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An interview with Edward Witten at a bizarre place

Most events in the "science journalism" of the recent years have been really strange, to put it extremely mildly. So the following thing is probably just another example of the rule. But listen.

John Horgan is a loud, violent, and obnoxious critic of science who believes that science has ended. In fact, he has also written extensive texts about the end of mathematics. The oppressive numbers, functions, and groups have collapsed and all this fantasy called mathematics is over, Horgan has informed his readers.

Before he published a loony "book" titled "The End of Science" sometime in the mid 1990s, he would also interview Edward Witten (in 1991). Well, the word "interview" is too strong. Horgan himself had to admit that it was a childish yet brutally malicious assault on theoretical physics in general, string theory in particular, and Witten as a person.

Now, in the wake of the Kyoto Prize that Witten won – congratulations but no surprise – we may read another interview with Witten in the Scientific American's blogs hosted by... John Horgan.

Physics Titan Edward Witten Still Thinks String Theory “On the Right Track”
I don't actually know whether Witten knew that he was being interviewed by the e-mail but the text surely makes you believe that he did and we're told that some "publicist" behind the Kyoto Prize had to choose Horgan as the "interviewer". Oh my God.




In the new interview, John Horgan clearly presents himself as Edward Witten's peer – to say the least. But even a kid from a kindergarten could be able to see that these two men differ, anyway. First of all, when they mention other men's names, they are very different names.




Aside from less shocking names, Horgan offers such "monster minds" as Peter W*it and Sean Carroll to make some of his points. Witten prefers to refer to physicists like Steve Weinberg, Lenny Susskind, and Martin Rees. The kid in the kindergarten could perhaps notice the 20 floors of the skyscraper in between these two groups of "authorities".

Witten is asked – with an apparent malicious intent of Horgan's – whether he is "still" (why the hell is there the word "still"?) confident that string theory will turn out to be "right" (these quotes around "right" are there). Witten's answer is that he wouldn't have to modify what he said in 1991. It means Yes.

Does string theory have rivals? The answer by the most cited theoretical physicist (and perhaps scientist) is that there are not any interesting competing suggestions. Be sure that people attending my popular talks (and sometimes radio hosts etc.) often ask the same question and I give the same answer. One reason, as Witten reminds us, is that ideas that actually have something good about them, like twistors and noncommutative geometry, are gradually identified as aspects of string theory itself and absorbed by string theory. It's just how the things are.

Horgan also promotes his and his pals' pet idea that string theory has to be unscientific because it predicts the landscape. Witten calmly and carefully answers that the landscape simply may be genuine, certain quantities may be incalculable from the first principles, and we just can't or shouldn't fight against this reality. In fact, even in such a case, the existence of the landscape and the incalculability of many things may get scientifically established, in one of the several possible scenarios he outlines. Witten also mentions the prediction of the tiny positive cosmological constant as a big success of this reasoning.

Concerning falsification, well-defined predictions that are empirically validated or falsified are the "gold standard" of science, Witten says, but it's way too narrow-minded to imagine that all of science works in this way. Instead, much or most of science is about efforts to discover things – even though, in principle, even discoveries of new things may be awkwardly interpreted as the "falsification of hypotheses that these new things don't exist".

Horgan seems to repeat the same "question" about thrice – whether the multiverse is scientific – and Witten generously takes Horgan's being slow and retarded into account and he patiently answers the same question thrice, too. The multiverse may be a feature of Nature so even if it is inconvenient for our abilities to make predictions, we must take this possibility into account and collect evidence whether it is right or wrong, and if it is right, learn more details about it. Nature isn't obliged to make the physicists' lives convenient.

