Thursday, July 12, 2012

Knowledge and passions: why various physicists started blogging

I started this blog on October 10th, 2004.

It wasn't any big transition: my previous experience with scientific interactions on the Internet had been intense and included Bulletin Board Services (BBS), USENET groups, and an unknown Czech-language blog in the same domain (started in 2003 or so), among other things.

If there were no Internet servers dedicated to science, I wouldn't have sent my early papers to and I would probably never have the crazy idea to work in America or something like that. It was surely not a plan I would ever be independently thinking about.

From the beginning, TRF was meant to be a multi-topic website so I had no doubts that texts on the sociology of science or the climate hysteria and the climate in general would appear rather often, along with texts about Czechoslovakia etc. (and I do understand that almost no one is really interested in those topics). I had to fight lots of pressures to suppress some topics completely.

But it's no secret that the immediate driver to start TRF was an aggressive one-dimensional crackpot harbored by Columbia University who started his own blog about half a year earlier in order to provide himself with a different explanation than his own inadequacy to the fact that he could have never contributed anything meaningful to science. It must surely be string theory's fault and not his own fault that he is just a worthless pile of junk, mustn't it?

I must have been a bit naive. My implicit impression had to be that the people taking this jerk and similar jerks seriously had to be honest, brainwashed, uninformed people and a Blitzkrieg of information coming right from one of the top Earth's hearts of theoretical high-energy physics would just eliminate the Columbia crackpot's stream of vitriolic conspiracy theories and lies and quickly forward this whole idiotic movement to the dumping ground where it belongs.

That was naive, indeed. Of course that many good people got used to learning new things as well as old things, what was shaking, how things really worked. But there still existed a core of fans of the jerk above and similar jerks who wouldn't learn anything. I learned that their attitudes didn't boil down to ignorance; their attitudes boiled down to their being unbelievably dishonest assholes. They're just scum.

While my passion for the truth and excitement about the enormous internal cohesion of the key component of culture of our epoch, namely the image of the world as painted by state-of-the-art theoretical physics, is probably a self-evident primary driver of my blogging, it seems that there are not too many physics bloggers of this sort – if any. So why other physics bloggers started to blog? I won't have to tell you any names but I am totally confident that readers familiar with the physics blogosphere will be able to guess the names.

Some bloggers started to blog because they are self-centered slick narcissists and exhibitionists who wanted to develop a new tool to transform themselves into public figures. So they were building a politically convenient (left-wing) environment and they were writing whatever seemed fit to attract ideologically guaranteed readers and journalists to their blogs – low-brow attacks on conservatives (or religion), the maximally widespread popular simplifications of physics questions, color-free politically correct summaries of the situation in physics and science in general that always sucks up to the most numerous or powerful groups in the relevant environments, and so on.

Other bloggers, while being employed as researchers in string theory, mostly wanted to share their excitement about their gardens with a few beans and flowers or about not-too-attractive 30-second videos trying to explain one simple point in undergraduate physics. Or about the U.S. vice-president's emotional speeches on the victims of war or fuzzy photographs. And related things you wouldn't care about – and indeed, things that most people don't care about, as evident from the low traffic numbers of these blogs. I know all of them in person. And frankly speaking, I still can't understand how they can possibly be willing to avoid important topics such as the general public's and the scientific public's understanding of the big picture of physics research and the future of physics research. Given their almost complete silence and irrelevance in these matters, they can't possibly care about physics and its future. I have often been led to conclude that they are "in it [the research] for the gold". Or they must be unbelievably scared of any possible conflict. Or whatever.

Some other people started blogging mostly because of their unlimited desire to spread rumors and leak information. It's another form of exhibitionism.

I was also trying to understand why another addition to the physics blogosphere started to blog, one who likes to call himself or herself by a silly sequence of words that includes a degree – a part of one's image that I have always considered embarrassing. While the degree and other hints indicate that he or she shares some desires with a slick person discussed above, desires to rebuild himself or herself into a representative of a new, communicative occupation and maybe even create a new source of income (which hasn't work well for himself or herself), this doesn't explain everything. So I am convinced that this guy or babe has another reason, the passion for an idea – a rather simple, universal, one-dimensional overall message that he or she wants to convey. And I tried to understand what that idea was. I think that the main message is that everything in science is almost eternally uncertain.

