Thursday, December 27, 2018

Backreaction's jihad against particle physics continues

Three weeks ago, I discussed Sabine Hossenfelder's insane attack against an innocent promotional video for a future particle collider.

The video is perfectly fine and I would personally okay every piece of it. It's just a planned $10 billion collider that is meant to go further on the energy frontier which means that it will be sensitive to phenomena in particle physics – at higher energies, shorter distances, potentially new particles, unparticles, and other things related to the particle spectrum including dark energy but also dark matter – than the previous colliders. The layperson's resolution is rather limited so of course the popular presentations of all colliders will end up looking almost the same. A video may inform the audiences about the larger size of the new tunnel.

But even if the video weren't fine, it's just a video that some press people affiliated with some physics institutions were ordered by officials to create for the interested lay audiences to see something. The video got just some 2,000 views on YouTube by now. It's completely irrelevant in comparison with the 700-page review of the plan written by actual experts who want the FCC dreams to come true. A serious person – especially a genuine physicist – discussing whether the FCC is a good idea should respond to those, not to a 75-second-long video for the laymen.

Her hateful tirade has inspired a long discussion with over 200 comments on her blog. At some moment, the conversation turns into a flamewar with Hossenfelder and her lay reader Steven Mason (and perhaps the unhinged climate alarmist Arun and a few others) on one side, and actual people from particle physics, especially Roberto Kersevan of CERN (but also Tommaso Dorigo, Philip Helbig, Summerisle...) on the other side.

Kersevan shows that basically every statement by Hossenfelder is untrue and he links to numerous papers to prove his points but she keeps on attacking him and others. This kind of staggering arrogance by this fake physicist was partially enabled by the political correctness that has run amok. Hossenfelder is obviously not a good material for physics research. She not only lacks the talent to do credible physics; she has no scientific curiosity, either. She just fundamentally misunderstands the scientific method, the experiments' not having guaranteed outcomes from the beginning, and other basic things. She should have been heavily pressed to acquire the skills in Kinder, Küche, Kirche. But the degenerated environment of the postmodern epoch has failed to exert this pressure.

Instead, the postmodern system has encouraged her to think that she is a real physicist, although she has no potential to be one. The conditions have created a monster. In fact, the taboos have helped her to think that she is better than the actual physicists and her crackpot blog (as well as her crackpot book) is a more important source of information about colliders than documents on the CERN website. She makes this unbelievably arrogant belief of hers quite explicit in the flamewar.

Today, she added a new friendly text titled
How the LHC may spell the end of particle physics
Nice. It seems that she wants John Horgan to include this tirade as one of the footnotes in a new edition of his more ambitious book, "The End of Science". A majority of this new text is composed of quotes by particle physicists who have expected supersymmetry or other types of new physics to emerge at the LHC soon or relatively soon. Maybe she could be a "scholar" in comparative literature.

Lots of people surely believed it would be fast and it wasn't. Lots of model building was focused on the TeV-scale supersymmetry. Many model builders took naturalness strictly and expected "new physics around the corner". I have always been critical of this bias because it depended on a wishful thinking. In fact, this "around the corner" thinking was also driven by the very same W*it-style "cult of testability" that Hossenfelder often joins, too. This cult says: "If physics is supposed to be good, it must make predictions that will be settled soon." So some phenomenologists behaved in this way, too. It's better if they write about possibilities that are tested soon – they can also get the Nobel prize soon if they are lucky.

I have never agreed with that and I will never agree with that. Scenarios, theories, and models saying that there is a big desert and new physics is very hard to observe must be considered as equally possible options. A model's being easier to test doesn't make it more true! And whether someone gets rewarded early shouldn't really distort one's scientific beliefs about the probability of various scenarios.

On the other hand, there are also real technical reasons – "naturalness" if I simplify things just a bit – why one could rationally expect new physics to be relatively around the corner. Reasons why some new particles should be comparably light to the Higgs, in order to stabilize the Higgs mass. Even though Hossenfelder's crackpot book tries to claim otherwise, arguments like that can never be abandoned because they're logically sound arguments rooted in the basic probability calculus.

Naturalness is an example of Bayesian reasoning and, as David Gross put it, may be classified as a strategy to look for new insights in particle physics. There is no real guarantee that this strategy succeeds and that it succeeds soon. But it's a strategy that will always exist. Theories with fine-tuned parameters are bound to be less likely in general because the fine-tuned values of the parameters are unlikely according to any generic probability distribution.

