- Series: MacSci
- Hardcover: 288 pages
- Publisher: St. Martin's Press (July 30, 2013)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1137278234
- ISBN-13: 978-1137278234
- Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 9.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 37 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,141,061 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Bankrupting Physics: How Today's Top Scientists are Gambling Away Their Credibility (MacSci)
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“Unzicker's arguments are well-grounded, sound, [and] informed.” ―Scientific American (German edition)
“Bankrupting Physics is a blunt, but entertaining account of the current state of fundamental physics. The reader may not necessarily have the same opinion as the authors, but they will bear witness to some of the field's unchallengeable high priests in action, and question whether the system itself is now in a period of stagnation. How does the struggle for power and money among modern scientists compromise the quest for uncovering the true secrets of nature? This is a worthwhile book to read that is guaranteed to raise some controversy, and is likely to receive a critical reception by the very actors it is reporting on.” ―Pavel Kroupa, University of Bonn
“A broad dismissal of modern theoretical physicists…Unzicker also targets the massive expenditures of funds on high-energy particle accelerators.” ―Kirkus Reviews
“Unzicker dares to think outside the mainstream. Readers will find a refreshing and provoking book that pushes the physics community to refocus how it conducts science.” ―Hans Volker Klapdor-Kleingrothaus, University of Heidelberg
About the Author
Alexander Unzicker is a German theoretical physicist and neuroscientist.
Sheilla Jones is the author of The Quantum Ten and an award-winning Canadian journalist and a science contributor to CBC. She reviews science books for The Globe and Mail and the Literary Review of Canada.
Top customer reviews
Unzicker is not a "big name" in physics. He seems to be a German science writer and high school teacher. However, he does seem to go to a lot of physics conferences, where he interacts with working physicists. He, therefore, seems to be in the world of physics, and, yet, to have some distance from it, as well, which may give him the virtue of objectivity. Or he may be a "crank," which is how he is described by physicist Peter Woit on Woit's blog (albeit Woit thinks that Unzicker might be on to something when he lauds Woit for Woit's work in "debunking" string theory.)
I am not in a position to judge, since I am not a physicist. My rule though is "never read a book," i.e., read more than one book to get a broader sense of where any particular text stands. So, I'm currently reading Jim Baggott's Farewell to Reality: How Modern Physics Has Betrayed the Search for Scientific Truth for s comparison.
"Bankrupting Physics" is a translation from German. It is, nonetheless, well-written, accessible and rife with funny comments about the mess that Unzicker says physics finds itself in.
Unzicker's chief complaint seems to be that physics has moved away from the ideal of doing science by experiment and in the direction of (a) doing science by theories and (b) brute force computing and (c) prohibitively expensive experimental vehicles - such as the super-collider - which do experiments that cannot be replicated. According to Unzicker the result has been theories that have never been tested by experiment, and which cannot be tested by experiment, and the use of an ever-expanding number of constants that are number crunched to make equations fit observed reality. What is missing, according to Unzicker, is the quest ot connect the dots, to understand the why that lies beneath the observed phenomenon, which might unify theories and prune back the theory saving "free parameters."
Unzicker does a very nice job of laying out the principles of physics by following its history. His interest appears to be mostly with Cosmology, the study of the universe. I found his presentation to be informative and eye-opening. For example, I had certainly heard of "dark matter" and "dark energy." I knew they were mysterious, but I had thought they were real rather than gap filling constructs invoked to save the theory. Dark Matter, for instance, flows from the observation that the rotational speeds of galaxies do not "drop" according to the curve that their calculated mass predicts. The outer parts of galaxies are going too fast and should be flying out from the galaxy...unless there was more mass keeping that from happening. (And not just more mass everywhere in the galaxy, but in the area at the edge of the galaxy.) That is the sole observation that accounts for the Dark Matter, which is calculated to comprise an invisible 75% of the mass of the galaxies that have been observed. (Although Dark Matter has been invoked to explain why the universe is not uniform (p. 97), which is an example of a theoretical construct being leveraged as the explanation for another anomaly, as anomalies pile on anomalies.) Various explanations for Dark Matter have been tried out and failed. It is not black holes or brown dwarfs. It is not normal matter, which has led some phycisists to believe that it is an undiscovered elementary particle that does not interact with normal matter, except through gravity.
Likewise, Dark Energy stems from the observation that the universe is expanding more rapidly, not slower, as it should be if gravity were the only force involved. There are no observations of Dark Energy other than the effect that leads scientists to believe that it exists. Accordingly, physicists have posited some new kind of energy.
As Unzicker point out, these fixes resemble nothing so much as the epicycles used to correct and adjust for Ptolemies' geocentric universe. (The also looked to me like the form by which Aquinas argued for the existence of God based on deducing God only from the effects of His creative power (although, to be clear, Unzicker makes it clear that he has no interest in religious explanations.) Unzicker points out that these theories are generally untestable and that the effects may actually be gesturing at something we don't understand in the nature of gravity at large distances. (Although, according to Unzicker, the best re-working of the law of gravity is a "terribly poor theory." (p. 77.)
Unzicker is also skeptical about explanations of the beginning of the universe prior to approximately 300,000 years after the Big Bang. The problem according to Unzicker is that there is no way to go beyond the 300,000 limit because that is the first time we are able to have any evidence of the early stages of the Universe since that is the evidence of the Cosmic Microwave Background radiation. Earlier than that is like deducing what kind of fish is in the ocean from a satellite picture.
