Time will tell whether Grichka and Igor Bogdanov are brilliant theoretical physicists, years ahead of their time, or if they are frauds. The latter seems more likely, but the fact that we can't tell is itself significant.

We know for certain that the Bogdanovs were at one point merely French TV presenters, and that in 2001 and 2002 they remade themselves into physicists, publishing scholarly articles on spacetime, inertia, and the like in refereed journals like "Annals of Physics". They even earned PhDs in physics from the University of Burgundy.

The twin brothers (both 52 years old in 2002) became node-worthy when Max Niedermaier, a physicist at Tours University in France, alleged in an e-mail to another physicist that both their PhD theses had been "spoofs".

Other physicists, examining publications by the two, concluded that their journal articles had been nonsense as well. Physicist John Baez of the University of California, Riverside, reported details in his blog (http://math.ucr.edu/home/baez/bogdanov.html). "Some parts of their papers almost seem to make sense, but the more carefully I read them, the less sense they make. Eventually I either start laughing or get a headache," he says.

Investigations revealed that the Bogdanovs had been sued for plagiarism in 1991. The case was settled out of court but it emerged that the cover of the book they'd written said they both had PhDs, although at the time they did not.

The Bogdanovs insist that their work is sincere and brilliant, that a lot of theoretical physics is difficult to understand, and that none of the people complaining about their work can read French. Daniel Sternheimer, their PhD supervisor, backs them, saying that he understands the gist of their ideas even if he doesn't agree with them.

Scientists have identified individual lines in Bogdanov papers that are total nonsense, but it is harder to come to any simple conclusion on the works as a whole; they are almost impossible to understand.

The editors of Classical and Quantum Gravity, which published one of the brothers' papers, now say they should not have accepted it. "It does not make any sense to me," says editor Hermann Nicolai of the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics in Potsdam.

Science triumphed when Alan Sokal humiliated the post-modern "theory" crowd with his paper "Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity". The editors of Social Text had so completely lost sight of the real world that they happily published a paper denying that it exists. How embarassing that, only a few years later, scientists should be facing a similar series of articles -- content that may well have been made up to embarrass them, but nobody can tell.

One lesson from this is that the standards for coherence in science generally, or perhaps theoretical physics in particular, have fallen so low as to cripple the sharing and critique of new theories.

A second lesson is that peer review doesn't guarantee quality.

New Scientist called 2002 "The year that physics lost its innocence". They were talking about the Victor Ninov scandal, and the Igor and Grichka Bogdanov spoofs, but above all, the embarassing fall of Jan Hendrik Schön.

A lot of this played out in blogs and internet discussion groups (chiefly sci.physics and sci.physics.research), so you can track it down with Google. Try http://groups.google.com/groups?q=g:thl950908129d&dq=&hl=en&lr=&ie=UTF-8&safe=off&selm=ap7tq6%24eme%241%40glue.ucr.edu&rnum=1 as a starting point.

The theses and articles in question are:

Igor Bogdanov
ETAT TOPOLOGIQUE DE L'ESPACE TEMPS A ECHELLE 0
http://tel.ccsd.cnrs.fr/documents/archives0/00/00/15/03/index_fr.html

Grichka Bogdanov
FLUCTUATIONS QUANTIQUES DE LA SIGNATURE DE LA METRIQUE A L'ECHELLE DE PLANCK
(Quantum fluctuations of the signature of the metric at the Planck scale)
http://tel.ccsd.cnrs.fr/documents/archives0/00/00/15/02/index_fr.html

They have also published at least four papers based on their theses:

Grichka Bogdanov and Igor Bogdanov,
Topological field theory of the initial singularity of spacetime,
Classical and Quantum Gravity 18 (2001), 4341-4372.

Grichka Bogdanov and Igor Bogdanov,
Spacetime Metric and the KMS Condition at the Planck Scale,
Annals of Physics, 295 (2002), 90-97.

Grichka Bogdanov and Igor Bogdanov,
KMS space-time at the Planck scale,
Nuovo Cimento, 117B (2002) 417-424.

