Sunday, April 27, 2014

NPR releases its own anti-SUSY rant

The recent Lykken-Spiropulu anti-SUSY diatribe in Scientific American has sparked some echoes. One of them was published on the NPR website. The piece titled
Are Physicists Ready To Give Up The Chase For SUSY? (NPR)
was written by Marcelo Gleiser. I had the feeling that I have already seen the name somewhere. Well, a TRF search shows that this name has already appeared 4 times. In pretty much every single case, the story implied that Marcelo Gleiser is an aggressive idiot. And believe me, I didn't impose this coherence. Unfortunately, this story is no different.

First, the title is preposterous because, as Gleiser admits, we are waiting for the 2015 LHC run that will probe higher energies and that will have "completely new chances" to find SUSY which are uncorrelated to the null results of the 2012 run. In fact, Maria Spiropulu was hired to search for SUSY and extra dimensions, so if she still works as a CMS member next year, it's likely that the search for SUSY will represent most of her work.

But this [beep] Gleiser repeats many of the laymen's misconceptions about how science works.

The first paragraph says:
Is physics in crisis? An article in the May issue of Scientific American by physicists Joseph Lykken, from Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, and Maria Spiropulu, from the California Institute of Technology, lay bare an issue that is keeping a growing number of physicists up at night. Will supersymmetry — the hypothetical symmetry of nature proposed some 40 years ago — be proved out? Or should it be archived to history as just another clever idea that didn't prove true?
I won't comment on the omnipresent "subtle kicks" into particle physics as such, preposterous fairy-tales about its being in a crisis, and so on. There is no content in these sentences; they only show that their author is hostile towards the hardest discipline of science.

But let me say a few words about the SUSY's being "archived to history". Gleiser thinks that ideas in science are archived as failures if "they don't prove true". But that's just a complete misunderstanding of the scientific method. Ideas in science are only eliminated if they prove false – if they are falsified. If a proof or disproof of an idea doesn't arrive, the idea must still be considered as an option. It is a viable theory. The same point may be said in many words. The absence of a proof isn't a proof of the absence. One simply cannot eliminate an idea or a paradigm that hasn't been falsified.

Actual ideas that have been eliminated – like the phlogiston, the substance identified with heat, or the luminiferous aether – produce general predictions that may be and have been empirically shown to be incorrect. Supersymmetry also makes such general predictions but none of them has been falsified. Instead, what has been falsified are only particular models leading to some particular values of the low-energy parameters etc. But it's just an elementary, childish fallacy to think that by falsifying some representatives of a (more or less naturally or unnaturally clumped) class of theories, one falsifies the whole class. Models just don't "fight for their validity" in this collectivist way. Every qualitatively different theory or model of physics has its own individual "account" and until this account goes to the red numbers, the theory or the model is just a viable option!

Gleiser says that a lot is at stake, reviews some physics of the Standard Model and its limitations, and so on. But he eventually returns to the anti-new-physics comments that seem to be the actual goal of his diatribe.
So far, not a trace of supersymmetry has graced the amazing detectors at CERN. Or the dozens of other experiments spread around the globe hunting for supersymmetric particles raining down from the heavens, something that should happen if they are, indeed, dark matter. Things are not looking good for SUSY.
The words "not a trace" may sound dramatic – like if he had something stronger to say than just "SUSY hasn't been found yet" – but needless to say, this "added value" is largely nonsense. If a trace (like a 4-sigma SUSY-like excess: we have surely seen various 2-sigma excesses which were probably/mostly flukes) were found somewhere, it would be very likely that a stronger discovery of the same signal and perhaps related signals would quickly be made as well and soon or later, it would be followed by a similar discovery at the other detector, and so on.

The discoveries of new physics by several experiments are not independent events. The discovery by CMS and by ATLAS are pretty much equivalent things. If one occurs, the other occurs as well, and so on. If a particle is seen in one of the decay channels, it's probably going to be soon in the other dominant channels, too. So the actual "absence of evidence" is more or less just one bit of information.

