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Bogdanov affair (wikipedia.org)
131 points by luu on Sept 24, 2016 | hide | past | favorite | 63 comments

>"The Bogdanoffs' work is significantly more incoherent than just about anything else being published. But the increasingly low standard of coherence in the whole field is what allowed them to think they were doing something sensible and publish it."

There's a certain beauty in an entire field losing coherency.

I feel like this quote could be about javascript libraries too. For instance http://vanilla-js.com/ has all the right jargon and could be mistaken for a serious project.

> For instance http://vanilla-js.com/ has all the right jargon and could be mistaken for a serious project.

That's hilarious. I like the counter showing the size as you add features: "0 bytes uncompressed, 25 bytes gzipped"

I remember my friend mentioning this when I told him I had just started web development and wanted to learn a new framework. I even selected the features I thought I should have, hit the download button, and was surprised to see an empty folder in my downloads *facepalm"

See also: "Show human readable sizes"

I wa

Is there some Godwin's law corollary 34 that any online crititique on a venue with devs will end turning into a critique of javascript?

I've mostly seen this on HN - but I don't visit a lot of forums. Looks like PHP is out and Javascript is in; lots of people have an axe to grind with Javascript (e.g. gp - the segue is almost comical). I can imagine an article on a new dental procedure, with the first comment "Root canal is painful, just like javascript ha ha amirite"

I would be interested in finding out the proportion of HN threads that end up having 'javascript' mentioned when the original discussion was not remotely related.

... did you just compare the modern JavaScript framework landscape to Nazis? ;)

actually it is you who did it.

There really should be!

Let's make it a thing:


PS: Today I learned that Godwin introduced Godwin's law in 1990 as an experiment in memetics!

They often appear on French TV shows to promote their popular science books. It's pretty sad because their book suck. I feel sorry for the persons that buy them.

Still, I find the Bogdanoff fascinating. I don't think they are imposters. They just have their very own confused way of understanding science. And I have to admit they're quite entertaining and likable. I used to watch them on TV when I was a kid more than 30 years ago. They hosted some kind of sci-fi show.

Old times, with space saucers. Watched too.

I've been using VJS for years and can testify to its performance and ease of use. It literally took no effort to install and use.

> There's a certain beauty in an entire field losing coherency.

To be fair, Woit is hardly a neutral commenter on physical matters related to string theory: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Woit#Criticism_of_string... . Of course, that doesn't make him wrong.

For discussion of this whole issue, I feel more comfortable trusting Baez than Wiki. He seems to reach much the same conclusions: http://math.ucr.edu/home/baez/bogdanov.html . (There's enough similarity in language that I don't know that he wasn't involved in writing the Wiki article, though a casual look at the history (and the fact that I don't know his Wikipedia username …) doesn't show it.)

> For instance http://vanilla-js.com/ [...]

<rant> I wish employers would take this serious during interviews, every time I say that I know vanilla JavaScript they cringe as if knowing the core features of a language instead of a popular framework was a bad thing. I understand that SPA grew to become a standard among JavaScript developers but it really doesn't provides much innovation so to me learning a framework is like incentivizing the proliferation of these type of projects. JavaScript developers are obsessed with JSON and want to JSONify everything, the only thing that I like about modern frameworks is MVVM but most of the other things are just over-complicated solutions.

The rant will never end. I join you in solidarity.

A perhaps better example: Nobody was able to verify Mochizuki's proof of the abc conjecture, because the first step was to spend a decade inventing an entirely new branch of mathematics.

There are a lot of semi-coherent proofs for famous conjectures that appear from time to time on the arxiv, with absolutely unknown quality. P ?= NP is a popular topic.

vanillajs makes more sense than at least half of JS libraries

For many years (in the 1980s), the Bogdanoffs claimed (for instance, in the back covers of their popular science books) to be "authentic geniuses", with combined IQs > 400 and two (2) PhD's each.

This was, obviously now, not true, at least for the "PhD" part of the claim, so at one point they had to try to pass PhDs for real. It took them quite a bit of time and effort, and this effort, as I had been told at the time the "affair" was unraveling by mathematicians who had been involved in this process, was to call famous scientists of their time over the phone asking them questions about the subject of their thesis (after all they were some sort of journalists so at least they knew how to ask questions), and transcribe the answers. Unfortunately they only understood the words of these conversations but not their meanings, which explains why their thesis can look like some genuine science if you look at the sentence level, but doesn't make any sense when you try to find any meaning in it.

