The latest issue of Astronomy magazine has two articles hyping the landscape/multiverse/anthropic principle and cosmic superstrings. Many well-known theorists are quoted supporting the anthropic principle and the multiverse, including Joe Polchinski, Nima Arkani-Hamed, Martin Rees, Max Tegmark, Alexander Vilenkin, Alan Guth and Lenny Susskind. The only negative quotes are from Paul Steinhardt and David Gross (whose quote is just one word: “virus”, that he used to refer to the anthropic principle a couple years ago).
Max Tegmark is quoted as saying the kind of thing that motivated John Horgan’s recent NYT Op-Ed piece: “I fully expect the true nature of reality to be weird and counterintuitive, which is why I believe these crazy things.” Funny, I thought scientists were supposed to believe things, crazy or not, because of experimental evidence for them. At a Templeton Foundation sponsored conference on the multiverse, supposedly Martin Rees “was confident enough of the multiverse’s existence to stake his dog’s life.” And Andrei Linde “went further, claiming he would put his own life on the line.” Horgan might point out that neither Linde nor Rees’s dog are in much immediate danger since no one has any plausible idea of how one could ever show that there is no multiverse.
Linde, Vilenkin and Susskind acknowledge that they don’t know how to use the anthropic principle to predict anything, with Linde noting the problem of an infinite number of possible vacuum states: “There are many different ways of counting infinities, and we don’t know which methods are preferable.” Vilenkin is quoted as saying the problem has to do with the lack of the right “statistical techniques”, which is kind of misleading, since the problem isn’t one of mathematical technique. Susskind actually sounds the most sober of the lot, saying it will be a long time before the anthropic principle can be used to predict anything and “At the moment, it’s telling us more about what not to do than what to do.” Polchinski on the other hand, goes for maximum hype value, claiming that “The value we now measure for the cosmological constant is precisely what Weinberg predicted.” Of course, by “precisely”, he means “off by one to two orders of magnitude, much more if you allow not just the cosmological constant to vary.”
The article on cosmic superstrings also contains quite a lot of hype from Polchinski, who not only is pushing the idea that the “CSL-1” object is a galaxy lensed by a cosmic string, but that “We’re likely to go from one event to 1,000 events in 10 years” and “We’re really at the dawn of a new era of science.” For more about this, see the latest posting on Lubos Motl’s weblog.
Over at Cosmic Variance, Clifford Johnson has a posting about an article in the Guardian about wacky science stories in the media by Ben Goldacre, who runs the Bad Science weblog devoted to this topic. Clifford is quite critical of media coverage of science, but the only examples he gives are ones related to health scares. String theory inspired wacky science stories like the ones in Astronomy aren’t mentioned, neither is the fact that here the problem may not be incompetent science journalists, but the fondness for hype of some of his prominent colleagues.
In other popular science magazine news, I learned from David Appell’s weblog that the New York Times is reporting that Discover magazine is being sold by Disney to Bob Guccione Jr. Guccione says that he intends to add a humor column to Discover and to create two new print magazines devoted to science. He claims that scientists are kind of like rock stars: “a bunch of people with strong egos and God complexes. That sounds like rock ‘n’ roll to me.” I guess he liked Michio Kaku’s recent cover article.