The idle ramblings of a Jack of some trades, Master of none

Apr 8, 2007


Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web during his stint at CERN. That, I am afraid, has been pretty much the end of the contributions by physicists to the development of the Internet. In the days before my marriage and the subsequent advent of the boy, I actually had time to browse the extant world of physics on the web. Other than Usenet mailing lists and the occasional home page of a web-savvy physicist, there was not much going on.

I used to look forward with some anticipation to John Baez's This Week's Finds in Mathematical Physics, in which he described his work in category theory, gravitational physics and talked in engaging terms about the conferences he attended and the occasional fiction he enjoyed. Pretty much all the science stuff was OTHT (in desi techie slang: over the head transmission). Still, stirring stuff! I first heard about Greg Bear's ultra-hard sci-fi in this column. When time permitted, I would try to follow up his references to the work of others in his field.

Seven years later, the horizons have expanded and the rest of the world of physics is catching up to the utility that is the Web. There now are wikis, elaborate web-pages, course materials, lecture notes, superb visuals, and even blogs. Where these last are concerned, of course, scientists are no less human than the rest of us (check out this piece by Sheldon Glashow slamming Isaac Newton's perfidious behaviours), and their personal vendettas do often cloud rational discourse. Peter Woit has an interesting blog called Not Even Wrong, in which he discusses why string theory, having made no testable claims and occupying far too much research time and money, is becoming a deterrent to other profitable avenues of investigation. This has resulted in acrimony and unexpectedly personal attacks by some string theorists.


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