R.I.P. Phil Anderson (1923-2020)

I heard this morning via a friend who knew him personally of the death, yesterday at the age of 96, of condensed matter physicist and Nobel Laureate Professor Philip Warren Anderson. He will perhaps be best remembered known for Anderson Localization but he worked on a huge range of topics in physics and his influence was felt across many branches of science (including astrophysics). It’s too early for obituaries to have been published yet but I will add links when they become available.

Update: here is the New York Times obituary.

R.I.P. Philip W Anderson (1923-2020).

17 Responses to “R.I.P. Phil Anderson (1923-2020)”

  1. Anton Garrett Says:

    Oh. That’s a loss. The virus? Or something else? A personal friend died in Cambridge two Thursdays ago (not of covid19 or complications thereof) and of course I’m unable to attend the funeral.

    Phil Anderson became Bayesian 2 or 3 decades ago and was a fine advocate for it. Time will tell if his explanation of high-temperature superconductivity was the better of the two main schools of thought. he proposed it withing months of its discovery but that was 33 years ago. Slow progress!

    Re the virus, the media are saying two things at once:

    1. If you catch covid-19 then expect to die horribly [the panic line]

    2. Many people have it asymptomatically, so stay in to avoid the risk of infecting others.

    As these appear to be totally incompatible, most people are confused. Worse, they don’t even realise they are confused – they are liable to say (1) at one moment and (2) at another without thought to how these can both be true. The missing piece of the jigsaw is that the virus alone gives rise to only mild symptoms, but fighting it depresses your immune system and renders you more liable to bacteriological infection in the lungs that (perhaps in conjunction with the virus) can have dire effects. Professional medics regard the notion of opportunistic post-viral bacterial infections, when someone’s immune system is temporarily depleted, as so basic that they don’t explain this, and the media haven’t a clue, so people are not getting information that they are quite capable of understanding and which could set many minds at rest. The bacteria in this case are treatable by the antibiotics amoxicillin and clarithromycin (or doxycycline for persons allergic to penicillin). The first symptoms would be recurring fever, cough, shortness of breath and chest tightness; and speed in receiving the antibiotics, and case history (to try to check it follows covid19), are of the essence. The preceding two sentences came directly from a medic I know personally, and the earlier ones are my summary of what else was told me.

    I also wonder if the differing death rates in differing places are because the bacteria, not covid19, are directly responsible for the Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome that causes death, and differing conventions over logging cause of death in differing countries.

    • telescoper Says:

      I don’t know about the medical bit so I can’t comment, but it is sadly reminiscent of AIDS. The course of death of those I knew who passed away as a result of that was often pneumonia, an opportunistic infection.

    • Phillip Helbig Says:

      I don’t see 1 and 2 as being incompatible. (I’ve not heard 1 much if at all, but that’s another issue.) Think of the Black Death: if you get it you die, but isolation can help you from getting it.

      I know some people who have had it. In all cases, symptoms were mild and recovery was quick. That is actually a big danger: they don’t feel that sick, so infect others without realizing it. Statistics show that the main difference in speed of the spread is due to how fast movements were restricted.

      As I mentioned in a comment on another post (the recent one about the virus), we now know that the main infection path seems to be not directly from other people, but rather other people spreading the virus to things which are then touched and then one touches one’s face etc. So avoiding close contact with people and, just as important, not touching things or if so then washing hands (entirely sufficient: soap and water; disinfectants are needed only if no soap and water is about) quickly before touching oneself is probably enough. Of course, at the beginning of the epidemic this was not clear. If one could depend on everyone heeding these rules, many restrictions could probably be lifted.

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        I was careful not to say that (1) and (2) are incompatible. In the early days of the coming of covid19, (1) was frequently bandied around by alarmist sources.

      • Phillip Helbig Says:

        “As these appear to be totally incompatible, most people are confused.”

        “I was careful not to say that (1) and (2) are incompatible. In the early days of the coming of covid19, (1) was frequently bandied around by alarmist sources.”

        OK. Still, I don’t see why anyone could think that they are incompatible, unless one assumes (which we know now but didn’t know then) that one can have few symptoms and never develop serious symptoms.

    • Phillip Helbig Says:

      “I also wonder if the differing death rates in differing places are because the bacteria, not covid19, are directly responsible for the Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome that causes death, and differing conventions over logging cause of death in differing countries.”

      That might be part of it. Calculating the death rate as the fraction of those infected is dubious because the amount of testing varies enormously. If one tests only those who are so sick that they will die, the death rate is 100%. A better measure is perhaps the number of deaths per capita at a given time after the first death.

      Of course, the fraction of healthy and/or young people also plays a role, as does the quality and quantity of medical care. Some countries (Italy, France) have stopped treating people above a certain age; others (Germany) are having the air force fly in patients from other countries.

      • telescoper Says:

        The UK’s official death count from Covid-19 includes only those who tested positive for Coronavirus in hospital and died there. It excludes those who died at home or in a care home. It’s difficult to estimate the number missed without including other data, which is what I think they are going to start doing tomorrow.

      • Phillip Helbig Says:

    • There was an article in Lancet about the characteristics of COVID-19 based on a sample of a few hundred cases. About 50% of those who died of the disease had also secondary bacterial infection. Saying that the virus alone only gives rise to mild symptoms seems a bit of an exaggeration…

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        I’m willing to be corrected. By what mechanism (choosing my words carefully) was death caused in the other 50%, please?

  2. Phillip Helbig Says:

    Gloves make no sense since the infection does not take place through the skin. Or, rather, they make sense only if one can remove the gloves without touching the outside and has no soap and water nor disinfectant.

    • telescoper Says:

      Gloves are to prevent transmission to others…

      My local supermarket puts out plastic gloves for customer use. The idea is you wear them to avoid directly handling items. Unfortunately the gloves they supply are meant for people with smaller hands than me and I can’t get my mitts into them.

      • Phillip Helbig Says:

        You don’t have the virus on your skin. It does make sense to wear them when handling items, at least if you don’t buy all you handle.

      • telescoper Says:

        If you have the virus and you touch your mouth or face you might well get it on your hands.

      • Phillip Helbig Says:

        Right, but gloves don’t help here since you then get it on your gloves.

  3. David Milstead Says:

    This is sad news.

    I associate him with developing the first version of what we now call the Higgs-Englert-Brout mechanism. His version was non-relativistic but captured the central picture well.

    I remember being in a meeting at which we were discussing who should be receiving a prize that the organisation was giving out following the Higgs discovery. I suggested Anderson. This was met by silence, for two related factors: his contribution is overlooked and he was no friend of high energy particle physics. He campaigned against the construction of large collider (SSC) in the States, helping to cause its cancellation. He also, politically incorrectly, referred to particle physicists on large collaborations (such as myself) as “spear throwers”.

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