A pause from the usual stuff for a necessary reminder: please keep the comments of a non-personal nature. Talk about the science; if someone makes a mistake, say so, but don’t attack their personalities and intelligence. While I was away from the computer there were a number of comments that turned very nasty toward an individual, and I don’t want that happening here. I did some editing of the worst stuff, but I’d much rather not have to. Yes, I know some very nasty personal things about me have been said in past comments; but while you’re free to defend me when that happens, please don’t say anything offensive about someone else.
The relevant comments, however, did have some content, which I’ve tried to leave in place. They were relating to the Milner $,$$$,$$$ prizes (here’s the NY Times article.) Once-respected Nature News, whose reputation is in precipitous decline within high-energy physics, did a story on the Milner prize in which the only people quoted (other than awardees saying “ooh” and “aah”) were Milner himself and blogger Peter Woit. No matter what you think of the prize [and I have my own serious concerns], it is shocking that an article in Nature on this subject does not quote a single scientist, within or outside the field, whether for or against the prize. I’ve asked for an explanation. Have scientists become invisible? Do we have no rights to express our own opinions anymore? Are we destined to have our fates and research determined by former science students who haven’t been in the field for decades but have become extremely wealthy and/or extremely vocal? Hello? Is anyone sensible still out there?
At least today the same reporter managed to quote George Smoot, who, last time I checked, has actually contributed something to science itself. Maybe Nature News could find a few more real scientists to interview.
Also disturbing is that although part of Woit’s statement in the first article is scientifically inaccurate, Nature published it anyway (and the only counter to it was from non-scientist Milner.) And Scientific American also did not note the error, passing on the article to its readers. Quality control on articles written for public consumption remains a serious problem for communicating particle physics to the public. [Woit said that theories studied by some of the awardees — perhaps Seiberg, and/or perhaps Arkani-Hamed, he didn’t specify — are now ruled out by LHC data. I wish it were true; it would make my job a lot easier. But unfortunately, it takes a very long time for the LHC to rule theories out, because we have to search carefully, and the searches done so far are still by no means complete. And that’s why I, and others doing real work at the LHC, have to spend days at workshops — making sure a sufficiently thorough search is carried out. Only with a proper search can we draw a strong conclusion, worthy of the adjective “scientific”, as to what is and isn’t ruled out by LHC data.]
My own opinion, for what it is worth, is that the Milner Prize’s first step has not been healthy for science. No matter how well-educated a person is about a topic, it is a mistake for that person to award prizes on the basis of his or her own personal opinion, with no advisory committee and no widespread call for nominations. Furthermore, since the awardees will apparently form part or all of the new committee, the project is already in danger of becoming a self-reproducing system. It’s clear to anyone in the field that all of the awardees are obviously deserving of recognition; but they’re all already famous and mostly well-paid. What upsets me is that there is a long, long list of deserving scientists, some of whom have received little recognition despite their important work, and some of whom could really use some research money and/or time off from teaching — and Milner overlooked them all. In short, the first Milner prize round involves hero-worship [BTW, no heroines allowed, it would appear] and that does not obviously serve the public or the scientific process.