At the height of the string wars a couple years ago, one of the participants was a mysterious anonymous commenter going under the name “Gina”. Earlier this year Gil Kalai wrote to me to reveal that he was the person behind “Gina”, and that he had put together a book based on these blog discussions, to be entitled “‘Gina Says,’ Adventures in the Blogosphere String War”. He has now put the first part of manuscript up on his blog, the posting is here.
Back in January he sent me a copy of what he had written, I haven’t checked to see what changes might be in the version available now. Instead of writing something about this here now, I think I’ll just include part of my e-mail to him back in January, which gave my reaction to the project then:
Thanks for sending me the draft of the book. I read through it quickly, amused to relive again some battles of the string wars. When people ask me if I’ll write another book, often I’ve answered that I was considering just cutting and pasting together a lot of things from my blog, other blogs, and my e-mail, all of which told a rather amazing and often amusing tale. Funny to see that you’ve done something a bit like this yourself. During this period I also remember often telling people that I felt like I was living in a comic novel.
Actually, I’ve no intention of publishing anything about the “String Wars”, although happy if other people want to. I’m rather glad that they have died down, and I’m trying to devote my time instead to a research project I’m quite excited about (the BRST stuff I’ve started writing about on the blog).
Some comments about issues you raise, and some added context for some of these stories:
In my book, I tried to avoid saying much at all personally critical about string theorists and their behavior, the sort of thing that Lee Smolin did more of. I generally agree with what Lee wrote, but, in the past my personal contacts with string theorists were mostly with quite reasonable people that I didn’t think it appropriate to criticize in this way. After my experiences in the “string wars” though, I ended up feeling that Lee actually didn’t go far enough; that, individually and as a community, there are very real behavioral and ethical problems in how all too many string theorists do business. My impression is that the “string wars” brought a lot of this out into the open, and have damaged the perception of string theory among physicists and the wider community, more so than anything Lee wrote. Like Lee, what I was hoping our books would lead to would be a serious discussion of the issues involved. There was some of this, but all too much name-calling and bad behavior.
Some context about Clifford Johnson: independently of each other, both Lee and I wrote to him when our books were in draft form, asking if he would be willing to take a look at them, and let us know if there was anything we had wrong. He just ignored my e-mail, and I gather Lee got a similar response. He appears to be a rather nice guy, and I found this response kind of odd, it was one reason for my mistaken guess that he was the Cambridge referee. I still find his behavior exceedingly strange: how can you write long blog entries denouncing books you refuse to read? He seems to have an ability to refuse to acknowledge the existence of inconvenient realities that goes beyond anything I’ve seen before.
In your fantasy of the future, you mention my book being translated into Czech. Funny, a publishing company there did buy the rights a year or so ago, and I think they will be bringing it out. Sometimes reality and fantasy are indistinguishable in this story…
Update: There’s a posting about this over at Physics World.