Can science explain how exactly the Universe was born? Witten first tries to correct Horgan's constantly overhyped vocabulary – like "the exact understanding". We want a better understanding and there's been lots of progress with inflation, some spectral lines, and so on. One staggering aspect of the interview are Horgan's "errata". For example, Witten mentions that the evidence supporting inflationary cosmology is vastly greater than it was in 1991. The readers are offered an erratum from a superior mind (and Witten's new supervisor?) John Horgan, however:
[Horgan: I don't accept that the evidence for inflation is "vastly greater" now than in 1996. See my post on inflation under Further Reading.]
Wow, this is just incredible. What does he think about himself? Even among science journalists, he belongs to the bottom 20%, and even if he managed to reach the average, the average science journalist's IQ is about 50 points below that of the leading theoretical physicists (and they have a correspondingly lower knowledge). And the person who was interviewed wasn't just a leading theoretical physicist. It was Edward Witten himself. Why do you ask questions about fundamental physics to Prof Witten, Mr Horgan, if you are so much smarter than he is? Why do you need to interview the Kyoto Prize winners? You could write your better answers by yourself, or with the help from Peter W*it, Lee Sm*lin, or any troll you may find on the Internet (I can give you a dozen of e-mails of such "geniuses" accumulated in the blacklist on this very blog).

Finally, when asked about philosophy and religion, Witten answers that he prefers science and "philosophers of Nature" such as Maxwell.

If you haven't lost your breath yet, there is an extra cherry on a pie for you. Now, when I am writing this report, the interview with the world's most cited physicist has exactly one comment – by a man named Carlo Rovelli (a loop quantum gravity "thinker" who recently cried that it was so bad for science to separate from theology and other humanities) who offers his own delusions about string theory's being on a wrong track and a wish that Horgan should have used a talking point about supersymmetry at the very beginning. You may see that people like Rovelli aren't really on the "science side" of these disagreements. They have nothing to do with quality scientific research; they are on the side of the likes of John Horgan and their empty skulls.

The interview, its location, organization, and overall appearance seems so insulting that I would be ready to believe the hypothesis that an enemy of Edward Witten decided to award him with the Kyoto Prize so that Witten may be humiliated in this way. The disconnect between the quality physics research and the junk that most of the laymen are being served is so extreme that the communication is sort of pointless – except that sometimes physicists may be forced to communicate with the likes of John Horgan, e.g. if they win a prize and an organizer wants to have some painful kind of fun.

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reader Giotis said...

Well after that who can blame Witten for not giving enough interviews?

PW’s name appearing in an interview with Witten as his peer or something; the horror…

Rovelli puts the phrase “Titan physicist” in quotation marks to mock him apparently. Some people are completely shameless.



BTW after 1991 our believe that String theory is the right theory of Nature was considerably enchanced and not diminished; so the word "still" is completely innapropriate.


reader Dilaton said...

Perhaps I should add any Unscientific American blogs to my black list, I never looked at one ... ;-)

It is really massively annoying how Peter Horgan and other trolls arrogantly and pompously feel entititled to patronize people and their work who are much smarter than them, and paired with the fact that laypeople who dont know better take them serious, it is very harmful to science ... :-/.

Everybody should ingore these arrogant pompous overreaching Bigmouth-Trolls who massively attack science, declare that end of physics, mathematics, etc in the same way as crazy wild looking crackpots in the street who proclaim the end of the world are ignored by the passerbies who change the side of the street to avoid them ...

http://www.unterhaltungskünstler-timverbarg.de/uploads/pics/_MG_9406.jpg


reader Luboš Motl said...

True, Giotis! After all, Witten mentions that, too. In 1991, it was before the local minimum, since that time, people - and yes, especially Witten et al. - discovered dualities, M-theories, branes, holography, noncommutative geometry as B-field, and hundreds of other things.

http://inspirehep.net/search?ln=en&ln=en&p=find+a+witten%2Ce+and+date+after+1991&of=hcs&action_search=Search&sf=&so=d&rm=&rg=25&sc=0



As the link above shows, Edward Witten himself accumulated 53,000 citations from papers written after 1991, predominantly from string-theory and string-related research. Now, some *beep* *beep* - a complete nobody - comes to him and starts to say all these things, it's just incredible.


But it's no coincidence. The whole public discourse has been crippled so much that similar Horgans have become normal. In a normal society, they would fight a harsh competition not to starve to death and to be hired as cleaners of Witten's dog's toilet. But we live in an insane world where such people are given the room to assault the most prestigious scientific research and its most achieved researchers - after they win a science prize.


reader lukelea said...

You should be aware that Horgan, self-admittedly, has been experimenting with LSD in recent years.


reader Luboš Motl said...

Good for him, I guess that it can't hurt his brain more than it is.


reader physics junkie said...

