Open Science, or Internet Fight?

Quantum theory is the most accurate and well tested theory ever. However, it is difficult to understand without the proper mathematical background, and challenges common intuition. This makes it a target for crackpot attacks.

Scott Aaronson has gotten into a fight in his blog with the quantum denialist Joy Christian. This fight has many of the usual ingredients: angry comments, dares, misconceptions, made-up language, etc. War was declared in this post by Scott, and attacks were made in the comments to that post. This prompted Scott to follow up with a second post that is even more interesting. What makes it stand out is that 1) there is a $200,000 in line, 2) Scott has been gracious enough to study Joy’s papers, and find a central, basic and quite obvious mistake that makes the whole argument fall apart, and 3) Scott is asking for FQXi, Perimeter Institute and Oxford to cut all connections to Joy!

This has caused another debate in the comments section of the second post. Is this feeding the troll? Is this going to far? Isn’t this empowering Joy Christian more, instead of deflating him? Why pick on him, instead of any of the other quantum deniers? Even people from FQXi have posted in the blog.

Is this just another internet fight? Is this an example of what Neal Stephenson wrote in Cryptonomicon:

Arguing […] on the Internet is a sucker’s game because they almost always turn out […] to be indistinguishable from—self-righteous sixteen-year-olds possessing infinite amounts of free time.

Or is this how open science should be? After all, it does bring attention to unpublished work, focuses examination by leading researchers, and gets quick results. Just because the result invalidates the idea, was it wasted time and resources, or was it part of how open science should be done?

Is there a code of conduct for Open Science to differentiate between internet fights and good science?

Decoherence Benasque (2)

Quantum Coherence and Decoherence 2010 at Benasque will be over tomorrow. It is a shame, the environment in this conference is very productive and has lead to many interesting discussion. I feel if I stayed a bit longer we would be able to finish some results.

I highly recommend this conference, and I think other conferences could learn a few things from the productive and laid-back atmosphere here.

[Previously]

Quantum Minesweeper

If you are vaguely interested in quantum mechanics, you must check out the game Quantum Minesweeper. You might want to start with the video tutorial before you play online.

The game differs from classical Minesweeper in the following ways:

  • The board is really a quantum superposition of two boards. It is your goal to figure out the superpositions. It is simplified, as only one kind of phase is allowed.
  • There are three different kind of measurements that you can do, each one a limited number of times. The measurements are:
  1. classical measurement – collapse that can trigger a mine probabilistically. Very risky!
  2. entropy measurement – it indicates if there is a superposition or not, but doesn’t tell you if there is a mine or not!
  3. interaction-free measurements – it is very magical, doesn’t collapse the wave function, actually gives you the phase information. Very powerful!

This game is fantastic!

Technical digression:

I have a question that might be a good undergraduate research project for someone interested in quantum information. What is the optimal strategy for the game? That is, if you thought of this game as a kind of state tomography problem, is there a general protocol to extract the state with high fidelity, given the constrains of the number of measurements? To make it more interesting, imagine a version of quantum minesweeper where the boards could have between them any kind of phase, how much harder would solving it be?

Give it one last try
til the next
one more
last try.
-A Wilhelm Scream

Dirac and Quantum Mechanics

Dirac invented quantum mechanics as we know it. He unified everything, adding much along the way into the modern formalism. His book from The Principles of Quantum Mechanics feels completely modern,although it was first published in 1930. However, he was also very humble, giving a lot of credit to others for things he himself discovered.

Kurt Gottfried posted a paper in arXiv:1006.4610 where he carefully examines the history of quantum mechanics by going to the original papers and getting the record straight. This highlights the central role Dirac played through out this. This cute paper is nice, with tons of references, some fun anecdotes, and just enough equations to get the details right. I highly recommend it.

Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.
-Groucho Marx

Program: Quantum Effects in Biological Systems

This thursday, the second conference on Quantum Effects in Biological System will be held here at Harvard University. We are very excited to have experts from all over the world here. The aim of this series of conferences is to establish the new field of Quantum Biology. The conference program can be found here.

Universe as Quantum Information

Vlatko Vedral, from Oxford/CQT Singapore is promoting his new layperson book.

Decoding Reality: The Universe as Quantum Information

An infuriatingly theologically focused video interview can be found here. I’ll assume The Guardian editing is to blame.

Although I am always highly critical of all popularizations of quantum mechanics, I’ll admit I’m biased towards liking this one. Vlatko’s work on the thermodynamics of quantum information have influenced my own interests, and I’m currently working with several people in his group. I can’t wait for this book to come out.

I know it is hopeless.
Hell ain’t big enough to hold us back.
Come one, let’s pick a fight.
We hunt for trouble tonight!
-Astronautalis

2010 is a good year (so far)

2010 has been awesome so far. I’m having a hard time keeping up with blogging all the good news.

Talks

I was in invited The Winter Meeting on Statistical Mechanics in Taxco, Mexico. What a fantastic conference! I learned a lot about many different areas in Statistical Physics, got to meet many awesome researchers, and the keynote talks were in a natural amphitheater inside the Cacahuamilpa caves. Stunning! This was one of the best conferences I’ve been to.

I was also invited to give a talk at Reed College last week. This was my first time ever in Portland, Oregon, and I fell in love with the city. It felt like a mixture of Austin, Northern California and Seattle that I really liked. The academic culture at Reed is something that should be emulated everywhere: students honestly don’t care about grades, just about learning. One thing is to hear it, and another is to witness how true it is! The physics department at Reed has the most motivated and energetic physicists I’ve ever met. Wow.

Papers:

Finally, the paper that I had mentioned before appeared in PRL:

Time-Dependent Density Functional Theory for Open Quantum Systems with Unitary Propagation

Also, the PRA on assignment maps is out in the published wild.

Linear assignment maps for correlated system-environment states

How not to lie about Quantum Mechanics?

Writing for the general public about science news is hard. ArsTech has an article where they accuse many news organizations of deliberately lying in their science coverage, and discuss how they can get away with it do to double standards.

As a scientist with interest in informing the public of my research, are there any guidelines to follow when talking to the press? I want them to see them as allies, but most of the science news are so bad I can’t help but hating them.

I’ve thought much about how to describe my research to family and friends, and haven’t found any good and concise way to do it. More specifically, can any one suggest any good, simple, cocktail-party style one-liners to explain what is quantum mechanics and quantum computing, but that doesn’t make me feel like I’m lying? If I read again the phrase “what Einstein called spooky action at a distance” I might vomit.

Any ideas?


When Men fly from danger, it is natural for them to run farther than they need.
-The Mischiefs that ought justly to be apprehended from a Whig-goverment

DisCover: Quantum rules Photosynthesis (follow up)

The cover of the Discovery issue that discusses the work at my lab.
The cover of the Discover issue that discusses the work at my lab.

This is a follow up to the post about the Discover magazine article that discusses our group’s research studying quantum effects in photosynthesis. The issue (February) is out in stores now. I never liked Discover magazine much, but this time I had to purchase it.

Click here to see the full article.

Quantum mechanics is controlling my thoughts

Kids were very different then.  They didn’t have their
heads filled with all this Cartesian Dualism…
-Monty Python on Nostalgia