Computer scientist Scott Aaronson has posted a text on the new collider debates, Sabineblogging, and one of the first tragicomic implications of the essay that you can't overlook is how much it shows that the political correctness has been placed above science – even the very existence of science – in the Western academia.
Because Aaronson's arguments – and most of the comments underneath his article – make it clear that these computer science folks largely understand that Hossenfelder's campaign is just a sequence of generic anti-science emotional outbursts and she misunderstands what science is and why experiments are really being done in the first place.
He – and most commenters – really agrees e.g. with Lisa Randall and Jeremy Bernstein (NYT) as well as your humble correspondent and disagrees with Hossenfelder on all the basic points. But for some reason – and all of us know very well what the reason is – he frames his blog post as confession of love towards Hossenfelder and an attack on me.
We've seen a similar effect in Facebook posts by Daniel Harlow. Sabine Hossenfelder belongs to such a privileged group that we really need in physics – so we should make her powerful and if she wants particle physics to be abolished, we should abolish it! It's such a detail – particle physics may continue or be abandoned but it's much more important whether Luboš Motl believes that 50% of physicists should be expected to be female and that heretic dares to disbelieve and he even dares to point out that the believers are brain-dead.
If we ban physics, the number of women in physics will be 0 out of 0 which is 50% or any other percentage and he will be proven wrong, isn't it great?
How does it work in Aaronson's essay? He says that "he likes Sabine" although this viewpoint is probably not shared by the scientists, he admits. But he likes that she is basically a Luboš in a skirt (I forgot his precise wording) which is great. And he would love if lots of "non-Luboš physicists" were blogging about important matters in physics. On the other hand, Luboš is no good because of
Luboš’s misogynistic rants, whose predictability could be used to calibrate atomic clocks.Just to be sure, they are already used to calibrate atomic clocks. Especially NASA would be screwed without that tool – assuming that NASA is female. ;-) Did you correctly predict the misogynistic comment about NASA, Dr Aaronson?
More seriously, the percentage of such far left people who make it clear that they agree with all the important points by someone – in this case, LM – but frame their contribution as an attack on LM and support for SH, for purely ideological reasons, is some 10% in the Western universities. I guess it's not hard for you to understand that I just couldn't have possibly stayed in such an environment because it was about as welcoming for me (if I borrow their favorite buzzword) as Auschwitz was welcoming for the Jews. OK, I actually think that they were more welcome there than I was welcome by the far left activists. There weren't any such loons in the Harvard high energy theory group (maybe Howard Georgi was the closest proxy to them) but the other departments may negatively influence your life, too.
You're just blind to facts if you pretend that the visibility of the likes of Ms Hossenfelder or Ms AOC (what an insane and irrelevant lunatic) or others in the media (and the strength of the amplification that works for them) has nothing to do with their being female.
These people directly and fanatically fight against something that I consider basic moral values.
Aaronson summarizes Hossenfelder's anti-collider argument as follows (I shorten it, your time is valuable):
- many theorists expected superpartners at the LHC
- the expectations were doubted and the LHC results proved the doubts were justified
- now an overlapping set of theorists want the next collider
- therefore we shouldn't build it.
The real point is that we just don't know whether the "desert" continues up to the FCC energies and if a physicist says that "new physics is probably there" while Hossenfelder says "no", we can't settle this disagreement right now. This is really the key point and a reason to build the new device. The reason has always been the same. The very birth of "high energy physics" assumed that as long as it remains alive and civilized, the mankind would keep on building ever stronger colliders. That's been the general justification of ever greater colliders – a justification that had existed many decades before people discovered or hypothesized supersymmetry and tons of other things. Aaronson also says that if she had been consistent, she should have already blocked the LHC.
The actual reason why the readers of the New York Times, Nude Socialist, and similar "publications" (if you allow me to dishonestly avoid expletives) are being persuaded that the disagreement between the physicist and Ms Hossenfelder from the previous paragraph has already been settled is that Ms Hossenfelder belongs to a privileged group so she must be right even in the absence of an experimental proof! That's what's going on here. And this distortion of facts caused by the complete lack of impartiality and integrity takes place not only in the New York Times and Nude Socialist but on Aaronson's blog, too.
