1. says

    One of the big names in mid-20th-century physics, I forget who, once wrote a recommendation for a grad student who was hoping to become an assistant to Albert Einstein, which ran something like “his only problem is that he seems to have difficulty distinguishing between mathematics and physics. You, on the other hand, have long since lost that ability.”

  2. lurker753 says

    History: early physics
    Engineering: applied physics
    Fluid dynamics: physics for crazy people

  3. stroppy says

    About half right about geology, excluding the parts that are chemistry and maybe some other stuff like biology. Various sciences applied to the study of the earth, or to some, rock hounds with nothing better to do…

  4. nomadiq says

    Actually it’s worse. You’d be surprised how many physicists think biology is stamp collecting and not an experimental science at all. These physicists look at biology and wonder why biologists don’t just come up with an ODE to cure cancer.

  5. consciousness razor says

    philosophy: physics for dummies
    politics: physics advocacy
    economics: the dismal physics
    visual arts: optics
    music: acoustics
    film/theatre: pretend physics
    literature: word physics
    dentistry: mouth physics
    geriatrics: old-person physics
    education: physics education
    new media journalism: physics blogging
    library and information science: book physics

  6. ORigel says

    “Modelling the Effect of Gluons on the Dow Jones Industrial Average– With the Assumption That Traders and Brokers Are Essentially Giant Atomic Nuclei”

    CNN: “OMG! This paper holds the secret to preventing economic downturns forevermore!”

  7. Rob Grigjanis says

    Totally accurate: Biology is hard science which for some reason has a lot of whingy practitioners.

  8. aronymous says

    Political Science: Deceptive physics
    Christian Science: Magical thinking physics

  9. brucej says

    @Origel #10

    “Modelling the Effect of Gluons on the Dow Jones Industrial Average– With the Assumption That Traders and Brokers Are Essentially Giant Atomic Nuclei”
    CNN: “OMG! This paper holds the secret to preventing economic downturns forevermore!”

    Some random hedge fund geek on wall street ” I”ll write a poorly understood computer model to profit from this!”

    [economy explodes with supernova-like force reducing us all to bartering for potatoes while wearing opossum skins for clothing]

  10. Matt G says

    nomadiq@5- I spoke to an engineer at his daughter’s wedding a year or two ago. He told me a machine was invented in the 20s that cured cancer by tuning to the frequency of the cancer cells. I asked what happened to this invention. He said the pharmaceutical companies deep-sixed it. I finally got to the root of it: his niece died from cancer and he blamed everyone involved in her treatment.

  11. rhebel says

    Me to my students: you must first understand mathematics, then you can understand physics, Then you can understand chemistry, THEN you can finally understand biology.

  12. blf says

    Fluid dynamics: physics for crazy people

    Climatology: Fluid dynamics for crazy people

  13. whheydt says

    One engineering prof I had described himself as “A theoretical engineer…or applied mathematician. Take your pick.”

  14. ANB says

    OMG, too many smart people here. And funny.

    I’ve studied a few of the “soft sciences” (post-grad) and so, ipso facto, am not very smart (relatively)–yet never did I have a good math or science teacher (but not true of others in the famil; dad: Ph.D., Entomology; Bro: Ph.D. Geophysics).

    But I’ve held faculty cards at a couple “prestigious” U’s and found people far smarter than me (in actual fact) who weren’t nearly as good or clear thinkers. Something about pomposity and ego that factors in a lot of the time.

  15. hemidactylus says

    @11 & 12-
    Yeah same Pauli who embraced Jung’s psychological ramblings about meaningful coincidence. Hah! Damn you Sting.

  16. Walter Solomon says

    Shouldn’t psychology be “mind physics” and anthropology “people physics”?

  17. nomdeplume says

    I’ve long considered Physics to be Biology 101 – some basic stuff to get out of the way before you can tackle the incredible complexities in the field of the biological sciences.

