I’m well aware that there’s far too much these days on this blog about the controversy over string theory, but two things have appeared today in the press about this that aren’t accurate, and I can’t resist using this platform to issue corrections. Readers who have had enough of this are warned to move on to some other blog with fresher material.

The Observer (the Sunday version of the British newspaper the Guardian) has an article today by Robin McKie, entitled String theory: Is it science’s ultimate dead end? On the whole, the article is a well-written piece about the controversy over string theory. I talked to McKie on the phone, and he quotes me as saying something that is probably an abbreviated version of what I actually said.

‘Too many people have been overselling very speculative ideas,’ said Woit – author of Not Even Wrong – last week. ‘String theory has produced nothing.’

The first part of this quote is fine, but “String theory has produced nothing” is not what I think, and presumably was part of some longer statement. String theory has certainly produced some very interesting mathematics, as well as some promising ideas about strongly coupled gauge theories. It has produced nothing useful about unification and how to get beyond the standard model.

The McKie piece also has some strong quotes in defense of string theory from David Gross, Samjaye Ramgoolam and Michael Green:

‘String theory is on the right path,’ said David Gross, of the University of California, Santa Barbara, and another Nobel prize winner. ‘But this path is quite long. Further breakthroughs are required.’

I’m kind of wondering why he claims that definitely string theory is on the right path. Perhaps he also had some caveats that got dropped.

‘said Sanjaye Ramgoolam, of Queen Mary, University of London. ‘There are a number of ways that we could prove – or disprove – string theory. For example, Europe’s new Large Hadron Collider may well be powerful enough to provide evidence that suggests we are on the right road.’

This kind of invocation of the LHC as being able to prove or disprove string theory always strikes me as less than honest.

According to Green:

“There is no alternative to string theory. It is the only show in town – and the universe.’

Again, perhaps some caveats have been dropped here.

The second piece with inaccuracies that appeared today is a review of my book and Lee Smolin’s in the LA Times by K.C. Cole. It’s entitled Strung Along and is basically a hit-job on me and Smolin. Some of the things in it are so dishonest and incompetent as to be pretty hilarious:

In fact, many statements about string theory in these books are plain wrong… To say, as Woit does, that fundamental mysteries about neutrinos are being ignored will come as news to the dozens of physicists who’ve been working on these problems for years.

At first I couldn’t figure out why she was attributing to me the insane statement that “fundamental mysteries about neutrinos are being ignored”, but after taking a look at all the references to neutrinos in the book, I finally figured it out. On page 93 of the US edition I write, after giving a description of the things the standard model leaves unexplained, including a parameter count that ignores neutrino masses:

One complication that has been ignored so far involves neutrinos.

and then go on to explain about the experimental evidence for neutrino masses. The “ignored so far” obviously means “ignored so far in this chapter”, not “fundamental mysteries about neutrinos are being ignored” by physicists. This recalls some of the hilarities in Lubos’s review of my book. It’s absolutely amazing that a supposedly serious journalist would do this kind of thing.

There are plenty more claims in the review that are pretty much the opposite of reality:

To mathematician Peter Woit and physicist Lee Smolin, however, the search for beauty is ruining physics.

Actually my view is quite the opposite: what’s ruining physics is pursuing very unbeautiful theories (Susskind is fond of calling them “Rube Goldberg machines”) for which there is no experimental evidence.

I’ve never met Cole and she knows nothing about me personally, but she seems intent on painting me and Lee as embittered failures:

Woit, and Smolin… write mostly about how string theory has ruined their careers.

I don’t think there’s anything in Smolin’s book about how string theory has ruined his career (and he’s had quite a successful one). As for me, there’s no such sentiment expressed in the book and my feelings about this are quite the opposite. If it weren’t for string theory, most likely my academic career would have led at best to a job at a not very good institution in a place I really wouldn’t be very happy living. Because of string theory I moved into mathematics early on, and have ended up with an academic position I’m extremely happy with, living in my favorite place in the world. String theory didn’t “ruin my career”, it made a very happy one possible.

