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Just a note August 30, 2007

Posted by dorigo in personal, travel.
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This is just to say that although I received many comments to the recent posts, and I want to answer to several of them in a meaningful way, I am about to travel back to Venice by car. I will resume blogging tomorrow with a post on the nice seminar given by T.D.Lee on the fiftieth anniversary of his conjecture.

And Lubos Motl also is discussing the issue. For once we mostly agree, although I will have something to say about that too… Tomorrow.

UPDATE: I did my homework: you can find answers to your comments in the two previous posts. I would also like to mention here that Louise Riofrio has also discussed the matter today, wisely giving the emphasis of her post to the rather more interesting topic of the physics of black holes. And there are a couple of comments there which I found interesting to read, maybe you will too. Finally, let me mention that Louise defends me by mentioning my recent post discussing the case of Pegah Emambakhsh, which I wrote because I only found it a moral obligation to diffuse outrage about the story in the blogosphere. And that, to my eyes, is worth a thousand outraged posts about sexism.

Comments

1. Moshe - August 30, 2007

Looking forward to learning about the sex appeal of TD Lee :-)…

2. Luboš Motl - August 30, 2007

Dear Tommaso, it’s kind of fun – try to check my conjecture. All people who were born in the anglo-Saxon world are against your description of Lisa and all people born outside the anglo-Saxon world don’t mind.

Concerning beauty of these great Chinese men of physics, Yang exhibits something that can be called mirror symmetry. When he was 82, he married and she was 28. Maybe even Calabi-Yau could be jealous about this perfect mirror symmetry.

3. Tony Smith - August 30, 2007

Since I was born in Georgia USA (founded as a British (anglo-Saxon) penal colony),
and
since I “don’t mind” Tommaso’s “description of Lisa” and am not “against …[Tommaso’s]… description of Lisa”

my existence disproves the conjecture of Lubos stated in his comment above.

Indeed, “it’s kind of fun” to refute Lubos’s false conjectures, whether they be about superstring theory or about sociology.

On the other hand, sometimes Lubos makes accurate conjectures (about such things as the gross overstatement of the human role in global warming by some politicians), and there it is equally fun to be able to support Lubos (such as by pointing out that the sun has been hotter in the past and is likely to be hotter in the future, and that it is a sad disregard of history to believe that the sun will stay at its present luminosity throughout the future history of humans on earth).

Tony Smith

4. carlbrannen - August 30, 2007

Tommaso, I’ve been under the weather and missed the Lisa Randall party. I saw her give a public lecture in Dallas last year. I have no doubt that part of the sales appeal for her book is her personal appearance and that she pays attention to it.

My recollection is that in a moment of clarity, one of your complainers posted a Cosmic Variance comment on the question of whether Hollywood stars have a fashion sense in knowing how to wear clothes to the negative, explaining that they would look attractive no matter what clothes they wore. Maybe it was my own imagination which filled in the implication “or none at all”.

Now that you’ve gotten into trouble with physics and sex appeal, maybe it’s the appropriate time to do the same thing with chess.

5. Francis Caestecker - August 30, 2007

I also don’t mind the comments🙂. I was born in non-Anglosaxon, however raised from my 3 till my 8 in London.🙂

6. dorigo - August 30, 2007

I will comment tomorrow about everything else, but Moshe, goddamnit, you spoiled my fun!

So there you have it: here is what I wrote in my notebook during the conference by TDLee, to spoil it completely:

T.D.Lee arrived fashionably late, when the buzz level in the auditorium had reached at least 70 or 80 decibels. He is still a handsome figure, although he is of course in his decline. He wore a nice black jacket with golden buttons, a grey tie and brown trousers, and I would have given him 65 years of age, had I not known he is much older. He is clinging to much of his hair still, and most of what’s left is not even gray.

I am still not sure whether I want to add something like “I bet he is still sexually active… I know chinese men are very longeve in that respect”.

Cheers,
T.

