Me at the Science March today, in front of the Texas Capitol in Austin

72 Responses to “Me at the Science March today, in front of the Texas Capitol in Austin”

  1. murmur Says:

    Leftist environmental organizations like Greenpeace opposes GMO food, leftist activists derailed plans to build the Thirty Meter Telescope in Hawaii – but no scientist would march to oppose them. The hypocrisy and groupthink in academia are truly breathtaking.

  2. Scott Says:

    murmur #1: I agree to the requisite experiment. If radical, anti-science leftists take over all three branches of the US federal government, and I don’t protest them, then you win.

  3. John Says:

    Nice! I did like the nerdy signs best. 🙂

  4. Shmi Nux Says:

    Scott, I can relate to your frustration, but adding an unverified hypothesis directly after a well tested one kind of weakens the latter. Especially if you insist on them being equally true, tongue in cheek or not. Also, stigmatizing someone for the odor they emit seems rather SJWesque.

    The odds of the Schrodinger equation being invalidated by experiment are negligibly small, while the odds of Trump being bad for scientific research (assuming it’s the correct interpretation of your succinct statement) are probably somewhere below 1000:1 which is nowhere near what can be called equally true. Or important.

    Basically, meh, you could have come up with something wittier. And more convincing. And with less name calling.

  5. Raoul Ohio Says:

    All: There was some leftest yammering, but things were pretty mellow in my part of Ohio. Did have a giant pickup truck with a Trump flag go by revving and beeping. In the south, that would have been a confederate flag.

    I read that in Memphis, the leftists kicked the scientists out, and there wound up being two marches. History as farce.

    murmur: I hate nut leftists every bit as much as nut rightists. Also, I agree that GMO protests, Telescope hate, etc., are a bad thing. But that is nothing compared to right wing nuts who control a big part of the government. So I don’t protest leftists much, because they are basically a joke, and who cares what they think.

  6. Anon Says:

    Supporting science is fine, but I don’t thinking linking pro-science to anti-Trump is a good thing. You may believe that the right is already “anti-science” now, but this is generally confined to certain politicized (or religiously-influenced) issues. It could get a lot worse, and if the right comes to see science in general as a political enemy, that would be very bad. Closely linking a “science good” message with a “Trump bad” message is a step down that path.

  7. John Sidles Says:

    Super sign, Scott! 🙂 As for Murmur (#1), please understand — scientifically speaking — that it’s far *easier* to work with Greenpeace members than with Trump appointees.

  8. luca turin Says:

    Love your sign!

    While I think Trump’s policies suck, I must say the combination Earth Day and March for Science makes me queasy. If politics should be kept out of science, maybe a good place to start would be Climate Science etc.

  9. Scott Says:

    Shmi Nux #4: Actually, I’ll gladly give the Schrödinger equation a greater probability of being superseded by some future discovery in physics (in the sense of, revealed to be “only” a linearized approximation or whatever to something deeper), than I’ll give for Trump turning out to have been a wise or just president.

    As for “TRUMP STINKS”—well, the only equally-concise formulation that came to mind was “TRUMP SUCKS,” but I was worried that the march organizers wouldn’t want profanity.

  10. Scott Says:

    Anon #6: I actually share the concern about mixing separate issues—even if pretty much all scientists on earth besides Lubos and William Happer agree that Trump is an unprecedented global disaster, the reasons why he’s a disaster don’t require any scientific expertise to see, just ordinary citizenship skills. And also, the survival of science in the US will require that the Republicans in Congress continue to fund us, out of a general national interest, even if they consider us traitors and we consider them Vichy collaborationists. And also, even if one 100% agrees, or 98% agrees, with the motivations for a given protest march, there’s something about the march itself, with its slogans and chants and ritual affirmations, that’s inherently in tension with a scientific outlook.

    Hence the “NOT DIRECTLY RELATED” in my sign, which tried to square that circle and address the obvious irony head-on, by illustrating the intellectual independence that such a march was to supposed to be celebrating in the first place, poking fun at the entire concept of a “Science March” even as I participated in one. (Well, the other way I addressed the irony was by staying for only 45 minutes or so of the hours-long event, then leaving to have lunch with my family… 🙂 )

  11. Scott Says:

    luca turin #8: I hold the right, not the left, responsible for politicizing climate science. In the prehistory of this issue, before it had become politicized, John von Neumann, a conservative Cold Warrior, took it as simply obvious that increasing CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere from industrial civilization would eventually lead to a catastrophic warming of the earth if something wasn’t done to control them.

