Sunday, January 25, 2009

Physics silliness

It's well known that physicists like making up extremely contrived acronyms to name their equipment or theories or so. There are also examples like the famous paper by Alpher and Gamow, where Bethe was added as the second author to make the author list similar to the first letters of the greek alphabet (stories like this are told all the time to undergrads). And I will just mention the penguin plot (some of you might know what I'm talking about).

The attitude to these things varies in the community. A quote from Dark Cosmos, by Dan Hooper, mentioned in a previous post (in case you don't remember: MACHO stands for massive compact halo object):

Neutrinos are an example of a dark matter candidate we call a weakly interacting massive particle, or a WIMP. Just like MACHOs, WIMPs are not a single type, but a class of objects. (And just like the name MACHO, the name WIMP is a prime example of the all-too-common physicist's habit of using incredibly childish language to describe their ideas.)

Compare this to how a rather famous physicist describes it, when he mentions the same words as a result of "physicists wonderful sense of whimsy".

When is it funny, when is it "incredibly childish"? Think of it what you want, this is still a part of physics culture that you have to live with. I actually rather like it, usually (although some of the acronyms are a little bit too much).

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