Press releases claiming that a “test for string theory” has been found appear with some regularity, notwithstanding the fact that no one actually knows how to test string theory. The latest one comes from the University of California at San Diego, where the press office today put out a press release entitled Physicists Develop Test For “String Theory”. The story has been picked up by the media, appearing here and here and probably soon in many other places.
This latest claim about a “test for string theory” is quite remarkable and even more bogus than usual. It is based on a paper which has nothing to with string theory and doesn’t do a string theory calculation at all. The paper first appeared on the arXiv last April with the title Falsifying String Theory Through WW Scattering, and was extensively discussed here. In October a new version of the paper was put on the arXiv, with a changed title Falsifying Models of New Physics via WW Scattering (and this was discussed here). I’m guessing that the removal of the claims about string theory from the title was due to a referee at PRL not being willing to go along with such a title, although maybe there’s more to the story and if so I’d be curious to know what it is.
The year is just beginning, but I’m already willing to award this press release the title of “most outrageously misleading string theory hype of 2007”. It is going to be extremely hard for anyone else to match it.
Update: The Distler et. al. overhyped press release continues to spread misinformation to the public, getting more and more ridiculous as it spreads. The blog Tech.Blorge.com reports about string theory that:
Until now, experimental verification has not been possible; but researchers at the University of California, Carnegie Mellon University, and the University of Texas are planning a definitive test with the future launch of the Large Hadron Collider…
This then made it to Slashdot, which put out a story under the headline String Theory Put to the Test, which starts off with:
… scientists have come up with a definitive test that could prove or disprove string theory. The project is described as…
and then goes on to give a description of the LHC project.
Update: Yet another major university issues a misleading press release about this: from the University of Texas Team of Theoretical Physicists Develop a Test for String Theory.
Update: The Resonaances blog has a posting explaining what is actually in the Distler et. al. paper, while describing the press releases, with their pretensions that the authors have found a way to test string theory at the LHC, as “hilarious”.
Update: Sabine Hossenfelder wrote in to point out that New Scientist now has an article about this, with the title New particle accelerator could rule out string theory. The article quotes hype from string theorist Allan Adams as well as from Distler, ignoring Distler’s co-authors and describing him as “leader of the team” that solved the problem no one else had been able to solve, figuring out how to test string theory at the LHC. Funny, but as far as I can tell, this great advance in the testability of string theory is not being covered at any of the string theory blogs. I wonder why…