7. Moshe - August 31, 2007

Sorry, I guess string theorists can make predictions after all…I’d say go for it, nobody ever reads blog comments.

8. tulpoeid - August 31, 2007

Wow, one cannot be away from this blog for a couple of days and the avalanche begins!
It was funny, as I begun reading the article on LR my eye caught that there are 42 comments and so I read it anticipating a theorists’ row in the comments section… and then what do I see?! Utter whatever.

I’d like to add three more remarks:
1) Why are dorigo’s comments sexist? (I’m not joking. I’d like a definition. Why is talking about somebody’s appearance insulting or discriminating, provided no harmful action against him/her or others is taken? Yes, you can talk about somebody’s appearance in a harmful way, but where has that been here? Get a bit more semiotic
life, he talked in the way one would do for any celebrity.)

2) What I dislike in the case of countries where people have to cover all their curves, hair, and even face, same in the case of nuns’, monks’ and priests’ dressing, is that this serves only to prove some people are thinking of sex 100% of their time. It is like shouting out that you are constantly scrutinized by the others’ eyes, in a way that normal dressing would never imply. Yes, by this I mean that if you found this posting sexist you have a dirty mind.

3) Since the first 2 comments in this page paved the road, could anybody tell me the old joke about A.Salam please?! I know since my undergrad years that it exists but so far I haven’t come across anyone willing to share…

9. Jack - August 31, 2007

To be frank, the most disturbing thing about all this is that there are apparently a lot of guys out there who are attracted to women *who are over 40*. I mean, let’s face it guys: Jessica Alba she ain’t!

10. dorigo - August 31, 2007

Hi all,

Lubos, despite what Tony writes below, your conjecture is largely correct.

Carl, thank you for the link to the women chess championship… It made for a nice distraction from this endless arguing on sexism.

Jack, you will get old if you are lucky, and you will find that 40 year old women are made of the same flesh that caused your erection 20 years earlier. They lost some of their beauty in exchange for their charme. You won’t be disappointed much, especially since you will still have a shot at those 20yo babes.

Cheers,
T.

11. Francis Caestecker - August 31, 2007

@Jack:

I was thinking the exact same thing, but I didn’t dare say.🙂

12. Tony Smith - August 31, 2007

Tommaso said, about Lubos’s conjecture that “All people who were born in the anglo-Saxon world are against [ Tommaso’s ] description of Lisa and all people born outside the anglo-Saxon world don’t mind”,
“… Lubos, despite what Tony writes … your conjecture is largely correct …”.

That is interesting.
My personal counterexample is based on the precise wording of Lubos’s conjecture “born in the anglo-Saxon world” which is true in my case,
as opposed to “being anglo-Saxon” which is only partly true for me, as I am genetically/culturally not pure anglo-Saxon.

Maybe an interesting question would be which sociological groups (including education, religion, and all that) show significant polarization of opinion about Tommaso’s description of Lisa.

I think that such studies are now commonly done in USA political campaigns, with two outstandingly successful examples being Karl Rove’s use of polarizing hot-button issues to get enough votes for Bush in 2000 and 2004 so that Florida and Ohio electors could (in connection with other circumstances such as Supreme Court votes in the case of Florida 2000 and electronic voting machines in the case of Ohio 2004) be obtained for Bush.

Tony Smith

13. Anonymous - August 31, 2007

Louise Riofrio is an extremely nice person, and has a reasonably good basic understanding of astrophysics and cosmology, but you should be aware that many of the ideas that she promotes are considered to be a bit off the deep end by most (really all) members of the field.

For one, she claims she has solved the dark energy problem, and that her modification of general relativity is close to being tested. Her “modification” is plainly inconsistent with any of the main tests of GR, e.g. supernovae, CMB, geodesic paths in weak gravitational lensing, data from the Hulse-Taylor binary, etc., etc. The world has repeatedly tried to convince her of this but she is somehow convinced she is the next Einstein, despite all evidence being to the contrary.

Not to say that that all somehow makes her a less worthy person at all — however we do work hard in science to understand reality, not just our own little world or dreamland. The truth is sometimes a difficult thing.

