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Lubos Motl’s apology November 20, 2008

Posted by dorigo in physics.

Besides the exchanges that have occurred on this blog and on Motl’s, which are out for everybody to read, I have tried privately to get Lubos to understand where was his mistake, which -over the course of the last 24 hours- has grown to gigantic proportions by his insistence, his neglecting the evidence, and his arrogant behavior.

Now, I originally thought he was just pretending, and he had seen his mistake but was unwilling to acknowledge it. Over the course of the day, I gradually realized he instead really believed he was right. So I forced myself to explain to him what he had gotten wrong with private messages, and I think he now, finally, got it. I understand he is a speed reader as much as he is a speed writer, and he overlooks things. But at some point he, too, must stop and think. At least a couple of times a day, it is physiological, right ?

The reason I think he has finally understood is that he did not answer to my last message, the fifth of the day, where I made a final, more thorough attempt at explaining to him that the CDF analysis first uses a small set of data collected by a unprescaled trigger, and then, 28 pages into the manuscript, starts using the whole dataset. Experimentalists know that dynamically prescaled triggers are harder to use for cross section estimates, but theorists probably ignore it. On page 28 of the CDF paper, at the very bottom, the explanation is for everybody to read. So, the 153000 ghost events correspond to 742/pb, and their effective cross section is 200/pb, not 75 as Strassler, and then Motl, argued.

Now, I know Lubos is a busy guy, so I will make it easier for him. He cannot bring himself to write an admission and an apology, so I will write it for him, in a way that is hopefully acceptable for him. My hope is that he will undersign it. So here is my offer. Lubos can cut and paste it to his blog too if he wants.

“I, Lubos Motl, apologize for the mistake in which I was driven by Strassler’s paper, and by the rather complicated way the CDF preprint on anomalous muons is written. I insisted I was right because I could not spend my time reading the CDF paper, I have better things to do. I now realize my mistake, and apologize with the CDF collaboration -whose results I misrepresented-, with Tommaso Dorigo -whom I accused of not knowing how to compute cross sections, and with all the readers I deceived.”

Awaiting Lubos’ signature now.

UPDATE: strangely enough, no endorsement yet. In the meantime, I cannot fail to notice that many of you are still confused. I am slightly upset by the fact that anybody may not know whom to believe, whether a retired string theorist or an experimenter who authored the study on which we are discussing. I invite those of you who are still unconvinced to ask the main author of the analysis: Paolo Giromini. His email is frascati [at] fnal [dot] gov.

UPDATE: Lubos apologized! And he did using the very same words I suggested above, plus more. See here. He finally understood he was wrong, although he needed the tip from two other CDF colleagues to get there. He did not go so far as to take off the two posts where he uses various epithets to describe my ignorance in computing cross sections, but admittedly, this is as good as it could get.


1. Randall - November 20, 2008

Sorry, are we not going a bit too far?



2. dorigo - November 20, 2008

Oh no Randall. Have you not read what he writes about me in his last couple of posts, as well as in the comments threads ? I have never really insulted him, while he has. I had warned him he was wrong repeatedly, and at a time when realizing it using the information I was giving him, and retreating in good order, would not have caused any distress to him.

Now, since by insisting in his claims he is broadcasting false science, and this is perfectly objective and for everybody to check, I feel I have the right, as a member of the CDF collaboration who published that paper, to ask him to stop misrepresenting the analysis.

I think mine is an amicable way, while the CDF spokespersons might decide to ask it in a more official way. However, Lubos is not an academic any longer, so I guess this would be no deterrent.

In my last private message to Lubos, I said I still hope we will shake hands the first time we meet, but that he really went too far with his insistence on a mistake, and attacks on my attempts to explain him where he had faltered.


3. Neal - November 20, 2008

Insults make the guy doing the insults look immature. If anything they enhance the reputation of the recipient who is important enough to be the target of political attack.

At least that’s my view from the outside.


4. dorigo - November 20, 2008

Neal, I totally agree. Have you read what he writes of me in two of his last three posts ? He insults me, calls me a low-IQ person, all sorts of things. I did not insult him, but only pointed out he is ignorant of the details of the CDF analysis.