  12. luca turin Says:

    Scott #11 Interesting fact, but I disagree. For a start John von Neumann, possibly for the only time in his amazing life, may have been wrong on this one, or at any rate reasoning from false premises. After all, he found the Byzantine Empire really interesting, another lapse of judgment. If we’re talking great scientists Freeman Dyson, no slouch, would heartily disagree with JvN. Second, it doesn’t matter who started it, that’s where it sits at the moment, with political agendas on both sides of the scientific issue. My point was that climate science was a poor choice for apolitical science.

  13. L Says:

    @murmur and @Raoul Ohio:

    you make it sound as if it were a no-brainer that one must be in support of GMO food, at least if one is thinking scientifically. I find such an implication wrong (to put it more simply, I think one can arrive at an anti-GMO stance from a scientific standpoint) — I also find this kind of rhetoric worrying in general (presenting something contentious and debatable as an objective fact).

  14. Michael Says:

    Scott, a few days ago there was an incident where someone on the official March for Science twitter sent a tweet condemning the bombing of ISIS (and then they had to apologize). Were there a lot of “left-wing nuts” at the march or was it mostly moderate people?

  15. James Cross Says:

    Luca #12

    Whether you agree or disagree about global warming, cutting money for research on weather or climate doesn’t make any sense. Nor is a 19% cut to the NIH. Nor discouraging some of the best scientists in the world from coming to the US.

    We need more basic research of all sorts.

    Favorite sign at March in Atlanta: Feel the CERN.

    Also, liked a Bad Hombre T-shirt that I am trying to get my wife to buy for me.

  16. TrumpSupportingScientist Says:

    Raoul Ohio’s #5 mention of Memphis got me curious and I found this article about the split.
    Look at what’s most threatening to Science, or Democracy/FreeSpeech/FreeThought/etc, or anything else of value. The threat is not the Trump administration. The threat is not wacky right-wing creationist flat-earthers. The threat is Social Justice Warriors and their ilk. Their ideology is utterly alien to science. They would destroy science if they had their way. They certainly infiltrate and destroy many otherwise reasonable movements. Scientists would do well to put as much distance as possible between themselves and Social Justice Warriors and their ilk. Look at these

    I would think that most people have a reasonably positive view of science and scientists, even if they don’t really understand what they do. However the credibility of science and scientists will be quickly demolished if they are seen as bedfellows with the SJWs.

    It shouldn’t be hard for scientists to present to very obvious reductio ad absurdum argument to Trump: If you want America to be great, then you really need science and scientists (and maybe even import a few thousand per year) and you just need to support them and they’ll quietly get on with the job.

  17. luca turin Says:

    @James Cross #15 Totally agree.

    This administration is full of arrogant know-nothings. Cutting science funding is a bad idea. But I do wonder whether anything at all can be done to reduce the proliferating admin in universities and send more of the cash to labs and less to people in cubicles processing who-knows-what slowly.

  18. Scott Says:

    Michael #14:

      Were there a lot of “left-wing nuts” at the march or was it mostly moderate people?

    It seemed like mostly moderates to me. The signs I saw were mainly general nerd humor, pro-vaccination, pro-EPA, pro-action on climate change, the lack of any “Planet B,” etc.—things I’d regard as not only “moderate” but also correct.

    There was one speaker, a Unitarian minister, who first offered a lengthy apology for speaking as a religious person at a science march—an apology that I regarded as totally unnecessary—and then went on a tear about how the Religious Right’s anti-scientific views merely serve as cover for the capitalistic greed of the plutocrats who are destroying the planet, to cheers from much of the audience.

    I had mixed feelings about her speech: on the one hand, I didn’t think general anti-capitalism should have any place at a science march, particularly since I think capitalism stacks up rather well compared to (say) Communism, in terms of what the economic and behavioral sciences can say about them. On the other hand, if her objection wasn’t to capitalism per se, but rather to the crony system wherein companies win not by building better products, but by bribing legislators to let them rape public goods for private profit, and then paying for phony science to cover up the transaction—well then, of course I’m with her about that.

    More broadly: it’s likely that, if you looked, you could find a few issues on which I disagreed with the majority of people at the march (probably including issues that have come up on this blog). But since those weren’t the issues being marched about, I didn’t see why it should matter.

  19. Jon K. Says:


    I laughed when I read the poster, but I’ll let others debate whether this kind of demonstration is helpful or not.

    Scott, I do like the fact that your comment seems to indicate you are open to deeper, more fundamental, truths being unearthed.

