Since every blogger seems to feel it necessary to have a year-in-review posting, I thought it appropriate to point out that 2011 has been a banner year for string theory and related hype, with about twice as many editions of “This Week’s Hype” as in previous years. One reason for this is the LHC. When talking to journalists, string theorists are rarely willing to admit that the hopes of the past couple decades that string theory would make some predictions about LHC energy scale physics turned out to be a dismal failure, and this tends to lead to confused headlines. Besides the LHC though, there’s a huge on-going effort to promote other bogus “tests of string theory”. This has been going on since string theory’s lack of testability problem first started to get a lot of attention a few years ago. I see no reason for either of these two driving forces to weaken in 2012, so expect more editions of “This Week’s Hype” next year.
String theory supported by early LHC heavy ion results
Cosmologists expect the LHC to turn up evidence for the multiverse
M-theory shows that the LHC will be the world’s first time machine
Neutrons could test string theory
Octonions explain string theory
The LHC tests string theory (more heavy ions)
M-theory is a big success, predicts behavior of 4 qubits
String theory and heavy ions, yet again
Multiverse observed in the CMB – Not
String theorists suggest space wormholes possible
String theory testable with black holes and pulsars
String phenomenologists come up with predictions testable at the LHC
Superluminal neutrinos evidence for string theory
Superluminal neutrinos could be explained by string theory
CMS multi-leptons provide evidence for SUSY
A new laser will tear apart the fabric of space
A nuclear clock will test string theory
The LHC will decide between two versions of SUSY
String theory research is going well, only problems are Garrett Lisi, Lee Smolin and Peter Woit.
Gordy Kane predicts the mass of the Higgs using string theory, just days before the announcement
Then again, one could blog something about the chi_b(3P) aka real physics.
Let me take this occasion to wish everyone in Physics and Math community, whether their soul is laden by a large ego or not, a successful 2012, with lots of sigmas on the experimental front and important insights on the theoretical one.
Hopefully the fiat money economy won’t have collapsed, another few unnecessary wars won’t have been kicked off and various civil liberties that one thought written in stone won’t have been flushed down the drain.
Godspeed – and Good Luck!
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To me it seems pretty clear that string theorists are getting desperate and are sparing no efforts and platforms to peddle their wares (As you noted, Gordon Kane for instance has had at least three articles about the apparent “testability” of string theory in the last month or so alone). The question is how long this attempt at PR will last and how willingly a credulous public will buy the claims. Sadly, almost anything found by the LHC will be seen as a successful prediction of string theory and the public will have scant capabilities to call out the shenanigans.
The title of this blog announces a different mission than just blogging about real physics.
While I enjoy reading popular accounts of cutting edge physics here and elsewhere, this blog provides a valuable service in pointing out “physics” that goes well beyond the edge.
Why do you have nothing to contribute to physics other than dragging down string theory? I am not saying there are not grounds to object to string theory, but as a physicist shouldn’t you have some worthwhile research of your own to help the field in some way? We get it, string theory is untestable… but why on earth do you have to say the same thing over and over and over again, day after day, month after month, year after year? Don’t you have any interesting ideas to share with others? It really is disturbing to see that there’s someone out there who tried to be a successful theoretical physicist, failed (in the sense you don’t seem to be adding any substantial research of your own), and now just lives to drag down string theory.
Someone has to do this job such that the string theory research won’t such in all the money and attention.
Also, why should we tolerate people like Brian Greene promoting a speculative idea like string-theory and multiverse as the only sensible answer to the everything.
I am glad somebody has the courage to do it.
It is called a `culture of criticism’! In a typical fluff piece about string theory you will seldom find much questioning of some of the zany claims some of these guys make. Regardless of what you think about Peter Woit’s research record I think that this blog performs a very valuable function. Your use of the word`failed’ in regard to him really does mark you out as someone who is involved in some of the stuff criticized here and ruffled by what you’ve read. You should learn to be able to accept criticism of your research and be able to engage with it. It is one of the most valuable parts of science.
Someone (Zarrax) had a bad year.
