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Kill every rooster that doesn’t lay eggs : comments on Loeb’s “Theoretical Physics is Pointless without Experimental Tests”

August 13, 2018 Leave a comment

Abraham Loeb, professor of Astronomy at Harvard University, recently published an op-ed in Scientific American critiquing theoretical physics (Loeb 2018). I’m confused who the audience is when it’s published in Scientific American. I’m afraid that my pharmacist will get a few wrong impressions about what theoretical physicists are doing these days from the article, but I will ignore audience questions and assume that it was addressed really to theoretical physicists with a plea to reflect on what we are doing.

In that sense I am very happy that he wrote it. One’s views should be expressed openly, where we have a chance to reflect on what we agree with and what we disagree with, improving our own vision and behavior as a community of what it means to be a good theoretical physicist. My criticisms and agreements below are in that spirit.

There is no “new culture”

To begin, I question the claim that there is “a new culture of doing theoretical physics without the need for experimental verification.” As I see it, there is nothing new under the sun. For a hundred years there have been theoretical physicists attached closely to the details of past, current and future experiments. That exists today too, in spades. To give an example close to Loeb’s interests, hundreds of theorists are working on experimental ideas to search for dark matter, which also has some prior experimental support (galaxy rotation curves, CMB, etc.) and justification that was understood in part because of original theoretical work.

Loeb would probably not disagree with the above statement on the existence of vast numbers of theorists working closely with experiment firmly in mind, and would probably say that when he said “new culture” he is referring really to a “new subculture” that is allowed to thrive doing theoretical physics without the need for experimental verification. If that was meant, the word “subculture” should have been used in the actual writing. Surely anybody who is not within theoretical physics will read the “culture” statement as declaring a sea change in the theory world, and be alarmed that nobody cares about experiment any more in the theory community, which of course would be a very wrong impression.

Second, it is not “new” that there exists a thriving subculture of theoretical physicists who do not pay close attention to experiment. This has been going on for as long as theoretical physics (or theoretical anything) has existed. It’s part of the meaning of “theoretical” that there should be some of that. Since time immemorial theoreticians have explored the more speculative and developed more mathematical foundation work. Not only is it ok to have such people, but they are needed. Should we have told Von Neumann to fold up his notebook and be quiet because he was recasting quantum mechanics in a more elegant mathematical language that had little to do with identify new experimental signatures? No. His work has greatly aided our understanding and use of quantum mechanics today. Should we have told all physicists who began careful study of group theory and topology more than a hundred years ago, “Shut it down! I don’t see any experiments listed in your notebooks, just a bunch of so-called ‘elegant’ mathematics!”? No. The value of foundational mathematical work to systematize more efficiently our hard-gained knowledge, which in turn then leads to new insights and deeper understanding, should not be dismissed.

Einstein was simply wrong, with no grand lesson to learn

Loeb continues the argument by criticizing Einstein for having several wrong ideas, including not believing in the existence of gravitational waves, and seems to be arguing that thought experiments are therefore bad and misleading, and we have to glue ourselves to experiment or we go off the rails. First, Einstein didn’t screw up on gravitational waves because of a thought experiment. He just hadn’t sorted out gauge dependence issues properly, and made technical blunders. In other words, he failed briefly at being a good theoretical physicist. That simple. Others had it figured out and believed in gravitational waves at that time even, including Infeld and Robertson, who appears to have mostly convinced the older Einstein of his errors (Kennefick 2005). The field of gravitational wave physics was born out of theoretical physics despite Einstein’s bumbling, and the field matured over time because of this long-ago and continuing theory work, whose experimental detection prospects were considered very dim for many decades.

“Galilean Oath” ignores diversity of skill sets

Pressing further the central importance of experiment, Loeb suggests that theoretical physicists should take a “Galilean Oath”, in which “they agree to gauge the value of theoretical conjectures in physics based on how well they are tested by experiments within their lifetime.” I understand the motivation for this statement, and am sympathetic to the pressures it intends to apply to our thinking, sort of like I understand female politicians submitting make-a-point legislation that men must tell their wives and have a week waiting period to get a vasectomy. However, it probably would be a bad policy. Should Hawking have buried his work because he couldn’t think of a way to test radiation from a black hole? No. Should Higgs have buried his work because he personally couldn’t think of a way to experimentally test for a propagating scalar field predicted by the theory? No.

