Arcadian Functor

occasional meanderings in physics' brave new world

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Marni D. Sheppeard

Tuesday, July 22, 2008


Having rudely queried the secretary about whether or not there were any women on the grants panel, I wasn't expecting any reply at all from FQXi, but today I received this email:

Dear Ms. Sheppeard

The makeup of the review panel is confidential. However, I can tell you (if these are the lines along which you are inquiring) that

(a) FQXi is committed to diversity in many aspects including by subject, and by geographical origin, race, gender, ethnicity, and career stage of the applicant, and

(b) none of these factors, or their lack of consideration, was by any plausible reading of the proceedings responsible for the negative outcome of your grant application. The panel had a lot of very tough decisions to make given the quality of the applications and the available funding. The panel was quite careful in their evaluations and ranking, and your proposal was not high-enough ranked to be funded, nor was it one of the unfunded proposals near the cutoff.

Thank you again for the effort that you put into your FQXi application, and I regret that the outcome was not positive for you.

Anthony Aguirre

Associate Scientific Director
Foundational Questions Institute


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kea, it is interesting that Anthony Aguirre felt called upon to give you a gratuitous insult:
"... your proposal was not ... one of the unfunded proposals near the cutoff ...".

Anthony Aguirre seems to have an interesting attitude towards unconventional work, even if it would cost FQXi/Templeton little or no money.

Your request was for little money.

Back in 2006, I asked him for help, saying in part:
"... this message is NOT a request for money.
I do need relief from the oppression of blacklisting ...
I need some place to archive my work in case somebody might be interested in parts of it after my death. Being blacklisted by the Cornell arXiv has substantially blocked my ability to meet such needs, and I would appreciate help from Templeton (or any other source able and willing to help). ...".

Anthony Aguirre's reply offered no help, such as arXiv endorsement, with respect to my being blacklisted,
and he said in part:
"... I'm afraid it will not be possible (or appropriate) to single you out for special consideration as such an unaffiliated scholar on account of your contacting me personally ...".

In short, if I, unaffiliated, have the temerity to contact such an august personage as he, that alone is reason to reject my request for help.

I am not the only one he declined to help about blacklisting. When my friend Jack Sarfatti asked Anthony Aguirre for such help, Anthony Aguirre replied, saying in part:
"... As I do not know you personally, and do not currently have the time to devote to carefully reading your manuscript, I have to decline this endorsement. ...".

In other words, the physics establishment is a closed club, open only to those who the club members "know personally" .

My guess is that Garrett Lisi only got what he got from the establishment (arXiv publication and FQXi grant) because of connections with Lee Smolin.

Although some people outside the physics establishment (such as magazine writers for Science et Vie, the New Yorker, etc) and some mathematicians such as Bert Kostant, have been supportive, almost all the physics establishment has been negative. For example, over on Peter Woit's blog about the New Yorker article:

ERic (whoever that might be) said "... The whole Lisi story seems to me to have just been a media phenomena ... given credibility by the comments of Smolin, and picked up by newspapers and television who liked the idea of an independent surfer dude being the next Einstein. ... The paper is wrong ... It’s sad to see Lisi strutting around now as though he’s actually done something. ...".

Aaron Bergman noted that the article quoted John Baez as saying "If a figure is so beautiful and intricate and clear, you figure it must not exist for itself alone,” John Baez, a professor of mathematics at the University of California Riverside, said. “It must correspond to something in the physics world.”
whereupon John Baez said:
"... What an unhappy quote! ... There’s no rational reason why something beautiful “must” correspond to something in the physical world. ...".
(At least Aaron and John have the courage to comment in their own names, and not hide behind anonymity.)

I noted that the article quoted Kostant as saying, inter alia, “... “Columbus made mistakes and thought he was in India. Lisi made a few errors, but this pales in significance to his possibly opening up a whole new world for exploration ... E8 is like North America, South America, and the Pacific Ocean rolled into one. ...[Lisi's]... daring ... possibly creates an agenda for scientists for the next hundred years or more.” ...”,
George (whoever that might be) said "... Then this Lisi comes along ... Now we have an 80 yr old math professor emeritus, also from MIT, saying how exciting this is, and comparing it to the discovery of the New World. ...".

