## Tuesday, December 18, 2012

### Anti-string delusions and political correctness

A science babe working for the Huffington Post left-wing website recorded a video interview with Mark Jackson who is now in Paris:

The title matches the first sentence of the interview and it is annoying.

Well, the title is:
'Superstring Theory Is A Bit Controversial,' Theoretical Physicist Mark Jackson Explains (VIDEO)
The interview has attracted over 500 comments.

While most of the interview is an okay and highly conventional layperson's introduction to string theory and cosmology (CMB), I would love to know who had the idea that the interview could – or had to? – start in this idiotic and totally dishonest way. Needless to say, there is absolutely nothing controversial about string theory – except among hopeless cranks and anti-science activists in general.

But someone must think that it's desirable if not required to include similar indefensible trash talk to reports about physics. I find the situation analogous to reports about the richest nations, the white race, or the wealthiest corporations – all things that are successful to the extent that they induce jealousy. When PC sources such as left-wing websites talk about them, they are obliged to repeat some negatively sounding myths about them, too.

In all incarnations, this political correctness is obnoxious. Sometimes I even feel it has become politically incorrect to state the self-evident fact that the critics of string theory are imbeciles.

Incidentally, one of the hottest stories (EN) in the Czech newspapers talks about Sheldon Cooper's success in saving the life of his and his friends by singing a carol (CZ I, II) about St Wenceslaus, the Czech patron, in the latest episode of TBBT, one which topped Thursday ratings with 16.7 million viewers. The journalists superficially focus on Sheldon's and Leonard's inability to pronounce the name Václav (Vuht-slaff, not Vaklaff).

The Czech readers also learn about a previous Czech-related comment by Sheldon: a decade ago, diarrhea came as quickly as the Nazi army occupied Czechoslovakia. They refer to the "Pancake Batter Anomaly" episode: ;-)
Sheldon Cooper: No, visiting professor. Anyway, the local cuisine was a little more sausage-based than I'm used to, and the result was an internal Blitzkrieg, with my lower intestine playing the part of Czechoslovakia.
Sheldon may mispronounce Czech names but he knows more about not just the Czech lands but also about Saturnalia and Christmas than the other characters combined. :-)

1. Saying nonsense is the easiest way for attracting attention.

2. Especially with an American accent and natural over self-confidence ;-)

3. Uuh, this is very annoying indeed :-(

So I will refrain from watching this interview (to really learn more about string theory I have other good sources ;-)...) and even thinking about what trolls and sourballs could be saying in the comments (without reading them) drives me up the wall ...

BTW I now understand from a more "social scientific" point of view what motivates the Trollking to troll:

According to this wikipedia definition

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Troll_%28Internet%29#Troll_sites

his site is nothing but a troll site (it should be mentioned in the wikipedia article as an example too) with the aim to give trolls an environment where they can freely and unhindered propagate, incite each other, etc...

The incited trolls then spread out to attack physics blogs and other places, where physics discussions usually take place, to prevent every serious discussion by trolling

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Troll_%28Internet%29#Troll_sites

and flaming

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flaming_%28Internet%29

The Trollking is a so called concern troll

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Concern_troll#Concern_troll

As mentioned in this paragraph too, his trolling and sending out brainless spambots is unfortunately not restricted to online discussions, but he really tries to get influence off line too, in order to troll physics and hinder research and progress in the "real world" too. Seing serious and nice discussions disrupted everywhere give him a morbid joy and entertainment.

The horrible title of this (after all not so bad?) interview is a bad sign that such trolling has started to become rather the rule than the exception.

Since some time ago I no longer dare to mention outsied TRF that I am quite interested in string theory for example and talk about it in other physics blogs. People who try to seriously discuss any BSM physics get too often attacked by brainless spambots coming from the mentioned spam server in Columbia (or its German analog).

So, to social scientists such an on and offline trolling behavior is well known, different topics get more and more affected by it today, but unfortunately there seems to exist no idea describing what can be done about at present.

4. And if the Trollking dares to stick out his long nose out into an otherwise nice physics blog (such as Matt Strassler's site for example) again, I will post an only sligthly adapted version of this comment there too, telling him that I now understand his pathetic motiviations from a (social) scientific point of view ... !

5. This is OT but I just rediscovered a gem from my childhood from the your link to the czech newspaper site, next to the article about TBBT they mention a popular czech christmas movie. I think the princess from Three Wishes for Cinderella ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zL-2HDO9Uvk ) was the first girl I ever fell in love with. Funny thing is I always thought the movie was Polish rather than Czech, and I could never remember what it was called.

Happy memories.

6. This Czechoslovak-West-German fairy-tale is always aired on December 24th night and we usually watch it. ;-)

My rendition of an English translation of the theme song:

7. Oh my god, my beautiful discovery of a childhood gem has turned into something horrific!!!!!

Only joking, that singing is incredibly funny Lubos - I'm not sure if you meant it to be so! ;-)

Thanks for all the info, I'm going to put together all the parts from the BBC version (I edited my post above to add links to the original BBC version) and watch it with my daughter over Christmas (She prefers pokemon type movies though, so sadly might not enjoy this as much as me!)

