Respectable physicists gone crackpotty July 21, 2007Posted by dorigo in humor, news, physics, science.
While discussing with me the ups and downs of a quick diffusion of information in the blogosphere, an esteemed theoretical physicist pointed me to a paper posted on the ArXiV just four days ago, as an example of the damage that scientists themselves may risk causing to their own field of research.
The paper is a startling read. I apologize to the authors for my bluntness, but I am used to speak my mind in my blog: I had not seen such a pile of unmitigated BS in the ArXiV since I don’t know when.
The paper (hep-ph/0707-1919), titled “Search for Future Influence from the LHC”, is written by two respectable physicists, and at least one of them is indeed quite famous. I am tempted to review it in detail, but let me rather choose the path of utter incorrectness for once, by quoting out of context, just to give you the flavor of the whole pile. Quoting out of context is a sublimely reproachable art: you can make a genius look like an idiot, and vice-versa. It’s called journalism, baby.
So here we go. Fasten your seat belts, it’s going to get bumpy.
“Abstract: (yes, it starts right there) We propose an experiment which consists of pulling a card and use it to decide restrictions of the running of LHC at CERN, such as luminosity, beam energy or total shut down”.
I have to compose myself, since tears are running down my cheeks.
Ok, let’s move on.
The paper starts with a sobering remark, which nobody can disagree with. It still gets shivers down my spine:
“Usually it is believed by causality that backward causation, in the sense of what happens at a later time influences what happens earlier, does not occur”.
That really sets the stage: the authors know what they are talking about: they are not aliens, they pat our shoulder and say, pal, we’re on the same league here.
“When the Higgs particle shall be produced, we shall retest if there could be influence from the future so that, for instance, the potential production of a large number of Higgs particles in a certain time development would cause a pre-arrangement so that the large number of Higgs productions, should be avoided.”
Hmm… A momentary divergence ?
“Such prearrangements may be considered influence from the future”
No. The helm is firmly set towards nonsense.
The paper now starts discussing probabilities in the context of the path integral formalism, with an action which has an imaginary part (a crucial detail, apparently). A discussion of the impact of a imaginary part of the action on the evolution of the universe follows. Then things get even murkier:
“However, high energy physics machines with their relativistic particles would [...] may [sic] influence their past and for instance such influence could have meant that these machines would have been met with bad luck by prearrangement and got their funds cut so as not work”.
Here I am crying for the revolting grammar, but the point is that these guys are using a noun, “luck”, which, let’s put it mildly, does not belong in a scientific paper. But more tests are in store:
“Seemingly there were no such effects of bad luck for relativistic accelerators as ISR wherein the particles were even stored for long times”.
There follow a couple of sentences which I have no guts to copy here. Some fragments:
“To rescue our model [...] we could, however, make in our opinion the very mild speculation that fundamentally there exists magnetic monopoles [...] provide the argument for that even for the high energy experiments so far no effect of bad or good luck should have been observed”.
And then they turn to the Higgs.
“Thus it is really not unrealistic that precisely at the first a large number of of Higgs production also our model-expectations that is influence for the future would show up”.
That is too much. Such grammar would be enough for me to prevent publication even on a preprint server. But refraining from vomiting, let me quote the following sentence.
“Very interestingly in this connection is that the SSC in Texas accidentally would have been the first machine to produce Higgs on a large scale. However it were actually stopped after a quarter of the tunnel were built, almost a remarkable [underlined in the original] piece of bad luck.”
Aha! Now I get it. Let me guess. Probably the future influenced the minds of US congressmen into voting off the SSC funding, so that fewer Higgses would be produced. The universe is saved! D3B0, open the worm hole, we’re going home!
Do you need to stop reading and get a glass of whiskey ? Please do, it’s not over yet. Pour it down and stay with me till the bitter end. We’re now going into the section called “Proposal of the experiment“. They need to lay down some preliminary observation first.
“It seems most likely that production of Higgs particles should lead to smaller P(s) than no Higgs production since otherwise there would presumably already have been produced lots of Higgs particles in nature somehow.”
Gulp. John, please give me another glass. No ice.
“With this model we expect, that a Higgs producing machine will be stopped by some accident or another if the effect is sufficiently large…”
“The experiment proposed in the present article is to give the ‘foresight’, so to speak, a chance of avoiding having to close LHC by some funding or other bad luck accident, as it happened to SSC, by instead playing a game of pulling a card from a well mixed stack about the running of the LHC”.
John, you can leave the bottle here. Gosh. No kidding. These guys are proposing to save the LHC physics program by pulling a card out of a deck. But it gets even more delirious, if you still haven’t reached the bottom of your scale yet.
“On most of the cards there should be just written ‘use LHC freely’, so that they cause no restrictions.”
Whew, I feel relieved.
“But on a very small fraction of the cards there should be restrictions for luminosity or beam energies or some combination. On one card one may eve have ‘close LHC’.”
I could comment that I did play similar games in my middle school time and again, but I never reverted causality, maybe because I never got the hot card – kissing the ugly ones was the most exciting thing that used to happen.
Enough already ? Not really. Read this:
“The numbers r,a and p should of course be very small, whereas the excess average damage, presumably is of order unity. One could, however, estimate that this damage extra presumably involves even human lives so that several people may be killed during some explosion stopping LHC.”
Wait. You’re right. Enough said.
It’s very sad to see some valuable minds writing such a pile of unmitigated bullshit (I allow myself the word this down the post). It makes one wonder if their reputation is an accident. So now who is the crackpot ? The honest amateur who tries to find a relationship between mass values, or the big shot with hundreds of published papers ?
Nobody is a crackpot. Ideas are good, bad, idiotic, demented. If there were a fifth category, the paper discussed above would belong to it.
Update (for the series, better late than never): I realized with a week of delay that Sabine at Backreaction had already discussed the paper… Oh well, that allowed me a fresh look at it rather than a pre-digested one ;-) Not that I object to Bee’s paper digestion…