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Nobel prizes shouldn't be awarded to large groups

Great physicists are islands of a sort, not mindless screws in an institution

I don't remember the last day when I agreed with Sabine Hossenfelder so entirely. She just wrote a blog post called

Should the Nobel Prize be given to collaborations and institutions?
in which she disagreed with a recent oped by Sean Carroll in The New York Times,
No Physicist Is an Island.
I agree with Sabine not only because of the "sign" of her answer but because of some detailed arguments, too. I wanted to write a very similar text on Wednesday but it's great that I didn't because she would surely not have written the same thing afterwards. ;-)

Today, the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize went to an organization fighting chemical weapons in Syria. It's an activity I support but I still think that the choice is shallow and tendentious, the organization itself hasn't really achieved much (it's someone else who did), and the very problem is temporary and will soon be forgotten. The list of previous winners of this prize contains some weird entries such as Yasser Arafat, Al Gore, or the IPCC. Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin have been nominated as well, of course. But no decent and intelligent person takes this prize seriously anymore.

We want to talk about science Nobel prizes – for medicine, chemistry, and especially physics – whose nomination and selection process remained unusually careful and rigorous and that managed to maintain a remarkable degree of credibility.

The 2013 Physics Nobel Prize was awarded for the Brout-Englert-Higgs mechanism and the Higgs boson. And because CERN was essential in making us "really sure" that such a particle exists, people were thinking about a Nobel prize for CERN as an institution or a Nobel prize for the director Rolf Heuer and/or the spokespeople of ATLAS and CMS, Fabiola Gianotti and Joe Incandela.

Well, they may still get a Nobel prize in the future. Let me assume that they won't. One justification why the experimenters didn't share the prize was that they found "pretty much the same thing" as Brout, Englert, and Higgs – but 48 years later. So that shouldn't count as an independent discovery at roughly the same time. ;-) Experimenters may still get Nobel prizes but it makes sense to give such prizes for things that they discover before the theorists – or before the moment when good theorists are pretty much certain that the object or effect exists. Be sure that there are lots of examples.

But there's one more fact involved: the experimenters worked in a large team. ATLAS has 3,000 members and CMS has 3,000 members. Let's agree that it's inappropriate to reward the political representatives of the groups, especially if the spokespeople were doing pretty much the same thing as all other conceivable, good enough spokespeople would be doing. Should such groups receive the Nobel prize as groups?

As Sabine reminds us, and I wanted to do exactly the same thing, Alfred Nobel's key last will from 1895 says that each year, one person should get a prize in one of the five disciplines. (Economics isn't among the original prizes; it's just a "memorial Nobel prize".) The first winner in 1901, Wilhelm Röntgen, was indeed one person. But already the winners in 1902 were two: Hendrik Lorentz and Pieter Zeeman. The winners in 1903 were three: Henri Becquerel, Pierre Curie, and Maria Skłodowska-Curie. No, there were not 4 winners in 1904. By 1903, the new tradition was fixed: at most three winners. We could say that the committee pissed on Nobel's grave already in 1902 but in some sense, no one else added any "new urine" afterwards.

A vast majority of winners until 1950 were indeed individuals. It became substantially more popular to choose 2 or 3 winners afterwards.

The fact that the number of winners is bounded from above isn't justified just by Nobel's last will. Regardless of the timing, it has a good independent reason. A rule that forbids or discourages large numbers of winners is needed to preserve the Nobel prize's scarcity. If arbitrarily large groups of winners were possible, the committee would surely be tempted to choose the politically correct solution and give the Nobel prize pretty much to everyone. Such a Nobel prize inflation would make the prize more or less worthless rather quickly. Note that if the prize were divided between members of ATLAS and CMS, each of them would get something like a few dollars. That's not what a prestigious prize was created for. That's what they can get from their salary for 30 minutes. And be sure that the fame per person would drop accordingly – pretty much proportionally. Just think what it does to the Peace Nobel Prize when every piece of stinky excrement shaped e.g. as Michael Mann may boast that he has "pretty much" received a Nobel prize, too.

Sabine even agrees with me about two more points: that there is no reason to make the prizes more inclusive than they were 100 years ago; and that Sean Carroll's claims to the contrary only reveal the fact that he is a hardcore leftist jerk rather than some genuine changes in the society.

