The trouble with physics?

By Ken Perrott 10/04/2012

Scientists working on the Atlas experiment at the Large Hadron Collider ( Photo: REX FEATURES & The Telegraph)

No, this is not an in-depth critique of string theory along the lines of Lee Smolin’s The Trouble With Physics: The Rise of String Theory, The Fall of a Science, and What Comes Next or Peter Woit’s Not Even Wrong: The Failure of String Theory and the Search for Unity in Physical Law. It’s more along the lines of how do you know when a physicist is joking?

I think part of the attraction of modern physical theories and speculations are their non-intuitive nature. I buy that – and don’t find myself rejecting ideas just because they violate “common sense.” But I have often through that this non-intuitive nature does leave the field wide open to bullshit.

OK – I am aware that pseudo-science uses this to it’s own advantage to sell products and ideologies. But here’s a more practical problem I face – who do you believe when you read stories about physical discoveries on or around April 1 every year?

For example – I am pretty sure that the CERN Newsletter editors were pulling my leg when they reported – CERN scientists report sidereal influence on the behaviour of antimatter:

CERN scientists today reported an unexpected effect in the behaviour of antiprotons in the ALPHA experiment’s particle trap. ALPHA traps antiprotons from the laboratory’s Antiproton Decelerator and mixes them with positrons to form antihydrogen.

The experiment’s ultimate goal is to perform spectroscopic measurements on antihydrogen atoms in order to investigate nature’s preference for matter over antimatter. ALPHA reported an important step forward last month with the announcement that they had succeeded in changing the internal state of antihydrogen atoms using microwaves.

One of the key stages in CERN’s antimatter programme is slowing the antiprotons down as much as possible, a process known as cooling. In all measurements to date, the ALPHA experiment has cooled the antiprotons to a temperature of just 0.5 Kelvin. However, when the experiment ran on Monday 26 March, they observed antiprotons cooled to 0.4 Kelvin: in other words, they were moving more slowly than usual. Another curious phenomenon was that the temperatures of the antiprotons followed a Poisson distribution instead of the usual Gaussian. The following day, the antiprotons were back to their normal temperature of 0.5 Kelvin.

“We took a long time to figure this one out,” explained collaboration spokesperson, Jeffrey Hangst. “On Monday, the antiprotons were particularly cold, but they responded well to microwave warming, allowing us to conclude the run. On Tuesday, our antiprotons were back to normal.”

The solution came from an unexpected direction.

“There was something else strange about Monday’s run,” said Hangst. “Our run coordinator Niels Madsen arrived an hour late, which is very uncharacteristic behaviour for him.”

This provided the clue the ALPHA collaboration needed.

“I’d forgotten that the time changed over the weekend,” said Madsen. “And of course no one had told the antiprotons that the clocks went forward either, so they were just a little more slow than usual. By the time we got to Tuesday, they’d adjusted to Central European Summer Time.’

But what about this from Jon Butterworth – a physics professor at University College London and a member of the High Energy Physics group on the Atlas experiment at Cern’s Large Hadron Collider. He’s normally a serious guy but reported in his Guardian Blog Life and Physics recently (April 1 actually) that “a bug in the software used to model the detectors at the Large Hadron Collider could have been covering up evidence for extra space time dimensions” (see  First evidence for string theory at the Large Hadron Collider):

Complex software models are used to understand the results from the Large Hadron Collider. These include simulations of the particle physics in the proton-proton collisions, as well as of the material and geometry of the detectors and the strength of the various magnetic fields. As more data are accumulated, the required precision of this software increases.

A recent review recommended that the number of decimal places used to represent numbers in the software should be increased. This means all mathematical constants such as e and pi, as well as physical constants and the measured dimensions of the detectors. So far, so routine. But when adding more precision to pi, a strange effect was noticed. The alignment of charged particle tracks across detector boundaries actually got worse when a more precise value was used. In addition, the agreement between simulation and data also got slightly worse.

This really should not happen – more precision should mean better alignment and better agreement.

Boring scientists say this is probably evidence that some physicists don’t know how to write proper code. However, string theorists have pointed out that a firm prediction of string theory is the existence of extra space-time dimensions. In a space which is curved into a higher dimension, the apparent value of pi can deviate from that seen in real life. And thus the LHC may have proved that they were right all along. More data are needed before we can be sure.

Well, I don’t know. Sounds as credible as most of the stories coming from the LHC and the scientists working there.

Perhaps a hint that the story is an April Fool’s joke comes from the last sentence:

Less welcome news for CERN is that since they have been near to the beams for two years, the values of pi used in those parts of the ATLAS which were built in the UK are now hot, and therefore as of today will attract VAT.

Or perhaps it’s only the last sentence which is the joke?

That’s the trouble with modern physics. When should we take it seriously.

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0 Responses to “The trouble with physics?”

