The "dwindling relevance" of physics

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  • #1
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Main Question or Discussion Point

Sabine Hossenfelder's blog, backreaction, is the only physics blog that I regularly check up on. That's because she doesn't write only about some interesting piece of physics that she was thinking about that day, but also about the physics community itself. Over the time that I've been reading her blog posts, there were lots of occasions where she complained about the failure of physics community to do an adequate job in maintaining objectivity and scientific honesty. This is her latest post which again is kind of about this issue. You can find a lot of similar posts in her blog.
The reason I'm starting this thread, is that I want to see a discussion involving more, preferably expert, people.
So...any thoughts? Criticisms? ideas? issues?
 

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  • #2
BWV
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Diminishing returns. Physics’ extraordinary past success means less to discover, and certainly no easy new discoveries. What big unsolved problems remain that dont require multi-billion dollar grants and huge teams of researchers? It seems the real power law is the energy and cost of new discoveries in fundamental physics. The other issue is that physics(at least to me as an outsider) is exact and experiments can be precisely replicated - compare this to publication in the social sciences or medicine where a great number of papers are likely unreplicable p-hacking trying to tease statistically significant relationships out of different data sets? An experimental science does not have this problem (which is perhaps an issue for academics rated on their publication count).
 
  • #3
Charles Link
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I do think over the last 30-40 years, we are seeing a new era, where it often requires tremendous specialization to understand many of the new discoveries. This period was predicted by quite a number of people, with the books "the End of Science" (1996) and the "End of Physics"(1993). Even Feynman discussions this in the last couple of pages of his book "the Character of Physical Law (1964): "We are very lucky to live in an age in which we are still making discoveries. It is like the discovery of America-you only discover it once. The age in which we live is the age in which we are discovering the fundamental laws of nature, and that day will never come again. It is very exciting, it is marvellous, but this excitement will have to go. Of course in the future there will be other interests. There will be the interest of the connection of one level of phenomena to another-phenomena in biology and so on, or, if you are talking about exploration, exploring other planets, but there will not still be the same things that we are doing now." ## \\ ## I do think we are seeing that new discoveries are starting to happen at a slower pace, because of the increasing specialization and complexity of things. IMO, the study of physics is a very worthwhile endeavor, but I recommend young students place emphasis on learning the fundamentals as much as possible, and don't get overly specialized too soon in their studies.
 
  • #4
russ_watters
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...the failure of physics community to do an adequate job in maintaining objectivity and scientific honesty. This is her latest post which again is kind of about this issue.
I don't see any discussion of that issue in that post. Can you provide a reference? It's a pretty provocative statement!
 
  • #5
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I don't see any discussion of that issue in that post. Can you provide a reference? It's a pretty provocative statement!
Well...I think I read that post with her other comments in the back of my mind, so I got out things that may not be obvious from the post itself. Here are some other posts that are more relevant to my comment.
http://backreaction.blogspot.com/2017/12/the-cosmological-constant-is-not-worst.html
http://backreaction.blogspot.com/2017/11/how-popper-killed-particle-physics.html
http://backreaction.blogspot.com/2017/10/i-totally-mean-it-inflation-never.html
http://backreaction.blogspot.com/2017/04/not-all-publicity-is-good-publicity-not.html
http://backreaction.blogspot.com/2017/12/research-perversions-are-spreading-you.html
http://goo.gl/zEGQhE
 
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  • #6
russ_watters
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I read the entire first link and the first sentence of the third on (the second is broken). None of them mention objectivity or honesty. Please quote a passage that specifically discuss objectivity and honesty. Otherwise, this thread will need to be locked as being unnecessarily provocative.
 
  • #7
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I corrected the second link.
And here's a quote from the fifth link:
At the root of the problem is academia’s flawed reward structure. The essence of the scientific method is to test hypotheses by experiment and then keep, revise, or discard the hypotheses. However, using the scientific method is suboptimal for a scientist’s career if they are rewarded for research papers that are cited by as many of their peers as possible.

To the end of producing popular papers, the best tactic is to work on what already is popular, and to write papers that allow others to quickly produce further papers on the same topic. This means it is much preferable to work on hypotheses that are vague or difficult to falsify, and stick to topics that stay inside academia. The ideal situation is an eternal debate with no outcome other than piles of papers.

You see this problem in many areas of science. It’s origin of the reproducibility crisis in psychology and the life sciences. It’s the reason why bad scientific practices – like p-value hacking – prevail even though they are known to be bad: Because they are the tactics that keep researchers in the job.

It’s also why in the foundations of physics so many useless papers are written, thousands of guesses about what goes on in the early universe or at energies we can’t test, pointless speculations about an infinitude of fictional universes. It’s why theories that are mathematically “fruitful,” like string theory, thrive while approaches that dare introduce unfamiliar math starve to death (adding vectors to spinors, anyone?). And it is why physicists love “solving” the black hole information loss problem: because there’s no risk any of these “solutions” will ever get tested.
 
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  • #8
Pythagorean
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I agree with what's already been said here: most of the low hanging fruit in physics has been picked clean.

We are also more connected in he information age, so opportunities to be isolated in your research pursuits and produce innovative experiments and solutions are more scarce.
 
  • #9
Tom.G
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  • #10
russ_watters
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I corrected the second link.
And here's a quote from the fifth link:
This does not address my request. Thread locked.
 

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