Saturday, April 08, 2017

Science works even when it is not trusted

There have been some topics in which Sabine Hossenfelder wrote sensible things recently – the Universe as a simulation is a top example – but she can't live without her anti-science whining which is why she wrote the diatribe titled
Science needs reason to be trusted.
As long as you have a vagina and you claim to be a scientist, PC journals like Nature will publish literally anything you submit, as this disturbing example shows. I don't want to discuss – or read – every sentence in this diatribe but it makes sense to pick a representative subcollection.

First, the title says "Science needs reason to be trusted". The title is ambiguous. She may have meant that science needs reason or reasoning – rational thinking – if science wants to be trustworthy. That would be a meaningless tautology because science itself is a refined type of reason. Instead, as the third sentence beneath the subtitle indicates, she apparently meant "The public needs a reason if the public wants to trust science".

Is it true? Is it false? It's probably mostly true but it's absolutely irrelevant for any discussion about science itself – for a simple reason:
Science doesn't need any public
So it's up to everyone – individually or collectively – whether he thinks scientifically or whether he uses scientific results. Those who do have a certain advantage. Those who don't have other advantages – for example, they may be applauded in communities that hate science.

Now, statements claimed to reflect science may be right or wrong – but science itself is mostly about the process that decides which statements are trustworthy and which aren't. As long as you believe that the scientific method works, the only thing that science needs to produce conclusions that are trustworthy is that the method is respected and pursued carefully. You can't construct any true sentence similar to the title that would be much more than a meaningless tautological cliché.

So trust science or don't trust science – it just won't change science as long as it is science because science doesn't determine its own truths by asking about your feelings – or reading obnoxious rants in the Nature magazine. Science works along the scientific method.

The subtitle adds:
That we now live in the grip of post-factualism would seem naturally repellent to most physicists. But in championing theory without demanding empirical evidence, we’re guilty of ignoring the facts ourselves.
Subsets of the society may be gripped by post-factualism but pretty much by its definition, science isn't. Claims that science as a whole is controlled by post-factualism is nothing else than a variation of the postmodern philosophers' – i.e. pompous idiots' – claims that science has to adapt to the postmodern age. I am convinced that pompous philosophical words like "post-factualism" don't belong to articles claimed to be about theoretical physics.

Nothing has changed about the meaning of the scientific method and the conditions that are needed for it to work well. And it's obviously false that we don't have the empirical evidence these days. We have much more empirical evidence than any humans have ever possessed. And within physics, this empirical evidence is amazingly constraining and picks the qualitative kind of theories that are allowed uniquely or almost uniquely.

What has become hard and expensive is to get the experimental results that contradict the theories defining the scientific status quo. That fact has objective reasons, isn't due to any failure of any human or mechanisms, and it has consequences.

One of them is that hypotheses or theories – which may still be proposed relatively easily – are more numerous than groundbreaking experimental results. People are writing and studying these theories because the theories are interesting and they may be true – and because the people are interested and they can do so. Again, there is nothing pathological about any of these facts or asymmetries. All of them reflect the scientists' rational reaction to the facts and parameters describing the current state of the scientific knowledge.

The first sentences beneath the subtitle say
I'm a theoretical particle physicist and I doubt the value of theoretical particle physics. That’s awkward already, I know, but it gets even worse...
Your being a theoretical particle physicist is just a silly self-congratulatory fairy-tale. You have pretty much no clue about particle physics and I am sure that you would fail a final particle physics exam at any good grad school – you know, one that would include some standard technical aspects of quantum field theory and specific theories constructed within this framework. As a mediocre student, you were just chosen to pretend to be a particle physicist because a certain branch of ideologues are working hard to increase the concentration of women and other "minorities" in sciences.

But you just don't have the expertise to be an actual theoretical particle physicist, Sabine. And your own relationship to the discipline shows quite something, too. An actual theoretical particle physicist just doesn't doubt the value of this whole field. It makes absolutely no sense. If a person is at least slightly rational – and a theoretical particle physicist has to be – he or she simply disconnects himself or herself from a field that he feels to lack value.

