Wednesday, September 20, 2006 ... Deutsch/Español/Related posts from blogosphere

Requisites for writing about cutting-edge physics

Below, you will find a self-description of an interesting person and you may guess what was his most recent job today. :-)

  • Since my first summer job, I've worked as a window installer, pizza delivery boy, golf course lawnmower, stock clerk, wind tunnel construction crewmember, FDA clerk, computer programmer, space policy analyst, CD-ROM debugger, TV researcher/producer and finally reporter.
  • ... so I switched majors (and locales to Washington D.C.) and headed for GWU to study science policy (MA, '93), which interested me far more than tensor algebra.

He was also asked about physics, giving the following answer to a question:

  • Q: Black holes are arguably the most intriguing phenomenon in space. What is the latest interesting or surprising theory or discovery about them?
  • A: Cosmologists may tell you that dark energy is the most intriguing thing ever. Nevertheless, black holes seem like very productive observation points because they are where general relativity clearly meets the quantum world [no kidding, and congratulations to Stephen Hawking to these observations].

So what was his most recent job? Yes, your guess is right. This person with this deep knowledge and interest in theoretical physics was asked to write an essay explaining why

for 2.25 million readers of USA Today. If I had not seen it, I would not believe it. On the other hand, once I saw it, I had no doubts it was written by a pizza delivery boy. ;-) At least, Dan Vergano could revenge for the tensor algebra and apply the most important insight of the "Science and policy" Master program - namely how morons can gain power to mess up with science.

You could ask whether USA Today's resources are only enough to pay a pizza delivery imbecile to write an article about this topic - but the 2.25 million readers probably can't tell the difference anyway.

About 2006 readers will notice that computing, material science, nanotechnology, and electronics have nothing to do with the issue. 1503 people will notice that it is nonsensical to say that a theory can be unraveling because it has not yet been proven. 1302 readers will realize that Einstein was never trying to unify the actual equations of quantum theory with anything else.

1105 readers will know that the incompatibility of two principles doesn't mean that both of them must be wrong.

804 readers will notice that no physicist who actually knows this theory was given any voice in the article - except for a few general words of John Schwarz - and 701 readers who have also read The Elegant Universe by Brian Greene will notice that the name of John Schwarz was misspelled twice.

408 readers will notice that the most recent work of the "historian of science" whose dumb opinion is quoted is a book celebrating the "discovery of global warming". Finally, 214 readers will realize that a person proposing that we shouldn't be "prizing the mathematical ability to whip up [a realistic particle spectrum]" must be a crank.

As you can see, the basic knowledge of facts and principles relevant for physics is a negligible perturbation and USA Today can easily ignore it and assign the task to golf course lawnmowers.

And that's my optimistic memo. :-)

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