Hype is in overdrive throughout science nowadays. I wish there were someone as intelligent, well informed, balanced and independent as Peter collecting examples of hype in condensed matter physics, for example. But there isn’t and there probably never will be, because we all have out-yell our competitors in front of the program managers and editors to get funded and published, and those famous guys who are masters of hype are the reviewers of our manuscripts which will never get into Science or Nature if we don’t suck up.
Happy New Year to my favorite blog!
I’ve been working for quite a while now on trying to understand relations between quantum field theory and the Langlands program in number theory. This has been going quite well and I’m in the middle of writing a paper about it, which will likely be titled “Automorphic Representations and Quantum Field Theory”. A crucial part of the story involves the ideas about BRST and Dirac Cohomology which I’ve written about here
Now that I can see where this project is going, I’ll soon finish that paper finally. You may not like any of the ideas I’m investigating, but I do spend most of my time on them, very little thinking about the multiverse or string theory.
I agree that “string theory is untestable” is a boring idea to keep repeating. However, until string theorists stop issuing press releases claiming to have found a test for string theory, having some place which explains what is wrong with these press releases seems to me to be worthwhile. The day someone else takes up that task, I’ll happily stop doing it myself. Even better would be for string theorists to stop issuing the bogus press releases, or for the science media and their colleagues to start laughing in their faces when they try and do this. I think we’re getting to the latter, if not the former.
I try to stick to blogging about topics where I think I have something to contribute that isn’t done better somewhere else. For lots of particle physics news, as in this case, I don’t have anything insightful or interesting to say, and I expect that interested readers are also reading blogs that cover these topics very well (three good examples are Resonaances, Matt Strassler’s blog, and Tommaso Dorigo’s blog).
Yatima (and all),
Best wishes for the New Year!
One of my New Year’s resolutions will be to finally update my home page, that should get done very soon. Another will be to finish the BRST paper, and get the new paper I’m writing in some reasonable shape for others to read, maybe before classes start.
I’m very much looking forward to 2012. The ideas I’ve been working on for the last couple years are coming together enough to begin writing about them. Last fall our visiting Eilenberg lecturer was Dick Gross, and I learned a huge amount about representation theory and number theory from him. This spring, Edward Frenkel will be here, lecturing on the Langlands program and QFT, and I’ll be teaching again our graduate course in representation theory. We should finally find out for sure about the Higgs. A very promising year indeed.
It’s not really that believable that you will suddenly produce some major research after all of this time. Of course only time will tell how significant “Automorphic Representations and Quantum Field Theory” will be. But as they say, one’s past research record is often the best indicator of one’s future accomplishments. The fact that this work seems to have been dragging on for years without you producing much else is not encouraging.
On the other hand, you have kept up this blog full-throttle since 2004. You are highly motivated about some things at least. It is sad that this is what you care about the most, dragging down successful physicists because they may not deserve it. I don’t think that lowering others raises you. Even if their success is unjustified. Maybe you should try to do something more constructive with your time, as this blog really does make you look like you’re embittered over your position in the physics world and are trying to take others down who you don’t think deserve it. Surely you can do something better with your time (and I don’t mean gradually writing a math paper over a decade or more).
By the way, I don’t agree with this idea that you need to counteract the publicity people like Brian Greene or Michio Kaku get… in the math and physics world many people do understand the limitations of string theory in the current form, and it has reached the mainstream media to some extent too. Does it really matter so much that Brian Greene can show up on TV wearing a trenchcoat and BS about the universe? I mean, I too roll my eyes when I see that kind of thing but I am not going to make a mission out of tearing him down.
You’re coming across as rather bitter, nasty, and petulant. Your comments are terribly gauche, it makes for bad reading.
I don’t know who you are, but if you think I’m “embittered”, you definitely don’t know me. Since you’re hiding behind anonymity, we can’t examine the record of your research and how it’s going, but you sure sound like a string theorist embittered by the failure of the research program you devoted your life to, upset that this failure is becoming publicly recognized. If you want “embittered”, take a look at Mike Duff’s rant about me, Lee Smolin and Garrett Lisi.