Follow the money and boycott such cranks. It is one thing to be irrational and disfavor a theory, but it is not correct or professional to attack the person, unless it is your own blog, or someone is not funding you. Then it is just free speech.


reader Uncle Al said...

Horgan is the zeitgeist. He is intellectually socially promoted. All knowledge is subjective and based on one's position in society. Anything else is racist hate language, not diversity.

String theory is "fine" in the manner that Euclid is "fine" and Newton is "fine," which is to say, incomplete. Bolyai repaired Euclid. Relativity and quantum mechanics repaired Newton. String theory makes no falsifiable predictions so it cannot be repaired short of falsifying a founding postulate.

All physics founding postulates are true, so there is no need to test them.


reader diego said...

It's really amusing to read all these emotional reactions to the Planck official response. As an ex-particle experimentalist with no iron in this fire I can tell you that Planck folks are really, really good at this game. By carefully not claiming conclusive evidence pro or con they stand to gain billions of dollars for the field, as "more study is needed". Whatever the correct science turns out to be, the boat of discovery has already sailed, and given the cost of entry the only rational course of action at this point is to take as long as possible to reach the final word.


reader Luboš Motl said...

Holy cow, whoever believes that BICEP2 and South Pole Telescope were built on the South Pole just to make things harder and noses more frozen and these things could be better built in Hawaii must be a complete imbecile.


reader Luboš Motl said...

If true, and there are reasons to think so, it's a game that shouldn't be tolerated.


reader Gordon said...

Horgan is an absolutely amazing narcissist. It boggles my mind how these types manage to get into power positions, win awards (AAAS etc) and be taken as or more seriously than "real" scientists. His book and other pronouncements should have led to his being blacklisted as an interviewer instead of appearing on Charlie Rose, blogging heads etc etc.
Witten and others should simply refuse to be interviewed by him and request a decent, unbiased science journalist; or, better yet, a scientist like Alan Lightman who does journalism, to do the interview.

Witten is too good natured with these self-promoting types.


reader diego said...

Why do you think so Luboš? None of this big science would have happened without heavy politicking and carefully manipulating Holy Taxpayer the Imbecile. The default action would have been to piss away the money on wars or "health care" or whatever other comfort-increasing bull. All these folks, BICEP2 and Planck and others, made great personal sacrifices for a chance to be remembered for something a bit more meaningful than the "elixir of youth". If for the moment they have the leverage, I say flaunt it! They deserved it.


reader stavros said...

Witten is overestimated mainly by string fanatics like you. Keep your religion Lubos. Woit has opened our eyes.


reader stavros said...

woit wins


reader alejandro rivero said...

"I would like to be able to eventually calculate from first principles
the ratio of the masses of the electron and muon (among other things)."

That is Witten.

Do you, guys? If you have abandoned this hope, you are in the wrong track.

And this is the only mention to HEP, not-cosmological, particle theory in the blog entry, which -if he has not censored Witten's answers- gives a point to Horgan.


reader Dilaton said...

Interesting and very good points:

Waves have definite length and timescales, as most probably seen by BICEP2, conversely to random scale invariant fluctuations due to dust ...

This reminds me about the difference between turbulence in hydrodynamics (which can be modeled by a Langevin equation) and wave phenomena.


reader Swine flu said...

Unfortunately, attacks on eminent scientists by people who lack qualifications to judge their work are nothing new. That's why Gauss chose not to publish his discovery of non-Eucledean geometry.


reader Gordon said...

"Much smarter than them..." is an incredible understatement. It is like one of Aldous Huxley's deltas in Brave New World questioning an alpha plus. John (not Peter Horgan--you are chimera-izing Woit-iot and Horgan---that would be a monster :))

The stunning arrogance of Horgan is that he actually seems to think that his ideas about science have more validity than Witten's, and the tragedy is that the general public is not sufficiently advanced to know the difference or curious enough to care (the older I get, the more Swiftian. Unfortunately, idealism leaches away gradually as ignorance corrodes it :))


reader David Nataf said...

Amateurs and tourists constantly taking the microphone away from experts.


reader David Nataf said...

I'm not sure what you're trying to communicate.