5. Kea - November 20, 2008

Who do you think the barbie doll is supposed to be? It doesn’t resemble you in any way, Tommaso.

6. Anonymous - November 21, 2008

Who says particle physics has lost its applicability to everyday life? Giromini has managed to advance the science of endless arguments to new levels with this analysis. What would the world be like without such a result?

7. carlbrannen - November 21, 2008

The Barbie doll is a reference to a (female) talking doll some time ago that said “math is hard” or “math class is tough”. This perhaps innocent statement resonated badly with a lot of people and if you do a search for it you’ll find the links.

My buddy’s gf is a Barbie collector and I bought her a book on the subject, Forever Barbie, The Unauthorized Biography of a Real Doll. I got it used, so of course I had to read it first. Barbie is not at all like her reputation in academia / intelligentsia circles. Her lifestyle is that of a career woman who doesn’t need men to get what she wants. She’s not a math freak, but neither is the vast majority of the public, and this “lacking” is not a part of her persona.

The reason she’s so skinny is strictly engineering. Play clothes are made out of (too thick) real cloth and so are out of scale. (She dates to long before skinny models became popular. Think Marilyn Monroe.) If they’d given Barbie normal proportions, she’d have been too padded when fully clothed.

Her origins are somewhat scandalous, the German street doll named Bild Lilli, which are now quite a collector’s item (that was sold to adult males). Typical comment, “I could do without balding old men but my budget couldn’t!”

8. Luboš Motl - November 21, 2008

I, Lubos Motl, apologize for the mistake in which I was driven by Strassler’s paper, and by the rather complicated [well, messy] way the CDF preprint on anomalous muons is written. I insisted I was right because I could not spend my time reading the [whole] CDF paper, I have better things to do. I now realize my mistake, and apologize with the CDF collaboration – whose results I misrepresented-, with Tommaso Dorigo – whom I accused of not knowing how to compute cross sections, without having a full proof of this incompetence, and with all the readers I misled.

My reason to think that the subset of the CDF collaboration meant that the cross section of new events was over 200+ pb are testimonies of two other CDF members that I have no serious reason to doubt at this moment. My statement that it seems that they meant that the cross section was above 200 pb doesn’t mean that they actually wrote it in the paper – it seems that they wrote it in such a way to contradict it – and it surely doesn’t mean that I have already been convinced that there exists a new event with a 200 pb cross section which I haven’t.

I realize that CDF may have been – and still is – in a difficult situation, being driven to conclusions that sound so unusual that many of the members probably didn’t want to express them clearly. Still, I think it is a better idea to write them clearly and supplement future papers (or versions of this one?) with estimated cross sections, while the processes that look sufficiently unbelievable are honestly presented as a result of either new physics, unaccounted standard model processes, errors in the detectors, triggers or other parts of the technology, or conceptual and methodological errors of the whole CDF team – because all of these options are clearly possible.

9. My Discovery of the Blogosphere | CERN Student Newsletter - March 9, 2009
10. Internet Denizen - April 12, 2009

I’m not a physicist; just arrived here because I was trying to look this guy up on the Internet (in turn because I had spied a solution of his on a problem in Computer Science). I can’t help but notice that so many people have a problem with his puerile behavior. Just a cursory glance at the first page of a Google search on him convinces me he is both bright and boorish. I just don’t understand why some apparently intelligent people feel they have arrived at a point where they can give the finger to the rest of humanity and dispense with basic courtesy in discourse.

@Lubos — you may be smart but if you don’t learn some manners soon you will only be hurting the recognition your own brilliance deserves. When some random person like me can Google you and be overwhelmed by a solid mass of ugly entries about your behavior it’s time to wake up and do something about your problem.

11. dorigo - April 13, 2009

Dear Denizen,

good try, but Lubos enjoys too much playing the enfant terrible, and one can only hope that his better part will prevail soon. Indeed, there are examples of discussions -even in this blog- where he contributed without a single profanity or personal attack.

In a way, I have come to appreciate his other personality too. I just have to picture I have a 16-year-old boy in front of me rather than a Harvard professor.


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