Monday, October 29, 2012

In What Circumstances Will New Physics Matter?

New Physics Have Not Yet Been Found

The bottom line from the Large Hadron Collider, so far, has been that (1) a new boson that is a good fit so far for the Standard Model Higgs Boson has been discovered and (2) all of the data gathered so far, which probes up to the 1 TeV energy scale, confirms an unmodified Standard Model prediction.

In other words, up to the 1 TeV energy scale, the has been no discovery of new, beyond the Standard Model physics at the LHC.

Of course, as theorists are quick to remind us, it is always possible that beyond the Standard Model physics could appear at energy scales greater than those probed so far. Maybe there aren't any effects that can be reliably discerned until one reaches the 5 TeV energy scale, for example.

The Standard Model As A Low Energy Effective Theory

Even many strong proponents of the Standard Model who are deeply skeptical of the leading beyond the Standard Model theories circulating today will often acknowledge that they too believe that the Standard Model is more likely to be a low energy effective theory. The Standard Model may simply capture the "low energy" behavior of the true, deeper, ultimate laws of nature that applicable in all circumstances. In these context, "low energy" means the kind of situations that we can observe in our laboratories on Earth which are pretty feeble compared to the awesome scale in time, space and matter-energy involved to the universe itself.

The Particle Physics Desert

The Standard Model's resiliance at high energies owes quite a bit to the concept of "running constants." It has formulas that explain how the strength of the three forces it describes vary with the energy scale of the interaction. Those three forces are the electromagnetic force, the strong nuclear force that holds quarks together in protons and neutrons which also holds atomic nuclei together, and the weak nuclear force that brings about the decay of heavy atoms and exotic subatomic particles.

If you do the math, adjusting for special relativity, but not any general relativistic or quantum gravity effects (which is what the Standard Model does), these forces become almost identicial in strength at a point known as the Grand Unification Theory scale, which appears to be a "natural" place to look for new physics. The Grand Unification Theory (GUT) scale is at about 10^13 TeV.

A few orders of magnitude greater than that, and also a strong candidate for new physics is the Planck scale (10^16 TeV), derived from combining fundamental physical constants in a way that produces a set of man made arbitrary units (they are called "natural units" but I've overused that term in this post and want to be clear about the intended meaning). At energy scales greater than the Planck scale, the Heisenberg uncertainty principle starts to wreck havoc on the equations of quantum physics and many quantum gravity theorists have doubts about whether a description of space-time as a continuous manifold (as it is modeled in both the Standard Model and General Relativity) is an accurate description of the universe a such high Planck scale energies and at the tiny distances of the Planck legth.

A core open question in particle physics is whether there are any new physics in the "desert" between the 1 TeV scale phenomena that are experimentally bound and the GUT scale. Wikipedia explains the concept:

In particle physics, the desert refers to a theorized gap in energy scales between the TeV scale and the GUT scale in which no new physics appears. The idea of the desert was motivated by the observation of approximate, order of magnitude, gauge coupling unification at the GUT scale.

Is There An Oasis In The Desert?

Most active research in theoretical physics that is open to the possibility of beyond the Standard Model physics, proposes new physics that can be observed at the low end of the desert, a threshold that continually rises in energy scale as new experiments are conducted without finding new physics. Most supersymmetry theories (and most other GUT theories and many quantum gravity theories) predict that new physics (often subtle) will be discernable in the desert. For example,"[i]f neutrino masses are due to a seesaw mechanism, the seesaw scale should lie within the desert. . . . An alternative to a desert is a series of new physical theories unfolding with every few orders of magnitude increase in energy scale." Supersymmetry proponents hope to identify new supersymmetric particles, the lightest stable one of which could also explain dark matter phenomena seen by astronomers, typically visible at interaction scales of 1 TeV to 20 TeV or so, and having masses on the order of 100 GeV or more (i.e. close in mass to the Higg boson or heavier).

The less skeptical view holds open the possibility that new physics are "just around the corner" and will be discovered, if not during our own lifetimes, during those of our children or grandchildren or great-grandchildren if only our society is committed enough to finding it.

The conservative view is that there are probably no new physics in the desert, and that energy scales we have any serious hope of probing experimentally in the next few decades, or even centuries, are too tiny relative to the GUT scale to show any experimental indication of GUT scale physics. In other words, we are unlikely to discover beyond the Standard Model physics in any experiments that we can conduct in even the dimly foreseeable future.

