Archive for February, 2008

Very Little Gravitas Indeed – the final cut

Posted in G 0 with tags , , , , , , , , on February 22, 2008 by Roberto Gravitazero


I thought I was through with all this story after the previous post.

But I was surprised; looks like some people never understand when it’s time to stop.

So, she did it again. Gabriella Carlucci answered to Glashow’s letter. I thought it wasn’t really worth to comment on that, but since I’ve noticed of late quite some crowd accessing this blog, evidently interested in the matter, I thought I would owe you one last post. For Italian readers who are here looking for updates, I report them to here, or there, for a pretty complete outline.

For English-oriented readers, I profit from a translation kindly provided by our dear GC herself, which is reported below (I also could not resist to add a few comments – I swear these will be the last ones):

“Dear Prof. Glashow

Regretfully, your letter to President Prodi did not address any of the questions I raised in my previous letter: you only badly insulted me.”

Well, he only addressed the questions he was qualified to answer – could you spot a difference there with someone else ? – First: he never opposed Maiani for a job at CERN, nor did he ever cast doubt on his scientific competence, as SHE had stated in her first letter. Second: he confirmed, as an expert in the field, the relevant role played by Maiani and other Italian colleagues in high energy physics, violently questioned in Carlucci’s letter. The insults, I imagine, are referred to expressions like “slanderous letter, falsely claims , utterly invidious and untrue allegations, etc…”, contained in the Nobel laureate letter. You can judge yourself if this is insulting. If you find it so, then have a look again at her original attack on Maiani, and take a few minutes to ponder.

“I wish to inform you that the statements contained in that letter have been taken from Nature, from Lettere al Nuovo Cimento and from Italian newspapers. These statements have never been gainsaid.”

Here she looks a bit confused. Which statements ? Let’s progress in order: she never wrote statements TAKEN from Nature or Nuovo Cimento. Nature duly reported the criticism Maiani was receiving while director at CERN. And ten days later it hosted an interview to Maiani, in which he replied to the critics. So, the “statements” reported – and not endorsed – by Nature, had been gainsaid – opposed, denied, contradicted – already by Maiani himself. One year later (Dec. 2002), Nature was writing: “The closure of the Large Electron–Positron collider (LEP) in 2000 was the toughest and most controversial decision made by the current director general, Luciano Maiani, given the apparent signatures of the long-sought Higgs boson from the LEP detectors. Subsequent analysis has shown those signatures to be less suggestive than was originally thought.” Meaning, he had taken the right decision, like everybody in the field now recognize. The “Lettere al Nuovo Cimento” paper is a scientific document, titled: ”Is the 3104 MeV vector meson the psi_c or the Wo ?”. This statement indeed had not been gainsaid – nice sound this word, is it? -, but answered: it was indeed the psi_c (the charm).

The only place from which indeed Carlucci literally TOOK her statements was an Italian newspaper, Libero. Which, guess what, was later obliged to publish a denial.

“Today I am writing to ask you a very simple question: if Prof. Maiani and his colleagues are – as you pointed out – “stellar luminaries”, how come they have not received the Nobel Prize yet? This is surprising, also knowing that Italian particle physicists (and particularly those based in Rome) are among the best funded in the world, both in absolute terms and with respect to the other branches of Physics.”

The first sentence is so ludicrous it’s not really worth commenting it. Parisi himself (?) had done it in a reply to Carlucci, and I think he had been unbelievably polite. As one would be to a small child asking a similar question, I imagine. The second sentence I found more interesting – and worrying – in its double assumption that money can buy a Nobel prize, and that in Italy too much funds are devoted to fundamental research.

“I hope you will be so kind to reply to the points I raised without further insulting me.”

It looks like in Carlucci’s language, to insult is equivalent to disagree. I wonder from whom she could have learned such an attitude…

“And I also urge you not to lie:”

Coming from an expert. In detecting lies, of course, what were you thinking about ?

“I could easily surprise you.”