My biggest concern about the Loeb article is its lack of acknowledgement of the long and fractured time arc behind many great experimental discoveries. In many cases it starts with a set of T-people making clever ideas about how the universe is organized, and a different set of P-people who figure out how those ideas can be tested, and yet a different set of E-people who figure out how to construct the experiments and carry them out. Each group typically is incapable of doing the work of another group. Sometimes there are individuals who can do both T and P work, or both P and E work, but I can’t think of anybody since Enrico Fermi who could do two of these categories extremely well, at the level needed for the greatest breakthroughs in science. Going from T to P to E takes a lot of development at each stage, and a lot of time to hand off the baton from one stage to another. The more than half-century story behind the Higgs boson discovery is an illustration of this very long and fractured time arc (Wells 2018). Having a T person, who is highly valued, take the “Galilean Oath”, is like telling a rooster on the farm that he too must lay eggs.

Showing off intellectual power

I think the most important point in Loeb’s article is contained in the sentence: “Given our academic reward system of grades, promotions and prizes, we sometimes forget that physics is a learning experience about nature rather than an arena for demonstrating our intellectual power.” There is much in this sentence that I like. Let me try to explain exactly how I agree with it.

In Geneva I was acquainted with a titan of industry, who worked in areas ranging widely from commodities trading to the manufacture of machines. He also had a lot of interest in physics and CERN and he had employed some individuals leaving CERN for industry. At the time I knew a good graduating theory PhD student who was interested in going into industry and I talked to him about whether there was a position for him. He made a very interesting statement, which I paraphrase here: “You theoretical physicists are all about big brains, but I’m all about working hands. I need my employees to see essential things and get them done, not spend forever perfecting amazing ideas that won’t work. If you think he can understand the difference, I’ll take a look at his CV.”

Loeb’s statement gets at the heart of this very same issue the industrialist brought up. As a field we reward people more for the wild and interesting speculative leaps with suspect empirical impact that demonstrates a brilliant ray of intellectual power (big brains) than we do people who, for example, carefully and reliably work through a hard, but needed three-loop calculation (working hands), which by the way also takes big brains but is not respected as such. This reward system could hurt science if the imbalance grows. Loeb may feel that the imbalance is large enough now that it is hurting science, and it is worthwhile considering that possibility.

Along these lines, years ago when I was interviewing for a faculty position at a prestigious university, a distinguished professor said, “We are much more interested in hiring a theorist who has a chance to show up in the New York Times for brilliant new theory work, than somebody who is guaranteed to be useful for experiment.” I was young and just took his words for granted that there was a real and legitimate choice they had to make between these two incompatible possibilities. I now know to be much more skeptical of such dichotomies. A particularly compelling example of no dichotomy existing is the inspiring story of theoretical physicist Kip Thorne and his role in the discovery of gravitational waves, which resulted in a Nobel Prize last year. I think Loeb is trying to tell us that we must not stop supporting and encouraging the up and coming Kip Thorne’s in theoretical physics — working hands with the single-minded doggedness to simply learn more about nature. Can’t argue with that.

 
REFERENCES

Kennefick, D (2005). Einstein versus the Physical Review, Physics Today 58, 43.
https://physicstoday.scitation.org/doi/full/10.1063/1.2117822

Loeb, A. (2018). Theoretical Physics is Pointless without Experimental Tests. Sci Am
https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/theoretical-physics-is-pointless-without-experimental-tests/?sf195326752=1

Wells, J.D. (2018). Beyond the Hypothesis: theory’s role in the genesis, opposition, and pursuit of the Higgs boson. Stud.Hist.Phil.Mod.Phys. 62, 36.
https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1355219816301551?via%3Dihub

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Shameful for the vigorous in mind to become lazy

July 24, 2018 Leave a comment

“It is one thing when you cannot learn, or to speak more truly, cannot easily learn, and another when you are able, and do not wish to know. For just as it is more glorious, with no facilities at hand, to attain wisdom by excellence alone, so it is more shameful to be vigorous in mind, to abound in riches, and to grow torpid in laziness. …”

Hugh of St. Victor, 12th century. From: C.H. Buttiner, ed. Didascalicon. Washington: Catholic University Press, 1939.

