Hype from Fermilab

Where do you think the following bit of text is from?

A wormhole, also known as an Einstein-Rosen bridge, is a hypothetical tunnel connecting remote points in spacetime. While wormholes are allowed by Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity, wormholes have never been found in the universe. In late 2022, the journal Nature featured a paper co-written by Joe Lykken, leader of the Fermilab Quantum Institute, that describes observable phenomenon produced by a quantum processor that “are consistent with the dynamics of a transversable wormhole.” Working with a Sycamore quantum computer at Google, a team of physicists was able to transfer information from one area of the computer to another through a quantum system utilizing artificial intelligence hardware.

If you’ve been following the hoopla surrounding this paper, esp. over the way it was reported by Quanta and many other outlets, your first guess might be that this is yet another news outlet that ignored the difference between an actual, physical wormhole and a simulation of a mathematical version of an actual, physical wormhole (the paper’s authors, a group to which Lykken belongs, accomplished the latter). But no: this text is from Fermilab itself! It appears on a page announcing a forthcoming lecture by Lykken on February 17. (Hat-tip to Peter Woit for discovering and flagging this on his blog.)

What I’d like to point out here, for the hundredth time I’m sure, is that hype originates more often than you think from university and institute press offices rather than in the minds and hearts of science journalists. Insufficiently critical reportage (awareness of which is sometimes only possible in hindsight) often fails to stop hype from reaching a larger audience but it seldom creates hype in the first place. This may seem like a fine point but it matters when there is a tendency to overlook the role of press officers, and some scientists themselves (including Lykken), in building the narratives around their and their colleagues’ work.