This Week’s Hype, Part III

Today’s Wisconsin State Journal covers the String Phenomenology 2011 conference going on in Madison this week, where, according to the organizers, about 100 scientists are discussing how to “test string theory”:

The Madison conference is something of a milestone in the study of string theory, Shiu said, because it represents 10 years of thought and advances. “It means the field is moving forward, that interesting things are going on,” he said.

Kane agreed and said much of the conference focuses on the predictive powers of string theory. If the theory can predict the existence of certain particles or behaviors, Kane said, and those are then borne out by successful experiments at projects such as the Large Hadron Collider in Europe, string theory would become an accepted explanation for the workings of the universe.

Kane has a long history of making “predictions” based on string theory, including a 1997 Physics Today article String Theory is Testable, Even Supertestable, which gave a plot showing the masses of all superpartners, in the range of 50-300 GeV. His latest “generic predictions” from the conference are here(see page 22). These days most of the superpartners have for some reason moved up to 50 TeV, well beyond any hope of observation at the LHC. There’s a gluino though at a bit above current bounds of around 500 GeV, and claims that, with the right sort of analysis, this will be visible. Once this analysis gets done, one suspects the gluino will go join its friends at much higher masses. There’s also a “prediction” of the range of the Higgs mass, which happens to be within the range not yet ruled out.

Another conference going on at the moment is at Les Houches. There Luis Alvarez-Gaumé gave a survey talk about string theory, and in his conclusion he makes quite clear what he thinks of efforts like Kane’s:

One cannot make LHC-accessible predictions.

Update: After posting this, I remembered that I’d once read a much more interesting story about theoretical physics in the Wisconsin State Journal. This was from when Dirac, not string phenomenologists, came to town, and gave the paper an interview.

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12 Responses to This Week’s Hype, Part III

  1. Frank Sharkany says:

    Dirac interview was pretty funny! Keep up the good work.

  2. kane1997 says:

    Technically, the 1997 Kane article in Physics Today displayed a “possible spectrum of superpartners”. Kane didn’t say that his graph was a firm prediction of sparticles. Nevertheless, it is a valid ponit that the spectrum of possible superparticles has always been just beyond the reach of then-currently accessible energies. So supersymmetry has always been just around the corner. The Wisconsin State Journal article is well known, but retains its humor after all these years.

  3. Thomas R Love says:

    Dirac was capable of longer sentences. After he gave a talk, I asked him if he would sign my copy of his book. He replied “I don’t do that.”

  4. Dathan says:

    Please take care this weekend when the hurricane hits NYC!

  5. Peter Woit says:

    Dathan and fgh,

    Thanks. New York should be fine, but I don’t think the field of supersymmetry is going to ever recover from the devastating effect of the recent LHC results…

  6. Shantanu says:

    Peter, just a warm-up to another possible rumor. At the taup meeting next week,
    there is apparently a press release from CRESST which claims to have found dark matter. See

  7. anonymous says:

    Supersymmetry is a very interesting possibility to test, regardless of the fact that some researchers have oversold it. The LHC will test weak scale SUSY, assuming the machine continues to work well enough to do so, and the results will be very useful to know, whichever way it goes. This mode of argumentation — picking out extreme statements by some individuals and then making snide comments about the field based on them — is not useful. The posts on news of recent developments of various sorts are useful.

  8. Peter Woit says:

    Irene also turned out to be seriously overhyped. Went out this morning at what was supposed to be the height of the hurricane: found modest amounts of rain, wind gusts going all the way up to 20-25 mph. It was high tide, and the Hudson was about a foot higher than usual. Traffic was moving fine on the West Side Highway in both directions around 100th St, whereas it normally floods up here at the drop of a hat. Bought a newspaper and some ice cream, then came home. At home, turned on the TV news, which was full of frantic warnings not to go outside, 4-8 foot storm surges, 65 mph winds, etc. Also learned from the TV news that the West Side Highway was closed from 96th St. to 125th St….

  9. Peter Woit says:


    A more accurate statement than “the LHC will test weak-scale SUSY” would be that weak-scale SUSY already was tested by LEP and Tevatron null searches for superpartners, as well as null results for various indirect effects. The last hope was the LHC, and the null results it has found pretty conclusively finish this off. So, the LHC HAS tested weak-scale SUSY, and this is (or should be) over, no matter how strenuous the efforts of SUSY partisans to deny reality. Pointing out the huge differences between SUSY partisans’s past and present arguments isn’t just being snide.

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