A few hours before Sean Carroll, another leftist activist, a chemist named Ashutosh Jogalekar, wrote the same opinions in Scientific American. I saw his article through an application on my Android tablet and it made me upset, especially because about 80% of the SciAm texts accessible through the application were comparably offensive. (They included the interview with Gerard 't Hooft who has claimed for 15 years that quantum mechanics should be replaced by hydrodynamics and kilobytes of similar unrestricted crackpottery.) Only on the PC, I could see that this offensive character of the selection appeared because the application picks blog posts and opinions rather than science news and almost everyone involved with Scientific American has pretty much idiotic opinions about everything so when some room is reserved for such opinions, a catastrophe is inevitable.

Back to the main topic. Carroll and Jogalekar more or less claim that science has become a collective enterprise, Nobel could perhaps not foresee such a change, and the Nobel prize has become outdated or "misleading" for that reason. The only problem with this proposition is that it is nothing more than an ideological piece of junk.

As Sabine correctly says, science has always been a community enterprise in the sense that people were building on insights of others. After all, I add, you probably know who wrote
If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.
Yes, it was Isaac Newton; he wanted to point out that his "not quite friend" Robert Hooke was a dwarf. However, even Newton wasn't the first one; the quote has been spotted in the writings of the 12th century neo-Platonist Bernard of Chartres.

For example, during his discovery of the laws of mechanics, Isaac Newton himself depended on the insights by Galileo Galilei about acceleration and kinematics as well as the detailed data on planetary orbits by Johannes Kepler and Tycho Brahe. I could describe the pre-history in the case of every other insight in physics; that's what the work of historians of science is all about. The work of Newton and everyone else was connected with lots of the intellectual activities of others. That doesn't mean that Newton wasn't a genius; that doesn't mean that Newton wasn't an island (yes, I disagree with Carroll's title as well; islands are connected with each other as well, via the crust).

So it is complete bullshit that the dependence of scientific insights on the work of others is a new development that emerged sometime in the 20th century. It has always been an aspect of the scientific process. It was undoubtedly the case during Nobel's lifetime, too. He still decided that the five prizes should go to five individuals each year in total.

Nothing qualitative has changed about the interrelationships between the work of various scientists; about the existence of several folks who sometimes claim priority in a discovery (think about Newton and Leibniz and their Battle of Calculus – and dozens of other ancient examples). So is there anything that has changed? Well, one thing that has changed is that a much larger percentage of people considering themselves "scientists" are hardcore left-wing activists, too. This is a reflection of the government-funded character of scientific research since the mid 20th century. Has there been a change in the truly scientific issues surrounding the scientific process? The LHC is surely the first experiment that employs 6,000 experimental physicists, isn't it?

Well, maybe, but this is an artifact of a new status of the institutionalized scientific research: people pay large groups because the overall number of scientists is much larger than it was 100 years ago. Big Science is something that spread along with the Big Government. But that doesn't mean that the key results started to be made by large groups as well. Quite on the contrary.

I think that if you calculate the percentage of professional researchers who are responsible for the top 10% of breakthroughs as measured by the number of citations, the percentage is actually much lower today than it was 100 or 200 years ago. In other words, institutionalized science contains many more redundant people today. Or, if you will, the claim that science moves forward thanks to individuals – perhaps geniuses – is much more true today than it was centuries ago! After all, note that 6,000 experimenters at CERN weren't even able to achieve what two individuals (Englert and Higgs) easily achieved, namely to make a Nobel-prize-scale discovery. ;-)

So all the arguments claiming to support the idea that the character of the scientific research has transformed since Nobel's lifetime are flawed.

What communists like Carroll and Jogalekar (I had to look the name up again) actually want is to nationalize the contributions to science, much like they want to nationalize (a.k.a. steal) private assets in the economy. (Sabine even uses almost the same words: quite a nice surprise for me.) These two folks and many others have a very simple egotist reason why they want such a thing: they know that they will never make any substantial contribution to science themselves. So the regime in which every member of the community "contributes" the same contribution as every other member would be bound to make their actual contributions look larger than they are.