The LHC has shown that the reliance on the "absence of fine-tuning, even a tiny one" wasn't successful in this particular epoch of particle physics. Some phenomenologists have been really been extreme about it. They didn't want to solve just "the hierarchy problem". They also invented the "small hierarchy problem" and wanted to resolve it. Well, I have personally never taken such "stronger versions" of the naturalness reasoning seriously. If a new particle is 10 times heavier than the Higgs and the probability is just 1% that it is so high, it is a high enough probability, not an insane miracle. The fine-structure constant is around 1/137.036 and it's realized in Nature – and we may say that it's still "of order one".

So naturalness may still be basically correct if there are e.g. gluinos whose mass is \(2.5\TeV\) or whatever is still possible according to the LHC data. If someone spreads the rumor that the LHC finally found the gluinos in a channel, most particle physicists will be open to the possibility that the rumor is actually true. We don't know whether there are gluinos in Nature whose mass is around \(2.5\TeV\). Fake scientific demagogues such as Hossenfelder, Smolin, and W*it often tell their brain-dead fans that supersymmetry has been ruled out – after decades in which they said it was impossible to rule it out because it's not even wrong – but everyone who has a basic clue about the field knows that this is nonsense. Only some models or parts of parameter spaces have been ruled out. Supersymmetry – and other, less motivated, qualitative possibilities in the physics beyond the Standard Model – are alive and kicking.

Curiously, she quoted Alessandro Strumia – yes, the guy who has been suspended by the feminist Nazis – who has been skeptical about SUSY for some decades. Some of his skeptical quotes look like great predictions now. But it's just wrong to say that almost everyone else was sure SUSY would be discovered by now. I have made a 100-to-1 bet because I found it more than 1% possible. On the other hand, in a list of probabilities written in April 2007, I included the following two lines:
70% - Supersymmetry exists at the GUT scale or lower
50% - Supersymmetry will be found at the LHC
Every TRF reader must know that I surely do count as a fan of SUSY but that doesn't mean that I was certain that the LHC would see SUSY. It was a 50-to-50 proposition for me. Even SUSY below the GUT scale was rather uncertain. I can imagine that SUSY is misaligned in some way – it is broken basically at the Planck (or string) scale. And there are other reasons why SUSY could be irrelevant for phenomenology.

But I was excited about the possibility that the LHC would find SUSY soon or within a few years – because it was possible and because it's a potential result that I would consider spectacular. I didn't need and I don't need a 100% certainty of a future event to be excited about it. In fact, if I had been 100% certain about an expected event, I wouldn't have been equally excited by it. The uncertainty is a driver of the excitement – and of some hard work, too.

And people still studied and study SUSY because it has remarkable mathematical properties and numerous SUSY models are compatible with everything we know about particle physics. Supersymmetry has the capacity of making the gauge unification more precise, has a dark matter candidate that is still marginally alive, and seems like a natural prediction of most of the realistic and complete enough string compactifications. I've written about all those things and others.

None of the qualitative statements has really changed.

The work on SUSY – or the belief in SUSY around the corner – was greater in the literature because SUSY models are much more specific than "things that are not SUSY models". They can be written down, calculated with, their predictions may be deduced, a contact with the real-world experiments may be pinpointed in detail, so people did so in many papers. But that doesn't mean that the average subjective probability of real experts that the LHC would find SUSY by 2018 was above 50%. It was arguably well below 50 percent. People didn't write as many papers about "not seeing SUSY or anything new at the LHC" because with this assumption, there is not much new we can write or analyze! Particle physicists aren't scholars in grievance studies who write vacuous and nonsensical papers without beef.

But not having found SUSY isn't a "great victory". It's a disappointing result because our knowledge has only increased incrementally. We know that the Standard Model is valid at higher energies than previously thought. The egos of the discoverers of the Standard Model may grow a little bit for one reason – their empire has expanded a bit – but even most of those would clearly prefer qualitatively new discoveries at the LHC.

On the other hand, the expanded realm governed by the Standard Model represents increased knowledge, too. It's just a less interesting increased knowledge – knowledge that may be expressed in fewer bytes and that provides us with fewer gems to unleash our imagination. But it was uncertain whether the Standard Model would be compatible with the papers published by the CMS and ATLAS in 2018. It is consistent. But it is still demonstrably unknown whether the Standard Model would hold after the next run of the LHC let alone the first run of the proposed FCC.

