Thursday, July 12, 2007

Bloomberg: another idiotic article

Elizabeth Lopatto is the name of the latest breathtaking idiot who was hired to write about theoretical physics for Bloomberg. I am periodically amazed that the newer journalists are always able to exceed the degree of mental breakdown of their predecessors.

This particular lady informs her readers about "bad news for expanding universe". That may sound pretty exciting. When you read her text, you first notice that she is not able to distinguish cosmic inflation from the current and future expansion of the Universe due to the cosmological constant. While it is not clear which theory is supposed to be in trouble according to this madam, it is very clear what is the reason why this theory is in trouble: the reason is a popular book, "Endless Universe", by Steinhardt and Turok.

These journalists demonstrably think that the existence of popular books is what decides about the validity of scientific theories. In reality, there hasn't been a single popular book that has significantly influenced the image of reality as painted by physics. Weinberg's "The First Three Minutes" arguably came closest to this goal: it is an advanced popular book that has made many smart people think about nucleosynthesis seriously.

So we learn that inflation and probably the Big Bang itself is in trouble. In order for her to be "balanced", she also decided to criticize Steinhardt and Turok. But do you know what she criticizes them for? Believe me or not, she criticizes their wild models for their "string dependence", i.e. dependence on string theory.

It's incredibly crazy, especially because of the following three related reasons:
  • the reliability and robustness of string theory exceeds the reliability and robustness of Steinhardt's and Turok's models by several orders of magnitude
  • in a sharp contradiction with the opinion of Ms Lopatto, the very motivation why possible links of their scenario to string theory are mentioned, vaguely studied, and presented as strong by Steinhardt and Turok is their attempt to increase the credibility of their models while Ms Lopatto apparently thinks that such a link is supposed to diminish the credibility
  • in reality, their models don't technically follow from string theory and their ideas are largely independent of string theory

Concerning the first point, she could have asked a physicist to give her a qualified estimate of the probability that various models that appear in her article are correct. She would have found out figures like those on my page about these probabilities: the probability that string theory is a consistent theory of quantum gravity is quantified as 99.999% while the probability that it is the right theory of this Universe is close to 85%. This high percentage is based on a tight network of roughly 20,000 mostly robust papers that show that the conclusions of string theory are largely inevitable because they are more or less unbreakably connected with each other and with all experimentally verified principles underlying the real world.

On the other hand, the same page evaluates the validity of ekpyrotic or cyclic models of the Universe - demonstrated in the 21st century - at 0.1%. This number is small because the arguments behind these models are not robust at all. Instead, they are rather random guesses whose motivation is not clear and that are only studied in dozens of very loosely connected papers.

Criticizing cyclic models of the Universe for relying on string theory is as insane as criticizing theories about Elvis Presley living on the Moon for their reliance on the theory that the Moon is an actual celestial body. It's just completely stupid. We also learn what is the main reason that has led Ms Lopatto to her idiotic musings. The reason was once again incorporated in popular books - in this particular case, we talk about two well-known books by two well-known crackpots, Peter Woit and Lee Smolin.

Concerning the last point, I think that it is obvious that she should have asked a string theorist to see whether the cyclic models follow or can be derived from string theory: neither Steinhardt nor Turok are really qualified to answer this question. She would learn that the answer is No.

The inability of science journalists to distinguish nonsense from science, to realistically estimate the probabilities that certain assertions are correct, and to collect the very basic data that are relevant for their texts is getting worse every day while the willingness of editors to employ journalists who don't have the slightest idea about the topic they write about is increasing every day. And what's worse, no one seems to care.

And that's the memo.

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