Blogs: A New Force in Physics?

/ by Joshua Roebke /

Conversations on blogs are revolutionizing the exchange of information amongst physicists

From the OCT/NOV 2005 issue of Seed:

The blog Cosmic Variance

Earlier this summer, rumors of two remarkable physics experiments began circulating on the Internet: one suggested that a new force in the universe may have been uncovered; another hinted that gravity waves from the Big Bang had been detected for the first time. While the research was too preliminary for publication, physics blogs were busy with gossip. By August, amid a flurry of open discussion on, one of the primary investigators of the possible new force, Dr. Eric Adelberger, was compelled to post. “Don’t get too excited yet,” he said, “It is true that we are seeing an anomaly.”

Adelberger’s post—a nugget of gossip, though cautionary in tone—highlights the best of the emerging role of blogs in the conduct of science. A quick search shows that physics blogs are twice as numerous as either chemistry or biology ones (though, a biology site, is arguably the most visited of all). And physics blogs, in particular, are democratizing the process of scientific research, providing equal access to everyone from amateur enthusiasts to grad students and Nobel Prize winners, helping to sharpen debates. Sites like,, and The String Coffee Table—group blogs by physicists posting from conferences, summer schools, lecture halls and cafés around the world—are further leveling the intellectual playing field. (pronounced “archive”), which has provided unfettered access to the latest physics research for almost 15 years, now links directly to the blogs where discussions of papers are taking place. Commenting on the function of blogging scientific gossip, Sean Carrol, one of the main contributors to Cosmic Variance says, “blogs are a great way both to spread accurate information and to prevent inaccurate information from hardening into accepted wisdom.”

One of the most notorious physics blogs is Peter Woit’s Not Even Wrong—the first site this summer to discuss the gravity wave experiment. Although Woit has been critiquing string theory since 2000, he had difficulty finding an audience for his ideas: Journals rejected him, theorists attacked his credentials as an untenured mathematician, and a book he was writing on the subject was “too radical” for publishers. In 2004, he launched Not Even Wrong and engaged string theorists with pithy and scientifically rigorous posts. A young Harvard string theorist named Lubos Motl was one of the first to defend his intellectual territory on Woit’s and others’ blogs, often peppering his comments with invective, and eventually starting his own blog “as a balance against Peter Woit.” With traffic and links to his site expanding, Not Even Wrong carved out a unique space for Woit’s criticism that broke through previously impenetrable walls, and helped his ideas gain credibility. “People have told me that they have changed their career plans because of my criticisms,” Woit told us, adding, “They used to think I was crazy. Now I think they’re warming to me.”

Originally published September 30, 2005

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