Some recent discussion about the affair (in French): http://sciences.blogs.liberation.fr/2015/07/02/les-bogdanov-...

What's doubling truly sad in this story, IMHO, is that:

1) While the are obviously not the scientific geniuses they claim to be, they are even not good science popularisers, they are actually really bad.

2) There are still people, and not only people attracted by pseudoscience or the bizarre aspects of their personality, that take them seriously. I remember, for instance, that that have been interviewed in recent years on France Info (national public french information radio) about the Higgs boson discovery or their recent books.

They're weird beasts, not taken seriously anymore by academics, and not taken seriously by tv audience, that just want a bit of smart stuff on stage to feel educated for 5 minutes. Before they divert the interviews in jokes and music.

One more thing, being a science populariser requires a special ability to bridge different mindsets, it's not easy, for instance Cedric Villani is not good at that, his tv appearances goes quickly into silent misunderstandings. A guy like MIT's ex W. Lewin is better at this IMO.

> not taken seriously by tv audience

last time I checked, most people still think they are legit in France.

This got me real good:

> One of the scientists who approved Igor Bogdanov's thesis, MIT's Roman Jackiw... was intrigued by the thesis, although it contained many points he did not understand. Jackiw defended the thesis:

> "All these were ideas that could possibly make sense. It showed some originality and some familiarity with the jargon. That's all I ask."

> "All these were ideas that could possibly make sense. It showed some originality and some familiarity with the jargon. That's all I ask."

Wow. Talk about low standards.

Unacceptable. Proper formatting is a prerequisite. It's not about being elitist - it's about readability and efficient communication. The equations in these "theses" are so badly formatted I would have taken off marks if an undergrad gave me something similar.

It's fine if you have a handful of equations in your text. But for a PhD in maths? Unacceptable.

Even their sentences don't make sense, they just pile up complex words together. There is not one sane line written.

Wow, a thesis on theoretical physics and topology written in Microsoft Word and not LaTeX? Dead giveaway.

I come away from reading this Wikipedia article still unclear if their thesis and papers are nonsense.

I figure it's bad news for the field of big bang physics when you can't falsify nonsense. I thought that was the point of the whole science thing.

This quote is clear though


I had given a favorable opinion for Grichka's defense, based on a rapid and indulgent reading of the thesis text. Alas, I was completely mistaken. The scientific language was just an appearance behind which hid incompetence and ignorance of even basic physics.[14]

I had no idea they were "famous" on English Wikipedia.

I'm still processing the presence of this on HN's FP.

It is interesting to contrast the discussions of 'impostor syndrome' with actual impostors. When I hear various snake-oil spiels (blockchain springs to mind) or just a self-hype I often wonder if the person has self-awareness of their being a phony.

Saturday and Sunday posts always come with certain randomness,

even the comments tend to be less serious during the weekends.

Wow I just googled these guys. Not that it should matter but this is how they look:


I could be wrong but it looks like they have had a lot of plastic surgery...

Two things I notice...

First: before the surgeries, they have facial features that would be common in Russia but would stand out in a crowd of western europeans. It is a bit sad if this part contributes to the comment that they look weird. I think it does.

Second: at some point they start to seem obsessed with some twisted idea of looking youthful and in deep denial of their age. For example, the same faces with shorter, grayer hair would look better.

> Since 1979, Igor and Grichka Bogdanov have been widely known in France as television-show hosts.

They recently had their own parodical song:


This is about their supposedly abnormally long chin (people regularly joke about Bogdanov being aliens).

But why?

How could we, as a society, let that happen?

TL DR; France is the country where Cargo Cult science is born, and that what was Feynman has been warning against, because it it was beginning to contaminate US at his time (has finished by now)

It is called academism: when you respect the look&feel of science more than science itself.