The painful example of Sabine Hossenfelder shows that some activists' and social engineers' futile efforts to increase the percentage of women in physics wouldn't be hurtful just for physics itself. They would also be hurtful for those women whose task would be to star as the actresses in the pathetic "Physics Is a Girl Thing" farce. It's a fact that almost no women are capable of developing a positive relationship to theoretical particle physics. To a large extent, Sabine Hossenfelder's hostile attitude towards theoretical particle physics reflects the average woman's anti-scientific emotions. We may say the same thing about folks like Lee Smolin, too: He also hates theoretical physics because his brain is basically a female one.

In the rest of the essay, she complains that other scientific disciplines lack reproducibility – this is surely a problem of some soft sciences but again, the more "real" or "hard" a discipline is, the less of a problem it is. But then she focuses on fundamental physics and claims that the following things are problems:
  • People are producing many theories
  • Physicists proposed many explanations for the \(750\GeV\) bump
  • They publish many papers
  • Physicists want to get citations
  • Scientists study models of dark matter, dark energy, and inflation
and so on. Holy crap. Your skull must be absolutely full of šit if you consider any of these things a "problem", Ms Hossenfelder. Scientists are producing hypotheses or theories because that's one of the most crucial activities that define the scientific method. If you think that there's something heretical or pathological about it, it obviously proves that your attitude to the world is absolutely incompatible with the scientific one. You're much closer to those in the history who found it inconvenient when scientists tried to think and propose new and potentially inconvenient explanations of the phenomena. A scientist just cannot have a problem with this defining activity of the scientific method.

Also, when physicists – especially phenomenologists – see a potential experimental deviation from the theory defining the status quo, they redirect some of their energy or interest to that deviation. Physics does care about the experimental data and while we know that the \(750\GeV\) diphoton excess was a statistical fluke, it was the most intriguing fluke of the year, to say the least. So it was unavoidable that many people wrote papers about that diphoton excess. It wasn't just a ritual. Many physicists were honestly excited.

Physicists try to write a sufficient number of papers and they specifically care about papers capable of earning citations, too. That's perfectly sensible because a paper is a unit or package of knowledge in which the scientific insights are normally served these days. The purpose of a paper is for a scientist to help other scientists' in their own work. Obviously, a better scientist is likely to be one who has produced a more important, grander package, or a larger number of interesting enough and correct packages. The fact that "something" like the number of papers and/or citations and/or h-index affects hiring and funding is known as meritocracy and science is an intrinsically meritocratic activity. To demand that no quantity of this sort ever matters is insane – it's a plain rejection of meritocracy and the key values underlying science, too. Concerning "ambulance chasing", I've written many texts explaining why it's just OK, e.g. Ambulance Chasing Is a Justifiable Strategy To Search For the Truth.

Dark matter, dark energy, and cosmic inflation are the leading explanations for the usual observations and patterns that they are known to satisfactorily explain. They're significantly more accurate, justifiable, and/or predictive than the competitors which is also why many people study them very carefully and propose or investigate much more detailed models based on these paradigms. Again, this fact is common sense and it is not new. Physics has been doing basically analogous things for centuries and almost identical things for many decades. Sabine Hossenfelder should have just avoided the discipline if she hates the construction and investigation of detailed models. She should have told the people "It doesn't matter that I am female and I would be useful for your shows – I just hate physics and won't do it." And that would be the end of the story. But she was manipulated into doing something that makes her viscerally unhappy – science.

After some hysteria about the "publication pressure" and similar would-be problems, we read:
The underlying problem is that science, like any other collective human activity, is subject to social dynamics.
Sorry but science isn't a collective human activity. Science is an individual enterprise – something that the scientist normally does for reasons that don't need any other people, and that may be fully composed of steps that don't need any other people, either. And yes, fundamental physics is arguably the most individualistic discipline of all sciences so it is particularly crazy to single out fundamental physics for someone's criticism of group think or social pressures.

Individuals who are involved in this enterprise may share their work or use the results of others but they have to do it carefully and what they're doing with these results must follow impersonal rules. What Hossenfelder sells as physics isn't actually physics. It's the bogus social ritual in which she was ordered – much like Bill Nye – to star as the would-be scientist even though she is not a genuine scientist.

I've discussed these matters many times, e.g. in One Can't Understand Physics Through Sociology.

