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Harvard professors' fossil fuel divestment letter

I was told about a letter signed by some Harvard faculty urging the president and the Harvard Corporation to eliminate the fossil-fuel investments from the endowment and to otherwise harass and discriminate against the fine folks who work in that industry and the other investors:

HarvardFacultyDivestment.COM (open letter)
Fortunately for Harvard and the system (because Harvard is considered a role model by many others), Drew Gilpin Faust – the new president that replaced Larry Summers – continues to be sensible. See what she recently told the brainwashed babe at the Harvard Yard.

This is not an actual Harvard-University-affiliated logo. Instead, it is a notorious Czech one but I won't be sued for having used that, I guess. ;-)

There are over 4,000 academic employees at Harvard and this letter has been signed by 97+20 or so professors so far. So they represent a tiny fraction. I am sure that this blog post itself will help to add some more signatures. It is surely not my goal ;-) but I don't really care much because I believe that the petition will remain extremist and it won't get above the 2,000 signatories when one could talk about a majority opinion.

Needless to say, the first thing I have checked was the list of the signatories. How many people do I know? What is the composition?

Among the 97 inaugural signatories, the humanity types are clearly prevalent. You see lots of fields like history, Asian art, women studies (repeatedly), sexuality studies (repeatedly), philosophy, American literature, early American history, Latin American history, divinity, early Christianity, colonial art, Romance languages (repeatedly), Germanic languages, Slavic languages, classics (repeatedly), African American studies, comparative literature, French history, social policy, sociology (repeatedly), general humanities (repeatedly), democratic values, psychiatry, ethics, and so on.

Law, economics is also represented.

I think that it's correct to say that professors of physical sciences represent a tiny subset of the signatories. I've looked at STEM fields and only found the following signatories I sort of know:
John Huth (physics), David Keith (applied physics), Barry Mazur (mathematics), Melody Chan (mathematics), Naomi "all papers are alarmist" Oreskes of course (history of science)
Barry Mazur is a nice guy and I know him very well – from the dinners in the Society of Fellows. Sad he's here. John Huth was a physics department chair throughout most of my 3 years as junior faculty. I have thought that he was the ultimate opportunist playing both sides. But when I see his signature under this extremist letter, it surely explains why I had no protection whatsoever against the assholes from other departments who were infringing on my basic human rights during the witch hunt on Larry Summers.

Moreover, Matt Reece (unfortunate) and Thomas Hayes of physics are among the two dozens of later added signatures.

The summary of the letter says that fossil fuels are unsustainable and their elimination is a moral cause similar to tobacco and apartheid in South Africa. Well, I might even agree that these three types of investment should be treated equally by the Corporation. None of them should be (or have been) eliminated. Businesses in South Africa and tobacco businesses are still making some people happy – and allowing them to survive. Tobacco and someone in South Africa during apartheid may have at least threatened the quality and dignity of life of others or the lives themselves. Fossil fuels are doing nothing of the sort so the claim that it may be a "moral cause" of a similar kind is a downright lie, I would say.

Finally, let me fix some inaccuracies in the letter itself.
Our University invests in the fossil fuel industry: this is for us the central issue. We now know that fossil fuels cause climate change of unprecedented destructive potential.
The word "know" is incorrect and the second sentence should read "We have been brainwashed into believing a scientifically indefensible, ideologically motivated superstition that..."
We also know that many in this industry spend large sums of money to mislead the public, deny climate science, control legislation and regulation, and suppress alternative energy sources.
The sentence is incorrect. The corrected sentence should say "We also know that the climate alarmist octopus has spent about $50 billion just for the shameless propaganda of the unfounded climate fears, thus beating the funding of the actual science of climate change – the skeptics – by the 1,000 to one ratio. We are not even mentioning the first trillions of dollars that have been wasted by policies inspired by this atrocious pseudoscience."