I think that you're trying to say that Horgan has a point because Witten said at one point that he would be thrilled if he could compute the ratio of the muon mass to electron mass from first principles. However, that doesn't follow.


reader Luboš Motl said...

Even if I shared your conspiracy-theory-like universal anti-science hatred, which I surely don't (Planck is still a wonderful experiment, just with a smaller concentration of wonders), there would still be an obvious answer to your question Why:


BICEP2 is neither "big science" nor "government science". It's a slightly larger tabletop experiment privately funded mainly (critically and initially) by the Keck Foundation, a charity using some oil industry money.


reader Luboš Motl said...

Alejandro, I would dream about uniquely calculating all the low-energy parameters from the first principles - from string theory - more than anyone else.


But unlike you and many others who just haven't understood the very basics of how science and Nature work, I do fully realize that what is the "right track" isn't dictated by our expectations or wishes. It is dictated by Nature and if Nature has it in a certain way, that's how things are and the scientist's task is to figure *this* out.


There is mathematical evidence that the right vacua are discretely isolated from each other which allows one to calculate an arbitrary number of digits in principle. There is also huge evidence that the number of vacua is very large which makes it very hard to find and calculate the right values in practice.


It isn't just a special artifact of string theory. String theory taught us (along with other research directions) something more general - how diverse the equally consistent effective QFTs may be. So I would say that the opinion that "our world - the Standard Model - is really the only possible consistent effective QFT one may have" - is almost certainly ludicrously invalid.


reader HelianUnbound said...

The fact that someone like Horgan can be taken seriously by anyone is just one more data point confirming the fact that we live in an insane world. He can reliably be found on the wrong side of any issue. Among other things he wrote a gushing review of Patrick Tierney's "Darkness in El Dorado," a vile slander of anthropologist Napoleon Chagnon for daring to tell the truth about the native American people he studied. See "Darkness's Descent on the American Anthropological Association," a summary of this sordid affair by Alice Dreger, and Chagnon's own "Noble Savages: My Life Among Two Dangerous Tribes," (one of them was the anthropologists, and then read what the likes of Horgan, Tierney, and Marshall Sahlins had to say on the other side, and if you're sane you'll come away with a pretty good idea of how "credible" Horgan is.


reader JollyJoker said...

It's just a joke based on the fact that Bicep2 didn't look at the part of the sky with the least dust, are based in Antarctica and lots of astronomy is done from Hawaii. Not a serious claim that Hawaii would have been a better site for the experiment.


reader alejandro rivero said...

Sorry David, I am a very bad communicator. Here I put two different ideas in the same message.


Idea 1: Pursuit of reduction of fundamental parameters is a strong indicator of being in the right track. I think that it is a "if an only if" situation. If you are not in this pursuit, you are derrailed, even if you are on the track.


Idea 2: While Witten supports this pursuit, his own review of current research does not show activity in such pursuit. So, and only for particle theory, Horgan has a minor score here.


reader alejandro rivero said...

Somehow it sounds to me as telling that the difficulties of integration of generic differential equations make impossible to try to do predictions in classical mechanics.


Of course, what happens is that in classical mechanics we have an additional set of postulates and action principles, drawn from mathematical research but also from experience, that allow to make calculations that are impossible in practice for a general system of coupled differential equations.


You could argue that having symmetries in the equations, or having conserved quantities, or having Kepler's area law, are just expectations and desires and that science does not work in this way. Perhaps it is true that daily scientific work, going from a publication to the next accumulative one, does not proceed in such way, but scientific revolutions -even the string revolutions- do. So the question is, what expectations should scientists to have in order to allow for scientific revolutions to happen.


reader andrew said...

Horgan is a first rate journalist. He doesn't cajole, flatter, or respect authority; he questions to the point of impertinence, challenges orthodox points of view, reaches his own conclusions.

One thing that Horgan does so well, even when faced with Goliaths of modern physics, is prick pomposity. Shame he's never met you, Lubos.


reader Luboš Motl said...

Dear Andrew, it's not a business of a journalist to challenge orthodox points of view in science because he has no clue about it. If he does so as the core of his work, without being an actual physicist at the same moment, and indeed, both conditions hold for Horgan, he ends up being an obnoxioous deluded worthless asshole, and indeed, Horgan is nothing more than that. If you/'re not capable of seeing that, you are an idiot, too.


reader Swine flu said...