The very meaning of the prize (and of any meaningful prize) was to discriminate, to bring some extra advantages to those who contributed more to the mankind's assets, intellectual or otherwise. Spreading a prize to everyone means to abolish it. If something is owned by everyone, it's like if it is owned by no one.

One more comment. On Tuesday, Frank Wilczek tweeted the following tweet:
Scientific contributions are analog, prizes are binary (yes or no).
Well, almost. Even Nobel prizes sometimes say more than "yes" or "no". Among three winners, one may win 1/2 and the other two may win 1/4. But let me neglect this subtlety.

Frank Wilczek is surely right when it comes to the proposition he wrote explicitly. A prize only conveys some "discrete", and therefore inaccurate, information about the continuous world we live in. However, such a discrete prize may still be more meaningful than continuous prizes because even continuous prizes would be likely to be highly inaccurate; because accuracy isn't the only feature through which prizes play a positive role; and because of some other considerations I will sketch below.

So I want to argue that Wilczek is wrong about the key claim he writes in between the Twitter lines, namely that it's bad that the prizes are discrete.

Our one-day Higgs Nobel poll before the Tuesday prize gave the following results:

(Too bad I didn't include Migdal and Polyakov who independently discovered the Brout-Englert-Higgs mechanism as 19-year-old Soviet kids.)

I think that this distribution is surprisingly well-informed. These results are a nontrivial piece of evidence that the TRF readers know what they're doing when they're pressing buttons.

Imagine what would happen if the Nobel prize money were divided to the percentages that exactly match the poll above. Carl Hagen would have only received 0.5% of the Nobel prize money. Would it be OK to call him a Nobel prize winner? A prize that wouldn't allow us to answer similar simple questions would be far less interesting.

Moreover, all the numbers, despite their being continuous, would be questioned. Anderson fans (and maybe Anderson himself) would protest that Anderson should have deserved a greater proportion of the prize (despite the fact that he had already won this prize). From some perspective, they would have a point. But they would be annoying, too. Similar but less obnoxious ;-) shouting would come from other camps. In a similar setup, people could become sensitive about every single one percent of the Nobel prize. The prize would undoubtedly become much more political in character and the future prizes (or future distribution of prizes) would depend on the candidates' camps' ability to scream.

So Wilczek is surely right that the Yes/No information conveyed by the Nobel prizes fails to quantify the exact contributions that various people have made. But that does not mean that a continuous prize would serve a better job. The prize has some quantization or lottery spirit in it and these features sometimes make it more exciting and interesting. And it largely avoids shouting matches between many camps because most of the conceivable candidates are completely omitted which allows their fans to think that they may get a full-fledged Nobel prize sometime in the future.

There's one more thing that would be wrong about a continuous Nobel prize with many winners. The committee would probably be likely to divide the prizes ever more uniformly. So Higgs wouldn't get 43% of the prize as he would get in our poll. Each candidate may receive close to 1/12. As the committees would be getting increasingly more politically correct, they would be including an increasing number of people and each of them would be getting a decreasing amount of money.

Prizes and awards suck but some prizes – such as the scientific Nobel prizes – suck much less than others. Their adhesion to principles, preservation of scarcity, and ignoring of the communist activists' recommendations is a part of this well-deserved success.

And that's the memo.

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snail feedback (37) :

reader Dimension10 (Abhimanyu PS) said...

I agree completely.

reader m said...

Very well articulated and truly conservative, Lubos! Another historical example is the development of special relativity; it started from the works of Lorentz and Poincaré (the latter was probably the first to introduce the principle of relativity as holding for all physical phenomena), but a genius was needed to unify and construct the theory as we use it today. Indeed, two genius, Einstein of course and Minkowski, who establish the foundations which were needed for the former go beyond and construct GR.

reader Luboš Motl said...

Thanks, m! I completely agree that special relativity is an example of a genius - who still worked within some context. The only problem with the example is that Einstein ultimately didn't get the Nobel prize for relativity. ;-)

reader kashyap vasavada said...

