My reaction to The Retraction Reaction
In the latest episode of The Big Bang Theory, S11E02 "The Retraction Reaction", Leonard Hofstadter was interviewed at Ira Flatow's show at the NPR radio station. Flatow – who starred as himself – asked Hofstadter what they have found at the LHC since the 2012 Higgs boson discovery. I think that Flatow has asked the same question in his real show a few times, too.
Leonard – I am not sure when he joined ATLAS or CMS because it would be a rather deep transformation of his specialization – answered that the LHC could have found squarks, selectros, or gluinos but it has found nothing and sometimes he has doubts whether the financial investment was wise.
Now, this is a totally essential descripton of the state of the affairs – as of today, the Higgs boson is the latest experimental discovery at the energy frontier of experimental particle physics, other things may come but we're not guaranteed and with the years of null results, it's obvious that some people increasingly doubt whether the search is justified.
Dr David Saltzberg of UCLA, the TBBT science adviser, has fine-tuned the dialogues perfectly from the expert's viewpoint – but we're used to that. That's why we may discuss the episode as if it were a real event.
I surely think that the investment has been great and a new, larger collider should be built in coming years. But it's absolutely essential for physicists and scientists in general to say what they consider the truth about such matters. They should have the integrity to speak the truth and never get corrupt so that they say things they believe to be untrue. Scientists' statements just shouldn't be deformed by financial interests or existential fear.
This principle may be left to the scientific integrity of the scientists themselves. At some moments, the perfect integrity may be a wishful thinking. That's why it's desirable if not vital for the broader environment surrounding the scientists to create the atmosphere in which the scientists aren't threatened too much when they try to speak the truth. In particular, I think that it should be a related moral principle applying to the officials in scientific institutions that they simply should never push the scientists to lie about the science in which the scientist is assumed to be an expert.
In fact, I believe that some internal regulations at universities and other scientific institutions should say that an official may be fired if he or she exerts such a pressure.
After Leonard's sensible comments on Flatow's show, he was called to Janine Davis' office. She works as the boss of the Human Resources of Caltech (in TBBT), effectively the limb of the university that imposes the political correctness and the will of the powerful and corrupt ones.
In the past, this nasty bitch has caused problems through assorted events that bitches like her consider politically incorrect, e.g. for a book about blacks that was given to her as a gift. I know that Janine Davis is a fictitious woman and one can't take fictitious people too seriously. But while she superficially looks pleasant if not somewhat charming, I still despise her a big deal! She is a great symbol of thousands of similar bitches in the real world that make their living as parasites at numerous universities and, analogously, in numerous companies.
So this bitch just told Leonard that it was a scandal and he could lose his job because of his pronouncements at NPR. She has gotten some e-mails from sponsors who were worried that "physics could be a dead end". (The LHC isn't really funded by private sponsors who would communicate by these e-mails but some other physics research programs could be.) Leonard hasn't made this exact statement. He just reasonably pointed out that he's often worried that no "returns" will come out of billion-dollar investments to the colliders. It's indeed possible.
These events in the TV show are very realistic – except for the way how all the physicists are dramatically and frequently changing their specialization within physics which I don't find realistic. But I do think that similar pressures do exist, even when it comes to the "degree of optimism" that physicists offer to journalists. We're drowning in the incredible hype about so many – often totally wrong, superficial, idiotic, or mediocre – papers in physics because the physicists who enable this hype are being pressured by their local Janine Davis who says that they must spread the hype, even hype about bad work, otherwise they could have problems including the loss of their job.
To save his job, Leonard was being forced to write a complete bullšit letter saying that "physics is close to a breakthrough". Obviously, no one can "know" any such thing and Leonard was just being abused – and he tried to cooperate with the corrupt bureaucracy. Leonard asked Sheldon for help because Sheldon believes the breakthrough is around the corner. But Sheldon confirmed that Leonard was right on the radio. They tried to write a letter and ended up saying correct things. The LHC hasn't devoured the Earth which is great – but we still haven't learned from the experiment whether e.g. SUSY is right or wrong which is even worse than if we could falsify the hypothesis.
So while I am not too happy about this particular example – the ATLAS and CMS searches for new physics represent the research par excellence – I do agree with the show that physicists are often being pressured by similar bureaucratic and financial interests to spread hype and talk in a way that sounds more positive about "any topic vaguely related to their work" than what they feel to be appropriate.
I urge all universities where the scientists and sensible people in general haven't lost their power completely yet: Find all your clones of Ms Janine Davis and fire these bitches. These parasites are contaminating physics – and science. They are removing the vital moral assumptions that are needed for science to operate properly. The research and meritocracy in the funding suffers as a result while the public is increasingly misinformed about the status of science.
In the episode, Amy and Bernadette also pointed out that their biology-related research gets more funding than physics. That point may accurately describe some recent trends, too. The two ladies were bragging in front of each other which was fun but predictably evolved to a war, too (largely about Bernadette's rich life in the commercial sector and Amy's honest scholarly life). In the middle of this escalation, elsewhere, Penny made a great statement: "You guys will always be physicists. And I know, physics is hard. But isn't it what makes it boring?" :-) Just to be sure that you understand this joke, physicists may sometimes make the same statement with "boring" replaced with "exciting".
The frustrated guys drank some blue science-fiction alcoholic beverage and Penny encouraged them to be re-inspired so they came to look for Richard Feynman's grave at night. Not shockingly, the nostalgic ideas made them even more frustrated. At the very end, Ms Davis read a zombie-vomit e-mail that a drunk Leonard sent to her from the cemetery.
I still find The Big Bang Theory entertaining – and the pilot of Young Sheldon was just cute (we must wait for the second episode up to November). But aside from the entertainment value, I think that The Big Bang Theory often addresses serious issues revolving around the interactions of science and the society and it usually does so wisely.