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Ignorance of Paul Boutin

In this text, I want to demonstrate that Paul Boutin has no idea what he is talking about in his text at Slate - he is writing about theoretical physics - and why he is an example of people who know absolutely nothing but who want to influence absolutely everything.

  • Elegance is a term theorists apply to formulas, like E=mc2, which are simple and symmetrical yet have great scope and power.

This is one of the less serious problems in his article, but I don't think that any physicist would use the equation "E=mc2", popular among the laymen, as an example of an elegant piece of mathematics or physics. Incidentally, in this form, the equation has never appeared in Einstein's revolutionary papers.

  • The concept has become so associated with string theory that Nova's three-hour 2003 series on the topic was titled The Elegant Universe (you can watch the whole thing online for free here).

NOVA's "The Elegant Universe" was titled this way not because NOVA was the first one to realize that string theory is elegant, but simply because the title was borrowed from Brian Greene's bestseller - a book version of the TV program - that every journalist who is informed about modern physics knows very well. This book is the reason why the words "elegant" and "string theory" simultaneously appear at so many pages.

  • That's because compared to E=mc2, string theory equations look like spaghetti.

At the beginning of the show, Brian Greene reminded us that it may be rather difficult to explain general relativity to dogs, and therefore even the people may have problems to understand advanced mathematical concepts that are necessary to understand string theory and its beauty.

No doubt, people whose mathematical skills end with the product of "m" and "c2" - and who are therefore probably closer to the dogs than to Edward Witten - will hardly appreciate algebraic geometry, mirror symmetry, conformal field theory, or homology of the super moduli spaces. After all, dogs don't distinguish superstrings and spaghetti either.

  • His General Theory of Relativity says gravity is caused by the warping of space due to the presence of matter. In 1905, this seemed like opium-smoking nonsense.

Except that general relativity was published in 1915, not 1905. I would think that such flagrant ignorance of history of science should prevent one from finishing the high school. In reality, it is not even a problem for publishing physics articles at Slate.

Moreover, relativity - either special or general - never seemed like opium-smoking nonsense to the physicists. The special theory of relativity was accepted almost instantly; the general theory of relativity was accepted quickly - and almost universally after the 1919 observations of the bending of light. There may have been counterparts of Paul Boutin who always thought that relativity was opium-smoking nonsense but their voice never played any role in physics.

Except that the uncertainty principle is not an equation. It is an inequality and not a particularly elegant one.

  • The closest you can get is a function related to Planck's constant (h), the theoretical minimum unit to which the universe can be quantized.

A "function" cannot be related to Planck's constant. And Planck's constant is not a unit into which the universe can be quantized. It is a quantum of the action or the angular momentum, not a "quantum of the universe".

  • If relativity and quantum mechanics are both correct, they should work in agreement to model the Big Bang, the point 14 billion years ago at which the universe was at the same time supermassive (where relativity works) and supersmall (where quantum math holds). Instead, the math breaks down. Einstein spent his last three decades unsuccessfully seeking a formula to reconcile it all—a Theory of Everything.

Einstein never worked on reconciling quantum mechanics with relativity. What he worked on was unification of electromagnetism and gravity but he never intended quantum mechanics to be a part of his fundamental equations.

  • The most popular string models require 10 or 11 dimensions.

They're not the most "popular" ones. They're the only ones that predict a stable universe with all the qualitative features we observe in the real world.

  • Krauss' book is subtitled The Mysterious Allure of Extra Dimensions as a polite way of saying String Theory Is for Suckers.

Well, I hope that it will be widely understood that my comment that Boutin's intelligence resembles that of dogs will be viewed as an appropriate answer to this "gentle" man.

  • Scientific Method 101 says that if you can't run a test that might disprove your theory, you can't claim it as fact.

If you can run a test that might disprove your theory, you can't claim the theory as fact either. And if your experiment actually disproves your theory, you definitely cannot claim the theory as fact. ;-)

  • And there's no way to prove them wrong in our lifetime.

Maybe. The same thing holds for the evolution etc. But there is a significant chance that the theory will be proved right - a deeper theory than the previous ones to describe reality - in our lifetime. Mr. Boutin does not seem to be interested in this alternative possibility that string theory is right; a textbook example of Crackpotism 101.

  • Einstein's theories paved the way for nuclear power.

The only thing that Einstein's theories had to do with nuclear power is that he could have calculated the gained energy from the mass differences of the nuclei - much like he could have done for any physical process in the world. The development of science and technology behind the nuclear power has nothing to do with Einstein's theories. Einstein's letter to Roosevelt (warning him that the Nazis may have been working on the bomb) is perhaps the only link between Einstein and the nuclear energy.

  • Hiding in the Mirror does a much better job of explaining string theory than discrediting it.

Good joke.

  • Krauss knows he's right, but every time he comes close to the kill he stops to make nice with his colleagues.

He knows that he's right much like the Catholic Church who opposed Darwin's theory, does not he? A difference between string theory and its Kraussian "alternatives" is that the former is evaluated by scientific, rational arguments and calculations. The latter is evaluated by articles written by journalists whose understanding of physics resembles the skills of dogs.

It's pretty sad if someone like Boutin whose knowledge of modern science is completely superficial - and he just writes down confused misinterpretations of some popular accounts of physics that have already been written in such an oversimplified way to target the silliest 10% of the population - are given space at such influential places as Slate.

Well, of course I know why he was given space. It's because he's the senior editor at many places like that. ;-) Unfortunately, even having a lot of money does not prevent one from being a complete ignorant.

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