How Huge Are GUT Scale and Planck Scale energies?

The interactions that are being probed at the Large Hadron Collider involve energy levels that have not been important in the cosmology of the universe after the first microsecond of its existence. We are fairly comfortable that, with the exception of dark matter, pretty much everything that has happened in the universe since then can be explained with the plain vanilla Standard Model of Particle Physics and plain vanilla General Relativity.

(So called "dark energy" isn't really a mystery as adding a single constant into the equations of General Relativity, as Einstein realized might be necessary a century ago, fully explains the observed effects of this phenomena. There are some loose ends in the area of neutrino physics that we haven't yet figured out, but we have good reason to believe that we may be able to figure out those issues within a few decades by simply filling in some only vaguely known values for Standard Model constants and figuring out at what rate (if any) neutrinoless double beta decay occurs.)

Put another way, pretty much all of the expansion of the universe after the first nanosecond (i.e. 10^-9 seconds) after the Big Bang has taken place at energy levels where the Standard Model and General Relativity are valid, and has expanded in size at the speed of light in the roughly 13.7 billion years since then. But, we aren't terribly sure precisely what dimensions the universe had during the first nanosecond of the universe, except that it was 13.7 billion light years across smaller than it is now. One estimate is that the universe was about one foot (10 cm) across at the end of the inflation period that started at around 10^-32 seconds after the Big Bang and might have been as much as seven feet across at the end of the first nanosecond.

(Purists will note that I'm cheating somewhat here, as General Relativity doesn't assign absolute times and distances to universe scale phenomena since these are observe dependent quantities even though there is a consistent way to reconcile the observations of all observers.)

It may require new physics beyond the Standard Model and General Relativity to explain the cosmology of the universe in this first nanosecond of its existence and this is what physicists are looking for now.

Reproducing the energies last routinely found in the universe in its first nanosecond, even if only fleetingly and in tiny volumes of space, is a challenge even for high eergy physicists that is to some extent a fundamental one, since the Big Bang cannot presumably, be reproduced (and we probably wouldn't want to do that even if we could). Squishing the universe (or even a tiny part of it with equivalent matter-energy density) into a package smaller than a compact car is unthinkable as an engineering proposition even with innovations over the entire lifetime of our species.

It isn't at all clear that physics involving interactions at scales where the Standard Model ceases to be an accurate effective low energy approximation of the true laws of the universe (or quantum gravity theories) would have any engineering applications, and even their cosmology implications would apply only to the first nanosecond of the universe's existence. The higher the energy scale beyond 1 TeV at which we fail to find new physics, the more true this conclusion becomes.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Yet More Evidence For Dim Matter

Once again, evidence that some of matter which had been assumed to be "dark matter" not composed of ordinary atoms turns out to be relatively ordinary matter that is simply difficult to observe.  Previous studies have also identified dim ellipical galaxies, gases between galaxies in galactic clusters, and ultrafast objects emitted from black holes at the center of galaxies (UFOs aka "black hole barf"), as important contributors to the total amount of matter in the universe. 

Estimates of the total amount of dark matter in the universe start with estimates of the total amount of matter in the universe via methods like relativistic lensing and then subtract out known sources of ordinary matter from observed or easily inferred sources.  But, the ratios of dark matter to all matter in the universe commonly quoted in scientific journalism directed at the general public does not reflect these multiple new discoveries.  Adjusted for these new discoveries dark matter accounts for only about half of all observed matter.

Equally notably, the latest research shows that the vicinity of galactic clusters is highly atypical of the regions on the fringes of ordinary galaxies, having far more "dim matter" than ordinary galaxies.  Theories like MOND, which estimates of the nature of the effects usually attributed to dark matter based on empirical correlations observed between rotation curves and luminous matter distributions are usually remarkably accurate even with just a single parameter to be fit to the data and do so without requiring the existence of some class of fundamental particle that has been largely ruled out by Earth bound experiments.

In contrast, all existing dark matter theories can only fit the data from ordinary galaxies with multiple parameters and require some, as yet undiscovered, new kind of fundamental particle that is not simply an ordinary atom.  Dark matter theories also have a far weaker track record when it comes to making predictions about not yet observed types of galaxies.

But, these modified gravity theories greatly underestimate the observed effects in galactic clusters.  The large amounts of "dim matter" in galactic clusters may help to explain this discrepency.  For example, even more sophisticated version of MOND simply cannot be fit to the Bullet Cluster collision that has been observed. 