Gleiser then quotes Nima's comment ending with "That's OK; theorists don't need to be consistent; only their theories do" and apparently criticizes Nima for that:
The question, though, is how long can you keep on changing your story before you realize the story is just wrong? This is the hardship (and the excitement) of research; we don't have a path ahead, we need to forge one. And we are not sure of which direction to take, having only inklings that it could go this or that way.
How long? I have already answered this question many times and a science-literate person should know the answer even without my help. A theory in science has to be considered as a viable option up to the moment when it is falsified or at least the moment when the apparent probability of its validity decreases to exponentially small values, like 0.001%, which is not hard if you deal with a theory that is really, demonstrably wrong. SUSY hasn't been falsified and it hasn't been shown to be extremely unlikely so one must still consider it as a possibility, of course. The same will be true even if the 2015 LHC run finds no traces of SUSY. Opinion may evolve quantitatively but there will be no paradigm shift without an actual sharp event – in theory or in the experiment – that would change things qualitatively. A gradual inflow of "not paradigm changing" data from the experiments implies that the theorists are gradually adjusting their beliefs; that's exactly the right thing for them to do and they may behave in this way indefinitely. Only if experimental results are "qualitative", they may force theorists to change their beliefs "qualitatively".

In fact, even in the absence of evidence for SUSY coming from the 2015 LHC run, SUSY will look more likely than not as a symmetry that applies at some scale to most of the compentent particle physicists, so of course that they will continue to study it. Theorists will surely use SUSY all the time because it's essential for formal theoretical reasons but even phenomenologists will study it because it will probably remain the #1 candidate for new physics that may be found at some moment. Only if a more interesting theoretical paradigm is found by theorists, it may supersede supersymmetry at the #1 place in the research of potential new physics.

You just can't treat a theory as a falsified one if it is not actually falsified!

Gleiser also says something that proves that he doesn't have a clue what supersymmetry actually means:
Of course it may be that supersymmetry is a symmetry of nature, but realized at energies well beyond the reach of our current machines. This is what Arkani-Hamed was saying. But if this is the case, we need to change the story quite a lot and redefine what it is that we want supersymmetry to answer. Clearly, it won't do much to help as understand the Standard Model.
This is complete bullshit, too. Even if there is no trace of SUSY in the 2015 LHC run, it won't redefine what SUSY is. SUSY is a symmetry generated by Grassmann-odd generators whose anticommutator involves the spacetime momenta (generators of translations), a clever loophole in the (philosophy of the) Coleman-Mandula theorem. SUSY plays many roles in string theory as well as in (equally unproven so far) models of low-energy physics (e.g. a possible full explanation of the lightness of the Higgs, to mention the key example of this category) but those things are just not a "definition of SUSY".

Details about "what SUSY is relevant for" are guaranteed to change as the experimental data eliminate some possibilities. In contrast to Gleiser's misconceptions, there is no "the story" about the detailed character or role of supersymmetry in physics beyond the Standard Model. Instead, there are many scenarios, possibilities, and models and all of those that remain viable are treated as viable options and they are sometimes by studied by some researchers. It's not true at all that all researchers study exactly the same realization of SUSY in particle physics.

The usual Shmoitian junk appears near the end:
Theories need to be consistent. But they also need to be falsifiable: this is where theorists do need to be consistent. If you can't test a scientific hypothesis, what are you doing, exactly?
But SUSY is undoubtedly falsifiable. Even the most general form of SUSY is. Measure the particle spectrum up to the Planck scale and if you find out that the fermionic and bosonic states can't be matched in any way that would be compatible with SUSY, SUSY is experimentally ruled out. What Mr Gleiser and similar [beep]s are actually dissatisfied with is that SUSY has not been falsified yet. But it's not a duty for scientific theories to be quickly falsified. On the contrary, the longer they survive, the better for them.

A hostile enough person could say that any accepted theory in science is unfalsifiable, too. Quantum field theory is unfalsifiable. Things are consistent with it but one could perhaps also design some other, non-QFT explanations of all the phenomena. What can I do to falsify quantum field theory as such? Well, this is a silly question. Quantum field theory simply works. In the same way, SUSY and string theory work, too. They represent two overlapping frameworks in which all the known phenomena in Nature may be described. We got very far and the theories are results of quite some progress. So it shouldn't be shocking that it's hard to falsify them. The reason is that there are many true things about them.