  20. Scott Says:

    Jon K. #19: Mind you, I see no evidence right now that the Schröinger equation isn’t exactly true—except the measurement problem, but if the only available arguments against X are quasi-philosophical, we should seriously consider the possibility that the problem with X lies with us. But of course I’m open to the possibility that it’s not the final answer—what other attitude could possibly be scientific?

    And I’m pretty confident that this sort of march is not politically useful, or only marginally so. Just fun and uplifting for the participants during a dark time.

  21. Scott Says:

    James #15: Thanks; I think “Feel the CERN” is also my favorite so far!

  22. Scott Says:

    luca #12: I’m having trouble coming up with a single example where John von Neumann was ever unequivocally wrong about anything, insofar as he spoke as a scientist. (Maybe someone else knows an example?)

    Freeman Dyson, by contrast, is one of the most creative thinkers on the planet, a global treasure—but has also been wrong so often, about so many things, that I think one ought to see him as optimizing for interestingness and contrarianism rather than truth. Which is fine—it’s good to have a few people like that in a healthy scientific community—as long as one doesn’t then forget and mistake their pronouncements as reliable.

  23. CMurdock Says:

    Honestly I’m a little disappointed to see someone of your intellectual caliber participating in this farce. I’m also not sure how seriously to take you when you claim surprise at seeing an anti-capitalism speech “at a science march”. Science march? What science march?

    A century ago, Susan B. Anthony cautioned against the strategy of her fellow feminists, who insisted on combining the separate issues of suffrage and temperance into one single platform– history, I think, has vindicated her caution. Now I am seeing people everywhere repeat the same mistake: Want women to have the vote? You must want to outlaw beer! Like Trump or conservatism? You must hate science! Etc…

  24. Scott Says:

    CMurdock #23: In this case, the Trump regime started almost immediately savaging the infrastructure of science in the US—putting Rick Perry (!!!) in charge of the Department of Energy and a shill in charge of the EPA; refusing to name any science adviser (so that the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, which I spoke at in the last months of the Obama administration, effectively doesn’t exist anymore); trying to prevent foreign researchers from entering the US over the frantic objections of the scientific community; and of course, decimating the budgets of NIH, DOE, and other science agencies while outright eliminating agencies like ARPA-E (we’ll learn the fate of the NSF soon). All this is in keeping, of course, with the regime’s assault on the concept of objective reality itself, with a stream of ludicrous announcements and tweets (that Obama wiretapped Trump’s phones, that Trump’s inauguration crowd size was record breaking, etc etc), following a pattern familiar from anti-science authoritarian regimes throughout history.

    So at the least, I’d say there’s more of a connection here than between women’s suffrage and prohibition!

    Indeed, I’d go further and say: even if a particular march like this one won’t change anyone’s mind (as it likely won’t), still, anyone who cares about science, or Enlightenment civilization more generally, has a moral burden to speak out against what’s happening in some form. And the fact that a few scientists here and there (e.g. William Happer) choose to collaborate with the regime, changes that conclusion as much as did Heisenberg and Teichmuller’s collaboration in an earlier generation.

  25. Jon K. Says:


    I agree. Philosophy seems like a slippery slope to be resting any foundations on, except some aspects of QM already seem to be pushing up against the boundaries of philosophy when attempts are made to interpret them. The main issue I have with crazy theories that try to explain theory X at a more fundamental level is their predictive power, not a splash of philosophy. Has Wolfram, Fredkin, ‘t Hooft, etc shown exactly how to get the same amount of predictive power as QM? No, but I still think there is some value in toy models and philosophy, and in contrarian partial explanations/interpretations… even if some of aspect of the crazy theory seem to be ruled out by experiments. We never know when some different interpretation of the experiment might bring those crazy theories back into play. They’re like good ideas to keep in the back of your mind.

  26. John Sidles Says:

    Scott wonders (circa #22) “Whether John von Neumann was ever unequivocally wrong about anything, insofar as he spoke as a scientist.”

    Von Neumann justified the Defense Department funding for his IAS computer (which in practice was used for thermonuclear detonation simulation) in terms of a vision for weather control:

    The computer will enable us to divide the atmosphere at any moment into stable regions and unstable regions. Stable regions we can predict. Unstable regions we can control.

    In a narrow reading, von Neumann was wrong. However, von Neumann’s brother Michael — whom I knew as a graduate student — told me that [John] von Neumann’s public narratives were artfully crafted to advance his private objectives.

    So for what reason(s) did von Neumann really want to build computers?

    Since we can never know the answer — von Neumann having died young — it’s good that guessing the answer(s) is more illuminating than knowing the answer(s).