  • Just been reading another blog on related site and came across this “Mr. Papp talked about how the motor worked, using vague and complicated phrases about radiation, atoms, different levels of energy, quanta, and this and that, all of which made no sense whatsoever, and would never work.
    But the rest of what he said was important, for every fraud has to have the right characteristics: Mr. Papp explained that he had tried to sell his engine to the big automobile companies, but they wouldn’t buy it because they were afraid it would put all the big oil companies out of business.
    So there was obviously a conspiracy working against Mr. Papp’s marvelous new engine. Then there was a reference to the magazine articles, and an announcement that in a few days the engine was going to be sent to the Stanford Research Laboratory for validation. This proved, of course, that the engine was real. There was also an invitation to prospective investors to get in on this great opportunity to make large amounts of money, because it was very powerful. And there was a certain danger!
    There were quite a few wires running from the engine down to where Mr. Papp and the spectators were standing, into a set of instruments used for measurement; these included a variac, a variable transformer with a dial which could put out different voltages. The instruments were, in turn, connected by a cord to an electrical outlet in the side of the building. So it was pretty obvious where the power supply was.
    The engine started to go around, and there was a bit of disappointment: the propeller of the fan went around quietly without the noise of an ordinary engine with powerful explosions in the cylinders, and everything- it looked very much like an electric motor.
    Mr. Papp pulled the plug from the wall, and the fan propeller continued to turn. ‘You see, this cord has nothing to do with the engine; it’s only supplying power to the instruments,’ he said. Well, that was easy. He’s got a storage battery inside the engine. ‘Do you mind if I hold the plug?’ I asked? ‘Not at all,’ replied Mr. Papp, and he handed it to me.
    It wasn’t very long before he asked me to give me back the plug. ‘I’d like to hold it a little longer,’ I said, figuring that if I stalled around enough, the damn thing would stop.
    Pretty soon Mr. Papp was frantic, so I (Richard Feynman) gave him back the plug and he plugged it back into the wall. A few moments later there was a big explosion.”
    Interesting to read as in my research into the energy (knowledge) crisis I have found the PAPP engine resurfacing, whats more I find they are gearing up to mass produce.
    Wow is this fake ?My intuition tells me it is not. Sure it is only a website but further inquires with the company suggests this is real. Are the laws of physics correct ? 100 % ? My speculation is they are not and there might have to be some changes.

  • Ok but the blog wasn’t doing anything and I don’t have any place to voice my opinion about these issues. Did you look at the site I posted ?
    In order to get my point across I needed to portray Mr Feynman’s opinion on his review of the PAPP engine.
    I also notice that you are quick to portray a hoax and denounce the PAPP engine but have nothing to say in regards to Intelligentry’s claims. His dismissal was in 1966,it is now 2012 and this engine has resurfaced. That means for the last 46 years they have been working on this !! Totally a hoax ?
    You might have seen at the website if you had bothered to look past the hoax claims, they are asking for licensing companies world wide. Maybe if you thought there might be something in this and gone to youtube and searched and found the videos they have uploaded. You would have found that this could be quite real.
    Well maybe you need to wait until main stream media verifies this. Or a top scientist in some university.
    Science is suppose to be about questioning, instead of blind faith isn’t it (isn’t that religion ?). Maybe the thermodynamics laws need a little tweaking.
    Feynman could have been wrong to call this a hoax.
    Any how it is an interesting development in the worlds energy crisis and an oil dominated industry.
    I find it interesting that in this so called crisis affecting everyone and future generations, how quick we are to denounce any thing that could be a solution. Rather than look into these things and our university’s research them.This proves to me what a grip big business has on the whole scenario.
    Mind you, one only has to study Tesla’s life (and subsequent suppression of his findings) to understand this concept.
    I think it is sad that Physics these days seems to be about glorified mathematicians, that work on theories like string theory that will never be proven experimentally (strings are to small). Rather than experimentally validating various phenomenon, I see more on youtube done by individuals with a quest for knowledge (things like coupling pancake coils with tesla coils and measuring results ).
    No wonder the kids don’t want to go to school !!!

  • I don’t have any place to voice my opinion about these issues

    You can set up your own blog at,, etc.

  • Grant, then he wouldn’t be able to high-jack another blogs readership.
    What he means is there’s nowhere to voice his opinion where he’d be noticed.

  • Darcy – maybe, but IMO it’s up to him to develop his own readership not hijack other’s readerships eh? Then, again, it‘s Ken’s blog not ours; I was just pointing it out that, whatever his intentions, what he wrote isn’t really true.

