...Prove Their Worth...

"Problems worthy of attack
prove their worth
by hitting back." - Piet Hein

A kind of running diary and rambling pieces on my struggles with assorted books, classes, and other things, as they happen. You must be pretty bored to be reading this...

Saturday, October 26, 2002

This is very interesting, IMHO, but first, I
must warn that it is unconfirmed rumor-mongering, and that all
of my information is coming from a newsgroup thread and the links
therein. I recommend taking all this into account when evaluating
the reliability of this stuff.

Physics seems to have been hit with a reverse-Alan-Sokal-style hoax.
In 1996, as you may remember reading, Alan Sokal, a physicist at NYU,
wrote an article titled "Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a
Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity", in which he parodied
cultural studies, postmodernism, and so on. The hilarious thing was
that Sokal sent it to a leading (at the time) refereed cultural
studies journal, Social Text, and they published it, not noticing
that it was intentional gibberish (and hilariously obvious, to a
freshman physcs major and/or to someone with half a brain). After
Sokal revealed the parody, scandal ensued, the main result of which
was that cultural studies and postmodernism got a nasty black eye (in
my opinion, anyway), and scientists got to do lots of giggling. You
can read a lot of the articles involved on href="http://www.physics.nyu.edu/faculty/sokal/#papers">Alan Sokal's
web site

Well, it seems that it's payback time. There are href="http://groups.google.com/groups?%0A%0Adq=&hl=en&lr=&ie=UTF-8&threadm=ap7tq6%24eme%241%40glue.ucr.edu&rnum=1&prev=/%0A%0Agroups%3Fdq%3D%26hl%3Den%26lr%3D%26ie%3DUTF-8%26selm%3Dap7tq6%2524eme%25241%%0A%0A2540glue.ucr.edu">rumours
that two brothers, Igor and Grichka Bogdanov, have managed to publish
about five gibberish papers on high-energy physics in peer-reviewed
journals, and what's more, they managed to get PhD's in physics from
Bourgogne University in France in the process! You can find links to
their theses in the above-referenced newsgroup post by John Baez, and
the PDFs of the theses contain appended copies of a few of these
papers. Alternatively, here are some direct links to the papers in
question, taken from here:

Space-Time at the Planck Scale
, G. Bogdanov, I. Bogdanov , Nuovo
Cim. 117B (2002) 417-424.

State of Space-Time at the Planck Scale
, I. Bogdanov ,
Chin.J.Phys. 40 (2002) 149-158.

e Metric and the KMS Condition at the Planck Scale
, G. Bogdanov, I.
Bogdanov, Annals Phys.296 (2002) 90-97.

Topological Field
Theory of the Initial Singularity of Space-Time
, G. Bogdanov, I.
Bogdanov, Class.Quant.Grav. 18 (2001) 4341-4372.

I can only personally vouch that the "Topological origin of inertia"
paper looks bogus. The others are sufficiently complicated that I
don't know enough to judge them. However, there's a fair number of
(far more qualified) people that have already posted messages on the href="http://groups.google.com/groups?%0A%0Ahl=en&lr=&ie=UTF-8&group=sci.physics.research">sci.physics.research
newsgroup confirming that the other papers are indeed gibberish.

Who are Igor and Grichka Bogdanov? Well, they're French TV
personalities, and they might be semioticians, if I'm interpreting a
Babelfish translation of href="http://www.liberation.com/page.php?Article=58973">this french
(again, link taken from newgroup thread) correctly. That's
a big 'if', though, since Babelfish's translation smells, well, fishy.

Apparently, when one of the Bogdanov brothers was contacted by a
reporter from the New York Times, he denied it was a hoax. This
makes it much less likely that a serious journalist can write a story
on this, because, as John Baez points points out in the previously
referenced newsgroup thread, it's one thing to report on a hoax, and
quite another to write a story "about some papers that are so silly
people *think* they are hoax". So it's not really all that clear
whether it's all a hoax/joke or some impressive incompetence. If
it's a hoax, the motives are unknown. It could be a joke, or, if
Messrs. Bogdanov are indeed semioticians, it might be a creative
counter-attack on physics flowing from the Social Text affair. Or
something else entirely.

Whether it's a hoax or incompetence, of course, it exposes some
nasty holes in the peer-review process! The referees and PhD
examination commitee members need to be taken to task, in my opinion,
and perhaps the peer-review process in physics needs fixing.

Again, please take all of the above with a large grain of
salt. It might somehow all be some sort of misunderstanding. (I
don't see how, though.)

I've also sent this into the news-box for a tech website that I like. Perhaps they'll write about it. Perhaps not - certainly, it's off-mission for a tech site.


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