Michio Kaku is not helping

I’m behind on my TV-watching these days, so I’m just getting around to watching Michio Kaku’s appearance on the Colbert Report a few weeks ago.  He says things that are exaggerated to the point of being clearly false:

  1. When asked about teleportation, he says that “we’re already teleporting atoms.”  This is a reference to the technique known as “quantum teleportation,” which is really cool, but is just plain not teleportation in the sense Colbert means or in the sense that viewers will think he means.  The fact is that we can’t teleport anything, in anything like the usual understanding of that word, and nothing on our current research horizon suggests we’re anywhere near being able to.
  2. Later, Kaku says, “Within the coming decade we will have something resembling a Harry Potter invisibility cloak.”  This is, again, simply not true.  Once again, the technique he’s referring to is pretty cool, but it’s absurd to suggest it’ll lead to anything remotely like “practical” invisibility ever, let alone in a decade.  If you stay perfectly still, are spherical, and are illuminated only with monochromatic polarized radio waves, then this technique can make you invisible.  I wouldn’t count on this to keep you from getting detention from Professor Snape.

In both cases, Kaku is not the original offender: both the quantum teleportation community and the “invisibility” researchers started the practice of overselling their goods.  But Kaku knows better, and he shouldn’t play this game. People already think that we scientists exaggerate our level of knowledge. Every time a well-known scientist does this, it lowers the credibility of all scientists.

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Ted Bunn

I am chair of the physics department at the University of Richmond. In addition to teaching a variety of undergraduate physics courses, I work on a variety of research projects in cosmology, the study of the origin, structure, and evolution of the Universe. University of Richmond undergraduates are involved in all aspects of this research. If you want to know more about my research, ask me!

3 thoughts on “Michio Kaku is not helping”

  1. Michio Kaku should present a justified data regarding teleportation and invisibility. These has been an argument ever since these words were uttered. A valid output should be able to defend whatever Michio Kaku is proposing. Full Lace Front Wigs UK

  2. I think Michio Kaku likes to maintain his public presence regardless of the practical application of the topics he’s discussing.

    Simply put, he talks about things that interest people. …and perhaps with a bit of hyperbole here and there.

    In his case, while he may consider himself to be a scientist, he’s more of a celebrity, and that’s what drives him.


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