Strings 2015 gets underway in Bangalore tomorrow, and so far the press coverage I’ve seen consists just of two articles that aren’t what I’d guess string theorists would like to see:
- In The theory that may have been stringing scientists along for years Robert Matthews starts with
Over the next few days, the southern Indian city of Bangalore will be playing host to an exclusive group of people.
No amount of money can buy you membership and it doesn’t matter how well connected you are. But rumour has it that it helps if you have a brain the size of a planet.
but soon moves on to
There’s just one problem: there’s not a shred of evidence to support it. And that is now leading to awkward questions about just what all these very smart people have been doing with their time and funding.
The American Institute of Physics has now gone further, with an editorial in Physics Today asking if the insouciance of string theorists over the issue of testability may harm public faith in science.
Finally, there’s an accurate discussion of the relation of string theory to the search for superpartners in Run 2 at the LHC
The real fun and games will start if the particles are not found. That is because, even after all these years, string theory is not tied down very tightly.
As a result, theorists can tweak their equations to explain away the failure.
Such flexibility is a classic symptom of pseudo-science, and it is what particularly irks physicists about string theory – along with the arrogance of some of its practitioners, who insist it is the only way to complete Einstein’s quest.
But there is another source of resentment, and one with which we can all sympathise: that an entire generation of brilliant minds may have been lost to an esoteric mind-game.
- The other string theory news story is at The Telegraph, a Calcutta paper, which has Physicists too can have fun. The article is about Ashoke Sen’s bizarre hep-th article Riding Away from Doomsday, which was the topic of an April 1 posting here. Since then, Sen has shot down any idea that this was a hoax, and has turned it into a major research program, with a technical hep-th article and a talk scheduled for the opening session of the conference tomorrow. The article argues for the importance of computing the decay rate of the universe since it
is important for planning our future course of action if we are to adapt this strategy for increasing the life expectancy of the human race.
String theory is supposed to provide this calculation, but Sen characterizes the status of that calculation with
it is probably fair to say that we do not yet have a definite result based on which we can plan our future course of action.
which shows that, despite what some people say, he definitely has a sense of humor.
Given press coverage debating whether string landscape research is pseudo-science or a joke, I wonder what prominent string theorists gathered in Bangalore now think of the string theory community’s decision over the last ten years to mostly go along with the idea of the string landscape as an excuse for why string theory predicts nothing. This all started about ten years ago, and it’s interesting to take a look again at the panel discussion at Strings 2005, where the panelists were in favor of the landscape, but the audience not so much. The last ten years have shown conclusively that any hopes for predictive science coming out of the landscape were misguided, but will that or bad press cause anyone to re-evaluate their stand on this?
Update: Slides of the talks are appearing here. One of them is so interesting I’ll devote a posting to it…