If galactic clusters have large quantities of dim matter that are absent in the vicinity of ordinary galaxies, in addition to ordinary MOND effects (whether its mechanism is true dark matter, or some predictable distribution pattern of dim matter, or from a modified gravity law), the case for a MOND Plus theory to describe galactic clusters the cures the deficiencies of MOND theories in the domains where they fail, sounds plausible.

The Problem and A Possible Solution
Astronomers disagree about why they see more light in the universe than should be seen; that is, why the infrared light they observe exceeds the amount of light emitted from known galaxies.

When looking at the cosmos, astronomers have seen what are neither stars nor galaxies nor a uniform dark sky but mysterious, sandpaper-like smatterings of light, what UCLA professor of physics and astronomy Edward L. (Ned) Wright refers to as "fluctuations".

From here.

The data appear to rule out the possibility that the fluctuations in the infrared background are from very distant unknown galaxies and also rule out the possibility that the fluctuations "have been traveling to us from faint galaxies for only 4 or 5 billion years[.]" 

So what could be going on?  According to Wright:
"Galaxies exist in dark matter halos that are much bigger than the galaxies; when galaxies form and merge together, the dark matter halo gets larger and the stars and gas sink to the middle of the the halo. . . .What we're saying is one star in a thousand does not do that and instead gets distributed like dark matter. You can't see the dark matter very well, but we are proposing that it actually has a few stars in it — only one-tenth of 1 percent of the number of stars in the bright part of the galaxy. One star in a thousand gets stripped out of the visible galaxy and gets distributed like the dark matter. . . . The dark matter halo is not totally dark. A tiny fraction, one-tenth of a percent, of the stars in the central galaxy has been spread out into the halo, and this can produce the fluctuations that we see."

In large clusters of galaxies, astronomers have found much higher percentages of intra-halo light, as large as 20 percent, they contend. 
In addition to having hig percentage of stars that are not a part of particular galaxies, galactic clusters also greatly elevated levels of interstellar gas and could also harbor large quantities of neutrinos.  Leptogenesis theories suggest that there aren't nearly enough neutrinos in the universe to account for all dark matter, but there are more than enough "missing neutrinos" in the universe to account for excessive amounts of non-baryonic matter in galactic clusters.


Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Evidence Mounts For Out Of Africa 100-130 KYA

The Nubian Complex Culture Source In Africa For The First Wave Of Modern Humans To Leave Africa For Inland Arabia Has Been Identified And Accurately Dated Based Upon Archaelogical Evidence From Many Sites In Both Places.

A new published academic paper adds to the increasingly overwhelming evidence which has been published only in the last several years, that modern humans who were part of a Sudanese archaeological culture, called the Nubian Complex, migrated out of Africa to Arabia (for example, into what is now Southern Oman, into Central and Eastern Yemen, and into Central Arabia) sometime in the time frame of 100,000 to 130,000 years ago. 

The Nubian Complex people became a long standing Arabian culture that continued to have a presence in inland Arabia at least until the Middle Paleolithic to Upper Paleolithic transition around 40,000 to 60,000 years ago.  It is quite possible that people regularly moved between Arabia and African during the Middle Stone Age more or less continuously from the time that they first arrived until the Upper Paleolithic transition.

It appears likely that members of the Nubian Complex culture engaged in culturally influential back migrations to Africa during the Middle Stone Age and that members of the Nubian Complex culture made culturally influential migrations to the Levant from interior Arabia as well. 

Arabian Nubian Complex People Are The Likely Source Of The Lithic Tool Innovations That Mark The Middle Stone Age To Upper Paleolithic Transition.

It appears likely, indeed, that the Arabian branch of the Nubian Complex culture may have been the innovators who were the source of the lithic tool transition that appears in modern humans at the dawn of the Upper Paleolithic era.  Their tools in the late Middle Stone Age and early Upper Paleolithic look like clear antecedents to Upper Paleolithic lithic tools in the Levant and Egypt at the dawn of the Upper Paleolithic era, while the Nubian Complex lithic tools of Sudan at that point do not appear to be nearly so closely related.

The Numbian Complex People Were Not The Only Population Of Modern Humans In Arabia During The Middle Stone Age.

By the time that the Upper Paleolithic transition took place, around 40,000 to 60,000 years ago, there were other communities of modern humans in Arabia who had different lithic cultures from this culture. 

