The winners are lucky to divide the $3 million and/or they deserve the award which was chosen by a nontrivial process, like in the case of the Nobel Prize or any other prize. Thankfully, in this case, most journalists didn't try to pretend that they know more about supergravity than the committee. The judgements or information about the importance of work in theoretical physics should be left to the experts because these are damn hard things that an average person – and even an average PhD – simply hasn't mastered.
I detected three amazing exceptions. Nature, Prospect Magazine, and Physics World wrote something completely different. The relevant pages of these media have been hijacked by vitriolic, one-dimensional, repetitive, scientifically clueless, deceitful, and self-serving anti-science activists and they tried to sling as much mud on theoretical physics as possible – which seems to be the primary job description of many of these writers and the society seems to enthusiastically fund this harmful parasitism.
It could be surprising, especially in the case of Nature and Physics World, because under normal circumstances, you would expect Nature and Physics World to be more expert-oriented and closer to the "scientific establishment". But the evolution of the media has produced the opposite outcome. The media that should be close to the scientific establishment are actually almost completely controlled by the self-anointed Messiahs – another branch of all those SJWs who want to destroy the civilized world as we have known it for centuries.
It's ironic but if you look at the reasons, it's logical. It has analogous reasons as the fact that the "inner cities" typically become the ghettos or homes to poor demographic groups – while the productive parts of the society typically have to move to more generic and less "central" suburbs. Similarly, the richest Western European countries are those that seem to be more likely to lose their civilized status very soon. What is the reason? Well, the most special and prosperous places – the inner cities or the rich Western countries – are those that also maximally attract the people who are destined to ruin them.
That's why the "most pro-science journals", inner cities, and wealthiest Western countries putrefy well before others.
Sadly, experimental particle physicist and blogger Tommaso Dorigo has partly joined these anti-civilization warriors. He wrote
- Ferrara to buy a new Ferrari
- van Nieuwenhuizen to buy a newer housing in Malibu
- and a new van for Dan Freedman for his bikes so that may become a truly freed man
First, Dorigo completely misunderstood who picks the winners.
Future winners of the Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics must first be nominated. I know everything about the process of nomination – because I am a nominator. But more importantly, Dorigo failed to read even the most elementary press release. If he had read it, he would know that
A Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics can be awarded by the Selection Committee at any time, and in addition to the regular Breakthrough Prize awarded through the ordinary annual nomination process. Unlike the annual Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics, the Special Prize is not limited to recent discoveries.The quote above says that it is the Selection Committee that decides to grant this special prize – and it can do so at any moment. Is the committee composed of Milner? Or Milner and Zuckerberg? Not at all. Just do a simple Google search and you will find the composition of the Selection Committee. You will find out that the committee consists of the winners of the full-sized Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics – the page contains names of 28 men alphabetically sorted from Arkani-Hamed to Witten (the list of men is surely open to hypothetical women as well). There is no Milner or Zuckerberg on the committee.
(After the SUGRA update, the list will include 4 former co-authors of mine. So I should also win the prize by default, without the needless bureaucracy.)
So you can see, the collection of the winners so far does exactly the same thing during their meetings as members of the Arista that Feynman was once admitted to: to choose who else is worthy to join the wonderful club of ours! ;-) Feynman didn't like it – because he didn't like any honors or the related pride about the status – but if you look at it rationally, you will agree that it's the "least bad" way of choosing new winners.
I find it puzzling that despite Dorigo's (and similar people's) obsession with the money, awards, and all the sociological garbage, he was incapable of figuring out whether the new winners are picked by Milner or by top physicists. It's the latter, Tommaso. You got another failing grade.
The main failing grade is given for the ludicrous comments about the "failed supergravity", however.
Well, to be sure that his dumb readers won't miss it, he wrote that supergravity was a "failed theory" not once but thrice:
I'll admit, I wanted to rather title this post "Billionaire Awards Prizes To Failed Theories", just for the sake of being flippant. [...]Sorry, Tommaso, but just like numerous generic crackpots who tightly fill assorted cesspools on the Internet, you completely misunderstand how the scientific method works. A theory cannot become "failed" for its not having received an experimental proof yet.
It is a sad story that SUGRA never got a confirmation by experiment to this day, so that it remains a brilliant, failed idea. [...]
(SUGRA is, to this day, only a beautiful, failed theory)
On the contrary, the decisions about the validity of scientific theories are all about the falsification. For a scientific theory or hypothesis to become failed, one has to falsify it – i.e. prove that it is wrong. The absence of a proof in one way or another isn't enough to settle the status of a theory.
Instead, a theory or hypothesis must be in principle falsifiable – which SUGRA is – and once it's discovered, defined, or formulated, it becomes provisionally viable or temporarily valid up to the moment when it's falsified. And that's exactly the current status of SUGRA: it is provisionally viable or temporarily valid.
A physicist must decide whether the Einsteinian general relativity with or without the local supersymmetry – GR or SUGRA – seems like the more likely long-distance limit of the effective field theories describing Nature (in both cases, GR or SUGRA must be coupled to extra matter). But the actual experts who study these matters simply find SUGRA to be more likely for advanced reasons (realistic string vacua seem to need SUSY, naturalness, and others) – so SUGRA is the default expectation that will be considered provisionally valid up to the moment when it's ruled out.
In a typical case of falsification, an old theory is ruled out simultaneously with some positive evidence supporting an alternative, usually newer, theory.
But even if you adopted some perspective or counting in which SUGRA is not the default expectation about the relevant gravitational local symmetries in Nature, supergravity is still found in 176,000 papers according to the Google Scholar. It's clearly a theory that has greatly influenced physics according to the physicists. Of course the sane science prizes should exhibit some positive correlation with the expert literature. A layman may claim to know more than the theoretical physicists but it's unwise.
Everyone who writes that SUGRA is a "failed idea" is just a scientifically illiterate populist writer who clearly has nothing to do with good science of the 21st century – and whose behavior is partly driven by the certainty that he or she could never be considered as a possible winner of an award that isn't completely rigged. Sadly, Tommaso Dorigo belongs to this set. He may misunderstand why good physicists consider SUGRA to be the "default expectation" – that would be just ignorance, an innocent fact that Dorigo has no chance to make it to the list from Arkani-Hamed to Witten.
However, he is a pompous fool because he also brags about this ignorance. He boasts how wonderfully perfumed the cesspool where he belongs is.
If you're not following the failing grades, Dorigo has gotten three of them so far: for the inability to convey good jokes if he tries; for the misunderstanding of the decisions that pick the new winners; and for the misunderstanding what you need to make a theory "failed" in science. He deserves the fourth failing grade for the comments at the end of his text. He tried to emulate my "memos" but his actual memo – in an article about supergravity! – is that the inequality in the world is the principal cancer that must be cured.
Holy cow. First of all, such totally ideological comments are out of place in an article pretending to be about supergravity – but if he deserved a passing grade, he would have written that the real cancer is egalitarianism, Marxism, and especially its currently active mutation, neo-Marxism. This is the disease of mankind that all decent people are trying to cure right now!