"he questions to the point of impertinence"


Could it be to the point of incompetence?


reader HelianUnbound said...

The idea that Horgan "challenges orthodox points of views" is truly delusional. He is one of the most predictably orthodox leftist ideologues out there. He has never so much as rattled any of the boards that make up the ideological box his tribe lives in.


reader andrew said...

That Horgan (rightly or wrongly) challenges orthordoxy is not delusional; it's a fact. His daring conclusions in End of Science contradicted wisdom espoused by experts for years.

I suppose Horgan is a leftish idealogue (though I'm not familiar with his politics) in as much as he questions the establishment, and that he believes, to some degree, that economic, political, cultural structures affect dominant scientific ideas. You might agree with this in the context of say, global warming. He is, I suppose, a postmodern scholar; that is his ideological box, if I were to put him in one.

All journalists, including science journalists, should do much more than faithfully reproduce statements from authorities. No expert is infallible, no researcher works in a vacuum, and there is no "null" environment in which to practice science. In other words, all scientists are subject to possible biases, stemming from socioeconomic factors. Horgan does, and is right to, examine the words of experts with a critical eye. For the record, I don't always agree with his conclusions; but I admire his methodology, integrity and nerve.

The decline of good scientific journalism itself probably has a more prosaic explanation: economics. The boom in scientific journalism in 80s coincided with the emergence of, say, personal computers, and the need to advertise them to a suitable audience. Newspapers, after all, sell our attention, their product, to advertisers. Nowadays technology is advertised everywhere; dedicated science pages are unneccessary. Horgan's writing is largely irrelevant to trends in scientific press.

One thing is glaringly absent from my reply. A comment about my complete and unqualified disapproval and horror of you, even in jest, suggesting that violence against Horgan is appropriate.


reader HelianUnbound said...

You're living in a 60's time warp. Horgan is the establishment. Anything he's said or ever will say on any ideologically loaded question is utterly predictable. Indeed, he's still bitterly clinging to hoary leftist orthodoxies like the Blank Slate 15 years after it became too absurd to continue defending for anyone outside the American Anthropological Association. It's truly ludicrous that the same ideological left that now has a death grip on academia in both Europe and the U.S. and almost as firm a grip on government and the media still preens itself on being "anti-establishment" and "non-conformist." You people are like the Paris fashions. You just face down ridicule.


reader andrew said...

I don't face down ridicule; I do stand up to false claims. By establishment, I refer to the ruling and political classes. Horgan's writing doesn't kowtow to their interests. You conflate predictable with establishment; Marx's views, were he alive, might be predictable, but they wouldn't represent the establishment!

You present the "liberal media conspiracy" that the radical left dominates the media and academia. For what its worth, it's without theoretical or empirical foundation.

We shouldn't be surprised that corporate owned media represents corporate interests. That's the case; have you ever seen, say, Chomsky on TV? Rarely. That evidence is anecdotal, granted, but it comes through in careful studies. Unsurprisingly, there is a systematic media bias in favour of corporate interests.

It shouldn't surprise us, either, that corporate power narrows discourse about the media in the media to the single loaded question, are the media too liberal? Beginning the liberal media conspiracy.


reader Dilaton said...

That Horgan guy is nothing but an arrogant pompous his state of knowledge pompously overreaching troll who does not in the slightest deserve to be called a "science journalist".

Unfortunately, these days self-promotion is 10^500 times more important than knowledge. This is why unpeople like Horgan attract tons or even kilotons of blind followers and parrots among the laypeople (like you) who amplify the words of such trolls with access to popular media channels, by trumpeting the nonsense unfiltered (or even worsened) into the world wild web and the real world.

It is really a shame how far things have gone these days ... !


reader Dilaton said...

Hm, talking about people who do legitimate and even very good science "The Establishment" should give you and Horgen at least 500 points on John Beaz crackpot index ...

http://math.ucr.edu/home/baez/crackpot.html

Unfortunately, it gives only 40... If I had the stomach to read either the interview or his lunatic book, the number of Horgan's crackpot points would certainly give me a good LOL :-D ...


reader HelianUnbound said...

