Article - Commentary assembled and organized or written by:
Arkadiusz Jadczyk and Laura Knight-Jadczyk

The Bogdanov Singularity

Statement by Robert Coquereaux:

Dear Arkadiusz,

I read your mail exchange with the two Bogdanov brothers.

Just a few immediate comments:

What they did or what they have writen seems to show that they are no better (but no worse) than several theoretical physisicts friends of ours who often use some mathematical terminology that they do not master well enough... The result being that their own scientific contribution is conceptually vague and therefore "not even wrong".

Should I quote the names of several people whom I know (and whom you know as well) who do not know that there are several inequivalent principal bundles with the same base, same total space, and same basis... or who do not make the difference between a principal bundle and a vector bundle (the worst of it is that some of these people are sometimes known as "specialists of geometry in physics" within the community of mathematical physicists !) So in this respect, these two people are in good company.

Yes, this can be irritating, but in the case of the Bogdanov brothers, they look like they were humble enough to ask your opinion and criticism (others do not even care about their own lack of precision or even, competence).

I am maybe too much receptive to their charismatic character, but I find the two quite sympathetic. On the top of it they seem to do something nice, at the media level, to draw the attention of young people to Science. When they appear on French TV or radio, they seem to succeed in tempting people to learn more about science, and maybe they can even trigger vocations. What the two brothers also say is that people should be better educated in science, that science is fantastic, that mathematics gives you the right language to be precise and frame your ideas, that by doing that, people would not mix (or would less mix) science and superstition etc etc. All these ideas are also mine, and yours, I am sure.

I do not know if they are crooks. I hope not. I think that they are doing a nice job, as far as popularisation of science is concerned. I hope that they got their degree in a honest way... In particular I hope that they are not related to the many phone calls that I personally received several years ago from an unknown correspondant who apparently wanted to receive a full theoretical physics education by using only the telephone (this guy -- who took a lot of my time -- was probably using a pseudonym).

I mentioned this story to you in an earlier mail. Maybe they are not related to this but if it turns out that my guess is correct (I shall never know), I could say, to quote the opinion of another friend of ours, "this was maybe their only way to obtain serious answers without being immediately held in contempt by "real scientist" knowing that they are "mere journalists."

In my case, I think that this would have been wrong. Well, if I am correct about my previous guess I could probably forgive even that...

I agree that it is a pity if people in academics can no longer even make the difference between a genuine article and a hoax, and I agree with you that this is a symptom of the decadence of our system. If they were not TV personalities, nobody would even care (probably this is the real problem!)

In any case, if they ask you to explain what is wrong with what they wrote, that is a good point for them which shows that they are still willing to be educated (after all, they spent several years of work on that project, I therefore believe that they were genuinely interested in the thema!)

I do not go very often to conferences, but every time I go to such social events and listen to the talks , I am irritated by a good fraction of them that appear to stand much below an acceptable level. Usually these talks are "not even wrong". They are meaning-less. We have the same problem with many papers... and the fact that they are published is by no means a sign of quality (actually one can find very good unpublished papers on the web archives!)

To conclude, I will repeat my first statement: independently of the two brothers' purposes (genuine scientific interest or wish to promote their self and media image), what they produced does not seem to be better or worse than many other published writings. Therefore: Ils ne meritent ni cet exces d'honneur ni cette indignité... but they have shown, probably without having such a purpose, that something goes very wrong in our community.


Robert Coquereaux




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