Tuesday, June 14, 2016

One can't understand physics through sociology

Experimental news: Listen to a new report from LIGO tomorrow (on Wednesday) at 19:15 Prague Summer Time; new detected gravitational wave GW151226 will be announced, with a 10 times higher frequency than GW150914. Also, in 2016, the LHC has recorded 4/fb, pretty much matching all of 2015, and some articles and LHCnews Twitter indicate that they could have something new about the \(750\GeV\) cernette soon, too. Results at \(Z\gamma\) and \(gg\) were null.
I have written numerous blog posts, e.g. this one in 2015, about this question but the question keeps on returning.

There exists a bunch of arrogant social scientists who believe or pretend to believe that they may reduce the wisdom about the world – including natural sciences – to their cheap ideological clichés about the society and discrimination and similar constructs. They think that when they observe how scientists dress or talk to each other, they may understand everything important about science, much like when they are observing dancing savages in the Pacific Ocean.

Famously, in 1996, Alan Sokal proved [PDF] that this postmodern material belongs to a [beep] [beep] when he published a totally idiotic crackpot hoax article about quantum gravity that licked the rectums of these individuals, and that's why it was enthusiastically embraced by a would-be prestigious journal published by those hacks, Social Text, despite dozens of cute claims in the paper that the value of pi depends on the oppression of women and similar "gems".

Sokal's paper could have killed that kind of thinking – or, more precisely, the absence of thinking – but it didn't. Instead, numerous new people began to intervene into science in this way in the two decades that followed. I could name a well-known person and his or her recent text but he or she's clearly far from the only one because she mentions three papers by social "scientists" who think that they may learn something interesting about string theory or its validity by repeating some sociological clichés.

The papers were written by
Weatherall+Gilbert, Ritson+Camilleri, Ritson
If you search for the titles of these 3 papers at Google Scholar, you may check that all of them have 0 citations at this point (after a year or so).

As you may remember, Weatherall was the weakest student in a Harvard course I taught. I cannot quote his paper with Margaret Gilbert because at the title page, it says
Please do not quote or paraphrase without one of the authors’ explicit permission
so I won't do it (although I am sure that they couldn't prevent me if I wanted). Instead, I just mention that the paper is 36 pages full of nonsensical views from the viewpoint of Lee Smolin who must look like quite some important scientist to a gullible reader.

Just imagine that. Why would someone be writing 36 pages of nonsense as seen from the viewpoint of Smolin? If physics were a human, Smolin would be a tiny piece of excrement attached to the appendix from the internal side. Clearly, Weatherall and Gilbert want to be an even tinier appendix attached to a tiny piece of šit. Why? What motivates people to degrade themselves in this fatal way?

The paper has no interesting content – except for saying that string theorists behave as typical scientists and a typical community and humans etc. It's probably Smolin who's the unusual one, they suggest. But Smolin is quite a typical piece of šit which is about 1 million times more widespread than the string theorists.

The papers co-authored by Ritson are even emptier. They say that some people think that string theory is great, some don't. Some people want to censor crackpots from the arXiv, some don't, and so on. Sophie must be a very clever girl to have noticed.

But let me return to the theme of the "normal scientific community" as painted by Weatherall and his co-author. They repeat millions of slogans about a "community" such as
As parties to a joint commitment, members of the string theory community are obligated to act as mouthpieces of their collective belief.
But this whole theme is absolute rubbish. String theory has nothing whatever to do with any community. String theory is a remarkable, completely impersonal mathematical structure that happens to be compatible with all the aspects of the laws of physics that are known as of today. It makes no sense to think that a "community" exists or has an impact because the number of string theorists is so tiny.

My example isn't the average one but it is not infinitely far from the average, either. I got access to state-of-the-art scientific journals etc. when I was 17 or so. By the time when I was a college sophomore, it became clear to me that string theory had to be right and I was learning it rather systematically, having acquired the Green-Schwarz-Witten textbook, among other things.

Sometimes in 1995, and for years afterwards, I am pretty sure that I was the only person physically located on the Czech territory who could pass most of a basic string theory exam (plus an exam from one or two advanced, specialized topics). It means that in a circle of radius of some 300 kilometers (some 60 hours of walk), there was just no one else. What the hell is this "community" of yours? String theory is pursued by a few thousand individuals who are pretty much exactly as rare on the surface of Earth as the density indicated by my example suggests.

Also, the validity of string theory has nothing whatever to do with any community. I am among those who know enough to be sure about string theory now but it has nothing to do with my "commitments". At an annual string conference, when someone refers to and praises my work, a bunch of aßholes starts to laugh in order to reduce the seriousness of the situation.

I am sure that if I had to evaluate what sort of people are the attendees, I would conclude that a very large percentage are almost exactly the same nasty left-wing jerks that one may see in most of the Western university departments. But this disagreement or animosity can't prevent me from seeing that if they write a correct or even important paper, it is correct or even important because these propositions boil down to the evidence and how it fits together, not to some communities.