Hossenfelder talks about the "end of particle physics" but if she could prevent physicists from doing their work, the outcome would be exactly the opposite. She would make it impossible for particle physics to end. The story of particle physics would be a story without end, like some movies that lack the end. Key answers, even those to relatively reachable questions, would remain unanswered.

Lots of people just want to know whether there are superpartners at dozens of \({\rm TeV}\), for example. There are numerous reasons to think that new particles could be at this scale. And there's no guarantee. The big desert from the Standard Model to the GUT scale or Planck scale is possible, too. We just don't know the correct answer.

Ms Hossenfelder may be either incapable of understanding that we don't know whether there are new particles around \(10\TeV\); or she may be uninterested in the answer; or she may be lying about what she knows. But in all cases, why should it matter? It is just another piece of circumstantial evidence that she is a fake scientist and an arrogant pseudointellectual poser, hater of science, and populist demagogue trying to impress some true science haters in the general public. The colliders aren't being built for the likes of her or her readers.

I think it's important that decent people in physics don't really pay attention to hostile and insufficiently honest critics such as Ms Hossenfelder. I think that it is largely true – no one in the FCC projects and similar places cares about her tirades. But there is a nonzero threat that imbeciles brainwashed by lies by similar jerks will influence physics – if you visit the real world, you will see them almost everywhere. That's why I think that physicists are obliged to test that they're still not afraid of contradicting influential aggressive crackpots such as Ms Hossenfelder, despite the mobs full of brain-dead imbeciles who back her.

Roberto Kersevan is a name I've never heard of before – in the context of the science wars or elsewhere. So it's fun to see that a CERN guy whom I have never heard of is willing to participate in a full-blown flamewar against Ms Hossenfelder. I am still a bit confused: Where he was 1 year ago or 10 years ago? Hasn't he noticed that Ms Hossenfelder has been fighting against high-energy physics – although she sometimes pretends to be a physicist in front of the dumb people in the media – and her predecessors and gurus have been doing the same for several extra years before that?

Was her focused attack on an otherwise irrelevant FCC video a necessary condition for Dr Kersevan to participate in the arguments against her? Shouldn't the physicists and CERN people feel a little bit more responsible for the defense of the field against hateful demagogy in somewhat more general circumstances?

Let me return to her new tirade about the "end of particle physics". We read, among other things:
Without naturalness, there is no argument for new physics at energies even higher than that of the LHC. (Not until 15 orders of magnitude higher, which is when the quantum structure of spacetime should become noticeable. But energies so large will remain inaccessible for the foreseeable future.)

How have particle physicists reacted to the situation? Largely by pretending nothing happened.
Without naturalness, the next lightest particle after the Higgs and the top quark may indeed be anywhere, near the GUT scale, but it may also be anywhere in between. There are some cosmological reasons unequivalent to naturalness why one could expect intermediate scales, a sub-GUT inflaton, and other things.

But even more importantly, naturalness is a strategy, not a completely fixed predicted inequality. Its borders are blurred. So by seeing no new physics at the LHC, the degree of apparent fine-tuning in Nature has increased. But it hasn't crossed any "last red line" because there is no "last red line". The Universe may look a bit fine-tuned if superpartner masses are around \(10\TeV\) but it's still perfectly possible and \(10\TeV\) superpartners would still be more natural than GUT scale superpartners.

The null results from the LHC have given us some incremental knowledge but they haven't changed the picture qualitatively. So people "pretend" that nothing qualitative has happened because nothing qualitative has happened. It's only incompetent and/or lying fake physicists such as Ms Hossenfelder who work hard to deceive their readers and claim something else.

There are hundreds of lies that Hossenfelder writes in her recent collider blog posts or the discussions underneath them. Most of them are corrected by Roberto Kersevan and others. Still, dozens of examples are left unchallenged. An example:
Kersevan: "going from LHC to FCC is a logical, scientifically sound path to future discoveries"
Hossenfelder Extrapolating from the past, it's a sound path to further non-discoveries.
The only problem is that the two latest colliders were the Tevatron and the LHC. The Tevatron discovered the top quark and the LHC discovered the Higgs boson. So the claim that the extrapolation to the next collider suggests "non-discoveries" is simply another lie.

Dear Germans, unless your country is completely fudged up, you should struggle to return this individual who is utterly incompatible with the scientific method and the scientific morality to Kinder, Küche, Kirche.

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