Thursday, January 24, 2019

NYT: an anti-HEP rant by Hossenfelder

The politically correct media love to lie 24 hours a day and attack perceived enemies – such as the whites, men, white men, conservatives, Donald Trump, his supporters and his policies, old-fashioned corporations and their owners, the Western civilization, Judeo-Christian traditions, nations and patriots, families that work along the good old rules... pretty much everything that is valuable about our world. Particle physics has been undoubtedly added as one of these enemies.

So one's surprise was limited yesterday when the most famous left-wing U.S. daily published an op-ed by an otherwise irrelevant activist and fake scientist Ms Sabine Hossenfelder,
The Uncertain Future of Particle Physics.
Why wouldn't such inkspillers invite someone who admits that she has had nothing to do with the field for a decade except for being another brain-dead hater? It's so politically correct when worthless dirt of the privileged sex helps to shape the public views about one of the most prestigious scientific disciplines.

The subtitle elaborates on the title:
Ten years in, the Large Hadron Collider has failed to deliver the exciting discoveries that scientists promised.
Holy crap, what a pile of šit.

First of all, scientists didn't "promise" any discoveries. Scientists aren't politicians. Their job isn't to give promises to the laymen such as Ms Hossenfelder. Their job – and, when it works correctly, their passion – is to increase their knowledge and understanding of Nature. Some people including many people who are not paid for doing scientific research are interested in more detailed facts about the laws of physics, some people are not. The funding for the LHC was obtained to satisfy the curiosity of those who wanted to have the answers.

Particle physicists built the Large Hadron Collider to know how physics works at higher energies – up to several \({\rm TeV}\) – than the energies available to the previous state-of-the-art collider, The Tevatron at the U.S.-based Fermilab. That strategy to increase the energy is a universal strategy of particle physics. The higher energies are pumped into individual particles, the shorter distances may be probed by the experiment. This inverse relationship ultimately boils down to Werner Heisenberg's uncertainty principle, the fundamental principle underlying quantum mechanics. So the high and increasing energy per particle is the main quantity that determines the proximity to the fundamental workings of Nature according to particle physics – which is why particle physics is also called "high energy physics". This relationship is a well-understood fact (which might only break at the energies of quantum gravity, probably some 15 orders of magnitude above the LHC) and is completely independent of all other detailed findings or guesses about the Standard Model or hypothetical physics beyond it or detailed strategies to find it.

Because they could present a nearly rigorous proof of the existence, particle physicists were virtually certain that the LHC should discover the Higgs boson or something that plays the same role and should be called the Higgs boson, anyway – and the LHC did so. On top of that, most theoretical particle physicists found it more likely than not that the LHC would see something new on top of the Higgs boson, and it did not see those things. The arguments in favor of such additional physics were of a probabilistic character – because naturalness only produces "soft" statements of the probabilistic character. Ten years ago, I estimated the probabilities of BSM physics at the LHC to be around 50%. The percentage of papers that talked about some physics was obviously much higher than 50% but that's simply because one can't write too many meaningful papers about "nothing". That's a "publication bias" that implies that the percentage of papers about some topic doesn't reflect the probability believed by the scientists that the "topic exists".

However, there is nothing "totally impossible" about the absence of Beyond the Standard Model physics in the LHC data (so far) but according to the methods used by the competent people, such an outcome looked rather unlikely to most phenomenologists and it still looks rather unlikely that the desert would continue to energies of the FCC collider. We simply don't know whether the Standard Model works at the FCC energies and to find out is an obvious goal of the FCC. Both continuation of the Standard Model and its breakdown are possible.

OK, the verb "promise" is totally idiotic because scientists aren't politicians and they don't "promise"; because no important scientists were actually "promising" anything to the public, they were just expressing their totally legitimate scientific expectations about what is likely and is unlikely to happen (and scientists simply have to have the right to say what they believe about science, especially their own field); because the uncertainty undoubtedly existed; and because these things are not the business for the general public, anyway.

Now, the first verb in the sentence, "failed", is absolutely moronic, too. The verb "fail" means that someone is going to do something, it may end up with results of two possible kinds, "positive" and "negative" ones, the someone is doing something that may affect the outcome, and the final outcome ends up being the "negative" one.

