This week’s hype comes to us courtesy of Scientific American, which, based on this preprint, tells us: Found: A Quadrillion Ways for String Theory to Make Our Universe.
As usual in these things, the only physicists quoted are the authors of the article, as well as some others (Cumrun Vafa and Washington Taylor) who are enthusiastic about the prospects for getting the Standard Model out of “F-theory”. No one skeptical of the idea of F-theory compactifications of string theory (such theorists would not be hard to find…) seems to have been consulted. If such a person had been consulted, he or she might have pointed out:
- Models like this have been around for over two decades, see for instance this from 23 years ago.
- They have always come with claims that some sort of connection to experiment was right around the corner. A decade ago there were papers like this one (and promotional pieces like this one) explaining F-theory “predictions” for what would be seen at the LHC, “predictions” that never worked out.
- This new work doesn’t even bother trying to make “predictions”. It just works backwards, trying to match the crudest aspects of Standard Model, ones determined by a small set of small integers. Given the huge complexity and number of choices of these F-theory constructions, that some number of them would match this set of small integers is not even slightly surprising.
- The authors seem to argue that it’s a wonderful thing that they have found quadrillions of complicated constructions with this kind of crude match to the SM. The problem is that you don’t want quadrillions of these things: the more you find, the less predictive the setup becomes. What’s being promoted here is a calculation that not only predicts nothing, but provides evidence that this kind of thing can’t ever predict anything. A peculiar sort of progress…
Update: This hype has now been supplemented by the now common phenomenon among string theorists of having their university’s press office put something out promoting string theory. This time it’s the University of Pennsylvania, with a headline assuring us that their university’s physicists are Making sense of string theory, with a discovery that “might change the course of the field.”