A couple days ago I got an odd phone call, from a reporter at the Guardian, asking me to comment on the appointment of Michael Green as Lucasian Professor at Cambridge. I told the reporter that I wasn’t a really appropriate person to be asking; for one thing I’ve never met him personally. I did say that from what I knew of his scientific career, he was a quite good choice. He and John Schwarz made great progress in understanding string theory, working on it at a time that this was a very unpopular thing to do. In my view much of the problem with particle theory the past 25 years has to do with the lack of sufficient talented people willing and able to work on the kind of unpopular research that Green and Schwarz took up.
Several people have now pointed out to me the new story in the Guardian, Michael Green: Master of the Universe, which makes clear the reason for that phone call (although none of my comments made it into the story). There’s the usual hype about string theory: “the subject’s thriving”, and the latest news is that it may lead to better understanding of high temperature superconductors and thus help solve the world’s energy problems. In a sidebar, the claim is made that:
The Large Hadron Collider, at Cern, could provide evidence for the theory by analysing the collisions of fundamental particles at high energies.
although Green admits:
…that really is wildly optimistic, and I suspect that’s not going to happen.
Green deals with criticism of string theory with a laugh and ad hominem attacks on Lee Smolin and me as “two particular people who don’t have any particular reason to be knowledgeable about the subject.” As for the idea that it might be a good idea for people to look for alternatives to string theory (much the way he and Schwarz worked in the early 80s), his comment is “But there is nothing else.”
Green seems to be not completely sure I have a Ph.D. For those interested in the question of my qualifications, there’s an old blog entry here. It should perhaps be updated to note that, while I’m still responsible for the Math department computer system, I no longer have the odd title of “Director of Instruction”, but was moved to a non-tenured faculty position as “Lecturer”. Recently I was promoted to the position of “Senior Lecturer”, still non-tenured, but with a long-term contract.
I wish Green the best with his promotion.