14. Tony Smith - August 31, 2007

Anonymous said
“… many of the ideas that … Louise Riofrio promotes are considered to be a bit off the deep end by most (really all) members of the field …”
and
“… For one … her modification of general relativity … is plainly inconsistent with any of the main tests of GR, e.g. supernovae, CMB, geodesic paths in weak gravitational lensing, data from the Hulse-Taylor binary, etc., etc. …”.

The first statement by Anonymous is not only an ad hominem attack, but also represents that “really all” “members of the field” don’t agree with Louise’s physics.
Since Louise makes no secret of who she is or where she is or what she thinks, it is quite unfair and indeed cowardly for ad hominem attacks to be made anonymously.
It is also unfair for an anonymous commenter to claim to speak for “really all” “members of the field”, without stating any basis whatsoever for doing so.

The second statement by Anonymous is also flawed, because it does not state explicitly what “modification of general relativity” is “plainly inconsistent with any of the main tests of GR”
nor does it give even one concrete example of such inconsistency.

If a commenter wants to hide behind anonymity, the commenter should avoid ad hominem attacks, claims to speak for others, and allegations of inconsistency with observations without explicit statement of the relevant facts.
Any anonymous commenter who fails to meet those standards should be ashamed
but
maybe one of the Troubles with Physics is that so many IMPORTANT PHYSICISTS have no shame.

It is even more troubling that the community at large seems to be OK with that lack of shame.

Tony Smith

PS – Consider one of Louise’s ideas, that the speed of light varies,
and also consider the paper hep-th 0208122 by J. W. Moffat (Perimenter Institute), who said there:
“… We argue that there are several attractive features of … Variiable Speed of Light … VSL theory compared to standard inflationary theory, and that it provides an alternative cosmology with potentially different predictions …”.
See also gr-qc 0705.4507 by Magueijo and Moffat.

Obviously, Magueijo and Moffat are counterexamples refuting the claim of Anonymous that “really all” “members of the field” don’t agree with Louise’s ideas.

15. anomalous cowherd - August 31, 2007

14. Tony Smith – August 31, 2007 writes:

“maybe one of the Troubles with Physics is that so many IMPORTANT PHYSICISTS have no shame”

OK, you’re probably trolling, but I’ll bite. I have two questions:

[1] What makes you think that physics is in trouble? In the coming year the LHC starts taking data and both PLANCK and GLAST go into orbit. The JPARC facility starts experiments in a year. We have a new deep undergound facility for passive experiments [SNOLAB] constructed and waiting for its initial round of experiments. LIGO has reached design sensitivity. RHIC is giving exciting and unanticipated results. Super-BELLE looks likely to be approved. We have new synchrotron facilities being built at DESY and SLAC to do materials research. The ITER (I think that’s the acronym) plamsa fusion facility has been approved for construction at Cadarache. True, I’d like to see concrete plans for refurbishing the American accelerator based particle physics program, but on the whole global physics is robustly healthy. Theory is in happy ferment as well: astroparticle physics, BSM model building, analytic and numerical solution of QCD, quantum phase transitions, theory of high-Tc Cuprates, nuclear effective field theory,
string gravity, mesoscale physics, cosmological structure formation, numerical relativity, and quantum computing, have all seen spectacular theoretical advances in the last decade. So what is it precisely that makes you think that there are “Troubles with Physics” [capitalized no less!].

[2] Who exactly are these “IMPORTANT PHYSICISTS” who “have no shame”? To be non-specific on this point would be an ugly and unsubstantiated smear on many brilliant and hardworking scientists.

16. Tony Smith - September 1, 2007

anomalous cowherd asked me to state “… Who exactly are these “IMPORTANT PHYSICISTS” who “have no shame”? …”.

How should I be able to present an “exact…” list,
when some of them comment as anonymous cowards,
at least one of whom (the subject of my previous comment) is (if believed) a spokesperson for “really all” “members of the field” ?