Another, short paragraph irrationally criticizes Drew Gilpin Faust. No comment.
Our sense of urgency in signing this Letter cannot be overstated.
The corrected sentence says: "The nonsensical nature of this [uncorrected] letter cannot be overstated."
Humanity’s reliance on burning fossil fuels is leading to a marked warming of the Earth’s surface, a melting of ice the world over, a rise in sea levels, acidification of the oceans, and an extreme, wildly fluctuating, and unstable global climate.
After the fix, it says: Fossil fuels represent the most important source of energy that the mankind – especially its poorer part – enjoys. The warming in the last 250 years, after the end of the Little Ice Age, was modest and quite certainly at least O(50%) of it was caused by natural factors. There hasn't been any increase of the global mean temperature in the last 17 years and 8 months. Ocean acidification is a misnomer because the oceans will surely remain alkaline; at any rate, the change of the pH from 8.1 to 8.0 or 7.8 in a few centuries will be undetectable by almost all marine species that tolerate changes of pH by several units. Fluctuations have nothing whatever to do with the changes of the global mean temperature, whether it is purely natural or not. Ice melts and water freezes at 32 degrees Fahrenheit and they have done so many times in the recent 13.8 billion years.
These physical and chemical changes, some of which are expected to last hundreds, if not thousands, of years are already threatening the survival of countless species on all continents.
The increased CO2 levels are primarily a benefit for all plants – whose majority stops growing beneath 150 ppm and increases the growth rate roughly by 0.5% for each 1% of the increased CO2 in the atmosphere. The climatic effects of CO2 are negligible in comparison and they will be fully reverted within a century or so after the CO2 emissions stop as most of the excess CO2 is reabsorbed by the oceans and the biosphere.
And because of their effects on food production, water availability, air pollution, and the emergence and spread of human infectious diseases, they pose unparalleled risks to human health and life.
We protest against calling CO2 "pollution". It's a gas we call life and it doesn't do anything bad to infectious diseases or water availability. The concentration at which CO2 starts to be uncomfortable to sensitive individuals is more than 10 times higher than the current atmospheric concentration. Food production is increasing at elevated CO2 concentrations. At any rate, these changes – mostly positive changes – are negligible because the CO2 concentration is only increasing by 0.5% (relatively speaking) per year. It means that the agricultural yields per acre are probably increasing by about 0.25% every year in average just to the increasing CO2. On the contrary, the experts should think what to do to avoid mass starvation in the foreseeable future when CO2 starts to decrease again.
The World Health Organization estimated in 2005 that climate change caused some 150,000 deaths worldwide each year. The heads of the American College of Physicians and the Royal College of Physicians of London in 2009 joined leaders of medical colleges from 12 other countries in calling climate change “the biggest global health threat of the 21st century.”
Here I don't propose a correction, mostly a shortening: Before us, tons of deluded ideologically blinded organizations as well as individuals that have no clue about the actual mechanisms have promoted equally indefensible statements about the impact of CO2 emissions.

I have already discussed that only twisted ethical values allow one to say that the "divestment from fossil fuels" is an ethical issue, a claim elaborated upon in several following paragraphs. It is really unethical for these folks who easily get hundreds of thousands of dollars from the public sources to try to strip less fortunate people – and nations – from the right to use the most available and abundant sources of energy, the fossil fuels. In many cases, their bare survival depends on these things.
Financially, no evidence exists that planned divestment would damage Harvard.
In their egotism, what the writers refuse to look at are damages they may cause to someone else. It's totally plausible that due to Harvard's brand, similar letters written at Harvard will damage the fossil fuel industry and consequently kill millions of innocent people.
Recent pronouncements from authoritative quarters support our call for action. Christiana Figueres, ...
Corrected: There are numerous stupid, uneducated yet aggressive females among the climate fearmongers, too. (Aggressive enough to take over politically influential chairs.) Christiana Figueres whose only life achievement and training is dominated by her failed attempt to teach reading to some indigenous tribes in Costa Rica is among the examples from the third world. This is the type of the characteristic "spiritual and intellectual authority" that the climate alarmist movement relies upon. Three months ago, this "lady" said that democracy was detrimental for the war on climate change, too. If we were not brainwashed extremists, we would view this lady as a toxic product and we would never touch her. But because we decided to join an extremist movement, even this toxic lady – a potential threat for the freedom and democracy in the whole civilized world – is good enough to be praised by us, Harvard professors.

