:
“… she’s blamantly lied about her affiliations …”.

Actually, her first affiliation listed on the conference link in delio’s comment stated an affiliation with “James Cook University, Townsville Campus, Townsville, QLD 4811 Australia”.

In a comment on her blog, she says that she is affiliated “… with a tropical research university, a place so remote that most people haven’t heard of it. It is peaceful, close to coral reefs, and far removed from the cutthroat atmosphere of Berkeley and Stanford. …”,
which is consistent with James Cook University at Townsville.
She said that she had been a victim of stalking (a crime that in Queensland carries a prison sentence), it should be expected that the James Cook University web site might not list her contact information, so anyone legitimately attempting to verify her affiliation should probably contact the university administration, and NOT rely on “a simple search” on the web, as Don Barry suggested in an e-mail objecting to her being allowed to speak at Imperial.

delio also said:
“… her theories can be easily dismissed …”.

In fact, her primary thesis, GM = tc^3, has physical justification, as stated by commenter nige on Kea’s blog:
“… Simply equate the rest mass energy of m with its gravitational potential energy mMG/R with respect to large mass of universe M located at an average distance of R = ct from m.
Hence E = mc^2 = mMG/(ct)
Cancelling and collecting terms,
GM = tc^3
So Louise’s formula is derivable. …”.

Since her primary formula has a reasonable physical derivation, it seems to me that she should be allowed to talk about it at a relevant conference, and that a cosmology conference would be relevant.

Whether or not the details of any conclusions she might draw from that formula might be correct or incorrect should be investigated, compared with observations, and discussed,
rather than
being censored and hidden from the scrutiny of conference presentation and discussion.

Tony Smith

PS – It is interesting that the web site of delio is entitled “PubblicoDiMerda”.
My Italian is almost nonexistent, but it seems to me that delio’s site is self-described as “Public of Shit”, so maybe delio regards all of us members of the general public as pieces of shit.
Maybe in delio’s mind that justifies abusive attacks on innocent people.

4. dorigo - March 25, 2007

Hi Tony,

indeed, “pubblico di merda” means what you quote above. But it is a quote from a concert, which has little relevance with the rest of us. I used to link his site here, but it was inactive for a while and I took it off, since it was not relevant to the by now mostly phyisics-oriented audience here.

I think Delio’s questions, if a bit too blunt, are worth answering. Many might have his same doubts about Louise’s seriousness as a scientist, given the attacks she has disclosed.

Cheers,
T.

Cheers,
T.

5. Guess Who - March 25, 2007

Yum, politics! It’s been a while since that topic showed up on this blog.

Tell you what, I followed the link to Riofrio’s blog and from there to the purported censor’s web site. The man does indeed make a big point of his support for “Marxism/Leninism and socialist philosophy”, something which in a.d. 2007 qualifies him as stupid beyond belief, utterly ignorant of history, evil, or some combination thereof. His further collectivist elucubrations about the relationship between scientists and “their syndic”, strongly support the evil moron interpretation:

I’m convinced now that our educational system at large needs to be reformed along syndicalist lines, perhaps one of my main areas of rapport with our distinguished social critic and theorist Noam Chomsky. As in a society at large, science flourishes within professional societies and collectives of scholars and students when its progress is directed by those with a stake in it. There must be a social contract between a scientist
and his syndic, and an exit penalty for kamikaze runs outside this setting (dissension within a syndic is fine, no Lysenkoism here, but Edward Tellers or Pons and Fleischmanns who operate outside the morality of their colleagues must earn their recompense).

This guy is a kommissar at heart and as such utterly unfit to be a scientist, no question about that.

But: do we really know that he has anything to do with the issue at hand? The only “evidence” for this is Riofrio’s claim, based on unspecified “hacking skills”. Are we meant to believe that she hacked her way into the conference organizers mail system? And that she is now proudly telling us – and them – that she did? Come on.

