Bankrupting Physics

How Today's Top Scientists are Gambling Away Their Credibility

Alexander Unzicker and Sheilla Jones, Central, 530 U63b 2013

"With four parameters, I can fit an elephant, and with five parameters I can wiggle his trunk" - John von Neumann

"If you can't say something good about someone, sit right here by me" --- Alice Roosevelt Longworth

A curmudgeon theoretical physicist lambasts mainstream cosmology and theoretical particle physics. Many misses, a few hits worth exploring. Pages of putdowns. This book disparages physical theories that do not have measurable consequences, or theories with so many free variables they can be adjusted to any possible measurable consequences (like calling a blank page and a pencil a map). The book also disparages those (like the founders of who ignore ideas like Unzicker's about modified gravity. Perhaps Unzicker prefers his free parameters to others.

Unzicker seems more trusting of raw observational data, untrusting of the analysis and theoretical work based on the meager data collected so far. Me, I am far more worried about situationally constrained and time-limited observation, instrument noise, observer bias, bad luck, and the unidentified-but-no-doubt-present biases in the data we deem worthy of collecting and analyzing. Theoreticians should build and use instruments first, and be discouraged from theorizing until their instruments stop failing.

About page 195, I tired of the kvetching and abandoned the book. Unzicker's bete noir is blathering symbol choppers chasing their tails isn't useful physics - we need more data, not more philosophising, and teaching theorists to build measurement hardware (or hamburgers) instead of symbol clusters would direct money where it is needed. But he seems to have a bad word for almost everyone in theoretical physics.

Unzicker wrote this book before LIGO began churning out results (or he ignored them). Which justified upgrades in LIGO, which reduced the experimental uncertainties. When we hit the wall on terrestrial LIGO, there will be strong justification for eLISA, the orbiting version of LIGO, and later, multiple copies of that. Many of our observational difficulties stem from the noisiness and "small" scale of terrestrial astronomical tools; when we greatly reduce the cost of space launch, we will construct some enormous and sensitive tools far from the noisy Earth and Sun.

Unzicker also doesn't like the Higgs, or the LHC built to find it. That horrendously expensive and complex machine is teaching us how to create really spectacular and reliable hardware, and will result in lots of spinoffs, including deflection magnets for launch loops. Measurements should drive theory, theory should help us decide what to measure next ... and help us estimate if the measurements were done correctly.

BankruptingPhysics (last edited 2019-12-14 02:26:44 by KeithLofstrom)