FAQ: Will you evaluate my theory/idea?

I get requests from time to time from individuals who want me to evaluate their theory of physics or cosmology. (More often, they are hoping I will simply agree with them and help them promote their idea.) Here is how I see the situation:

Science in general and my specialty of theoretical physics in particular is an extremely technical subject which has seen amazing advances, especially in the last century or so. New contributions need to connect with existing knowledge to be viable. By far the best way to achieve this connection is through careful study of the standard physics curriculum, starting with high school, and then college.

If you wish to make original contributions to theoretical physics a PhD in theoretical physics is key. During your PhD program you will start to make original contributions under supervision of your thesis advisor. If your PhD work is sufficiently successful you may get opportunities to continue your research career and with continued success may eventually land a long term research position. As your career continues you will be expected to continue making original contributions. Initially your PhD and Postdoctoral mentors will help you network with the community if they are sufficiently pleased with your progress, but also an element of luck can play a role. Should your reputation grow, as you present your work in meetings and journals, more colleagues will show an interest in your work and offer their opinions and evaluations.This is how I get involved with evaluating the work of people outside my own research group.

This may seem like a daunting process, and it certainly requires hard work and perseverance. But it is an open process.In my home country (USA) most people have access to community college courses in physics at a modest fee, and based on their performance can compete for scholarships and positions in four year colleges and beyond. In the USA, students in physics PhD programs typically are provided with teaching or research positions to support themselves and have their tuition covered as well, resulting in no cost to students who successfully compete for this support.(Residents of other countries should ask a local expert about what is available.) Another resource is this collection of internet materials organized by Prof. Gerard 't Hooft.

Many students of all ages take on the challenge of pursuing a career in physics, in spite of (or more often because of) the enormous challenges involved. We are fortunate to have many excellent students here in UC Davis pursuing physics careers.

While it is not completely impossible to make important contributions without the usual training, the chances of that happening are extremely low. Certainly these chances are way too low for me to justify setting aside my responsibilities to my excellent students and colleagues who have embraced the challenging training process in order to critique the work of some who is trying an alternative route. My colleagues with a full graduate physics training and established careeers are much more likely to contribute something important and If anything I wish I had more time for them. So I simply do not make time to communicate in technical terms about theories and physics projects with individuals who have not engaged fully in their physics training and career development, and who have not progressed sufficiently to have become part of my community of students and professional contacts. Please do not take this as a negative or discouraging judgment. I am always thrilled to know that others are sufficiently excited about physics to pursue their own original work. I encourage you do full justice to your enthusiasm by taking the necessary steps I describe above. Even if a full career in physics research does not work out, just the first stages of physics training can be very rewarding; both in terms of your own intellectual enjoyment and in terms of developing tools for creative technical problem solving that can serve you well in many different walks of life.

-Andreas Albrecht