I won't discuss some of the other hacks in the following paragraphs; Given her negligible market price or value for the mankind, I have wasted enough time with Figueres.
If any doubt remains about long-term plans of fossil fuel corporations, consider the signature statement of the American Petroleum Institute: “a secure energy future for generations to come.” API corporations are determined to produce more of the same “for generations”: more fossil fuel extraction, more sales, more denial or evasion of science. Coal companies, similarly, proclaim plans to continue mining for hundreds of years.
Jesus Christ, is a petroleum institute, so of course that its business in the next century or centuries will be petroleum or whatever will be similar enough so that they will gradually switch to it. If it were a university, not a petroleum institute, it would probably plan to deal with research and education in the coming centuries. If it were a bakery, it would plan to bake bread and baguettes. The proven classical fossil reserves are enough for 50 years at the current consumption rate, the likely not-yet-proven classical reserves are enough for a century, and the reserves are probably doubled or tripled when the currently known shale oil reserves are added. 200 or 300 extra years of future with fossil fuels is entirely conceivable (and the period may further increase in the future if people find new sources of hydrocarbons) so it is completely sensible for API to talk about about "generations" – it could talk about centuries, too.
Instead, divestment aims to expose corporate attitudes and change corporate behavior.
If you sign an idiotic letter or push your bosses to divest, you don't expose any corporate attitudes at all. You only expose your own political opinions, values, and your (not only political) thinking – or, more likely, the lack of it.
It seems self-contradictory to argue that Harvard owns a very small percentage of shares in a group of stocks (shares that, moreover, represent a small percentage of its own holdings) yet can nevertheless exert greater influence on corporate behavior by retaining rather than selling that stock as protest. If Harvard were a major shareholder, that argument might make sense, but Harvard is not.
Harvard may be used as a role model that will be followed by others, and that's why it's not self-contradictory to say that the impact of the divestment on the stock market might be vastly greater than what the actual holdings suggest. However, it's likely that the main impact of similar divestment campaigns won't be a genuine threat for the fossil-fuel industry or any other industry. The main impact is the poisoning of the political atmosphere at Harvard by the climate extremists and the bullying that makes the life of those who disagree with them less smooth, to put it mildly, and the reduced rationality and less scientific character of discussions and research on topics that touch the themes that have been classified as politically (or even ethically) sensitive by the extremists.
The President and Fellows are working assiduously to reduce the University’s greenhouse emissions, while maintaining investments that promote their increase locally and worldwide. The President and Fellows are right to be concerned about the “troubling inconsistency” of these investments.
Faust is even playing the idiotic game of "reducing the emissions" and it has even signed to a "code of responsible investment" (what a language: just like in Orwell's 1984) but it's clearly not enough for certain people. I would be getting lots of spam e-mail from assorted alarmists and deluded idiots (including some of those employed at the Massachusetts and University Halls) – e-mails with a similar content as this letter – and I have never figured out the way to complain about this spam at Harvard – I am not even sure whether it's possible to complain.
How, exactly, will the University “encourage” fossil fuel corporations in “addressing pressing environmental imperatives”?
For example, I hope that the visibility of extremists such as those who wrote this letter will convince the fossil-fuel companies to invest at least tens of millions of dollars for the climate skeptic communicators – in the recent years, they paid virtually nothing to inform the public about the truth when it comes to the relationships between CO2 and the climate.
In short, how long will Business As Usual continue?
The business as usual will continue until the next violent coup or revolution similar to the October Revolution in Russia – and let's hope that this time, the perpetrators of this coup will be shot and the business as usual will therefore continue after that, too. What's your problem with business as usual?
The questions in this section are not rhetorical. They require answers.
I've given you some.
We know that fossil fuel use must decrease. To achieve this goal, not only must research and education be pursued with vigor, pressure must also be exerted. If there is no pressure, then grievous harm due to climate change will accelerate and entrench itself for a span of time that will make the history of Harvard look short.
As long as we talk about true "fossil" fuels that have been under the ground for millions of years, their use has to decrease at some point but it may be 300 years from now. So far, the use has been growing and it is still growing although there are hints that the relative growth rate has decreased. It is pretty much inevitable that all sufficiently easily accessible fossil fuels will be burned soon or later. People would be pretty much stupid if they failed to do so.
We the undersigned are faculty and officers of the University, many with knowledge and research in climate science, energy, business management, ethics, and the effects of climate change on health, prosperity, and biodiversity.
Many have knowledge about something but unfortunately, most of the signatories are ignorant about all the major questions that matter in this debate.
Many are alumni and donors. We appeal to our colleagues, fellow alumni, and donors to join us in signing this statement, as an act of conscience and fiscal responsibility, and in asking the Corporation to divest, as soon as possible, its holdings in fossil fuel corporations.
I urge this small minority of extremists at Harvard to stop intimidating their colleagues. I've gone through it and I know what it feels like. There are a few thousands of similar victims at Harvard who may be afraid – for existential reasons – to say how unpleasant this harassment is. The silent majority of your colleagues disagrees with you. Whether Harvard will or will not divest from fossil fuels is a political – and economic – question and by suggesting that the opinions of a few percent of Harvard faculty should be decisive, you are showing a remarkable disrespect towards your colleagues.

Eich and gays

In other news related to the diminishing freedom of expression in the U.S., Brendon Eich – the father of JavaScript (which is quite important, one of the 10 languages that I sort of learned in my life LOL) – was fired as the boss of Mozilla (he may have deserved an even better job!) because he had previously supported some anti-gay-marriage bill or something like that. It's rather incredible. A large fraction if not a majority of the Americans agree with him and Mozilla's business doesn't have – or, under healthy conditions, shouldn't have – anything to do with promoting some gay policies or others.

The reason that despite the legal encapsulation, this must be considered an emerging totalitarianism in the U.S., is the fact that the people who agree with Eich – the victims – are both numerous and apparently not revenging for these grievances. Why aren't the socially conservative people screwing the lives of the left-wing activists as well? Is it just because the conservative people are ethically superior? No. It's because the current system in the U.S. – and obviously not just the U.S. – they have lost their freedom and their tools to defend their political and ethical values. The "progressives" have spread their agents into more or less all official would-be "neutral" or "mainstream" institutions and now even important enough companies. The conservatives have been paralyzed by a totalitarian left-wing movement that is imposing its power in every damn corner of the mainstream American society. It doesn't matter much whether this movement has a charismatic head similar to Hitler or Stalin or writes about their dictatorship in the constitution. What matters is that it is applying absolute power – by the organized paralyzing of the opposition – in a totally analogous ways as Stalinists and communists. Be sure that I know something about the society where people are fired from jobs and schools because they are politically inconvenient to certain people who consider themselves "more equal citizens". So a boycott by a group of LGBT (or climate or any other misguided) activists is enough to fire anyone or destroy anyone's life; no one has the balls – more precisely, no one has a sufficient de facto freedom of expression – to simply tell them "sc*ew you, fa**ots". Show me at least 5 boards that have replied in this appropriate way.