    We can be reasonably confident that the “right” answer (whatever it is) is a dangerous answer, because von Neumann had a deep appreciation of Whitehead’s maxim:

    “It is the business of the future to be dangerous; and it is among the merits of science that it equips the future for its duties.”

    In our present era, Whitehead’s “dangerous future” provides the fundamental reason (as it seems to me) that Trumpian alt-conservatism is consistently and broadly anti-science.

    Namely, Trumpists rightly sense that converging advances in multiple scientific fields are deeply dangerous, both generally in terms of an ever-broadening domain and range of scientific understanding, and specifically in regard to fascistic alt-Trump social and political agendas.

    So for what reason(s) do young people really want to demonstrate the feasibility (or infeasibility) of Quantum Supremacy?

    Prediction  At least some of the reasons for studying arcane subjects like Quantum Supremacy will prove to be “dangerous” to Trumpian objectives (in Whitehead’s sense) … hopefully! 🙂

  27. Shmi Nux Says:

    Scott, I agree that it would be super exciting if it was shown that the Schrodinger equation is a linear approximation of something deeper and it happened in our lifetime. Given the potential implications for so many results, and no-cloning, in particular. Maybe one could then clone minds even if they rely on your Knightian ghosts to be conscious. Or not. Admittedly, this is not my area, maybe you can straightened me out.

  28. murmur Says:

    The Regressive left and the Science March – Jerry Coyne.

  29. murmur Says:

    @Scott Keep marching for the Left, but don’t think they’ll treat you nicely when they come to power. Remember when the SJWs came after you?

    Also not as if the Left has an unblemished reputation when it comes to science. Remember Lysenkoism in Soviet Union? You’ll probably march in support of that too.

  30. murmur Says:

    Let’s be clear what the march for science is: it’s identity politics through and through. I don’t want science that considers ISIS to be marginalized people.

  31. luca turin Says:

    Scott #22 Totally out of my depth here, but wasn’t Von Neumann’s analysis of hidden variable theories shown to be in error by Bell?

  32. Scott Says:

    luca #31: Aha, good example!

  33. Scott Says:


    (1) In the post you linked, Jerry Coyne (who I often enjoy reading) gives reasons why he personally chose not to participate in the science march, but also explains that he doesn’t want to discourage others from doing so and that there are arguments on both sides. As he respects my decision, I also respect his. (Mostly, I wanted to see the march out of curiosity, and I wanted a photo of myself with the awesome sign I thought of to put here on this blog! 🙂 And one of my colleagues who I hadn’t seen in a while was going to the march, and I wanted to catch up with him.)

    (2) If you don’t think I’d oppose the Lysenkoists as I oppose our current crop of antiscience charlatans (or more), you have such a poor mental model of me that it’s hard to take seriously anything else you say. Of course, a huge practical difference is that the Lysenkoists literally had their opponents jailed or murdered, whereas our current president “merely” threatens and mocks his opponents on Twitter—democratic norms in the US have thankfully remained too strong for him to do much else for now, even if he wants to. But why is that relevant? The mere fact that a regime suffers you to march against it, doesn’t imply that there’s nothing to march about.

    (3) I was going to write something about how the current regime seems obviously cut from the same cloth as other authoritarian regimes throughout history, including the Soviet one in its “kinder, gentler” phases, “despite being ideological opposites.” But then, of course, there’s the strange fact that our current president was literally elected with help from a Russian premier and former KGB agent. It’s a dramatic illustration of something I’ve always believed: that the political spectrum has a nontrivial topology; that those who go far enough to the left can easily end up on the extreme right and vice versa.

    (4) Yes, I do recall the incident when a bunch of SJWs “came after” me … sort of hard to forget! 🙂 But if you’ll recall, a second thing that happened then is that a huge number of friends and colleagues in the math and science and general nerd communities, both male and female, rallied to my defense (whether publicly or privately), saying that this progressivism wasn’t their progressivism. That was hard to forget as well.

  34. Scott Says:

    On reading further, I realized there’s something else going on here.

    Namely: if everything I knew about the science march came from reading the endless, tedious internecine squabbles on the Internet, between different factions of leftists and nerds, about precisely what language the march organizers should use to avoid offending every possible marginalized community, and who should be expelled from science for using the wrong language—well, I wouldn’t want anything to do with such a march either!

    But that’s the fundamental failure mode of leftists on the Internet, and nerds on the Internet, and certainly leftist nerds on the Internet! They split hairs. They never unite. Trump and Bannon can take over the world, and they’ll still be battling each other about pronouns.

