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Hurk4 wins the Smolin/string poll!

  1. 6 ("Trouble" six times more popular than the top five string books)

    0 vote(s)
    0.0%
  2. 5 (five times more popular, judging by salesranks)

    0 vote(s)
    0.0%
  3. 4

    0 vote(s)
    0.0%
  4. 3

    100.0%
  5. 2

    0 vote(s)
    0.0%
  6. 1 (on par with average of the five most popular string books)

    0 vote(s)
    0.0%
  1. Oct 9, 2007 #1

    marcus

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    Here are the forecasts we made in September about the Smolin/string salesrank ratio as of noon on 1 October (pacific time).

    https://www.physicsforums.com/poll.php?do=showresults&pollid=1171

    The prediction of Hurk4 (which seemed quite unreasonable to me at the time) turned out to be right after all!
    On 1 October the actual ratio turned out to be 6.5, and he had predicted 6. Congratulations Hurk!

    If the above link doesn't work, try
    https://www.physicsforums.com/showthread.php?t=182206
    which gives the poll thread and discussion.

    Hurk lives in the Netherlands and says his interests are physics, music, theater,... family, friends, and nature. I understand he is retired from Philips Eindhoven (a solid-state physicist friend of mind worked there and met his wife in Eindhoven. He told me good things about the lab and the town.) Hurk has a quote from the French scientist Lavoisier that I like:

    Nothing is created or destroyed---everything is process.

    That must include you and me. We are each of us processes. And so is the universe. There are no fixed entities with fixed properties and qualities----this is an idea that arises from our language, I suppose, or from the way our brains have evolved.

    Rien ne se cree, rien ne se perd, tout est transformation
    (Lavoisier)

    https://www.physicsforums.com/member.php?u=30536
    ======================

    Anybody, what do you think the salesrank ratio will be at the same time (noon pacific) on 1 November?

    This is the ratio which compares the Amazon salesrank of The Trouble with Physics...and What Comes Next with the average rank of the five most popular string books at that moment.

    I tracked this ratio February-May, for four months earlier this year to get a kind of baseline normal idea of it. It was fairly steady around its average value of 2.5 during those four months. That is "Trouble" was selling about 2.5 times better, judging by salesrank, than the average topfive string book, which served us as a kind of benchmark.

    So in the poll, I guessed the ratio would be closest to 2, Arivero said 4, which I thought was already way too optimistic. Hurk4 said six---totally incomprehensible at the time. But that is how it turned out.

    This month we have a new game. I am still betting that the ratio will settle down to 2 or 3, where it was much of the time earlier this year. That seems like a natural place to me. But you may think differently. What is your prediction?
     
    Last edited: Oct 9, 2007
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  3. Oct 9, 2007 #2

    marcus

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    Anyone who wants to try to guess, whether they register their guess in the poll or not, might like to have some idea of what the ratio is currently---as a point of departure.

    It is currently (noon pacific, 9 October) 6617.6/1397 = 4.7

    that is, the Smolin salesrank is 1397 and the average topfiver string salesrank is 6617.6, among all the books that Amazon sells.

    In case anyone is curious, currently the five most popular stringy books are (with current salesranks)
    Greene elegant 3608
    Greene fabric 6107
    Randall warped 6697
    Kaku parallel 8086
    Greene fabric 8590

    Perhaps several of these might be considered 'string-inspired' instead of 'string theory' in a strict sense, but that's how the index has been computed all along and it helps to have a consistent benchmark. I treat a book as stringy if it seems more obviously string-inspired than otherwise, and average up those which are selling the best to provide something with which to compare Smolin TTWP sales.

    To me it's quite remarkable, even bizarre, that this ratio is so high---4.7 is high relative to expectations, and what I saw earlier this year. Either this is just a fluke and will go away, or something is happening to the state of mind of the sector of the reading public that buys science books.

    If anyone would like to check the standings, here is the link
    http://www.amazon.com/gp/bestsellers/books/14545
     
    Last edited: Oct 9, 2007
  4. Oct 10, 2007 #3
    Marcus,

    I really do not understand what you are doing here, perhaps I'm misunderstanding it. But those comparisons do not seem to make much sense to me. You should not compare how Smolin's book is selling right now (after its one year-old release, iirc) with some other book that has already been released many years from now. You should at least compare how many books by Greene's The Elegant Universe (for instance) were sold in, say, 3 years after its release, with that of Smolin (after the same amount of time, that is, 3 years after its release). I assume here that books have a peak in their sales curve in their first years of release, and then decrease. The best thing would be to compare their sales curves in a fixed time span (after release), but I do not think such information is available.