It seems likely to me that most of the bright kids who are 17 today and who have a natural interest in theoretical physics must already be avoiding theoretical physics because what they see is that the value of the geniuses analogous to themselves is underrated by many orders of magnitude. It's not as bad as in reality but it unavoidably looks so in the media and on the Internet. Unrefined critics of science such as Mr Smolin, and Mr Weatherall talk about "communities" as if they were members of just another "community" and all "communities" were the equal. The 17-year-old big shots see that it's very likely that they may happily earn millions of dollars if they do business; theoretical physics is not only existentially uncertain but they see that the very question whether they may do research of theoretical physics as science may be questioned by some increasingly widespread imbeciles.

Meanwhile, as the 17-year-old clever kids already know, the reality is obviously very different than what the low-brow sourballs obsessed with the sociology claim. Whether one imagines people as members of communities, what distinguishes real string theorists are their refined and sometimes priceless minds and the results of their work while the likes of Mr Smolin and Mr Weatherall are just bad. This type of writers isn't capable of doing any interesting science so it tries to politicize absolutely everything instead. For example, this is the kind of stuff they write about the term "crackpot":
To me the notion of “crackpot” is an excellent example of an emergent feature – it’s a demarcation that the community creates during its operation. Any attempt to come up with a definition from first principles is hence doomed to fail.
What is the definition? A crackpot is, by definition, a pot that is cracked and it shouldn't be sold as a new product except that someone tries to do so. Now, does this definition apply to particular people? For example, does it apply to Lee Smolin, as journalist George Johnson has asked the members of the Santa Barbara Physics Department (plus KITP)? It's a question totally analogous to any other difficult question. The answer depends on the knowledge and opinions of the speaker, his subjective refinement (or generality) of the notion of a crackpot, and other things. Yes, most of the physicists in Santa Barbara have politely displayed their opinion that the answer is "yes, he is". But that doesn't mean that one can guarantee that everyone did so. It's not even known whether a poll would be able to pick a majority of signatures. And it just doesn't matter! What matters is that none of the people uses Smolin's work in their own work because Smolin hasn't done any usable work in his life.

At any rate, someone's being a crackpot is the result of a judgement that is as partially subjective as any other judgement about the people (or about other things). It is absolute nonsense that the term "crackpot" is something created by a community. I've never consulted any community when I used the term for any particular crackpots. After all, if I had done so, the community would probably prevent me from doing so.

Now, I am among those who like to use the word. But others use it, too. People in string theory and around string theory "largely" agree who is a crackpot and who isn't. But they don't agree precisely. The agreement boils down to the basically objective criteria. The part of the definition of a "crackpot" that may be objectified may be arguably seen through the "votes" in a community; but some uncertainty is unavoidable because no propositions about the people's characteristics may ever be "completely clearcut" and the term "crackpot" obviously partially depends on some messy psychology or social science.

Some people's methods and resulting conclusions about science are simply indefensible as proper science. Everyone who is not a complete lunatic realizes that science isn't everything that some random people (including laymen) claim to be science. Where the "demarcation line" is located is pretty much the same question as the question what the scientific evidence says about Nature and which propositions are defensible. It's a question that implicitly incorporates all scientific questions in a given discipline. If someone has no technical knowledge of theoretical physics, he self-evidently can't divide people to "crackpots" and "non-crackpots". Being a "crackpot" isn't about her or his outfit or the intonation or some easy-to-detect patterns in the speech – that could be noticed by every layman. To decide whether a person is a crackpot requires some technical expertise in the same discipline, whether you like it or not.

The answers to these questions have nothing to do with "communities" because science is (at least ideally – and it's mostly true in the real science as well unless we talk about the disciplines that have become corrupt) an impartial and impersonal effort of individuals. Some people sometimes copy (or almost copy) opinions of other people. Indeed, that may happen even among physicists. What a surprise. But in every group of people who deserve to be called scientists, there will be a huge percentage (and hopefully an overwhelming majority) of people who arrived to their conclusions independently.

It's terribly troubling that most of the "pure critics" may survive for many years while convincing tons of people in the media that they're on par with the genuine top scientists such as string theorists even though they are demonstrably fakes without any content, piles of worthless trash. This outcome must be partly blamed on the insane egalitarian ideologies that have conquered much of the Western university world in recent decades. Everytime you were saying "it's OK when a someone gets somewhere because of some identity politics credentials", you were crippling the (future) control of the actual scientists over the institutionalized process and you were working to repel true young big shots from science in the future.

A big part of the left-wingers, even among string theorists, are co-responsible for that and they must be denounced for that. But many of them have still done some valuable work in string theory which is a totally independent thing. Malicious people like Smolin and Weatherall may fail to be able to separate science from sociology or personal relations but everyone who at least remotely deserves the label "scientist" doesn't have any difficulty whatsoever when he (or, less much less frequently, she) separates these very different issues.

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