Comment: The definition of “shame” here is “a regrettable or unfortunate situation or action” (google dictionary). You will regret not applying your prodigious mental faculties to worthy intellectual efforts. Don’t be lazy. Get started now.

I also like that Hugh of St. Victor emphasized that all can learn, although some can learn easily. Thus, education and learning are open to all.

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European-American negotiations over the Iran Deal: then and now

May 11, 2018 Comments off

Abstract: Most of the tension is about what to do about Iran’s desire to enrich uranium.

You might think that the Europeans have been “much easier” on Iran compared to the Americans throughout the entire negotiation period that led up to the Iran Deal (JCPOA), and they pressured the U.S. beyond what it really wanted. But that would be mistaken. When Barack Obama was elected president he relaxed the requirement that Iran cease all uranium enrichment activities. President Bush had held firm to that standard and had even made stopping all enrichment as a precondition for direct U.S.-Iran negotiations.

When President Obama dropped the inflexible requirement of zero uranium enrichment, the Europeans were surprised. The French initially refused to go along, and were consistently the toughest negotiating partner on Iran. Here is a quote from Tarja Cronberg, former member of the European Parliament who chaired the Iran relations delegation for the EU:

“Obama was open to question the Bush administration’s ‘zero enrichment policy.’ France maintained its position of zero enrichment …. As the Obama administration was opening the door to diplomacy and declining suspension [of uranium enrichment] as a precondition, the Europeans resorted to tougher sanctions and suspension as a precondition” (Cronberg 2017).

The resulting Iran Deal was just as much a question of the Europeans bending (France in particular) as the United States. That is why President Macron of France was the first to come to petition Trump to save the Deal. France has credibility on the issue, and did not want a deal at any cost. France re-engaged and was looking for a way to save the deal while plugging holes. The negotiations went far, and almost succeeded.

A very insightful exchange can be found at a U.S. State Department briefing a couple of days ago about American-European negotiations in the last days of the Iran Deal. You will see that enrichment restrictions and sunsets were the main issues. They will remain the main issues going forward.

The relevant excerpt from the briefing is below. The person posing the question is a reporter, identified only as QUESTION, and the person answering it is a “senior state department official” who is identified only as SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE. “sunset” means the sunsets in the Iran Deal on uranium enrichment restrictions, and “one-year breakout” refers to the goal of allowing Iran to reach up to, but not shorter than, one year to obtain a nuclear weapon. President Trump wants that breakout time to be longer and permanently longer. Stopping enrichment altogether and dismantling its infrastructure would increase breakout time substantially.

Here’s the excerpt (U.S. State Department 2018):

QUESTION: When you say that the effort that you had in the negotiations [in recent months] with the E3 [France, Germany, UK] will not be wasted, will you be implementing any of that? Because I mean, it was the supposition that the U.S. would stay in the deal if these areas were addressed by the E3. The U.S. isn’t staying in the deal, so —

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: So we made a ton of progress on ICBMs, on access, on missiles writ large, on regional issues, and then we got stuck on sunsets, right? We didn’t quite make it. That work – we’re not sure. We have to – we’re starting those conversations with the E3 today, tomorrow, so I can’t – we can’t tell you exactly how it’s going to be used, but I can tell you it will be used. That work is not going to be wasted.

QUESTION: So you think they’ll go forward.

QUESTION: But if a ton of progress was made, then why not give it more time? Why take such a dramatic action that’s going to have you basically starting over from square one?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: The President made very clear on January 12th his intention. If we got a supplemental agreement before May 12th, he would consider it. We didn’t get there. He said this – on January 12th, he said that was his last time waiving sanctions. He followed through on that promise.

QUESTION: And what was the sticking point? Can you just sort of tell us what didn’t work?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: It was the one-year breakout.

QUESTION: The sunset program.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Yeah.

References

Cronberg, T (2017). Nuclear Multilateralism and Iran: Inside EU Negotiations. Routledge.

U.S. State Department (2018). “Background Briefing on President Trump’s Decision to Withdraw from the JCPOA”, U.S. State Department. May 8, 2018. https://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2018/05/281959.htm

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Why America pulled out of the Iran Deal

May 9, 2018 Leave a comment

In President Trump’s speech yesterday when he withdraw from the Iran Deal (JCPOA), he said:

“At the heart of the Iran deal was a giant fiction: that a murderous regime desired only a peaceful nuclear energy program. Today, we have definitive proof that this Iranian promise was a lie.”