    OK, but then you go to the real-life march, and you barely see any of that. Mostly you see a lot of people waving signs in support of basic research funding and double-blind trials and evidence-based policymaking and democratic norms and vaccination and the teaching of evolution and slowing down climate change. Which … well, in some sense the central problem of politics was always how to get the people to wave signs for those things rather than for the demagogue du jour. And now here the people are. Seeing that, how can one not hope that this time around, if only because of the common enemy and the imminent threat, the left will spend a little less energy purging and purifying itself, and a little more defending the Enlightenment ideals it had mistakenly taken for granted?

  35. Luca Turin Says:

    Scott #32 [Edward Teller accent] So he mast be rrong on everyszing else as wehl!

  36. Mateus Araújo Says:

    I’m glad to see you were also at the march, Scott. I was there with a sign “Homeopathy is curable”, to emphasize the point that science is apolitical and has inconvenient truths for everyone, not only right wing people (anedoctally, I see a strong correlation between believing in homeopathy and being left wing).

    I think you are, however, too pessimistic about its political usefulness. The general public still has a lot of respect for scientists, and seeing on the news that they are protesting does make people concerned.

    Even spreading the simple message that scientists overwhelming support vaccinations and action against global warming is useful. Denialists love to spread confusion about what scientists actually stand for, and hundreds of thousands of scientists protesting is a powerful counterargument.

  37. Curious Wavefunction Says:

    “Scott wonders (circa #22) “Whether John von Neumann was ever unequivocally wrong about anything, insofar as he spoke as a scientist.”

    von Neumann was wrong on what’s probably the most relevant fact related to this blog; he thought computers would get bigger and more centralized. He simply failed to see miniaturization and personal computers.

  38. John Sidles Says:

    Scott’s comments (circa #33-#34), in regard to the “topology of real-life politics” (as he felicitously calls it), are as outstanding well-reasoned — and timely too — as any that have appeared in the long history of Shtetl Optimized (as they seem to me, anyway).

    More such simple-yet-subtle comments please! 🙂

  39. Scott Says:

    Curious Wavefunction #37: Personally, I’ve always regarded the people who predicted that computers would get bigger and more centralized as not wrong, per se, but simply too far ahead of their time! After all, as Sun’s motto (“the network is the computer”) long prophesied, we might finally be moving toward a world that’s best thought of as having just a single, globe-spanning computing resource: The Cloud.

  40. John Sidles Says:

    Another von Neumann technological-vision that (plausibly) was decades in advance ahead of its time is von Neumann’s US patent 2,815,488 “Non-Linear Capacitance or Inductance Switching, Amplifying and Memory Organ”.

    The patent was filed Apr. 28, 1954 — the year before von Neumann’s cancer diagnosis — then issued Dec. 3, 1957 (i.e., posthumously). The assignee was the IBM Corporation.

    The text of von Neumann’s patent makes marvelous reading as an in-depth first-person account — “Let me begin”, “I assume”, “I claim”, etc. — by a then-healthy von Neumann of a uniquely innovative technological vision for the future of computing.

    In modern terms, von Neumann envisioned computation as a strictly Hamiltonian (hence dissipationless) dynamical process, mediated by parametric interactions between elecromagnetic modes having ultra-high frequencies (30 GHz and higher).

    Hmmm … shades of D-Wave? 🙂

    To the best of my (imperfect) historical knowledge, no quantum and/or thermodynamic and/or informatic and/or complexity-theoretic assessment of von Neumann’s novel computational vision yet been attempted.

    Perhaps von Neumann’s patent might provide an “enabling” starting-point for a highly ambitious — yet historically, scientifically, and mathematically well-posed — undergraduate thesis-project, that might be both fun and appropriate to student-readers of Shtetl Optimized?

  41. Raoul Ohio Says:

    CS #37:
    Being wrong about predicting the future is a lot different than being wrong about physical reality.

  42. jonathan Says:

    I have to add my voice to those critical of the science march.

    While one might like to claim that the march was simply “in support of science”, in the current context it is clearly anti-Trump and anti-GOP. It contributes to the narrative that the GOP is “anti-science”, and that leftists/democrats support the “consensus” views on all relevant scientific topics. It is also part of a larger attempt to cast conservatives as anti-intellectual or stupid/uneducated.

    There are two major problems with this.

    The first is that is is terrible strategy and is likely to backfire horribly. By using science and intellectualism as a way of getting in a cheap shot at the hated red team, you risk politicizing these topics in a way that will damage our society. One harm is in weakening support for and participation in science and intellectual topics by conservatives (ranging from congressional funding to the likelihood that a smart young conservative decides to go to wall street instead of pursuing a degree in physics). A secondary problem is that this conceit renders the left arrogant, uncritical and stupid — why bother thinking things through for yourself if it is simply taken for granted that you are right and the experts are on your side?

