Way back in 1997, string theorists were already getting rather touchy about people pointing out string theory’s testability problems. At that time, Gordon Kane published an article in Physics Today with the title String Theory is Testable, Even Supertestable in which he wrote:
A decade ago in PHYSICS TODAY (May 1986, page 7), Paul Ginsparg and Sheldon Glashow raised this question dramatically, and effectively began a widely repeated myth that string theories, candidates for a primary theory, are not testable. Here I want to dispel this myth, and describe some of the many ways in which string theories are testable. If nature is supersymmetric on the electroweak scale, for which there is exciting but not yet compelling evidence, then string theories are even testable in essentially the same ways as traditional ones. All the tests I describe are doable now or in the foreseeable future with existing or proposed facilities or projects.
Kane went on to give a long list of testable things that string theory was going to predict, including as an example a detailed spectrum of superpartner masses, all in the range 50-300 GeV (he assures us that supersymmetry is a prediction of string theory, quoting something Gross and Witten wrote for the Wall Street Journal).
Now that LHC data has finally started to arrive, in amounts large enough to soon start seeing all of the superpartners advertised back in 1997, Physics Today has decided to put out a rather spectacular piece of string theory hype from Kane as their cover story, under the title String Theory and the Real World. In the story, the main theme is the same as 13 years ago: it’s a myth that string theory doesn’t make testable predictions. Now though, the many 1997 predictions are forgotten, and much of the article is devoted to a tendentious discussion of what it means to test a scientific theory. In the 2010 version, there’s no longer a detailed list of things that string theory should be able to predict, instead Kane describes two specific predictions of string theory:
We showed that in no case could the theory generate light but not massless neutrinos. That work represents a clear example of a test of string theory.
So, one specific string theory compactification is known to not look like the real world. That’s a test of string theory????
Whatever one thinks of these latest “tests”, the difference between what string theory tests looked like back in 1997 and what they look like in 2010 is rather remarkable.
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