ALL the physicists who give assent-by-silence to such anonymous ad hominem attacks etc “have no shame”, and the important ones are the important ones.

anomalous cowherd also asked “What makes [me] think that physics is in trouble?”

As to experiment, here are 3 examples:
1 – The first major trouble I will cite is the SSC debacle, which set back high energy particle physics many years.
In its stead, the Tevatron had made very useful observations, and we hope (barring further explosions etc) that over the next few years very useful observations will come from LHC, but they are far short of what might have been seen if the SSC had been done right.
2 – The next major trouble is what is to come after the LHC. The ILC is a possibility, but it is by no means a done deal, and if ends up like the SSC it is hard to see how particle physics will advance experimentally.
3 – With respect to Dark Energy experiments, when I suggested some experiments that might cost less than 500,000 USdollars, I was told that the relevant funding agencies would not even consider any projects costing less than 20,000,000 US dollars. Such a way of thinking can easily lead to big money-pit projects (such as hot fusion) that live forever as unproductive self-sustaining bureaucratic monsters, while cheap experiments that might bring major insights are ignored.

As to theory, one example was stated by Feynman almost 20 years ago, and it is still accurate:
“… I think all this superstring stuff is crazy and is in the wrong direction. … I don’t like it that they’re not calculating anything. … why are the masses of the various particles such as quarks what they are? All these numbers … have no explanations in these string theories – absolutely none! … “,
while
models that provide calculations of such things and others like the Dark Energy : Dark Matter : Ordinary Matter ratio not only are not fairly evaluated, but are disparaged and some even blacklisted.

As to both experiment and theory, they have become big business with a lot of money (cf. the 20,000,000 USdollar minimum for acceptable Dark Energy experiments) and Burton Richter’s remarks in hep-ex 0001012 now seem relevant to both theory and experiment:
“… we … have a bureaucratic overlay to the science with committees that decide on … speakers, paper publications, etc. The participating scientists are imprisoned by golden bars of consensus …. “.

Tony Smith

17. amanda - September 1, 2007

Tommaso said: “and you will find that 40 year old women are made of the same flesh that caused your erection 20 years earlier. They lost some of their beauty in exchange for their charme”

OK….but by the same reasoning he also find that 80 year old women are made of the same flesh too. They must be *really* charming.🙂

18. dorigo - September 1, 2007

Hi all,

Tony, I agree – the sociological implications are interesting. I think Lubos is prone to make tranchant statements based on very small average differences. Anyway, I think the instruction level is one of the strongest discriminants. So an investigation among people visiting this blog, divided in countries of provenance, may only detect subtle differences which may be more evident in the world at large.

Anonymous, saying “she is convinced that she is the next Einstein” is very annoying to me.

Tony I perfectly agree, anonymous commenters doing ad hominem attacks are the filth of blogging.

Dear Anomalous, it is true we expect a lot from the future experiments, but the feeling that things have not made huge progress in the last 30 years is tangible. Especially in the theoretical side.

Amanda, sure… Although I know 80 year old guys who are excited by 80 year old gals.

19. goldenship - September 1, 2007

lol, not all women age gracefully or grow in charm
not all loss of youth is inversely proportional to charm
I guess the universe really is not that perfect. (or kind)

20. Bee - September 1, 2007

@#2 & #10 : I too think this impression is largely correct. Needless to say, there will always be exceptions on both sides (see #3, #5). The saddest thing about it this is that many people are not aware their opinion might not just be the only possible ‘right’ behaviour – and get upset if one points towards cultural differences. I wonder why it is so hard to understand that e.g. I find all that over exaggerated PC stuff extremely disgusting (in fact, so disgusting it is a reason for me not wanting to live in North America). So then what exactly are they fighting for? American women in science? Not that I’d mind, of course every country thinks about its own citizens first, but the remarkable thing about (excuse me, another general statement to which there will be exceptions on both sides) Americans is that they are so completely convinced that their opinion and their way is the only ‘correct’ one that everybody needs to adopt (and yes, I know Clifford wasn’t born in the US). Best, B.

