Professor Hawking: I Accept Your Bet…

I sent the following email to Professor Hawking and a copy to his assisstant, Mr. Blackburn –


Dear Professor Hawking:

According to a recent announcement, you have said that you are willing
to bet $100 that the Higgs Boson particle won’t be discovered at CERN
with the LHC. I am willing to consider your wager. I am writing to
inquire of the terms of your bet, as far as a constraining time period
for this discovery to take place, etc, so that I can evaluate it more fully.
Unfortunately, it has not been made clear by the news reports as to
whether your bet was for the initial test of the LHC or when they
actually begin to run it at full power, or some other condition.

Please contact me here with the details. If I find them satisfactory, I
will not only be willing to accept your wager, but raise it by $900,
just to make it interesting. I think I have a way for the winnings to go
to the winner’s favorite science cause without it coming out of the
loser’s pocket. It will then be rather beneficial to a fitting cause and
get some publicity as well.

With All Due Respect,

Marshall Barnes

My willingness to consider Hawking’s bet has nothing to do with my confidence in the Higgs Boson. To be frank, I’m not that big on particle physics as I am in other areas. That being said, I’m willing to take Hawking up on his challenge because of the odds that he is wrong, based on his track record. He has repeatedly made statements that I have found to be as puzzling as they are erroneous. The earmark seems to always be a reliance on making some kind of humorous remark as opposed to a well thought out position. His chronology protection conjecture, “making history safe for historians”, is but one that comes to mind. He has since backed down from it, but it didn’t have a leg to stand on from the moment that he uttered it.

In the immediate wake of being recognized for creating an experiment to test the psychological bias of physicists that prevents them from seeing obvious theoretical flaws, stemming from a mistake that Hawking made (look at the 5th paragraph down, for as long as the story is still available online) that no physicists were able to see until I started pointing it out, I couldn’t let professor Hawking’s remarks about the Higgs go unanswered. It seems that as I made my decision to move forward, Peter Higgs has spoken up as well with his own, more mathematically inspired objections.

Depending on the terms that Hawking presents, I will follow through with meeting his challenge. Whether he accepts or not, is the question. There’s a good chance that he’ll ignore my offer, which is why I sent a copy to his personal assistant Blackburn, to be sure that my email didn’t get lost in the pile of regular fan mail and requests that he gets. It’s also why I’m going public, so that there’s a record that I stepped forward to answer his bet. If I lose, it doesn’t really matter. I have a whole string of projects coming out, concerning the nature of time, where I prove that he has been wrong. In that area, I more than agree with Peter Higgs’ statement that “I am very doubtful about his calculations”. In fact, I know that they’re wrong.

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64 thoughts on “Professor Hawking: I Accept Your Bet…”

  1. Well said Fred. Let’s (try) to keep it friendly here, boys.

    Thanks, Ben, but I guess your suggestion of keeping it friendly didn’t work. Marshall continued his insults of me and others, even in the post where he promises he is finally done with this thread.

    I could respond point by point, but that would only run the risk of bringing Marshall back.

    He’s right about one thing: This thread would make an interesting case study. I have to wonder whether his insults were designed as bait and Science Blog participants were the lab rats in one of his experiments. In that case, he gets an A+ as a provocateur, and I get a hunk of moldy cheese.

    Fred Bortz — Science and technology books for young readers ( and Science book reviews (

  2. N. Jinn Ear writes:

    The fact is that the only source quoted is Thorne’s book. Later in the lecture, he cites a statement by Hawking about a ten-lightyear distance, but he does not provide the source of that statement.

    If Marshall is serious about showing that statement is wrong, it would be common courtesy to quote Hawking directly and to give us the source. Instead, he seems to prefer spewing insults.

    Marshall could have responded respectfully to NJE’s request and checked the footnotes of Thorne’s book, which NJE may not have, to provide the original Hawking source.

    Instead, Marshall’s response proves NJE’s point that “he seems to prefer spewing insults.”

    Let’s all allow Marshall one final rant and then drop this toxic thread.