It’s New Year’s Eve, and I’m not anonymously posting personal attacks on people I disagree with, but reflecting on how lucky I’ve been in life, rewarded professionally, personally and financially in all sorts of ways that I deserve much less than many others. Life is very, very good, right now, has been for many years, and there isn’t anyone in the physics community I’d willingly change places with. To the extent anyone has managed to get professional or financial rewards from multiverse mania or making bogus claims about string theory, that’s fine with me. My arguments are with their science, nothing else.
DaveC, I try, though I tend to focus more on nano-hype.
You can tell it’s the holiday season – Peter is generously allowing the nasty (and hence entertaining) comments to be posted.
I’m actually a mathematician in a field not related to string theory… but I think your wishful thinking does go to your true motives… you want to gloat in the failure of string theorists. This is your right, I suppose, but it doesn’t really engender much respect.
Anyhow, one point I do agree with, is that it’s getting a little late in the day of New Year’s Eve to be arguing about this stuff. So have a happy holiday, and have an even better 2012…..
If string theory were currently a worthwhile, productive research program, I don’t believe one lone blogger criticizing it would really have attracted much attention, especially when the lone blogger was a not particularly famous mathematician/physicist. I know a few physicists who have held very dim views of string theory for some time, but for various political reasons have kept relatively quiet about this. Peter Woit has merely been playing the role of the child in the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes, pointing out something that many people believed but were not particularly eager to be the first to point out.
Its a new year so I can break my resolution (of last year) and make a post, something I don’t intend to do often since I always end up getting frustrated. I for one feel very happy with progress over the last few years in string theory (more on this later). I suppose my string theory colleges are always a bit mystified by Peter’s unwillingness to acknowledge progress that perhaps we subscribe his motivation for the Blog to other reasons. I won’t speculate and like some many welcome some genuine work. But will Peter acknowledge how the attention of the relationship of the Langlands programme to quantum field theory came about through M-theory. In particular Witten’s work which was clearly inspired by deriving S-duality from in quantum field theories through fivebrane compactifications. I suppose this is what is annoying, the insights into quantum field theory that keep rolling on are obviously valuable and come from string theory; our understanding of quantum gravity with holography and other developments continues; the applications to things like condensed matter systems, quark gluon plasmas and a whole host of things. Yes string theory deserves the headlines and progress contunes. I have no idea what weird eureka insights readers of this blog want but do people imagine that all those string theory papers really have no value? Do people imagine that the strings conference is like a meeting of the illuminati to discuss world domination through a conspiracy or perhaps actually many people are doing interesting work. If they or their universities publicise it then well and good, in an environment where society may values engagement with the sciences then communicating the enthusiasm we have for science if good for everyone. I congratulate my colleges for engaging with the press positively.
Happy New Year to all and looking forward to another productive one
Zarrax is very wrong ! Having more skeptical people like Peter Woit is necessary. New graduate students should become familiar with these sort of failures of string theory, and they should not believe all the hype. In the end it should help channel the research to more meaningful direction even within a string theory approach.
Happy New Year, Peter and all!
Did you look at the list of links in Peter’s post? Do you really think all that hype was justified by this year’s (or decade’s) progress in string theory? I don’t hear Peter saying that string theorists have produced nothing of value – but I do hear him pointing out (again and again) examples of claims unjustified by the facts. If guys like Kane and Duff would stop spewing BS, Peter would quite likely feel free to stop saying “BS.” Figuratively speaking.
Zarrax : ” Does it really matter so much that Brian Greene can show up on TV wearing a trenchcoat and BS about the universe?”
I am a consumer of these types of shows, and nowhere near knowledgeable enough to sort out the wheat from the chaff. This blog helps me enjoy the theatrical “what if’s” while keeping my feet on the ground. I and apparently many others find this blog useful. There are other blogs out there for you.