That's the only universal explanation I am able to extract from his or her (almost) neverending sequence of articles claiming that the status of one experiment or another is unclear even several months after it has become completely clear. It's often hard to say whether people really believe such things or whether they just want to compete in a silly contest, trying to be "as cautious i.e. slow in making conclusions as you can get", to be world champions in saying that "we don't really know anything".

It seems likely that the genuine belief must be a part of the story. A top particle physicist has revealed that he or she thought that the odds were 30% that the 125 GeV Higgs signal would go away. I am just not understanding such reasoning. The LHC experiments almost directly measured the probability that the signal was a false positive – the \(p\)-value – and this probability was just 0.01% or so because there was an overall signal exceeding 4 sigma (and the Higgs boson was needed for major theoretical reasons and excluded elsewhere). The viXra blog argues that the overall significance was actually surpassing 5 sigma already after the 2011 data. So how can you turn this 0.01% if not 0.0001% into 30% without being considered a denier of the experimental data? I think that people, including some of the top physicists, are often heavily irrational.

People have had different motives to start blogging but let me admit that I think that your humble correspondent is close to uniqueness in having the genuine positive excitement about some physics research and insights – excitement and insights I simply want to share – and (this is related) the contempt for people who want to spit on some of the most profound parts of modern science as the most important driver of the blog activity. Thank God for folks like Phil Gibbs who are probably close in this respect.

And that's the memo.


  1. Dear Lumo, I`ve just stared to read but I already dear to sugest a correction:

    Is the "aggressive one-dimensional crackpot harbored by Columbia University"

    not rather a

    "agrressive scalar (or zero-dimensional) crackpot harbored by Columbia university"

    because he is an ***hole independent from the direction (or coordinate system) you look at him ... :-(0) ?

    PS: This comment is meant to make everybody that hates him as much as I do laugh ...

  2. Yep, I´ve recognized all of the other blogs implicitely mentioned in this article ... :-D

    I like Phil a lot too :-)
    I just sometimes think that he needs a better firewall to keep the hardcore aggressive and ill meaning trolls away from his site. Observing how they accumulate there from time to time (happily not too often and only sporadically) can be very annoying ...

  3. Vixra is a site that explicitly accepts papers by crackpots, on the off chance one of them has something important. It's the way Gibbs wanted it to be and there's really no way to keep them out of the comments without changing the site completely.

  4. Hi JollyJoker, yeah I know and I some kind of appreciate Phil' s work for the vixra archiv too. By aggressive trolls I do NOT mean people who contribute to vixra and work on their own theories. I rather think of commenters like "public funding" and others who claim that particle physics needs an excuse for its exixtance, "WL59" once heavily trolled against ST (but now he is reasonable and ok), or of course the TROLL of trolls himself who sporadically pops up at Phil's (and Matt Strassler's) site :-/

  5. Dear Lubus, re: "the key component of culture of our epoch. . ."

    You mean one of the key components of culture in our epoch don't you?

  6. Dear Luke, sorry if my wording has been imprecise. I just wanted to reproduce Feynman's epilogue to his Lectures on Physics:

    " ...the main purpose of my teaching has not been to prepare you for some examination -- it was not even to prepare you to serve industry or the military, I wanted most to give you some appreciation of the wonderful world and the physicist's way of looking at it, which, I believe, is a major part of the true culture of the modern time."

  7. Hi Lubos,

    I kind of feel that I have been here along with your blog development in the sense that the motivation for one aspect of the blogger world is deeply seated in your reactions to you know who.

    IN a way in the beginning, I had hoped two differing view points would have bounced off each other. You have to admit you do don't you? :)

    So these other blogs have there reasons for existing, you see?:)

    So I do not feel the same way as you, Because, regardless of the points of views of others, they help us to evolve by looking deeply into what is being said.

    Although it may not chive with one, in the larger perspective, the actions helped to spur on conversation and drive the inquiry ever deeper.

    Hence, you have become very proficient at your explanations on String Theory.

    Character is something we all live with, and some have patience for others and others, not for us?:)

    Keep it going Lubos.


  8. I admit I opened this article with some trepidation. Usually when a blog post begins, "I started this blog on [date]...", it ends with the words "... and that's why I'm quitting".

    When you think of it, being able to read a new article (sometimes two, sometimes even three) from the boss on TRF every day for well-nigh on eight years now is the statistical equivalent of rolling a six, again... and again... and again... a few thousand times in a row.