  18. Who Cares says

    That last one should be
    Mathematics: The only reason our field of science even exists.

  19. a_ray_in_dilbert_space says

    rhebel: “Me to my students: you must first understand mathematics, then you can understand physics, Then you can understand chemistry, THEN you can finally understand biology.”

    Actually, Von Neumann responded to a student who said he didn’t understand something, “Young man, in mathematics, you don’t understand things. You get used to them.

    And more generally, if you are a materialist, then everything ultimately comes down to physics. It’s just for anything more complicated than 2 bodies interacting via a central force, the physics is too complicated to do. If a physicist is worth his salt, he realizes this.
    Part of the problem is that physicists are pretty liberal about putting up with assholes as long as those assholes can deliver on the physics. Part of it is that to be very good in a field of physics, one often has to have a very narrow focus, and that leads to ignorance of how other fields actually work, and a conviction that everything they don’t understand must be easy.

    Actually, one of the better distinctions between engineering and science I’ve heard came from Richard Hamming:
    “In science if you know what you are doing you should not be doing it.
    In engineering if you do not know what you are doing you should not be doing it.
    Of course, you seldom, if ever, see either pure state. “

  20. aquietvoice says

    Alright you ffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffuckers! You wore me down. As an actually published physicist, though not currently practicing, I have to say this:

    1) Every field has a narrow focus. Every people has people who think they are the only ones with worth. Have you ever met a manager? The university admins would regularly talk down to the physics professors – including my professor with a MBA from harvard – as being simply unable to understand the grandeur of administration.

    2) A physicist friend of mine has been quoted here before for his in-depth look at sexism at the university he was at and how it was covered up by admin. But of course just pretend that he’s a quantum asshole, assumed to be arrogant and awful until you actually look…..

    3) My professors, and the other physicists I know, put in a hell of a lot of work to make their workplaces diverse and welcoming, including taking the lead for anti-sexism initiatives when the higher ups had nothing and did nothing. Yes, that includes the male ones.

    4) As far as I’ve always been concerned, the whole physics versus biology thing has always been a joke, the punchline being that chemistry doesn’t get a mention because it already won. Seriously, what equipment do you have that chemists didn’t make? Got some plastic there PZ, some metal? Some clean water, some staining solution? Physicists couldn’t even produce a whiteboard and marker without chemists.

    5) Quote one more ‘physics solves evolution’ asshole, ONE more, PZ, and I’ll start referring to evo-psych people as just ‘biologists’. I swear I’ll do it! I’ve been pushed to the brink and I’ve got nothing to lose! :P

  21. mailliw says

    Physics, it’s not rocket science.

    But then, as a rocket scientist acquaintance of mine once said, rocket science isn’t that difficult, you only need Newtonian physics.

  22. Pierre Le Fou says

    aquietvoice @27 Oh calm down please. Nobody’s saying all physicists think their field is the foundation of everything. It’s just that some of them do, and they so say, from time to time. And it rarely happens coming from people in other fields. So we’re making an observation about a tiny subset of physicists and making fun of them.

    I lived through this directly myself. I’m a computer scientist and mathematician. When I started my scientific career, 30 years ago, I was in a biochemistry lab. At the time I also assumed everything can be explained by physics. Then I started to get exposed thoroughly to cell metabolism, genomics and evolutionary models. I’m probably more competent in physics than 98% of the general population, and I can say with conviction: physics is of very little use in biology. And also, biology is more complex that physics, period. But I can very well imagine there are physicists who have not realized that, just like my younger self.

  23. cartomancer says

    Of course, as an ancient/medieval historian I am well aware that the comparable situation in the Humanities is this:

    Economics – History of Money
    Literature – History of Ideas (Narrative)
    Philosophy – History of Ideas (non-Narrative)
    Psychology – History of Ideas about Ideas
    Human Geography – History of Settlement
    Sociology – History of what happens in Settlements
    Physical Geography – Scenic History
    Theology – Imaginary History
    Linguistics – History of Language
    Film Studies, Journalism and everything that happened after 1487 – current affairs.