You’re making up straw-man arguments that I never make, and you’re completely ignoring the ones I do make. Do you really think that the material linked to in this blog entry can be justified as an honest and accurate portrayal of string theory research? Is it honest or accurate to go to the press and claim to have found a “test of string theory”, or is that a way of trying to mislead people about the fact that string theory unification is an idea that appears to have failed, as evidenced by its inability to predict anything about anything? String theory was sold to the public as a way to unify physics, but that’s a project that has devolved into the pseudo-science of the landscape. I think you and most of your colleagues know this very well, and it would be healthy if you were to admit that and move forward, instead of complaining that I’m pointing this out.
I’m a fan of Witten’s work that relates various QFTs to Khovanov homology and geometric Langlands (and often write about it on the blog), and sure, he uses M-theory and string theory ideas in that work. The exotic 6d QFT behind a lot of this plays a crucial role in M-theory, but it’s also an important question to understand to what extent it can be understood independently of M-theory. While Witten does make an attempt to popularize some of this material (see his public talks on knot theory), and retains hopes for string theory unification despite its problems, he doesn’t descend to misleading claims that what he is doing provides a “test of string theory”.
Sure “string theorists” are often doing interesting things, although more and more often they have little to do with string theory. I noticed that several participants at Strings 2011 pointed out that few of the talks actually were about string theory. People doing good work in this area should think hard about the kind of hype that’s in these links and whether it’s really a good idea for them to try to defend the indefensible because it’s coming from their “side”. Duff is quite right that “string theory” is getting a bad name among the public and granting agencies, but it’s largely because of the hype, and his idea that the way to fight this is with more hype is completely backwards.
Happy new-year Peter. I always enjoy reading your blog. The anonymous trolls are a bit annoying at times but I suppose having a small number of them about isn’t unhealthy. That’s the closest to a positive I have to say about them.
Happy new year. This blog is one of the best services for the HEP community I know. As far as I understand your critics of string theory as not yet “old story” since, as you said, the string-hype goes on non-stop and a healthy critic counter-weight to all the lies being written everyday about bogus tests for string theory is still extremely valuable. You make many string theorists outraged and make enemies on the way, but critical and skeptical scientists (like they all should be!) support you and enjoy reading your views.
I´m looking forward to read your paper. One thing however that is predictable to me is that no matter how good you can make it, wait for unreasonable critics to it from the people that are angry with you.
Looking forward to 2012´s first entry.
keep up the good work. the hep literature is full of junk and you are one person dedicated to weeding it out. that is much more helpful than contributing to accelerate the growth rate of phys.rev. volumes until it reaches the speed of light 🙂
happy new year.
Zarrax: It is my guess that if there was a headline “5-brane compactification in string theory leads to mathematical breakthrough” Peter Woit would likely not take issue with it. He might even promote it. Look at the two dozen headlines featured in this blog post, and compare them with this hypothetical one, however.
I have a feeling this will be the year that physics gets a lot of the experimental data it needs to sort out many brain twisters – we know the LHC will be the one to watch but I think we will see data from other simpler experiments come in that help us understand the universe better. Reminds me of a talk James Van Allen gave in the early 90s at a small satellite conference – “How to do science for (much) less than a million dollars”. Thanks to Peter for providing such a fascinating discussion with this blog!
Up until the end of last year, your position was that the Higgs probably did not exist and you promoted this idea relentlessly on your blog. Yet, it seems that it does exists and has been observed. You have had a similar position in regards to low-scale supersymmetry. How will you react whenever the first signs of SUSY show up at LHC? Will you attempt to dismiss this as “more hype”?
Ditto, my fellow layman! Happy New Year and keep up the good work, Peter!
That’s nonsense. My position has never been that “the Higgs probably did not exist”. For a typical posting about this from last year, see (from after the summer release of data)
where I write: “nothing yet has changed my view that a Higgs particle scenario and a no-Higgs scenario are equally likely. ” It’s definitely true that I’ve often pointed out the the no-Higgs scenario would be a lot more exciting for particle physics, and was often hopeful last year that this was what the data would show. Unfortunately, it definitely now looks like it’s going the other way.
