2019 is nearing its end so I thought this is a good reason to look back on what this year has brought us with regard to all things physics, linguistics and sci-comm.
The year in fundamental physics was … mixed. Seeing an image of a black hole surely was amazing (but knowing how heavily processed it is takes away a bit of the magic, see an amazing series of blog posts by Prof. Matt Strassler here). On the other hand, it only confirmed a theory that we already know is right for the umpteenth time.
The problems that could not be denied anymore after the LHC turned up nothing now really begin to show. There are no really new exciting directions while at the same time it is clear that the old ones are problematic and potentially fruitless (these still continue though because of inertia).
There are no experimental clues for a new research direction. Physicists were debating whether to build a new, bigger collider is the best way to go, with Sabine Hossenfelder being a critical voice in this regard. Such a collider, however, is several decades away even if it was financed today. But to hope for supersymmetry to show up at 100TeV is at this point delusional.
String theorists are debating where to take their field, if string theory is actually a theory of the real world or a only a useful tool towards a final theory. While the actual equations of the conjectured M-theory are still at large, others (i.e. Vafa et al.) are trying to push the Swampland program in the hope of delimiting possible theories of quantum gravity.
The most demoralizing thing this year was the hype around the many worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics, amplified by certain publications, that let this topic be perceived way more relevant than it actually is (an interpretation, not a theory) while probably (even if not intended) further undermining public trust in science (‘everyone can have their interpretation of theories’)
However, an extremely awe-inspiring feat of engineering happened this year as we witnessed the moment of quantum supremacy.
One area in fundamental physics that is not completely cut off from experiment is the issue surrounding the growing tension in the different measurements of the expansion rate of the universe. This is probably the best hope for new physics that we currently have (apart from some neutrino anomalies and weak signs in B-physics).
As for linguistics, there is not much to tell this year. This has several reasons. For reasons unknown to me, linguistics is not as big in the media as physics and news stories about it never center on theoretical linguistics but stupid nonsense. Another reason is that I just started my PhD and I feel like I know almost nothing about the state of the art of linguistics.
For me, there are two highlights this year with regard to linguistics.
One is that Omer Preminger is now blogging quite regularly. His posts are often quite insightful (although some of it is still above my paygrade) and lead to interesting discussions in the comment section. More often than not, this is about big architectural questions about grammar since he is on his quest to meaningfully structure (see what I did there?) syntax and semantics.
So everyone should go over there and compliment, woo, seduce, serenade and persuade him to write even more in the next year!
The other absolutely amazing thing that blessed online linguistics this year is the blog outdex by Thomas Graf et al. It fills the gap of a computational linguistics perspective on things which is weird, strange, iconoclastic, eye-opening and fascinating. He writes very clearly and down to earth, even I can understand that stuff (most of the time). I can hardly link to a specific post because most of them are actually really good and worth your time.
For these reasons, the above the blogs appear at the top of my blogroll (the highest honour any mortal linguist can attain).
This year also saw the most successful blog post in the history of particlelinguistics. While the usual average visitor number is maybe 2 per week, my overview of blogs in linguistics had almost 500 views in June this year. More people have read this post (than I have (… sorry, couldn’t resist)) than people will ever read any scientific publication of mine. Not sure how that makes me feel.
I still hope that at some point in time I can turn this blog post into what I originally intended it to be: a source of entertaining and insightful accounts of what theoretical linguistics is about, the things we try to find out and the big questions that have to be answered. But I still feel that I don’t know enough to blog confidently about all these issues. Maybe 2020 will be the year!
That said, happy new year 2020!