    A second problem is that the narrative being advanced is simply false. Trump aside, there are many conservatives scientists and intellectuals, and scientific consensus does not align simply with the views of the political left. Yes, there are the big issues of climate change and evolution (though that one hasn’t been really hot in a decade). But there are tons of issues on which the left is on the anti-science side.

  43. jonathan Says:

    I should add that there is also the overall problem I have with the silly “pro-science” flag-waving you see in some quarters these days. I mean the sort of people who share “I f*cking love science” things on their facebook walls, and say “Yay, science!” because their respected teachers told them that science was good, and their friends tell them it supports their political views.

    How many people attending these marches have ever subjected their own precious beliefs to the critical test of experiment? Have they ever conducted an experiment to check whether science is a good thing, or do they merely take the word of respected and politically correct authorities?

  44. jonathan Says:

    Also, standard disclaimers: I voted for Hillary; I have a low opinion of Trump; I agree with the scientific consensus on climate change.

  45. jonathan Says:

    Perhaps a better summary of my previous comments is the following:

    We can think of “science” as referring to two things. The first is a particular method of arriving at the truth (or rather, a more accurate map of the world), one that emphasizes questioning accepted wisdom, being critical but evenhanded, and formulating explicit predictions and then testing them against data.

    The second is as an existing social process, body of knowledge, and group of people, i.e. the scientific community, the scientific consensus, etc.

    I am highly in favor of the first meaning of science, call it science1. I’m mostly in favor of science2, but with recognition of the flaws and limitations of human institutions. And since science2 is a human institution, it is highly susceptible to the poison of politics. Politicization is sadly ongoing, I fear, for which I hold the left primarily to blame.

    Is one anti-science to question the consensus of climate change? They are anti-science2, but I would say that if their questioning is genuine, then they are properly applying science1. As long as they pursue this process properly, I believe it should result in their agreeing with the consensus; but I can hardly blame those who genuinely hold different views, and indeed consider them to exhibit far more scientific virtue than those who never question received wisdom.

    Of those who question the scientific consensus for political reasons I shall not speak. They are beneath contempt.

    (Sorry for the comment bombardment. I shall now hold my peace.)

  46. Ajit R. Jadhav Says:

    Oh! You [still] use (or at least wear!) the wrist-watch!


  47. Jr Says:

    “even if a particular march like this one won’t change anyone’s mind (as it likely won’t),”

    Ah, but we won’t that until we compare with the results from the Placebo march.

  48. Scott Says:

    Jr #47: The trouble is that the intended influence channel of a protest march is purely psychological anyway! So “placebo march” = “march.”

  49. Scott Says:

    jonathan: Like, you could be right in everything you say. But I see the cause of “pro-science-and-Enlightenment” as so important that, if we see that cause being taken over by identity politics or mindless fanboyism or something else that it shouldn’t be, then I think we need to engage the cause all the more, to help move it in the direction we want.

    It’s kind of like when I talk to laypeople who got all excited about quantum computing because of D-Wave solving NP-hard problems 10 trillion times faster, or something they read in a popular magazine about QCs predicting the weather or traveling backwards in time. If all I do is pour cold water on their misconceptions, I feel like crap afterwards. Instead my task is to redirect their very welcome enthusiasm toward the genuine science that’s happening.

  50. James Cross Says:

    jonathan #42 #45

    I didn’t see the march is mainly anti-Trump except in the sense it is the Trump Administration and Republicans who are proposing the budget cuts and rollback of EPA rules. Of course, there were some overtly anti-Trump signs but most of the signs were politically neutral in a partisan sense, although many opposed to funding cuts.

    Regarding science 1 and 2, I could agree with in theory but let’s look at a concrete example.

    I would assume you would think Judith Curry is a good example of a global warming skeptic who is doing science 1. I used to think so myself.

    So look at her “stadium wave” theory from 2013:

    And notice this quote:

    ““The stadium wave signal predicts that the current pause in global warming could extend into the 2030s,” Wyatt said, the paper’s lead author.”

    Okay, It’s prettymuch already been proven the theory is garbage. Has she changed her skepticism? Has she produced an alternative theory?

    No. And no.

    At some point the climate skeptics need to produce an alternative theory with a prediction about when the cooling will begin or they are not doing science 1.

  51. JimV Says:

    Thanks for attending the march, and I agree with the sign.