Tell me hundreds of times that the left-wing bigots and cowards in Mozilla have a right to fire the CEO for whatever reason. They may have the right. But others have the moral duty to fight against these individuals who are undermining the very basic fabric of the civilized Western society. No one is fighting them because everyone is scared by them and their Gestapo-like powers. Even in tense Russia, the Russian Academy of Sciences reverted its earlier decision to dismiss the historian Zubov who had said that the annexation of Crimea was just as bad as the Anschluss of Austria by the Third Reich.

In the video above, Stephen Colbert was apparently genuinely surprised by Andrew Sullivan's defense of Eich. Sullivan is a gay-married gay but he realizes that it is pernicious to fire people for their true beliefs. It seems that Colbert was really surprised because his general task to emulate Bill O'Reilly disappeared for a while, he didn't know what to say for a minute.

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reader Umesh said...

"..that based on his manner and the way he expresses himself Guth does not strike me as having an intellect of the same caliber as a lot of other top theoretical physicists I observe on the web." The gall! Apart from your freedom of speech, there's absolutely no way of rationalizing this bizarre comment. Not liking inflation and preferring some other explanation is one thing, but linking it to some vague 'abilities of physicists' is just utterly inane.

reader Giotis said...

That’s strange; normally I would expect Sheldon to celebrate the triumph of *theoretical* physics and the importance of good theoretical arguments in the construction of viable physical theories. String theory is the mathematical consistent, conservative extrapolation of established physics via this kind of powerful theoretical arguments.

The discovery of Higgs and the BICEP2 findings proved that theoretical physics is on the right track and String theorists (as natural heirs of this tradition) more than anyone else have every reason to celebrate it.

reader Luboš Motl said...

Exactly. That's how Sheldon would react, too - if they kept his character coherent.

reader scooby said...

"a bully hit him with the biggest book he could find, a string theory book."

Yes it wasn't a string theory book. Probably the "Gravitation" by Misner, Thorne and Wheeler. Not that's a really BIG book.

reader scooby said...

" if I may be so impertinent and presumptuous as to say so -- that based on his manner and the way he expresses himself Guth does not strike me as having an intellect of the same caliber as a lot of other top theoretical physicists I observe on the web."

Nothing to do with impertinence or presumption. That's just stupid.

reader John McVirgo said...

@Lubos, have the producers of TBBT ever asked you to appear on it, given that it's obvious the birth of the program must have been partly influenced by your blog and others?

I'm quite amazed at the talent behind this program in getting the humor just right: the horror of sleeping with a geology book!

reader Physics Junkie said...

Comedy is comedy. To expect it to be real life is like expecting asking a mime to talk. It is silly to be even a little upset.

reader Physics Junkie said...

Has the BICEP2 data done anything to pare down the string theory landscape or the string theory scenarios for inflation? If so, I would say this is the first connection of string theory to real world experimentation. Granted, it is not proving a prediction of string theory, but is paring down the phase space. It might be saying something about the types of particles (GUT's) that should exist at 10 to the 14 GEV. Therefore some of the phenomenology should be paired down to these energy scales and the landscapes that can accommodate them.

reader Marcel van Velzen said...

I like the series as well and as a physics and Linux guy I recognize some of their behavior. But after a while people start to believe that
you have to behave like that to be taken seriously as a physicist and that's where it's getting unpleasant or at least untrue and the latter was basically my message or warning. Okay, yes it is funny!

reader lukelea said...

Agreed. But I said it anyway, not to be malicious, but only to see if my intuitive hunch might receive any support from people who are qualified to judge. I majored in the humanities after all (!) Better to blow me off than to be offended.

reader lukelea said...

You are correct. Nor did I invoke logic.

reader Umesh said...

Indeed sir. It's important to have your flame suit handy in such situations.

reader frp said...

tangentially related: What do you think about Max Tegmark's NYT op-ed asserting that inflation is what "created" the Big Bang:

To me, "Big Bang" means a curvature singularity that (in many models) precedes inflation.

reader Kimmo Rouvari said...

If I remember correctly, there was one episode where Sheldon found out that his fusion reactor plans were inferior to Kripke's...

Sheldon got away from the embarrassment when Kripke thought that Sheldon's inferior perform was due to shamy sex :-)

reader Luboš Motl said...

Hi, sorry, but he's right. One may redefine terms in various ways and "bang" informally may denote the singular conditions before inflation.

But physicists use "big bang" as whatever is described by "the big bang theory" and "the big bang theory" only describes the expansion after inflation.

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reader NOT Mad Dog Motl said...

