The New York Times The New York Times Arts November 9, 2002  

Home
Job Market
Real Estate
Automobiles
News
International
National
Washington
The 2002 Elections
Business
Technology
Science
Health
Sports
New York Region
Education
Weather
Obituaries
NYT Front Page
Corrections
Opinion
Editorials/Op-Ed
Readers' Opinions


Features
Arts
- Art & Design
- Dance
- Music
- Television
- Theater
- Columns
Books
Movies
Travel
Dining & Wine
Home & Garden
Fashion & Style
New York Today
Crossword/Games
Cartoons
Magazine
Week in Review
Multimedia/Photos
College
Learning Network
Services
Archive
Classifieds
Book a Trip
Personals
Theater Tickets
Premium Products
NYT Store
NYT Mobile
E-Cards & More
About NYTDigital
Jobs at NYTDigital
Online Media Kit
Our Advertisers
Member_Center
Your Profile
E-Mail Preferences
News Tracker
Premium Account
Site Help
Privacy Policy
Newspaper
Home Delivery
Customer Service
Electronic Edition
Media Kit
Community Affairs
Text Version

Win Tickets...The 12 Weeks of Christmas!


Find More Low Fares! Experience Orbitz!


25 COMMISSION-FREE TRADES Join Ameritrade today!


Go to Advanced Search/Archive Go to Advanced Search/Archive Symbol Lookup
Search Optionsdivide
go to Member Center Log Out
  Welcome, drrprice

French Physicists' Cosmic Theory Creates a Big Bang of Its Own

By DENNIS OVERBYE

Everyone who ever wondered whether physicists were just making it all up when they talked about extra dimensions, dark matter and even multiple universes might take comfort in hearing that scientists themselves don't always seem to know.

Consider Drs. Igor and Grichka Bogdanov, French mathematical physicists and twins, who have recently been burning up the physics world with a novel and highly speculative theory about what happened before the Big Bang. Scientists have been debating whether the Bogdanov brothers are really geniuses with a new view of the moment before the universe began or simply earnest scientists who are in over their heads and spouting nonsense.

Advertisement
Alt Text


The uproar began late last month when rumors, denied by the brothers, began ricocheting around the Internet that they had constructed an elaborate hoax ŕ la that of Dr. Alan Sokal, the New York University physicist who published a nonsense article about quantum gravity in the cultural journal Social Text in 1994. The story was that the pair, who are 53 and better known as the writers and producers of a popular television show in the 1970's and 80's in which they appeared as what might be called science clowns, had posed as string theorists to obtain fraudulent doctorates.

Until then, few physicists had noticed the brothers' theses or their journal articles, which purport to exploit something called the Kubo-Schwinger-Martin condition. It implies a mathematical connection between infinite temperature and imaginary time (don't ask) to probe the state of the universe at its very beginning. Suddenly physicists were trying to figure out what sentences like this meant, if anything: "Then we suggest that the (pre-)spacetime is in thermodynamic equilibrium at the Planck-scale and is therefore subject to the KMS condition."

Dr. Roman W. Jackiw, a physics professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who read and approved Igor Bogdanov's Ph.D. thesis, said he found it speculative but "intriguing."

But Dr. John Baez, a physicist and quantum gravity theorist at the University of California at Riverside, who has conducted a dialogue with the Bogdanov brothers on the Web site math.ucr.edu/home/baez/bogdanov, said, "One thing that seems pretty clear to me is that the Bogdanovs don't know how to do physics."

Dr. Peter Woit, a mathematician and physicist at Columbia University, said of the brothers' work, "Scientifically, it's clearly more or less complete nonsense, but these days that doesn't much distinguish it from a lot of the rest of the literature."

Indeed, the problem of distinguishing sense from nonsense goes beyond the Bogdanovs, say some physicists, who worry that far too much junk goes past the referees who vet articles for the scientific journals and the examiners who approve Ph.D's.

"The bigger issue is about scientific integrity, and how theoretical physics gets judged," said Dr. Frank Wilczek, another M.I.T. physicist and editor of Annals of Physics, where one of the Bogdanov papers appeared. "Do people really have a mastery of the field as a whole?"

How the Bogdanovs came to this pass is perhaps a cautionary tale about the way physics is done today. Born in 1949 in a castle in Gascogne, they described themselves as descendants of Russian and Austrian nobility. After studying applied mathematics at the Institute of Political Science and the École Pratique des Hautes Études in Paris, the brothers carved out careers for themselves as writers and producers of their science television show, "Temps X" ("Time X").

A particularly murky episode in their careers began in 1991, when they published "God and Science," a book based on conversations with the French philosopher Dr. Jean Guitton. The book was a best seller in France, but the authors were sued for plagiarism by Dr. Trinh Xuan Thuan, an astronomer at the University of Virginia, who claimed they had copied passages from his 1988 book, "The Secret Melody, and Man Created the Universe." The brothers countersued, arguing that Dr. Thuan had borrowed from their earlier writings and Dr. Guitton's.

Continued
1 | 2 | 3 | Next>>




Did This Man Just Rewrite Science?  (June 11, 2002)  $

A CONVERSATION WITH/Freeman J. Dyson; A-Bombs, Space Chickens and God  (August 1, 2000)  $

German Budget Trims Put Research at Risk  (August 6, 1996)  $

A New View of Our Universe: Only One of Many (October 29, 2002) 



Doing research? Search the archive for more than 500,000 articles:




E-Mail This Article
Printer-Friendly Format
Most E-Mailed Articles
Reprints
Single-Page View

It's easy to follow the top stories with home delivery of The New York Times newspaper.
Click Here for 50% off.


Home | Back to Arts | Search | Corrections | Help | Back to Top


Copyright The New York Times Company | Permissions | Privacy Policy
E-Mail This Article
Printer-Friendly Format
Most E-Mailed Articles
Reprints
Single-Page View


Guilles Leimdorfer/RAPHO, for The New York Times
Grichka, left, and Igor Bogdanov, physicists who are twins, at home in Paris. Their obscure new theory tries to show what was happening before the universe began.


Topics

 Alerts
Physics
Space
Science and Technology
Create Your Own | Manage Alerts
Take a Tour
Sign Up for Newsletters










Book A Trip
Advertisement

From
To
Depart
Time
Return
Time
Adults