Role Reversal

It used to be that New Scientist had somewhat of a reputation for publishing misleading articles about speculative physics, and Science News was a more stodgy but reliable publication that stuck to serious physics. Recently there has been a role reversal. New Scientist is running a long, relatively sensible article about the use of AdS/CFT methods in condensed matter physics, entitled What string theory is really good for. It avoids the usual “String theory finally makes predictions!” hype that some string theorists have been trying to promote. Science News on the other hand, is now being run by Tom Siegfried, who is quite a fan of string theory hype, the more speculative the better. Last month was Strings Fight Back at Science News, this week it’s multiverse madness, with a cover story on Infinity, which promotes the latest multiverse/Boltzmann Brain pseudo-science. Towards the end of the article, David Gross is allowed a few words as skeptic, arguing that we don’t understand string theory, so can’t be sure it leads to this mess: maybe some missing insight will get string theorists out of it. Siegfried responds with the thought that the “missing insight is merely realizing the need to master the inconveniences of infinity to resolve the cosmic conundrums.”

Update: The New Scientist article makes it to Slashdot where, as usual, it gets transformed into nonsense:

His [Maldacena’s] theory states that the known universe is only a 2D construct in anti-de-Sitter space, projected into 3 dimensions.

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2 Responses to Role Reversal

  1. Russ says:

    This guy Tom Siegfried apparently actually has some amount of training in chemistry and physics. You wouldn’t know it, through, from such statements as “Such calculations encounter a major impediment, though: To test whether the universe is the way it is because it’s a good place for men and women to be born and die, scientists must learn how to cope with infinity.”, and of course the gem from the end of the article that Peter quoted above.

    Man, I hate science journalists.

  2. woit says:


    I think it’s important to remember that journalists like Siegfried don’t just make this stuff up. The multiverse/Boltzmann Brain business, together with the idea that it is achieving some fundamental breakthrough in physics by thinking about infinity was fed to him by reputable physicists.

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