Some Physics Blogs

I only read a few physics blogs, so my list is something of a random sample. I won't include climate blogs, even though climatology is now more or less a branch of physics, because I will probably treat them later, with a black hats versus white hats theme.

Numero Uno, at least on my list, is Cosmic Variance, which I tend to think of as Sean Carroll and some other people. This is mainly because I started reading Sean's old blog a long time ago, but also because I think he's still the best, though I have to admit that Joanne's battle with the tomato stealing roof rat was pretty cool. Sean's blog was also probably the first science blog I read. Sean blogs about cosmology and lots of other stuff, and is liberal except for being a pretty totalitarian feminist. He has written a nice book on Spacetime and Geometry: An Introduction to General Relativity and videos of some of his excellent lectures are online. Sean is now a research prof at Caltech, which modestly admits to being at the center of the astronomical universe.

I suppose the second physics blog I started reading was Lubos Motl's The Reference Frame. Lubos is an assistant professor of physics at Harvard and writes lots of crazy stuff on all sorts of topics. Most of what he writes is egregious nonsense, like his current post on Hurricanes. He also writes about string theory, but for the most part I can't understand that.

Let me expand on why this current post is nonsense. He starts by quoting some Newspaper guy predicting that 2006 might be worse than the record-breaking Atlantic hurricane season of 2005. This is a typical Motl strawman, since I know of no expert who predicted that. He then lays into Bill Gray, one of the microscopic number of mainstream scientists who holds the same crackpot view of global warming that Motl does, for his group's prediction that 2006 would be a "much more active than usual" season - but much less active than 2005.

This prediction, which is purely statistical in nature, was made a year ago. No one believes that such a prediction can be highly skillful, but Dr. Gray's predictions have shown signifigant skill and his work has greatly clarified our understanding of what it takes to make a hurricane. To add insult to injury, he attributes Gray's prediction to global warming theories, in which Gray disbelieves and does not use.

Some hurricane experts have argued that global warming has increased the average intensity of tropical cyclones. That theory is controversial and totally irrelevant to the current Atlantic hurricane season in any case. No scientist is claiming, as Motl says "that global warming causes hurricanes." By the way, this has already been a severe season in the Pacific.

In any case the Atlantic hurricane season is barely underway, so it's a bit early to declare that this will be a below average season. Motl wants hurricane scientists fired because they can't predict how many hurricanes there will be next year very well. What they have become pretty good at is predicting approximately where hurricanes will go a few days in advance. That is very useful information, or I should say potentially very useful information, since if the politicians and people are too stupid to act on it quite preventable disasters can still happen, as in Katrina, which was an obvious horrible threat at least five days in advance.

Motl says:
Until the "experts" are fired or otherwise punished when their predictions fail so miserably - which can only happen if there is some real competition in their field - the world of the hurricane predictions won't have a chance to become a scientific world. And that's the memo.

That from a guy who gets paid to work in a field which 1) has no foreseeable practical application, 2) has absorbed about 1000 times the scientific manpower that long-term hurricane prediction has, and 3) has yet to make a testable prediction of any kind.

Hmmm. I didn't get far with physics blogs. I'll have to get to the others later. I still really want to talk about some terrific blogs (Sabine, Peter Woit, John Baez, and Chad Orzel, for example)

In the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that Lubos has banned me from commenting on his blog, no doubt because he is tired of being shown up as a dope. I remain an avid reader though, partly out of a sentimental attachment to crazy geniuses, and partly out of something like the same sick fascination that draws us to train wrecks. He does manage to be prolific, interesting, and always outrageous.


  1. 08 24 06

    Well, I don't think he is a genius but he might be crazy! I am sorry you were banned from commenting on his site. It was my hope that he would actively engage those with dissenting opinions but sadly, no. Too bad. I shall check out some of the other blogs you mentioned. Another good one with solid physics is Robert Hellings blog. Check it out, you may like it:)


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