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Sheldon Cooper will confront Brian Greene

On Thursday, April 7th, 2011, CBS will air another, 04x20 episode of The Big Bang Theory. It's called "The Herb Garden Germination." Amy and Sheldon will try to spread rumors and Howard will act to upgrade his relationship with Bernadette.

More importantly, Brian Greene will star as himself.

He will be reading excerpts from his new book, probably The Hidden Reality about the multiverse, while Sheldon Cooper will display another level of his striking overlap with your humble correspondent. Sheldon will be explaining that it is nonsense to try to teach physics to the general population.

Well, I have of course spent lots of time by popularization of science among the broader public - including the Czech translation of The Elegant Universe - and other books I authored etc. But the reality has taught me that Sheldon is right. It is nonsense to teach advanced physics to the broad public.

The public can never appreciate the concepts and inner workings of quantum physics, string theory, or anything else that actually requires a technical mastery of the subject. As a result, the interest of an outsider always converges from the actual physics that makes sense and that has very strict rules to some superficial, and almost universally wrong, issues that are attractive for the laymen because of pre-existing reasons.

In other words, it's throwing pearls to the swines.

Even when a layman manages to parrot some correct insights about science that he or she has learned from a popular book or presentation, it cannot be classified as an actual, lasting knowledge. The first pseudoscientific book or presentation that the very same layman encounters is able to immediately "neutralize" the previously acquired knowledge - because it was not a real knowledge. It was just a temporary state of parroting someone else.

It's actually more likely than not than a non-expert will worship the most incorrect ideas about physics and spit on the most valuable ones. It is kind of inevitable. And I am not talking just about the thousands of brainwashed and aggressive imbeciles who gather on blogs of Fecers Shmoits and read books by Pees Swolins and similar hacks who are much closer to an average chimp than to an average string theorist. They're just a diluted version of the way how pretty much every uninformed layman thinks.

I believe that it may be refreshing to admit that all the interest and excitement about advanced physics concepts displayed from the people who manifestly misunderstand the internal logic of the physical theories is fake. After all, a vast majority of the owners of Hawking's Brief History of Time has never read the book. It is a dishonest game for people to pretend that they are something else than what they are.

In my opinion, it would be healthier if the public stopped influencing things it can't understand and it can't possibly be interested in: the proliferation of postmodern pseudoscientists of the Swolin kind or the global warming alarmists is, to a large extent, a result of the interactions with the extra-scientific portions of the population. Quite universally, these interactions have contaminated science because they bring criteria that have nothing to do with the scientific ones.

I am not saying that the number of people who are educated in physics should be left dropping: quite on the contrary. But what I think should be avoided is the informal promotion of people who don't understand physics as "honorary physicists" just because they display some (usually fake) interest in the discipline and/or because they're found important by someone for totally unscientific reasons.

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snail feedback (6) :

reader Harlow said...

There have to be people who fall above the general public but below trained physicists. Me, for example.

reader Norpag said...

Hey Lubos - for the general public would you care to comment on the significance of this paper?
Gentle question - does it destroy the entire basis of standard cosmology - if so someone might point it out to Greene.
Regards Norman Page

reader Luboš Motl said...

Dear norpag, I've discussed the Arp's hypothesis here in 2005 and in 2010.

Those articles of mine are arguably friendly, relatively to anything you may hear from anyone who was educated in the standard cosmology. Still, I think that all these "bundles" of objects with very different redshift that seem to be "connected" are coincidences and the paper you listed, and any other paper of this kind, failed to demonstrate that the proximity of such objects is anything else than a coincidence.

It's not that easy to produce such huge differences in the red shift and most of the red shift we observe in those contexts is almost certainly of cosmological origin. Too many things work - and would have to be re-explained totally differently if one argued that the origin of the red shift is not cosmological.

The Arp et al. papers fail to take the conjecture that such proximities are just coincidences into account - they seem to discard the most obvious explanation a priori, and instead, they focus on episodes that are good for their "revolutionary" picture. I don't think that this is a good scientific approach - despite the fact that I can't claim that I am 100.00% certain that there is no huge non-cosmological source of the redshift over there.


reader Norpag said...

Lubos My problem is that in the paper I referred to the evidence for the close spacial proximity of NGC 7319 and the associated QSO seems - how shall I put it? - almost compelling. In this whole matter Arp et al need only be right once to upset the entire cosmological applecart.
If there is an "intrinsic " red shift in certain objects which is time varying then the current orthodox cosmology collapses.
How many "coincidences " would it take to gain your serious consideration or even acceptance?

reader Luboš Motl said...

Dear norpag, your whole reasoning is nothing else than irrational, emotional, and wishful thinking. What can I say? The same thing what whining hysterical women are doing.

In science, an "almost compelling" argument cannot replace an argument that is valid. Relativity has understood what sources of red shift can exist, and it has been successfully applied to cosmology, passing lots of nontrivial tests. Distant objects are receding by a velocity produced by the Big Bang Theory. The velocity increases with the distance and may be measured via the cosmological red shift.

It may be a detail but your term "cosmological applecart" proves that you are simply prejudiced. Such striking prejudices are incompatible with the impartial evaluation of the evidence that is the cornerstone of science. You may use unjustifiably derogatory terms but they won't change that relativity and cosmology based on relativity belong among the most valuable things that the mankind possesses.

Indeed, it is enough for a theory to be proved wrong once, and it's wrong. But "zero proofs" cannot be considered to be "nearly one proof", and even if it could, one really needs at least one piece of evidence, not "almost one". :-)

Relativity and the cosmological models work great and your statement that they collapse like an applecart or whatever is an extraordinary claim that requires extraordinary evidence.

Also, the goal of cosmology is to explain the Universe, and not to look for some idiotic signals at random pieces of the skies that may justify someone's desire to ignore everything else - which seems to be exactly what you want to be doing.

Your question "How many 'coincidences' would it take to gain your serious consideration or even acceptance?" has a very clear answer: I would have to see some statistical evidence that it is unlikely for the observations to occur by chance - the probability of the same or more extreme observation, according to the null hypothesis (Big Bang Theory), would have to be smaller than 10^{-6} - the standard 5-sigma requirement for evidence in hard science.

Your question is tendentious at the same moment because it is like if you were asking what evidence I need to be "converted", and you will bring me whatever evidence I need. But you *can't* because the statement you're defending is *not true* and the required evidence doesn't exist. In science, one can't cook up evidence for any statement according to any standards. In science, one may only collect sensible evidence supporting statements that are correct, or at least approximately correct, and this one is not.

If that particular paper is enough for you to decide that relativity is wrong, or the Big Bang Theory is wrong, or whatever you have decided, then I can only say that as far as I can say, your scientific standards are between very low and non-existent. Now, can we please stop this useless discussion about this crackpot paper I have wasted much more time with than what would be appropriate? Thanks.


reader Luboš Motl said...

Also, I forgot to say that the very idea to combine different kinds of objects - e.g. those with very different red shift - that happens to be located in the same direction of the skies is always a version of astrology.

It's similar to assigning special roles to constellations - that don't look the same way from any other point in the Universe - or conjunctions of celestial bodies etc.

The scientific approach is just the opposite one: it is analytic: so if we observer several types of objects somewhere, we try to separate what we observe into as clearly separated pieces as we can. And we only believe that there's some relationship between them if we actually have a theory that nontrivially explains some data that would be left unexplained without the theory.

The astrological Arp-like approach is exactly the opposite one. It is trying to invent stories and collect (bogus) evidence for pre-existing opinions about the relationships between random entities in the skies. It's just not good science.