But if we assume that no discovery is hiding in the data that haven't been properly analyzed yet, this description of the verb "fail" simply doesn't apply to the Large Hadron Collider and new physics because the new particles have never been there in the energy range. Even before the Large Hadron Collider was built, there weren't any new particles with masses and coupling constants in the range that the collider could have probed by 2018. So the "efforts" by the collider and the physicists – either theoretical or experimental physicists – could have had no influence on the outcome. That's why it's utterly ludicrous to say that the collider has "failed".

If you really need to say that someone has "failed", it's Mother Nature who has "failed" to deliver. The only reason why the male inkspillers in the New York Times won't dare to complain to Mother Nature is that She is female and they are afraid of being mansplainers.

The collider's job wasn't to find those particles (with certain given properties) that don't exist. If something doesn't exist, it can't be found and it makes no sense to assign someone – or the collider – the task to find something that doesn't exist. Instead, the job for the collider was to look through the collisions in all the interesting channels known to the physicists and see what is out there. The collider has wonderfully succeeded in that actual meaningful job. And the answer is that there's no Beyond the Standard Model physics in the data collected up to 2018.

But this is not a "failure" of the collider or the "failure" of the physicists. Instead, it is new knowledge, a fact about Nature that wasn't known ten years ago, and the production of new knowledge about the laws of physics is a success of an experiment.

All these not to subtle distortions of the language prove one thing: Hossenfelder has absolutely nothing to do with the scientific mindset. She has no scientific curiosity. The answers to scientific questions have zero value from her subjective perspective. She only understands some kind of "promises", like a politician's promise that her pension is going to be increased. Or she could perhaps understand if someone promised her some fireworks. But the purpose of science is neither higher pensions nor fireworks. The goal of science is to find the truth. Of course if she considers the truth worthless, she will consider scientific experiments and theorists' work worthless, too.
I used to be a particle physicist. [...] But $10 billion is a hefty price tag.
No, it is not. She must be confusing billions and trillions. Ten billion is a small amount on the global scale. It's equal to the drop of the capitalization of Tesla since Friday morning – and Tesla isn't even formally bankrupt yet.
And I’m not sure it’s worth it.
It's not worth it from her subjective viewpoint because she isn't interested in the scientific truth at all. But it is worth it from the viewpoint of people who are much more refined than she is.
But let’s be honest: It’s disappointing.
We may certainly describe the absence of new physics in the range of parameters probed by the LHC as "disappointing" because new physics would have produced lots of interesting details about its identity, not just one bit of information "no new physics". But that doesn't imply that the outcomes of another experiment – at 7 times higher energies – will be disappointing, too. This extrapolation doesn't work at all. And if the scientists (and explorers, inventors, and others) had embraced this totally fallacious extrapolation in the past, they would have stopped doing their work after the first disappointing outcome, e.g. basically immediately.
They also thought that the L.H.C. would see evidence for new dimensions of space.
It's complete rubbish. Every actual particle physicist considered such a discovery of new dimensions of space at the LHC to be very or extremely unlikely. In my 2007 list, the most likely scenario among such "very ambitious ones" at the LHC were some signs of Randall-Sundrum warped geometries whose probability was quoted as 2%. Those numbers were close to what other competent particle physicists including Lisa Randall and Raman Sundrum would say if they had to produce a number.
In the past 30 years, particle physicists have produced thousands of theories whose mathematics they can design to “predict” pretty much anything.
What's her problem with it? Physicists think about thousands of phenomena at higher energies, extremely likely ones and unlikely ones (which may compete with thousands of competing scenarios), testable and almost untestable ones, and an even greater number of relationships between these ideas and scenarios because they find it interesting and the thinking is a rather cheap activity for them. In most cases, it takes the brain, pen, and paper. Her desire to criminalize the thinking by theorists is just pathetic.

The fraction of the theories, models, or scenarios that theorists analyze but that will be proven correct in our Universe is smaller than it was in the past. What does it mean? It simply means that it has become harder to produce truly new experimental discoveries. That's why the proposals and analyses of theoretical possibilities are easier or cheaper and that's why a greater amount of this theoretical activity is taking place. Theorists seem to be ahead. They may think about tons of things, including unlikely scenarios, before the experimenters have a chance to catch up with the theorists. That is also why hundreds of papers were dedicated to the possible diphoton anomaly three years ago (that Hossenfelder also spits upon). Experimental anomalies have become rarer and expensive to produce. Needless to say, if we reduce the construction of new experiments, as Hossenfelder recommends, this "gap" – measuring how much the theorists are ahead – will deepen further.