All this stuff sums up, as I see it, to the fact that the physics establishment hates new ideas, and super-hates new ideas from people who are not members of the club.
So, whether or not the new ideas are better fits to experimental observations, they are to be suppressed and those with them are to be ignored and ridiculed.
That is a prescription for a New Dark Age.

Tony Smith

July 22, 2008 2:47 PM  
Blogger CarlBrannen said...

Well, I guess I'm optimistic; I think things are moving forward rather quickly. I think we'll have this thing pretty much solved before the FQXi money would actually arrive in Marni's new landlord's hot little hand.

July 22, 2008 4:41 PM  
Blogger Kea said...

LOL! To be honest, the juxtaposition of the word Careful with some clear misconceptions about me had me rolling on the floor. And yes, Tony, I have never written to this person or requested information from him before in any way or form. Can't think why he would bother writing to me at all.

Carl, I will keep AF readers updated on my location.

July 22, 2008 7:25 PM  
Blogger L. Riofrio said...

We learn it is best not to ask why one was turned down for a job/grant, they rarely tell anything, especially the truth. This does suggest that the naysayers have planeted themselves within the committee.

For Tony: I have written elsewhere on how nasty the communists have been. A 50 kT airburst would take care of the problem...

If they hate you it is because they are jealous.

July 22, 2008 8:13 PM  
Blogger nige said...

"... Anthony Aguirre seems to have an interesting attitude towards unconventional work,..."
- Tony Smith

That's a very astute observation, because on his page Anthony Aguirre states:

"My work investigates whether eternal inflation applies in the reverse direction - that is, by eliminating the need for a Big Bang at all - and what might be the properties of other "universes" (collectively called the "multiverse")."

On his CV page he has a picture of the properties of various universes, with the caption:

"... if there's more than one universe, maybe they come in different sizes and flavors, like bubbles! (Our universe is the light green bubble, ...) ..." -

Maybe he was simply very busy determining that our universe is a light green bubble and didn't have the time to read and endorse the work of Tony Smith, Jack Sarfatti, et al. (Or maybe Anthony Aguirre's interest in unconventional ideas is limited to the case where the person with such ideas already has affiliation and publications on arXiv, and just needs money. Alternatively, perhaps if you were in a position to take his work seriously and cite it in journal papers, he would find the time to help: mutual cooperation.)

A few years ago I wrote to

Sir Roger Penrose,
Mathematical Institute,
University of Oxford,

about the efforts of mainstream string theorists at arXiv to censor out alternative ideas. As an example of the problems, I gave the website address of "Not Even Wrong". (It was just a hand-written letter.) Penrose didn't reply, and of course may not have received or read my letter. But I was encouraged when about a couple of years later the book "Not Even Wrong" came out, partly helped by Penrose who had helped to find it a publisher.

He may have independently been alerted to the blog, but anyway Penrose scores pretty well for supporting unorthodox ideas from non-mainstream sources.

For example, he supported Matti Pitkanen by citing his work in "The Road to Reality". Whether Penrose would be prepared to act as an endorser for censored papers submitted to arXiv, is difficult to guess. In the introduction to the bibliography to the first UK edition of "The Road to Reality" he wrote enthusiastically about arXiv and its founder, but in the later USA edition he removed that praise.

If you think that arXiv is not acting very scientifically (but rather, politically) in determining what to accept, and you want somewhere that is fairly permanent to host papers, you should get a wordpress blog or a blogspot (Google) blog, or one of each, copy your internet site pages to each as either blog posts or "pages".

By converting your website into PDF files, you can upload PDF files directly on to Wordpress. To test out this, I tried uploading Tony Smith's PDF "Banned by Cornell" book from my hard disc drive last November and it still seems to download quickly without problems:

Banned by Cornell

So as a last resort, to get around arXiv censorship, people can upload PDF reports to personal blogs to safeguard them. I don't pay for my Wordpress blog, so it's secure against requiring regular payments from me to stay there. However, it obviously costs money for network engineers to properly maintain, service, backup and where necessary restore the Wordpress servers. So in the very long term, it's not impossible that Wordpress will merge with another blog, or will start to put in heavy advertising, or even go bankrupt and close.

July 23, 2008 2:21 AM  
Blogger Kea said...

As someone who has been blacklisted from the arxiv, without even attempting to submit a long and controversial paper, I have found many helpful publication sites that make the arxiv redundant. Try scribd for example.

July 23, 2008 8:43 AM  

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