Great self-caricature! I rest my case.


reader Gordon said...

On just what basis does he reach his own conclusions, say, wrt what Ed Witten has published? He went to the Columbia School of Journalism. I really doubt that they teach the math or the physics to even begin to understand QFT or String Theory, let alone relativity or QM.


reader Gordon said...

Hmm, a "post-modern scholar"--sort of a "scientific laws and truth are relative and culturally determined" kind of guy like the Social Text pack of postmodern cultural deconstructionists hoaxed by physicist Alan Sokal.
I would use words other than "daring conclusions" to describe Horgan's screed, but they wouldn't be polite. It is fine to have a contrary opinion and to challenge orthodoxy if you actually know what you are talking about. Unlike many subjects in the humanities, where a sufficiently broadly educated person could fairly quickly survey a subject and offer even a tentative criticism or opinion, without knowing some advanced math, some QM, some QFT, some string theory, things about symmetries etc, criticizing an "expert" is not "daring", it is aggressively rude and basically worthless propagandizing. Someone like t'Hooft or Steinhardt, or Sheldon Glashow could criticize string theory---they would be wrong, but not inappropriate. Horgan is just "an upstart crow beautifying himself with our feathers." If you know next to nothing about physics, I suppose it makes sense.


reader Peter F. said...

Andrew's point was the "prick pomposity" of this unbearable Horgan individual.
I won't read your entire 'Witten interview article', as it is too painful. :-(


reader Peter F. said...

"Prick pomposity" - a perfect characterization of Horgan and, awfully enough, too many others of his ilk.


reader andrew said...

To wrap up, I think a lot people are just throwing mud at Horgan and seeing what sticks. Not much of it does. I can't see many substantive arguments or justification for such vitriol against Horgan.

I see a few broad attacks against post-modernism, such as a reference to the embarrassing Sokal affair and a few observations that Horgan isn't a physicist by trade.

The Sokal affair did expose lax editorial standards, but it didn't falsify a central post-modern idea that cultural, economic and political structures influence science.

Horgan isn't a scientist or a physicist. He's a science journalist, a post-modern intellectual, granted. In his capacity as a science journalist, it is his duty to examine possible social-cultural-economic biases in the sciences.

Of course, not all scientific articles in the press should be like Horgan's; true journalism. There is much room for the mere reporting of facts and quotes from physicists alongside more investigative pieces.


reader Luboš Motl said...

Exactly, Helian!


reader Dilaton said...

You have things completely upside down:

What is happening since (maybe much) more than 10 years, is that an ever increasing lynch mob of agressive know-nothings, also named "science-journalists", "(science) philosophers", "science critics", "post-modern intellectuels" or whatever you like to call these incompetent overreaching crowd who has absolutely zero legitimation to judge the work of physicists, is slinging kilotons of mud on theoretical/fundamental physics and people working on such topics to see what sticks ... !

And be sure that absolutely nothing sticks from a sicentific/physics point of view; but this does unfortunately not prevent the anti-science crusade of these unpeople from becoming more and more successful, at least in the US. I partly blame the agressive know-nothings like Horgan and even worse Bigmouth-Trolls for the fact that the funding decision makers in the US are pulling the plug out of theoretical/fundamental physics ...


reader Morris said...

I will never again read an article of Horgan's, for the very simple reason that, as Lubos correctly says, he is anti-science. He has proposed that we ban legitimate scientific research on the intelligence differences between races. Now, I would be ashamed to be called a racist.* But I would be equally ashamed of wanting to set up such a ban. Instead of honestly exploring the universe to see its differences and subtleties, Horgan would have us fetter our inquiry not because it presents any real danger to our existence—but for the sake of political correctness. This is indeed dangerous and stupid, and is preposterous for a so-called science journalist to want us to do.

*I.e., somebody who wants to hurt races that are inferior, equal, or superior to his—not somebody who simply marks honest differences between races.


reader Rehbock said...

Yes. If Scientific American were either it would not host him.


reader andrew said...

There are a few problems with what you write. Horgan wants ethics committees to reject research that promotes racial theories, because it might damage or risk harm to society. I don't want to spell out the dreadful consequences of racial theories, but they are more tragic than political correctness; they are a real threat to many people's existence.

