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

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

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

Continue reading Does beautiful mathematics lead physics astray?

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

Continue reading Fermi’s paradox and the Copernican principle

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,

Continue reading Pseudoscience from the political left and right

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

Continue reading Chromosomes, DNA and human evolution

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

Continue reading Will experimental anomalies lead to new physics?

Amateur mathematician makes key advance in classic graph theory problem

Introduction

In a curious turn of events, British biogerontologist Aubrey de Grey, a well-known author and Chief Science Officer of the SENS Research Foundation, which is devoted to “reversing the negative effects of aging” and “significantly extending the human lifespan,” has made a significant advance in a 60-year-old graph theory problem.

Needless to say, in this day and age when almost all frontier-level mathematical research requires substantial training and, regrettably, specialization, it is not very often that an person without graduate-level formal training in mathematics, and whose professional life is focused almost entirely in a completely different field, makes a

Continue reading Amateur mathematician makes key advance in classic graph theory problem

Noted mathematician and two computer scientists win prestigious awards

Introduction

The Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters has announced it coveted 2018 Abel Prize, which is named after 19th century mathematician Niels Henrik Abel. This year’s award is Robert P. Langlands of the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, USA, for his “visionary program connecting representation theory to number theory.”

Separately, the Association for Computing Machinery announced today that its Turing Award will be given to John L. Hennessy (until recently the President of Stanford University) and David A. Patterson (University of California, Berkeley) for their work in designing “a systematic and quantitative approach to designing faster, lower power, and

Continue reading Noted mathematician and two computer scientists win prestigious awards

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

Continue reading Has cosmic fine-tuning been refuted?

Pinker’s “Enlightenment Now”: Humanism and scientific progress

Introduction

Many have read books and articles by renowned Harvard social scientist Steven Pinker. In his 2011 book The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, Pinker cited a huge amount of historical and sociological data to conclude, counter-intuitively to many, that violence has declined “at the scale of millennia, centuries, decades, and years”, “over several orders of magnitude of violence, from genocide to war to rioting to homicide to the treatment of children and animals.”

Pinker pointed out, for example, that while WWI and WWII had the most wartime fatalities in history, when normalized by world

Continue reading Pinker’s “Enlightenment Now”: Humanism and scientific progress