The White House is pushing hard this line in its social media feeds. It might cause you to think that America was duped into the deal. That we found out things later that went against what we thought or that we naively believed. And that’s we America withdrew from the Iran Deal.

However, the truth is that nobody thought Iran desired only a peaceful nuclear energy program. That is why President Obama so vigorously pursued the deal. It was intended to keep Iran in check by a mutually beneficial treaty.

We went into this deal with eyes wide open and there is no new information that has come to light that changes anything everybody already knew going in to the agreement. Nor has Iran done anything to violate the terms of the treaty.

Even America’s very own National Intelligence Estimate was publicly trumpeting Iran’s nuclear ambitions in 2007 (and earlier):

“We assess with high confidence that until fall 2003, Iranian military entities were working under government direction to develop nuclear weapons” (NIE 2007).

And the IAEA’s Final Assessment document in 2015, which summarized what everybody knew going into the agreement, said

“The Agency assesses that a range of activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device were conducted in Iran prior to the end of 2003 as a coordinated effort, and some activities took place after 2003. The Agency also assesses that these activities did not advance beyond feasibility and scientific studies, and the acquisition of certain relevant technical competences and capabilities. The Agency has no credible indications of activities in Iran relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device after 2009” (IEAE 2015).

As I have maintained for a long time, there are many flaws in the Iran Deal, and I think even thoughtful people can maintain that it should not have been agreed to. However, it’s counter productive to believe that it was new revelations about Iran that voided the deal. There is nothing new, except the U.S. pulled out because the Trump administration did not like the deal. Simple as that.

REFERENCES

IAEA 2015. Final Assessment on Past and Present Outstanding Issues regarding Iran’s Nuclear Programme, December 2015.

NIE 2007. National Intelligence Estimate. Iran: Nuclear Intentions and Capabilities, National Intelligence Council, November 2007.

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Context of recent developments in the Iran Nuclear Deal

April 29, 2018 Leave a comment

There has been a flurry of activity recently regarding possible reintroduction of sanctions against Iran if President Trump decertifies the Nuclear Deal on May 12th. President Emmanuel Macron of France and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have both visited the White House in the last week in hopes of saving the agreement to which both France and Germany are signatories. The issues are complex and thoughtful opinions vary. The coming days may see dramatic American policy shifts toward Iran. Here I give some context to the recent developments, while at the same time highlighting some disagreements among allies, and what issues are at the center of the discussions.

Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)

On July 14, 2015 Iran signed the “Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action” (JCPOA) with the United States, the four other permanent members of the UN Security Council (China, France, Russia, UK) and Germany. Frequently referred to as the “Iran Nuclear Deal”, it is the culmination of years of diplomatic efforts mainly by the three European countries (E3) in the face of extreme reticence by the United States. President Obama, through Secretary of State John Kerry, made significant concessions on earlier American demands on Iran (most especially, allowing limited uranium enrichment, and implementing sunset clauses) to enable the deal to take place. In return, Iran made significant concessions that curtailed its ability to pursue nuclear weapons, or to become “nuclear pregnant”. The JCPOA is designed to keep “break-out time” to more than one year for Iran to manufacture nuclear weapons (Cronberg 2017).

Provisions of JCPOA include (JCPOA 2015)

– Iran can continue to enrich Uranium, but in the first ten years enrichment is allowed only up to 3.67% of U-238, far below the enrichment level needed to straightforwardly construct a nuclear bomb.

– significant reduction in Iran’s stockpile of uranium.

– enrichment activity in the first 15 years can only be at one facility (Natanz) with limited technology (5060 IR-1 centrifuges with under 30 cascades utilized). For higher grade uranium fuel (~20%), which is needed in the Tehran Research Reactor, Iran must obtain it from Russia.

– R&D on enrichment is forbidden for eight years.

– Iran agrees to follow the Additional Protocol, which is a rigorous extension to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) with accompanying heightened inspection openness.

– Reprocessing of nuclear fuel to obtain plutonium is forbidden.

– The signatories agree to end economic sanctions against Iran related to its nuclear program.

