Yesterday Quanta Magazine published an article written by Natalie Wolchover, Physicists Create a Wormhole Using a Quantum Computer. I’m shocked and disappointed. I thought Quanta Magazine was the most respectable source of science news, they have published several quality, in-depth articles in difficult topics. But this? It falls so far below any journalistic standard that the magazine is dead to me. The problem is, if they write such bullshit about topics that I do understand, how can I trust their reporting on topics that I do not?
Let’s start with the title. No, scientists haven’t created a wormhole using a quantum computer. They haven’t even simulated one. They simulated some aspects of wormhole dynamics under the crucial assumption that the holographic correspondence of the Sachdev–Ye–Kitaev model holds. Without this assumption they just have a bunch of qubits being entangled, no relation to wormholes.
The article just takes this assumption for granted, and cavalierly goes on to say nonsense like “by manipulating the qubits, the physicists then sent information through the wormhole”. Shortly afterwards, though, it claims that “the experiment can be seen as evidence for the holographic principle”. But didn’t you just assume it was true? And how on Earth can this test the holographic principle? It’s not as if we can do experiments with actual wormholes in order to check if their dynamics match the holographic description.
The deeper problem, though, is that the article never mentions that this simulation can easily be done in a classical computer. Much better, in fact, than in a quantum computer. The scientific content of the paper is not about creating wormholes or investigating the holographic principle, but about getting the quantum computer to work.
As bizarre and over-the-top the article is, it is downright sober compared to the cringeworthy video they released. While the article correctly points out that one needs negative energy to make a wormhole traversable, and that negative energy does not exist, and that the experiment merely simulated a negative energy pulse, the video has no such qualms. It directly stated that the experiment created a negative energy shockwave and used it to transmit qubits through the wormhole.
For me the worst part of the video was at 11:53, where they showed a graph with a bright point labelled “negative energy peak” on it. The problem is that this is not a plot of data, it’s just a drawing, with no connection to the experiment. Lay people will think they are seeing actual data, so this is straightforward disinformation.
Now how did this happen? It seems that Wolchover just published uncritically whatever bullshit Spiropulu told her. Instead of, you know, checking with other people whether it made sense? The article does quote two critics, Woit and Loll. Woit mentions that the holographic correspondence simulates an anti-de Sitter space, whereas our universe is a de Sitter space. Loll mentions that the experiment simulates 2d spacetime, whereas our universe is 4d. Both criticisms are true, of course, but they don’t touch the reason why the Quanta article is nonsense.
EDIT: Quanta has since then changed the title of the article to add the qualification that the wormhole is holographic, and deleted the tweet that said “Physicists have built a wormhole and successfully sent information from one end to the other”. I commend them for taking a step in the right direction, but they haven’t addressed the main problem, which is the content of the article and the video, so this is not enough to get back on my list of reliable sources. Wolchover herself is unrepentant, explicitly denying that she was fooled by the scientists behind the research. Well, the bullshit is her fault then.
Even worse: it is the cover story in this week’s Nature magazine.
Woit has interesting comments, with information about the authors.
The article with the misleading headline and its content, including the usual hype about ER=EPR, holography etc and the usual incorrect statements ( like the ” point singularity” at the “center” of a black hole, the supposed “negative energy” which “makes the wormhole traversable” that you mentioned in your blog post and the like) was barely acceptable as oversimplified pop science.
But the video was something else. Calling this clickbait or misinformation is an understatement. I made a comment on YT about this , but I deleted it afterwards.
It’s totally pointless. The situation with the “science communication/ popularization” , the hype and the misinformation seems already non reversible.
Trying to made sensible comments about this is like trying to swim in an ocean made of empty plastic bottles…
I think it’s not fair to put so much blame on Quanta and the reporter, especially based on a single article.
In the video the authors of original research are literally saying that “you really can go through wormhole” and “it’s equivalent to the discovery of the Higgs boson”. While in reality they did just a quantum computation on 9 qubit computer, which involves absolutely no new physical setups. It’s extremely misleading.
Of course, the society likes and wants entertainment (woo-hoo, teleportation, wormholes, star wars, pew-pew), but science should never fall to that level.
Title: Researchers were able to send a signal through the open wormhole, though it’s not clear in what sense the wormhole can be said to exist.
Subtitle: The unprecedented experiment explores the possibility that space-time somehow emerges from quantum information, even as the work’s interpretation remains disputed.
Image caption: Researchers were able to send a signal through the open wormhole, though it’s not clear in what sense the wormhole can be said to exist.
Physicists have purportedly created the first-ever wormhole, a kind of tunnel theorized in 1935 by Albert Einstein and Nathan Rosen that leads from one place to another by passing into an extra dimension of space.
The wormhole emerged like a hologram out of quantum bits of information, or “qubits,” stored in tiny superconducting circuits. By manipulating the qubits, the physicists then sent information through the wormhole, they reported today in the journal Nature.
Mateus, always clearly quote whatever you want to discuss about. A link to something that can change in time is not “quoting”, it is linking.
You rant about a clickbait article, yet call the post “The death of Quanta Magazine”.
I’m describing my feelings here, and I think the title reflects them very well. Moreover, I don’t make any money from this blog, I have no interest in making “clickbait”. On the contrary, more clicks just increase my hosting costs.
Indeed, the source of the bullshit is clearly the authors of the paper, not Wolchover. I don’t believe for a second that they think this is a Higgs-level discovery, they know exactly what they did.
Nevertheless, scientists overselling their papers is a (sadly) extremely common occurrence. The most basic job of a journalist is to check whether their sources are bullshitting them. And this is not any journalist, Wolchover is a senior editor at Quanta. And this is not any article, they went all-in on the hype, even making a video about it.
As a definite lay person who trusts high-end pubs like Quanta and Nature, after reading this I am *so* glad I didn’t send it out to my usual gang of cohorts also interested in the quantum realm.
Would have been very embarrassing! Sigh…
This isn’t the death of Quanta or Nature, it’s just apparently your first experience with Gell-Mann Amnesia. I guarantee you’ve been lied to this badly before without realising it, and it happens constantly on non-technical subjects as well.
The main takeaway here shouldn’t be how badly the article and video are misleading viewers, but the sickening question of how many times has this happened on a subject you didn’t know well enough to spot it.
Uh, thanks :(
I studied theoretical physics myself, and although I never touched holography, I was thinking this may not be making too much sense. But not for a second did I want to believe serious CalTech scientists would be willing to outright lie like this. I mean, ethics asside, wouldn’t this basically end their carriers?
I’ve left science crying, but seeing this stops the regret… making me cry for an entirely different reason.
In a sane world their careers would suffer. Something, somewhere went terribly wrong, and it seems that they will instead benefit from lying to the public.
Just FYI, I can’t in any browser view the Responses / Comments on articles here (such as I am now posting). I can only see that there are e.g. 11 Responses, and this “Leave a Reply” box.
Thanks for the heads up, it was just a PHP problem, should be working again now.