I really am trying to ignore Lubos, but there’s just too much material…
Back in early 2004, after it became clear that Cambridge University Press was very unlikely to ever publish Not Even Wrong due to intense opposition from string theorists, I tried sending the manuscript (together with the Cambridge referee reports) around to a few other university presses to see if any of them would be willing to publish it. The response I got from two editors at well-known presses was positive comments about the content of the manuscript, but:
I think it’s too controversial for a university press to publish.
from one, and from another
it is extremely unlikely that a proposal as controversial as yours would be accepted by the [governing board].
This made clear exactly how much of a “free marketplace of ideas” exists for debate about string theory within this part of the publishing world.
An editor at Princeton University Press wrote back after considering the manuscript for a week or two with a form-letter rejection informing me that “we must often forego formal review of promising manuscripts or proposals such as yours”. I assume that, as I expected, the editor had discussed the manuscript with one of the local string theorists and thus been convinced not to pursue it.
With Roger Penrose’s help, finally late in 2004 the British publisher Jonathan Cape bought the book, planning to publish it in Britain and sell the U.S. rights to an American publisher. During the first part of 2005 I worked a bit more on the book and it was copy-edited, and by the early fall the people at Cape were in negotiations with various possible US publishers, negotiations that I had little to do with. In November the editor at Cape told me that Princeton University Press had rejected the book as “too controversial”. The next month US rights were sold to Basic Books.
I had no idea about this at the time, but it seems that someone had advised Princeton that the appropriate person to review this kind of manuscript and give an unbiased opinion about it was a Harvard string theorist with a well-known blog named Lubos Motl. Lubos has now posted his report, together with the proud claim that “a serious publisher whose name was edited used [it] to scrap the project.” He cleverly hides the true name of the publisher in question as “P. University Press”.
The report makes clear what Lubos was going on about in some of the incomprehensible parts of his Amazon review. I responded to that review here, but couldn’t even figure out a lot of what he was talking about there. With his detailed report with page numbers, this is now clear.
He was definitely on his best behavior. The report is not obviously a rant, and even includes some positive comments. He carefully went through the manuscript making many sorts of copy-editing suggestions (e.g. changing English spellings to American) and suggested a large number of rewordings of the manuscript that would make what it said agree with his vision of reality (but not mine).
Anyone interested can go through the report, compare it to the book and judge for themselves whether Lubos’s extensive criticisms make much sense. Responding to his 17 pages filled with misinterpretations of what I wrote and tendentious claims about string theory is something I don’t have the time or energy for, but I’ll respond to his summary where he says that the book should be rejected because of its “many serious and elementary errors.” He lists these as:
1. I don’t know the difference between a GeV and a TeV. This is based on one typo, on page 32, where, after writing that the center of mass energy is at the LHC is 14 TeV, I mention that it might be possible to double this energy by doubling the strength of these magnets, and “28 GeV” is an obvious typo for “28 TeV”. This typo is fixed in the US edition, thanks to the fact that he makes this argument against the book in his Amazon review.
2. He objects to my pointing out (page 179) that in a theory with broken supersymmetry the vacuum energy scale is too large by a factor of 1056, wanting me instead to say that supersymmetry “improves” the vacuum energy problem with respect to non-supersymmetric theories by a similar size factor. What I wrote is correct.
3. On page 35 I mention that the neutrinos produced by a muon collider interact weakly, so will go through the earth and produce a radiation hazard when they emerge many miles away. Lubos claims that this is wrong, that “neutrinos with hundreds of GeV of energy interact strongly”. This is nonsense. What he has in mind though is not really a “strong” interaction strength, but an electromagnetic interaction strength. He’s right that at hundreds of GeV (way above the W and Z masses), there is electroweak unification, and the weak interaction and electromagnetic interaction strengths are similar. However, he seems to be making an elementary mistake: the neutrinos involved will be hitting a fixed target, so the energies involved will be much lower.
4. He repeats a mistaken comment that I once made on my blog about about SU(2) and SO(4), one that has nothing to do with what I write in the book. His excuse for introducing this is that on page 49 I refer to “axes of rotation” in 4 dimensions, complaining that I should have explained that in 4 dimensions rotations are specified by choosing not a one-dimensional axis, but a two-dimensional plane. It’s quite true that I was simplifying things, not explaining that in N dimensions an “axis of rotation” is N-2 dimensional. Explaining that more carefully was not something I wanted to get into. Perhaps he’s right that it would be better if I put “axes” here in quotes to keep people from making the wrong assumption that he’s making.
5. He finds something wrong with the fact that even though I explicitly say that the physical Hilbert space is the trivial representation of the gauge group, I speculate that understanding the non-trivial representations of gauge groups is an unsolved mathematical problem whose solution might tell us something interesting about gauge theory. This is clearly labeled as speculation and perfectly accurate as written.
Anyway, now I know why Princeton rejected the book, although I still have no idea who put them up to choosing Lubos as a referee.
For more about Lubos and the controversy over string theory, there’s an article in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (in German). Lubos comments that “virtually all well-known theoretical physicists” think as he does, but that only he (together with Susskind) is willing to fight compromise with very stupid people and crackpots like me. He warns “to the polite big shots: the more silent you will be the more loud the blunt opinionmakers such as Susskind or your humble correspondent will have to be.”
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