  • You are right Darcy, I do not see the issues I am talking about on the New Zealand science blogs, so I thought as they could be cutting edge science I would bring the up. I would like to discuss these things with other people unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be much discussion. What is wrong with physics ? Well I gave you my opinion, I am probably better off talking to an empty space as there doesn’t seem to be anyone who will discuss this stuff with me. My hope is that someone out there is listening and interested in what I have to say. So you can call me if you want the science bandit, that suits me to the ground. Hahahaha. I could be wrong but I could also be right. So sorry to have questioned the mighty Feynman. Hahaha

  • Derek, I’ve seen a video on youtube purporting to show that you can pop popcorn using a cellphone.
    Hint: you can’t, not really.

    Ok Alison but this is hardly popping popcorn. These are serious issues that need to be addressed and innovative and intelligent people, that are challenging the current accepted laws, with solutions. Has anyone got anything positive to say about this ?
    If you want answers there are many, you just have to think outside the square.
    Here is another one for those interested

  • Electrickiwi,

    Regarding the youtube clip –

    It looks to me like there is probably a rotating magnet under the table which is where the energy is coming from. I can’t be certain but then that is the problem with youtube clips, you only see what the person wants you to see. If this gentlemen seriously had some new energy system to offer wouldn’t he invite along some engineers and physicists to see it in person?

    For decades people have attempted to sell people on anti-gravity devices, perpetual motion machines and motorcycles which run on water + a “special ingredient”. When all of these have been examined more closely they have been shown to be frauds, and these failures have reinforced the various physical laws of nature.
    Rather than pursue fanciful devices which would defy the Laws of nature wouldn’t it make more sense to explore energy devices that are innovative yet work within the Laws of Nature.

    This is not to say that I would completely discount a novel way of generating energy – however any such device would have to provide evidence of it working, far beyond a youtube video. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence

  • True there could have been a rotating magnetic field under the table. I understand what you are saying.Muammer Yildiz had a great magnet motor and the Perendev Motor was another good one.
    Has anyone heard of the Aucklander that was running a bike off water (he was on 60 minutes) and an additive ? Reminds me of Stanely Meyer, his water cell using high potential and high frequency and low current seems to give off a lot of hydrogen. Apparently all that is need to run a car is 30 psi, the same pressure as a bike tyre, which can then be put straight into a carby.
    Seems to be something about high potential and high frequency that breaks the electromagnetic bonds between molecules.

  • This would be Steven Ryan, whose ‘invention’ was indeed covered by 60 Minutes a few years ago now. If he was indeed using water to run the bike then you’d expect that the exhaust gases would be ‘clean’ ie water vapour & not much else. Apparently he did allow testing of the exhaust – which contained the same hydrocarbon signature that you’d expect for a vehicle burning the usual hydrocarbon-based fuel. This rather suggests that the ‘additive’ was something like ethanol – & in reasonably large quantities. Thus it cannot be said that the bike was running on water.

  • Granted Alison that video link didn’t work for me. But while we are on the subject of water and energy I thought i would bring up two other interesting qualities. “Sonoluminescence” it is pretty amazing done by directing sound waves at bubbles (25hz), what happens is the waves hit the bubble and collapse it. All the vapour inside collides and produces light and heat, this phenomenon is also called “star in a jar”. This is an experiment that can be done to reproduce this effect
    Another interesting phenomenon is water burning by application of radio waves.
    So in terms of water being a possible energy source, well if researchers applied the no 8 wire mentality and can do attitude I am sure anything is possible.
    I will leave cavitation for another time.

  • electrickiwi,

    the trick with any method for generating electricity is that the amount of energy produced needs to be greater than that which is put in.
    With both of the methods you describe above, it is not clear how much energy is being put in to begin with. I suspect it is high enough to make the energy output irrelevant.
    These links did however lead me to another
    Any process which can provide energy by using “free energy” from the sun or the wind is much more likely to solve our energy problems.

  • Haha ok well guess what they didn’t even put magnets in it. Don’t diss Bedini as I have his machine going at home. Just goes to show you what a bunch of twats mythbusters are.This is Bedini’s reply to mythbusters, they wouldn’t even build it properly or respond to his emails.

  • electrickiwi, I notice you had no response to my comment pointing out that the bike supposedly running on water was doing nothing of the sort…

  • Posted twice was a mistake sorry. The bike running on water the video link did not work for me, interesting that ethanol was given as a probable answer. I notice that is not a factual debunk but a speculation.

  • “Here it is again”
    Doesn’t seem like a mistake.

    “Has anyone heard of the Aucklander that was running a bike off water (he was on 60 minutes) and an additive ? ”

    Not much to go on. As Alison says the exhaust suggests that the “additive” was a hydrocarbon. Would you prefer a different guess as to the identity of the additive?