    Christine
     
  5. Oct 10, 2007 #4

    marcus

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    Hi Christine, thanks so much for asking! As I may have mentioned earlier, this ratio is one that I tracked on a regular basis for the four months February-May 2007 to establish a baseline.
    And indeed the top five stringies have included many NEW books! Susskind Cosmic Landscape (2006), Randall Warped (2005, 2006), Steinhardt Endless (2007), Beck (2006), and doubtless others which I am forgetting.

    At one point I counted the number of stringy books on Amazon and there were well over a dozen popularizations, and something like 20 if you include textbooks. But most of the popularizations never got much notice.

    During that period, the average rank of the top five averaged over the month, was fairly steady around 5000.
    Ranks of individual books tend to fluctuate. But for some reason the average of the top N books is fairly stable.

    I don't care whether at any given time the members of the top five are old (like Greene's) or new (like Randall's book, Susskind's book, and Steinhardt's). When you sample the top five, whether they are new or old, you are in some sense sampling the whole population of stringy books. If there is a new book, then if it is popular enough, this will get it.

    I would say that in a "live" subject one EXPECTS that books follow an arc or trajectory and that the old constantly fade away and are replaced by the new. I would expect sales of Smolin book to also arc like this.

    But as long as string is a "live" subject, I would expect the top five average to remain steady, as new books come up to replace the old ones dying down. And I expect this string benchmark to continue to serve as a good point of comparison. So we will someday see the Smolin book decline relative to this standard.

    Perhaps you don't realize the necessity to have some benchmark or baseline for comparison. The whole physics book salesrank picture shifts up and down in response to events outside the physics book market. Salesranks are based on other books that Amazon sells and other genres like religion, politics, self-help, Potter, etc can raise or lower physics salesranks. Also the university and school semester temporarily changes the ranks of popularizations versus textbooks. So the numbers bounce around in a crazy meaningless way.

    What I have found is that the most steady way of gauging the impact of the Smolin book is to do so relative to this kind of standardized string impact indicator.

    This does not prove anything about the relative TRUTH or VALUE of the books. Smolin book selling more or less does not prove that it is better or worse than the leading string book. What sales help to gauge is IMPACT on how the reading public is thinking and exposure to the book's message. If the book does not sell then its message does not reach those whose behavior and judgment might be changed by it.

    So you see I am not trying to estimate the virtue of the book :smile: but rather its impact and usefulness relative to the problem of research monopoly and diversification which we face in the United States. If you can suggest any better ratio to use, please tell me! In any case thanks again for your reaction.
     
  6. Oct 10, 2007 #5
    Hi Marcus,

    Thank you for your clarification. I see better now what you are doing. Although I still do not completely agree, I do not have any other suggestion for the moment. I'm sure you put some thought on this more than I did, so I'll keep coming back to this thread and see where it leads... Thanks.

    Best,
    Christine
     
  7. Oct 10, 2007 #6

    arivero

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  8. Oct 10, 2007 #7

    marcus

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    that's interesting. I hadn't used that before.
    http://www.google.es/trends?q=string+theory&date=all&geo=usa&ctab=0&ctab=0&sa=N
    In the US, it looks like a gradual decline in the rate of people searching "string theory" in google, since the beginning of 2005.
    At present, the state where people search for it most often is Utah.

    ===================================

    But what I'm interested in is the impact of Smolin's book----which is really too tiny to show up in Google Trends.
    I curious what other people expect to be the trajectory of this book and what impact it could have on the state of mind in the US about science, if any.

    where do you think this index is going to go? If you want to look for trends, here are noon readings for three recent days:

    1 October 6.5
    9 October 4.7
    10 October 4.2
    ...
    ...
    1 November ?


    It looks like it is declining, but how far will it go? Will it get down to the kind of "plateau" of 2.5 it was on during February-May? Or will it find a new level?
     
    Last edited: Oct 10, 2007
  9. Oct 11, 2007 #8

    arivero

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    It seems it is actually more useful to detect bursts that to detect trends. So probably the peak mid 2006 is associated to Smolin (September 19) & Woit (April 25) books. The other burst, in Xmas 2004, is less straightforward.
     
  10. Oct 12, 2007 #9

    marcus

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    I've been expecting this Smolin impact rating to decline back down to the level where it plateaued during February-May, when I was watching it. Then it was fairly stead and averaged 2.5. So I would predict something like 2 or 3 for the first of November.