    Is there anything in the blogosphere to rival TRF for the excitement and the knowledge it conveys about physics, both cutting-edge research and bedrock fundamentals? The answer is no, nothing comes close.

    My candidate for runner-up is "This Week's Finds" by John Baez (not a name on TRF's friend list, I will pay for this later... :-/ ). Also Sean Carroll's blog is not bad.

  9. It was said in blogosphere that you were lead to leave Harvard by "blogging too much", a thing that we as your readers like very much: is this real? Did you feel any kind of prejudice from colleagues while being a professional physicists and active blogger? Thanks

  10. Dear Numcracker, no, there is nothing true about these slanderous lies. I resigned because my H1B visa expired on July 1st, 2007, and I was decided not to work on new visas since January 2005 when the politically correct feminist sluts began to harass President Lawrence Summers and everyone who openly realized that Summers was right on that topic. I was absolutely disgusted - and if you can read my adrenaline level from the wording, you may notice that I am still disgusted now, 5 years later – by what could happen to basic academic freedoms at that school and what kind of scum could de facto control the famous university.

    You may also check my resignation letter!332

    No, I didn't have any colleagues in the HEP group who would find it (and declare it in public) wrong to be a blogger and most of my immediate colleagues were actually reading – and in many cases appreciating (of course, I mean mostly the most technical blog entries on theoretical physics) – the blog while I was at Harvard. Still, the blogging wouldn't be counted as a part of the academic production and it's rightfully so. It's important to realize that blogging doesn't necessarily imply that other things suffer.

    If I had stayed at Harvard, my first decisions about tenure would come about 2 years later. Of course, before that I would have thought that I hadn't deserved it - and my enemies would always think I hadn't - but enemies are irrelevant assholes and I have often underestimated myself in the past, too. It would depend on what I would discover and publish between 2007 and 2009 which is a pure speculation. The actual history was different so it makes no sense to speculate about those things. I hadn't written any papers for the official institutionalized system because I consider it a silly, non-market concept. Writing papers for others is still a job and it's a form of sick communism if people are doing work without a compensation.

  11. It seems that there is a lot more of crackpot noise in channels with feedback than in vixra itself; and perhaps this is related to the concept of troll: a paper does not get organised feedback and then the effort of writting it is less attractive.

  12. Whatever your reason for starting this blogs - many thanks. iot is a constant source of illumination>.
    As a layman in this area I can really only think conceptually. Perhaps you could answer a few questions for my enlightenment.
    1. What is the half life of the LHC Higgs?
    2. Does it make sense to think of it as a virtual particle since anything with so short a half life hardly can be said to exist at all?
    3 Is it useful to think of it as forming by the temporary bashing together of two gluons ? Is such a collision in the ball park given the energies inviolved?.
    4 Is its energy usefully considered as potential and its decay products as kinetic so that calculating the Lagrangian is of interest?
    5 Are Higgs Bosons being created naturally in the present day cosmos? If so where? and if not why are we worrying about it?
    Thanks in anticipation Norpag.

  13. Dear Plato, "these other blogs" already have their messages flooding the net, the magazines, the newspapers.... even politics and the economy. Their reasons for existing is zero, they are just duplicating wrongness to infinity. The reason why the inquiry is driven deeper is only thanks to rare blogs like TRF... and the personality, and guts, of the blogger.

  14. Hi Shannon,

    You do not need guts when you speak the truth. Truth stands its own without the need for character assassination or attempts to defame theoretical attempts.


    It is of interest so as to set straight further attempts. Scientist know what they have to do without all the fanfare?

    Besmirching theoretic?

    Why, as an attempt to define and push forward mathematical definitions without conscience of the natural world?

    Mathematicians indeed have to be grounded and not just live in a abstract world, but again without subjugating to any individual scientist they too recognize the truth of my statement.


  15. Thank you for TRF, Lubos. I hope it gives you pleasure to produce it, because it surely has been an incredibly interesting (and fun!) place for so many people to visit. Even though I can't understand well the mathematics of the theoretical physics you present, the general science discussions are accessible to all, and the political discussions are honest and direct. If TRF were not here, it would be like discovering that an important lighthouse was no longer there to keep one's ship from hitting the rocks. Of course you should spend your time and energies as you think best -- your rare talent and rare training permit you to pursue ideas creatively that few others can hope to do.