The final paragraph is:
Supersymmetry, beautiful as it is, has the annoying feature that it can always be hidden from testing, a slippery fish you can't hold on to. Of course, the ultimate judge of all this is nature itself. But a theory that is always hiding from us serves very little purpose as an explanatory scientific device.
It's just not true that a theory of particles and fields that cannot be found at the LHC serves "very little purpose as an explanatory scientific device". The inflaton cannot be produced by the LHC yet it plays an essential role in the scientific explanations of the Universe – and it's a complete coincidence that direct signs of cosmic inflation were found exactly in 2014 (hopefully). The role of SUSY and string theory etc. is analogous to the inflaton. The LHC is not seeing everything about Nature. Scientists – I primarily mean theorists – are using many concepts that are important for the inner logic, coherence, consistence, and simplicity of their explanations but they "cannot be seen". There is nothing wrong whatsoever about this fact. They may explain "what they are exactly doing" but only to those who are actually ready to listen (and who have at least some background to understand).

NPR, why are you giving room to unhinged [beep]s such as Mr Gleiser? It is truly distasteful.


  1. What does "npr" stand for ...?

    Just from reading the title of the rant it seems to mean "Non Productive Rants" and can savely be ignored by people who love and are truely interested in science ...?

    Going to read the TRF article now, of the rant itself I have already seen enough because Kyle Kanos, a power driven scornful arrogant dimwit, joyfully linked to it in the Physics SE chat hbar, and just reading the title is more than enough to see that it is garbage from afar ... ;-)

    If only more physicists would debunke such garbage publicly ... :-/

  2. What such agressive trolls are doing is in fact character assassination of (parts of) science, and it is too bad that the trolls themself or the popular science channels who offer them a platform, can not be sued for it and forced to pay reparations to the physics community for the damage they are doing ... :-(0)

    If their was a possibility for the physics community to take these trolls to court, that would teach them to shut up if they have nothing constructive to say about a topic and make popular channels more careful about giving room to such morons in order to inflate their intentional misleading of the public ... !

  3. "Or the dozens of other experiments spread around the globe hunting for
    supersymmetric particles raining down from the heavens, something that
    should happen if they are, indeed, dark matter. Things are not looking
    good for SUSY."

    DM direct detection experiments are hardly limited to SUSY. In fact, wouldn't logically any argument like this against SUSY work against any possible alternative BSM physics since nothing has been found and the experimental limits keep rising? What is this magical alternative theory that predicted something within reach of the LHC but not the 8TeV run?

  4. NPR is National Public Radio, a government-linked, non-commercial radio station in the U.S.

  5. Exactly. SUSY is being chosen as a crazy scapegoat of a sort. Why are the people so obsessed with this choice? SUSY is still the most likely single thing to be found at the colliders after the Higgs.

  6. Exactly, the “problem” is with (technical) naturalness and not with SUSY per se; so why these anti-SUSY zealots and anti-Physics Mujahideens in NPR and Anti-scientific American, make this one to one connection?

    Technical naturalness is not a principle of nature of course; it is a guiding strategy or a way of thinking (Which I personally find very appealing but that’s not the point). Like any other strategy sometimes it is helpful and works and sometimes it doesn’t work. This by no means constitutes a crisis in Physics. It is ridiculous to even claim this.

  7. I found deeply disturbing that Gleiser points towards SUSY, a not yet falsified concept, as a sign of crisis and he always forgets to write about the fact that, despite many falsifications, there are still people who thinks that Lorentz invariance can be broken (i'm talking about LQG, doubly special relativity, etc...).
    What is more unscientific, Mr. Gleiser?

  8. Susy is needed to solve the hierarchy Problem but maybe the hierarchy is No Problem.


    After all extra higgs particles or extra dimensions for gravity solves some of the same problems.

    Or is it possible that the inos live a separate dark mass dimension with some limited new fields to link them to regular 3+1D???

    However since the math graded lie super algebras has other applications in physics maybe it is valid.
    Lie means a sheltered valley in Norwegian. Maybe a daring critically bslanced mountain top theory is needed. Lol

    Kitchener-waterloo, Canada.