President Trump’s Dissatisfaction with JCPOA

President Trump has recently implied that on May 12th the United States will pull out of the agreement, and seek to reinstate nuclear-related sanctions on Iran.  The mechanism to do this arises out of the “Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015”, which was overwhelmingly passed by Congress a couple of months before JCPOA was signed (Iran Review Act 2015). The act requires the President to “certify” every 90 days Iran’s compliance with any agreement that may come (JCPOA). President Trump signed the certification in January 2018 and said that it would be his last waiver unless JCPOA were changed. He set a deadline of May 12th.

There are several key provisions that the Trump administration demands be changed. Most importantly, the Trump administration wants no sunset clauses on enrichment. Under JCPOA Iran will be lifted of many key restrictions in ten to twenty years that would enable significant gains in enrichment with no threats of sanctions or barriers. Enrichment to weapons grade uranium is the key step to achieving nuclear weapons, as it is hard to do this covertly compared to other steps (Davenport & Philipp 2016). An agreement now that implicitly accepts Iran’s ability to achieve that in time is unacceptable to many who cite Iran’s recent past nuclear perfidy, its involvement in state sponsored terrorism, and threats to annihilate Israel.

The U.S. sees enrichment activities by a bad-actor state as inherently possessing military intent, whereas the EU has argued more narrowly that enrichment is a right of all countries almost regardless of the country’s behavior. The EU has made clear, however, that their position would align more with the U.S. regarding enrichment if there were stronger evidences of current military intent of Iran’s nuclear program. All agree that Iran had this intent prior to 2003 (Cronberg 2017).

Justifying Termination of JCPOA

It is one thing to not like the agreement that was just signed, but it is another to find a legitimate reason to terminate it. The agreement can be terminated if it is found that Iran is not complying with its terms. This termination can happen legitimately by mere majority of the JCPOA signatories (JCPOA 2015; Gordon & Sanger 2015). However, the IAEA has certified multiple times since JCPOA was signed that Iran is complying, including most recently in February 2018 (IAEA 2018). However, the Trump administration charges that Iran has failed to comply with the “spirit” of the agreement (Parker 2017), which gives the U.S. the right to terminate it. Other signatories to JCPOA do not agree that the U.S. has the right to terminate the agreement, since it is a multilateral one. However, U.S. withdrawal, with its resulting imposed sanctions and secondary sanctions on those that do business with Iran, would effectively kill the agreement, and would eliminate all attractiveness to Iran to stay within it.

It what ways is Iran violating the spirt of the agreement according to the US? In September 2017, then Secretary of State Rex Tillerson cited the preface of JCPOA, which discusses “regional and international peace and security”, and he said, “In our view, Iran is clearly in default of these expectations … through their actions to prop up the Assad regime (in Syria), to engage in malicious activities in the region, including cyber activities, aggressively developing ballistic missiles” (BBC 2017). However, the text of JCPOA in question (appended at end of this sentence) is seen by others as boilerplate text on hoped-for inevitable results of the agreement, not a commitment or requirement to do something more than the technical tasks associated with the nuclear program: “They [signatories] anticipate that full implementation of this JCPOA will positively contribute to regional and international peace and security” (JCPOA 2015).

Primacy of NPT

Another line of argument by the United States might best be characterized as an appeal to the primacy of the NPT under long-standing American interpretation, according to which the NPT language at least implies that any demonstration of military intent for nuclear weapons by a non-nuclear weapon state eliminates its rights to enrich uranium.  If Iran could be argued to have military intent, the NPT would supersede the JCPOA and trigger the effective termination of JCPOA. Iran’s failure to report its illicit nuclear activities pre-2003 constituted this trigger among the E3 before JCPOA was negotiated and signed (Cronberg 2017:54). Currently, the aggressive pursuit of ballistic missiles by Iran is interpreted by some to warrant maintaining, or rather re-invoking, the zero enrichment policy toward Iran. However, former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in a January 2018 interview with CNN appears to have wished to separate the nuclear issues of JCPOA from other problematic issues associated with Iran, such as its ballistic missile program, its destabilizing activities in the region, and sponsorship of terrorism (CNN 2018). Sanctions regimes can be tied to each of those issues, without terminating JCPOA. This was an apparent break from his previous support of the president, when he said in September 2017 that Iran was “clearly in default” of JCPOA (BBC 2017; Wadhams 2017). Tillerson was fired March 13, 2018.

