The rise of pay-to-publish journals and the decline of peer review

Pi nonsense in peer-reviewed journals

In a previous Math Scholar blog, we lamented the decline of peer review, as evidenced by the surprising number of papers, published in supposedly professional, peer-reviewed journals, claiming that Pi is not the traditional value 3.1415926535…, but instead is some other value. In the 12 months since that blog was published, other papers of this most regrettable genre have appeared.

As a single example of this genre, the author of a 2015 paper, which appeared in the International Journal of Engineering Sciences and Research Technology, states, “The area and circumference of circle has been

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Does beautiful mathematics lead physics astray?

Introduction

In a new book, Lost in Math: How Beauty Leads Physics Astray, Sabine Hossenfelder reflects on her career as a theoretical physicist. She acknowledges that her colleagues have produced “mind-boggling” new theories. But she is deeply troubled by the fact that so much work in theoretical physics today is disconnected from empirical reality, yet is excused because the theories themselves, and the mathematics behind them, are “too beautiful not to be true.”

Hossenfelder notes that there have been numerous instances in the past when scientists’ over-reliance on “beauty” has led it astray. Newton’s clockwork universe, with seemingly self-evident

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Fermi’s paradox and the Copernican principle

Distant galaxies magnified by a gravitational lens

Fermi’s paradox

As we have discussed on this forum before (see, for example, previous Math Scholar blog), Fermi’s paradox looms as one of the most profound and puzzling conundrums of science: Given that the universe is presumed to be teeming with intelligent life and technological civilizations, why do we see no evidence of their existence? Although the search for signals and other evidence from extraterrestrial (ET) societies continues (and is accelerating with new facilities and funding), nothing has been found in over 50 years.

Ever since Fermi first declared the paradox in

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Pseudoscience from the political left and right

Pseudoscience through the ages

Projected global mean sea level rise

Through the years, decades and centuries, the world has science has slowly turned back the tide of pseudoscience, with victory after victory against nonsense and ignorance. In the 16th and 17th century, the writings of Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler and Newton overturned the ancient cosmology. The revolting practice of bloodletting was overturned in the late 19th century. Astrology was scientifically defeated in the 18th and 19th century, although, incredibly, it continues to attract faithful adherents even to this day. Young-earth creationism was scientifically overturned by the early 20th century, and now,

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Chromosomes, DNA and human evolution

History

The Yunis-Prakash diagram comparing the chromosomes of humans, chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans

Evolution in general and human evolution in particular continue to be bones of contention, so to speak, as evidenced by the ongoing efforts by some groups to prohibit or downplay evolution, or to mandate “equal time” for “intelligent design,” in state and local high school curricula. At of the present date (May 2018), just in the U.S., campaigns are active in Indiana, Louisiana, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas and Utah.

Although the role of chromosomes in heredity and evolution was recognized in the 19th century, it was

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Will experimental anomalies lead to new physics?

A proton: two up quarks and one down quark

Historical anomalies in physics

It is often said that experimental anomalies lead to new physics. This is actually a bit overstated. Actually, the vast majority of experimental anomalies turn out to have more prosaic explanations — errors in the experimental setup or analysis, or errors stemming from invalid applications of the theory.

Nonetheless, a few experimental anomalies in years past have led to important new advances in the field. A few examples are:

In 1887, Michelson and Morley compared the speed light in two perpendicular directions, hoping to measure the

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Has cosmic fine-tuning been refuted?

Introduction

Is the universe fine-tuned for intelligent life? In 2016, astrophysicist Geraint Lewis and cosmologist Luke Barnes, both at the University of Sydney, Australia, waded into this perplexing and controversial arena in a new book entitled A Fortunate Universe: Life in a Finely Tuned Cosmos [Lewis2016]. The core of the Lewis-Barnes book and an accompanying technical paper by Luke Barnes [Barnes2012] is their review of the “cosmic coincidences”:

Carbon resonance and the strong force. If the strong force were slightly stronger or slightly weaker (by just 1% in either direction), there would be no carbon or any heavier elements anywhere

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Do probability arguments refute evolution?

Introduction

Both traditional creationists and intelligent design writers have invoked probability arguments in criticisms of biological evolution. They argue that certain features of biology are so fantastically improbable that they could never have been produced by a purely natural, “random” process, even assuming the billions of years of history asserted by geologists and astronomers. They often equate the hypothesis of evolution to the absurd suggestion that monkeys randomly typing at a typewriter could compose a selection from the works of Shakepeare, or that an explosion in an aerospace equipment yard could produce a working 747 airliner [Dembski1998; Foster1991; Hoyle1981;

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Evolutionary computing and artificial intelligence

Courtesy Ahmed Medhat Othman

Evolutionary computing

Evolution has been studied mathematically since the early 1900s, with works by D’Arcy Thompson, Ronald Fisher and others. Among other things, these analyses quantified estimates of how many generations of a given species would be required to achieve a certain level of observed change. With the rise of computer technology in the 1960s, computational simulations were devised to study evolution.

From here is was a relatively straightforward step to apply these same evolution-mimicking simulations to other applications as well, an approach originally termed genetic algorithms. In a typical application, potential engineering design parameters

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The future of artificial intelligence: Utopia or dystopia?

MIT cosmologist Max Tegmark is no stranger to controversy. In his 2014 book Our Mathematical Universe, Tegmark proposed that our universe and everything in it are merely mathematical structures operating according to certain rules of logic. He argued that this hypothesis answers Stephen Hawking’s question “What breathes fire into the equations?” — there is no need for anything breathing fire into mathematical equations to create the universe, because the universe is a set of mathematical equations.

In his latest book, Life 3.0: Being Human in the Age of Artificial Intelligence, Tegmark surveys some of the recent advances of the AI

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