Hawking Cries Uncle

The famous physicist admits he was wrong about black holes--and pays off a long-standing wager

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Whether he's right is another question. Many of the scientists present in Dublin last week were skeptical of his solution and said they would need to study it much more carefully before passing judgment. Says Preskill: "The mechanism he has in mind may not be so revolutionary." Nevertheless, Hawking acknowledged that Preskill had been right all along and paid off with the agreed-on prize: an encyclopedia. (The joke is that an encyclopedia, unlike a black hole, yields information easily. Hawking offered one on cricket, but Preskill held out for Total Baseball: The Ultimate Baseball Encyclopedia, which had to be flown in.)

The bottom line is that Hawking may or may not have solved a problem that may or may not have been a problem to begin with. You might well wonder why his announcement generated so much excitement. But when the subject is black holes and you're the world's most famous physicist--Hawking is not only a best-selling author but has also guest-starred on both Star Trek and The Simpsons--the usual rules don't apply. --With reporting by William Han/New York

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