I agree pretty much that awarding Nobel prizes to large groups would defeat the original purpose of the prize. But this would mean that in HEP, it would be very difficult for an experimentalist to get the prize in future. HEP experiments of necessity would have to involve large groups. In addition, so many thousands and thousands of particles come out in the new accelerator experiments that you cannot store all the data and you have to set specific triggers to find some particles predicted by theorists. I wonder, if it follows that it would be hard for experimentalists to find anything not predicted by theorists!!! Of course there is a danger that in setting specific triggers that
they would miss something completely new, not predicted by any theorists. I would appreciate comments on these issues.

reader Luboš Motl said...

I disagree that it's impossible for a HEP experimenter to get a Nobel prize under "my" conditions.

Just check what Leon Lederman got his Nobel prize for (with Melvin Schwartz and Jack Steinberger)

and what about Carlo Rubbia and Simon van der Meer

There are a few others. All these folks led teams as well - but they *clearly* didn't get it just for being spokesmen. Check their actual contributions.

reader anna v said...

The recorded data are taken with general triggers, not specific to a theory other than kinematics, in the case of LHC high transverse momentum and a lower energy triggers so as to bring the numbers into manageable storage state. It is in the analysis that events are chosen by different characteristics expected by theoretical/phenomenological models.

Even so during the runs some data are taken with minimum bias triggers, just in case something unusual/unexpected exists. Of course rare events cannot be caught in this net. .

reader m said...

Thanks Lubos. About Einstein and the Nobel prize, there is a story (that you probably know) that a ophthalmologist called Gullstrand was the probable responsible for the fact that Einstein did not receive his Nobel prize because of relativity. See this:

As a mere curiosity, my professor suggested me (as an undergraduate exercise) to apply my recent acquired knowledge of GR and geometry to write a paper clarifying that *nonsensical* essays published in the arXiv about the "Schwarzschild original solution" versus the currently taught in textbooks. I decided to go a little further and sketch the history of the maximal extension of the Schawarzschild solution. Then I found that Gullstrand, and a French politician called Painlevé, were (possibly) the first to find a
coordinate system in which the singularly r=2m of the Schwarzschild
solution go away.

I hope that, after my exams, I can finish the paper! ;)

reader HLx said...

The Nobel Peace Prize is a joke. The Norwegian Nobel comity is mainly comprised of old politicians, and have been ruled by Thorbjørn Jagland for many years now, who is a old-school workers party representative with an unusual love for the EU. The 5-10 years the Nobel peace prize has been awarded as a means to influence world politics and/or Norways relations to the world, and NOT as a prize awarded to people fighting for peace.

Jagland and his buddies are hysteric AGW beliebers, and they wanted to enforce the issue. Since Jagland loves EU, he had to award the price to EU. Because Jagland loves Obama, and also wanted to show that Norwegians dont hate black people, Obama was awarded the prize. Now they want to influence international, and specifically Norwegian policy, in Syria - as Jagland and the MSM in Norway have chosen that we should go in and help the terrorist "freedom fighters." Their hope is not for peace, but for international meddling in the Syrian conflict - and to get this point through, they choose to enforce the "chemical weapons" issue, which is a hot potato in Syria at the moment.

The Nobel Peace Prize have not been about peace as long as I can remember, rather a combined trademark for the socialist part of Norway as well as a channel to try to influence the world. Hypocrats. And yeah, I am a Norwegian, and I am familiar with this filthy game.

reader John Archer said...


A fellow going by the name of Martin Rees had a comment up on that NYT article. What an opportunity to have a go at the bastard!

So I immediately set about drafting a response. All done, only then to notice that comments were closed. "SHIT!" I thought.

Deeply frustrating.

Luboš, on the off chance that he reads your blog I hope you don't mind if I stick it here. Pretty please.

Response to Martin Rees, Cambridge, UK, Oct. 9, 2013 at 1:17 p.m:

"If the Committee sticks with its restriction in future years, it will not only cause more unfairness..." — Martin Rees


Well, well. There it is in all its glory — that charlatan's weasel keyword straight from the Top UK Whiners' & Whingers' Lexicon for Leftard Losers, used as a hammer to forge their socially engineered nightmare vision of a 'fairer' society, typically by means of 'affirmative action', curbs on the freedom of speech and freedom of association, extortion by tax and the doling out of highly paid non-jobs and freebies to a waste-of-space political class, its chums and favoured beneficiaries (in Quangos and NGOs etc) who are now out of control and effectively unaccountable to the people of the country.