Some very well known moralists that have been making some real scientific breakthrough such as Pasteur, Cuvier have used this to publish pseudo science based on their scientific credit France has hence created some very disturbing pseudo-science backed by academy

Pasteur was a convinced puritan. When the league of virtue came to him to shut down the sinners who where drinking alcohol, he backed a totally un-scientific study to claim absinth was a poison. The prohobition in USA is based on a similar lobbying.

Cuvier who was friend of Linné, after going to a pub by seeing one poor girl from south african born with a dysmorphia made a very nice theory from one sample stating that the «black» where closers to the gorillas than the «whites». Giving racism a «scientific credit».

Than in the early XXth helped by politics, scientific academy claimed that all about crimes could be solved with science, hence the birth of scientific police and «scientific methods to investigate» (CSI) including: using graphology, numerology, the face of the people (based on Cuvier) and extended to say stuff like the facial trait of jews that were more akin to be criminals, polygraphs and shits.

One of our greatest and first she PhD, Marie Curie (who was born polish) was at the opposite of Bogdanov constantly under the fire of criticism of «our scientific institutions» for being too free. (She divorced, had an affair, and above all CLAIMED to be able to do science by herself). Thus French scientific academy have asked the Royal Academy of Stockholm to not give her the Nobel prize in 1906. Stupidity that they happily ignored.

French science had always a tendency to prefer the appearance of science over its content (reading Molière is very informative on the topic), and until recently USA developed itself greatly by abhorring this model (read quicksilver from Stephenson as a good picture) greatly inspired by the «erudition» held by the church.

But after the WWII amazingly USA have been all the more looking like France in its worst part they have been bashing France.

I think the biography of Feynman and the part on the introduction of Fundamental Math is instructive. It is the fundation of the cargo cult story. Or the book of Pr Gleick on dynamic systems where it is described why Mandelbrot prefered to give up on polytechnique (french Ivy league) or even the Sokal scandal can depict a pretty accurate picture of the slow convergence of US academism towards french one.

America's greatness in knowledge is being held down by this: conformism, and giving more credit to institution than they ought to have.

Was this an attempt at demonstrating your theory by exemplifying it?

Because you mix anything and everything, taking small examples which are extremely outdated, unrelated or standard behaviour of their time and do not show the big picture. As it sounds very informed, very learned, it allows you to deploy your own thesis and give it a sound of scientific truth. What is funny is that it is exactly the process you demonise.

> the introduction of Fundamental Math is instructive. It is the fundation of the cargo cult story.

What do you mean by that?

according to Feynman autobiography the talk he gave was inspired by the feelings that he had reading the textbook while in the californian commission for it. At the time of the introduction of «Mahtématiques fondamentales» a french revolutionary (lol) methodology for learning maths.

He expressed a concern that this kind of math did look savant, but was wrong in helping having intuition. Arithmetics vs geometry.

Stuff for which he may be right since Bourbaki actually designed their math teaching on formalism over intuition/geometry after a feud with Poincaré who dismissed the influence of «french school» in his work...a very horrible crime of lèse majesté.

The Ignorance of Bourbaki: https://www.dpmms.cam.ac.uk/~ardm/bourbaki.pdf

Vladimir Arnold wrote quite a bit on such things. For example: http://pauli.uni-muenster.de/~munsteg/arnold.html, as well as other articles.

Not sure, but this speech is always worth a read:


Somehow sad that Cuvier still have streets named in his honor. Especially one bordering a very large university.

About academism, I wonder if it's not a question of "lifecycle". America institutions were younger than European ones. I often felt a strong academism in Europe research (more symbolic, abstract and terse) compared to USA (be it in CS or even Math such as linear algebra).

I was more asking about the song than the brothers, but nevermind, I will take your explanations anyway. They're more interesting. Thank you from Paris.

Sorry, I forgot to ask, what do you think is the cause of this? And how could it be reversed?

Small questions like that!

This is one subject I find eternally fascinating.

There is an American cartoon show called The Venture Bros, of which the main theme is actually American science and Cargo Cults.

Here's a quote on the subject I made formerly, it is more about technology than science but there are parallel themes.

The cartoon series The Venture Bros symbolizes the Stagnation Hypothesis. If you don't want to watch the entire series to understand the point, just take a look at the episode: Season 3 Episode 2: The Doctor Is Sin (the intro even features Dr T. Venture offering jobs to migrant laborers for which they are absurdly under qualified and very low wages. This, in light of the frequent complaints of worker scarcity in the midst of stagnant wages is quite poignant).

