Sunday, December 16, 2007

Sign of c Change

On the next block from Moscone Center was an art gallery with this encouraging sign. More people saw the presentation on "c change" than saw Ed Witten last month. As Peter Woit mentioned there, the world of particle physics has grown very small. Even the thousands of scientists at American Geophysical Union show little care for it. AGU was certainly more fun, with multiple parties every night. Tuesday at the Exploratorium museum the drinks had 3000-year old ice brought from Antarctica.

The biggest barrier to "c change" has been getting the word out. Most physicists won't take an opinion on something they have not been exposed to, and the mainstream press follows "dark energy" and the Concorde cosmology. The difficulty of publishing papers where c changes has not helped. Arxiv has become so corrupted that it serves little use. The Smithsonian/NASA Astrophysics Data System is far more thorough. Last week a large number of people, including NASA administrators, were very interested in a changing speed of light.

Happy 90th birthday to Sir Arthur Clarke!



Blogger Matti Pitkanen said...

The world of particle physics is getting very small indeed. For me the gradual intellectual and moral degeneration of particle physics community has been quite a sad experience. During these 27 years I have developed beautiful theory and be happy to give to the community but now there is no community able to receive it.

These fellows know nothing outside their specialization, most of them are poisoned by their stupid institutional arrogance, and irrespective of their personal attitudes they are slaves of the big science institutions. The intellectual anarchy of seventies has transformed to the totally frozen situation bringing in mind Soviet Union before the Big Crunch. The only good thing in this is that now almost everyone knows that almost everyone knows.

The last three decades will remain a painful but healthy lesson about how dangerous the endless specialization driven by need for maximal publication rates and justified by reductionistic dogma is. The ethical lesson is how dangerous it is to allow professors to decide what is good science. Single silly enough professor can put an entire branch of science to a halt for decades.

9:12 PM  
Blogger L. Riofrio said...

For matti: Having experienced the tail end of this process through admittedly naive eyes, I can only agree with your conclusions. The old USSR must have been very much like this. The "dark energy" may be its Potemkin village, the ultimate example of Emperor's New clothes.

8:35 AM  
Anonymous Tony Smith said...

Actually, the old Soviet system (for apolitical scientists) was pretty good in some ways.
For example,
Alain Connes said in an interview in Tehran:

"... I believe that the most successful systems so far were these big institutes in the Soviet union, like the Landau institute, the Steklov institute, etc. Money did not play any role there, the job was just to talk about science. It is a dream to gather many young people in an institute and make sure that their basic activity is to talk about science without getting corrupted by thinking about buying a car, getting more money, having a plan for career etc....".

So, Matti, if you and I had grown up in the USSR and it had not collapsed and we had been apolitical, then we would be working happily in some place like Moscow State or Steklov, and nobody would care how unconventional our work might be, and our institute would get our stuff published (in something like Doklady or JETP or a book printed by MIr).
Further, no one from any other institute would engage in ad hominem attacks on us because our institute would fight back to protect us.

An example is Perelman who was at Steklov where he did the Poincare conjecture.

For another example, see the USA mathematician Louis de Branges who proved the Bieberbach conjecture, but USA mathematicians ignored him and refused to even evaluate his proof. However, he went to the USSR where a group did evaluate his proof and announce that it was true, thus forcing the embarrassed USA math community to grudgingly recognize him.

Tony Smith

6:44 PM  
Blogger L. Riofrio said...

HI Tony: BTW, I managed to see your friend's talk about the Himalayas.

6:53 PM  
Blogger Kea said...

According to Sabbagh et al, Louis de Branges is still very much an outcast due to his ideas on the Riemann Hypothesis. But yes, officially he is not an outcast!

9:21 AM  
Blogger nige said...

"AGU was certainly more fun, with multiple parties every night. Tuesday at the Exploratorium museum the drinks had 3000-year old ice brought from Antarctica."