As I said, I don’t know Cole, so I don’t know why she decided to write this kind of dishonest hit-job. Perhaps it has something to do with her professional association with string theorist Clifford Johnson at USC. I’ve long suspected that Clifford was the author of the referee report for Cambridge which compared doubting string theory to doubting the theory of evolution, and constructed evidence that I didn’t know what I was talking about by taking a sentence in my manuscript out of context and changing a word. One is often wrong about such guesses, probably I’ll never know…

Update: Amazing how quickly one finds out things one thinks one will never know. Over at Clifford Johnson’s blog, Capitalist Imperialist Pig asked him if he was the referee who tried to stop Cambridge University Press from publishing my book. His answer: “that’s all just silly and irrelevant”. OK, now I know…

The funny thing about this is that Clifford has been bitterly complaining about the fact that the book is being marketed and publicized to a wide audience, but it appears that he was the one who stopped it from being published a couple years ago in a form where it would have reached many fewer people. Priceless.

Update: Thanks to “Another Grad Student”, who in the comment section over at Clifford Johnson’s blog did a better job than I could of explaining to him why I was no longer bothering to respond to his endlessly condescending, sneering and dishonest comments. Anyone who thinks there is anything to the accusations Johnson and Distler are making about me over there is encouraged to read for themselves some of the many comment threads where I have tried to have serious discussions with them.

More substantively, it’s clearly a waste of one’s time to try and debate these issues with someone who is on record as claiming that criticizing string theory is like criticizing the theory of evolution.

Update:  Clifford Johnson has denied being the CUP referee in question, or having anything to do with the Cole “review”, saying here that he has not even read the book.  My apologies to him for incorrect suggestions made in this posting, and my misunderstanding of his later comments.

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65 Responses to Corrections…

  1. Having read Cole’s “reviews” I’m left wondering what books she actually read. Many of the knocks against both you and Lee Smolin seem too weird to have been generated from the contents of the books.

    I am left wondering what the nature of her “professional association” with Clifford is though. I thought she was a journalist and he was a string theorist. Can you clarify?

    Finally, have you asked Clifford if he reviewed your manuscript?

  2. J.F. Moore says:

    Naturally, I can only speak for myself, but I don’t think that you are writing too much about the bubbling controversy. I think it’s fascinating to see how people behave when forced to justify their beliefs.

  3. Peter Woit says:


    K.C. Cole also teaches at USC, and she runs an evening program about science called “Categorically Not!” which is often discussed in Clifford’s blog. If you look at the web-site for the program

    you’ll see that the text is written by her and her picture is on the front, but that:

    “This page made by Clifford V. Johnson and is brought to you by the Department of Physics and Astronomy at USC.”

    As I wrote, I know very little about Cole, actually the main place I had heard about her was on Clifford’s blog.

    No, I’ve never asked him if he was the Cambridge referee.

  4. LDM says:

    It is surprising that somebody that TEACHES science journalism writes such scientific nonsense. I was of the impression that journalists subscribe to something call “journalistic ethics and standards”.

    As for Woit’s claim that string theory has “absolutely zero connection with experiment,” experiments already planned for a new European particle accelerator will look for the existence of extra dimensions and extra families of particles — both predicted by string theory. In fact, many statements about string theory in these books are plain wrong.

    In fact, the opposite is true…and both these books are well reasoned and generally correct to the extent allowed in a general presentation aimed at a layperson audience.

    If in fact the European particle accelerator does manage to muster a meaningful test for an extra large dimension…so what? There will be a negative result (or do you really believe the world is 10 dimensional?), and so one can predict string theorists will just maintain the extra dimension is not large, and so we will be back to the case of having an untestable theory.

  5. Spear Mark the Second says:

    I know KC a little… generally, I’ve liked her, and I’ve found her to be fair and smart. But her review in this case is off base, don’t know why.

    A small point about the LHC… most scattering experiments since Rutherford have looked for an unusually large cross section at high momentum transfer. Rutherford discovered that nuclei were in essence point particles, Hofstadter probed the nuclear form factors, and Friedman, Kendall, and Taylor found quarks.

