Bankrupting Physics: How Today's Top Scientists are Gambling Away Their Credibility

Overview

The recently celebrated discovery of the Higgs boson has captivated the public’s imagination with the promise that it can explain the origins of everything in the universe. It’s no wonder that the media refers to it grandly as the "God particle." Yet behind closed doors, physicists are admitting that there is much more to this story, and even years of gunning the Large Hadron Collider and herculean number crunching may still not lead to a deep understanding of the laws of nature. In this fascinating and ...

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Bankrupting Physics: How Today's Top Scientists are Gambling Away Their Credibility

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Overview

The recently celebrated discovery of the Higgs boson has captivated the public’s imagination with the promise that it can explain the origins of everything in the universe. It’s no wonder that the media refers to it grandly as the "God particle." Yet behind closed doors, physicists are admitting that there is much more to this story, and even years of gunning the Large Hadron Collider and herculean number crunching may still not lead to a deep understanding of the laws of nature. In this fascinating and eye-opening account, theoretical physicist Alexander Unzicker and science writer Sheilla Jones offer a polemic. They question whether the large-scale, multinational enterprises actually lead us to the promised land of understanding the universe. The two scientists take us on a tour of contemporary physics and show how a series of highly publicized theories met a dead end. Unzicker and Jones systematically unpack the recent hot theories such as "parallel universes," "string theory," and "inflationary cosmology," and provide an accessible explanation of each. They argue that physics has abandoned its evidence-based roots and shifted to untestable mathematical theories, and they issue a clarion call for the science to return to its experimental foundation.  

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Behind today’s increasingly far-fetched physics theories, there’s a rising chorus grumbling that the discipline has lost its way. The authors of this witty and earnest “book of doubts” join that choir, explaining how modern physics became “lost at sea” and what it can do to recover. The Standard Model of physics—a roster of particles and forces and their interactions—depends on 17 constants (numbers unexplained by the theory); galaxies spin faster than they should, thanks to “dark matter”—but after chasing it for 80 years, we still don’t know what it is; and some theorists say there is a “dark energy” pushing the universe apart, which is created by a field called the “quintessence,” a concept straight out of speculative medieval science. And then there’s the niggling worry that values like G, the gravitational constant, might not be so constant, or that our perception of time isn’t correct. From “Higgsmania” and string theory to cosmological mysteries, neuroscientist Unzicker and Jones (The Quantum Ten) lobby for math that’s more down-to-earth and a reorientation of attention toward phenomena that can actually be measured. Their assertion that “science means, after all, not being a sucker” is well worth taking to heart. Agent: Ethan Ellenberg, Ethan Ellenberg Literary Agency. (July)
From the Publisher
"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

Kirkus Reviews
With assistance from science writer Jones (The Quantum Ten, 2008), theoretical physicist and neuroscientist Unzicker compares the current state of theoretical physics to a bubble economy. "Governments can delay an economic disaster by printing money," writes the author. "Physics, to avoid the bankrupting of its theories, can resort to experiments with ever-higher energies." Unzicker buttresses this statement with further accusations, taking special aim at peer reviewers who black ball " 'risky' ideas that run contrary to established views…while boring, technical papers are usually waved through." While carefully separating himself from cranks who deny special relativity or quantum theory on the one hand and religious fundamentalists on the other, the author offers a broad dismissal of modern theoretical physicists, whom he accuses of having "gotten lost in bizarre constructs that are completely disconnected from reality, in a mockery of methods that grounded the success of physics for 400 years." Unzicker also targets the massive expenditures of funds on high-energy particle accelerators. Unfortunately, the author's invectives are not matched by equivalent scientific depth. He simplifies the complexities of quantum physics and the Schrödinger equation to a "sophisticated technique, which boils down to the same math one uses to measure how springs--just like your Slinky--oscillate in three dimensions," and he ridicules attempts to explain anomalies in astronomical data by inferring the existence of dark matter and dark energy, comparing them to Ptolemy's use of epicycles to describe planetary orbits. He also disparages the failure of modern science to explain the discrepancies in size of fundamental forces such as gravity and electromagnetism. Unzicker unsuccessfully attempts to bolster the credibility of his own sweeping generalizations by claiming the mantle of esteemed physicists such as Roger Penrose and Lee Smolin, who seriously question the direction of current theory.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781137278234
  • Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan
  • Publication date: 7/30/2013
  • Series: MacSci Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 1,391,383
  • Product dimensions: 9.30 (w) x 6.40 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet 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.

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