It's a good book and I still consider Brian to be a top physics writer but I plan to write down a blog entry summarizing the book, its content and scientific misconceptions, its format, its philosophy, a comparison with The Elegant Universe I translated a decade ago, and the evolution of my feelings about the usefulness of the promotion of advanced science in general.
But before I do so, let me inform you about an interesting 90-minute debate that took place at David Gross' KITP in Santa Barbara two weeks ago. It was about the controversies in science and the right journalists' reactions to them.
The debate was moderated and the video materials were presented by PBS NOVA's Paula Apsell who is also the current KITP science journalist in residence:
Controversy in Science: When Scientists Disagree, What's the Journalist to Do? (HTML, various formats)The right way along which the journalists should approach controversies in science has of course been one of the major issues on this blog throughout the years. The particular topics they have discussed include
Flash video hi-res, Flash video lo-res, 3GP file (40+ MB, video: a few frames per minute)
EvolutionAs both my evolutionist and creationist friends know, I am a full-fledged Darwin chap. As an undergrad, I was a pro-Darwinian activist but I am no longer one because I don't think that creationism threatens anything or anyone (or because of my former undergraduate sweetheart, a fanatical evangelist?). In some sense, I feel compassionate towards creationists even though I don't really share their beliefs. The evolution debate is discussed in the first 30 minutes of the video above.
Climate change is of course a major controversy and NOVA's reporting on this part of science and policymaking – and everything that this woman has said about the topic during her talk – has been utterly catastrophic, dishonest, distasteful, and scandalous but I will omit it in this text. There's been no controversy about climate change at the KITP because all people in the room were staunch advocates of the Big Government and that's what actually decides in 95% of the cases on whether or not one decides to think about this topic rationally or not. People who consider the Big Government to be one of the best things in the big picture will simply prefer arbitrarily breathtakingly idiotic group think over the individual rational reasoning and over an arbitrarily rigorous proof that there is no climate problem. About 15 minutes were dedicated to climate change in the discussion about the scientific controversies in the media.
It turned out that the most controversial topic (locally) was something else, namely the multiverse and the anthropic principle. Go to 43:20 and she starts to talk about the multiverse, the landscape, and The Fabric of the Cosmos, the 2011 PBS TV program hosted by Brian Greene. The four episodes were previously discussed on this blog. I always enjoy the style of Brian Greene's programs; the content received mixed TRF reviews.
The first episode on space was mostly correct. The second episode about time has been full of eternalism; over-the-edge claims that no one knows what time is; and nonsensical claims about the non-existence of the logical arrow of time (in the very trailer, Brian directly says "according to the laws of physics, processes with macroscopically decreasing entropy may occur": WTF!? Especially the second law, right?), among other things. The third episode about quantum mechanics was nicely done but it has really failed to explain how quantum mechanics – the framework underlying our world – works. It's probably because Brian Greene intrinsically doesn't believe that the world doesn't obey some laws of a (conceptually) classical theory at the fundamental level.
The fourth episode was about the multiverse and it was the main topic of the 90-minute KITP debate two weeks ago. David Gross had a monologue in which he pretty much repeated everything I wrote about the episode. It was propagandist in character (or "manipulative", using better words of David Gross); it failed to coherently and honestly explain the picture of the critics of the anthropic lack of principles; and it just made lots of incorrect statements such as "logic seems to lead to the multiverse" which were not disputed in any way on the show.
More generally, the four-episode PBS program totally failed to separate uncertain and speculative topics such as the multiverse from established science such as quantum mechanics. (This point was highlighted by a layman at 1:07:00 who said that he believed that quantum mechanics is just as speculative as the multiverse.) I've made those statements many times in the past; it seems that David Gross agrees with me on every single point here. If I were born in April 1973 and not December 1973, I could easily conjecture that the Gross-Wilczek paper on QCD has plagiarized some scribbles of mine, too! ;-)
The PBS folks recorded David Gross for something like four hours but his explanations finally didn't make any significant impact on the show because Brian apparently controlled the composition and the flow of the program and he's become a nearly complete anthropicist in recent years. (Just for the Czech readers, the word "anthropics" may be translated as "antropičiny" but the correct translation is obviously "antropíčoviny".)
Because I've seen this immense discrimination against the Nobel prize winners, it's plausible that I will try to offer David a platform that is thermonuclear i.e. vastly more powerful than PBS, namely TRF. ;-)
Back to the 90-minute KITP debate. To make things worse, Joe Polchinski who had pledged a decade ago to quit physics if the anthropic reasoning ever becomes dominant has switched to the anthropic reasoning, too. So he was defending the PBS program, although in a seemingly confused and undecided way.
Now, David, make no doubts about it: the same kind of manipulation affects all the programs about the climate change, too. Many of these programs, overseen by very similar stupid and/or dishonest TV/journalistic folks, are presented as research, too.
A difference between the anthropic reasoning and the climate hysteria is that the anthropic reasoning is an unlikely but conceivably correct speculation about the reasons behind some unexplained features of the Universe which hurts no one; the climate hysteria is also a project to liquidate tens of trillions of dollars, the industrial capitalist civilization, and some of the basic human freedoms, too. But some of the mechanisms by which these two types of garbage are being promoted into the "mainstream opinion" are analogous.
Someone during the debate mentioned that the journalists are presenting populist topics and cherry-pick controversies which distorts the picture what is important and what is true. The woman calls it a "reality" that one "has to do so". That's interesting. I use very different words for what she calls "reality": "immorality" and "corruption".
Today, I was sort of expected to participate in the discussion under the Higgs interview with me on technet.idnes.cz, so I did participate. But I was also offered to write a Higgs article for the leading printed classical newspapers, "Lidové noviny". It turned out that it was planned that a big chunk of it would be about apologies for particle physics' existence and nonzero funding. I mentioned that I had to write several paragraphs about the very same thing in my February article on OPERA. I got another reply about "the will of the people" (it's a scientific consensus of the people that the scientific knowledge is worthless), the kind of "reality" comment, with some options. So I replied again that I had another option, namely to shit upon the working class primitives who pompously call themselves people and just to write nothing.
I just happened to get the offer again and I could reduce the space given by the humiliating "apologies for physics' existence" to one sentence – in the last sentence, I sent a message to the foes of funding of physics saying that Austria wanted to leave CERN in 2009 but many people realized how humiliating it would have been for Austria to become a physics peer of Albania so the plans for the CERN exit were scrapped in 2010. That's the only explanation of the purpose of physics funding for those who don't care about the truth in physics: people not paying attention to the laws of Nature are primitives and it's embarrassing to be a primitive. There's no other explanation for the funding of pure research they could understand. (Even if Austria left, it would make no significant different at CERN, of course. In similar smaller countries and environments, it's important to realize that the public pompously claiming it's very important is actually very unimportant and only decides about irrelevant fractions of the resources.)
Well, I understand that the newspapers may depend on the copies sold to lots of idiots who consider science to be junk and just don't want or can't read any high-brow articles in the newspapers, either. But that's their choice and it's not my problem. Prostitutes depend on some men's desire to have sex with paid women, too. It's exactly the same thing. The fact that some people depend on various things doesn't make their immoral behavior less immoral. They may always choose to do something else if what they're doing is forcing them to behave unethically. If they don't choose a less immoral job and continue in their immoral practices, then they're immoral people. It's as simple as that.