In 1935 Albert Einstein and his collaborators wrote two papers about what seemed to be vastly different things. One, which he famously later described uncomfortably as “spooky action at a distance,” is quantum entanglement: a surprising connection between objects, such as atoms or subatomic particles, which may be quite far apart. The other is wormholes, shortcuts between distant regions of space and time predicted by relativity.
Work by theorists, including Juan Maldacena, author of this issue's cover story, “Black Holes, Wormholes and the Secrets of Quantum Spacetime,” suggests a surprising link between the two phenomena. As he writes, “quantum mechanics' entanglement and general relativity's wormholes may actually be equivalent”—with profound implications, including the tantalizing possibility of someday developing a unified theory of quantum mechanics and spacetime.
Not every area of science is in the realm of the theoretical, where we might debate the veracity of a particular field of inquiry and its possible ultimate outcomes. In many areas of perhaps more mundane human endeavor, we know what the truth looks like, thanks to uncounted numbers of experimentalists who have provided evidence-based documentation in thousands of studies conducted over decades or longer. Still, some will deny the data.
In an election year, with so many candidates rejecting even basic truths, it seems especially appropriate to fulfill a promise that Scientific American made to readers in its first issue, in 1845: “In conducting this publication we shall endeavor to avoid all expressions of sentiment, on any sectional, sectarian, or political party subject; but we shall exercise a full share of independence, in the occasional exposure of ignorance and knavery.”
With this in mind, we offer “5 Things We Know to Be True.” In a series of essays, our expert authors describe areas where research is definitive: that the process of evolution explains life as we know it today, that human-caused climate change is real, that vaccines do not cause autism, that homeopathy is bunk and that aliens have not, in fact, visited our blue planet. The package calls out numerous other fallacies, some entertaining and some distressing.
As Einstein himself wrote in his Scientific American article, “On the Generalized Theory of Gravitation,” in April 1950, “experience alone can decide on truth.” Here's hoping that more people can come to embrace that experience along with an evidence-based view of the world.