The Templeton Foundation has recently been sponsoring a series of Bloggingheads diavlogs, under the name Percontations. This week’s episode is Fiddling With the Knobs of the Universe, and it has cosmologist Anthony Aguirre and string theorist Clifford Johnson doing their best to hype string theory and the landscape. Critics are dismissed as people who believe obviously wrong things like “if it’s statistical it’s not science”.
Johnson argues that string theory landscape research is just like any other kind of science, capable of making testable statistical predictions, predictions based on generic properties of the theory (e.g. T-duality), and predictions of some parameters based upon fixing others by observation. He neglects to mention that decades of work by people trying to do such things have shown that there are very solid reasons why they don’t work. Not only have no predictions come out of this, but the reasons why have become clear.
While hyping the landscape, he acknowledges that string theory has had a problem with hype in the past. “We all bought into it to some extent” that string theory was going to give the Standard Model, and it was bad that this was promoted in the press as a polished, definitive story of how the world works. He claims to be happy that this has been backed away from in the last several years (although he never seems to have been happy about the existence of string theory critics who have raised the issue of the problems publicly).
In a recent posting, Johnson partially resolves a mystery I’d always wondered about, that of why he left Cosmic Variance. He explains that one reason was that Cosmic Variance was taking “the obnoxious route of calling someone an idiot or stupid for their religious beliefs at the outset.” Bloggingheads has recently featured Sean Carroll and Mark Trodden of Cosmic Variance also discussing cosmology and the multiverse (see here and here), but these episodes were not sponsored by Templeton.