Wednesday, July 19, 2017

When research has no beef, it's impossible to divide credit

A few days ago, would-be researcher Sabine Hossenfelder had a headache. Why? She saw an article in Nature that was written by Chiara Marletto and Vlatko Vedral and that speculated about some ways to test the phenomena involving both quantum interference and gravity. And Hossenfelder thinks that Marletto and Vedral should "cite" Hossenfelder because:
For about 15 years, I have worked on quantum gravity phenomenology, ... my research area has its own conference series ... I have never seen nor heard anything of Chiara Marletto and Vlatko Vedral ... If they think such meetings are a good idea, I recommend they attend them. There’s no shortage. ...
And so on. Later, Hossenfelder also notices that a "Bose-Eistein condensate" has appeared in one of the – not really plausible – experiments proposed by Marletto and Vedral. So some outsiders must be stealing her work, right?


The problem with Hossenfelder's claims is that regardless of those "15 years" and the bogus "conferences" for which she has misappropriated all the sponsors' money, her "field" doesn't really exist because no results that could be considered "beef of this field" have ever been found. All the texts that the likes of Hossenfelder pretend to be "research papers" are just worthless piles of junk whose only purpose is to fool the most gullible laymen and make them pay.

But she has made no impact on science (yet?). Marletto and Vedral don't mention people like Hossenfelder because people like Hossenfelder have never found a damn thing in physics.

She began to participate in this fraudulent activity as a junior collaborator to Lee Smolin, probably the most successful crackpot when it comes to deceiving the low-IQ laymen and pocketing their money.

For decades, Smolin has been saying that he can do important cutting-edge research in quantum gravity without even learning string theory. Stupid laymen who have no clue about the state of physics may buy such statements. They can even become excited when they rebrand their utter stupidity as a sort of faith or a political cause. It usually takes less than a minute to persuade them. However, actual physicists know that all these claims are ludicrously and demonstrably wrong. They know that Smolin hasn't ever found a damn thing and nothing changes about it after 15 or 30 years. The only thing that changes after 15 or 30 years is that Lee Smolin can no longer be interpreted as an occasional trickster; he is undoubtedly a life-long scammer.

And so is Sabine Hossenfelder and many people in that fraudulent movement to steal the sponsors' money – who would like "their field" started as an appendix to Smolin's tricks to become a standalone industry. They have done these things for 15 or 30 years but there are still no results that could be understood, acknowledged, and appreciated by genuine physicists, no results that would explain something or that could make a physicist excited about an explanation that actually seems to make sense. I's really cute how Hossenfelder promotes her meetings and those of her fellow fraudsters. But meetings aren't the purpose of the scientific research. Results – explanations and predictions – are the purpose of the scientific research. And she doesn't have any.

Marletto and Vedral have speculatively described some experiments involving quantum superpositions and Bose-Einstein condensates. Those are rather elementary words so it's not shocking that you find other papers that accidentally mention these buzzwords in somewhat similar combinations. But there's still no clear experiment that should yield some interesting results and even more certainly, there are no actual results. There is no evidence that the things that they're saying are on the right track. That's why it makes no sense to cite the authors of such speculations. If they have combined the words in similar ways, it may always be considered a coincidence because each of these people has combined the buzzwords in many different random ways.

They're like a rather big group of people who try to search for gold in a forest and they're being paid for this search by some sponsors. They scream that their activity is important and it's a very promising forest but they haven't found any gold. And actual competent physicists who are outside the forest think that they know a basically rigorous proof that there's no gold in that forest: that's why no gold has been found yet. Most likely, no gold will ever be found over there. Meanwhile, Hossenfelder wants to get the credit because she's been employed – and paid – as a searcher for gold in that forest for 15 years. Sorry but your research has been worthless so far. You haven't found anything. And your conferences etc. are therefore just costs, not benefits.