  9. SUSY, at least in it's simplest realization, the MSSM, gave nature a good chance to falsify it: by finding an SM-like Higgs boson above 135 GeV (or above about 160 GeV if you like split SUSY). But what did we find? An SM-like Higgs at 125 GeV, exactly as predicted by the MSSM. SUSY is now, after the LHC Run I in better shape than before. :-)

  10. The falsificationist perspective rules out treating each variant of a supersymmetric theory as a separate theory. In fact, the doyen of falsificationism, Sir Karl Popper of the Mont Pelerin Society, called the practice of modifying a model with different assumptions whenever it is falsified, a degenerating research paradigm. In this perspective, an impossible condition for falsification, such as insisting on a Planck limit, renders a theory unfalsifiable, therefore unscientific.

    Your observation that no scientific theory or model is a priori falsifiable because it is always possible to modify supplementary postulates in any given theory is correct. It is also a rejection of the falsificationist approach! That's why many people will claim to reject falsificationism, and why they tend to talk of testability instead. Pierre Duhem and W.V.O. Quine noted this fundamental error in the falsificationist approach long ago.

    Your notion of demarcating an unscientific theory by its insufficient probability requires the ability to assign unique probabilities to propositions. I'm not sure the idea propositions have probabilities is coherent, but it seems to me that the Duhem-Quines objections still holds: In principle it is always possible to find a "theory" which provides an acceptable probability of some as yet untested phenomenon.

    I think the simpler argument that SUSY is science, and hasn't been falsified, is simply that it is a logical and mathematical necessity of established science which simplifies and clarifies our understanding.

  11. Yes, I think your last sentence is all that you really need and is an excellent summary.

  12. I was about to give Marcelo Gleiser a pass on this by saying that science journalists are being misled by "professional" physicists who are dissing SUSY, but on looking for him on WIKI, I find that he IS a professional physicist---
    --hadn't heard of "oscillons"== this reminds me of the Big Bang Theory episode, where, at a faculty party, Sheldon is introduced to the socially adept but totally mediocre new head of his physics dept---when asked by the bogus head "and you are...?", Sheldon responds, "a real scientitst".
    It may be that SUSY is wrong or partly wrong, but it is the best thing going right now, and Nima, an idea generator, knows it.

  13. I think that 96% of the funding for NPR now comes from private sources so the government link is weak. Unfortunately, some of its programming does stray into politically correct garbage. There is also some pretty good stuff there on occasion.

  14. Lubos, you write with your usual lucidity on these matters - falsification and the meaning of science - but one short sentence in your post goes to the core for me: [Quantum field theory simply works.] I think the issue, well illustrated by the posts here, is that two languages are involved - spoken and mathematical. Quoting big guns like Popper and Quine makes for nice writing, in the sense of spoken language, but QFT working, on the other hand, involves mathematical language of such density that no more than 10000 people on the earth are capable of truly comprehending the notion. That’s the problem - at the highest levels of physics human language becomes entirely inadequate for communication, and only those endowed with the highest mathematical talents are capable of speaking the language of the realm.

    For instance, people interested in science likely visualize atoms as something like little solar systems with electrons orbiting the nucleus. I think very, very few comprehend that such a notion lacks content (i.e. something outside empirical reality). All we have is an operator on a Hilbert space admitting a discrete energy spectrum, “orbit” in this context has little meaning outside bedtime stories for the folk.

    Readers of this blog will agree or disagree with what I have said because they, for the most part, speak the language with some facility. Go out to the wider human community and discuss such ideas and you might as well appoint yourself leader of a baboon troop and work at convincing them.

  15. Can you reference one of your FT papers so we can see if the average person can understand it.

  16. A comparison: can we falsify "climate change" model predictions for year 2100 in 2014, or do we simply have to wait? What makes SUSY fundamentally different - other than its undisputed beauty?

  17. Right, this "evil" form of falsificationism that you described is exactly what has to be rejected, I argue. It is bullshit that theories should never be "evolutionarily adjusted" to describe the better data more accurately or more correctly.

    Sometimes a true paradigm shift arrives as a better explanation of certain observations. These are exciting moments when they occur but they are rare. It is much more typical that an existing paradigm is being adjusted "gradually" to be kept compatible with the newly arriving observations. I could name millions of examples. A big portion - perhaps a majority, depending on how one counts it - are represented by this evolution.