I'm sure the distribution of the legacy bequeathed in many, many wills could be regarded as 'unfair' by you. So let's get a committee of the 'great & good' together on these too—your esteemed self included of course—to usurp the property rights of all such testators? Yes?

NO — THAT'S THEFT! Nobel made his will and that's an end to the matter. It's not for you or anyone else to steal from him.

By the way, I used to hold The Royal Society in the highest regard. That's all gone now. When eventually the history is written, the period of its association with—and its craven endorsement of the junk-science 'findings' of—the IPCC, along with those of its officers responsible, will be remembered for unprecedented corruption, indulgence in naked politicking and the egregious disservice to science. 97% of scientists will agree. We need the equivalent of another Oliver Cromwell to clean out Parliament all these base institutions:

"It is high time for me to put an end to your sitting in this place, which you have dishonored by your contempt of all virtue, and defiled by your practice of every vice; ye are a factious crew, and enemies to all good government; ye are a pack of mercenary wretches, and would like Esau sell your country for a mess of pottage, and like Judas betray your God for a few pieces of money.

"Is there a single virtue now remaining amongst you? Is there one vice you do not possess? Ye have no more religion than my horse; gold is your God; which of you have not barter'd your conscience for bribes? Is there a man amongst you that has the least care for the good of the Commonwealth?

"Ye sordid prostitutes have you not defil'd this sacred place, and turn'd the Lord's temple into a den of thieves, by your immoral principles and wicked practices? Ye are grown intolerably odious to the whole nation; you were deputed here by the people to get grievances redress'd, are yourselves gone! So! Take away that shining bauble there, and lock up the doors.

"In the name of God, go!"

Kind regards,
John Archer, NFRS (deo gratias)

reader John Archer said...

Hey, nice comment, HLx.

I see we share a common interest — a deep and abiding hatred of the EU. Excellent! Good man.

We also have a little common history going back a thousand years or so if I'm not mistaken.

Say! Why don't we celebrate that in style? Period style would be fitting I reckon. We could revive a few old practices.

Just my first thoughts, but we could set up an inter-nation association to set things rolling. Nothing too formal. Just like-minded people getting together to share ideas and further a common interest. What I'm thinking is longboats and axes.

No, forget the longboats — too much like hard work. Keep the axes though. There's a good use for them. But I think we'd need to buff up on the old techniques if we are to use them to good effect.

As I say, these are just my first thoughts and I'm sure I'll come up with some others. The thing is right now I'm a little fixated on one particular thing:

I want to blood-eagle the bastards and then split their skulls wide open— all our EU quislings that is, every single mother-fcuking one of them.

I'm afraid I'm locked into that pleasant thought right now and shall be for a while so I'll have to leave it there for the time being. When I've satiated myself on it I'll get my creative juices working on this again.

Meanwhile, I'd be grateful if you would let me know if you're interested in this little idea of mine of some good-hearted friendly co-operation. :)

Best wishes,

P.S. No hard feelings about times past. Besides I have good reason to believe that previous interludes of friendly co-operation resulted in a little DNA sharing between some of my ancestors and maybe some of yours. ;) You can call me Cousin, if you want. :)

reader Alex said...

Sorry to be off topic but I couldn't think of another way to ask you.

You seem to be quite knowledgeable about particle physics and quantum mechanics. I have always been interested in things scientific and have a very logical mind. I have no formal qualifications but I am widely read. I tend not to say anything unless I know what I'm talking about. I hate assumptions and wrong conclusions, from myself and others.
One of my interests is climate science and there are a lot of assumptions out there.
A particular belief seems to be that when Co2 or any other molecule absorbs energy that it gets hotter. I am referring specifically to absorption bands. My understanding is that absorption induces a mechanical change in the atom or molecule ie. change of orbit of electrons, stretching bonds, vibration etc.. I feel that the atom/molecule is more energetic but that does not
mean it's hotter. An example of this phenomenon that most people should know, is latent heat.
Liquid water at 100C is the same temperature as steam at 100C. The steam is more energetic than the liquid but no hotter. The absorption spectrum is also different in liquid and vapour. Perhaps this is where the energy of latent heat resides as a mechanical change not as a heat change.

Am I off the planet with this thinking?

reader Luboš Motl said...