It’s hard to look at Riofrio’s writings and not wonder what’s really going on here. She claims affiliation with the James Cook University, but it is indeed easily verified that she is not listed in their directory. Fine, it may not have been updated in ages (I know of university department sites still listing people who have been gone for years) but then why is she using a Yahoo mail address? Surely that can not be explained by any “stalking” risk.

As for her science… well, a variable speed of light is not exactly a new idea; Moffat, Maguejio and Albrecht are some of the better known authors with published paper on the subject. So it’s really not all that earth-shattering a concept to entertain; it’s certainly not like anybody proposing it is the first to violate a Mighty Taboo. Even the evil Marxist moron’s “syndic” might not be all that upset about it. The real problem with Riofrio’s writings is that they are vague and, if not confused, at least confusing. They lack any sort of detail; as far as I can tell, that one Equation is pretty much all she has. And I hope I may be excused for shaking my head in disbelief at the “derivation” quoted above:

Simply equate the rest mass energy of m with its gravitational potential energy mMG/R with respect to large mass of universe M located at an average distance of R = ct from m

. Let me get this straight: the universe is finite and expanding at the speed of light? And for some unstated reason we must postulate that the rest mass of an object equals “its gravitational potential energy mMG/R with respect to large mass of universe M” (which would actually = 0 if the universe is isotropic)?

No matter how hard I look, I don’t see a Big Controversial Idea here; all I see is ill-defined… sorry, but I have to say it: nonsense, and plenty of warning signs that there is something else behind the story than what we’re being told.

If anything, this looks like an attempt to fabricate a controversy. Why anyone would want to do that is anybody’s guess. Maybe there is some commercial (advertising?) value in being a “celebrity”. Maybe it’s all just a prank, perpetrated for the fun of it. Who knows. Who cares.

6. Kea - March 25, 2007

Well, I hope you have a good time, Tommaso. Take some photos! It’s just unbelievable the attitude some people have. From what I can tell, they haven’t even remotely understood Louise’s theory.

7. delio - March 25, 2007

kea, as far as i could see there are serious gaps in the derivation of louise riofrio’s equation — most notably in the way she deals with the non-euclidean geometry of the minkowsky space. before the world tries to understand her theory, she probably ought to answer the questions she has already been asked. this post and its comments are typical of her style, when it comes to answer even slightly critical questions (in that specifical case, of such an early fan of hers as mahndisa rigmaiden).

tony, in the page i have linked ms riofrio presents herself as affiliated to both the jcu and a nasa-smithsonian program based in washington dc. there’s no track of her in either home page. is she being stalked in townsville or washington?

tommaso, you are right: of course a previous good peer-reviewed paper is not a prerequisite to have a new brilliant idea. fact of the matter is, her supposedly brilliant idea is almost three years old, yet not a single article by ms riofrio can be found on arxiv — let alone on a peer-reviewed journal. what was the feedback she received at the conferences she has already attended?
and finally: even assuming that the establishment doesn’t want the world to know that GM = tc³ (why not?): why hasn’t she worked on anything else in the last years? even einstein was able to complete a couple of minor papers on photo-electric effect and brownian motion, whilst struggling against skepticism regarding his special relativity, wasn’t he?

8. Tony Smith - March 26, 2007

Guess Who (an anonymous coward) said, about Don Barry’s attacks on Louise,
“… do we really know that he has anything to do with the issue at hand? …”.

In fact Louise posted on her blog the following:

“… From: Don Barry [mailto:don@isc.astro.cornell.edu]
Sent: 19 March 2007 00:51
To: De Nadai-Sowrey, Graziela C
Cc: Simeon Warner
Subject: A crackpot has slipped through your screens..
Dear organizers,
I notice that you have given a slot to Louise Riofrio in one of your oral sessions in your upcoming conference.. She’s listed in your “Participants” section as affiliated with James Cook University, Queensland. A simple search will reveal that JCU/Queensland does not list her in any capacity.
She’s been a frequent crackpot pest trying to post papers on the Cornell Arxiv server.
If you take a look at her blog …[ ... riofriospacetime.blogspot.com ... ]…
all should become clear. It’s actually rather hilarious in spots.
In any event, you may get some comic relief as people become somewhat glass-eyed on the last day of a conference.
Cheers,
Don Barry,
Spitzer Space Telescope Infrared Spectrograph Team,
Cornell University …”.