Did it taste OK? Presumably that ice was formed by compressed snow. However, even frozen sea water tends to lose salinity:

"When frazil ice crystals form, salt accumulates into droplets called brine, which are typically expelled back into the ocean. This raises the salinity of the near-surface water. Some brine droplets become trapped in pockets between the ice crystals. These droplets are saline, whereas the ice around them is not. The brine remains in a liquid state because much cooler temperatures would be required for it to freeze. At this stage, the sea ice has a high salt content. Over time, the brine drains out, leaving air pockets, and the salinity of the sea ice decreases."


7:46 AM  
Blogger L. Riofrio said...

For Kea: Someday we will miss the fun of being an "outcast."

For nige: Perhaps you have heard about British science pulling out of ILC and even our Gemini North telescope on Mauna Kea. Is this just bad news or result of government losing patience with particle physics?

The ice tasted just fine, but "popped" from the compressed air bubbles melting.

2:03 PM  
Blogger nige said...

"Perhaps you have heard about British science pulling out of ILC and even our Gemini North telescope on Mauna Kea. Is this just bad news or result of government losing patience with particle physics?" - Louise

Hi Louise,

I think the reason is just that Britain's government is in short of money, having stepped in to save the doomed "Northern Rock" Building Society (which lent out too much money and then couldn't repay people who wanted to withdraw savings when it was in a crisis), and also having to finance very expensive war efforts in Basra, Iraq, and in Afghanistan. It's also keeping interest rates artificially very low to try to keep the housing market going. There is a huge amount of consumer debt and excess mortage debt in the UK, and any rise in interest rates may spark a credit crisis and an economic depression.

The Government has spent many billions on all these expensive activities, and now a General Election is looming and people will complain by voting against them if there are any tax rises! Gordon Brown, former Chancellor and now Prime Minister, is responsible for the state of the finances of the country and for the problems. So he's trying to pinch money from everywhere he can, including particle physics, to try to avoid having to announce massive tax increases.

It's not really a lack of patience with physics, just the fact the British Government has overspent massively on wars, preparations to host the Olympic Games in London (which is billions over budget already), preventing recession, and a host of other politically expedient things, while the National Health Service, education and transport systems, and other essentials have to suffer. They end up cutting funding for innocent projects which aren't really that expensive in any case.

There's a story that the film "Cleopatra" went way over budget and nearly caused the film studio to go bankrupt. As a result, accountants were sent out to Italy where the filming was going on, to try to cut costs. They couldn't get anywhere with the really expensive stuff because of rows with the director and other top people who would threaten to resign. So eventually, they settled on the cafeteria and banned wastage of paper cups. A completely false economy that made no difference to the balance sheet whatsoever, but it was all they could do. Similarly, the Government can't cut the really harmful massive expenses it is committed to without serious political consequences, so it settles on wiping out small budgets for harmless projects. We have a saying for it: "penny-wise but pound-foolish".

4:59 AM  
Anonymous Samh said...

The reason the British Government pulled out of Gemini et al. is that the funding councils have all been consolidated into a single science funding council, STFC, thus you do not have PPARC looking out for the particle physics interests and everyone is vying for the same pot of money.

Actually they are vying for a smaller pot of money due to consolidation of funding councils.

Gemini is already well funded and although they have lost a major stake holder the telescope is unlikely to suffer as a result, countries such as China, India and Japan are all likely to be interested in investing.

2:15 PM  
Anonymous samh said...

My previous comment regarding the relationship between Gemini and STFC is largely speculation on my part, I don't think that was really conveyed in my tone.

9:42 PM  
Blogger L. Riofrio said...

Thanks for both your input. One NASA administrator, a PhD with impeccable credentials, was stopped from attending a conference this year by some idiocy at airport immigration. That seems to happen a lot these days.

The 2008 US budget, which has taken forever to complete, also cuts big ticket physics research. It would effectively end ILC and US participation in ITER. (NASA receives a 3% increase.) APS is severely ticked: "The U.S. is prepared to jettison support for one of our flagship areas of science that probes fundamental laws of the universe."

This is all very unfortunate, but if scientists wanted to see fundamental laws of the universe they need only read a good blog.

10:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm sure immigration just wanted to spend more time with you Louise ;)

1:49 PM  

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