  3. “The fact is that the only source quoted is Thorne’s book. Later in the lecture, he cites a statement by Hawking about a ten-lightyear distance, but he does not provide the source of that statement.”

    WTF! I can’t stand it anymore. You watched the video again and you didn’t see me quote the source?! The source is Thorne’s book. I say it’s Thorne’s book. I’m holding the book toward the end and I give the page number that the Hawking quote is from! And I read the quote! I say that Thorne says that this is what Hawking said. I even go back and tell what year this all happened. That’s when I say that the mistake has lasted for 18 years.

    Seriously, this has been a very interesting psychological excercise, but I haven’t got time for this anymore. I will have to go back and look at these comments for further analysis, because I think that they are very significant and very frightening and really require some kind of study, and this is no joke. I’m sure this will get published in a journal somewhere because I’m going to confer with a psychologist who’s got the time and the inclination to do what’s needed to get it in a journal. The correlations here with other data that I already have from other sources is off the chart and it needs to be studied, big time.

    I’m not responding to anymore posts on this thread because it’s a waste of time. It’s a waste of time because of the phenomenon of certain people not being able to understand information, no, *recognize* information when it is right in front of their face. It’s incredible.

    So, I’m done. This will have to be another project and it will be one. But I’ve got real work to do and even for technoconinetics research, this has run its course.

    But hey, I’m sure Fred will still be here…

  4. Using a quote from the thread that came before you started calling me a kook, that’s pretty good, Fred. And the people you say I was calling dense or stupid, were the one’s saying that the wormhole connection was stretched, something that couldn’t be possible under the conditions that Thorne set-up, which I quoted. A stretched wormhole connection would likewise have made Hawking’s contention wrong, so what do you call people that can’t listen to instructions, can’t do the math and refuse to look up references, but will attack someone over the situation anyway? And of course, don’t bother mentioning that these people that I said were “stupid” were also wrong, after all. They weren’t stupid because they were wrong. They were stupid for refusing to listen to the information and refusing to use the references. They weren’t “readers”, they were people actively engaged in attacking me under false pretenses.

    I find it funny how you feel that it’s perfectly legitimate for people to insult me with impunity but I’m not allowed to respond indignantly. I also find it funny how easily you get bent out of shape over being “characterized” when your bad behavior is exposed. Like jumping all over me to defend Eric’s comments over something that Eric eventually admitted was wrong and apologized for. I tried to be nice and asked you to drop it, but you kept it up. That’s not a charcterization, those are the facts.

    I even stopped posting on your blog, hoping that you would get the hint. Live and let live, not that I ever attacked you on your blog. Nope. I’ve got nothing against you and I’ve left you alone. You, on the other hand, have displayed the opposite behavior and then tried to deny it. If you weren’t here, on my blog, once again engaging in your own brand of passive(passive?)aggressive behavior, I’d be writing nothing about you. Not a word. But now I’m sure, the fact that I have put finger to keyboard will be seen as another rant…Yeah, right!

    The other funny thing about this is that if you really think I’m a kook, why didn’t you leave like you said before? I know that you’ve done that before with other bloggers that you’ve deemed to fit that description. I saw you do it. Don’t worry, I know why…

    As for your opinion of me, yeah, you already said that it had changed for the worse, not far from the time that you said you were leaving before, but you stayed didn’t you? Now you say you’re leaving again. Forgive me if I don’t hold my breath on that one. From what I’ve seen so far, it would be out of your character.

  5. Because of David’s comments, I decided to watch Marshall Barnes’ video again.

    I noticed the slip of the tongue that David spoke of, but it is not a big deal in that context. I’ll give Marshall a pass on that one.

    I also wanted to find the source of the erroneous statement by Hawking, the one I previously asked Marshall to cite.

    His mean-spirited reply to me included this: “It means that they’re not capable of understanding the material directly from the source that I’ve already quoted here.”

    The fact is that the only source quoted is Thorne’s book. Later in the lecture, he cites a statement by Hawking about a ten-lightyear distance, but he does not provide the source of that statement.

