Is Public Relation in Physics Prevailing over Academic Evaluation?
Many of those working in physics have had some thoughts about the question posed in the title. Yet it is hard to be specific as to what extent it is true and how much of it is part of a scheme to dominate. Large organizations have an edge in the PR game, yet how often do they use this advantage unfairly?
Most people are inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt, because there
always are malcontents claiming, or imagining, they have been wronged by steam
roller tactics of the high and mighty. If it is a clear judicial situation, the
standard argument is let them bring suit if they are serious about what they
So not unless and not until there is striking provable evidence to the
contrary does one like to set the wheels of justice in action. After all,
legal action is very costly, which is again another reason why the high and
mighty prevail. More important is how a bunch of lawyers can be expected to
bring good judgment to highly specialized matters pertaining to physical
procedure. Rarely, but not impossible, lawyers take a more detached look,
where physicists are blinded by their esoterics. Yet, before anything can be
set in motion, legal specialists, called upon to adjudicate a matter, need to be
This discussion attempts to home in on a case pertaining to a striking provable event. It is the 1998 physics Nobel prize awarded for the fractional quantum Hall effect. While the awarding of a Nobel prize remains uncontested, the target of litigation is a preceding process of dissemination of information.
The situation is relatively simple. The so-called integer effect was
discovered in 1980. It received a Nobel award in 1985. The fractional effect was
discovered in 1982. It received a Nobel award in 1998. The difference of time
interval between the dates of discovery and award of 5 and 16 years respectively
justifies an ordering in terms of a primary discovery and a secondary discovery
contingent on the first.
The question is whether the '98 award grants the secondary discovery a status
independent of the primary integer effect or a status subordinate to the primary
effect. The dominant theories about the fractional effect have led to
associations with fractional charge, yet without a commitment whether it is to
be taken per charge carrier or collectively in terms of unexplained open spots
in the charge carrying lattice.
The cited two effects have all been assessed in the perspective of approaches, which assume unrestricted validity of Schroedinger's inherently statistical methods to these highly ordered mesoscopic quantum situations. In contrast to Schroedinger's local differential process, an approach lending preeminence to global methods for highly ordered quantum phenomena appeared in 1983. It shows the quantum Hall effect is governed by the ratio of two quantum numbers: the flux state n of the cyclotron states and the (even) number of circulating electrons accumulating in the same cyclotron state. Whether a fractional or integer effect prevails is now contingent on whether the ratio s/n is a true fraction or reduces to an integer. So, the arithmetic condition of the ratio s/n conveys the distinction between the two effects. Note how reduction of s/n for even s favors the observed odd denominator fractions!
Apart from this exception, the entire body of existing quantum Hall literature
takes a position that the fractional and integer effects are fundamentally
different. This distinction must have emerged as an almost preconceived notion,
because not a single reference can be found in this entire body of literature,
which even indicates cognizance of the mere possibility of a unified treatment
of the two effects.
Whenever people make discoveries, it is understandable and human, that they
like to believe, that they are treading new territory. Yet, when closer
scrutiny reveals the discovery to be reducible to new manifestation of an
earlier discovery, it is still new although a different kind of new.
Nineteenth century physics used to take much pride in the strength of such
Whatever the truth in the case at hand, the ground rules of proper academic
behavior require investigators to take cognizance of possible alternatives so as
to relate and compare them to their own case. Yet, an exhaustive perusal of the
very extensive body of literature on the quantum Hall effect does not reveal a
single reference to an existing unified treatment of integer and fractional Hall
effect. This frightening uniformity of opinion to keep this Hall dichotomy alive
is unfortunately more indicative of a business objective than a pursuit of
truth. There is indeed a good chance that this Hall dichotomy belongs in the
same category as the search for magnetic monopoles and the quark's fractional
The apparent reality of everybody following a party line of quantum Hall
dichotomy defies common sense and is contrary to independent thought. Can we
understand what is going on here?
The possibility of unification escaping attention is very small, because as
one of the instigators of a unified approach, I have personally conversed in
private and open meeting with quantum Hall protagonists. I can only say there is
an unspecific arrogant unwillingness to consider the unification option. The
idea of a code of academic ethics imposing, within reason, an obligation of
taking cognizance of opposing views is either ignored or dismissed as irrelevant
for their situation. In the light of these experiences, I can't give these
attitudes much benefit of my doubt about their honorability; perhaps they pass
muster within the realm of corporate business, they are on the whole
incompatible with academic pursuits. Granted the scientific issue here at stake
is not a minor one, because the quantum Hall effect precipitates a crisis for
the Copenhagen interpretation. Just let it sink in that a better than 99%
majority tries to understand or describe a perfectly nonstatistical quantum Hall
effect, with an inherently
Envision your chances of bringing about changes in the many nonclassical
status quos of contemporary physics, if you are faced with an army of editors
and reviewers recruited from that 99% population holding uniform Copenhagen
beliefs. Religions function on the basis of articles of faith. Copenhagen's
interpretation is to be regarded as a temporary escape into a realm of pure
faith. It is an ontic phase in the development of physics. Yet, after three
generations of nonclassical paradigms, their content have solidified into
articles of faith. The orthodox defenders of those articles frown on any
modification of these ontic propositions so as to have them integrated into a
wider epistemic realm.
The eight references, listed below, account for a 15 year attempt to bring about needed changes in the Copenhagen interpretation with the purpose of having the quantum Hall effect benefit from those changes. Almost none of this was publishable in the major media of physics who pride themselves of their high standards (in orthodoxy). The doors of the establishment media are closed and remain firmly closed to changes in officially approved articles of faith. Those who want proof of how effective this opinion screening works, just check the quantum Hall literature and you will not find a single reference to any of the eight references here listed on the subjects of period integration, changes in Copenhagen views and their relation to the quantum Hall effect.
This uniformity of behavior is indeed revealing for a corporate business
atmosphere rather than academia. In the corporate world everybody tries to
stay in tune with what the corporate line of command expects. While this may
well be essential for corporate survival, it obviously does not gibe well with
the best pursuit of truth. Contemporary physics is overwhelmed by a corporate
rationale. Similarly, editors and reviewers of the physics media live in fear of
passing anything that might not fit the public relation mold. Even the American
Physical Society is now more corporate than academic. So not surprisingly, the
1998 Nobel decision finally reflects a public relations element characteristic
more of the corporate than of the academic world! The chances are that the 1998
Nobel decision sanctions an avenue of approach that may well have to be
discontinued. While discontinuations of product lines are common place in
corporate life, such discontinuations are rare in academia and perhaps academia
should try to keep it that way. Think of it, the survival rate of universities
is better than that of most corporations.
Literature relevant to global approaches to the quantum Hall effect
and alternatives to the Copenhagen interpretation.
1. Post, Physics Letters 94A,343(1983). Suggesting a period integral
description of the quantum Hall effect.
More about period integrals in physics.
7. Post, A Two-Tier Quantum Mechanics; (period integrals for single systems
and Schroedinger process for ensembles); p.229 of the Proceedings of a 1992
meeting at Columbia University on the Interpretation of Quantum
Theory(Published by the Enciclopedia Italiana, Roma,1994) ed. Luigi Accardi.
8. Post, Quantum Reprogramming (Kluwer, Dordrecht-Boston,1995) A monograph
holding out for a Schroedinger process restricted to phase and orientation
random ensembles and period integrals as single system tools.
E J Post
Contact Jan Post by email