Panel Discussion in Toronto

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27 Responses to Panel Discussion in Toronto

  1. Anonymous says:

    Steve mentioned this link to Sakurai’s blog

    and then you added it, in an update, to the main post.

    But we never followed up, it seems. Sakurai actually does give some sense of things:

    —quote from Sakurai blog—
    OK. Again from the panel discussion. “Why is string theory worth trying even today?” (It was phrased in a different way.) Some said “it is mathematically beautiful but phenomenologically poor” and some said “it is the only known consistent theory of gravity” (how do you prove its consistency?). My viewpoint is not equal to them. What do you think?

    If anyone has any ideas it might be nice to post them at his blog. So far he has only one very brief reply. It is interesting that he appears to paraphrase the real question being asked by everybody (not what will be the next revolution but)
    “Why is string theory worth trying even today?”

    If Sakurai’s paraphrase reflects the sense of the discussion and the responses he heard people give were generally as weak as he suggests then it is not surprising that Florian Gmeiner wrote to Distler’s blog complaining of depression.

  2. Peter says:

    Sen’s slides do seem to have disappeared. There were about half a dozen of them, and they didn’t say very much, actually.

  3. Peter says:

    Hi Anonymous Graduate Student,

    I didn’t mean to imply that all graduate students are impressionable, I’m well aware that some aren’t. Only for the impressionable ones would Jacques’s hyping of the prospects for string theory be educational malpractice.

    Actually I’m more and more noticing the last few years that a larger and larger fraction of graduate students are well aware that there’s a problem in the field, no matter what people like Jacques are telling them. I hope that by reading what I have to say, what Jacques has to say, what Lubos has to say, etc., that students will have enough information to make up their own minds about what is going on.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Must say that a virtual blackout of reporting on the panel discussion leaves the field open for people to invent their own scenarios, like for example


    Steven Shenker (moderator of “The Next Superstring Revolution”):

    “Ladies and gentlemen, I think everyone realizes that if we don’t want to start looking silly, we have to decide what we’re going to say about all these vacua…”

  5. Anonymous says:

    Peter you say
    Update:It looks like Ashoke Sen’s slides from the panel discussion are on-line.

    but I couldnt find anything from the panel discussion there, what i found related to a talk on extremal BH scheduled for later in the week.

    was there something from the panel discussion posted there earlier?

  6. Anonymous says:

    “Saying things like this to impressionable graduate students is really educational malpractice.”

    Why the assumption that graduate students are impressionable? I’m pretty damn opinionated and also well-informed, if I do say so myself, as are many other grad students I know.

    — An anonymous grad student

  7. Peter Woit says:

    Hi Quantum,

    Quite a while ago I wrote a short piece about this:

    Physics Today refused to publish it, ultimately American Scientist did.

    Don’t believe everything you read about the beauty of string theory….

  8. quantum says:

    Is there any basic book or article or post that would list the reasons why you anti-string theory partisans are so sure of yourself? I want to learn. I thought that string theory is so beautiful it must be right! I’m a layman tho.

    I’ve pimped your site over at my blog

  9. Anonymous says:

    some thoughts
    1- paradigm shift from LQG to LOLL’s CDT
    2- implementation of LOLL’s CDT into LQG
    3- CDT reproduces many results expected of a QG such as black hole entropy

    Dan I am a great fan of Loll and the CDT approach she and co-workers have developed and my comments may be responsible for what you said here, so I must apologize for somehow giving the wrong impression.

    Loll is just beginning to work on Black Hole. She does not have black hole entropy formula. Look at her recent paper with Dittrich. Other QG people (e.g. LQG) are farther along on that.
    Loll approach is comparatively new and has catching up to do.

    it is too extreme, or maybe premature, to speak of a “paradigm shift”. I think some notion of quantum spacetime is gradually emerging as people work on these various methods like LQG and CDT. It all contributes to the same understanding. I am frankly delighted with Loll CDT recent papers and results but it is too early to say that one approach to nonperturbative QG will “win the race” and beat the others.

    I probably suggested the idea of “implementation of CDT into LQG” and it is my fault for having such an awkward notion. I do believe that there will be some kind of assimilation of methods. But I cannot picture how that will work out! I think some of the other people are going to have to match CDT results or else (as you mentioned earlier) start using Loll’s methods. I am confused as to how this will actually happen and I am afraid that I may have communicated my confusion.

    It is pretty clearly too early to try to look ahead to this October.
    My bad, for doing this. I cant resist saying however that I think it is an exciting time in QG largely because of the past year’s results in CDT and the organizers of the October conference have shown this by how they organized it. Last year it was a “Loop and Spin Foams” conference and Renate Loll just happened to be there and gave one paper. this year the outlines seem to have changed significantly. I will try to post something about this when the full Programme is posted (they say something this month but it could be longer)

  10. dan says:

    “No I don’t think that something new and exciting will happen at one of these conferences.”
    Hello Peter,
    I am curious as to whether you think (or expect) the same for Loop 2005.

    some thoughts
    1- paradigm shift from LQG to LOLL’s CDT
    2- implementation of LOLL’s CDT into LQG
    3- CDT reproduces many results expected of a QG such as black hole entropy

  11. Peter Woit says:

    Hi Gadfly,

    Thanks for that link. The discussion over there was triggered by the cover story of the latest Discover magazine. I just went out and got a copy and will post some comments later.