    Does anyone seriously think that the only reason experimenters will look for unexpectedly large cross section at LHC is extra dimensions from string theory? Large cross sections are always sought after… don’t need a weatherman (or a string theorist) to know which way the wind blows.

    Since Sam Ting in the 1970’s, everyone also looks for leptons in the final state, and since the W was discovered, missing energy too. Those are by no means signatures of string theory alone, and we did not need string theorists to know to look for those signals.

  6. Spear Mark the Second says:

    Just read KC Cole’s review… she messed up on the neutrino discovery as well… the real key experiment was that of Ellis and Wooster, predating Pauli. Ellis and Wooster (part of the Cavendish group) proved there was missing energy, and that the energy was not electromagnetic in nature. Given that experiment, there were only two serious choices… that energy/momentum/spin conservation was wrong, or that a new particle was carrying off the energy/momentum/spin. All the experimentalists knew that at the time, but Pauli grandstanded and made a big deal about postulating the more detailed properties of the neutrino.

  7. MathPhys says:

    > It is surprising that somebody that
    > TEACHES science journalism writes such
    > scientific nonsense.


  8. Very disappointing to read that review, since I quite enjoy K.C. Cole’s science writing. I have a feeling that you’re right, Peter, that her relatonships (not just with Clifford, but with a lot of other string theorists) clouded her view you and Smolin’s book. Also, string theory really is rather up her alley; she’s all about “elegence” and “aesthetics,” and, since a lot of people think that’s what strings bring to the table (I, being a total outsider to such high-level math and science outside of popular articles, books, and blogs such as this, have no way to judge whether it is or, as you’ve argued, is not), I can see her being very, very attached to it.

  9. Peter – Well, I did ask my question (re: the manuscript review) of Clifford and his response was:

    As for the other thing about Peter’s guesswork… that’s all just silly and irrelevant.

    In the political blogosphere, I think we call that a non-denial non-denial.

  10. Arun says:

    CIP, many thanks for asking the question!

    All of this has been extremely illuminating. Thank you, Peter, for persisting and publishing your book.

  11. wolfgang says:


    in the comments on the Asymptotia thread you wrote about Lubos
    “Remarkably, his colleagues at Harvard promoted him and so far have been willing to tolerate his behavior (although his recent public calls for my imminent death may change that situation).”

    When and where did Lubos call for your imminent death?
    Can you provide a link or something similar?

  12. King Ray says:

    I never liked string theory precisely because it is not beautiful or elegant. Just look at all the fields that they have living on the string worldsheet. I once computed all the maximal subalgebras of a single E8, using Dynkin diagram techniques, and it was amazing what all was in there. At that time E8xE8 was in vogue. The ultimate theory should be simpler than current theories, not orders of magnitude more complicated. To use Einstein’s phrase, string theorists can calculate but they can’t think. I also think there is a lot of hole drilling where the wood is thinnest.

  13. andy says:

    The webpage at USC’s Anenberg School for Communication obfuscates the background of its faculty. On a science department’s webpage the faculty listing will tell you what degrees the professor has and where he or she earned them. I can’t seem to find that for that department.

  14. Peter Woit says:


    The latest occurence of this was

    and a few days earlier he discussed his opinion that death would be too good for “the black crackpot” (that’s me, color of cover of my book, Lee is “the blue crackpot”) given my sins against physics. After I complained to people at Harvard, Lubos did edit this first occurrence to remove the reference to my death. A few days later he posted the above comment.

    I brought this to the attention of people at Harvard, and can report that some people there (not members of the theory group) agreed that this behavior was not tolerable.

  15. d.liman says:

    I’m assuming, since Peter brought it to the attention of folks at Harvard, that he was reasonably confident that it was likely an authentic post.

    There is a remote chance that it could just be someone who signed it with Lubos’ name. On his blog he claims that this happens often.

  16. Peter Woit says:


    I’m confident this came from Lubos. After it appeared I wrote in to his blog to ask him if it really came from him. He did not deny it.

