
Credit: Berkeley Center for Cosmological Physics
String theory, fine tuning and the multiverse
String theory is the name for the theory of mathematical physics which proposes that physical reality is based on exceedingly small “strings” and “branes,” embedded in 10 or 11dimensional space. String theory has been proposed as the longsought “theory of everything,” because it appears to unite relativity and quantum theory, and also because it is so “beautiful.”
Yet in spite of decades of effort, by thousands of brilliant mathematical physicists, the field has yet to produce specific experimentally testable predictions. What’s more, hopes that string theory
Continue reading Does the string theory multiverse really exist?
Every four years the Fields Institute of Toronto, Canada announces its Fields Medal recipients. This year’s recipients are Caucher Birkar, Alessio Figali, Akshay Venkatesh and Peter Scholze.
The Fields Institute announces its awardees at the everyfouryears International Congress of Mathematicians (ICM) meeting, which this year is being held in Rio de Janeiro. The awards, which are made to a maximum of four exceptional mathematicians under the age of 40, are often considered the “Nobel Prize” of Mathematics.
Here is some information on this year’s awardees and their work:
Caucher Birkar. Birkar was born and raised in a very poor farming
Continue reading The 2018 Fields Medalists honored
Pi nonsense in peerreviewed 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, peerreviewed 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 paytopublish journals and the decline of peer review
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 “mindboggling” 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’ overreliance on “beauty” has led it astray. Newton’s clockwork universe, with seemingly selfevident
Continue reading Does beautiful mathematics lead physics astray?
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 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. Youngearth creationism was scientifically overturned by the early 20th century, and now,
Continue reading Pseudoscience from the political left and right
History
The YunisPrakash 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
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?
Introduction
In a curious turn of events, British biogerontologist Aubrey de Grey, a wellknown 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 60yearold graph theory problem.
Needless to say, in this day and age when almost all frontierlevel mathematical research requires substantial training and, regrettably, specialization, it is not very often that an person without graduatelevel 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
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

