This Week’s Hype

In this disturbing time of pandemic, it’s reassuring to see that some activities continue as usual. On the string theory hype front, yesterday NASA put out a press release announcing that Chandra Data Tests ‘Theory of Everything’, which starts by explaining that:

Despite having many different versions of string theory circulating throughout the physics community for decades, there have been very few experimental tests. Astronomers using NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, however, have now made a significant step forward in this area.

This is based on a paper announcing limits on axions based on data from the Chandra X-ray telescope, which starts off with the dubious claim that axions “are generic within String Theory”. It seems to be very hard to get some people to understand that the number of “tests of string theory” is not “very few” but zero, for the simple reason that there are no predictions of string theory, generic or otherwise.

As usual, this kind of thing gets picked up by other news sources. In a sign of the times, the spin given to the bogus “test” is now often negative for string theory: This Galaxy Cluster May Have Just Dealt a Major Blow to String Theory.

Update: This is getting attention at The Daily Galaxy, under the headline “Mind of God?” –The Detection of ‘String-Theory’ Particles Would Change Physics Forever”.

For more on religion and string theory, there’s a new (actually from 2017) podcast featuring IAS theorist Tom Rudelius, entitled The Multiverse, the Polygraph, and the Resurrection. In an older podcast at Purpose Nation, Rudelius tells us this about the views of Nima Arkani-Hamed:

To quote preeminent theorist Nima Arkani-Hamed, who is certainly no theist: “The multiverse isn’t a theory. It’s a cartoon, right, it’s like this cartoon picture of something that we might think might be going on but we really don’t have any solid theory of how it would work.”

It seems that Arkani-Hamed shares my views on this.

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3 Responses to This Week’s Hype

  1. dratcwo says:

    I agree that axion-like-particle is predicted in any theory with extra-dimension. However, there is another more generic prediction from string theory/SUGRA, the spin-3/2 gravitino.

  2. Peter Woit says:

    What’s the mass range and couplings for this “generic” gravitino?

    I don’t believe that string theory provides any answer to this. The situation is always the same: there is a “beautiful”, highly predictive, string theory/sugra that people like to point to, but it looks nothing like the real world (wrong space-time dimension, no SUSY breaking). Trying to make the theory agree with the real world requires making it exceedingly ugly and unpredictive, without any non-trivial “generic” predictions.

    The accuracy of the above characterization of the situation has become abundantly clear over the last couple decades. It would be nice if people would stop misrepresenting this to non-experts, e.g. innocent astrophysicists…

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