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Schwinger and the death of Science - the beat of a different drum

+ 2 like - 0 dislike
1785 views

Here is an excerpt from Wikipedia about Schwinger: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Julian_Schwinger

"After 1989 Schwinger took a keen interest in the non-mainstream research of cold fusion. He wrote eight theory papers about it. He resigned from the American Physical Society after their refusal to publish his papers. He felt that cold fusion research was being suppressed and academic freedom violated. He wrote: "The pressure for conformity is enormous. I have experienced it in editors’ rejection of submitted papers, based on venomous criticism of anonymous referees. The replacement of impartial reviewing by censorship will be the death of science."

I am interested to know whether there are other famous accomplished scientists experiencing peer pressure or scientific journal or community suppression, when those scientists performed extraordinary independent research. Examples of accomplished scientists they are edged out from certain communities but still stick to their independent research. And what are those (controversial) research topics and results that they were pursuing at the time?

(ps. It may smell like an analogous nostalgia feeling for some of us who have been banned from Physics SE...)

(ps. the beat of a different drum is from Schwinger comments on Feynman: An honest man, the outstanding intuitionist of our age, and a prime example of what may lie in store for anyone who dares to follow the beat of a different drum.)

Please feel free to close the question if it is off the topic. : )

asked Jun 25, 2014 in General Physics by wonderich (1,400 points) [ no revision ]

again, sorry that, please feel free to close the question if it is off the topic. :)

I have also heard about today well-known and appreciateed physicists who have had their now famous papers rejected when first submitting it to a journal by ... hm... not so careful and/or knowledgeable referees. This is among other thing why we have a Reviews section on PhysicsOverflow :-).

For the examples I would have to dig ...

Could you emphasize that he was 71 years of age when he took up research into cold fusion?

What does "he was 71 years of age when he took up research into cold fusion" imply in regards to this question?

physicsnewbie is suggesting Schwinger was going senile. He wasn't, as his parallel work on sonoluminescence and Casimir calculations show. He was old-fasioned, and independent, just as always. But the frightening thing is that the rest of the community had become collectively senile.

@Ron Spot on, except not quite senile. Just that his mind wasn't as stimulated, nor responding the same way as it did when he was in his 20s, leading him to conclusions that leading researchers in their 20s at the time would have picked up upon way before him. I call it Clive Sinclair C5 syndrome :)

@Dilaton I have heard that about Peter Higgs before. 

2 Answers

+ 4 like - 0 dislike

I am neither an expert nor a supporter/anti, but I have closely worked with the world leaders in the search for "Pentaquark". Evidence of the pentaquark is the most highly cited paper from the HERMES collaboration. Later, various experiments were carried out at different labs but the claims were divided between "yes there is" and "we did not find any" at about up to \(7\sigma\) confidence level. One of the other lab claimed that there is  at \(5\sigma\) level but a repeated high statistics experiment did not find any. This is going on for almost two decades. Very recently a Belle experiment group have claimed the the existence of "Tetraquark". 

Physicists working on exotic-baryon search are divided. Group who claim the existence of "Pentaquark" allege that their research for the search is suppressed. Because, to strengthen their claim costly experiments have to be carried out. There have been some serious bitter mishaps due to this debate which, for personal reasons, I do not want to mention here. A person who seriously wants to know more about it will find it anyway.

answered Jun 25, 2014 by Nottherealwigner (135 points) [ revision history ]
edited Jun 25, 2014 by Nottherealwigner

So why is pentaquark so elusive experimentally?

It is because 1) small cross-section and 2)  it is detected by its long chain of decay products 3) most of the channels where you can look for pentaquark has huge background, finding a tiny signal in a huge background is always difficult. Thanks Nottherealwigner (I forgot my login password).

This is a bit misleading--- there is also the issue that quark number is not easy to even define theoretically, since it is hard to tell whether a "pentaquark" is not a baryon+soft-meson event, and a tetraquark is not a string excitation of a meson. These theoretical ambiguities make it hard to even define what it is you are looking for.

Straight-up pentaquark events should come with a way to identify the particle pole, and to show that it isn't interpretable as another kind of event. Unfortunately, all the limited number of pentaquark and tetraquark papers I have read have been biased by the desire to find something exciting, and it is hard to be impartial under such pressure.

Dear Ron, I gave the answer from the point of view of an experimentalist. I told earlier that I am not an expert on this. I have witnessed the debate without fully understanding what  the debate is about. I remember some credible theoreticians have made remarks similar to yours. I cannot say anything more than this. Thank you for your nice arguments. Thanks. Nottherealwigner.

+ 3 like - 0 dislike

It's not so much that it's off topic, but that the answers are well known. Science is cliquey, and when the research is out of fasion, it can be hard to get published. Stueckelberg couldn't publish his renormalization paper in 1942, quarks were considered taboo by 1969 (although everyone knew they were there), because the fractional charges were considered ridiculous. String theory was suppressed in the 1970s, you couldn't really get a pure string-theory paper published before 1984 except in a select journal that was taken over by the string theorists (Nuclear Physics B). This is the standard problem with academic review, it leads to suppression of research. But cold fusion was so improbable theoretically, and the experiments were difficult to reproduce, so it is the perfect storm for pre-internet literature censorship.

answered Jun 25, 2014 by Ron Maimon (7,535 points) [ no revision ]

@VladimirKalitvanski I am deleting your two comments here, not because they are crackpot, but because they are off-topic self-promotion. 

@VladimirKalitvanski We have given you ample freedom to discuss your work in Reviews and even in some questions in qa. But spamming other threads, about legitimate physics, is too much. 

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