Lubos says: "in average, I've watched an episode of TBBT 3

If you were not addicted to TV and spent some time reading
books you would have said "on average..."

reader Shannon said...

Maybe this was Sheldon's coming out that he is not that into theoretical physics.

reader Dilaton said...

Grown up people who are that childish to believe that what is shown on TV is the exact real life, in particular when watching a comedy show for example, can not be helped anyway ...

I feel a bit sorry for them, but if they dont get this common and well known fact, this is their own problem ... ;-)


reader lukelea said...

I would say Gell-Mann is funny enough to be ready for a sitcom. Anybody trying to prove he's the smartest man on the planet -- who wears his ambition on his sleeve as it were -- is ripe for satire. It's mainly a Jewish thing of course, this particular kind of hyper-egotistical; obsession, so would probably make a better skit on Saturday Night Live than an entire season (though an off-stage Jewish Mother should definitely be part of the show!).

As someone observed, where would comedy be without stereotypes!

reader lukelea said...

Right. I'm just glad Lubos didn't torch me. :)

reader alejandro rivero said...

Perhaps the course "String theory for mathematicians". It keeps to the stringy tradition of being two volumes, but in this case they are big enough to hit someone.

reader George Barwood said...

What about this:

reader Physics Junkie said...

I suspect Sheldon might be hiding his gayness. He really wants Will Wheaton.

reader Luboš Motl said...

Hi, I noticed. It's interesting condensed matter physics. I sort of doubt that it's possible for SUSY of the same kind we postulate in particle physics to emerge from real-world condensed matter system but if it can, it is extremely interesting. It won't be exactly the same kind of theories because I think that they can't really make the solids described by relativistic field theories etc.

reader Shannon said...

Lol. Yes they'd make a nice couple, Sheldon being the girlfriend :)

reader Anonymous said...

Hey Luboš, a little off topic, but I want to ask you. Is it really that hard to get a good post-doc job at string theory research?

reader David Brown said...

My guess is that Milgrom's acceleration law is a compelling consequence of string theory. On the basis of overwhelming empirical evidence, Milgrom is the Kepler of contemporary cosmology. The idea of Fernández-Rañada and Tiemblo-Ramos that astronomical time might be different from atomic time is likely to be an important key to understanding string theory. Think of strings vibrating on 3 copies of the Leech lattice. Now think of a ten-dimensional model of general relativity theory pasted at each point in spacetime together with a 64 by 64 matrix operating on C^64. The distribution of the eigenvalues of all of the 64 by 64 matrices is a description of particle physics. We have a 72-dimensional model and a 74-dimenstional model. However, the 74-dimensional model contains one copy of astronomical time and two copies of atomic time (i.e. one for matter and one for antimatter). By using a holographic principle that unites 72-ball physics with 71-sphere physics, string theorists might be able to identify the one copy of astronomical time with the two copies of atomic time.

reader :) said...


That scene when Sheldon was pondering what to work on now that he was breaking up with string theory: standard model, loop quantum gravity, etc... could have been made funnier if Sheldon decided to work on Khovanov homology, precisely what one famous string theorist has resorted to recently since string theory has hit a dead end after 50 years of empty research.


reader Luboš Motl said...

Hi,it depends on who is applying and where he or she is applying etc. At many places, there are 10 candidates for 1 job, and so on.

reader Luboš Motl said...

It's not funny and it's not true. It's just plain stupid. Witten has been working on closely related math things for decades - for example, he got his Fields medal 24 years ago for those matters.

Moreover, Witten is spending a large portion of his time now by some technical issues in perturbative string theory so your suggestion that he has left string theory only shows that your skull is, politely speaking, overfilled with shit.

reader :) said...

Witten is one of the finest mathematicians during my lifetime, and perhaps one of the greatest mathematicians of all time.

However, it's not clear to me that his physics ability surpasses the level of my dog Taxi. I say this because if I had to assign an integer value in the interval [0, 10] to evaluate Witten's contributions to physics, I would give the same score I would give Taxi, e.g. 0. As soon as Witten makes a discovery related to the physical world, I may consider adding +1 to his score. Until then, Witten and Taxi will have the same relevance in the history of physics.

reader Dilaton said...

Do you really claim Witten has won among other things the Fundamental Physics Prize for zero contributions to physics, really ... ;-)?

reader Vaidas Sukauskas said...

Wow, that is one douchebaggy post.
I'm not a scientist, just the ordinary Joe. But how can you be so smug, if, from what I understand, string theory has no predictive power? Or if it can't be falsified (i.e string theorists will always find some version of it from infinite options), can it be called science?

reader :) said...


reader :) said...


reader Luboš Motl said...

Thanks for having told us, anonymous smile face. I have only blacklisted you because I don't know how to apply napalm to you.

Witten is clearly one of the greatest living physicists, with 110,000 citations

from 321 physics papers.

reader Marcel van Velzen said...

Weinberg–Witten theorem. This i s one of the most important insights in relativistic quantum field theory, especially if combined with the Coleman-Mandula theorem, it severely restricts possible new theories.

reader TomVonk said...