In the series the grandfather (deceased) was able to do all kinds of amazing innovations, space stations, underwater laboratories, biospheres, rolling walkways, new fabrics, all kinds of new machines. The next generation symbolized by Dr T. Venture was unable to compete with all this amazing success and began to act as a hanger-on, a me-too, acting as if he knew what was going on but in actuality understanding nearly none of it and therefore became reliant on sexing up what is really ancient technology to make himself look good to investors and his own self image. His sons, the next iteration of Ventures are permanent children, living in a technology wonderland they effectively treat as magical surroundings. Not only do they not understand the technology of their grandfather, but they don't understand there is anything to understand, despite the fact that as clones they are actually technological artifacts themselves.

Unfortunately this supposed comedy show is a reasonable interpretation of the last few generations.

If you exclude computation (electronics/robots/AI/internet) then there just aren't very many parts of the economy that are genuinely growing. This has been going on since the early 70s.

This has been obfuscated by the accounting of the economy.

The government and central banks have an incentive to produce numbers that sound rosy because they noticed long ago that if the people in the economy felt like things were going well, that they were more likely to spend, invest and work. There is a self fulfilling prophesy nature to it all.

The source of wealth or 'more stuff' is the ability to produce more stuff for less cost. Lower the inputs, up the outputs. Technology is a key element in making that happen.

The problem is that (ex-computation) new innovations are far less likely to affect the average person. Name a single invention outside computers of the last several decades. I do not mean a hypothetical abstraction in a laboratory somewhere.

When people find themselves coming up with close to nothing they resort to saying: well, maybe new innovation is bound up inside classical things we have but cannot see inside of (we are at the Dr T. Venture stage here).

It is certainly true that minor improvements accumulate into a quality of their own over time. That is Toyota's business model. The insides of the cars experience consistent iterative improvement. There are similar analogs in other industries.

But. And this is the key point. That utterly fails to explain why new innovations aren't reaching the common person. If we really were experiencing a boom in innovation and invention we would expect to see thousands of new fields and sub-fields opening up. What new materials technology do you have inside your home that did not exist in 1970? What forms of transport? There are literally dozens of major areas that have not seen any major innovation and they have stopped being labeled 'technology' as a result.

As an aside, they did a marketing video for the commodore Amiga https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JjRNAndfFEY :)

Funny, coincidentally read about Schon's scandal, read this https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sch%C3%B6n_scandal which list this thread's link too.

In some ill-defined dual space of a Bogdanov manifold there is the Sokal affair: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sokal_affair

Almost sounds a bit like Elizabeth Holmes...

Popular culture sidenote : in France, the Bogdanov's brothers are now the standard butt of jokes related to:

- aesthetic surgery (in a close race with actresses Emanuelle Beart and Angelina Jolie)

- aliens (or people looking like, claiming to have met, or communicate with aliens)

- chins (a rather popular comedian has based about 12% of all his jokes about silly puns with Bogdanov's brothers and the word 'menton')

- lots of other stufff

- mad scientists

- and, I suppose, cosmologists (although it is probably a challenge to make a cosmologist joke in front of a regular audience.)

For whatever it's worth, next time you have to make a standup routine in France.

Does anyone here understand why people do this to themselves? Is it some sort of disorder, like anorexia?

Body dysmorphia is relatively common, has a high rate of attempted suicide and deaths by suicide.


These guys are strong evidence that whatever it is, it's heritable.

The top one is the before.

Wouldn't you want to change that?

(Just joking. It's the reverse.)

Leno meets Max Headroom

>Baez, who made a comparison between the two affairs, later retracted, saying that the brothers "have lost too much face for [withdrawing the work as a hoax] to be a plausible course of action".

It looks like they had a lot of plastic surgery to repair the effects of losing too much face. [1]

[1] https://nl.pinterest.com/pin/161214861633094104/

Totally second this. I often mention this scandal when discussing pseudo sciences, along with Elisabeth Teissier case. Quite embarrassing for my country but surely a good laugh. Love that this ended on HN !


I linked the article to a friend and she made a crack about Carlos II

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