It's described as
a summary of an interview with Prof. Mohamed El Naschie conducted by Shayma, a journalist based in Cairo which will be published in full length in Arabic
but it reads more like a book review for Peter Woit's book Not Even Wrong.
On [sic. One] piece of interesting information mentioned in Woit’s book which most of us did not know is that E. Witten has no degree, not even a Bachelors in physics. He was a journalist but his father worked in relativity and was a professor. This speaks of course for Witten. However some silly people hold it against El Naschie that he is a structural engineer and has no degree in physics.
refers with resentment to our Introduction to Mohamed El Naschie where we said
He earned a doctorate in civil or structural engineering from University College London in 1974, but has no physics or math degree, not even an undergraduate one.
Shrink writes in an email:
The blog software eats my comments. Here it is in full:
I've checked Woit's book on amazon. As expected, the Great Man deliberately degenerated the information about Witten's education. See for yourself:
Edward Witten was born in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1951, the son of physicist Louis Witten, whose specialty is general relativity. As an undergraduate at Brandeis his interests were mostly nonscientific, and he majored in history and mirrored in linguistics. In 1968, at the age of 17, he published an article in the Nation about the New Left's lack of a political strategy, and another in the New Republic a year later about a visit to a commune in Taos, New Mexico. Witten graduated from Brandeis in 1971, spent a short time as a graduate student in economics at the University of Wisconsin, and worked for a while on the ill-fated McGovern presidential campaign of 1972. After deciding that politics was not for him, Witten entered the graduate program in applied mathematics at Princeton in the fall of 1973, soon transferring to the physics department. This was just after the discovery there earlier that year of asymptotic freedom by David Gross and his graduate student Frank Wilczek.
Witten's talent for theoretical physics was quickly recognized. A physicist who was a junior faculty member there at the time jokingly told me that "Witten ruined an entire generation of Princeton physics graduate students." By this he meant that it was a profoundly intimidating experience for them to see one of their peers come into graduate school without even a physics undergraduate degree, master the subject in short order, and soon start on impressive research work. Introducing Witten recently at a colloquium talk in Princeton,' my thesis advisor, Curtis Callan, Jr., recalled that Witten was a source of frustration to his thesis advisor, David Gross. Gross was convinced that the only way really to learn physics was to do calculations, and he kept giving new problems to Witten to work on, problems that he thought would require doing a complicated calculation. In all cases Witten would soon return with the answer to the problem, having found it from the use of general principles, without having had to do any calculation. Witten's first research paper was finished in late 1975. At the time of this writing, 311 more have appeared.
After receiving his PhD from Princeton in 1976, Witten went to Harvard as a postdoc and later a junior fellow. His reputation began to spread widely, and it was clear that a new star in the field had appeared. I gratefully recall his willingness to take time to help one undergraduate there who was trying to learn Yang-Mills quantum field theory (despite it being way over his head). In 1980, he returned to Princeton as a tenured professor, having completely bypassed the usual course for a particle theorist's career, which normally includes a decade spent in a second postdoc and a tenure-track assistant professorship. The fact that Ilarvard did not match Princeton's offer and do everything possible to keep him there is widely regarded as one of the greatest mistakes in the department's history. Witten moved across town to a professorship at the Institute for Advanced Study in 1987, and has been there ever since, with the exception of two years recently spent as a visiting professor at Caltech. He is married to another particle theorist, Chiara Nappi, who is now on the faculty at Princeton.
The MacArthur Foundation chose Witten in 1982 for one of its earliest "genius" grants, and he is probably the only person that virtually everyone in the theoretical physics community would agree deserves the genius label. He has received a wide array of honors, including the most prestigious award in mathematics, the Fields Medal, in 1990. The strange situation of the most talented person in theoretical physics having received the mathematics equivalent of a Nobel Prize, but no actual Nobel Prize in physics, indicates both how unusual a figure Witten is, and also how unusual the relationship between mathematics and physics has become in recent years.
When I was a graduate student at Princeton, one day I was leaving the library perhaps thirty feet or so behind Witten. The library was underneath a large plaza separating the mathematics and physics buildings, and he went up the stairs to the plaza ahead of me, disappearing from view. When I reached the plaza he was nowhere to be seen, and it is quite a bit more than thirty feet to the nearest building entrance. While presumably he was just moving a lot faster than I was, it crossed my mind at the time that a consistent explanation for everything was that Witten was an extraterrestrial being from a superior race who, since he thought no one was watching, had teleported back to his office.
More seriously, Witten's accomplishments are very much a product of the combination of a huge talent and a lot of hard work. His papers are uniformly models of clarity and of deep thinking about a problem, of a sort that very few people can match. Anyone who has taken the time to try to understand even a fraction of his work finds it a humbling experience to see just how much lie has been able to achieve. He is also a refreshing change from some of the earlier generations of famous particle theorists, who could be very entertaining, but at the same time were often rather insecure and not known always to treat others well.
Go to FQXi-395 and scroll down, or jump directly to the latest comments in our archive. There are two brand new ones chastising El Naschie for his Witten claim.