    If Marshall is serious about showing that statement is wrong, it would be common courtesy to quote Hawking directly and to give us the source. Instead, he seems to prefer spewing insults.

    He can redeem himself, at least a little, by humoring me and providing the quote from Hawking and its source.

    N. Jinn Ear

  6. Marshall:

    You may recall my suggesting an alternative cause for the seeming “simultaneous” lack of anyone “catching” Dr. Hawking in his “nit picky” little mistake. Of course I most certainly cannot prove that my scenario is any more correct than your apparent suggestion that there’s some “mass blindness” infesting the scientific community. (There may well be some such. After all, we are all human. :-} )

    I have no problem with there being many other (potential) problems with Kip Thorne’s wormhole “time machine” that can lead it to not be a viable time machine. (Please correct me if I’m wrong, since it was unclear from your video, but as I recall Thorne’s wormhole “time machine” thought experiment, the wormhole end that goes aboard the rocket goes along for the entire roundtrip—returning back to the Earth. Is that how it’s expressed in Thorne’s book?) Furthermore, it’s certainly unfortunate if Stephen Hawking got distracted by an error on his part (though, as I’ve already pointed out, one that has no actual bearing on his argument), thus causing him to miss greater flaws.

    I certainly abhor “hidden” assumptions, hence my tendency in my real work (as opposed to many ‘blog entries) to try and make as many of my assumptions as explicit as I can (at least without bogging everything down). I most certainly agree that assumptions must be as explicit as reasonably possible, and must always be legitimate targets for questions, experiments, and other probings.

    I like Feynman’s characterization of science as ever doubting itself. :-)


  7. Marshall:

    While you are correct that there are both Special and General Relativistic aspects of experiments involving flying atomic (or any other highly accurate) clocks in aircraft, or satellites, your mistake to which I was referring to pertained purely to Special Relativity. I fully recognized that you were really only touching upon Special Relativistic principles for the needed background of the students. So my concern has nothing to do with whether you included the higher complexities of General Relativity. (After all, even without quantum vacuum fluctuations, or any other aspects of quantum mechanics—from a purely “classical” General Relativistic standpoint—there are plenty of unanswered questions of wormhole stability or even traversability[sp?].)

    I also recognize the difficulty of doing things just right, or being precise in ones use of language when faced with a need to answer questions “off the cuff”. However, it’s often under such conditions that deep misconceptions of the presenter are revealed. Of course I cannot judge whether your mistake truly reveals some deep seated misconception, or simply a momentary laps as other concepts (like the General Relativistic affects to which you allude) impinged upon your consciousness. However, seeing as how you were, as I surmised, simply trying to elucidate the Special Relativistic concept of time dilation to a group of high school students, I have significant concern when misinformation, such as slipped your tongue, is presented as fact to impressionable students. (Need I elaborate further?)


  8. Once again, Marshall is trying to characterize me, and once again, he is wrong.

    I scan all the comments and threads on Science Blog and join the discussion when appropriate.

    I post on my own blog when I have something to say, mostly related to books or education. That often means gaps of two weeks.

    I’ll leave the rest of this discussion to David, who understands topics related to spacetime and general relativity far better than I do.

    Now I will allow myself a little snideness as I depart this thread:

    As Marshall would say, I am too dense to understand what he is trying to communicate. It’s clearly all my fault.

    Besides, his calling readers incompetent, lazy idiots is not ranting. It’s just my misunderstanding of Marshall’s style.

    Rant on, Marshall, but before you do, please recall my comment early on in this thread:

    Just to make sure that my purpose is clear, this is intended as constructive criticism of a blogger who I think has much to contribute.

    That was how I viewed you before you started insulting people, including me. My opinion of you has changed, and not for the better.

    Fred Bortz — Science and technology books for young readers ( and Science book reviews (

  9. I had made a comment earlier to the effect that I had gotten under Fred’s skin because I didn’t share some of his same views. His behavior here only supports that, along with a few other things.