The Nubian Complex people of Arabia were probably not very closely related to them (although at the time depths involved, there would have been plenty of time for different branches of the original migrant population to grow quite distinct from each other over time). The origin of the other cultures is not known and may have origins in one or more Africa to Arabia migrations fairly close in time to the Africa to Arabia migration of people belonging to the Nubian Complex culture.

There Are Multiple Scenarios By Which The Eurasian Baseline Of Neanderthal Admixture Could Have Arisen And Become Somewhat Differentiated Between East Eurasians and West Eurasians.

Not later than the Upper Paleolithic transition, and possibly much earlier (perhaps 100,000 to 75,000 years ago), all or almost all Eurasian modern human populations had probably acquired some baseline level in Neanderthal admixture, either as (1) a single common founding population that split into Western Eurasian and Eastern Eurasian founding populations (and perhaps other founding populations that later when extinct) before the Neanderthal genes that had introgressed into the founding population had time to fully homogenize, or (2) a single common founding population that experienced additional and comparable amounts of admixture separately after splitting into a West Eurasian and East Eurasian founding population, or (3) in completely separate but similar parallel admixture events after splitting into West Eurasian and East Eurasian populations with reasonably closely related populations of Neanderthals.

Still, all of these scenarios fit the genetic data best if the split of the Middle Stone Age modern human population of Southwest Asia into proto-West Eurasians and proto-East Eurasians happened prior to or not long after a period of Neanderthal admixture in Southwest Asia or West Asia.

We Have Some Data To Provide A Framwork For Our Understanding Of The Out of Arabia To Asia Migration(s), But Many Details Are Still Not Known.

It increasingly appears that the migration of modern humans from Arabia to the rest of Eurasia came many thousands of years later, although there is fairly clear evidence that some population of modern humans (not necessary a group with ancestors among the Nubian Complex people) had migrated to Southern India no later than 75,000 years ago, and probably considerably earlier although just how much earlier is hard to tell.  Thus, there may have been a delay of as much as 55,000 years between the Out of Africa and the Out of Arabia migration, although the new more accurate dating of older Levantine and Arabian traces of modern humans and new and older finds of traces of modern humans from India could instead narrow the separation between the Out of Africa migration and the Out of Arabia migration to as little as a few thousand years.

It isn't at all clear that the first Out of Arabia to Asia wave that was present in Southern India at the time of the Toba erruption about 75,000 years ago are descendants of the Nubian Complex people. 

We have only relics that are clearly modern human in origin, not human remains, to rely upon this far back in time in Southern India.  The Arabian archaelogical record is also far richer in relics than in human remains although there are some modern human remains at some Arabian Nubian Complex archaeological sites.  The lithic tools in South India are not quite so strikingly similar to the Arabian ones as the Arabian ones are to lithic tools at the African Nubian Complex sites, or at the Levantine and Egyptian sites derived from Arabian Nubian Complex innovations arond the time of the Upper Paleolithic transition. 

Since it is likely that there were multiple modern human populations in Arabia at the approximately the same time that the Nubian Complex people were there during the Middle Stone Age, and since the modern human lithic tools at the earliest Southern Indian sites don't show a particularly clear continuity with Nubian Complex lithic tools, another of the modern human groups in Arabia at the time could have been ancestral to the first wave of modern humans in Southern India.

We know that sometime around 45,000 to 50,000 years ago, presumably via a route that made the connection from Africa to Southeast Asia that passed through India in some way or another, that modern humans arrived in Papua New Guinea and Australia (which were a single land mass at the time) having by then acquired the Neanderthal admixture shared by all Eurasians (and in particular, the East Eurasian subset of that admixture) and the Denisovan admixture which are largely restricted to Aboriginal Australians, Papuans and other populations genetically related to those populations. 

There are traces of modern humans in the Southeast Asian highlands that are no older than 64,000 years old and no younger than 50,000 years ago, probably close to the older date than the younger one.  Modern humans appear to have arrived in Southeast Asia en route to Australia although, of course, they didn't know where they where going at the time) sometime in a twenty-five thousand year time frame bounded by the Toba erruption on one side and the Upper Paleolithic revolution on the other.

The case that hominin remains from East Asia, which have claimed dates of around 100,000 years ago, are really modern humans rather than archaic hominins who may have been experiencing some convergent evolution towards some of the same traits which modern humans evolved, and are really accurately dated, is tenuous at best.  New evidence, however, could strengthen that claim and greatly complicate the emerging narrative of modern human expansion into Eurasia.