Aaronson understands much more – e.g. that the increasing collision energy is the main parameter that measures progress in experimental particle physics (and not just one of hundreds of similarly important parameters) – which is why the field is also called "high energy physics". To a large extent, his text plagiarizes several TRF blog posts and reframes them as a hit piece against me. Isn't it ironic?
I have spent hours by reading Hossenfelder's and Aaronson's blogs and there are some clear differences. First of all, the average "loyal commenter" at Aaronson's website is smarter than his counterpart from Hossenfelder's blog by roughly 30 IQ points. These are completely different communities. Most Aaronson's readers have a sufficient knowledge of computer science and some computational complexity (they don't really have to be "scholars" – lots of people outside universities are almost just as informed about these computer matters as the professional scholars) and they visit the website to be inspired, mostly in these rather technical matters. Some of them are visibly less intelligent than Aaronson but I estimate their average IQ as 125.
On the other hand, Hossenfelder's loyal readers are physics crackpots whose main passion is to fight against the terribly wrong turn that physics took in 1633 or 1905 or 1925 or 1968 or 1973 or 1984 or 1995 or 2003 or any sufficiently distant year like that. They believe that they really belong to an undervalued caste of geniuses who have discovered that "physics is bullšit". Their actual average IQ may be about 95. I estimate Hossenfelder's IQ as 110 and Aaronson's as 140 – also a 30-point difference.
Incidentally, in one of the comments, Ms Hossenfelder tried to fill the holes in her obviously dysfunctional 4-step argument. But she just repeated some steps that Aaronson had already written (twice!) and added that there existed other possible future experiments or investments. This point obviously doesn't help to make her argument logical at all. But while Aaronson knows I am right and she is not, he will never say such a thing explicitly because he has a pathological ideological agenda that is more important than the truth for him.
You know, most of the IQ-at-95 "geniuses" who keep on reading her idiotic blog are honestly incapable of detecting even the most obvious – scientific and logical – mistakes she makes. They will always praise her in spite of them. But it's different on Aaronson's blog. One of the chaotic steps by which she unsuccessfully tried to fill the hole in her dysfunctional argument was the following:
6) at the same time, a bigger collider is pretty much the most expensive experiment you can think of (except, possibly, a telescope on the moon), and [...]Every part of this statement is absolutely ludicrously wrong. The price tag of the FCC is said to be between €9 billion and €21 billion. It's a minor expense for any large country – it is just a small numerical multiple of $5 billion which is often quoted as the price of the LHC – although you get a higher number if you include $1 billion a year for running it etc.
$5 billion also happens to be the approximate amount that Trump wanted for the wall. By the way, because I mentioned the wall, I must say that I loved Dilbert's Scott Adams' tweet, as preserved by Steve McIntyre:
I thought this tweet was witty. RT showed that it had been deleted. Wonder why. pic.twitter.com/rRvMG3AxAd— Stephen McIntyre (@ClimateAudit) February 3, 2019
Exactly. The leftists love to claim they are pro-science but they are only supporting the science that supports their politics. And that's why they end up with these staggering inconsistencies.
On one hand, they declare it is a heresy to doubt biased, overly complex, and speculative computer models with many untested pieces that suggest that there will be a problem with the climate in 80 years. (Even the most alarmist models don't really imply a real problem but that's another issue.) It's clearly completely legitimate to distrust such predictions about the very distant future that have been made by some people who are obviously not impartial.
On the other hand, the same leftists are willing to deny completely basic facts about science or common sense – e.g. that walls represent a barrier that greatly complicates the walkthrough; that there had been cold spells and hurricanes even before the steam engine was invented; or that men and women differ, among hundreds of other trivial things that the leftists have denied for purely ideological reasons.
I am especially attracted to Adams' observation that the Democrats misunderstand that walls work because our influential (and anti-communist) history teacher at the elementary school, the late Mrs Marie Šilpochová, always chose "impenetrability of matter" as the most typical principle that the completely deluded people fail to grasp.