Unlike Ms Hossenfelder, actual physicists are thinking independently and individually. They are not trying to accumulate the political support from the laymen, outsiders, and other uninformed people through popular magazines because they know that the truth about Nature ultimately doesn't depend on any of these political things. Many brilliant, serious, productive, achieved... physicists will surely not forget to point out that they disagree with some of my political or other opinions.

But almost all of them agree with me that it's just unacceptable for a scientist to try to criticize theories or models of particle physics, cosmology, or astrophysics by writing superficial rants in popular journals where these models are mindlessly presented as some of the greatest social evils. If you don't have anything to say about the science of dark matter, dark energy, or inflation or the phenomena that these theories seem capable of explaining – and you clearly don't have anything to say, Ms Hossenfelder – you should simply shut your mouth.

Your suggestion that work on dark matter, dark energy, or inflation (it was surely just a pure coincidence that string theory wasn't mentioned in her rant at all) should be viewed as a heresy or a social pathology only highlights your being an absolute crackpot and the publication of your rants in Nature cannot change anything about this fact.
How can we blame the public for being misinformed because they live in social bubbles if we’re guilty of it too?
The public is primarily being misinformed by bogus "scientists" such as Ms Hossenfelder who were picked to star as "scientists" because of some ideological considerations but they actually don't have anything to do with modern science, they haven't embraced its methods, results, and even the basic spirit, and they don't even like it. Instead of scientific arguments, they prefer to play disgusting political games by teaming up with human filth – and yes, everyone who disagrees with the text of mine above is scum.

Bonus: Hossenfelder and the black hole information paradox

A very dissatisfied theoretical physicist has shown me an unbelievable text by Ms Hossenfelder about the black hole information paradox. After some more or less OK basics, we learn:
What happened, to make a long story short, is that Lenny Susskind wrote a dismissive paper about the idea that information is kept in black holes until late. This dismissal gave everybody else the opportunity to claim that the obvious solution doesn’t work and to henceforth produce endless amounts of papers on other speculations.

Excuse the cynicism, but that’s my take on the situation. I’ll even admit having contributed to the paper pile because that’s how academia works. I too have to make a living somehow.

So that’s the other reason why physicists worry so much about the black hole information loss problem: Because it’s speculation unconstrained by data, it’s easy to write papers about it, and there are so many people working on it that citations aren’t hard to come by either.
Holy cow. The reality is that the black hole information paradox is clearly one of the most profound theorist's playgrounds par excellence and although not all questions have been answered, a huge progress was made. Careful theoretical considerations are really enough to settle most of the relevant questions: the situation is analogous to pure mathematics and objections that one can't experimentally test these claims are utterly idiotic.

In particular, it's been settled that the information isn't destroyed by black holes. Totally controllable models within string/M-theory – including Matrix theory and AdS/CFT – have erased all doubts which is why Stephen Hawking could have surrendered his bet about the issue a decade ago, too.

Hossenfelder proudly admits that she is a dishonest intellectual prostitute who gets paid for writing something she doesn't even believe to be true. But her being a pile of immoral parasitic waste doesn't mean that actual physicists are intellectual prostitutes as well. The top ones surely aren't.

Also, Susskind's paper she refers to wasn't a "dismissive paper". It was a paper that showed another inconsistency of the black hole remnants – at the moment when almost all the good folks were convinced that black hole remnants can't work, anyway. One must also correct her deceitful statement that she has contributed to the research of the black hole information paradox. At most, she has contributed junk she doesn't believe to make sense herself, as we have learned, such as her dumb paper written along with her fellow crackpot Lee Smolin.

Writing junk similar to Hossenfelder's or Smolin's papers in order to be paid by idiots who still haven't figured out that these individuals are pure fraud is arguably easy and straightforward, indeed. But doing real physics is not. It's amazing that Ms Hossenfelder basically boasts that her whole publication record – her whole career – has been a giant fraud designed to get the research money and she can get away with it. The institutional mechanisms at her place must be absolutely dysfunctional. It's time for the idiots who have paid frauds like Ms Hossenfelder to realize their mistake and kindly allow Ms Hossenfelder to switch from an intellectual prostitute to a regular one. She should really be demanded to return all the money or be arrested first.

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