Physicists Held To Lower Standard

In August I complained about vague LHC forecasts.  My oped based on that post just appeared in Symmetry, "A joint Fermilab/SLAC publication."  Its blurb: "Today’s LHC forecasts are no easier to score than the typical horoscope."  It ends:

But geez – the LHC costs more than $10 billion of public money. Shouldn’t we expect big-shot physicists who hope to crow to the public about LHC vindication to express their predictions in a more scoreable form? We don’t accept less from weather, business, or sport forecasters; why accept less from physicists?

My implicit answer: we hold physicists to lower standards.  As I posted two years ago:

Consider how differently the public treats physics and economics.   Physicists can say that this week they think the universe has eleven dimensions, three of which are purple, and two of which are twisted clockwise, and reporters will quote them unskeptically, saying "Isn’t that cool!"   But if economists say, as they have for centuries, that a minimum wage raises unemployment, reporters treat them skeptically and feel they need to find a contrary quote to "balance" their story.

That same Symmetry issue says:

Leon Lederman, a 1988 Nobel laureate and Fermilab physicist, plopped a folding table and two chairs on a busy New York City street corner and sat under colorful hand-scrawled signs offering to answer physics questions.  Even in a city of people too busy for impromptu sidewalk conversations, the sight was too tempting to resist. … Soon about 20 people formed a line down the block. They asked Lederman about the strong force, time and space, fusion, and even time travel. Some asked follow-up questions to get a clearer understanding, while others just seemed thrilled at the chance to meet a Nobel Prize winner.

I’ll bet none told Lederman he was wrong.  Imagine how a Nobel-winning economist would be received. 

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