But let me return to Hossenfelder's ludicrous statement about the alternative experiments. She says that the FCC is the most expensive experiment you can think of. It's surely not. Even without going too far, we can think about more expensive experiments, such as the Planckian collider. That would need to be built across the visible Universe. We will probably not get funds – and a sufficient number of construction workers – for that but we could still build something in between the FCC and the Planckian collider. Is she really incapable of thinking about that?
Every known type of a physics experiment could be greatly expanded. People could search for the proton decay in water tanks that are 1,000 times greater than the previous ones. Such a device would have the chance to discover the proton decay even if the proton lifetime were 1,000 times longer than the current lower bound.
She is only capable of thinking about the telescope on the Moon which she believes to be more expensive than the FCC. Except that it's not. The telescope on the Moon would cost something above $1 billion, click at the link in this paragraph for details. We could easily build such a thing but it would be unlikely to answer questions that can't be answered otherwise. The lunar telescope on the far side could only make slightly new observations – relatively to terrestrial ones – and only in the radio wave spectrum; and it would have to deal with the huge temperature variations on the Moon.
Unlike the higher-energy collider, a telescope on the Moon would be a nearly meaningless stunt similar to Tesla cars hired as space debris on the Earth's orbit. Only scientifically illiterate people are impressed with this kind of stuff. But it wouldn't be more expensive than the LHC let alone the FCC and it wouldn't be game-changing for science.
Most of the basic facts that are relevant for the debate about a new collider have been said. I don't want to expand on those issues too much. But what I want to emphasize is the staggering obfuscation of the truth in the name of the contemporary radical cultural Marxist ideology. These people are literally willing to sacrifice the truth, their field, all of science, and perhaps their lives (or at least your life) on its altar. I urge the silent majority in science – that still believes that the truth in science should stand above politics – to appreciate the depth of the problem and the risks we are facing due to the fanaticism of the activists.
Penny and Alicia fight in The Big Bang Theory
Bonus: I totally expected it – Sabine Hossenfelder posted a rather combative rant "Maybe I Am Crazy" (the adjective surely isn't the right one) against Lisa Randall. Of course I have realized for years that Hossenfelder passionately hates Randall. The latter has peacefully and wisely responded to Hossenfelder's unfriendly remarks (also) in the New York Times.
Lisa, the TBBT video above is just an approximate artist's depiction of the situation and you're Penny – I hope that you got it correctly. ;-) Penny has absorbed much of the physicists' morality, I think (not just the shields from Star Trek), while that Alicia was a real bitch. And her questions "how much do physicists make" etc. makes her Hossenfelder-like, indeed.
Hossenfelder predictably picked Randall as a symbol of everything that Hossenfelder believes to be wrong about science. She is one of the most cited particle physicists – but the Randall-Sundrum warped geometry hasn't been confirmed by experiments. On top of that, Randall dared to "speculate" that the dark matter killed the dinosaurs.
On the other hand, Hossenfelder lets the PC male scientists and NYT editors to do stuff for her. They're happy, she gets stuff, who cares?
Let me clarify that. Lisa Randall is one of the top-cited phenomenologists because she has presented calculations and co-discovered many scenarios – such as (and especially, but not only) the Randall-Sundrum warped extra dimensions – that were previously completely overlooked, that are nevertheless sufficiently simple, robust, or generic and shouldn't have been overlooked, that are highly predictive and have interesting implications, that (given some choice of parameters which have to evolve if the experiments keep on showing null results) are consistent with the known facts, and that also seem to be produced by more specific and accurate microscopic theories such as string compactifications.
That's why other physicists who think about various phenomena – real phenomena and hypothetical phenomena – are often led to Randall's ideas, some of which seem to be important crossroads in the network of physics ideas. They play with those ideas and their combinations with other ideas, they find her work helpful or – within certain axiomatic frameworks – unavoidable, and that's why they cite it often (or at least cited it often) – and they have to.
The experimental discovery of one of such predictions would undoubtedly increase her prestige further, by another level, while the falsification or an experimental proof of a competing scenario would diminish her fame. The non-observation at the LHC so far made scenarios such as Randall-Sundrum fade away a little bit, of course.