    But at present it isn't acting like that. Where do you think this index is going? Here are noon readings for some recent days:


    1 October 6.5
    9 October 4.7
    10 October 4.2
    11 October 7.4
    ...
    1 November ?


    I was surprised yesterday (11 Oct) to see it at 7.4. Common sense says the book has been out for over a year---since beginning September 2006---and you'd think it would be tailing off already, unless it's destined to become a perennial favorite or classic of some kind.

    Arivero, I'm glad you suggested the google search index. I wish the vertical scale was adjustable on those charts, or you could get actual numbers of searches. Their graphs are sketchy and hard to read. It's good to have objective ways to gauge what is going on: I hope we find some more.
     
    Last edited: Oct 12, 2007
  11. Oct 13, 2007 #10

    marcus

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    In case anyone wants to try guessing where this index will be, a couple of weeks from now, here are noon readings for some recent days:


    1 October 6.5
    9 October 4.7
    10 October 4.2
    11 October 7.4
    13 October 6.4
    ...
    1 November ?


    Common sense says the book has been out for over a year---since beginning September 2006---and you'd think it would be tailing off already, unless it's destined to become some kind of physics classic. :biggrin: That's why I predicted 3.

    At noon (pacific) today "Trouble with Physics" salesrank was 1083 and those of the five currently most popular stringy books were:
    Greene elegant 3427
    Steinhardt endless 6993
    Kaku hyperspace 7913
    Randall warped 8126
    Kaku parallel 8225
    So the stringy topfive average was 6936.8 and the ratio 6936.8/1083 = 6.4

    In other words, the Smolin book is currently selling some six times better, judging by salesranks, than the stringy average I'm using as a standard of comparison. Earlier this year when I was watching the ratio tended to stay around 2.5. So from the book's standpoint there has been, at least temporarily, a considerable improvement.
     
    Last edited: Oct 13, 2007
  12. Oct 13, 2007 #11
    so we got to the point that it doens't matter if the theory is valid, but that it's poular amongst laymen, correct?
     
  13. Oct 13, 2007 #12

    marcus

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    I believe the contrary from what you say---namely I believe that what matters is that a theory is TESTABLE by making new predictions not already predicted by prior theory, so that it can be falsified. And then what matters is that it PASSES EMPIRICAL TEST.

    What laymen find popular or appealing does determine the validity of the theory, in my view.

    Why do you think otherwise?
     
  14. Oct 14, 2007 #13
    this thread of yours and others which all the time compare sales of pop sci books of theoriticians, why not compare ideas of theories discuss technical issues in the theories.
    instead im reading here some sort of gossip, i don't think it's a one case iv'e seen other posts of yours here of the same kind.

    p.s
    im as of yet not into the technical details of every theory but i guess there's more than comparing sales of books.

    just my opinion.
     
  15. Oct 14, 2007 #14

    marcus

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    Smolin's booksales are a way of predicting the impact of Smolin's book. Their being high gives reason to hope that his arguments for supporting more than one line of fundamental theory research in the US will influence opinion-leaders and decision makers in the US scientific establishment including funding agencies.

    At the present time you and I cannot judge the validity of string thinking (there is so far no one testable string theory as such, rather more a philosophical framework or bunch of approaches) or the validity of nonstring quantum gravity approaches. That is not our job. Indeed I do not believe anyone can reliably judge the liklihood that one or the other of the approaches will be right or even contribute part of the solution.

    That is WHY supporting a variety of research lines is important. We don't know which will pay off and to what extent. So the intelligent way is to spread our bets.

    At present the situation in the US is extremely abnormal, by comparison with Europe, Canada and the UK. There is only one physics department in the US with a non-string QG group (two or more faculty). Postdoc support ordinarily goes where there is a group rather than solo faculty. Recent PhDs in nonstring QG HAVE TO LEAVE THE COUNTRY to continue doing nonstring QG. In the past couple of years they have gone to Europe, Canada, and the UK. None have found postdoc contracts in US physics departments (although one Baez PhD did get postdoc in a math department.)

    String has a stranglehold monopoly on fundamental physics research in the US. If you are a graduate student who wants to study nonstring and write a thesis---there are scores who do want, judging from the turnout at Zakopane---you have almost no chance to do this in the US. Except at Penn State you will probably not get an advisor, or funding. After PhD at Penn State, you must look for a position at the dozen or so places outside US where they have nonstring groups.

    (Perimeter-Waterloo, Western Ontario, Portsmouth, London, Nottingham, Utrecht, Mainz, Berlin-Potsdam, Tours, Lyon, Marseille, Montpellier, Chennai, Morelia,...)