Dear Alex, the temperature is pretty much the total energy per degree of freedom.

During a phase transition such as evaporation, the number of degrees of freedom carried by a group of molecules may change, and that's why the temperature may be constant even though the energy of the vapor-liquid mixture is changing.

Moreover, I said that the temperature is the *total* energy per degree of freedom, not just the kinetic part. During a phase transition, the molecules of water get rearranged so their potential energy changes as well. This is not the only thing you neglected but it would be enough to explain why the temperature isn't increasing at the boiling point.

Otherwise you are talking about too many things simultaneously - how the absorption works (you surely need quantum mechanics for the atoms) etc. To clarify all of them would mean to teach you almost all of modern physics.

reader Alex said...

Thanks for your response. I need to study deeper. Sometimes answers lie near the surface, sometimes they need more work to obtain.

reader Dimension10 (Abhimanyu PS) said...

Phew, the old thing is back.

reader Luboš Motl said...

I classified your first comment as a veto. ;-)

reader Eugene S said...

reader BobSykes said...

All the Nobel Prizes, including those in physics and chemistry, have been politicized and debased to one degree or another. The Peace Prize and the Prize for Literature are almost always given to exactly the wrong person simply because of his political views.

reader Luboš Motl said...

Cool, this simple black-on-white restyling looks much better than what I would expect. ;-)

There are some funny rectangles with the greenish background colors optimized for the usual template... And I really don't like that the first near-square-shaped ad is blank.

reader Eugene S said...

some funny rectangles with the greenish background colors optimized for the usual template

Right, but just a minor annoyance IMHO.

the first near-square-shaped ad is blank

You're right and that is seriously annoying. I've looked at the source code for the page and I'm puzzled because it is identical for the first and the second ad. In each case, a javascript is called up from "", with identical HTML markup values, but the first ad does not show while the second does :/

reader John Archer said...


It's not my place to butt in as I'm not a physicist but I do recognise the symptoms of a somewhat kindred spirit, so any advice that Luboš gives you is bound to be far more valuable than any suggestion I could ever hope to offer. Bearing that disclaimer in mind ....

If you haven't got them already may I suggest you get your hands on the three volumes of The Feynman Lectures on Physics. They've even just brought out the first volume in digital form; the other two are to follow. While they might not suit everyone's initial learning style, as a supplement at least they are a tremendous delight and a treasure to behold. I strongly suspect you'll agree. They are one of the wonders of modern civilisation!

Given the care you mentioned that you exercise, and depending on which edition you get, you'll need the errata though as a focussed reading does throw up the odd question or two. These errata and the digital copy of Vol 1 are available here: and, respectively.

Just saying. :)

reader Dimension10 (Abhimanyu PS) said...

: )

reader Shannon said...

Oh poor soul, if you split your ennemies'skulls wide open you won't be able to use them as mugs... One has to be delicate with these things. Any good Viking knows that ;-)

reader lucretius said...

I was always very fond of king Harald, (unfairly) known as Hardradi, ever since as a boy I read the story of

Audun and the Polar Bear

Harald, was of course, quite an expert on splitting sculls and being about 7 feet tall he must have also been a quite a sight when engaged in this activity. So I have always had mixed feelings about the outcome of the battle of Stamford Bridge. Had it gone differently, English would be today one of the Scandinavian languages, which would make things simpler for many unfortunates who have to struggle with its oddities, but when I think of the Scandinavian welfare states, I tend to feel that the much more individualistic Normans (also, of course, of Scandinavian origin) were the better choice.

Of course as a Brit you are quite likely to have some Scandinavian DNA but it is much more likely to be traceable to Denmark. And by the way, not many people know that king Cnut the Great, who succeeded where Harald failed, was half-Polish.

reader John Archer said...

Sounds good. As for the pair of us and our 'attributing', fair enough. It's easy to get the wrong of the stick and jump to conclusions on sensitive matters.

I'd be interested in your views as you suggest when you have the time, Luboš permitting too of course.

