Physics hoaxers discover Quantum Bogosity?

The physics establishment appears to be unable to decide whether papers submitted by two former French TV presenters are a scientific breakthrough or an elaborate hoax. The debunking to date has been done on Usenet groups and informally, over the Internet.

The pranksters evaded the rigorous peer review process employed by scientific journals, and have succeeded in publishing four physics papers. The pair even won themselves PhDs into the bargain.

Grichka and Igor Bogdanov succeeded in having Topological field theory of the initial singularity of spacetime published in the journal Classical and Quantum Gravity 18, Spacetime Metric and the KMS Condition at the Planck Scale in the Annals of Physics, and a Russian journal, and Igor – this time flying solo – persuaded the Czechoslovak Journal of Physics to publish the Topological origin of inertia.

But curiously, so arcane and abstract is the world of theoretical physics, that the work has yet to be repudiated.

Usenet posters describe the papers as “laughably incoherent”. A fascinating thread on Usenet begun by John Baez brought the hoax to light, and persistent questioning by Arkadiusz Jadczyk on his website has done much to expose the pair.

The Bogdanovs apparently foxed a New York Times reporter curious about the case, who after an angry denial from one of the hoaxers – denying that he was a hoaxer – dropped his investigation.

“Does no one have the courage of his convictions to stand up and declare an opinion one way or the other, or is it simply that no one has bothered to actually spend the time to acquire an informed opinion (i.e. more than just skimming the papers for a few choice sentences)?”, asks Kevin Scaldeferri from the California Institute of Technology.

So, the only respectable branch of physics in which the Bogdanov’s operate appears to be, umm … pataphysics.

The terrible, terrible conclusion some might draw from the episode is that string physics is no more a “science” than a social science. Several years ago physics professor Alan Sokhal hoaxed the cultural theories establishment with a delightful pastiche that suggested recent quantum theory work proved aspects of Lacanian psychoanalysis, as he explained in his paper A Physicist Experiments With Cultural Studies:-

“While my method was satirical, my motivation is utterly serious. What concerns me is the proliferation, not just of nonsense and sloppy thinking per se, but of a particular kind of nonsense and sloppy thinking: one that denies the existence of objective realities, or (when challenged) admits their existence but downplays their practical relevance,” he wrote.

But if the establishment is so reluctant to expose the prank, is it the fault of hoaxers or the scientific method? The work of many of our most important scientists has been conducted in the margins, contrary to orthodox scientific opinion. Occam’s Razor is not only a wonderful thing for debunking junk science, but a terrific way to cut your own arms and legs off. And scientists must eat, so grant-funded research necessarily follows the orthodoxy.

Ex ICANN chief spotted in Low Earth Orbit

Esther Dyson has made one of her occasional swings past Earth, with Salon.com’s Farhad Manjoo making radio contact as her low earth orbit took her over San Francisco.

The former ICANN chief has lost none of eccentricity on her on her voyage through the galaxy.

“Let’s get real!,” she proclaims – an alert for regular readers to take cover, to avoid being hit by a flock of birds flying backwards.

“I want to fix it.”

Esther weighs in on the subject of the At Large board – that’s the 17-strong body who in ICANN’s original charter should now have been elected by the public. As it is, only four posts were offered for election, and shortly before CEO Lynn and attorney Sims jettisoned themselves in their own escape pod, they decided to abolish the whole nasty business of elections altogether.

To widespread relief, Esther opines that the existing board are, in fact, reasonable people. Only with one exception – Karl Auerbach – “…who unfortunately has some good proposals and it’s counterproductive how he goes around trying to achieve that.”

(Look, we never said this would be easy, navigating through clouds of Esther antimatter and strange vortexes of nonsense.)

“Let’s get real!” she again demands.

“I can’t think of anything better than elections…” she says, before er, dismissing the idea of elections as a “near term mechanism”. Elections are a long-term goal, you see. Just one that’s rapidly disappearing over the event-horizon.

Are you still following us?

Dyson last passed within radio contact in March, when, after the plan to abolish the board had been made, she baffled observers by embellishing the news with the message that it had been a “hard fought” triumph for democracy.

Esther’s father, the great British-born physicist Freeman Dyson, once planned a spaceship powered by nuclear bombs.

But Esther’s found her own release, free from the surly bonds of reason: a vehicle so elusive no mortal can hope to plot its progress. Can Auerbach and Gilmore muster a light sabre between them?

Miracle cures Berkeley man of Itanic wickedness

Praise the Lord! A miracle has taken place in nearby Berkeley.

A fortnight ago UCB grad student Nick Weaver explained to us in some detail the deficiencies of the IA-64 architecture. He’s teaching some classes, and one caught our eye: entitled “Voyage of the Itanic”.

“Itanic describes the architecture very well,” he told us. The class, which is scheduled for next week, was going to describe how a bright idea went horribly wrong.

Only Nick has had undergone a conversion. The course web page now reads:-

“My personal apology for any confusion and offense this page may have caused. As a response to my previous public rant disparaging the IA64, I was directed to take a good look at McKinley (now called Itanium 2) as it has been vastly improved. It is.”

The Lord moves in mysterious ways, and none more so than this:-

“IA64 is an interesting architecture…the current version may have been disparagingly dubbed the Itanic, but the successor really is vastly superior.”

At this point, we fell to our knees, crucifix in hand, and blacked out for several seconds. But we came to in time for his conclusion:-

“… McKinley truly is a vast improvement.”

Hallelujah! we cried. Nick’s been cured of wicked thoughts!

But who could take credit for this miracle? Our suspicions fell upon the Church of Hewlett Packard, a denomination who long ago worshipped the “aitch-pee-jah-way” (a deity born in a garage, apparently) and whose followers’ staunch faith has seen them through difficult times in the past. And now, under the current pontiff, the controversial Cardinal Fiorina…

So we called Pastor Dirk Down, programs manager for HP, and a preacher who breathes the word that is McKinlium, and who never flinches from facing down hostile unbelievers with good humor. Did he know who had cured Nick?

“We’re not sure,” said the minister. “Jerry Huck read the article on The Register, and received the credit for turning things around. But Jerry says he never contacted him.”

Sometimes it’s best not to ask ‘how’, we agreed.

Not surprisingly, Nick didn’t want to talk about it.

“There was no pressure,” he told us. “I simply read the McKinley documentation.”

Ah! The Itanic verses… Is that all?

“Yes. I don’t want to talk about it. And I’ve got work to finish so I’d rather be getting on with that, if you don’t mind.”

Click. Bzzzzt.

One pagan Sun-worshipper mused to us yesterday:

“It’s all about academic freedom. The freedom to change your mind.”

Bootnote:

Theologians have now traced the coinage of the word “Itanic” back to this ancient Usenet posting to comp.sys.mac.advocacy, by one Kraig Finstad on 4 October 1999. comp.arch veteran Nick Maclaren of the University of Cambridge adds:

“That now makes at least six independent inventions within the first
month – which doesn’t surprise me, given how obvious it was.”