  52. Martin Says:

    Irrelevant heads up: The youtube channel PBS Infinite Series has a video coming out next week on Shor’s algorithm to follow up last week’s video on cryptography. The presenter keeps it simple but is very knowledgeable and the videos are beautifully animated. If you feel like checking it out I’m curious if it will earn the Aaronson seal of approval 🙂

  53. mjgeddes Says:

    No need to march literally, science marches on much more effectively as it always has, through theory and experiment 😉

    We may be close a big breakthrough on ‘It from Bit’.

    I think the real puzzle has always been the nature of ‘time’. The QM notion of time has never squared with the block universe picture of relativity, and of course, neither are consistent with the subjective notion of time as a flowing river of awareness.

    In a flurry of insights, some ideas of mine have connected in a way which could unify the different notions of time.

    I proposed that time is 2-dimensional. This has been proposed in physics before, but until now, no one was able to supply a coherent interpretation of the extra time dimension.

    My idea is to move the 2-d time idea to the ‘It from Bit’ framework (reality as computation), and redefine the different notions of time entirely in terms of information theory.

    To recast time in terms of information theory, the natural idea is to equate time with entropy increase (thermodynamics). We know that thermodynamics can be described in terms of information theory, by recasting entropy increase as the spread (or dissipation) of information (increasing correlations) – see the ideas of Seth Lloyd.

    Now introduce the 2nd time dimension.

    Draw a 2-d graph of time and let the x-axis represent ordinary ‘informational entropy’. Now I’m suggesting that we need to define a *new* kind of entropy to represent the 2nd time-dimension (y-axis). I leave open the question of what this new type of entropy could be.

    With 2 different definitions of entropy (i.e 2 time dimensions), the concept of ‘time flow’ actually makes sense: I’m defining it as the rate of change in the *ratio* of the 2 types of entropy.

    Note that if there is only a single time-dimension, the concept of ‘time flow’ doesn’t make any sense, but with 2 time dimensions, suddenly it does, since we have a basis for relating two different timescales!

    And since the notion of ‘time flow’ is so close to our notion of subjective awareness, the natural next conjecture is to suggest that they’re related. Now suddenly we have a way to define consciousness!

    The puzzle of ‘It from Bit’ was how to go from pure information to our apparent material world (matter) and then to consciousness (cognition).

    Time-flow seems the natural scale to explain this.

    Define ‘ground-state information’ as a state of slow time-flow, matter as a state of medium time-flow, and consciousness as a state of high time-flow.

    Then consciousness would be defined as any region where information has a high time-flow.

    Interestingly, around the time I was thinking of all this, a great new book on neuroscience has come out; ‘Your Brain Is A Time Machine’ , by Dean Buonomano, where Dean investigates the philosophy, physics and neuroscience of time.

    I feel a huge breakthrough is imminent!

  54. jonathan Says:

    Scott 49:

    I mostly agree with your comment. I think it’s important to avoid cynicism and an excessively critical spirit on these matters, and engage the public on science and other values we hold dear. I will even support and applaud your participation in the march on these grounds, though I would choose otherwise were I free to do so (I was occupied by a prior commitment at the time of the march, so did not face a genuine choice whether to participate myself).

    However, I think that this engagement must be done very carefully. While it’s great that many people are interested in science, and we can and should engage them even if their interest is driven (as you so aptly put it) by “identity politics or mindless fanboyism”, we must also recognize the danger posed by these, especially the first.

    The greatest risk is that the greater interest shown by some will be matched by decreased interest by others (i.e. those on the right), and that the support itself will be shallow and misdirected, since it is founded on political affiliation rather than genuine interest in science.

    Moreover, to the extent the interest is politically motivated, it will tend to redefine “science” and elevate politically correct scientists and conclusions, while denigrating politically incorrect views. This has, of course, been ongoing for a long time, but mostly with the opposition rather than the support of the scientific community. Politics is powerful stuff in human affairs, and politicization of science is a very dangerous business.

    I admit that my grumping about science fanboyism is mostly irrelevant to my main concerns (except insofar as the fanboyism arises from political affiliation). Though there was much fanboyism on display in the march, and this did annoy me, I agree that this is no reason not to join or engage with it.

  55. Gil Kalai Says:

    Luca and Scott, (#31,32) prior to Bell (1966) Grete Hermann (in 1935) discovered a problem in vN impossibility (1932) result.

    See (and also )

  56. John Sidles Says:

    In regard to the mysterious nature of “time” (circa #53), the distinguished physicist/mathematician Lee Smolin and the distinguished jurist/philosopher Roberto Unger recently collaborated in publishing a book, The Singular Universe and the Reality of Time (2014).