But physicists simply cannot wait for the experimental verification of ideas when they're deciding which physics papers – and their authors – are the good and important ones. They have to use theoretical criteria that may be applied before experiments give clear answers about the first new effects or the effects relevant for X or Y. The theoretical criteria involve calculations and "mathematical experiments", the interrelations between the proposed ideas – such as the Randall-Sundrum scenario – with other ideas that have already been established or that are considered important for other reasons. The very usage of Randall's ideas in other people's thinking shows that she has produced something valuable.
If Ms Hossenfelder wants to declare the value of all physics papers that haven't been experimentally confirmed yet to be zero, then indeed, the value of almost all interesting physics papers in the recent 40 years would be zero according to this "methodology". If Hossenfelder really believes this principle of worthlessness, her having worked in theoretical physics for so many years proves her immense dose of stupidity or the complete lack of integrity because, indeed, the most celebrated (and many other) theorists are almost exclusively working with ideas that haven't been experimentally proven, at least not in their entirety. And if and when some of these ideas are experimentally proven, it will really be the end of that part of the research – time for awards etc. The scientific research inherently takes place before things become clear in this sense – Hossenfelder seems to completely misunderstand this basic point about the scientific method which is too bad: she is way out of line. That doesn't make her "crazy" but it surely does make her incompetent as a researcher in any field of natural sciences.
For some reason, she still seems to think that it was OK for her to get decades of salaries as a physicist although she says that everything she has ever done as a physicist was worthless nonsense (as worthless as everyone else's physics). It's not OK and she should return all the money.
So again, the experimental confirmation of a theory by a theorist is a huge event. But because several hypotheses are typically competing before the experiment decides and the body of the theorists can't be certain which hypothesis is right, the experimental discovery works a little bit like a lottery. Lottery and luck matters – but theoretical physics is also a meritocratic and rational enterprise at every stage which means that the lottery and luck isn't the only thing that matters. If theorists still believe that a competing hypothesis could have been right, even though experiments said something else, they will still consider the author of that conceivable alternative to be worthy of some admiration.
To say the least, this is legitimate for a picture of physicists' work as a "classification of all physics-like or viable ideas" or "classification of all possible theories". That classification is a mathematics-like activity dominated by pure thought. Again, it's a large portion of modern theoretical physics – and it has been so for a very long time. Some people like it, some people may dislike it. But theoretical physicists generally consider the classification or mapping of the "landscape of possible ideas" important. The fact that some people like Hossenfelder don't like it or would like to label this whole mode of thinking as illegitimate can't prevent top theoretical physicists from viewing it as an essential part of science.
Also, Lisa did think about interdisciplinary topics such as the possible relationships between dark matter and the extinction events. The picture is a bit playful, intriguing, and plausible – it passes a few tests, to say the least. Because of the interdisciplinary character, there's a risk that the people in the extinction business will find it naive for reasons misunderstood by most particle physicists etc.
But there's nothing wrong about the very existence of these "dinosaur" efforts, whether they are correct or not (that's being decided by other scientists – and the experimentally rooted work could be the most decisive one). On the contrary, thinking is good and great thinkers do a lot of it. And scientists still have some opinions which hypotheses of this kind are viable, creative, or clever. Incidentally, Lisa has worked a lot on dark matter and even "astrophysics" in recent years.
Hossenfelder's chosen verb "speculate" is demonstrably meant to be hostile. But all of theorists' work in science is about a similar kind of "speculation". The scientific method always start with guessing of the right answer. This is what the fudging science is all about! One "speculates" about the right guess and then he works on the speculation and determines what it means, what are the consequences. Experimental tests may only come afterwards. If someone thinks that all thinking about not-mundane or not-yet-settled issues is a (bad) "speculation", well, then she is an anti-scientific person.
So we respect Lisa Randall because she has done a lot of interesting, influential, natural, beautiful, and generic science and formulated various more or less viable theories – while we don't respect Sabine Hossenfelder because she hasn't done anything of the sort. As Penny said in the CBS show, Hossenfelder is a dead one on TV and a live one in the real life. The real world Lisa would surely put it more politely.