21. dorigo - September 1, 2007

Hi Bee,

now, US bashing is entertaining, and I generally agree with your statement, however I have to say we also owe them a lot, so I will refrain from further commenting (I have to play it humble for a while now).

Cheers,
T.

22. Andrea Giammanco - September 1, 2007

> All people who were born in the anglo-Saxon world are against [ Tommaso’s ] description of Lisa

This makes me remind of a very hilarious essay by David Foster Wallace about a big fair in rural Illinois.
He was born in rural Illinois, where he had grown up until he left at the age of 18 to live in the East Coast. He went to this Illinois fair with a local female friend, whom he knew since childhood.
He was shocked by the following episode during the fair: his friend had a ride on a rollercoaster; the two operators of the rollercoaster commented loudly about her nice appearance, then operated the rollercoaster in such a way to stop it in a position where they could peep under her skirt (and commented loudly and laughing about that).
Her friend was very happy about the ride because it had been a lot of fun; David Foster Wallace was shocked and asked her whether she was aware of what the two guys had been doing. She answered yes, but that she didn’t care at all: she had had fun, that was all that mattered.
A discussion followed about the very different reaction that the average East Coast woman would have had (she would have felt violated even in a much less offensive situation).

So, maybe it’s not so true that political correctness is a standard feature of modern anglosaxon culture.

23. Dimitri Terryn - September 1, 2007

“Americans is that they are so completely convinced that their opinion and their way is the only ‘correct’ one that everybody needs to adopt”

You’ll find people like that all over the world. It’s just that Americans tend to be most vocal about it.

24. anomalous cowherd - September 2, 2007

16. Tony Smith – September 1, 2007 writes:

“ALL the physicists who give assent-by-silence to such anonymous ad hominem attacks etc “have no shame”, and the important ones are the important ones.”

What makes you assume that people who don’t want to get dragged into flame-fest sessions, agree with ANY of the points of view expressed by the flame-fest participants? And what makes you think that most “important physicists” even read blogs? My experience with distinguished colleagues is that they work 12 or more hours a day on their physics, not getting sucked into blog flame-fests.

With regard to your list of 3 examples of why “physics is in trouble”, it seems to me that each one of them has to do with problems in the american funding system, rather than with the global progress of physics as a whole.
1 -” the SSC debacle” happened 15 years ago. The LHC at its design luminosity will largely cover what the SSC would have at its design luminosity. [Parenthetically, having funded and constructed a facility to actually do this physics, and that is open to scientists from all over the world, europeans might be getting somewhat tired of all the whining about it not being the SSC].
2 – “what is to come after the LHC” will clearly depend on what is discovered AT the LHC. Only after the LHC finds the threshold for new physics will we be in a position to commit to a facility to explore that physics in detail, whether it’s ILC, CLIC, a “Wake-Field” accelerator, or whatever. Our task now is to successfuly exploit the LHC to its full physics potential, so that we will be in a position to make informed decisions about what we wish to do next.
3- If American funding agencies are making arbitrary decisions about threshold costs for dark energy experiments, I find that surprising, but at the end of the day it is an american political problem, not a crisis in the global progress of physics.

I should add that I do share your concern over the state of the american accelerator-based particle physics program; I noted that in my original comment [“True, I’d like to see concrete plans for refurbishing the American accelerator based particle physics program”]. And I am really concerned that future scientific missions [such as a dark energy mission, a dedicated CMB polarization experiment, or participation in LISA] will be sacrificed to support the Bush administration’s push to Mars. But global progress in physics doesn’t depend on any one region, and is active and ongoing.

25. anomalous cowherd - September 2, 2007

18. dorigo – September 1, 2007 said:

“Dear Anomalous, it is true we expect a lot from the future experiments, but the feeling that things have not made huge progress in the last 30 years is tangible. Especially in the theoretical side.”