Out of West Asia To Europe: Were Cro-Magnons Descendants Of Nubian Complex People?

We also know that sometime around 45,000 to 43,000 years ago, modern human Cro-Magnons who already had West Eurasian genetic affinities distinct from East Eurasian populations arrived in a Europe that was populated by Neanderthals.  It isn't clear what population genetic affinity these Cro-Magnons or later waves of modern human migrants to Europe had to the Nubian Complex people.  But, given that the Nubian Complex people are likely to have been a source of Upper Paleolithic lithic tool technologies, at the very least, the Nubian Complex people were an important cultural inflence on the Cro-Magnons, and it wouldn't be at all surprising given the trend of recent ancient DNA and archaeological finds to reflect "Pots and People" rather than "Pots Not People" migrations, if the Nubian Complex people were key contributors to the gene pool of the Cro-Magnons.

While hardly definitive, what we know so far seems to identify the descendants of the Arabian Nubian Complex people a bit more closely with modern West Eurasians than with modern East Eurasians, who could be more closely related to one or more of the other Middle Stone Age modern human populations of Arabia that were in Arabia at the same time that the Nubian Complex people were there.

The Cro-Magnons very likely became more Neanderthal admixed than the Eurasian baseline level of Neanderthal admixture than they had been when they arrived over the course of the many thousands of years  that they co-existed with Neanderthals between their arrival in Europe and the extinction of the last Neanderthals arond 29,000 years ago. 

But, this pre-Last Glacial Maximum population of European hunter-gatherers that co-existed with Neanderthal was so diluted in subsequent waves of migration to Europe by modern humans.  The later waves of migrants to Europe lacked Neanderthal admixture in excess of the Eurasian baseline level.  So the Neanderthal admiture excess attributable to admixture in Europe's early Cro-Magnons is almost impossible to discern statistically in contemporary European populations.

How can we be confident that the Cro-Magnons did have elevated Neanderthal admixture then? 

Because people with significant amounts of ancestry from European hunter-gatherers were living in Europe as late as Otzi the Iceman who died 5,300 years ago and was preserved as a mummy in the ice on mountains between what are now Austria and Italy did have elevated levels of Neanderthal admixture.

It Isn't Entirely Clear What Relationship The Arabian Nubian Complex People Have To Linguistically Afro-Asiatic Africans Today.  They May Have Been A First Wave Of Back Migrating Eurasian Genetic Contributors To This Population.

These data points would be consistent with a hypothesis that many of the older non-replicating Y-DNA and mitochondrial DNA haplogroups that now coincide rather strongly with modern Afro-Asiatic populations could derive from a back migration of Nubian Complex people from Arabia into Africa in which the technological edge that allowed them to expand more effectively into territory previously inhabited by other peoples may have been the tool kit of the lithic tools that would become signatures of the Upper Paleolithic transition.  Of course, none of these data points can rule out a much later Neolithic or Epipaleolithic back migration as the main source of Asian to African back migrated haplogroups either.

Without ancient DNA we can't know for sure that this Nubian Complex population was ancestral to modern Eurasians, or to modern North and East Africans, at all.  There have been multiple extremely arid periods since the Nubian Complex people left Africa and came to Arabia when Arabia has been entirely or almost entirely depopulated.

No known language family today has a time depth of much more than 8,000 to 10,000 years from a most recent common proto-language, and some of the well defined subfamilies of the Afro-Asiatic language family are considerably young.  So, I am not willing to conclude that the direct ancestor of the Afro-Asiatic language family itself was spoken 40,000 or more years ago.  But, a migration into the modern Afro-Asiatic language region at that time may have had an important and formative impact on the population genetics of that region.  The people of that region may even have had enduring culture ties with each other relative to other contemporaneous modern humans for most of time period since then. 

Populations with powerful new technologies and cultural innovations (such as Neolithic era or even Copper Age peoples) could easily have brought about a language shift of this entire, far flung population to their language, however.  And, a Neolithic or Copper Age population could have brought about language shift with only a modest population genetic impact at some later date.


There are still many questions to be resolved about human pre-history in the Paleolithic era.  But, our understanding of modern human range expansion outside Africa during the Paleolithic era is much greater than it was even a decade ago.