  12. Peter Woit says:

    To whoever is anonymously posting uninformed attacks on my motivations:

    I’ll delete any more nonsense of this kind that you submit, but for your information let me just explain that, for various reasons including a clever choice of parents, I’m in excellent financial shape. I don’t need either government money or anyone else’s mil, and could live comfortably without working at this or any other job if I felt like it.

    This financial freedom means that I can afford to piss off people if necessary, and I feel it gives me some responsibility to say things that other people think but are too afraid to say because of fear of repercussions. Witten’s role in this whole story is a central one, and I say exactly what I think about it.

  13. Anonymous says:


    Actually there is a simple explanation why Peter is obsessed with the string landscape loons on the fringes instead of hammering away at their leader, Witten, which is that he shares a common goal with those same loons.

    Its all in anticipation of the end of public financing for certain science activities that will be deemed nice intellectual pursuits but of dubious practical relevance.

    There has been such a massive wealth redistribution and a shrinking middle class will no longer be able to provide the funds.

    So its all about getting the attention of the rich aging kooks largely ignorant of science looking for some deep meaning in life before they croak.

    Thats why Peter runs a Mockracy to generate as many page hits as possible. Just like the string landscape fruitcakes, its all about finding a Templeton with a mill burning a hole in his pocket.

  14. gadfly says:

    Apparently some economists are concerned about the state of string theory. they fear that is getting worse than their “dimal science”

  15. Quantoken says:


    The point is any one who is more likely to stand up in those panel discussion and criticize things will most likely NOT attend such conferences. At least not some one who has some minimum self-respect. You would stand up and criticize things, I think, but you will NOT go to such conference in the first place.

    The CNN news is still relevant. Medical research is certainly a different dissipline. But the scientific dishonesty discloser is NOT limited to just medical research, but is rather widespread in virtually all other scitific research areas. If scientists in a certain theoretical research area is bold enough to go to TV and announce to audience of the whole world that their theory “explains every thing” while in fact they have not explained a single thing in nature, do you think they have been more honest than the medical researchers?

    Scientists are as human as any one and given chances they can all likely be dishonest if it serves some personal benefits, whether they are medical researchers or researchers in other fields.


  16. ksh95 says:

    Hmmm, no conference participants want to talk about the panel discussion. I don’t understand this. Perhaps some one could explain to me why string theorist’s opinions about string theory are deemed top secret.

  17. Peter Woit says:

    Hi Steve,

    Thanks for pointing out that link, I’ll add it to the posting.

  18. Aaron says:

    I’m not going to put words in Jacques’s mouth. You can, for example, see his comments about the paper.

    I think I’ll also follow Jacques’s lead, for now at least, in not talking about the panel. I’m sure you’ll find out somehow, anyways.

  19. hack says:

    I couldn’t help but think of string theorists when I read this article.

  20. Peter Woit says:

    Hi Quantoken,

    No I don’t think that something new and exciting will happen at one of these conferences. What amazes me though is how the whole subject gets crazier and crazier all the time. I admit to being fascinated by seeing supposedly smart people behave like this and can’t believe that no one ever stands up at one of these panel discussions and acknowledges how bad things have gotten. I think this is a truly bizarre and amazing time in the history of science and can’t wait to see what happens next. Right now it’s kind of like watching lemmings, hard to believe what one is seeing.

    And no, bad medical research is a different story, off this topic.

  21. Peter Woit says:

    Hi Aaron,

    I’m not surprised by the vote. For the last year or two every string theorist that I’ve talked to about this has had nothing but scathing things to say about the whole landscape business, many quite unprintable. What I find weird is that despite this, the landscape has become such a popular thing for people to work on. Even people who profess to not believe in it feel compelled to work on things related to it. For instance, which alternative did your colleague Jacques raise his hand for? We know what his latest paper was about.

    Still curious about the panel discussion….

  22. Quantoken says:


    It’s curious to note even you clearly belong to the anti-string camp, every time there is a string sort of conference going on some where, you showed a great interest and stick your neck out long to find out and you openly beg for insider information about “what’s going on” in those conferences.

    You have been inconsistent, Peter. Are you so interested in those meetings because you worried that they may make some some surprise announcements of some great news that they made some great discovery and explained everything in nature by SST? Do you really believe there will be something interesting at all?

    To me, string theory has clearly failed to demonstrate that it has anything to do with nature at all. And that is unlikely to change any time soon. So it is un-interesting, and it is boring. And I would not be interested in any related string research activities, until they can announce something that seem to be relevant. So I really don’t know where Peter gets so enthusiatic in the stuff.

    Might as well discuss this CNN news, which I think is actually interesting, and shows why sciece fraud is widespread in today’s research community.


  23. Aaron says:

    I won’t say much about what else happened, but at the end, there was a vote of hands on whether the cosmological constant was ‘environmental’ or ‘physical’. The results: 4:1 or so against.

    And you didn’t believe me….

  24. dan says:

    lubos asked the same question on his blog awhile back.

    among the suggestions lubos himself offered……..


    would you believe it?

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