If accurate, Unzicker presents an interesting case of inconsistency and fudging in physics. For example, initially, monopoles were supposed to prove inflation, but since they haven't been discovered, their absence now proves inflation. (p. 126.) Quarks have never been observed and according theory will never be observed, but there they are as essential constituents of the standard model. (p. 148.) It is impossible to know anything scientifically - i.e., by observation and experiment - about the first 300,000 years of the universe, but physicist after physicist provides theories in minute details about what must have happened. Even Lawrence Krauss's fatuous book, "A Universe from Nothing," a book by a run of the mill cosmologist who was a typical particle physicist who moved to cosmology where the pickings might be easier. (p. 168.) String theory has been big business for 30 years without coming up with a testable theory or observation. The Planck lengthe is practically nontestable. (p. 196.) Elementary particles like the Higgs boson are predicted and then any thing that comes near the prediction is decleared to the be discovered particle, and any differences are identified as indicating that it is a nonstandard variant of the particle. (p. 197.)
I found Unzicker's book fascinating for the sociology of science. Unzicker's observations about the log rolling and back scratching and star system of physics (p. 241 - 244), coupled with computers that make brute force possible (after World War II, which constituted a "dramatic methodological change in physics" (p. 236), suggests a system that doesn't mirror the presentation given by "scientistic" scientists like Dawkins and Krauss. Pace the Ptolemaic system, a system like that could work. Unzicker observes:
>>>When I talk to people about general relativity and its tiny effect on time lapse at high altitudes, I like to mention that GPS satellits wouldn't work properly without Einstein's genius. But is that really true? If atomic clocks in satellites had been built without the theory of general relativity, people might have stumbled upon the fact that time measurements seem to depend on altitude and velocity. To adjust tis with two parameters there is surely no need for an Einstein. And I fear that the observation of one parameter being in the order of magnitude of GM/rc2 - a consequence Einstin had deduced - would have been disregarded as a mere playing with numbers or "numerology." Looking at the history of science, it may easily happen that we prematurely give up the search for explanations by fundamental theories and instead cement our incomprehension with a patchwork model.<<< (p. 213.)
Unzicker also offers this distinction between the new physics and the older variety:
>>>The standard model of particle physics and cosmology an - notwithstanding the utter lack of understanding - be memorized, while the principles of the theory of relativity and quantum mechanics can - notwithstanding the difficulties - be actually understood. This is another feature distinguishing good physics from the cheap descriptions.<<< (p. 212.)
Unzicker synopsizes his criticisms as follows:
>>>If physicists do not understand the what of their theories, they'll introduce a new particle. If they don't understand the when, then it must have happened right after the Big Bang. If they don't understand the where, then of course it took place in an extra dimension. And if they don't understand the how, they will postulate a new interaction. If they don't understand the how much, a symmetry breaking will soon appear. If they don't understand anything, they will propose strings and branes. And if they lose interst in all understanding, there is always the strong anthropic principle. Things have cometo a pretty pass.<<<
Unzicker is also concerned about "group think" and "herd mentality," something which we may have seen in the financial melt-down of 2008 as physicists turned hedge-fund advisors bought into their theory and managed one of the world's greatest economic collapses (p. 247 - 248.) Like the economy, science is built on trust and we might see similar bubble when mutual confidence fails. (p. 248.) Unzicker also calls for sharing all data and making calculations entirely transparent. Unzicker writes:
>>>Photo and video documentation could partly help, but the real problem lies in the computer programs that analyze the more complex experiments, not to mention the Big Science gigantism. Since the code is usually inaccessible to the public, it is practically impossible to reproduce the results. One of the basic requirements of scientific method is missing here.<<< (p. 249.)
Then there is this warning from Unzicker:
>>>In contrast, particle physics has no public data that anybody, except high energy physics experts, can make sense of. The field seems to have piled up too many poorly understood facts. It is an increasingly unstable structure held together mostly by the belief of its adherents. But the continuous inflation of arbitrary concepts has long undermined its credibility. The longer his situation will ast, the harder the crash will be. One day it will be suddenly clear to the majoirty that this is not Nature's picture but human tapestry.<<< (p. 249.)
Is Unzicker a crank or a prophet? I don't know, but I found his critical view of science as it is actually practiced to be very interesting.
Now, after reading Unzicker's book and recently "Farewell to Reality" by Jim Baggot, I feel like I was hit by a truck. Hidden dimensions, dark matter, dark energy, super symmetry, super strings, M theory, quantum gravity, inflation, multiple universes and a lot of other ideas are not established science backed with observable data but are either concepts with no relation to reality or are ideas based on slim evidence. The ideas of religion are little different from some the ideas of modern physics! Reading these books have utterly changed my perspective on physics in a powerful manner. Unzicker's book in particular is very hard hitting and makes its points succinctly in a manner that can be crude at times but understandable.
I look at physics differently now with a new critical perspective. I saw that Lisa Randall has a book speculating that a chunk of dark matter may have hit the earth and killed the dinosaurs. In the past I may have gone along with that but now I see that as a preposterous thing for a scientist at Harvard to write a book about. That should be science fiction and no more. It is totally irresponsible for scientists roll out such ideas just to make money on a book. I now, will turn a very critical eye on popular best selling physics books.
I just now, read a science article in "The Economist" magazine describing how some physicists are doing low cost experiments to prove string theory and multi-dimensions since the multi-billion dollar accelerator in Switzerland hasn't produced any proofs. Now, after reading Unzicker, I know now that the all physicists are just continuing to try to prove a bunch of nonsense theories and keep their lucrative jobs. instead of admitting that the theories are not being proven after spending billions of dollars, they just go back to simpler methods. This is absurd, as I now know after reading Unzicker's book. These are sad time for science.
I highly recommend this book. You will not look at things the same way again and if you are like me, you will not be fooled again.