Monday, August 3, 2020

Bias in life and physics (sexism)

My thesis advisor (Prof. Betsy Beise) was a woman physicist, as were both of my postdoctoral supervisors  (Prof. Olga Botner and Prof. Catherine De Clercq), as was one of the co-leaders of my primary experiment as a professor in Chile (Prof. Debbie Harris). Despite this, and the progress it represents, I think that there is a bias that women face and not just societal imbalances relating to parental leave, parental responsibilities and expectations.

My experience in physics is that a bias exists. I have heard numerous male physicists express in private that women physicists were good or acceptable as lecturers, colleagues and even administrators but not as thought leaders or researchers. This wasn't just from elderly physicists, but also from ones from my generation.

Also, being an active and involved father of two young girls has opened my eyes to some of the bias that exists in this world and in myself. My girls always want the story to be about girls or assume that anyone not given a gender is a girl. My observation is that many of the stories give a male gender for the character (unnecessarily) and my own bias comes through in my discussion of stories without explicit gender where I tend to give characters a male gender if an explicit female gender is not given.

It is clear that an explicit effort to attract female talent to physics is necessary and appreciate those such as Prof. Kim (University of Chicago) who do this. Also necessary is a societal rebalancing towards parenting which has started in Sweden (and other places in Europe) and which some in the United States would like to implement here. Part of this rebalancing must include a rebalancing of expectations and responsibilities, like in Sweden, where men have parental leave.

I think a step that hasn't been made anywhere is to make some minimal amount of parental leave (6 months) required.

Sunday, July 12, 2020


For many people the community aspects of religion are crucial. In fact, I know plenty of Christians for whom the community aspect is the main and most important part of Christianity. By community aspect I mean by going to church an individual is part of the community and has friends/support networks/etc and so on.

For most of my life this community or body aspect of church was foreign to me, despite attending weekly.

Growing up, I didn’t make friends at church, I didn’t really talk to others. I would go and listen to the sermon or sleep or think about games/books. I would sometimes take part in religious discussions there, even on occasion being a very active participant, but that was all.

When I returned to church (not Christianity, I never left Christianity) in the middle of graduate school, I began to appreciate three more components. The first of these was worship, was singing and praising as the body of Christ. The second was being inspired, as I came to very much appreciate pastors who could inspire me for the coming week to work to improve my life for the better. The final, and relatively illformed for me compared to the first two, was service. I didn’t lead or play a significant role in service to the community, but I did occasionally play a bit role and I found that that was also important and valuable component of church. I also found a camaraderie in service.

But I still struggled with the community aspect. Part of this is just a fundamental difficulty with socializing that I also find with physics conferences and the like, and my behavior at receptions is often similar. But at church I would take part or leave. Sometimes I tried to force myself to become part of the community by staying but I would just stand in a corner awkwardly. Sometimes I would have in mind to go greet someone, but that would be over quickly and then what? So the community aspect of church was foreign to me.

The last couple of years I began to understand, to internalize, it a bit more. For the first time, that became the most significant component (at times) to me of church and not worship or inspiration or it being a set aside time to rest. This was because I had children, and involved them in the children’s programs. They loved being involved with the other kids and I followed them.

So now, for the first time and as we can no longer worship together in person, I find myself wanting the community part of church.

The Economist (the virus is accelerating dechurching in america) posited that people would find other sources for what they got from religion after going away. I have also heard concerns about this from pastors who I know and admire.

It is true that the habit has been broken. But inspiration and praise are available remotely and online, and all forms of community, not just religious community, are missing at this time. People need community (especially those with families) and will return to them or renew them when they are able to.

So no, I don't think that the there is going to be a significant increase in dechurching, beyond that which has been going on the last two decades and at least partially originates in the alliance between evangelical christianity and the Right in the United States.

Monday, June 1, 2020

AMS discovery

The most recent paper from AMS is exactly what I hoped to see from AMS and similar discovery machines. That is data that provokes questions. A particularly good and clear question might be called a discovery of new physics, but most of the time each question is only a small step in what is called progress.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

The Future of Science in America

The Trump Administration has been consistently anti-science. The new proposed budget continues this behavior (Trump's 2021 budget drowns science agencies red ink again). The DOE Office of Science, which funds most of HEP, has a proposed cut of 17%.

I think it is the case that the next 4 years will be a nightmare for science in the US if Trump is re-elected. The Republicans have stopped pushing back against Trump in many areas, and if he wins again in November I doubt the science budget will be important place of resistance for either Republicans or Democrats (and I doubt there will be any resistance left in elected Republicans not named Mitt Romney). It has been this resistance the previous 3 years, and I expect again this year (at least from the Democrats) which have mitigated some of the damage that this administration has tried to do to American Science.