Aristocracy: I'm not an anti-monarchist, far from it, but there wouldn't be one if we were starting from scratch and I had any say in it. (I'm a late eighteenth century American in spirit.) I'm pretty conservative in this respect however. We have history and tradition and I'm not going to be the one to junk it for some fad, especially as we have managed to fudge and bodge our way to a reasonable accommodation, of sorts. Apart from anything else, my mother loves the Royal Family and I'm not going to upset her. My main complaint against them is that the Queen isn't doing her job of ripping the throats out of the bastards desecrating her Realm.

Yes, I know they are foreign. But they are not THAT foreign. :) Besides, if immigration were restricted to that level only I'd be a very happy man.

Given my affinity for your literary tastes so far I'll take you up on your (implicit) JLB recommendation. I read a story of his in "The Mind's I", a 1980s book by Hofstadter and Dennett (I think) and remember that I enjoyed it even if I can't recall the story itself.

reader John Archer said...

I hadn't thought of that!

OK, leaky pisspots then. :)

reader Alex said...

Thanks for that. I see the forest but I need to find some specific trees.

reader Eugene S said...

Dear English/British/Norse/Pict friend,

I read with great fascination your screed but found it rather mild, all in all.

The organic things - Italo-Semitic-Mongoloid - inhabiting that awful cesspool could not by any stretch of the imagination be called human.
They were monstrous and nebulous adumbrations of the pithecanthropoid
and amoebal; vaguely moulded from some stinking viscous slime of earth and corruption, and slithering and oozing in and on the filthy streets
or in and out of windows and doorways in a fashion suggestive of nothing
but infesting worms or deep-sea unnamabilities. They - or the degenerate gelatinous fermentation of which they were composed - seemed
to ooze, seep and trickle through the gaping cracks in the horrible houses... and I thought of some avenue of Cyclopean and unwholesome vats, crammed to the vomiting-point with gangrenous vileness, and about to burst and inundate the world in one leprous cataclysm of semi-fluid

Now that, my good sir, is revulsion and horror as they should be done: turn up the dial past ten and blow out the speakers. H.P. Lovecraft, the author of the above-quoted passage, later went on to put his visceral horror to good use: he created the C'tulhu Mythos. Might you see your way to doing something similar? Modern horror fiction is a wasteland, it needs to be rescued from its doldrums.

I know very little of King Canute, only that he stood and bid the tide recede, but the tide did not comply.

reader John Archer said...

Dear Eugene,


However, I'm afraid you are far too elliptical there for me. I find it's possible to take your response in two diametrically opposed ways. One is black humour. The other black humour+. I have my suspicions it's pleasantly the former but I don't know you and life is full of surprises. And given the nature of the discussion........ well .... So I'd be grateful if you were explicit instead, and get precisely and clearly to any point you might want make with minimum fuss in case it's the latter. Meanwhile, as per the standard rules of engagement—and as indicated already—you get the benefit of the doubt. :)

How odd. I'd (temporarily?) forgotten how we spelt it when I was a boy. I blame the BBC or something. (I suppose same goes for Boudicca/Boadicea — the latter prevailed when I was a boy, since 'corrected'. Oh well....)

Anyway, I don't know much about him either, so that makes two of us. On the tide story I understand there are two versions:
1. He was an idiot to think he could command the tide.
2. He was cheesed off at all the fawning sycophants and yes-men he had around him and so performed the stunt for their benefit in order to demonstrate that contrary to their unctuously expressed belief that he was divine, he wasn't. Something like that.

The first version is incredible. I prefer the second, though how matters had got to that stage is incredible enough too. As for the truth of it, I have no idea.

reader lucretius said...

Only a comment on "Canute and the wave" this time. Its typical how internet discussions of history tend to turn into a rehash of "1066 and All That". The actual story (probably apocryphal) was all about Christianity, something that the average Briton has long lost any affinity with. Anyway, the true version is on the Wikipedia:

reader Eugene S said...

Well, given that stemming the influx of swarthy foreigners professing an alien faith into the UK is about as promising an endeavor as bidding the tide recede, why not turn your revulsion and horror into art? That, more or less, was my point, I think.

As Leonard Cohen prophesied,
Things are gonna slide
Slide in all directions
Won't be nothing
Nothing you can measure anymore
The blizzard of the world
Has crossed the threshold
And it has overturned
The order of the soul
Lovecraft knew the white race was doomed. At least, "white" as he understood it -- genteel New Englanders descended from the Mayflower settlers: Italians, Jews, Lebanese and Russians were not "white". (And I suspect he wasn't too keen on the Irish, either.)