Dear Professor Dorigo
I find this statement surprising. At least on the experimental side I think that we have made amazing progress over the last 30 years. How we’ve done on the theoretical side will to some degree be determined by our future experiments, but here also I think that great progress has been made. I don’t have time to get into this today [you can see a quick list of problems I think we’ve made progress on in my original post], but perhaps we can return to this discussion later.

26. Tripitaka - September 2, 2007

Ha finally we’re back to physics.
T, is there scope in the future for a thread on the topic tackled above by anomalous cowherd, for the benefit of HEP outsiders like me?

27. Tony Smith - September 2, 2007

anomalous cowherd said
“… “important physicists” … distinguished colleagues … work 12 or more hours a day on their physics, not getting sucked into blog flame-fests …”.

Maybe the “important physicists … distinguished colleagues” are not blacklisted and therefore do not need the web/blogosphere to present their ideas. Maybe they have flunkies/underlings to propagate their ideas there. Maybe anomalous cowherd, who claims to have “experience with distinguished colleagues” might know about such things.

It is interesting that in the 20 years or so since Feynman said

“… I think all this superstring stuff is crazy and is in the wrong direction. … I don’t like it that they’re not calculating anything. … why are the masses of the various particles such as quarks what they are? All these numbers … have no explanations in these string theories – absolutely none! … “

the “… “important physicists” … distinguished colleagues … work[ing] 12 or more hours a day on their physics …” for the past two decades or so have failed to calculate the numbers that Feynman wanted to see.

It is even more interesting that the “… “important physicists” … distinguished colleagues …” are so busy “… work[ing] 12 or more hours a day on their physics …” that they don’t take time to try to understand physics models (available on the web/blogosphere) that do calculate those numbers.

Maybe that is the worst Trouble with Theoretical High-Energy Physics.

Tony Smith

28. Alejandro Rivero - September 3, 2007

resp. the “distinguished colleagues” and the aptitude Tony mentions, my current thinking is exactly along the lines of herding, in one sense: it is not only that they do not [take the time to] read the internet production, it is that they do not [take the time to] read the 1970-1980 works of the previous generations of physics. Honestly, a lot of the work in the internet extends, recalculates or readjusts work done in the pre-string theory age. This includes topics as preons, quaternions or Clifford algebras (here Tony Smith is careful to quote the sources in standard literature). Why they do not read it, that is another question. Perhaps they rely on their advisors and seniors (Giorgi, Zee, …), who did the homework time ago. Perhaps they do not find the results useful for their current research path; Bee has described very well the working of citations: they cite what is useful for their work, and only very rarely the work is about standard model parameters.
I have in my table today, lets see… a lot of Casalbuoni Gatto on preons and clifford algebras , some Rajeev on the same, a lot of Uranga et al on branes, Brink Schwarz 1981 on non commutative space, Peskin on compositeness, Evans 87-24 on Division Algebras, susy and triality, Green Schwarz 1983 where triality is explicit in eq 16, and then some older ones still pending to read. I bet most seniors have read all this, but I doubt about the middle and young generations, who were perhaps very pressured by crowded postdoct and tenure competitions.

29. dorigo - September 4, 2007

Hi all,

sorry for not answering comments here for a while – I was distracted by other columns.

#22,23: Andrea, Dimitri, I agree: as all generalizations, the one about americans being more obsessed with sexism is bound to be flawed. I would argue there is a small, but detectable, bias towards it.

#24 etc:

Tripitaka, I think it is a very good topic for a separate post – I wish I could write a suitable introduction to it. I will see what I can do.

Anomalous, I think we have indeed made huge progress in our tools, but in the face of that, we have only completed a picture of fermions and gauge bosons we knew how to paint. Much in the same way we are going to find a SM higgs boson. On the theoretical side I do not see any fundamental advancement in the understanding of the world, but I may be underestimating a few things… And my belief also is due to the fact I do not believe in string theory and I doubt SUSY is correct.

Tony, I share some of your concerns. I think Alejandro answers very well here, with regards to why theorists follow the mainstream.

Cheers,
T.


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