  • no, but I do know with plasma electrolysis it is KOH. Other people doing electrolysis (not plasma but HHO, no steam) it is baking soda.
    Stan Meyer set the pace in the 1990’s ever since HHO generators have taken over youtube. The trick seems to be using high potential and high frequency to break the electromagnetic bond between hydrogen and oxygen.
    Off the subject and back onto the trouble with physics ” many academicians are overly confident that “old knowledge” has been thoroughly comprehended and admixed into contemporary theory and is, therefore, expendable”
    Eric Dollard is an electrical engineer who has done remarkably exhaustive historical research and experimental verifications of scientific claims made by Nikola Tesla a century before. It was through Mr. Dollard that we learned about a forgotten chapter in the art of controlled thermonuclear fusion like no other.
    Radiant electricity was what Tesla was studying after 1893, this is cold electricity. He gave up all interest in AC after powering the world. Radiant electricity he believed would solve man’s problems…
    Tesla Tesla Tesla

  • Derek, please can you be consistent with your ‘nym – as I’ve said previously, it’s not good etiquette to post on the same blog under 2 different names.

    Now back to the chase: no, but I do know with plasma electrolysis it is KOH. Other people doing electrolysis (not plasma but HHO, no steam) it is baking soda. This misses the point – neither of these would give a hydrocarbon signature in the exhaust.

  • Some blogs must log in for and others it is just name and email address. When I was asked to log in I use this name. When asked for just my name and address it is my name and email. This blog is log in so all my posts are as Electric kiwi
    In terms of the Auckland man I do not know much about it. I am no longer too worried about it as have found something else that deserves investigation.
    My latest question for those who know physics is what do you know about ” Philo T. Farnsworth” ? I have recently discovered this man and am intrigued.

  • “This blog is log in so all my posts are as Electric kiwi”

    except for the ones where you are Derek, scroll up and see.

  • Derek, you seem to be doing a Gish Gallop – jumping from one thing to another without discussing details.

    That is hardly serious.

    I suggest you lay off the links (I usually can’t follow them anyway) and write a comment on the chemistry or physics of what you are referring to.

    That would make reasonable discussion possible.

    It isn’t at the moment

    And please stick with the issue you raise.

  • In terms of my logs I am sorry not too sure what is going on there, to do with the name thing. I just type in reply and do not pay attention to the name. So am not sure if it is my name or my log in ID. It is not something that I do intentionally.
    The links I publish usually in respect to the phenomenon I am talking about. I understand that maybe I do jump to here and there. My main point is energy. I have brought up a number of interesting things that no one seems to comment on, for example the resurgence of the Papp engine, which Feynman claimed to debunk stating that there was probably a battery in it. It has now resurfaced 40 something years later.!!
    I acknowledge the Aucklander that made the bike that ran on water and an additive, could very well have been alcohol.
    Ok my latest issue is Philo T. Farnsworth it is odd that many people don’t know who he is. I didn’t till I stumbled across him in my research into energy sources(which all started with Tesla). We all know who invented the light bulb and radio (using Tesla’s patents). Philo founded the “The multipactor effect” and gave us the new opium of the masses. It is alleged that he discovered over unity. This could be a reason why so few have heard of him. Maybe some one could tell me something about him.

    • So this Philo pushed opium and founded the “Multipactor Effect.” You don’t explain what that is and why you find the guy interesting.
      Nothing to comment on there.

      You have got to explain yourself if you want responses.

  • It is alleged that he discovered over unity.
    And this means what, exactly?

    Back to the bike thing – Derek, if the ‘additive’ could very well have been (quite likely was) alcohol, then why use this as an example of the wondrous ‘free’ energy to be had from water in the first place? You’ve accused us of being unwilling to examine the possibility of new energy sources, but it seems to me that a similar accusation could be levelled in your direction, in that you’re so sure that there’s something in the ‘free’ energy idea that you don’t critically examine many of the claims made for it.

  • FWIW, ‘over-unity’ is a term sometimes used by proponents of perpetual motion / free energy machines to describe their…. objects (from the ration of energy-in to energy-out is meant to exceed 1).

  • Ok in terms of the bike thing I acknowledge it could have been a hoax. I also know that oil residues would stay in the engine for a while, also if oil is used to lubricate the engine but a different fuel source used it is highly likely there will be hydro carbons in the exhaust, from the lubricant.
    Philo T. Farnsworth didn’t push opium. Religion was often referred to as the opium of the masses. How ever with todays society religion has been on the back burner and what keeps people sedated today is television. Yes Mr Farnsworth invented television. He played around a lot with vacuum tubes and got to discover some interesting phenomenon. Particularly the Multipactor effect, “The multipactor effect is a phenomenon in radio frequency (RF) amplifier vacuum tubes and waveguides, where, under certain conditions, secondary electron emission in resonance with an alternating electric field leads to exponential electron multiplication, possibly damaging and even destroying the RF device.”
    He also developed the Farnsworth fusor before Stanley Pons and Martin Fleischmann were interested in fusion. It is the Farnsworth fusor that is relatively inexpensive to make and has been replicated by university students over the world.