I continue to strongly doubt that the LHC will see anything like conventional SUSY. If something new does show up, that will be fantastic. And, sure, whatever it is, my prediction is that early ambiguous signals will be promoted as evidence for SUSY, whether it turns out to be that or something else…
When all is said and done, and the LHC has made its discoveries in the coming years, I think there is a high probability that your so-called skepticism will be revealed to be nothing more that close-mindedness. Now, it really should go without saying that the job of a theorist is to consider all possibilities in nature, and not to simply reject certain ideas just because you don’t happen to like them (whatever your motivations happen to be).
Given that the Higgs exists in the mass range 120-125 GeV, there are really only two possibilities: 1) Supersymmetry (or something like it) exists and solves the hierarchy problem, or 2) The Higgs mass is fine-tuned. Possibilities such as technicolor and warped extra dimensions would appear to be ruled out. So really, I don’t think that stories about supersymmetry should be considered hype. Granted, if the Higgs mass is 125 GeV, the MSSM is a bit strained to obtain such a Higgs mass. However, this just means that the MSSM should be extended in some way.
It would serve you and your readers better to have real discussions about real physics rather than continually droning on and on about how bad all of those theorists are for being excited about their ideas.
Happy NEW Year!!!! (N for Not, E for even, W for Wrong). All of the opinions and links available on this blog have been and continue to be an incredible resource!!
Happy New Year all!
To PW’s outspoken critics: I am genuinely curious… Why the (perceived) obsession and anger? Some claim PW’s arguments lack merit; some resort to personal attacks? Why? If that were the whole story then why feel threatened? Indeed, why pay any attention whatsoever?
It astounds me to see so many highly educated scientists lashing out at a handful of critics. Perhaps they could benefit from a high school level general science course. I always thought of science as a melting pot of ideas and criticisms, and experiment as the ultimate arbiter. Stop complaining and prove
Derek, I’m not especially angry or obsessed… I just am witnessing a blog going back to 2004 which says the same thing over and over again. So I wonder if the source of Woit’s obsession (and it is clearly an obsession) is some bitterness over his career. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. But you have got to admit it’s a little weird for anyone to beat this same drum thousands of times. There has to be some very serious motivation here, and to the outsider it’s not so clear why anyone would be so obsessed with this one issue.
from Zarrax: “There has to be some very serious motivation here, and to the outsider it’s not so clear…”
Well, for starters, how about the enormous lack of intellectual candor and the embarrassing drop in standards of integrity in theoretical physics which have accompanied the dominance of string theory (sociologically, at least) for much of the past four decades? Peter adduces massive evidence (in the form of the hype-list ‘Wall of Shame’ he provides in the OP for this thread) that a sizable chunk of the string theory community has made grotesquely exaggerated claims for the framework’s predictive success, and your response is that it’s most likely career bitterness?? The field reflects serious intellectual corruption and duplicitousness, so blame the messenger and make snide insinuations about what his motives could be… *excellent* reasoning, Zarrax.
Zarrax, why are you intent on casting a reasoned objection as a pathological obsession? You might have a point if Peter just engaged in empty rhetoric against ST, but that clearly isn’t true. Maybe you should engage the actual argument rather than casting aspersions…
But you have got to admit it’s a little weird for anyone to beat this same drum thousands of times. There has to be some very serious motivation here, and to the outsider it’s not so clear why anyone would be so obsessed with this one issue.
I don’t think it’s strange at all. The string theory hype has not stopped, so Peter Woit is not about ready to stop his campaign against it.
I’m curious, why is it such a problem if string theory gets a lot of attention and/or hype? I think this would happen anyway, if not with string theory then with some other area of physics. Up until about 15 years ago, most of the hype went to quantum mechanics and relativity. String theory fulfills a public niche for those who are interested in physics “on the edge”. At the very least, this serves to get people interested in physics. On the other hand, blogs such as this one* and Smolin’s books tend to create a negative impression for physics and physicists in general. If this infighting is left unchecked, this will ultimately have a very negative impact on scientific funding.
* I should say that this only applies to some of the posts. Many of the other posts are actually quite good and provide a forum for discussing real problems in physics.