    I notice that he’s been lurking here instead of paying attention to his own blog, which he’s not seen to since the 17th. But he watches mine as if it’s his sworn duty.

    “Given Marshall’s rants here, I’m less willing to give him the benefit of the doubt than you are in your precisely worded second paragraph. But as you note, this is at best a nit-pick and hardly qualifies as the kind of conceptual error implied in the claim of “Hawking’s Biggest Mistake.””

    Characterizing everything I write as a “rant” is pretty petty. What’s more important is that I’ve never asked anyone, especially not Fred, to take my word for anything or give me the benefit of the doubt. With all the books Fred supposedly reviews, you’d think that he’d have a copy of Black Holes and Time Warps:Einstein’s Outrageous Legacy somewhere, or at least owned a library card. I gave pages numbers as references, you’d think by now that Fred would have checked them out. I think it’s more important for him to rant about my “rants” instead of acting like a book reviewer would and read the book. I gave him that benefit of the doubt a while a go, when he went silent for a time. Looks like it was not well deserved.

    And the issue of looking for something “substantive” goes to the core of what hidden assumptions are all about. It’s the assuming that little details don’t matter and after a while, those little details that seemingly don’t matter get bigger and bigger, at least as far as importance goes, because you’re assuming all along that they’re insignificant. The next thing you know you’re forgetting little details like the how O rings react in the cold and which units of measure your team members are using on a mission.

    Like I said before, it’s just the tip of the iceberg, a very big one.

    Now, I’ve got real work to do. Perhaps Fred will start worrying about his own blog and stop sitting on mine. Then again, that would be giving him too much benefit of the doubt and that’s a hidden assumption I’m not likely to make.

  10. Is that all? Missing that “nit pick”, is indicative of why simlutaneously no one ever caught the over 10 legit reasons why the Thorne model won’t work as a time machine. In other words, Hawking made a little error but missed many more significant ones that would have also kept Thorne’s idea from working. That one small mistake, is the literal tip of the iceberg, so to speak. The other flaws are more sophisticated but one would expect at least some of them to have been noticed long before now, let alone at the very beginning over 18 years ago. It speaks to the bigger issue of the problem of hidden assumptions in science today. If it was just that mistake, that would be one thing, but it wasn’t.

    It also means that not only did Hawking miss the goof (which didn’t originate from him) but Thorne did, not only when he first saw it but during the whole time that he was trying to solve for effects of it. It means that he didn’t catch it when he wrote about it for the book and when he did the book proof.

    My so-called “mistake”, on the other hand, was spontaneous based on the fact that I was trying to relate time dilation in a way that the kids would be able to grasp. It was off the top of my head and not the intended part of the presentation, (I thought they had already learned about time dilation and the rest, so I was having to do a crash course). At the same time, when I saw a film in jr. school that mentioned time dilation I remembered it the way I related it. The fact is that the whole affair is more complicated than it would appear at first.

    The issue is of velocity vs. the influence of gravity (or lack there of). The higher up you go on Earth, the less gravity on clocks but the faster you go, you get the same effect as more gravity. At what point does velocity overcome the effects of a weak gravitational field to produce the same effects as a stronger gravitational field? That’s the question.

    The Hafele and Keating experimentfound evidence of both an increase in the time of a clock and a decrease – depending on the direction. The difference in both was very small, just as I said in the video. I didn’t reference that exact experiment because it was just an off the cuff remark based on the basic principles of special relativity, especially as it pertained to the thought problem that I was going to present. I was just trying to relate that scientists had actually detected that time dilation is real. Hafele/Keating supports that. Half of their experiment went down exactly as I related it, and many times that’s the half that’s been cited. Not much of a mistake unless I was saying that that was all there was to relativity and I wasn’t. I was only talking about the effect of velocity and trying to keep it simple for a young audience that had never heard of any of it before.

    I could have edited that out but I didn’t because I wanted to keep it as real as possible. It shows the difficulty at times in trying to relate complex problems to others. It also points toward a broader discussion of special relativity, which has just happened now, and I’m sure will be repeated elsewhere.

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