How, exactly, will the University “encourage” fossil fuel corporations in “addressing pressing environmental imperatives”?

This sums everything up and shows what hopeless morons these people are.
Of course the right answer is "Corporations don't give a f... about what deluded extremist minorities in Universities think about priority ranking in management of businesses."
These hopeless morons completely ignore the fundamental tenet of Corporation Management which is "The shareholder is always right.". There is really not much more to understand and they achieve to misunderstand even this little.
And there is an obvious reason why this tenet is always right - every corporation belongs to the shareholders.
It is their PROPERTY and shareholders don't listen to deluded morons who would want to waste their time and money by "adressing environmental imperatives."
I know, understand and deal with real investors almost on a daily basis.
Every successful investors knows that ideology and investment decisions must always be kept strictly separated.
This is not because they have no convictions, they are human and vote like everybody who has the chance to live in a country where one can still vote. But they know that ideology is the least reliable parameter to guide a successful investment.
Actually not later than the last week I was speaking with an investment banker who told me (and I agree) that Exxon belonged to the top ten stock investments right now. Anecdotically I advised my mother who had sold her house to put 50% of her availabilities in Exxon. To my despair my mother roots for Greenpeace (because of a romantic view concerning whales) but when she has to invest her money, she buys Exxon too.
Dear Lubos you have very rightly understood what this letter is really about under all this BS wording.
This is not about business and even not about environment.
This is about the implementation of the century old principle of "acting minorities", it is a call for power in a pure "marxisticko-leninisticke" way.
An extremistic fringe of a society (here Harvard) starts a campaign whose target is to first identify who the ennemy is (according to the sinister "who is not with us is against us") in order to agress, intimidate and exterminate the identified ennemy in a second stage.
You and me know EXACTLY how it worked and where it lead so that it is to be hoped that the agressed majority will retaliate with a strength proportional to the threat.

reader George Barwood said...

I did find this "pedagogical introduction":

However I am much too rusty to understand it well!

reader Honza said...

Hi Lubos.
As for Kripke ("He is doing it for the grant money that he spends on some [lisping, not comprehensible].") He spends money on "liquor and whores".
When I was watching the episode, I was already looking forward to read your reaction, being sure there will be one. Great job! I also appreciate that you kept in mind that this is not a documentary. ;-)

reader Gordon said...

Smiley is just a troll. Witten's father, Louis Witten, well-known relativist, was once asked what his greatest contribution to physics was---his answer was

reader Gordon said...

Yup, there seems to be a lot of confusion about this amongst the dummer pobel and also some scientists.

reader Moises Arizpe Rojo said...

This is so anti-science that is creepy:

"So I have been excited about string theory despite this nearly self-evident absence of low-hanging fruits. String theory is simply not a subject for Joe Sixpack. It is not a subject for intellectually inferior pseudophysicists of the Woit-Smolin type, either. String theory is something that only 1 person among 100,000 may learn so that he or she understands why it has to be right, and only 1 person among 2,000,000 or so has actually learned to do something with string theory at the practical level. All of them are aware of this relatively esoteric character of the subject."

This was the church's speech in the middle-ages.

reader Dilaton said...

ERROR 703:

TRF is a blog for people who like and appreciate science and not a training camp for aggressive anti-science spam bots.

To find this training camp please type the correct URL (which you certainly know) into your browser.

Thanks for your understanding

reader Moises Arizpe Rojo said...

Sorry, I thought the scientific method (the one that says we have to verify our hypothesis) was a part of science.My bad!

reader Luboš Motl said...

Particle physicists in the early 21st century are verifying their idea all the time - these verications just involve a large spectrum of methods that peabrains like you can't even envision.

reader R. Johnson said...

I felt the story acted as a metaphor for faith and religion in 21st century American culture. Sheldon's crisis was the lack of evidence to "prove" theory, thus a lack tangible / effective results in his work. Like the faithful devoted who hand over their faith for science and reason, Sheldon gives up his faith, so to speak, in string theory. At the same time, some simply take advantage of the promise that string theory provides to science: Kripke receives grant / foundation money to buy women and liquor. What criticism of modern religion hasn't included such observations of the shenanigans of its leaders and practitioners? Like all fictional stories, I expect TBBT to reflect the cultural experiences of their times and places. My views - generally favorable - of string theory have not changed as a result of this one particular story of culture.

reader R. Johnson said...

BTW: tonight's episode was a repeat whereby Amy points out the inconsistencies in Indiana Jones, one of Sheldon's favorite movies. In retaliation, Sheldon points out the inconsistencies in Amy's favorite childhood television show, Little House on the Prairie (Sheldon called it "Little House of the Preposterous"). Based on the review above, I would say the show is more accurate about string theorists than not accurate.

reader nn said...

Jeez... and I thought Sheldon-like bloathead scientists exist only in TV shows. My bad, sry.

reader Luboš Motl said...

Apology accepted. However, there are hundreds of other important things about the world you should learn.

reader nn said...