    It’s not obvious (to me at least) how the Smolin/Unger ideas translate into practical engineering frameworks — still the Smolin/Unger ideas are plenty of fun and not evidently “nutty”.

    Roberto Unger is celebrated too — celebrated by my wife Connie and me anyway — as holding the all-time all-culture Demosthenes-record for “speaking without ‘ums’ and ‘ers’“.

  57. luca turin Says:

    #55 Gil Kalai
    Thank you, this is very interesting.

  58. mjgeddes Says:

    John #56,

    Thanks, I’ll look into that one.

    Something is definitely not adding up as regards the standard physics picture of time.

    The key point here is that there are actually 3 different notions of time, and they aren’t consistent with each other (quantum mechanical time , classical physics time , and subjective time).

    If you imagine an observer ‘looking in’ at the block-universe of Einstein, well there’s an inconsistency right there, because the observer’s thoughts are still ‘flowing’ (changing), whereas the block-universe time dimension is ‘frozen’ in place.

    A reasonable way to try to modify this picture is to introduce a ‘growing block universe’ model instead, where there is still a block universe of some kind, but it’s not a complete picture and the block universe itself can evolve.

    But I don’t think you can really make sense of that unless you introduce a 2nd time dimension (one for ordinary block-universe time), the other to record the evolution of the block universe itself.

    The introduction of a 2nd time dimension is my favored hypothesis at this point, but it’s difficult to make sense of what that could mean.

  59. ANG Says:

    I’ve always felt von Neumann was overrated as a mathematical scientist. He dabbled in the foundations of several fields that later grew in importance like axiomatic set theory, quantum mechanics, computing, and nuclear weapons, but (with the possible exception of game theory) it’s hard to think of a research area where he was the single most important person.

  60. So Was I | A bunch of data Says:

    […] in DC, I marched at the satellite march in Atlanta, my daughter Molly in Chicago, Scott Aaronson in Austin, Hal Gabow in New York, and Donald Knuth (pictured) presumably in San Francisco. I thank the many […]

  61. Michael Gogins Says:

    ANG #59:

    John von Neumann invented the formal theory of self-reproducing machines. In this field he is, in my judgment, the single most important person.

  62. luca turin Says:

    ANG #59 I cannot judge whether JvN is scientifically overrated, but I read that he was prone to writing important mathematical papers while conversing with his family at the breakfast table, and that he also enjoyed huge boozy parties with a very diverse crowd. I admire this rare combination of talents in a nerd.

    Also, speaking as a denizen of parochial nation-state Europe, the fact that he became such a big shot in the US despite his exotic background and accent etc. seems to me a wonderful illustration of what made America great. The EU is nowhere near that even now.

  63. Aarsonson_fan Says:

    Wow! Marching for Science in the capital of the Doofus state of the US. Hats off to you.

  64. Scott Says:

    #63: It can’t be denied that Texas has its share of doofuses, but apparently 10,000 people came to this march (many of them probably after I left).

  65. JW Bell Says:

    Fun sign. I’ve never been to a march/protest. Humans are funny creatures.

  66. Joseph Hertzlinger Says:

    Hmmm… A rare instance of a Science March sign with actual science content.

  67. Choronzon Says:

    Any comments on the horrific stabbing at UT Austin yesterday? Were you anywhere near the festivities? Does this modify your position on open carry of firearms by students and faculty?

  68. query Says:

    May I ask does mean NP=coNP can be proven iff NP is in P/poly can be proven (that is NP=coNP iff NP is in P/poly)?

    The paper shows NP is in P/poly can be proven iff coNP in NP/O(1) can be proven.

  69. querynp Says:

    May I ask does mean NP=coNP can be proven iff NP is in P/poly can be proven (that is NP=coNP iff NP is in P/poly)?

    The paper shows NP is in P/poly can be proven iff coNP in NP/O(1) can be proven.

  70. queryNP Says:

    May I ask does mean NP=coNP can be proven iff NP is in P/poly can be proven (that is NP=coNP iff NP is in P/poly)?

    The paper shows NP is in P/poly can be proven iff coNP in NP/O(1) can be proven.

  71. Scott Says:

    querynp #68: The paper talks about provability in certain restricted proof systems, which I believe don’t encompass all the techniques known today (let alone those that might be discovered in the future).

  72. asdf Says:

    You must have seen this:

    Researchers at the University of Science and Technology of China created a quantum device, called a boson sampling machine, that can now carry out calculations for five photons, but at a speed 24,000 times faster than previous experiments.

    Any thoughts? And woo hoo regarding boson sampling I guess.