No, please, don’t. Not again!

“Best regards,

Gabriella Carlucci
P.S. To protect me from being insulted any further, Enzo Boschi wrote a note (in Italian) on this whole issue. Could you please comment on it?”

In the Italian original, the last phrase reads:”Mi faccia avere i suoi commenti”, i.e., “Let me have your comments!”. Had anybody inadvertently hit the “politeness-on” short-cut key in her automatic translator ?

“It is evident that you can read Italian.”

That’s why she’s writing him in English. Logical, isn’t it ?

P.S.: While I was writing, I’ve discovered there’s another one besides Parisi who has really a lot of patience. Sheldon Glashow:

Dear Sra Carlucci,
Despite your earlier comments and whatever your sources may be, the fact is that I have never questioned Prof. Maiani’s stature as a superb and accomplished researcher. I am outraged that you have tarnished my own reputation by such a false and invidious allegation. It is true that several Italian theorists (including Maiani) are deserving of Nobel Prizes, but there are far more such candidates than Prizes. Recall that world-renowned physics luminaries such as Edward Witten, Stephen Hawking, Yoichiro Nambu, among many others, are not Nobel Laureates.
Whether (or not) Italian physicists have won Nobel Prizes, and whether (or not) they are well funded, they have made exceptional contributions to physics, at least as many as any other European nation.
Italy should be very proud of its many scientific heroes, and not malign them.
Sheldon Lee Glashow

UPDATE (March 3rd):

I know, I know, I swore I would not comment on this story again, but apparently it’s becoming the fable of the web, and since it’s evolving still and people are still accessing this blog for information, I find appropriate to give an update.

The case start to have some resonance outside the web. There has been another article on Libero (pdf version here), this time citing Carlucci and Boschi and basically repeating the attack. Espresso, Micromega and Repubblica (can’t find links yet) are also giving space to the case. And Gabriella Carlucci herself replies with a letter to Repubblica (pdf here) and had posted in her blog a series of documents that in her intention should support the accusations. Again, is rather unfortunate, but these documents only demonstrate that she had not read them. Among the many comments (all negatives, must be a sort of a record) appeared there, I point your attention to the replies of Giorgio Parisi and Alvaro de Rujula. You should know who the first one is if you have followed the matter. The second is probably the most reputed spanish physicist. He works at CERN, and had been involved by Carlucci who opened one of her documents with an e-mail written by him. I report below some excerpts from the reply. I apologize for the hasty translation from Italian (yes, De Rujula knows it pretty well – I think I spotted only a couple of errors in his long reply, much less than the average Carlucci score):

“The fact that my mail was not ad-personam (meaning, it wasn’t a critic to Maiani as director) appears evident from the content of the same mail”

“My mail does not mention Maiani. Contrary to that, my intention was to try to give maximum support to Maiani in his extremely difficult attempt to maintain CERN at the very good level of funding it used to have in the past.”

“The few times I was in disagreement with Maiani, I went and told him why. Sometimes I managed to convince him, sometimes I was convinced by him, as it is normal. But, he always listened to me. I never needed to raise a “popular front” against his person. Synthesizing, I don’t see where the mail could be interpreted as a critic to Maiani. How can one think Maiani did not have my same intentions ? He had, poor lad, the problem to manage a budget which had been approved with a funding a little lower than needed. And I’m saying ‘a little’. Let’s look in any other place how much is the difference between projected budgets and what had been eventually spent. Only a few laboratories, institutions and projects are able like CERN to make relatively accurate estimates of the costs, avoiding thus to go hopelessly in the red”

“Theoretical physicists make hypothesis, which is part of their job. The vast majority of such hypothesis are not true, nature is judging which ones are not. The hypothesis advanced by Maiani and his co-workers on the interpretation of the J/Psi particle was not true. A week after the discovery of that particle, half a dozen of different interpretations appeared on Physical Review Letters. All not true safe one, which happened, by chance, to be co-authored by me together with Glashow, just in case the reader would doubt whether I know what I am talking about. Among the false ones, there was one by Cheng Ning Yang, Nobel laureate for physics. Nobody thought about saying that such untrue interpretations had harmed the reputation of American or Chinese physics (Yang, for instance, is Chinese-American. The other ‘bad-ones’ of this story were mainly Americans). The greatest physicists in history did publish wrong results.”

