Monday, June 19, 2006

physics sociology

There's been a brewing discussion going on, largely and appropriately in the high energy physics community, about string theory - does it actually have reasonably specific, testable predictions? If not, is it really science in the classic sense?

People can become incredibly personally vested in their ideas in science. In physics in particular there can be a tendency to assume (a) that you're right (duh!), (b) that your ideas have been arrived at by a careful intellectual process (duh! again), and (c) therefore anyone who disagrees with you is either ignorant, not very smart, or hasn't been thinking about things "the right way" (read: your way). Reminds me of Vizzini in The Princess Bride: "Ever hear of Plato? Aristotle? SOCRATES?! Morons." Prior to today, the best example of this attitude that I'd ever seen was at a talk given by a job candidate, who, when asked a very good question by one of my very respected colleagues (who happened to be on the search committee), began his response with "If you think about this a little, you'll see...." Nothing like implying that your potential future employer hasn't considered his question.

Now, though, I've got a new favorite example. From Lubos Motl's well known blog:

(UPDATE: Lubos has removed the page in question, so the link is now broken.)
(UPDATE II: Lubos has put the page back, re-edited, but the new version still conveys his clear view that only high energy theorists, and specifically string theorists, are actually doing science - the rest of us are just wankers, apparently.)

Sorry to say but this is the last well-known physics blog on this planet; all others blogs that claim to have something to do with science are just politically correct tools for crackpots to make their deep misunderstandings of the basics of modern physics ever more powerful and legitimized, and to destroy physics as such at a finite timescale.

Oooooookay. So, everyone else is a complete idiot. Got it. Might as well pack up my computer and quit now.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

No need. Apparently Lubos removed the page. I was not fast enough to finish reading his post, but that's enough....

Dan said...

C'mon Doug, if you pack it in, then who will the Lubos' of the world use as a punching bag? Besides, you have not yet posted a sufficient quantity of politically correct rantings which make clear your fundamental lack of understanding of yadda yadda yadda.

Anonymous said...

Lubos is an ass.

Besides, as far as he is concerned, you are doing chemistry or, worse, engineering.

Doug Natelson said...

Yeah, anonymous. I love how it's implicit that only high energy physics theorists are actually scientists. I wonder if he's going to come to the awful realization at some point that his tenure decision rests primarily with people whom he doesn't consider scientists. On the other hand, he is bright, and may view his time as a junior professor at Harvard as a seven year postdoc, since the tenure process there has a notoriously low success rate.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps making Vizzini jokes aren't the smartest thing to do if even the Thresher has laid off and switched to other recurring jokes.

Not that it isn't a perfect fit for He Who Shall Not Be Named.

Lumo said...

Hi! I never wrote that high-energy physics is the only science. This whole discussion has always been about high-energy physics only. What I wrote is that my blog was the only well-known blog that actually conveys the paradigms of physics as opposed to be just a blog of a person who happens to be paid as a physicist, and I am convinced that this statement is correct even without the adjective "high-energy", regardless of whether the anonymous bastards above are just one person or several people.

Doug Natelson said...

Hello Lumo -
I thought "all other blogs that claim to have something to do with science" was fairly explicit.... As for you being unique in conveying paradigms of physics, I suspect there are some who would dispute your claim, though my own readership is far too small for my blog to qualify as "well-known".

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I love how it's implicit that only high energy physics theorists are actually scientists.