When someone actually finds something new that changes the physics research, he knows it – and so do his colleagues in the subdiscipline. A random example to be specific: When Vafa discovered F-theory, a version or formulation of string theory that makes a 12-dimensional spacetime geometry enter string theory research, there's no doubt that it's a new and important thing. F-theory has some very specific properties that may be demonstrated to be what they are and not something else; it comes equipped with all the evidence that is needed to become persuaded that it exists and has these properties; and on top of that, this package of ideas and mathematical structures automatically explains some previous properties – such as S-duality of type IIB string theory – by some independent, e.g. geometric, arguments. It simply makes sense and may be built upon. So people may search for compactifications of F-theory which are equally well-defined and specific and see that they unavoidably have additional virtues when it comes to the explanation of mathematical facts, to the construction of particle physics, to the explanation of the smallness of the gravitational constant or the cosmological constant, and other things.

One may fool billions of stupid laymen and tell them that F–theory is no good or it is not science for some weird metaphysical reasons except that everyone who is not a complete idiot immediately sees that F-theory is a very specific, highly predictive theory; the arguments behind it make sense; the arguments found by Vafa are very particular and make sense as well; and one may separate them from additional followup papers that amplify the value of Vafa's finding. F-theory will clearly stay with us, it's a real structure that was unknown before the 1990s but that was found at that moment and can't be undiscovered. It's analogous to a new species of apes; the \(E_8\) Lie group; or any other tangible discovery in science. Vafa has found some gold in a mine – the string theory mine is a better place to search for gold than a forest – and others could have found gold and platinum near Vafa's place, too. And they actually did.

Hossenfelder's and similar "research of quantum gravity" pretends to be analogous except that they haven't found anything yet. There are no results. There are no consistent mathematical structures whose properties may be deduced in any way. They don't have any counterpart of type I, IIA, IIB string theory, heterotic string theory, M-theory, F-theory, Myers effect, noncommutative geometry from B-fields, precision microscopic counting of black hole entropy, Matrix theory, matrix string theory, giant gravitons, ABJM, flux vacua, monodromy inflation, AdS/CFT, ER=EPR, SYK, and I could speak for a long time. All these stringy results make sense and may be turned to chapters of a very careful textbook. They're gold – sometimes bigger amounts of gold, sometimes smaller ones, but they clearly have a positive value. Hossenfelder et al. just don't have a counterpart of a single thing. Their activity is purely sociological – an effort to deceive the laymen who simply can't distinguish gold from feces when it comes to theoretical physics. Their counterpart of heterotic string theory is some "maybe Bose-Einstein condensate blah blah I promise blah blah string theory isn't science blah blah experimentally test everything" – incoherent sequences of verbal junk.

She can't get credit for gold because she hasn't found any yet. And she can't get credit for šit because every human being produces this material at some moments, roughly once a day. So her relationship to the feces isn't exclusive or special in any way. There are millions of people who just don't understand the state of theoretical physics but who want to make important statements about it, anyway. So they end up saying similar things as Sabine Hossenfelder. But it's just the generic junk. There's no value in it, there's no exclusivity in it, and there's no way to assign credit for it because it's still random junk.

Every competent quantum gravity expert will tell you that there don't exist any viable non-stringy theories of quantum gravity on the market of physics ideas; and there don't exist any promising new (newer than 20 years) experiments to test quantum gravity in a foreseeable future. So if someone had worked on these two categories, whatever she was doing, it was clearly a waste of time and money.

It's not just about Hossenfelder and her fake field of "phenomenology of quantum gravity" where the beef is non-existent, and battles for credit are therefore unavoidable.