OK, Eric, try this on for size: the real problem with the Enron catastrophe wasn’t the depth of the dishonesty in the financial sector’s business practices or the corruption in the political system of this country that allowed it to happen in the first place; it was all those damned Wall Street Journal investigative journalists who kept nosing deeper and deeper into the story until the horror stories about Skilling and other executive felons emerged. It really made the American financial sector look awful, didn’t it—-shook up our faith in the system and put the economy at risk. Does this interpretation sound absurd to you? Well, read over your own rationale in your previous note and tell me exactly how your spin on string theory/landscape hype differs in principle from that take on the financial crisis of a decade ago. Your story sounds *exactly* like the analysis of the Enron fiasco I just presented.
If string theorists go on making ludicrous claims, pretending that they really *can* predict anything substantial about the physical world, continue ad nauseum about how ST is still the ‘only game in town’ for unifying electroweak/QCD and gravity in a single formalism, and crafting press releases which in some cases border on (and into) fraudulence—when the truth is that there has been exactly zero progress on any of these fronts—then Lee Smolin and Peter are the baddies for spoiling people’s profitable credulousness? Are you *serious*??
As a point of fact, string theory is the only known way to unite quantum field theory with gravity. In addition, it is possible for specific string vacua to make predictions. There is absolutely no dishonesty in any of the claims made by string theorists. In fact, this constant suggestion that string theorists somehow control some evil empire bent on deceiving the public and controlling science funding is one of the reasons that most string theorists find this blog and Smolin’s books highly insulting. String theory and string theorists have been under continual unjustified assault and attempted character assassination now for many years. As best as can be ascertained, these attacks originate from those who have some sort of inferiority complex or feelings of jealousy in regards to high energy theorists.
In 2012 it looks like loop quantum gravity has the edge on string theory
on over-inflated misleading press releases
Only 3 days into the year and LQG is already experimentally testable by “measuring Hawking radiation precisely”.
You’re right, this seems to be an attempt to have LQG compete with string theory on the hype front. I’m curious if there’s an actual press release behind this, if anyone has seen such a thing, let me know.
Since you mention my books, plural, I can’t help but ask you a question:
Please tell me exactly which passages of my first two books in your view “tend to create a negative impression for physics and physicists in general.”
I have been impressed that none of the people who read my third book as critical of string theory have ever expressed any appreciation for the very hopeful and positive picture of string theory drawn in my second book. Nor do most credit the first book for its introduction of the concept of the landscape.
Then lets go back to the third book, and please tell me exactly which passages in your view create a negative impression of physics or physicists in general.
Exact quotes would be appreciated.
The reason I ask these questions is that my third book has been brutally misquoted and mis-characterized by people claiming to disagree with it. I often find that people who think they object to something they think I wrote are actually responding to a rumor or a misquotation. I am happy to defend what I actually wrote, but I am very tired of being challenged to defend things I didn’t write. Now it seems that the mis-characterizations of my third book are being sloppily attributed to all my books.
I can add that I have piles of emails and many reviews thanking me for writing books that give a positive and hopeful characterization of physics and physicists.
Lee: Even using the title “The Trouble with Physics” can create a negative impression of physics and physicists. I read your book (admittedly a while ago), and you really did sound very downbeat about the state of physics at that time. I don’t remember passages anymore, but after I read the book it seemed clear that you felt physicists were on the wrong path.
Also, since the first two books aren’t prerequisites for the third, and there are many like myself who only have read the third book as it was more widely distributed, it would be an easy error for people to make to assume your other books had a similar viewpoint.
Lee: One thing I do remember about the (third) book was you mentioning that people were looking for the next Einstein as if they were waiting for the coming of the Messiah. This really does convey an air of desperation. And the way so many people gravitated towards Garrett Lisi when he came out with his theory of everything just confirmed that impression for me.
Einstein is a huge model of success for theoretical physicists, so, hoping for the “next Einstein” is something people have always been doing. I’ve not noticed more of this now than at any other period. Also, I don’t know why you think “so many people gravitated towards Garrett Lisi when he came out with his theory of everything”. That’s not true if you’re counting theoretical physicists.
Fundamental physics made huge advances in the years leading up to the mid-seventies, much less since then, and this is not a controversial statement. If you’re going to write honestly about the state of the subject, it’s part of the story.