Like, how to be polite? It seems that even string theory can't help you there.

reader HM Mensur Omerbashich said...

Mr. Motl, after reading your blog for years I can say you're on a good track with string theory, but perhaps you should try down the number of dimensions a bit. Anyway, good news for you string theorists is that the theory's paradigm (on vibrational rather than particlegenic reality) has recently been proven for quantum and mechanist scales at least, to the NIST-prescribed accuracy and using Earth's most accurate gravity measurements (from superconducting gravimeter, used also for verifying G).

The Earth-Moon interplanetary medium turns out to be precisely tuned, while the grave mode of oscillation of a heavenly body is not a random number as previously believed. This can be shown by absolutely generalizing the concept of Earth as a forced mechanical oscillator at both quantum and mechanist scales:

Same approach demonstrated Tegmark's Type II Multiverse, proving Linde's theory of origin of universes (I call it that since I hate the term "inflationary cosmology" as that thing never worked since Guth tried his best).

Procedure is straightforward: it disregards units on the constant of proportionality G, which anyway have no (multiversal) meaning since Newton attached those to G
only to close his own i.e. our universe's physics mathematically. Here "only" is meant not to minimize Newton, but just to say that Multiverse was starting physical hypothesis: "Hyperresonance Unifying Theory and the
resulting Law"

So not only that interplanetary (interstellar, etc.) medium is precisely tuned (bingo for strings!), but no physical units of this or any other universes are necessary to achieve an absolute generalization of secondary (here: mass-resonant) gravitational effects. So gravity turns to be a radial-forward propagation of string-vibrational energy along the stringdom at the exact multiples of c: "As Big Bang gets downgraded to a bang in a snap, the first scientific proof of the Multiverse claimed":


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reader usahakecil said...

Has the BICEP2 data done anything to pare down the string theory landscape or the string theory scenarios for inflation? If so, I would say this is the first connection of string theory to real world experimentation. Granted peluang usaha kecil sampingan , it is not proving a prediction of string theory, but is paring down the phase space. It might be saying something about the types of particles (GUT's) that should exist at 10 to the 14 GEV. Therefore some of the phenomenology should be paired down to these energy scales and the landscapes that can accommodate them.

reader zornwil said...

Re some of the "blunders" I think you're assuming too much or believing things out of character with Sheldon. Sheldon is highly logical, of course, but he's often shown he has a very child-like side. He is extremely egotistical (in part because of course he is so brilliant). He believed no child would beat his feats as a prodigy, thinking only one day an AI would. It's not even entirely clear how much his often-repressed emotions actually do drive him, but they might a lot: remember, when he bowls extremely well in an episode he cries out, as per youthful learning in his religious household, "Thank you, Jesus!" In that light, I think it's no surprise that he holds himself to unrealistic expectations and is disappointed he's no Einstein in the public's mind. As Leonard indicates and you agree, Sheldon doesn't care about "Joe 6-pack" (I think it's even clear from how Sheldon says it), this is no new character development, he's simply upset and, as Leonard expressly identifies for the sake of the audience, jealous. That he is upset with his inability to transform physics single-handedly in a generation (much as we popularly misbelieve Einstein did) is no surprise in this light. And it's even more consistent with how we've seen Sheldon as a character develop over the show's time, moving into someone more recognizing of his emotions (however slightly!), interested in other people, and incrementally realizing that his golden youth of brilliance is fading. Much as happens to many people as they move into mid-life.

I simply don't see any absurdity to being inspired to study something after being hit by a book on the topic. People find passions from all manners of input, and we know Sheldon is particularly idiosyncratic. Remember, he was a child prodigy beyond most, so he would have in theory glanced through it and been inspired, even if not understanding it. At age 5 he'd already written a serious paper on algebra and entered college at age 11.

Sure, they get science stuff wrong. As you say, it's a show. :) But in 1990, when Sheldon Cooper would have been 10 years old and before (as far as we can tell) he began seriously studying string theory James T. Cushing's "Theory Construction and Selection in Modern Physics: The S Matrix" was published. Many see it as an important early point for string theory, although of course to your point the book is not a "string theory book." But that the 400+ page book or similar might have been that which whacked Cooper and inspired him seems reasonably enough in scope of the script, even, especially as Sheldon Cooper may as easily call it a string theory book if he has a view that it is necessarily included for whatever (possibly arcane, probably brilliant, and likely contentious) notions of his.

reader zornwil said...

I took nothing in the prior statement to be "anti-science" at all.

reader zornwil said...

No need to be so condescending and arrogant.

reader zornwil said...

:) Just slightly too late, as it's from 2000 if it's the one I found, probably (though "20 years" is likely an approximation, even though on would wonder why Sheldon would approximate, but he has on extremely rare occasion, though that I can recall NEVER with a precise number such as "20," just the typical "recently" or "days ago" kind of approximations).

reader zornwil said...

I don't think it's strange, you can see why above, rather than me repeating. Seems in character.

reader zornwil said...