“Even if my mail would have been highly critical and directed against Maiani in particular, it would not have been anything extraordinary. What is extraordinary is the effort done by the few ‘researchers’ who directly or indirectly are working to fill up with junk On. Sra. Carlucci’s blog. After weeks of work, they still didn’t manage to find anything convincing against Maiani! What had the Italians done in order to deserve all this? I don’t think it is a biblical curse, even if it looks like one.”

I really don’t understand what on earth is pushing On. Sra. Carlucci to become the best joke-of-the year, in Italy and possibly elsewhere. But, maybe, she is giving us a small hint in her post, when she says: “I publish here the documents appeared in Nature, in which (sic) one corroborates all [I have said]. Documents that were on purpose taken away from the web.

So, there is a conspiration. Most likely a communist one. These people are hiding documents in the cyberspace, and have them reappearing at will. Just to have fun at the expense of poor On. Sra. Carlucci. Like what happened to the publications of Maiani after 1994, disappeared from the web just for the 5 minutes when On. Sra. Carlucci was making her Google Scholar search. Devilish fiends. I checked today, and all the Nature articles were already back in place (as they were last week). Very hard to catch these guys on the act, indeed.


On Obama

Posted in G 0 with tags , , , , on February 20, 2008 by Roberto Gravitazero


Barack Obama is still winning. So, it looks like the US could really have their first not-quite-black president after some 220 years of history.


I must admit I don’t know a whole lot about Obama, but I like him more than the potential alternatives. Mc Cain is a republican. That alone would be enough for me but, on top of that, he comes after Bush junior. And anybody accepting even a suspicion of continuity with such a blunder, cannot really be considered. Hillary Clinton is the perfect example of a machine programmed to become US president. A very good one, as that. However, proficient machines built with a precise, narrow aim tend not to be good at anything else. Like, for instance, being a good president as opposed to becoming one.

Obama surely looks cool, and I must admit he has got style. I recall on this subject what was his answer when asked if he ever tried marijuana: “Yes. – he admitted – And yes, I inhaled. This was the point, you see.” No comparison to Bill “I-didn’t-exactly-did-it” Clinton.

However, I can’t avoid to be plagued by a quote from one of my personal gurus, the late Kurt Vonnegut:

“There is a tragic flaw in our precious Constitution, and I don’t know what can be done to fix it. This is it: only nut cases want to be president.”

Yes, Vonnegut was a well known pessimist. He was also right most of the time.

Wishful thinking ?

Posted in G 2 with tags , on February 18, 2008 by Roberto Gravitazero


Yesterday I was surprised to see quite some people celebrating in the streets of Geneva, waving flags from cars and honking horns. No soccer or rugby match victory involved, however. And no, even if the flags were red, I had not been quantum teleported to an unlikely alternative universe where communists were celebrating their taking-over of the canton of Geneva.

The flags were albanian ones, and the people were exulting for the declaration of the parliament of Kosovo proclaiming it “an independent, democratic and sovereign state”. I should not have been surprised, since apparently 10% of Kosovars are living in Swiss. A total of 15000 people in Geneva only.

I really hope people in that region (both sides) will keep their heads cool, which was not the case in the past, sadly.

I’m pretty sure our planet will keep turning around even if, for a change, we would manage to avoid one more senseless slaughter.

Very Little Gravitas Indeed (II)

Posted in G 1 with tags , , , , , , on February 16, 2008 by Roberto Gravitazero

This is a follow-up of a previous post. You could want to look here for the first part.