Further,
note the header showing “… Cc: Simeon Warner …”.
It is my recollection that Simeon Warner and Paul Ginsparg worked together at Los Alamos, when the arXiv was administered there,
and
that when the arXiv administration was transferred to Cornell, it was part of a package deal whereby Paul Ginsparg and Simeon Warner also went to Cornell.

In my experience with the process of being blacklisted (something that was not done until after the move to Cornell), it seemed to me that Simeon Warner may have been acting in concert with Paul Ginsparg as an active moderator/gatekeeper/enforcer of the blacklist.
Therefore,
it is my opinion that the “Cc: Simeon Warner” shows that Don Barry may not be merely a “lone gunman” individual attacking Louies.

Still futher, Guess Who dismisses the physical motivation for GM = tc^3 given by nige,
and then dismisses Louise’s entire work by saying that her “… writings … are vague and, if not confused, at least confusing. They lack any sort of detail …”.
If lack of detail, vagueness, and confusion are really what is bothering Guess Who,
then
it would seem to me that Guess Who should be very much in favor of Louise making a conference presentation in which she can state more about the motivation than the quote from nige,
and in which she can not only present more details but also be questioned in detail about her work.

Tony Smith

PS – As to why I am writing long responses to blogosphere criticisms of Louise,
it is not because I am expertly familiar with her model and whether or not it is accurate (I am not),
but
it is because I am familiar with despicable tactics whereby those who want to attack a person or idea seek:
1 – to bar the person from presenting the idea
and
2 – failing that, to try to distract the person immediately prior to the presentation by raising a lot of irrelevant ad hominem and red herring issues, so that the person will be distracted and ill-prepared at the presentation.

Therefore, I hope that some of my comments will allow Louise to ignore such distractions and prepare to present a clear presentation that will satisfy those in the audience who are open-minded.

9. Guess Who - March 26, 2007

Dear Tony Smith, as I wrote, I looked at Riofrio’s blog, so of course I saw the (purported) mail excerpt you quote. The question I asked is: how do we know it’s authentic? If she forged her own affiliation, and I am sorry but as pointed out by Delio there is good reason to suspect she did, would she stop at forging a conveniently odious From: header?

Second point: where did I say that I am against her making her presentation? Generally speaking, I find a Riofrio far less problematic than a Barry with his totalitarian notions of “a social contract between a scientist and his syndic, and an exit penalty for kamikaze runs outside this setting”; and a priori, I would bar neither from speaking. But if she falsified her affiliation to gain access to a conference, it becomes a simple matter of whether fraud is an acceptable tactic in dealing with others, including conference organizers. I don’t think it is. Do you?

I find it totally consistent to think that conference organizers who won’t let unaffiliated authors speak are wrong (and I do – such a policy would have barred the discoverer of special relativity from speaking…) but also that they are in their full right to organize their own conference as they see fit, without being lied to. Because you see, it’s their conference. If you don’t like the way the organize it, just ignore it. And maybe organize your own.

Anonymously and Cowardly Yours (for good reason),

Guess Who :)

10. Tony Smith - March 26, 2007

An Anonymous Coward using the name Guess Who asks about a message posted by Louise Riofrio showing “From: Don Barry”:
“… how do we know it’s authentic? …”.

Consider the following facts:

1 – Don Barry seems according to the Cornell web site to be a real person consistent with the information in the message.

