Now maybe I don’t get out enough, but I haven’t seen anything like this since the Usenet days of yore. It had everything — name calling, anonymous cowards, hecklers, crackpots, vicious ad hominem attacks, a media circus, angry string theorists, elephants and a cast of thousands, and, all the above notwithstanding, two physicists trying to discuss some physics. (In fact, it’s mostly maths — can you embed SL(2,ℂ)×SU(3)×SU(2)×U(1) in a real form of E8 so the adjoint representation breaks up in a particular way? — unfortunately not.) There’s some reasonable background on what started it all at wikipedia.
I feel a little bad about encouraging people to go read this (be warned, it’s long, often tedious, but also strangely engrossing), in part because I think it ends up reflecting rather poorly on both the principal protagonists, not to mention everyone else involved. I know one of them, and have corresponded briefly with the other, and I suspect that the both of them are well meaning, friendly, reasonable people, and contrary to some claims, not crackpots. Quite what went wrong in the above exchange I’ll leave up to you. The whole farce is perhaps a warning against blog triumphalism; this could have been a great example of the potential of online public forums, and in fact at times it threatened to all turn out okay. In the end, however, I’m sure several of the people involved are wishing that the internet’s memory isn’t quite so long. Eventually, one of the Cosmic Variance bloggers closed the thread, with the comment:
“Essentially everyone in this comment thread has managed to be some combination of whiny, obnoxious, incorrect, disingenuous, unhelpful, and plain old embarrassing. “
So why doesn’t this happen in the maths blogosphere? Or is asking tempting fate?