For the record, my view is that "race" is a social construct, with little scientific basis. I believe that attributes, ability, potential is distributed evenly across all parts of society, between all people.

I find it troubling that you chose to direct a discussion re Horgan to an "I'm not a racist but..." admission. You say that you would be ashamed to be a racist; take a deep breath, and look up racism in a dictionary.


reader morris said...

'Horgan wants ethics committees to reject research that promotes racial theories. '

This is a bloated way of saying that he wants to ban legitimate scientific research that simply looks at the world honestly and describes the biological differences between groups of people who have evolved in different places.

'I don't want to spell out the dreadful consequences of racial theories, but they are more tragic than political correctness; they are a real threat to many people's existence.'

Truthful theories about nature do not hurt people; bad people hurt people. And almost every theory could be used by bad people to hurt other people. (Evolutionary theory! Why, it tells us that we're mere animals! So we mustn't promote this theory, for if people really believe it, then think of how they would act! Society and people's lives would be in danger!) This risk—that bad people will use racial theories to harm people—is no reason to stop or limit the cool-headed, rational, honest, and courageous study of the universe's structure.

‘For the record, my view is that "race" is a social construct, with little scientific basis.’

And so is gender.

'I believe that attributes, ability, potential is distributed evenly across all parts of society, between all people.'

LOL. You can also choose to believe that Edward Witten owns ten pet cats that he and Horgan bathe with in a jacuzzi. But in both cases, your belief is flagrantly false—and anybody who is intellectually honest can see this. Anyway, if you really believe this about people, then why are you and Horgan anxious to ban scientific research that discusses racial differences? Won't all good research, then, come to the conclusion that all races are equivalent intellectually or otherwise?

'I find it troubling that you chose to direct a discussion re Horgan to an "I'm not a racist but..." admission.'

I don't care in the least what kind of phrasing you find troubling. Anyway, you mischaracterize what I said; I never said, 'I'm not a racist, but . . . ' Rather, I said that, according to how I define 'a racist,' I would be ashamed to be called one. The overarching point is that Horgan is anti-science and dishonest, as you seem to be.

'You say that you would be ashamed to be a racist; take a deep breath, and look up racism in a dictionary.'

I reject, and have always rejected, your asinine dictionary definition of 'racist';* if you seriously think somebody is a racist if he or she merely believes that differents races have slightly similar and vastly different features, then go ahead. A true racist, in my opinion, is somebody who wants to discriminate—to the detriment of other races—on the basis of these differences.

*Merriam-Webster's chief definition of 'racism': 'poor treatment of or violence against people because of their race,' which definition entails that a racist is somebody who wants to poorly treat or hurt people because of their race.


reader Giotis said...

Why oh why Witten put his name side by side with these people by giving an interview to this Horgan guy?

Here are the dreadful consequences:

http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/cross-check/2015/01/04/troublemaker-lee-smolin-questions-if-physics-laws-are-timeless/


reader Luboš Motl said...

I became aware of that new interview a few hours ago because if you search for "physics" on news.google.com, this interview appears as #1 at the very top!


reader Dilaton said...

Lumo, maybe it would help of you could write Edward Witten a mail to him, giving the advice to stop talking to such people?

It does not help his nice research field, on the contrary ... :-/


reader Luboš Motl said...

Dear Dilaton, first, Edward Witten isn't quite a stupid man, so he probably knows why he is doing or not doing these things.


Second, even if he were not as smart, he would probably not care what I write to him.


Third, the interview with Horgan wasn't really Witten's own playful invention. He was pretty much forced to be interviewed by Horgan because it was a part of a medal that he got, and Horgan as the interviewer was chosen by some officials from the institution that formally awarded the prize. He couldn't realistically avoid the interview. I wouldn't avoid it in given circumstances, either.


reader Dilaton said...

Hi Lumo,

ok yes ...

But it just drives me up the wall when I see great people being forced to publicely interact with agressive dimwits like Horgan or even worse clowns... :-/

Even concerning interviews in the context of medals and awards, they should have the right to protect refuse talking to specific interviewers, if they are not appropriate ...


reader Luboš Motl said...

It makes me upset, too...