    The string monopoly in the US is clearly restricting the freedom of advanced graduate students to study what they want to study and pursue the line of research they want to pursue. I believe this monopoly or monoculture is harmful to US science and should be broken. So far the only book which has made the case for diversifying US theory research in this way is the Smolin book. So I am especially interested to gauge the impact of this book in whatever way I can see to do this.

    If you can think of any other ways to judge its impact, please suggest them.

    thanks

    noon readings for some recent days:


    1 October 6.5
    9 October 4.7
    10 October 4.2
    11 October 7.4
    13 October 6.4
    14 October 4.7
    ...
    1 November ?


    at noon on 14th, Smolin rank was #1131, average topfive string rank was #5065, so ratio was 4.7
    In case anyone is curious, today the five most popular stringy books and their ranks were
    elegant 2189
    parallel 2889
    warped 5065
    hyperspace 7261
    fabric 9282
     
    Last edited: Oct 14, 2007
  16. Oct 15, 2007 #15
    but isn't smolin's book a popular book anyway, i.e it's not addressed spcifically to those who fund the research?
    i don't see the correlation between popular books and the way they affect the funding of research in the us, care to elaborate on that?
    i mean if he has some remarks he could give it in a conference or publish an article directed to the funding groups, which will affect them more seriously than writing it in a pop book, just my thoughts.
    p.s
    im not sure how is it even a pop sci book cause it seems he covers only the politics around the string and non string funding.
    anyway, i dont think that selling more books than string theory books will change this matter of funding.
     
  17. Oct 15, 2007 #16

    marcus

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    that is just what we are going to see, isn't it!
    It is a remarkably intelligent book that has won the attention of an impressive lineup of reviewers and science journalists. I think it contains some of the best popular explanations I have seen so far, of the strengths and weaknesses of various approaches to unification and QG. Combines personal experience of the history of these fields with clear verbal imagery to deliver the mathematical sense without relying on equations.

    The book is not only written for general audience but is also obviously aimed at policy makers, academic/government decision makers. It succeeds in being both about SCIENCE itself and about SCIENCE POLICY.
    I think the twofold effectiveness is what makes this a remarkable and unique book. I can't think of any other book that excels it in those different dimensions. Can you?

    I am beginning to suspect that my guess of 3, for the ratio as of the first of next month, was a mite conservative---here are noon readings for some recent days:


    1 October 6.5
    9 October 4.7
    10 October 4.2
    11 October 7.4
    13 October 6.4
    14 October 4.7
    15 October 7.1
    ...
    1 November ?


    at noon on 15th, Smolin rank was #900, average topfive string rank was #6368, so ratio was 7.1
    In case anyone is curious, today the five most popular stringy books and their ranks were
    elegant 2188
    fabric 5562
    parallel 5647
    warped 7699
    hardbound elegant 10,744

    ============
    One poster taking part in the thread may not realize that the merit of the book as arguing for a more diverse research strategy in the US is inseparable from its actual impact on public attitudes and institutional decision-making. Both must be considered and discussed in order to adequately handle either. :smile:
     
    Last edited: Oct 15, 2007
  18. Oct 15, 2007 #17
    so discuss the book, not its rankings in amazon.
    just my humble thought about this post.

    if you already did so, then i think you can keep track in the same thread instead of opening another thread.
     
  19. Oct 15, 2007 #18

    arivero

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    On the contrary, the role of the threads is to keep people able to avoid what they are not interested on :-D
     
  20. Oct 15, 2007 #19
    Of course you are right loop quantum gravity! It's ridiculous that this same kind of completely unconstructive exchange has to take place over and over again!
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 15, 2007
  21. Oct 16, 2007 #20

    marcus

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    Here are noon readings for some recent days:


    1 October 6.5
    9 October 4.7
    10 October 4.2
    11 October 7.4
    13 October 6.4
    14 October 4.7
    15 October 7.1
    16 October 4.4
    ...
    1 November ?


    at noon on 16th, Smolin rank was #1538, average topfive string rank was #6792, so ratio was 4.4
    In case anyone is curious, today the five most popular stringy books and their ranks were
    elegant 1831
    fabric 2145
    parallel 4092
    warped 11,741
    hyperspace 14,152

    It's still a challenge, i think, to guess what the index will be at noon on 1 November. One would expect a downwards trend as the market for the book saturates and things return to normality. Anyone who still wants to hazard a prediction is welcome. Whatever you guess there's still a good probability, I'd say, that you'll be proven wrong.
     
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