Having understood the futility of his political desire, which was to stop the world and turn back the clock, he then proceeded to sublimate his horror at the facts into the writing of horror fiction... which turned out to have broad appeal and many of us still enjoy it.

None of us can stop the coming conflagrations of the 21st century. Demographics and imparities of wealth mean that while the osmotic pressure differential remains, water will continue to seek its own level. Which in turn will lead to violent reactions and much ugliness. There is material enough for a lifetime of novel-writing. Leave politics to the brutes.

reader lucretius said...

To be quite fair to Lovecraft one should mention that his fierce anti-semitism lasted until the the first time he got to know a real Jew and then he... married her.

reader TheD.O.C said...

I find it frightening that people take the Nobel prizes so seriously these days. While the physics prize is generally far more credible than most other prizes out there, it has omitted far too many worthy scientists. Take a look at the statistics and you will see that the typical winner is white, is probably be Jewish and educated in the top-class universities in US and Europe. This is probably because these people actually do make the best scientists.There are far too many equally (and even more) worthy people who lost out on the Prize owing to their race, educational background and other factors (like the limit on winners).. Take George Sudarshan for example, he pioneered quantum optics but was completely slighted by the committee. Marshak and Sudarshan were also slighted on their work on weak interactions. This is not to say that the people who did win it those years did not deserve it. Very often when the prize is given, it is not given to the individual for his best work.

The Nobel Prizes work as great PR for science and as an incentive to many. But whether it is always awarded to the right people at the right time for the right topic, can be questioned. Personally, I find it ridiculous that nowadays every laureate is first introduced as: 'X is winner of the ____ Nobel Prize in Physics for his work in blah-blah'. It should be: 'X has worked on blah-blah, for which he has won many awards like the Nobel Prize in Physics....'. These days it almost seems impossible to imagine how the public evaluated scientists in the days before the Nobel prize.

reader lucretius said...

I would like to know one example of a physicist who did not get the Nobel prize because of "his race" or "educational background". Just one would be enough.

By the way, the most prestigious prize in mathematics is still the Fields medal (even though it offers the winner very little money. The Abel and the Wolf prizes, offer large amounts but are less prestigious)Fields medals are awarded only once every 4 years (to up to 4 persons), and laureates have to be under 40 years of age. As a consequence of that restriction some of the greatest mathematicians in history could not receive it. Politics also has played a role but in a way that used to be almost incomprehensible to Westerners; Soviet mathematical authorities actually prevented the prize being awarded to several Soviet mathematicians of Jewish origin (Margulis finally got one).

But for all its faults the prize retains its prestige and rightly so. The same is true of the Nobel prizes for the natural sciences. In other words: claims you are making are nonsense.

reader John Archer said...

Thanks. That's the version I was hoping you intended.

And yes, we have a whole bunch of CNUTs encouraging that alien inundation.

reader TheD.O.C said...

With a complete lack of inside information on the decision making, I cannot say anything for certain. George Sudarshan (the one who gave tachyons their name) could be an example. He pioneered many things throughout his life and got very little credit for it. He deserved the Nobel Prize (awarded for quantum optics) as much as Glauber did. Glauber, at first, criticized the very work of Sudarshan he would later build upon.

As an ignorant outsider, I take a glance at the modern statistics for the Nobel Prizes in natural sciences. All I can see are male white faces (roughly 1.2 billion out of seven billion are white), Jewish scientists (roughly 20 million out of 7 billion) and a few of Japanese, Chinese, Indian and other scientists. And a huge fraction of these winners come from the same group of universities (Cambridge, Harvard, MIT, Tokyo University, etc.) As an ignorant outsider, I cannot precisely explain the causes for these enormously skewed results (when viewing global race demographics). Attributing it to things like economics, race, education etc. will remain superficial conjecture on my part.

reader lucretius said...

Well, maybe Luboš will find the time to explain this to you, because I no longer have the energy to repeat things that should be obvious. But in short, the answer is that people are not created equal.

reader Dimension10 (Abhimanyu PS) said...

Upvoted because of the second paragraph.