Containing Iran

Finally, perhaps the most significant worry for many is that Iran already projects itself strongly in the region in ways that the US sees as destabilizing and destructive. As it rises out of the economic sanctions its economic and military power will only intensify, leading to more meddling and more destabilization of Western interests. Its power was reined in by heavy world-wide economic sanctions associated with its earlier secretive nuclear aspirations. Keeping Iran economically shackled is seen by some in the West as being in the West’s best interest, but through the passage of JCPOA the West is letting Iran rise again. And when it becomes economically more powerful, the sunsetting clauses of JCPOA fade out and Iran will be freer to pursue a program that could lead to nuclear weapons. Under the current pact, it appears inevitable to some that Iran will obtain nuclear weapons in time, and that is what worries the Trump administration officials. Any pretext to kill JCPOA is thought to be justified by those worries. However, a nuclear weaponized Iran appeared to many even more inevitable before JCPOA, and global insecurity is more likely to increase without JCPOA, which leads many to hope it is not terminated.

No Alternative?

The prevailing view among many diplomats in favor of retaining JCPOA is summarized by Peter Mattig, Germany’s Ambassador to the United States,  “We don’t think it will be possible to renegotiate it [JCPOA] and we believe there is no practical, peaceful alternative to this deal” (Sen 2017). The United States’s new National Security Advisor, John Bolton, agrees. But he may have less reluctance to non-peaceful alternatives, as evidenced by his 2015 New York Times op-ed,  “To Stop Iran’s Bomb, Bomb Iran” (Bolton 2015). Difficult days lie ahead.

WORKS CITED

BBC (2017). “Trump: Iran ‘atrocious’ at sticking to spirit of nuclear deal”. BBC.com (14 September 2017). http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-41274483

Bolton (2015). “To Stop Iran’s Bomb, Bomb Iran.” NY Times (26 March 2015). https://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/26/opinion/to-stop-irans-bomb-bomb-iran.html

CNN (2018). “Transcript: CNN’s exclusive interview with Rex Tillerson”, CNN.com (5 January 2018). https://www.cnn.com/2018/01/05/politics/rex-tillerson-transcript/index.html

Cronberg, T (2017). Nuclear Multilateralism and Iran: Inside EU Negotiations. Routledge.

Davenport, K. & Philipp, E. (2016), “A French view on the Iran deal: and interview with Ambassador Gérard Araud,” Arms Control Today (5 July 2016).

Gordon, M.R. & Sanger, D.E. (2015). “Deal Reached on Iran Nuclear Program; Limits on Fuel Would Lessen with Time,” NY Times (14 July 2015).

IAEA (2018). “Verification and monitoring on the Islamic Republic of Iran in light of United Nations Security Council resolution 2331 (2015)”, Report by the Director General, GOV/2018/7 (22 February 2018). https://www.iaea.org/sites/default/files/18/03/gov-2018-7-derestricted.pdf

Iran Review Act (2015). “H.R. 1191 — Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015,” passed May 5, 2015. https://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/house-bill/1191

JCPOA (2015). Joint Comprensive Plan of Action, Vienna, 14 July 2015. https://www.state.gov/documents/organization/245317.pdf

Parker, A. (2017). “Trump says Iran has not ‘lived up to the spirit’ of the nuclear agreement.” Washington Post (20 April 2017).

Sen, A.K. (2017). What are the implications of decertification of the Iran Nuclear Deal?” The Atlantic Council (10 October 2017).

Wadhams, N. (2017). “Tillerson Says Iran ‘Clearly in Default’ of Nuclear Deal’s Terms”, Bloomberg.com (14 September 2017) https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-09-14/tillerson-says-iran-clearly-in-default-of-iran-deal-s-terms

EndIranDeal

Photo from rally on September 9, 2015 (NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/GETTY)

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Book Published

July 15, 2016 Comments off

J.D. Wells. In Praise of Theory and Speculation : Essays and Commentaries. 2016 [pdf]