    When new particles - the muon, the quarks, neutrinos - were found, they didn't abandon the existing framework. Trey added new fields and particles. With QCD, they added non-Abelian interactions to a gauge theory - they didn't abandon gauge theories just because the existing, Abelian gauge theories turned out to be insufficient. And so on, and so on, and so on.

    It is just complete bullshit that scientists should feel as a sinner when he adjusts his theory or opinions. This is what most of a proper scientist's work is composed of, and if Popper failed to understand this point, he was just an inadequate moron.

  18. Dear Curious George, the weather in 2100 is just one "corollary" of a climate model, a theory. We are not falsifying particular corollaries; we are falsifying the whole theory or the whole model.

    A real-world climate model makes many other predictions than just the weather in 2100, and indeed, pretty much all popular models promoted in the IPCC have been falsified. There are very many things they predict and many of them disagree, often at many sigmas to be pretty sure that it's not just bad luck.

  19. Unfortunately, Svik, I'm not 5-sigma.

  20. If vacuum is trace chiral anisotropic only toward hadrons 1) Parity violations, symmetry breakings, chiral anomalies, Chern-Simons repair of Einstein-Hilbert action, and dark matter vanish into a founding postulate empirical tweak, and 2) SUSY is wrong, as is most of quantum gravitation.

    Euclid is incomplete (no derivation errors!) re cartography. Euclid required Bolyai completing the Fifth Postulate. Physical theory (no derivation errors) remains broken until it observes an apostatic chemistry experiment . Quantitative testing (5×10^14 difference/average sensitive) for trace chiral vacuum requires 90 days in existing bench top apparatus loaded with commercial materials. Look.

  21. I suspect there are only about 100 people who understand qft well enough to generate new qfts on demand and solve them via a lattice.

  22. Hmmm... so we don't need to prove our theories, we need others to disprove them. If that's the case then I chose to believe in the flying spaghetti monster living at the Planck scale.

    Your really not helping your cause here Lubos.

  23. IMHO you are an idiot.

  24. Even assuming that naturalness is respected by nature, we certainly need to increase out search range into the 100 Tev range to exclude low energy SUSY as natural that would only exclude that we have been able to say what nature thinks is natural. The assault on SUSY is just more of the same journalistic trash that others engage in to assure we know what Justin Bieber is up to.

  25. Your last sentence is correct. However, the rest falls into the anything is possible line of argument. The problem is that one cannot assert that just because you cannot figure out how to do an experiment at near Planck energy that it is an impossible condition. In just the most recent example where experiment surprises in it's ingenuity, BicepII has given - treating WMAP as a baby picture - the equivalent of a picture in utero and imaged gravitational waves, certainly many thought that impossible until recently.

  26. When they said there were less bacteria did they mean in terms of raw numbers or biodiversity? Environmental stressors are supposed to temporarily reduce biodiversity, so maybe there are about as many bacteria as there ever was (since usually microbes make pretty good extremophiles), but there are less types of bacteria. This reminds me of the radiotrophic fungi growing inside the reactor.

  27. Yep, such IMHO aggressive destructive idiots who have absolutely no knowledge about but an agenda against the physics topics they are trolling about (as Anrei Linde said ...), should get a live for themself and do something constructive ...

    I am still annoyed that Discus no longer displays the number of downvotes, but maybe it is just the first downvote that is not displayed?

    Could you an IMHO very justified downvote to the agressive trolling comment such that we can test my hypothesis ...;-), pun making fun of the agressive trolling idiots intented :-P ...

  28. I have edited my last sentence to avoid confusing things. I don't have the background to make positive assertions about either the logical and mathematical necessity, or the simplicity and clarity, of SUSY. I suppose I should confess that I can't imagine how it is necessary to abuse people who don't agree about either.

    I also must confess think I still know enough science to claim that the whole corpus of established science, that is, observations and measurements and experimental results, has a cumulative effect. Some notions are simply no longer feasible, are impossible. In the falsificationist perspective, however, knowledge is only knowledge of what is not, what has been falsified. Surviving theories have merely not been falsified, and are therefore probabilities.

    The rest of my post was arguing against the falsificationist perspective. It did not make an anything is possible argument. Denouncing my particular example of an impossible condition as in fact a possibility implies that you are the one who thinks anything is possible.