  24. Rob Grigjanis says

    nomdeplume @23:

    I’ve long considered Physics to be Biology 101

    It’s true! You can’t even start talking about nucleotides until you’ve derived the Schwarzschild metric from the Einstein field equations (with the appropriate assumptions), and found the energy levels of a quantum harmonic oscillator, at the very least. I’m sure the biologists hereabouts could do that stuff in their sleep.

  25. a_ray_in_dilbert_space says

    Card carrying physicist here with 30 years experience.
    Because it fits:
    Brain Surgeon meets Rocket Scientist

    @27–Come on, you have to admit that our field has more than its share of evolution cranks, climate deniers, Bell Curve advocates and egomaniacs. A lot of physicists start out as nerds whose sole sense of worth comes from being the smartest person in the second grade classroom. And some of them don’t get out enough to learn that there are many people out there who are smarter. And some physicists are surprisingly incurious outside of their own narrow expertise.

    And as I pointed out, its not all a negative reflection on physicist–we tend to be very tolerant of deviant or even assholish behavior among our peers if we can benefit from their expertise and skill. I mean, people actually worked with Newton and Leibniz after all.

  26. a_ray_in_dilbert_space says

    The Vicar, not sure, but that sounds like Pauli–incredibly acerbic and insensitive, but funny. He once referred to Wolfgang Paul as his real counterpart in Bonn.

    He is also the source for the quote: “This is so bad it’s not even wrong.”

  27. Pierce R. Butler says

    cartomancer @ # 30: … everything that happened after 1487 – current affairs.

    Okay, I had to bite:

    Jan 30 Bell chimes invented

    May 24 Imposter Lambert Simnel ceremony crowned as King Edward VI of Dublin

    Jun 4 Lord Lovell and John de la Pole’s army land at Furness, Lancashire

    Jun 16 Battle of Stoke, Nottinghamshire: Henry VII beats John de la Pole & Lord Lovell

    Jul 24 Citizens of Leeuwarden, Netherlands, rebel against ban on foreign beer

    What is it with kids these days and their loud bell chimes?

  28. mnb0 says

    @30 Cartomancer:

    Biology – History of Earthly life.
    Chemistry – History of the Milky Way and the Solar System.
    Astronomy – History of the universe.
    Physics: servant of astronomy.
    Math: servant of physics.

  29. KG says

    I’m reminded of Lord Kelvin (William Thompson), a brilliant mathematical physicist who was sure Darwin must be wrong, because there was just no way the sun could have burned for more than 10 million years, and that obviously wasn’t enough time for evolution to have produced anything as wonderful as ourselves. IIRC, he even persuaded Darwin to shorten his proposed (i.e. guessed) timescale.

  30. KG says

    Looking it up, I see that Kelvin’s estimate for the age of the earth was 20-40 million years. He was a “theistic evolution” supporter.

  31. consciousness razor says

    Pierce R. Butler, #34:
    I don’t know which (very specific) invention that might be about, but bells and bell chimes of various sorts are an ancient invention. By that, I mean certain types of struck idiophones, no matter which words may have been used for them at the time. (Obviously not English words, before people spoke English.)

    I could have told you that much, but wiki says this on its page for bells:

    The earliest archaeological evidence of bells dates from the 3rd millennium BC, and is traced to the Yangshao culture of Neolithic China.

    Curiously, wiki also says this on a rather pitiful looking page titled Chime (bell instrument):

    A carillon-like instrument with fewer than 23 bells is called a chime.

    The first bell chime was created in 1487.[citation needed]

    And indeed, citation is needed. This claim traces back to June 3, 2011, the only wiki contribution from renowned historian and musicologist However, I remain somewhat skeptical of it.

