Should I avoid Michio Kaku?

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new6ton
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Michio Kaku is one of my favorite physicists and lecturers but recently he seems to diverge and speaks of topics much hated by the PF community. See (where he is interviewed):


"Sep. 20, 2019 - 3:49 - The Navy admits that several UFO videos are real and show aerial phenomena that they can't currently explain; analysis from Michio Kaku, professor of theoretical physics and author of the bestselling book 'The Future of Humanity.' "

And I learnt in Michio official Twitter page yesterday https://twitter.com/michiokaku that he would even speak at Ufology convention. Something unheard of years ago:

https://www.theufologyworldcongress.com/
from the web above:

kaku uf.JPG


Must we ban or excommunicate everything about Michio? It's almost Blasphemy for established physics community which avoids anything weird or unusual.
 
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Must we ban or excommunicate everything about Michio?
No, of course not. What PF disallows is sources that are not valid references for actual science. That includes pop science videos, articles, and books, of which Kaku has certainly produced quite a few. But Kaku has also written plenty of peer-reviewed papers, and those would be fine as references for a PF discussion. Of course, you won't find Kaku making the same claims in peer-reviewed papers that he makes in his pop science videos, articles, and books.
 
fresh_42
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A reminder to all responders at first:

Please stay within our standards for discussions. Neither is blindly following whatever Kaku says asked for, nor bashing him for his efforts to bring physics closer to everybody's understanding!


Michio Kaku is one of my favorite physicists and lecturers but recently he seems to diverge and speaks of topics much hated by the PF community.
I know only his tv shows, not his lectures, so maybe I'm the wrong person to answer. His shows, however, have simply other goals than e.g. a textbook about astronomy. To compare them is worse than the famous apples and oranges comparison. It is not easy to address a broad audience, keep its attention and get it to know what scientists took centuries and not few brilliant minds to figure out!

I like Kaku, too. Not the least for his science fiction ideas. It is pure entertainment to me and refreshing to let thoughts fly outside the restrictions of rigor. We have someone similar here: a theoretical physicist (and philosopher - the next red rag here on PF) who tries to explain nature in short tv shows about a quarter of an hour length. It is entertaining and sometimes even new to me. Of course I cannot and do not expect explanations on the level of a textbook about quantum theory if I tune in on "What are neutrinos?". I bet most of us wouldn't do better within 15 minutes. My expectations are usually not fulfilled. E.g. I would be interested in the mass question of neutrinos, of the overall contribution to the cosmos and things like that. But these are questions which cannot be addressed in a tv show, or at least not on the level I'd liked them to be answered.

I also remember a tv coverage of a chess championship event. Those things are usually done in the night shift, so you can imagine who watches them. The repeated explanations on the level of "... threatens a knight fork. That is if ..." were annoying. And I bet you wouldn't have needed to explain this to most viewers, but they tried to catch the few others as well. On the other hand, if they had talked on the level of grandmasters, I might not have been able to follow either. So whatever you do is wrong! And this is the same here about Kaku. I appreciate that he is not just yours but also my nephew's famous physicist and that he likes his shows, too, simply because otherwise he wouldn't learn something about physics at all.

Hence it is as always: have a look on the purpose! Where is the money? I know that people feel informed afterwards whereas they are not, measured by scientific scales. But compared to what they knew before they followed Kaku et al. it is a lot more! The gap between ignorance and science is so huge in the meantime, that anyone who tries to close it at least a little bit should be welcomed. Just do not take it as a preparation for your next exam!

Must we ban or excommunicate everything about Michio?
Definitely not!
 
new6ton
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By the way. The reason Michio Kaku got involved was because the U.S. Navy admits those videos were real deal.

https://edition.cnn.com/2019/09/18/politics/navy-confirms-ufo-videos-trnd/index.html
Michio was focusing on either these are local technology or ETs. But is it not Michio also wrote about multiverses. If he continued investigating these. I think it's not far out he would talk about this in the future. In fact. Those who have investigated them all out have concluded these were from another reality close to ours. I bet Michio would share this proposal within a decade too. Does this make any sense at all? Sean Carrol believed in Many Worlds. This is so far out. I don't believe in Many Worlds anyway.
 
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I know that people feel informed afterwards whereas they are not, measured by scientific scales. But compared to what they knew before they followed Kaku et al. it is a lot more! The gap between ignorance and science is so huge in the meantime, that anyone who tries to close it at least a little bit should be welcomed.
A very, very good point, and it is one I agree with.
My opinion regarding science documentaries has followed a y = x2 curve; first I liked them, then I started to dislike them, but now I like them again, partly for the reason you stated. Also, some documentaries/series are better than others, just like some books are better than others. To me it seems that those that are less good has a tendency to either oversell certain frontline theoretical physics/science ideas or, at worst, portray it in a way that is doomed to be misinterpreted. Which popular science books can do too.
 
DrClaude
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Personally, I stopped listening to anything Michio Kaku says in the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster. In discussing that topic in news shows, he clearly didn't know what he was talking about and seemed not to care at all that he was out of his depth. He appears more interested in the attention he gets than anything else.
 
fresh_42
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Which popular science books can do too.
Indeed. And it is somehow strange that we don't have similar objections to or discussions about GEB or Hawking's books. They also leave open more questions than they answer, but nobody appears to expect them to be rigorous.

Mazzola on the other hand writes books about the mathematics in music, and he uses real mathematical concepts like group theory etc. So albeit of a seemingly popular subject, his books are mostly unknown and probably not suited for a broader readership. But the latter is a precondition for tv shows, which means, the closer you get to a correct presentation the less viewers or readers you have.

Stephen Hawking said:
Someone told me that each equation I included in the book would halve the sales.
 