No, Sheldon Cooper is based on this guy! I am kidding, but it's an interesting little anecodte from someone who admits/claims they were just like Sheldon Cooper when younger.

I haven't seen any attribution by the writers to inspiration by a particular scientist or student of a particular discipline; I would love to see if anyone has seen such. On related notes, Parsons has indicated he studied people with Asberger's but Lorre and writers have claimed that they were avoiding any specific social disabilities (or if you prefer differently abled conditions) and rather went for a hardcore socially-challenged type.

reader Dilaton said...

Are you a sockpuppet of the troll I was replying to ... ;-)?

reader zornwil said...

No, I'm saying, I think very clear, I don't see what's "anti-science" in the person accusing the quote (which I also do not see as anti-science) as in any way opposed to the discipline or conduct of science in general. I don't see how it's an "aggressive anti-science spam bot," as, however erroneously, the person (or, if we take what I take to be your hypothesis, a "spam bot") has the appearance of saying it is the pro-science one in the discussion, taking the position that science positioned in some autocratic or elitist fashion is somehow anti-science (I believe, the statement imposes an undue level of inference for the reader, as does your reply [e.g., I don't know how even this "spam bot" or its reader would know the URL of which you speak]).

As you mention, I can easily imagine this "spam bot" posting as a trolling attempt. But if so it's also an odd choice, lacking in provocation and clarity, and easy to ignore as its point is entirely unclear.

"Mysterious" updates? Also virtually impossible for me to surmise what you mean, as I briefly peruse the page and see no new posts that seem mysterious to me. If you are implying my posts are "mysterious updates," I'm still perplexed in that I see nothing mysterious, nor do I see my attempts at contribution as in the "worst trolling" threads (nor, if I recall and from a very brief glance, did I note much or perhaps any true trolling; I see some unnecessary provocation, but it seems largely sincere as far as I can tell, perhaps personal, but not intended for some poser's entertainment.)

reader Dilaton said...

... updates should have been upvotes (of trolling comments)...

reader zornwil said...

Okay. I certainly have not upvoted perceived trolling comments, so cannot speak to that.

reader zornwil said...

FYI, just so you know, it's offensive to many if not most gays to be characterized as the "girlfriend" in a relationship. To be clear, I do not suspect you intended any offense, and that's why I'm so advising.

reader zornwil said...

According to the Wikia for TBBT, "Barry Kripke is a Caltech plasma physicist."

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reader Eric jones said...

String theory would appear to be something of a religion.

It's wonderful to have new ideas, it's just strange to see one that rests on pretty much zero physical proof taking up so much time and energy in physics. I suppose you have to be a believer.

When and if actual evidence is discovered that makes string theory more likely to be true than not, it is then that we should turn much attention to it. Without such evidence, there would seem to be no truly good reason for believing it right now. And if there is no good reason for believing in something, we are not rationally justified in holding that belief.

I think it is better to exercise doubt rather than unquestioning belief. To believe is fine, but to doubt is divine. And the more doubt, the better. This is not something that is generally taught in science; I am frequently surprised by the dogmatism of a lot of the scientists I know. Science often seems too adversarial and savage for me; one group of believers in a particular theory against another. Too much faith. Too much seemingly religious belief. I often get along well with scientists who doubt greatly, even their own ideas. I often have difficulty with those who are (apparently) religiously convinced their theories really do represent "the way things are," which would seem to be quite impossible to know. But that's just me. Maybe other people feel quite differently.

reader Luboš Motl said...

It's not just your feeling. It's billions of people who feel the same way that you do.

But have you ever had the courage to ask whether the people who "feel" just like you aren't simply the people of insufficient intelligence? Or was that too uncomfortable for you to even *ask* this question?

Everything that you imagine - and criticize - about science *clearly* seems to be linked with your low intelligence.

First, science *has* to be adversarial in the sense that if one chooses some theory or explanation, it also means that he dislikes or disfavors or rules out some (most) other theories and explanations.

In fact, something that you *completely* misunderstand, is that it is only the *latter* that is really the part of the scientific method. At the beginning of your comment, you write that "string theory should be proven to be more likely than not".

But that's not how science has ever worked. No theories have been "proven probably true". Instead, wrong theories were always proven false - and the scientists focused on the survivors. That's how it work with selecting theories to explain the same class of phenomena as string theory explains. In this case, like in many previous cases of science, there are no other survivors than string theory.

In the history of science, no theory in science was "completely true" in the sense of being exact. Your comment about "proving theories more likely than not" is doubly ironic because string theory is the first (and would be the last) theory in the history of science that is 100% exact if it is true. So your criticism is exactly as if someone manages to pick Mozart and criticize him that he's bad in music.

reader Valdarez said...

No one ever appeared intelligent or superior by calling another person stupid. Eric's point was well made, but you're so thin skinned that you can't handle even a small amount of criticism Lubos. If you desire to pout and lash out by blacklisting him like a five year old child, then do so, but don't masqueraude behind intellect.