    To be clear, it’s not at all the case that prior to 1487, people only arrayed bells in groups larger than 23 — thus making them officially “carillons” according to whoever makes official pronouncements about these things. So that can’t be it. It may refer to some specific design of church bell (which is often where you’d find them), with some property or other which distinguishes it as a “new invention” in 1487, although it’s a mystery what that is supposed to be.

    This first statement in the quote above is also incorrect, by the way. There are various things called “chimes” which are not the bell chimes the page is discussing. (Some examples: “orchestral chimes” AKA tubular bells, “aeolian chimes” AKA “wind chimes,” as well as “bar chimes” on instruments like the glockenspiel.)

    Anyway, rest assured that people have been playing (sometimes loudly) bells, carillons, bell chimes, chimes that aren’t bell chimes, “bells” that aren’t bells, etc., for several thousand years.

  32. says

    @#33, a_ray_in_dilbert_space:

    One of the popular physics books — I think it’s The God Particle by Leon Lederman, but it’s been a while so I may be mistaken — gave the story for the “not even wrong” quote, for which the author claimed to have been present, and it was the less-self-explanatory and therefore less-quotable form “This theory is not even wrong.” (It was, apparently, at a seminar where somebody was proposing a radical new theory, and he walked out of the room after saying it.)

    (It’s sort of interesting that the criticisms of string theory which started popping up about a decade or so back, The Trouble With Physics and so forth, boil down to “string theory is not even wrong” although for presumably different reasons.)

  33. Rob Grigjanis says

    KG @37:

    I’m reminded of Lord Kelvin (William Thompson), a brilliant mathematical physicist who was sure Darwin must be wrong, because there was just no way the sun could have burned for more than 10 million years

    Not sure where you got the ‘no way‘.

    Kelvin, 1862

    We may, therefore, accept, as a lowest estimate for the sun’s initial heat, 10,000,000 times a year’s supply at the present rate, but 50,000,000 or 100,000,000 as possible, in consequence of the sun’s greater density in his central parts.
    It seems, therefore, on the whole most probable that the sun has not illuminated the earth for 100,000,000 years, and almost certain that he has not done so for 500,000,000 years.

    Even if he was wrong (thermonuclear fusion wasn’t discovered until decades after his death), misrepresenting what he wrote is not OK.

  34. Rob Grigjanis says

    JustaTech @41: Good job there are no such things as biological or chemical weapons!

  35. JustaTech says

    Rob Grigjanis @43:
    The point that the woman representing Biology is making not about weapons. It is about the tendency to dismiss biology as “stamp collecting”, ie pointless and of no value.

    The point is that among the scientific disciplines, biology is both dismissed as “stamp collecting” and coded as “feminine”, while the other sciences are “hard” and “masculine” and this attitude is incredibly belittling and ignores the evidence at hand that biology is a real science that has real, tangible benefits for humanity, just like the other sciences.

    Also it’s really frustrating to have people say you don’t do “real” science because there isn’t an equation for everything you do yet.

  36. Rob Grigjanis says

    JustaTech @44: The only living people I’ve know to say anything like the ‘stamp collecting’ thing (and it supposedly refers to everything except physics, not just biology) are non-physicists who have complained that that is how physicists really think. I’ve never known a physicist who does think that. Do your physicist friends?

    I certainly was aware, as a grad student from the late 70s to the mid 80s, of horrible sexist attitudes (“women shouldn’t be in physics”, etc), and sexual harassment, in a couple of physics departments. I didn’t see it during my postdoc years, but I’m sure it was still there.

  37. JustaTech says

    Rob @47: While no one said “stamp collecting” it was a running joke at my science-oriented college that biology was “basically a humanities” like art or English. This was in the early 2000’s.
    It was also true that women dominated the biology department (which was small) and did not reach parity in any other department.
    It also continues to be my observation that there are more women in the life sciences, both in industry and academia, than in physics, computer science or engineering. I don’t have a big enough sample size for chemistry or mathematics to make an observation.

