Someone wrote in to tell me that KQED this morning had Leonard Susskind on to discuss string theory and his book The Cosmic Landscape. Most of the program consisted of him promoting his usual line about the string theory anthropic landscape and how the fact that string theory is compatible with anything makes it a wonderful and exciting new way to do physics. He claimed that there is no longer a substantive split among bright physicists about the landscape, that the only split is over people’s emotional response to it.
There were quite a few strange things in the interview that have little to do with reality. Susskind repeatedly claimed that string theory has a great deal of experimental support, saying:
More and more the things that string theory seems to say seem to jibe and coexist with the things that physicists and cosmologists see in the laboratory.
Near the end of the interview, when asked to cite some experimental evidence in favor of string theory he said that yes there was a lot of evidence including:
1. The existence of gravity.
2. The existence of particles.
3. The laws of the universe.
Quite remarkably he then went on to announce that QCD is a string theory and take credit for it, saying that string theory was “invented by Nambu and myself as a theory of protons and neutrons, an extremely successful theory of protons and neutrons”. According to Susskind, string theory provides “the whole explanation of protons and neutrons and nuclear physics” and that “heavy ion collisions are best described in terms of string theory”.
One questioner asked him about LQG, which he characterized as a “half-baked theory” that was “similar to string theory but not quite the same” and that “even its proponents hope that it is another way of expressing string theory.”
And what of criticism of string theory? Susskind deals with this with purely personal attacks. The interview began with the following:
Michael Krasny: Let’s talk first of all if we can about string theory since you’re kind of called the father of it and all that, I know you’ve been humble on that score, but it’s deserved. Challenges to it, now it’s being challenged left and right… ill-defined, based on crude assumptions.. tell us.
Susskind: You’re talking probably aout some of the books and blogs that have come out in very very big criticism of it. Well, I think one would have to say that some of it is due to a certain kind of grumpiness of people who…um..
Well, for example, there’s one fellow who failed as a physicist, never made it as a physicist, became a computer programmer, has been angry all of his life that he never became a physicist and that physicists ignore him, so he’s now taking out his revenge by writing diatribes and polemics against string theory.
Somehow I suspect this is about me. For the record I’m a faculty member in the math department at Columbia, in an untenured position with title of “Lecturer”, where my responsibilities include teaching, adminstering the department computer system, and engaging in research. Susskind sounds a lot more angry than I’ve ever been, and I certainly don’t feel that physicists are ignoring me.
He goes on to attack Lee Smolin:
There’s another fellow who has his own theory, I won’t tell you who his name is or what his theory is, but he writes lots and lots of theories and his theories go glub, glub, glub to the bottom of the sea before he even gets a chance to put them out there. Physicists don’t take him seriously, he’s angry and so he’s also writing a book complaining…
Just completely pathetic.