Here is some additional documentation for this, that I have seen just in the last 36 hours:
Trump's new budget cuts all favored few science programs
Climate change once again left out of Trumps federal budget

While HEP hasn't faced nearly the barriers and difficulties that many other areas have faced (like Climate Science), HEP still faces challenges from the leadership of the DOE. One that I didn't see reported elsewhere is that Fermilab faced severe restrictions on collaboration with some foreign nationals soon (June 2017) after the Perry took over which was reduced/eliminated within days of the announcement of Perry's resignation in October 2019. Talking to older people, there were similar restrictions for a short period of time after September 11, 2001.

While the challenges that Science in the US faces due to Trump is minor compared to the challenges immigrants and various other groups face, and the challenges that HEP faces is minor compared to some other sciences, it is still something to think about during this election year.

Saturday, February 8, 2020

Chilean Unrest

Despite the proximity between my resignation and the social unrest in Chile, the social unrest had nothing to do with my departure. I permanently left Chile in 2018 and not in 2019. The connection is that the social unrest is due to the lack of opportunity, which is one of the reasons for my departure (my family left Chile in 2015, partially due to a lack of opportunity).

While the social unrest appears to be extremely costly, I hope that the structural changes needed will come about and Chile will be in a better place in a decade than it otherwise would have been. There is a constitution vote in April, which is an opportunity for improvement and for a more socially cohesive future.

While my place in the development of human and intellectual capital was at the top (I primarily worked with PhD students), my observation is that Chile’s education system needed an overhaul from the ground up. While I was not an expert at this, I was told that the problems were intrinsic and in the Chilean constitution. 

It seems that the problem with education is similar to what has become a problem in places in the US, where the money and wealthy students go to private schools which provide barriers to the majority and bring the overall level of education down by reducing competition between the wealthy and upper middle class and the majority of the population. In this way it is a disservice to both the upper classes and the masses and the country as a whole.

I observed this was a problem, but because I wanted my kids to compete internationally, if we had stayed in Chile my daughters would have gone to expensive private schools. It is hard to cause the required change without mass action, which is done by government, and in education the current Chilean constitution does not allow this.

It is interesting that in the Economist Ranking, Chile recently moved up to Full Democracy and the US recently moved down to Flawed Democracy (Economist: Global Democracy).

Further information on education in Chile (OECD Summary 2018  ODI Chilean Education).

Editorial from the Times on the protests (NY Times Opinion Chilean Protests).

The Chilean constitution (in English) (Chilean 2012 Constitution).

Sunday, January 26, 2020

AMS gets a second life

The repairs to the AMS were apparently successful, which is great news for AMS and the HEP community ( The Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer is the best idea in HEP that hasn't yet produced an important discovery. I have only heard about their measurements of the positron fraction and searches for anti-matter, but I think they are most promising for a "Who ordered that?" type discovery.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

The simulation Test

I propose a Simulation Test based on the Simulation Hypothesis. The test is this, is a given purported supernatural event reasonable within the Simulation Hypothesis. Namely, is the purported supernatural event reasonable if you assume we exist in a simulation and the supernatural event was caused directly by the Simulator ‘interfering’ with the simulation.

For example, resurrection can pass the simulation test since it would be easy for the Simulator to take information from one place in the simulation and copy it to another. This type of interference, which is similar in some general sense to feeding the multitudes, is easy to explain and to motivate in our experience with simulations. Healing, where disease leaves the body, would also pass the simulation test as it would be easy for the Simulator to delete certain information through various memory states.

Let’s consider other purported, now considered absurd, supernatural events. Such as lightning strikes. Or the seasons each year. Or rain, however frequent it is. Is it reasonable, even ignoring our natural explanations for such events, for the Simulator to make so many repeated and structured modifications to the simulation? Or would such repeated events be included in a model or routine which is called at many points in the simulation (and so we would probably classify as natural and not supernatural)? So a miraculous hypothesis for such events would not pass the Simulation Test.

For a test to be useful, it needs to be applicable to a current point of discussion (even if one that some people feel is absurd). So let’s consider the interpretation of the biblical story of creation that many Young Earth Creationists hold. In this interpretation, the simulation behaves in a completely different manner in each of what should be called the first seven days and even though the simulation on the seventh day has some surface similarities to the simulation observed now, that it was still fundamentally completely different. Not only that, but that all of those changes were made by interference by the Simulator.

This seems implausible. It might be plausible for the Simulator to start a simulation at an interesting point or to start one simulation, stop it and make fundamental changes to the simulation, and then restart from the point the previous simulation had stopped. But in the Young Earth Creationist interpretation, either that the physics we observe now was the same physics during creation and that the 7 days were defined by continual supernatural events which have no impact on the universe we observe now or that radically different physics exists on each of the 7 days which have no relation to the physics that we observe now or the physics of the previous days, fails the Simulation Test.

Other interpretations of supernatural events in Judaism/Christianity might fail this test. I think the sun standing still for Joshua could be explained by a supernatural event changing the index of refraction and not by the failing interpretation of repeated supernatural events causing the Earth to change its rotation with no other impact other than the change of the Sun's observed movement in the sky.