    As I said in my original comment, my physicist friends are not like that, but if they were, they would not be my friends.

  38. chigau (違う) says

    Rob Grigjanis #47
    Not physicist “friends”, but definitely those guys at the next table at the Power Plant.
    along time ago
    they were probably StudentEngineers.

  39. blf says

    From memory, Luis Alvarez did refer to paleontology as stamp collecting, his point being that — at that time — paleontologists weren’t carefully examining everything (or all the available or potentially-available evidence), instead, they were (in his view as I now recall) congregating on spectacular finds.

  40. KG says

    Rob Grigjanis@42,

    Your quote is from 1862. According to my link@37 – and I assume the references therefrom:

    in 1897 Thomson, now Lord Kelvin, ultimately settled on an estimate that the Earth was 20–40 million years old

    So he got wronger as he got older! I do apologise for inserting a spurious “p” in “Thomson”, but since he himself abandoned the whole name when he accepted his bauble (possibly he kept forgetting whether he was a Thomson or a Thompson and was relieved to be rid of the uncertainty), I’m not sure he’d have been all that bothered.

  41. a_ray_in_dilbert_space says

    I don’t think Rob and I have experiences of our field that are all that different. Most of the physicists I’ve known had an appropriate humility about other scientific disciplines as well as their own. And certainly, I’ve met a whole helluvalot of arrogant engineers, programmers, lawyers, venture capitalists…

    That said, there are some physicists with an insufferable certainty that their discipline is the most beautiful, rigorous and intellectually demanding achievement of the human mind, and that therefore, anything they have to say about some part must be profound. It may not be that there are more arrogant bastards in physics–it’s just that they may be more likely to publish in fields outside their specialty, and they may do so without understanding the culture, history and literature of the field. Those physicists who are not arrogant bastards won’t do this, so you won’t find us in the journals of record for your field.

  42. Rob Grigjanis says

    KG @53: There is no link @37, or @38. If you have one, I’d be interested to see it.

    Note that his calculations for the earth and sun were independent, though of course he hoped for consistency between the two.

  43. Suido says

    My working definition for the difference between engineers and scientists is that engineers get paid more to do less.

    An engineer

  44. KG says

    Rob Grigjanis@55,

    Apologies – I thought I’d linked to the Wikipedia article on Kelvin. The “references therein” I referred to (#59,60) are to two books I don’t have access to:
    Burchfield, Joe D. (1990). Lord Kelvin and the Age of the Earth. University of Chicago Press. p. 43. ISBN 978-0-226-08043-7.
    Hamblin, W. Kenneth (1989). The Earth’s Dynamic Systems 5th ed. Macmillan Publishing Company. p. 135. ISBN 978-0-02-349381-2.
    There’s also reference (#62,63) to an American Journal of Physics article from 1977, which apparently reports Kelvin’s address on the subject to the Victoria Institute in 1897. Again, I don’t have access to it.

  45. Rob Grigjanis says

    KG @57: No problem. I’ve seen the wikipedia article, and various online reviews of his work on the earth and sun. There’s no doubt that, later in his life, he thought the age of the earth was between 20M and 40M years, and that he leaned towards the 20M. His former student Perry actually convinced him (not mentioned in the wiki article) that modifications of his assumptions about temperature gradients in the earth’s interior could lead to vastly greater ages. But Kelvin was bound by his estimate of the sun’s age. So why not 20M to 100M? I have no idea.

    I wish more papers/articles of historical interest were freely available to the public. In Kelvin’s case, I’d particularly like to see his 1900 “two clouds” lecture (Nineteenth century clouds over the dynamical theory of heat and light), which I’ve seen interpreted in two contradictory ways; as Kelvin thinking there are just two little problems to be solved, and as Kelvin thinking there are two major stumbling blocks to progress. The cloud metaphor has me leaning toward the latter interpretation until I can actually read the damn thing. Of course, the two clouds lead to special relativity and quantum mechanics.

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