Christine Dantas retires her weblog

In a blow to the physics weblog community, Christine Dantas has closed her weblog, and deleted all of the posts but one. She outlines her reasons on Physics Forum. She had gotten embroiled in the fight over string theory (even in the Brazilian media), and as she put it:

You see, I do not have the right temperament for “living in the blogosphere”…

and

I am a quiet person, and wish to go back to my quiet life, to my quiet readings and studies.

It’s a fairly tragic development: Christine had been teaching herself various alternate approaches to quantum gravity, and would summarize her readings. It was evolving into a handy guide to the literature. She was also unfailingly polite, an obvious rarity on the internet.

Via the comments at Not Even Wrong.

6 thoughts on “Christine Dantas retires her weblog

  1. Someday people will write the history of these string wars, and the nasty polemics they engendered, and the loss of Christine’s blog will be seen as a tiny but indicative example of how people without an ironclad insensitivity to controversy were driven away – to other, more productive activities.

    The unpleasant nature of the whole extended argument can be seen as a collective cry of agony on the part of physicists trying and – so far – failing to find a theory that goes beyond the Standard Model and general relativity. Both string theorists and their opponents are secretly miserable over this failure.

  2. I suspect that many graduate students in physics who realize that they have little appetite for nasty controversies— or who realize that being forced to take sides in a nasty controversy at the outset of one’s scholarly career is unwise— are being driven away from the field of gravitation. If so, this will presumably have the effect of prolonging the agony.

    Is it possible that things have become so bad that responsible Ph.D. advisors should discourage their graduate students from even trying to enter a field bedeviled by so much bitter controversy? Gosh knows there are plenty of other good problems in physics. Although the recent experience of Penny Smith shows that even experienced researchers who “incautiously” try their hand at a hard problem may find themselves asking whether ALL hard problems might not be too “dangerous” for anyone unwilling to recklessly gamble with their career. I have to ask: must scientists choose between risking inflammatory self-destruction and condemning themselves to mediocrity? If so, was there ever a time when things were different? Has science really become less forgiving?

    Perhaps the answer to my question at the beginning of the last paragraph is that wise advisors should avoid any attempts to “protect” younger colleagues against gambling their careers, on the grounds that all good scientists must be continually gambling with their good name. I have just been reading the collected papers of Chandrasekhar, so I can’t help recalling that Eddington and Milne, apparently sincerely trying to prevent a talented younger colleague from destroying his career by publishing a result they apparently felt certain was wrong (the Chandrasekhar limit), tried rather hard to prevent Chandra from publishing his landmark paper.

  3. I don’t have the book to hand, but the philosopher of science Bas van Fraassen has an interesting account of what happens as scientists become more desperate when nothing works. This is in ‘The Empircal Stance’, where he discusses Sartre’s Theory of the Emotions.

    From the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, we read:

    “In Sketch for a Theory of the Emotions, Sartre replaces the traditional picture of the passivity of our emotional nature with one of the subject’s active participation in her emotional experiences. Emotion originates in a degradation of consciousness faced with a certain situation. The spontaneous conscious grasp of the situation which characterizes an emotion, involves what Sartre describes as a ‘magical’ transformation of the situation. Faced with an object which poses an insurmountable problem, the subject attempts to view it differently, as though it were magically transformed. Thus an imminent extreme danger may cause me to faint so that the object of my fear is no longer in my conscious grasp. Or, in the case of wrath against an unmovable obstacle, I may hit it as though the world were such that this action could lead to its removal. The essence of an emotional state is thus not an immanent feature of the mental world, but rather a transformation of the subject’s perspective upon the world.”

    Without an unmovable obstacle to hit, there are always other people.

  4. Hi,

    Thanks for the very kind words.

    I have provided a link to a partial backup of my blog there.

    John Baez is right, I’m heading to other activities, but they are still related to studies of quantum gravity.

    I’m also very interested in strengthening my knowledge of mathematics, specially advanced algebra and category theory.

    I continue to follow with interest high level blogs, like this one and n-Category Café, for instance. Keep up the good work.

    Best regards,
    Christine

  5. I applaud all the hard work being done in theoretical physics, which seems to be mainly highly imaginative and creative mathematical physics with little physical physics being done. But I think it is time we stop calling it “string theory”. It is NOT a “theory” in the scientific sense, or a posteriori based knowledge. There have been NO testable hypotheses developed. It really has no more firm grasp of reality than the book of Genesis, however more complex it might be, or however much more education and intelligence it requires to understand it.

    We need to be honest and start calling it what it is, “string conjecture”. And I mean that in the nice sense.

    The reason for stop calling it a “theory” is that this careless usage of the term “theory” gives ammunition to the religious fundamentalist fanatics who then feel they can misuse the word “theory” any way they want.

    Science is not a democratic process. We don’t vote on the truth. But scientist in the Western world have a social responsibility to be clear and consistent in their use of important terms like “theory” to the general public. And in America, where so many are still not aware of the central role to modern biology that the Theory of Evolution holds, it is crucial that we not use the word “theory” where there is no verifiable theory. As a teacher in the sciences, the careless term “string theory” makes my job that much more difficult with students who quickly pick up on the carelessness and inconsistencies of people they are supposed to look up to.

  6. It is NOT a “theory” in the scientific sense

    You’re using the word ‘theory’ in the philosophical sense, NOT the scientific sense. ‘String Theory’ is completely compatible with the ordinary usage of the word ‘theory’ by scientists in contexts raging from “I think I’ll see if I can apply category theory to this problem” to “I’m bored of lab work, I’m going to concentrate on the theory”.

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