She criticizes both theoretical and experimental physicists and tries to justify the criticism by some bizarre murky relationships between theory and experiment. But if you look rationally, you will see that the only meaningful interpretation is that she simply hates physics of all kinds, both experimental and theoretical physics. None of the other "justifications" of the criticism make any sense. If she wanted the "gap" between theory and experiment to shrink, she surely wouldn't recommend to stop particle physics experiments.

Given the current knowledge and the price of different activities, the work done by various subgroups of particle physicists makes complete sense, it has some reasons, and there is nothing "immoral" about any of these things. Hossenfelder, with her grumpy attitude towards the theorists' work in general, proves that she has the thinking of the medieval Inquisition.
To date, particle physicists have no reliable prediction that there should be anything new to find until about 15 orders of magnitude above the currently accessible energies. And the only reliable prediction they had for the L.H.C. was that of the Higgs boson.
The fact that we can't make "reliable predictions" for the physics at the FCC is exactly the reason why particle physicists want the collider to be built.

Thanks, Katelin, exactly. I recommend her replies to her own tweet, too.

If we could reliably say in advance what the experiment would see, the experiment would be largely useless for science! So the whole thinking of Ms Hossenfelder is upside down.
“From a simple calculation of the Higgs’ mass, there has to be new science.” This “simple calculation” is what predicted that the L.H.C. should already have seen new science.
None of the predictions that are made using naturalness are "sharp" and logically unavoidable. They are predictions of the statistical type. But it doesn't mean that they may be ignored by physicists. In reality, every scientific statement about new phenomena and/or their explanations is probabilistic to one extent or another. Even if the expectations based on naturalness are refuted once or twice, this type of reasoning – in its most general form – simply cannot be ever eliminated from science entirely because it's ultimately nothing else than an example of logical or probabilistic reasoning or Bayesian inference! Of course it will always influence scientists' expectations.

Nigel Lockyer's "more likely" expectations about the findings by the LHC may have been proven wrong but he still has other expectations about the FCC that haven't been decided yet. It is totally wrong to say that when some outcome turned out to be what Nigel Lockyer has considered unlikely, he must be proven wrong about everything else, too.

In the following sentences, she attacks the FCC and their videos without no good reason. I have discussed that in previous blog posts.
And such a machine will not tell us anything about the origin of the universe.
That's just a plain lie. A collider that probes the energies somewhere between \(1\TeV\) and \(100\TeV\) will undoubtedly tell us something about the phenomena that took place a certain tiny fraction of a second after the Big Bang and that we are ignorant about now. Yes, the answer may be "the Standard Model worked during that epoch" but that's also "something about the origin of the Universe"!
Decisions about what to fund should be based on facts, not on shiny advertising.
Advertising and promises is what Hossenfelder wants physics to be about. But that's not what physicists want. They want to probe a new thick range of energies that weren't achieved in particle physics before. They want it for the sake of the truth and especially because it could be extremely interesting if there's something new over there.

She spends several sentences by saying that anything else is a better investment than a collider (astrophysics and other things that are almost unrelated to high energy physics). One of the sentences says:
One important medium-scale project is the interface between the quantum realm and gravity, which is now accessible to experimental testing.
It's just rubbish promoted by full-blown crackpots such as herself. There exists no credible piece of scientific work that would imply that doable experiments may probe new phenomena of quantum gravity now. We know what gravity does in all quantum experiments that we may do these days.
It’s time for them to ask why none of the exciting predictions they promised have resulted in discoveries.
As I discussed, only a complete imbecile may talk in terms of promises. The answer (which we only have now, we didn't have it a decade ago) to the question why the LHC hasn't found new particles in the range of parameters that the LHC has probed is simply that there are no new particles over there, at least not with sufficiently strong signatures. That's it. Hossenfelder's desire to "find a scapegoat", either theorists or experimenters or their experiments (or even the experiments planned for the future), who should be blamed for the laws of Nature is a proof that she misunderstands science completely.

No one can be or no one should be blamed for the fact that the laws of physics are what they are. The scientists' job is to learn about these laws, not to "shape them". One law of Nature is that women are extremely unlikely to be interested in fields like particle physics or to understand things like particle physics – although I've been lucky to meet a dozen or two of greater counterexamples. It's a law of Nature that women are unlikely to understand particle physics and I am not blaming Ms Hossenfelder for being this utterly irrational and incurious about particle physics or science in general.

But I am blaming the editors of the New York Times that they actively help this anti-scientific junk to spread and mislead the laymen.

No comments:

Post a Comment