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Study and Learning
UF president rails against intercollegiate athletics, 1920 … 7
Spring break can lower your IQ … 12
Longhand writing better than laptop for note taking … 15
Factors that determine success in learning … 23
Advice from the Soviet Union on how to become a great physicist … 28
Student petitions his professor, Russia 1899 … 35
Strict oversight at Collège de Dainville, Paris, 1380 … 52
Advice on becoming a true scientist from Sinclair Lewis’s Arrowsmith … 57
The process of creativity … 91
Learn from your elders but follow your convictions … 94
Martin Luther rose to the top of class by studying hard … 107
You must study the masters … 133

Teaching and Education
Montaigne describes how students are to be taught to argue … 8
Wisconsin student not impressed with the flipped classroom … 11
On eliminating the university lecture, from Nabokov’s Pnin, 1957 … 20
Stanford University president compares American and German students, 1903 … 27
University enrollment pressures of the 1930s and Kinsey’s sexual revolution … 29
Teach with enthusiasm and devotion … 53
Examine your students properly … 54
Higher talent required to explain broadly than to impart specialized knowledge … 55
Student evaluations of teaching are of limited value … 56
High-flying broad physics instruction not very useful … 83
Reading seminars in Japanese education … 85
What endures from school … 89
Four benefits any teaching innovation must have … 119
Teaching science like a foreign language … 120
America’s 19th century middling standard for knowledge … 128

History and Philosophy of Science
Max Planck confidently explaining a wrong theory of Uranium, 1929 … 6
All explanations end with ‘it just does’ … 13
Difference between a cathedral and a physics lab? … 18
Study of nature far superior to other human activities? … 19
In praise of theory and speculation … 25
Heisenberg’s Failed Prophecy for Particle Physics … 37
Cicero on cosmology in Roman antiquity … 51
Prof. von Jolly’s 1878 prediction of the end of theoretical physics, reported by Max Planck … 61
Ginzburg’s regret at not being the first to discover the BCS theory of superconductivity … 68
The “vagrant and unfocused” career of Leonardo da Vinci … 78
Pascal’s Conformal Commitment … 79
Fundamental physics is not yet simple enough … 90
Voltaire says true physics is to calculate, measure and observe … 100
I think therefore I am … hated … 105
Leibniz thought belief in atoms was a youthful folly … 115
The value of studying history of science … 116
Humean destruction and Artificial Intelligence … 117
Big bang cries out for a divine explanation? … 121
Darwin’s flaws make him a scientist … 123
Rationalism is alive and kicking … 134
The technician and the scientist … 135

Requirements of Success
Excellent scientists can have life balance … 9
Successful people work insanely hard … 10
You can still succeed in science with a non-science background … 10
Traits of extraordinary achievers … 71
No success without total devotion … 88
IQ and conscientiousness are keys to success … 92
Genius is infinite capacity for taking pains … 93
Five characteristics of successful people … 98
All have will to win but few have will to prepare … 104
Non-cognitive skills as the ‘dark matter’ of success … 111
Suppress unnecessary impulses … 113
Determine never to be idle … 122
Odious qualities bring progress? … 127
Greatness requires change, improvement, and renewal … 130
Advice for the work life … 131
Legendary boxing trainer’s advice on becoming a champion … 132
Success through commitment … 136
How to generate luck … 137

Language and Writing
English dominance may be hurting science … 3
Athenodorus teaches Roman Emperor Claudius how to write well … 16
Suggestions for How to Spell English in International Reports … 40
Chris Rock on writing … 87
Cultivate the ethic of the essential … 103
Reflective versus reflexive novels in modernity … 108
Foucault : j’aime bien le beau style … 110
Thomas More and Martin Luther’s vituperativeness … 118
Wisdom from Steinbeck’s journal of a novel … 124

Miscellaneous
Citation inflation and its remedies … 1
Completing Hirsch’s h-index measuring scholarly impact … 32
Reprehensible behavior in a large population theorem … 64
Breakdown of the 1994 Agreement between the US and North Korea … 65
“Please, sir, I want some more citations” … 70
1936, the year of the first Fields Medalist, and the year MIT kicked him out … 81
Live mice versus dead lions … 95
The real advantage of truth … 96
Bad weather makes good academics … 97
True workers die in a fidget of frustration … 99
The will to prove destroys art … 101
Nothing is my last word on anything … 102
Alien infiltrator reports … 114
The more we want it to be true the more careful we must be … 129

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