The Bogdanov Affair

From a letter from one of the permanent members of Laboratoire Gevrey de Mathématique Physique, Université de Bourgogne:

Dear Arkadiusz,

I have been following this story on the news groups after some string physicists alerted me that there were rumors that the Bodganoff brothers were professors in Dijon. Actually they are not affiliated with our laboratory (they were when they were preparing their thesis).

I attended the PhD defence of Igor, and although I am not an expert in that field, it was obvious to me that his (their) work was kind of impressionistic and didn't make sense to me. Somehow, these "impressionistic" papers they could published in CQG and Annals of Physics have impressioned the referees (both journals and thesis) and it is still a mystery for me how they could appear in these journals. For sure, this affair has created a crisis in the string/quantum gravity community, but there is no hoax here! Apparently, the brothers were really serious about their work.

Unfortunately, Daniel (as administrative advisor) has been involved in all this and relied on the positive reports received from well-established experts. I think that's natural since both theses were out of his field of expertise.
Personally, I think that Moshe wouldn't let them pass their thesis even if they succeeded in publishing in good journals (though, for the administrative side, how one can refuse to a student to pass his thesis, after he published and received positive reports from the "rapporteurs").

The positive point in this story is the sociological aspects that it uncovered: first it was a hoax, then people though that they were academics and edulcorated their judgements, and finally started a kind of "community auto-critics" about the level of papers published in that field.

I guess that there is more to come...

best regards ...


This morning (October 30, 2002) Ark received a call from Daniel Sterheimer, "Directeur de Recherches au CNRS" at Laboratoire Gevrey de Mathématique Physique, Université de Bourgogne, Dijon. We learned many details of the long (since 1992) "Bogdanovs' affair", with changing subjects of the theses, rewriting again and again, trying to bublish (spun intended) papers in various journals, changing supervisors, referees, strugle between different institutions, pressure from various directions. Daniel will write a short summary of the essential points. The sociological milieu of the affair is rich in colors and personalities (with scores of beautiful girls attending seminars, with a support from the French Minister of education, with various publishing houses involved, etc.)

In short, as far as we understand it, Bogdanovs worked really hard within the window of opportunity created by the "impressionistic style" of contemporary publications in the field. They got their PhDs with a score that alllowed them just that - to pass. If their papers have been published - that is only because similar papers ARE being published in the field. If they use some concepts that they themselves do not really understand - that is nothing new in the field. It became a standard. There is a steady degradation of the level of education, and Daniel even quoted a story, an experiment he has performed, demonstrating that an attorney, who graduted 40 years ago could answer a simple but tricky algebra question better than a brilliant student of exact sciences today. Daniel somehow hopes that Bogdanovs can do something good in this respect by popularizing physics. We are rather skeptical in this respect, but perhaps we are too conservative?

The thesis of Igor Bogdanov is a mixture of mathematical jargon and physical jargon. Apparently there was no single person who could be used as a referee for the whole thesis. Roman Jackiw of MIT is mentioned as one who was the referee for "the physics part" of the paper. This formulation suggessts that Roman Jackiw did not checked for mathematical inconsistencies. It is plausible that nobody did. And that is why Ark is now trying to examine the details - as the Devils, as always, is in the details.

Apparently press is getting interested in the whole affair. Richard Monastersky from Chronicle of Higher Education in Washington D.C. was trying to get as much info from Daniel as possible. But it is doubtfulm once it is clear it is not a hoax, that he will make something out of that.


You are visitor number .