8. I don't know what you mean funny. I don't see anything funny about the song. It's a serious, romantic song, and I wasn't trying to give it any other flavor.

Also, I thought that Pokemon was a video game, not a movie.

9. There are pokemon video games, pokemon cartoon series, pokemon movies (quite a few), pokemon toys, pokemon everything really.

Sorry if I misinterpreted the intent of your youtube song - but really, the first impression is it's supposed to be a joke - maybe I don't understand Czech musical heritage :-)

Anyway,you posted joke videos before haven't you? Or is this rendition of Bohemian Rhapsody supposed to serious too?:

10. Dear Lubos,

I don't really understand what is your problem with
this video. He said that while string theory mathematically fits together well, we are not able to test it at the moment because the LHC is not powerful enough to reach the string scale. This is correct. He haven't said that string theory must diverge at 6 loops.

11. Lubos & James, re fairy tales: following a recent French study it is still better received by society when the man earns more than the woman in the couple. Men feel they are failing their protective role in the family if the woman is the main breadwinner. Maybe that's the hidden message in these fairy tales... (more than the super rich guy with the super poor girl).

12. OK, I don't think it's right to say "we are not able to test it" at this cavalier level of generality but even if this statement were right, it surely doesn't imply that string theory is controversial, does it?

13. What he says is not correct because as many sourballish people, he is not willing or not able to make the distinction between direct and indirect tests. While it is correct that at present the Planck or string or GUT scale are not DIRECTLY accessible, there is still the possibility of INDIRECT tests theories. So to generally say that string theory is not testable at present is plain wrong.

14. Nothing ground breaking in this video... I spent a few years working in the building shown at the beginning (the IAP).

15. Well, I think it's fair to say that the Fermi experiment observed (a particular aspect of) Planck scale physics directly:
http://motls.blogspot.de/2009/08/fermi-kills-all-lorentz-violating.html

16. Yeah thats right (did not think about that at the moment, it should count as a direct disproof of certain things (?) ...), and the TBBT scene linked into this TRF article is actually my favorate one; I've watched it about 100 times because it is so funny :-D.

17. I’ll have to be more careful, Shannon.

18. Ouch ... :-D !

19. That is not true - I have tried. :-<
But I surely believe that being either extremely cocky and/or completely nuts will get one noticed! ;-)

20. Haha Gene. Young Americans come accross as totally uninhibited... from my side of the Atlantic :-)

21. Hi Lubos,

Thanks for your coverage of my Talk Nerdy to Me interview with Cara Santa Maria, and for giving me an opportunity to reply.

Being a string theorist myself, I would hardly say something "anti-stringy." The point of the interview was precisely to emphasize that while string theory is mathematically beautiful it has not yet been tested, and we are now working on ways to test it. These are perfectly true statements. My comment that "string theory is a bit controversial" referred to some in the community (incorrectly) believing that it was not capable of being tested. This popular-level video lasted all of three minutes, it could hardly provide an in-depth technical exposition of the theory or the sociology surrounding it. And while I had nothing to do with the title, I'm sure you know well that choosing the most provocative soundbite attracts readers. The video did yield over 500 comments on the Huffington Post website, many by people who clearly knew nothing about physics, but hopefully they will now be motivated to learn more about the subject. Thus, I am quite perplexed why you would refer to the interview as an "anti-string delusion."

I will also mention that Cara (like you) has a background in research but now works tremendously hard to make science accessible to a popular audience. So referring to her as merely as "a science babe" would be as unfair as referring to you merely as "a science dude" -- she, and you, deserve more respect than that.

Thanks,

--Mark

22. Cara S. Maria as far as I understand only has an MS (from a place that isn't the "best" to be exact) degree in neuroscience. Mr. Motl here, on the other hand, was a faculty member at Harvard and serious actual string theorist in his past. Compared to him or to people who are considered authorities in a field, she is a "science babe", and I am sure he didn't imply any disrespect but saying (for example) that Ms. Maria is an "expert" of any serious sort in science is a bit of an over-statement.

23. Sorry, Mark, but you make it worse than it was. Now it's even the "point of the interview" that "string theory has not yet been tested" - and you even admit to have used this laymen's delusion as a way to promote your own work.

This is really pathetic. The right thing to do with string theory today or in any foreseeable future isn't to "test it" and almost none of the important work today or, I predict, in a foreseeable future is or will be about testing string theory.

So you're effectively abusing the anti-scientific delusions pumped into a large part of the body of the laymen to promote your work and yourself which just sucks. It's dishonest. There is nothing legitimate about the insistence that string theory is "tested" in the direct experimental sense and there are no demonstrable achievements that would belong among the defining ones.

You just brutally misrepresent what string theory is, what it has achieved, why it's study, and what results in string theory are or will be important.

24. The 500 comments are certainly nood a good thing.

Unfortunately in the comments below any popular video and article about string theory, what most people (who know nothing about physics) do these days is just spit and spat on it :-(.

I doubt that more than 10 out of 500 (if any) are motivated and seriously interested in learning more about the topic because of this interview.

25. Sheldon knows shit about the Czech lands. There was no blitzkrieg in the Czech lands.