2 – The message has been posted on Louise’s blog since 20 March 2007, and has been discussed in the blogosphere since then, but Don Barry has not complained about it being inaccurate.

3 – The addressee on the To: line of the message is the contact person listed on the conference web site.

4 – The “Cc: Simeon Warner” is directed to someone who seems to me to be involved in activity as a Cornell arXiv blacklist moderator/gatekeeper/enforcer.

In light of those facts, it seems to me to be likely that the message posted by Louise is genuine.

On the other hand,
Guess Who attacks the genuiness of the message by saying “… If she forged her own affiliation, and … there is good reason to suspect she did, would she stop at forging a conveniently odious From: header? …:”.

Contrary to what Guess Who said, I have seen no “good reason” to “suspect” that Louise “forged her own affiliation”.

If Louise were really not affiliated with “James Cook University, Queensland”, as stated as her affiliation on the conference web site,
then,
since her status was questioned in the Don Barry e-mail message posted by Louise on 20 March 2007, I would expect that by now some official at that university would have so stated on the relevant blogs, and I have seen no such statement.

However,
a good thing about the blogosphere is that each reader has the power to make an individual decision based on the comments presented, including evaluation of the credibility of each commenter,
using relevant standards including the willingness of commenters to identify themselves and so stand behind their statements,
thus putting their reputations on the line.

Tony Smith

11. dorigo - March 26, 2007

Well, well, well, people, keep it cool :)… I leave for dinner, I go to sleep, and upon getting back here people are just short of calling themselves names ?

Tony, please accept GW’s anonymity without making a big deal of it. I am always happy to hear GW’s opinions in the comments to my posts, despite his/her bluntness, and despite (or maybe because of) his/her usually different views from mine – so please do not blame the anonymity: he/she is well known in this blog.

More in general, I am not against anonymity in the web. There are cases when one cannot disclose his or her identity, and cases when the identity is irrelevant. It really is a personal choice. I think I am a little unhappy when I see anonymous postings with no email address and a made-up name, but after the same name appears again I get more relaxed. That is to say, if you always change your name that does bother me, because one cannot identify the name with a distinct person, albeit anonymous. If you choose a battle-name and stick with it, that is perfectly fine.

Ok. About the Riofrio affair, I think it is easy to get one’s own opinion on the matter, and I doubt my own is worth a dime more than that of anybody else, so I will refrain from discuss it at length, other than saying I will have a more definite opinion after I see Louise’s talk here at the “Outstanding questions” conference this week.

I just wish to say I think that even if it should be proved that Louise is not any longer affiliated with a University, that does not mean she has to be dismissed as a crackpot. There are many different reasons why a person could happen to have no affiliation for a period of his or her life. Personal reasons could weigh as much as scientific ones. And being able to write “John Doe, Winnemucca University” does not make John any smarter or worth listening…

Cheers,
t.

12. Guess Who - March 26, 2007

Dear Tony Smith, I suspect you overestimate the importance attributed to and spent on blogs by most people, Marxist activists and university officials included. Even I (and it’s not like I have a university or even a “syndic” to administrate) can only follow a handful with some regularity (which means sometime with gaps of several months).

Silly example: Dorigo can probably confirm that if he were to write something here about Lisa Randall running around naked, he might get lots of extra hits from Google, but she would probably not even notice. Likewise, I can’t imagine why anybody at James Cook University would even be aware of a question floating around on some blogs regarding the affiliation of some person, if in fact they have never even heard of that person. The only way to find out for sure is to ask them directly.

Maybe it will turn out that she is or was enrolled as a student there at some point. That would explain these statements on her blog:

After showing early promise in maths, I was accepted to the world’s best-known physics department just after turning 16. After not being allowed to finish there, I attended another university across the Bay. People associated with the first university did their best to get me removed or prevented from speaking.

I have decided to finish up with a tropical research university, a place so remote that most people haven’t heard of it.