Our ability to link the first Out of Africa wave of modern human migration to a particular archaeological culture has many practical benefits for further research.  For example, it provides an additional reasonably certain calibration point for mutation rate based dating of the point in time at which the defining mutations of genetic haplogroups arose.  It also provides an independent and direct means of estimating critical demographic parameters like the effective population size of the proto-Eurasian population that together with the calibration point and our knowledge of modern human mutation rates from other sources can be used to more accurately determine the parameters to use when modeling the population genetics of Eurasian prehistory in variety of contexts.  These details can reduce the size of the error bars associated with all efforts to assign absolute dates to ancestry informative genetic mutations.

Obscure Genius

Today, I am going to pick on Vladimir Voevodsky, who is certainly an interesting enough fellow in his own right someone who is trained in mathematics (which is his disciplinary field as a professor) with strong interests in problems relevant to fundamental physics and to population genetics. As I note below, if we ever run into each other, I owe him a few drinks for subjecting him to a somewhat down beat assessment of the individual life accomplishments of this extraordinary man in my post today. But, today, I am more interested in talking about the personal niche he is in, which is shared by a great many others, than is personal accomplishment per se.

Voevodsky in a middle aged guy (he is a few years older than I am, but our years studying at institutions of higher education in the United States overlapped) who did his undergraduate work in Moscow, left to the U.S. to do graduate work at Harvard around the time that the Soviet Union fell, is a math professor at Princeton, and won a Field medal, which is basically the Nobel Prize of mathematics, in 2002. He is by any reasonable account a genius.

Voevodsky, like some many other geniuses, however, is an obscure genius. According to a colleague writing a short biography of him, "he defined and developed motivic cohomology and the A1-homotopy theory of algebraic varieties; he proved the Milnor conjectures on the K-theory of fields."

Don't be ashamed that you have no idea what that means.  I struggle to understand it, and I skipped to years of undergraduate math in college and instead spent all three of my years in college taking 300 and 400 level math courses.  Unless you have taken abstract algebra, topology, and real and complex analysis, which are typically offered as 400 level undergraduate course to mathematics majors or 500 level courses for graduate students, you really have not a prayer of meaningfully understanding even a non-specialist oriented description of what is work involves. Few people who aren't professionals in the relevant field know his name (those who are professional in the relevant field hold him in very high esteem), and  not even is they are sophomore or junior math majors at esteemed colleges and universities do (other than Princeton, of course).

Voevodsky's name isn't familiar to politicians and journalists (except a handful of very sharp science journalists with good memories), won't earn him VIP seats at a ballgame or a nice restaurant outside his home town, and probably gets spelled wrong on his junk mail. A decade from now, more people will remember the name of Missy Franklin, a Denver high school student who won a gold medal for swimming in this year's Olympics, than remember today his shining moment in the sun during the year when he was recognized that year as one of the world's premier mathematicians.

None of this is to put him down. If I met him, I'd know his name and I'd certainly look forward to sharing a beer and talking shop in some dark pub (being Russian, he might be a vodka man, and that would be cool too), my treat.

My point is that our very civilization as an advanced complex technological society rests of the collective achievements of thousands of people like him - the creme de la creme of the upper middle class in who excel in a whole panoply of sometimes obscure professional endeavors. They generally live comfortable upper middle class lifestyles, but are usually neither famous nor genuinely rich on the scale of the thousands of people who have net worths of a hundred million dollars or more. Economically, they live the lives of other successful middle managers in big business and professionals who aren't top level employees of law firms and big businesses.

In truth, we could survive without any one of them and wouldn't know the difference. Lots of people wonder what more could have been discovered is Shakespeare had written another play, if Percy Shelly had written another poem, if Feynman had survived another decade, if Mozart had finished another symphony, or if Fermat had been able to work full time on mathematics rather than merely doing it as a hobby. But, were he to be hit by a bus today, nobody but his family, his graduate students, and his fellow department members at Princeton will dwell on what further conjectures in group theory or topology Voevodsky might of proved or proposed beyond his already formidable accomplishments in another decade once he completes his career. Collectively, the impact of obscure geniuses like Voevodsky in a whole range of professions, is enormous. The group effort that is the produce of their endeavors keeps science and the organization of our society moving ever forward.