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I remember that quote by Hawking. It was in a Brief History of Time, if I remember correctly.
 
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And now I remembered a particular article by Brian Cox which probably helped me to start moving up that x2 curve again:

Why Quantum Theory Is So Misunderstood (WSJ, 2012)
http://blogs.wsj.com/speakeasy/2012/02/20/why-quantum-theory-is-so-misunderstood/

Brian Cox said:
For some scientists, the unfortunate distortion and misappropriation of scientific ideas that often accompanies their integration into popular culture is an unacceptable price to pay. I share their irritation, but my strongly held view is that science is too important not to be part of popular culture. Our civilization was built on the foundations of reason and rational thinking embodied in the scientific method, and our future depends on the widespread acceptance of science as THE ONLY WAY WE HAVE to meet many, if not all, of the great challenges we face. Is the climate warming and, if so, what is the cause? Is it safe to vaccinate children against disease? These are scientific questions, in that they can be answered by the analysis of data, and therefore the answers are independent of the opinion, faith or political persuasion of the individual.
Well said, in my opinion.
 
phinds
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Personally, I stopped listening to anything Michio Kaku says in the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster. In discussing that topic in news shows, he clearly didn't know what he was talking about and seemed not to care at all that he was out of his depth. He appears more interested in the attention he gets than anything else.
Yeah, it is undeniable that he attracts young people to science so good-o on that point, but he is totally willing to put forth on subjects where he's out of his depth but pretends not to be.

http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Michio_Kaku
Unfortunately, when talking about a subject outside of his expertise, he tends make authoritative yet ill-informed comments.

http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2011/02/16/why-do-physicists-think-they-a/

There seem to be a lot of physicists, however, who believe they know everything there is to know about biology (it's a minor subdivision of physics, don't you know), and will blithely say the most awesomely stupid things about it. Here, for instance, is Michio Kaku simply babbling in reply to a question about evolution, and getting everything wrong. It's painful to watch.
 
fresh_42
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Yes, well said.

Those light weighted tv presentations likely hurt more the better one's understanding of the real answers is. I can imagine that a mathematical presentation on this level would make me angry, too. Here on PF it is if someone asks (again) about the division by zero. On a tv show - and even here - some might say that 0/0 can be any number, so it is not defined. This is pure nonsense but likely wide spread. Yes, it's not completely wrong measured on common scales, it's just mathematically nonsense. But the answer by group and ring theory is hardly what you could tell on a tv screen. Nevertheless you do not want anybody divide by zero, hence how to transport this rule?

The example shows that it is all about the acceptance level of compromises. I guess we all wished there wasn't the need for such basic language in order to give an accurate answer, but our school systems do not provide such a luxury. If I watch a commented chess game late at night I don't want a pinning explained to me. If I watch a show about neutrinos, I don't care what they are, but how we measure their flavors or why there is this obvious discrepancy between "they are allround in big numbers" and if so, why they "do not affect the cosmological constant". But this is my personal level which is somewhere in between, and everybody else has their own, ergo demanding a compromise. Unfortunately it is often the least common level.
 
phinds
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... Unfortunately it is often the least common level.
Yes, it seems that on pop-sci shows (which are, admittedly, entertainment and not actually science lessons) the level of rigor is somewhere below rock bottom. Kaku is hardly the only one that this is true of but I have found him to be one of the worst.

@new6ton the problem w/ pop-science shows/books is that while they get a lot of stuff right (and have nifty pics and graphics) they get a lot of stuff wrong and without a background in the actual science you'll never know which is which.

As for the UFO nonsense, yes there are clearly flying objects that have not yet been explained/identified so they are in that sense "unidentified flying objects" but UFO nuts START with the point of view that little green men (or whatever) are real and look for evidence to support it. You have to ask yourself, and try to learn some of the physics to support it, how do they GET here? Also WHY do they come here? The "reasons" I've read are generally very bad science and mushy thinking.

Also, your statement
It's almost Blasphemy for established physics community which avoids anything weird or unusual
is utterly ridiculous. Physicists LOVE things that are weird and unusual.
 
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new6ton
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Has anyone communicated with Michio in email?

Who are the well known and popular physicists or heavyweights (like Michio or Brian Greene or Sean Carrol) who interacted with anyone who wants to discuss stuff with them? I guess some only want to discuss with peers or as famous as them?

I want to debate with Michio over something. Does he entertain meetups, etc.?
 
phinds
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He used to come here but I think that was many years ago.
 
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I can't speak about his ufology, but his (1993). Quantum Field Theory: A Modern Introduction of
is one of the worst textbooks ever on QFT. I have never bought another of his books. Packed full of typos, unstated redefinitions and very compact it is useless to a novice. Which is a great shame because it is good conceptually, but only once you already understand a topic.

There is also an annoying arrogance about his style. He admits, when talking about the problems set (no answers, of course) that people complain they are too hard and says this is just people haven't studied them enough. No, it is because his text is monumentally sloppy!
 
russ_watters
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Indeed. And it is somehow strange that we don't have similar objections to or discussions about GEB or Hawking's books. They also leave open more questions than they answer, but nobody appears to expect them to be rigorous.
To me (a non-physicist), these don't sound like very severe criticisms. Certainly not as bad as the criticisms against Kaku and would argue that given the purpose of the books, they are positive attributes, not negatives. Context and use matters for laymens' books (if used as a textbooks, those positives become negatives), but there's no way for uninformed or overly speculative bordering on crackpottery to be a positive thing IMO.
 
russ_watters
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By the way. The reason Michio Kaku got involved was because the U.S. Navy admits those videos were real deal.
Please tell me that you understand that "real video" and "real alien spaceship" are two very, very, very, very, very different things.
 

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