Igor Bogdanov,
Topological origin of inertia,
Czechoslovak Journal of Physics, 51 (2001), 1153-1236.

Here's the abstract of Igor Bogdanov's thesis:

We propose in this research a new solution regarding the existence and the content of the initial spacetime singularity. In the context of topological field theory we consider that the initial singularity of space-time corresponds to a zero size singular gravitational instanton characterized by a Riemannian metric configuration (++++) in dimension D = 4. Connected with some unexpected topological data corresponding to the zero scale of space-time, the initial singularity is thus not considered in terms of divergences of physical fields but can be resolved in the frame of topological field theory. We get this result from the physical observation that the pre-spacetime is in a thermal equilibrium at the Planck scale. Therefore it should be subject to the KMS condition. We consequently consider that this KMS state might correspond to a unification between "physical state" (Planck scale) and "topological state" (zero scale). Then it is suggested that the "zero scale singularity" can be understood in terms of topological invariants, in particular the first Donaldson invariant. Therefore, we here introduce a new topological index, connected with 0 scale, of the form Z_{beta = 0} = Tr (-1)^s, which we call the "singularity invariant". Interestingly, this invariant corresponds also to the invariant topological current yielded by the hyperfinite II* von Neumann algebra describing the zero scale of space-time. In such a context we conjecture that the problem of inertial interaction might be explained in terms of topological amplitude connected with the singular zero size gravitational instanton corresponding to the initial singularity of spacetime.

His thesis director was Daniel Sternheimer, and the "rapporteuers" were Roman Jackiw of MIT, and Jack Morava of John Hopkins.

Here's the abstract of Grichka Bogdanov's thesis:

We propose hereafter that the signature of the Space-Time metric (+++-) is not anymore frozen at the Planck scale and presents quantum fluctuations (++++/-) until 0 scale where it becomes Euclidean (++++). (i) At the albraic level we suggest an oscillation path (3,1) (4,0) excluding (2,2). We built the quotient topological space describing the superposition of the Lorentzian and the Riemanian metrics. In terms of quantum groups we evidence a relation between q-deformation and deformation of the signature. We have obtained a new algebraic construction (a new cocycle bicrossproducts by twisting) which allowed us to unify the Lorentzian and the Euclidean signatures within a unique quantum group structure. Moreover the q-deformation of space-time shows that the natural structures of q-Minkowski and q-Riemanian spaces are linked by semiduality. (ii) Regarding the physical motivations we suggest that at the Planck Scale the Space-Time is in KMS state. Within the limits of the KMS holomorph strip, the beta timelike parameter is complex. We propose an extension of relativistic gravity which begins at the Planck Scale with the Lagrangian R + R2 + RR*. Then, the infrared limit of the theory is given at the Planck Scale by the Einstein term in R and corresponds to the Lorentzian metric while the ultraviolet limit is given at beta=0 scale by the topological term RR* and corresponds to the Euclidean metric ( topological sector). We propose a duality between instantons and monopoles in 4 dimensions giving a representation of the superposition of the metrics. (iii) On the cosmological plan we suggest to describe the Initial Singularity of Space Time by a topological invariant I(S) = Tr(-1)^S which is analog to the first Donaldson invariant. The initial singularity must be considered as a singular 0-size gravitational instanton. The physical observables are therefore replaced by cycles of homology in the moduli space of gravitational Instantons. We propose a conjecture regarding the existence of a topological amplitude associated to a "topological expansion phase" which preceeds the classical cosmological expansion. This topological phase is also able to be described by the flow of weights of the II* hyperfinite factor type corresponding to the beta=0 initial singularity.

His thesis director was Daniel Sternheimer, and the "rapporteuers" were Shahn Majid of Cambridge University, Costas Kounnas of the Ecole Normale Superieure, and Dmitiri Gurevitch of Valenciennes University.

Sources:
New Scientist vol 176 issue 2369 - 16 November 2002, page 6
various blogs and newsgroup articles cited in the text

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