It’s typically vague, so I would be interested to know how you read it. Is it saying that she graduated from that other “university across the Bay” and then went on to a graduate program at James Cook? Or is it saying that she transferred again, still as an undergrad, from the second university to James Cook? No idea.

Is it a big deal? As I already said, whether somebody is affiliated with a university or not should not be a factor in publication and speaking engagement decisions. Why should it? A good idea is a good idea no matter where it originated; to think that good ideas can only be originated by somebody on a university payroll is a ridiculous social prejudice (or worse, a failed political standpoint) without scientific value, repeatedly disproved by history. No problem with that.

The problem is, again, if somebody forges an affiliation to overcome that prejudice.

By the way, you may regard my anonymity as the very antithesis of affiliation hysteria: I am not even putting a name, let alone an institutional affiliation, behind my views, so they had better stand on their own. No invocation of authority here. ;)

TD: Thanks, and looking forward to hearing more from the conference.

13. Fred - March 26, 2007

“… I leave for dinner, I go to sleep, and upon getting back here people are just short of calling themselves names ?”

Now this is just too funny and should be developed into a specific scene if you ever decide to write a movie script titled: The Physicist Wars (obviously the first episode in a trilogy). Of course, your character’s reaction of shock and the ensuing chaos would be key to pulling off this comedy sketch. You already have the heavyweight players from this post alone to draw upon. Keep up the good work.

14. Carl Brannen - March 27, 2007

Those who can google “Louise Riofrio” will quickly find proof that she was a grad student at SFSU before she went incognito. This is fully compatible with her story. But none of that really matters, though it might give a reader reason to doubt the competence of someone who has to have it told to them.

If you want to do physics instead of humanities, you need to stick to argue the theory, not the hominem.

As this has gone on, I’ve slowly come around to concluding that a substantial part of Riofrio’s social difficulties are due to her being female. I don’t have a PhD. I haven’t been affiliated with a university for 30 years. I’ve gone to conferences listing my affiliation as “Liquafaction Corporation”. I’ve given talks. I think relativity is garbage. But I’ve never had anyone treat me like this.

It appears that it is only a few who are making waves. I’ve heard the professionals discussing amateurs giving talks at physics conferences. They weren’t kind on the content or accuracy, but a common statement is that it doesn’t cause much of a problem and it is very important for those members of the public who are, well, sufficiently detatched from reality to believe they’ve found something that the professionals missed and need to hear.

I get ignored. If someone thinks Riofrio is a joke, why not ignore her too? How dull could your life be, to reach the point that it is worth your time to try and get a speaker off of a program at a meeting halfway around the world that you’re not even attending? It smells of harassment motivated by personal considerations.

15. Guess Who - March 27, 2007

Carl Brennan, I probably wouldn’t bother replying to your post if it weren’t for the remark about “reason to doubt the competence of someone who has to have it told to them”.

What I find by googling “Louise Riofrio” is, apart from all the usual blog stuff, this page from 2004:

http://boudin.fnal.gov/NNP/B1798866615/

Notice how it qualifies the replies as being from either “student” or “graduate student”. Scroll down and find Louise Riofrio’s entry:

Why do time’s arrows flow in one direction rather than the other?

Submitted by Louise Riofrio, San Francisco State student.

. So she was an undergraduate at SFSU in 2004. A quick look at

http://www.sfsu.edu/~bulletin/current/programs/physics.htm#1409

will also inform you that SFSU does not have a doctoral program in physics. This is indeed consistent with her story, but not with yours. I’ll leave it to the reader to draw his or her conclusions about the competence of somebody who has to be told.

As for her being female, so is Lisa Randall.

“If you want to do physics instead of humanities, you need to stick to argue the theory, not the hominem.” Great idea, you should try it.

16. dorigo - March 27, 2007

Ok guys, I am closing the comments on this one issue, since I think no progress is being made and if Louise cannot/won’t comment herself it starts looking like speaking behind one’s back.

Thanks all,
T.


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