Two days earlier, Physics Today published an interview with Gerard 't Hooft, Q&A: Gerard ’t Hooft on the future of quantum mechanics. 't Hooft has said several vague and usual words about his crackpot assertions that quantum mechanics should be replaced with the cellular automatons as dictated by his "cellular automaton interpretation of quantum mechanics". Several crackpots have offered their own theories – that only differ from 't Hooft's crackpot theory by 't Hooft's being more famous in the past. But Rick Roesler asked a very good question about this whole 't Hooft's stuff:
How is this different from Wolfram's cellular-automata - based approach?
A nice question, indeed. The only difference is that "credit for Wolfram" is a part of Stephen Wolfram's theory while "credit for 't Hooft" is a part of 't Hooft's theory. Otherwise these two men – and many others – are saying exactly the same and exactly equally preposterous thing. The whole Universe is a classical deterministic cellular automaton which can produce a theory of everything and all the trivial proofs that this assertion is rubbish may be ignored and should be ignored because we, the inventors of this paradigm, are so smart.

Why don't they cooperate or build on the other man's books and papers? Well, let me tell you why. Because both men know – correctly know – that there is nothing valuable to be found in the texts of the other man. They don't really want to find gold because they subconsciously know that there's none. They want to get credit for the quasi-gold – for the feces.

Now, from a scientific viewpoint, there is nothing to discuss here. The idea that one should return to classical, let alone deterministic, physics and re-explain all the things that have needed quantum mechanics for 90+ years is ludicrous. The idea that the right classical system will be as simple, in the human sense, and therefore as anthropomorphic and childish as a particular cellular automaton adds additional layers of farce on top of the idea. From a scientific viewpoint, the value of all these claims is exactly zero, of course.

But these claims are looking for "value" that is only seen from non-scientific perspectives. Simple-minded laymen may be led to say "Why not?". And they may decide that these theories should be trusted and assigned to Wolfram – or to 't Hooft – because Wolfram – or 't Hooft – is great. Needless to say, people who are paying attention to these ad hominem "arguments" aren't scientifically evaluating any evidence. They're just being manipulated.

The main point of this blog post is that when there's no actual beef that may be described scientifically, there's no objective way to divide credit, either. Who should be credited with the idea that the Universe is a cellular automaton? Wolfram and Fredkin – both of whom I know from Greater Boston – were surely making similar claims decades before 't Hooft. But so were many others. Every other layman who learns something about algorithms and who has some ambitions to understand the physical Universe makes a similar statement. Our Universe is like a computer with a simple algorithm of type A or B – he picks some simple enough algorithm that produces some "complex data". Producing "complex data" is extremely far from producing "something useful for physics" – but they don't want to get this far. ;-) Anyway, their words are still enough to impress millions of stupid laymen.

So it is really thousands of people – a whole political movement – who have made similar statements explicitly and millions of people who made them informally. All of them did more or less the same thing. And they haven't found anything that has some measurable value so far. It's hard to divide credit – there is no credit to be divided and the number of people who would like to get some credit is very high.

The laymen are being brainwashed by all this pseudoscience and by fraudsters of Hossenfelder's type. All of them have wooden earphones on their ears and expect the luxurious airplanes to land. But something must be wrong because the airplanes are not landing. This whole pseudoscientific movement would be so ludicrous if it weren't so tragic and consuming an increasing fraction of the human society. Fake scientists such as Ms Hossenfelder are becoming not just more numerous; they are becoming more arrogant, too. Instead of trying to carefully hide that they have been deceiving the public and the sponsors for years, Ms Hossenfelder is using this fact as an argument why she should have a monopoly over this activity and others, in this case Marletto and Vedral, shouldn't be allowed to do the same thing.

Has the intelligence of the laymen deteriorated so much that they are unable to see through these cheap tricks anymore? Hossenfelder's complaint against Marletto and Vedral is that these two authors of the piece in Nature haven't attended conferences organized by Hossenfelder. Are you really willing to believe that before you make an important discovery, you have the duty to attend conferences run by a German would-be scientist who only attract other fake researchers who have never found a damn thing? Apologies: science recognizes no such duties. Future discoveries will almost certainly be done by the people who haven't attended conferences of some arrogant pseudo-scientists, by luminaries who know that the Hossenfelder-style papers and conferences are a pure waste of time and money. Those who can't even figure out this simple point have virtually no chance to contribute to physics.

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