Well, Gabriella Carlucci, ex-TV starlet and member of the italian parliament, had done it again. He went on attacking Maiani, former CERN director, in a letter to the prime minister Prodi and other members of his government. Her arguments were taken (rather literally, apart from some additional sloppiness) by an article appeared on Libero, a right-wing newspaper. Based in its turn on an attack to Maiani appeared in a supposed website (nowhere to be found), supposedly written by a distinguished UCLA physicist, David Cline.

Rather convoluted, yes. Anyway, resuming after the dust has settled:

1) The scientific accusations contained in the site, the article and Carlucci’s letter are obviously irrelevant if not downright wrong.

2) The website had existed, but was closed down upon request of Cline, who denied in a quite outraged e-mail any connection with it.

3) You can have a look at the original content of the site, saved by somebody in pdf form, here. It has an italian and english version. The italian part is badly written and the english counterpart looks like it’s translated using babelfish. How on earth it could have been mistaken by a text written by a professor from Wisconsin (or by any person from any english speaking country, for that matter) beats my imagination.


For the ones who didn’t bother to follow the links, I specify that all the libels involved in the matter Sheldon Glashow (photo), insinuating that he had a poor opinion of Maiani, and that he had intervened to prevent his appointment as research scientist at CERN. I report in the following the letter sent by Glashow to Prodi, and disclosed to the italian press as well:

February 14, 2008

Sr. Romano Prodi
Prime Minister

Dear Sir:
I have been shown the contents of a slanderous letter written to you by S.ra Gabriella Carlucci, MP and dated February 7, 2008.

This letter was published in Puglia-Live and has been widely disseminated.

It falsely claims that I have questioned the scientific competence of Prof. Luciano Maiani, the recently elected President of the CNR, and had opposed his appointment at CERN.

These utterly invidious and untrue allegations were part of a more general attempt to belittle the scientific standing of Prof. Maiani.
The letter denigrates his scientific accomplishments over the years and those of his colleagues, Profs. Cabibbo, Parisi and Petronzio, whose work was claimed to have caused serious damage to the image of Italian physics worldwide. Not so!

The remarks that S.ra. Carlucci attributes to me are wholly untrue and malicious.
Prof. Maiani played a key role in our collaboration decades ago, for which he was duly recognized internationally by the awards of the highly regarded Dirac Medal and Sakurai Prize. Maiani’s many research publications have been cited well over 8000 times (not including the 3600 citations to our joint work).

I have never written, suggested or thought anything remotely disparaging about the skill and accomplishments of this stellar Italian scientist.
The more general arguments in S.ra. Carlucci’s letter are equally false, slanderous and malicious.
I, and my colleagues worldwide, have the highest regard for the many outstanding contributions of Italian theorists to particle physics, among whom Profs. Cabibbo, Petronzio and Parisi (as well as Maiani) are leading luminaries and indeed may be regarded as’ ‘heirs to Fermi.’

No event associated with their distinguished scientific careers has ever caused the slightest damage to the image of Italian physics.
In the eyes of a foreign scholar, if there is anything that can damage the image of your country’s scientific institutions, it is the vulgarity and deception of this slanderous attempt at denigration of some of your nation’s most distinguished scientists.

Sheldon L. Glashow
Nobel Laureate
Foreign Member, Accademia dei Lincei

I don’t think there is a whole lot to add. He said it all, and much better than I could ever dream to do myself.

Feersum Endjinn

Posted in G 0 with tags , , , on February 15, 2008 by Roberto Gravitazero


All sort of rumors about the supposed dangers of LHC operation can be found on the web. A few years ago, the possibility of producing black holes, strangelets and whatnots during proton-proton collisions was put forward, and CERN itself had to commission a report and publish it on its own website, in order to reassure public opinion. However, as the start-up deadline approaches, these rumors are getting stronger and one can watch a good collection of millennialism addicts showing off on YouTube on the subject.

If you wish, you can find as well a few sites conducing a self-righteous campaign against LHC.