    Whether I was right in the example is irrelevant to the point, which is about what falsificationists think.
    In the falsification perspective, no theory can be deemed scientific if it can't be falsified or tested (as the weak version calls it.) Thus, speculation about the nature of stars was unscientific until the invention of the spectroscope.

    Strong falsificationism has a problem with historical reconstructions, viewing them all as more or less data fitting. Since it is always possible in principle to devise an alternate scenario, such reconstructions are not falsifications.

    I noted above that falsificationists believe knowledge is probabilistic. This opinion is not only shared by quite a few scientists who would deny being falsitcationists, but they insist on it. It seems to me that this position implies the belief that in fact everything is possible, that somehow somewhere any so called fact can suddenly be disproven. I'm pretty sure that this is not true. I really do think we can say "There is no magic," instead of "There probably is no magic."

  29. Discus abolished the down votes . See

  30. NPR - National Proletariat Radio

  31. Well, I would not say:" there is no magic" . I would say that "the magic of today is the physics of tomorrow" . My grandmother never believed that people went to the moon, and a primitive person brought to our technological world would surely believe it is magic. Children too: my young cousin waited infront of automatic doors for "God to open them".

  32. Sounds about right. There are no more than 50 6-sigma dude(tte)s out there, and the likelihood is they are doing something like that. It would be great, even for an hour, to have that kind of wattage.

  33. Re: "no religion has been falsified":
    No but they have all been explained plenty thoroughly enough! ;-)

  34. So what is your research. Math? Physics? Or do you teach?

    The only physics dude I know about is the E8 surfing dude. The rest are in suites.

    Pendulums are chaotic when driven.

  35. Hi Luboš,
    I apologize for this terrible offtopic.
    Is there any chance you could somehow sanitize your blog's homepage, or maybe make your mobile version the default view?
    Thing is, lately, each time I try to read your blog, I'm challenged by infinite popups, browser crashes and such, no matter what I use - Chrome or IE. The slowness of page loading on tablet computers also spoils the experience of reading your always excellent content.

  36. No prob with the off-topic question of yours. The answer is No, there is no acceptably easy and otherwise plausible way to do with you want. By the way, there are no automatic popups generated by this page.

    Can't you just bookmark the mobile version? I don't really believe that there may be any advantage whatsoever for returning readers to have the mobile version as the default one. The URL of the mobile template is

    Incidentally, you should also stop using IE now, it has a critical bug - the Dpt of Homeland Security advised all users to avoid it.

    As you can see, there are more serious problems on your user side than on the blog template side.

  37. Thanks, fair enough. With regards to popups, they are sometimes generated by buggy third party content and code (iframes and external javascript for ads and widgets).
    Thanks for the heads up on the IE bug. There is some confusion about it, because it's a Flash exploit, and there is another actively exploited Flash bug which Adobe patched yesterday. Those are two separate bugs. So the advice is: don't use IE, and update Flash asap regardless of what browser you are using.

  38. Math, working on abstract generators for likelihood functions, a mildly algebraic approach that admits into data modeling measures from an extremely broad class. Incidentally, such a perspective renders the Bayesian/Frequentist arguments irrelevant, something like two fleas on a dog arguing over the dog’s ownership.

  39. Hey Lubos, cheers on making this defense for the umpteenth time. Its a point I've found myself having argue quite often as well, of late.

    About the testability of more general, higher-energy supersymmetry, I saw this optimistic preprint about the impact of a split-SUSY scenario on inflation, which could be searched both via CMB and also large-scale structure surveys. Maybe of interest to the readers, or you if you missed it:

  40. Hi Ciff :-)

    Yes, Lumo made once again a good stand, whereas I had not the stomach to read more than the title of the rant itself.
    The paper looks interesting, I would enjoy reading a TRF article about it ...

    BTW the Q&A part of our higher-level physics site (graduate-level upward) is now up and running, whereas the upcoming Reviews section for discussing and peer reviewing papers (similar to what Lumo often does when writing TRF articles about papers :-P) still needs some work. If you are intereste, you can take a look here


  41. Hey that is cool.

    Nice to know Bayesian people don't own the whole show. Some seem to worship the Bayesian method.

    Tried to find the paper.
    There is quite s few!!!

  42. Load and run ccleaner. Its the only free one that works.