I was told that the last two posts — on Hitler and serial killers — were too depressing, and that I need to post something more cheery So here is a careful analysis of the physics of My Little Pony.
This article from the New Scientist features this quote:
If this doesn’t blow your socks off, then Hogan, who has just been appointed director of Fermilab’s Center for Particle Astrophysics, has an even bigger shock in store: “If the GEO600 result is what I suspect it is, then we are all living in a giant cosmic hologram.”
Sorry for the light posting; life has been interfering with my blogging schedule.
When Scoop Jackson was in Congress, a running joke was that he was the Senator from Boeing, abbreviated Jackson (D-Boeing). Now, Congress has an honest-to-God Representative from Fermilab. Bill Foster , a physicist who worked at Fermilab for 22 years, ran in the special election to fill Dennis Hastert’s seat in Congress, and won. The Chicago-area district includes the laboratory. Foster (D-Fermilab) will fill out the remainder of Hastert’s term, which only lasts until November, at which point he will be up for reelection.
With great technical mastery, he was covering the board with special functions, doing manipulations that I knew from my studies with Alan White (who was also at the School) could be handled efficiently and elegantly using harmonic analysis on noncompact groups. Just as I was wondering whether it might be too impertinent to make a remark to this effect, the lecturer turned to the audience and said, â€œThey tell me that you can do this all more easily if you use group theory, but I tell you that, if you are strong, you do not need group theory.â€
Count me among the weak.
DARPA has put out a list of 23 challenge problems in pure and applied mathematics. Some of them are specific, such as number 19:
SETTLE THE RIEMANN HYPOTHESIS
The Holy Grail of number theory.
Some are vague, such as number 3:
CAPTURE AND HARNESS STOCHASTICITY IN NATURE
Address Mumford’s call for new mathematics for the 21st century.
Via Peter Woit.
Cosma Shalizi has written a detailed posting on what’s wrong with econophysics. Econophysics is the application of certain ideas that have been influential in physics in recent years — power laws, phase transitions, nonlinear dynamics — to finance and economics. Econophysics articles are generally published in physics journals, and have not had much of an impact on economics as practiced in economics departments. If you love statistical mechanics, and you think it explains everything, then econophysics is the area for you.
Cosma also includes a section on what’s wrong with economics, because he intends on dying friendless and alone.
A reader tipped me off to this article in Ars Technica about an egregious case of plagiarism uncovered at arXiv. At least two people, grad students at Middle East Technical University (METU), created papers in physics by splicing together existing papers. The plagiarism was uncovered by the faculty at METU.
I have long been a fan of John Cramer’s Transactional Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics [Wikipedia link here.], mainly because it appeals to my “Trust the math” outlook towards physics models (which in turn probably goes a long way in explaining why I am not a physicist).
Via Scott Aaronson and Peter Woit, I learn the story of Elizabeth Okazaki, who apparently has been hanging around the Stanford physics department for the past four years posing as a visiting scholar working on an interdisciplinary project. She has also apparently been using office space and even sleeping in the building. The range of reactions I’ve seen have been from shock and fear to pity, to amusement, but I haven’t seen anyone express my reaction: admiration. Assuming, as many people have suggested, that Okazaki is someone down on her luck looking for a place to stay, I have to admire her ingenuity in solving her problem. Physics departments have a high tolerance for personal idiosyncracy, and someone who keeps weird hours would never stand out in one. Physicists are a little vague on they do in humanities departments, so sprinkle a little interdisciplinarity on your project, and presto!, instant credibility. Her whole plan was practically scientifically designed to succeed for years. Maybe the NSF should give her a grant.
Stanford had another case of an interloper which in some ways is even more interesting. Azia Kim actually moved into the dorms and successfully posed as a college student for eight months. Okazaki’s plan only required the ingenuity of coming up with the cover story, and then sticking to it. Kim had to actually pretend to take classes to keep up her pretense. She also had to sneak into the dining halls to eat, and to climb back up into her dorm room window every night. I can’t even imagine the chutzpah it took to trick her way into dorm room, knowing how easy it would have been for her to get caught. It all required considerable courage.