Don’t look at them too long if you are easily impressionable, though. I did yesterday and after I while I was feeling uneasy. This guy almost managed to scare me. True, at some point he stated that his credibility was supported by his discovery of a magnetic monopole in 1975. And I must admit I felt somewhat reassured by such a claim.

In any case, a new possibility had recently been added to the panoply of potential exotic scientific outcomes of LHC experiments. LHC could prove to be a time machine of a sort. Unfortunately, practical applications are excluded for the moment.

Shame. LHC could have been the first large particle accelerator to start its first experimental run well within the original schedule. Retroactively.

The Business

Posted in G 0 with tags , , , on February 15, 2008 by Roberto Gravitazero


From yesterday’s newspapers. After the critics from the Vatican to the movie “Caos Calmo”, triggered by the explicit scenes featuring Nanni Moretti and Isabella Ferrari, the director Steven Frears has declared:

“Why don’t you Italians get rid of the Vatican ? You can try to sell it to Berlusconi.”

Fascinating idea. And not too unrealistic, either. Synergies, common strategies, complementary market segments … the old tycoon could indeed be interested, even if Vatican’s audience must have taken quite a hit since the times of the former CEO, John Paul II.

Only, I have the impression the deal had already been concluded. Since quite some time, actually.

Physics is like sex

Posted in G 1 with tags , , , , on February 13, 2008 by Roberto Gravitazero

“Physics is like sex. Sure, it may give some practical results, but that’s not why we do it.”

Today I somehow came again upon this quote, which I vaguely remember to have seen before, printed as it was on the T-shirt of a well known physicist. It’s attributed to R. Feynman, physicist & Nobel prize winner, one of the icons of modern science. Behind the joke, the phrase captures in a few words several truths: not only physics (and science) makes perfect sense aside from the immediate material advantages it can confer, not only knowledge is a prize worth for itself, but its pursuit can also be a hell of a fun.

However, it’s somewhat difficult to explain why. I guess it’s a mixture of curiosity, intellectual pride, a taste for challenges and competion all rolled into one.

In any case I imagine all physicists have felt at least a few times the sense of elation that understanding something new or solving a particularly nasty problem can give. But only a few had the chance of getting a taste of “the real thing” (it’s not everybody’s fate to get married to Carla Bruni…). I’m going to clarify what I mean with this:

I remember that when I was younger, I had been intrigued by a story, most likely apocryphal, about Eddington. Eddington was perhaps the first person to realize that nuclear fusion is the process going on in the sun and other stars. The story goes like that:

“Eddington was sitting out one balmy evening together with his girl friend, just after having made his great discovery. At a certain point she said to him, – Look how bright the stars are shining, tonight.- And he replied, -Yes, and tonight I’m the only person on the earth who knows why.”

The image of a man standing under the sky studded with stars and knowing he is the first and, for a while, the only man to understand their nature, seemed then to me a powerful representation of scientific achievement at its best.

As I said, the story is likely to be untrue. Other versions put Bethe or Houtermans in place of Eddington. Curiously enough, there is a version around in which Feynman himself is narrating the story, and then concludes: “She merely laughed at him. She was not impressed with being out with the only man who, at that moment, knew why stars shine. Well, it is sad to be alone, but that is the way it is in this world.”

Which brings us back to physics and sex, or, rather, physicists and sex. Or, better still, physicists and the lack of it, as represented in the stereotypical image they still retain in the eyes of the laymen.

Yet, apart from jokes, sex has also a dark side, being often associated to sin and sometimes even to death. Eros and Thanatos both play their role in the following quote from a lifelong friend of Feynman, Freeman Dyson:

“The sin of the physicists at Los Alamos did not lie in their having built a lethal weapon. They did not just build the bomb. They enjoyed building it. They had the best time of their lives building it. That, I believe, is what Oppenheimer had in mind when he said that they had sinned.”

Like other things, sometimes physics can just be too much fun.