This situation certainly isn't particular to mathematics. There are six thousand scientists working at the Large Hadron Collider for instance, many of them doing truly intellectually demanding, cutting edge physics every day, on deadline, as a matter of course and these near geniuses have to have enough social skills to be team players as well. Probably at least one or two hundred of them are geniuses who have made contributions to the enterprise that really no one but a genius could manage and are highly esteemed in their field by their colleagues who can understand their accomplishments and talents. But, fewer than a dozen of them will ever be any more famous than Mr. Voevodsky, even to new generations of students within their field.

Mr. Voevodsky is also notably, not just as an individual Russian mathematician, but also as a member of a numerically small mass migration of the creme of the intellectual elite for the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe that experienced economic collapse before the recovery began again to the West and, in particular, in large numbers to the United States. The world hadn't seen anything like it since the years immediately before and after World War II. This mass migration of this key elite population has had a rise and fall of great powers level of significance in geopolitics and science that several studies of elite performances in the sciences have documented, although it is little known. It had breathed new blood and new ideas into American science, technology and academics, exposing technical scientific knowledge and ideas that had been isolated in the Eastern block and was little known outside it to a much wider audience where the new ideas have cross-pollinated with Western ones.

Maybe one somewhat obscure Field medal class mathematician like Voevodsky will accomplish in his professional life is a tenth or a twentieth of what a mathematical legend known to all math students at the high school level and beyond, like Euler, did. But, there are at least ten or twenty mathematicians of Voevodsky's caliber, probably more, alive today and they are all working hard at their crafts and standing of the shoulders of the giants who came before them. They also have more colleagues who can understand their work and help prod them on to greater achievements with their own insights. And, very few of them are likely to die young and have their potential prematurely cut short, unlike so many of the famous geniuses of earlier times.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Physics Blog Notes One Of My Comments

Over at Tommaso Dorigo's Quantum Diaries Survivor blog, an analogy I made in a comment, that one could use to describe the issue of naturalness in the cancellation of higher order loop corrections in quantum mechanics to a layman, has been made the subject of one of the blog's main posts for today.


Friday, October 12, 2012

The Limits Of Scientific Confidentiality

All in all, I’m fairly happy with my decisions about what to write and what not to write on the blog about not-quite-public results about the Higgs. There’s been a certain amount of criticism about the terrible violations of confidentiality involved, but I can’t help pointing out that the things I was writing about were at the time known to the majority of the HEP community: the 6000 physicists on ATLAS and CMS. Carroll has this to to report about the confidentiality question:
I asked one physicist whether the results that ATLAS was getting were generally known within CMS, and vice versa. “Are you kidding?” I was told with a laugh. “Half of ATLAS is sleeping with half of CMS. Of course they know!”
From Not Even Wrong.

Lawyers have long been aware of these kinds of issues and have developed ethical standards for addressing them in their own profession, the official commentary to the analogous ethical rule:

When lawyers representing different clients in the same matter or in substantially related matters are closely related by blood or marriage or when there is a cohabiting relationship between the lawyers, there may be a significant risk that client confidences will  be revealed and that the lawyer's family or cohabiting relationship will interfere with both loyalty and independent professional judgment.  As a result, each client is entitled to know of the existence and implications of the relationship between the lawyers before the lawyer agrees to undertake the representation.  thus, a lawyer related to another lawyer, e.g., as parent, child, sibling or spouse (or in a cohabiting relationship with anothe lawyer,) ordinarily may not represent a client in a matter where that lawyer is representing another party, unless each client gives informed consent.  the disqualification arising from a close family relationship or a cohabiting relationship is personal and ordinarily is not imputed to members of firms with whom the lawyers are associated. . . . A lawyer is prohibited from engaging in sexual relationships with a client unless the sexual relationship predates the formation of the client-lawyer relationship.

Colorado Rule of Professional Conduct 1.7, Official Comment Paragraphs 10 and 11 (this is identical to the official commentary to the American Bar Assocation's Model Rules of Professional Conduct.  Almost every U.S. jurisdiction uses the Model Rules, or the predecessor set of Model ethics guidelines for attorneys promulgated by the ABA, as the starting point for their own rules governing ethics for lawyers).

Other parts of the official commentary to the ethical rules for lawyers explains that for lawyers representing organizations, relationships with certain individuals in the organizations have the same effect as if that individual, rather than the organization that the individual is affiliated with, were the client.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

John Hawks In Boulder On Friday

John Hawks will be giving a talk in Boulder, Colorado at 4:00 p.m. this Friday on the Neanderthal genome.  Health and workload permitting, I plan to go and then to blog on the talk here.