This week’s string theory hype comes to us from USC physicists Clifford Johnson and Nick Warner, courtesy of the USC press office (see here and here). It’s garden variety hype of this kind, exactly the same claims about strings and extra dimensions that were being made thirty years ago. There’s no acknowledgement these haven’t gone anywhere, instead we’re “closer than ever to an answer”.
When the question of testability comes up, the multiverse is not invoked as an excuse. Instead, it seems that dark matter is going to provide the test:
Observations show that dark matter and energy constitute more than 95 percent of the universe. Scientists have established that they are new forms of matter and energy, but so far their precise nature is unknown. They may hold the key to confirming the veracity of string theory, Johnson said.
“It’s really kind of amazing — and humbling. There are forms of matter that seem to show up naturally in string theory that could well be good candidates to be dark matter,” he said. “People are hoping that this could be a key to making contact between theory and nature.”
Hard to know what Johnson has in mind for his “show up naturally in string theory” claim. Presumably he’s thinking of the ancient “we’ll test string theory by finding superpartners” claim, somehow neglecting to mention that this hasn’t worked out.
I’m especially impressed by the description of string theory’s power to explain dark matter as “amazing – and humbling”, deftly pairing outrageous over-the-top hype with an invocation of the selfless humility of the research scientist.