Thursday, December 13, 2012

Essay winners not so contrarian

I am disappointed in the winners of the FQXi essay contest. Maybe I am just a sore loser, because my essay is not one of the 20 winners, out of 271 submissions. But I do not think that the winners followed the contest objectives very well.

Most of the submissions violated this rule:
The instructions say this:

“Successful and interesting essays will not use this topic as an opportunity to trot out their pet theories simply because those theories reject assumptions of some other or established theory. Rather, the challenge here is to create new and insightful questions or analysis about basic, often tacit, assumptions that can be questioned but often are not”
Most essays just promoted some crackpot theory without really explaining how or why the textbook theories are wrong.

Unfortunately, FQXi has taken down the page with these rules. You can find most of them here, or maybe in your browser cache.

Of the winning essays, most of them promote some completely mainstream and accepted idea, but try to make it sound original by attacking some silly straw man. Other essays presented some vague and speculative ideas about quantum gravity or some similar field where ideas cannot be tested.

In 2nd place, Ellis gives examples of causation being more easily understood with a top-down view, such as entropy increasing. Weinstein suggests that action-at-a-distance might explain some quantum mechanics and cosmology.

In 3rd place, Barbour doubts that reductionism will explain entanglement. Dribus rejects spacetime in favor of a "causal metric hypothesis". Hossenfelder speculates about quantum gravity. Wharton says the universe is not a computer.

My essay got a lot of attention, and many favorable comments. I have some much more provocative statements than the winning essays, but I thought that was the point. Most of the essays don't actually say Which of Our Basic Physical assumptions are Wrong.

The rules also say:
Interesting: An interesting essay is:
  • Original and Creative: Foremost, the intellectual content of the essay must push forward understanding of the topic in a fresh way or with new perspective. While the essay may or may not constitute original research, if the core ideas are largely contained in published works, those works should be the author's. At the same time, the entry should differ substantially from any previously published piece by the author.
  • Technically correct and rigorously argued, to the degree of a published work or grant proposal.
  • Well and clearly written, so that it is comprehensible and enjoyable to read.
  • Accessible to a diverse, well-educated but non-specialist audience, aiming in the range between the level of Scientific American and a review article in Science or Nature.
So perhaps the judges thought that my essay was not "Technically correct and rigorously argued". If so, then I would have preferred them to say so in the online comments, so I could defend myself. As it is, I do not know what they disliked. If I had submitted it to a journal, at least I would have gotten a rejection report. I guess I could still submit it somewhere else, but it is not really a technical physics advance. It is an essay suited for this contest.

No comments:

Post a Comment