  17. Anon says:

    Peter religiously checks the IP addresses of his commenters. I’m sure he checked this one, before reporting the incident to the Harvard authorities.


  18. Tim says:


    I find it amusing that in the very same post you complain about journalists taking words and phrases out of context and interpreting them according to their own tastes without being very careful about the original intention and yet you do exactly the same by reminding us of a short phrase by Clifford Johnson without giving us the opportunity to review the original circumstances and intentions of those words.

    Most funny!


  19. Peter Woit says:


    Good point. Problem is I’ve been advised it’s not really kosher to make public documents written by people who assumed what they wrote would not be made public. I’d suggest you ask Clifford to post a copy, it would be all right for him to do so.

  20. d.liman says:

    Thnx for the response, Peter. Keep up this great blog. Its disappointing that people like Lubos can’t argue calmly, and not lose their cool. Hopefully someone in the Theory Group at Harvard will advise him how to behave properly.

  21. Gina says:

    Peter and Tim,
    If you are talking about the referee report that Peter is attributing (with little evidence) to Johnson, I think, in this case, ethics is going the other way around. Trying to reveal the identity of an anonymous referee, certainly in public, is not so ethical. But I see no problem in posting (without distortion) the content of a referee report. (But I am not sure on this point, I’d be interested to hear if I am missing something.)

    Of course, these are conventions and we can imagine a system where both the identity of referees and the reports are in the public domain.

  22. anon says:

    Gina, this sentence is quite fuzzy.
    “Trying to reveal the identity of an anonymous referee, certainly in public, is not so ethical.”
    Who is trying to reveal?
    Peter didn’t ask Clifford. It was CIP who asked him. Are you accusing CIP of being unethical, for asking Clifford, IN PUBLIC? Clifford didn’t have to answer, but he did answer. Peter FIRST quoted Clifford exactly, and then reached his own conclusions about the meaning of the quote. I don’t think that is unethical.
    I think for a reporter to write an article, with so many errors, and so one-sided in favor of her firend Clifford, now that is unethical.

  23. Gina says:

    Dear Anon

    Hmmm, interesting comment. I certainly do not “accuse” anybody of anything. For a scientist to try to speculate in public about the identity of a referee is somewhat unethical, or perhaps a better word is unconventional.

    Actually, Clifford did not confirm that he was the referee at all and he reacted in the appropriate way when he was asked – whether he was the referee or not – not confirming and not denying. So for Peter to reach a conclusion that Clifford was the referee, and to continue the discussion based on this assumption is not a very good logic and not very conventional/ethical. Again, I am referring to conventions for a scientist. The conventions for journalists are different.

    My point was that I do not see any reason why posting a referee report is unethical. (I agree that it is not particularly common.)

    This is a just little point. I suppose there is also the issue of ethics and conventions for weblog behavior. This looks like a truly a fascinating subject but I do not have anything to contribute. What can be the ethical rules for a CapitalistImperialistPig? I suppose whatever he do he cannot really be kosher.

  24. Anon says:

    I agree with Gina. It is definitely unethical to publicly accuse (or state that one “supects”) someone of being the anonymous referee.

    That puts the accusee in the untenable position of being unable to either confirm or deny the accusation.

    It is not unethical to print an (unfavorable) referee report about one’s own work.

    The former is highly corrosive of the anonymous refereeing process (on which we all depend). The latter, not at all.

  25. Peter Woit says:

    I’m not the one who put Clifford on the spot about this, blame that on CIP.

    I’ve suspected that referee was Clifford for quite a while now (since one day after seeing his behavior in response to challenges to string theory, and looking up over my desk and seeing a copy of his book on my bookshelf. I realized it was published by Cambridge, and a light dawned…). I finally decided to mention this publicly because I really had enough with the way he was going on about what a money-grubbing publicity hound I am, promoting my book to the general public who can not understand the subtler points of what I am saying. If it weren’t for him, the book would have been published two years ago by Cambridge, in a form aimed at and marketed to a small audience. He decided to stop that, and leave me no choice but to find a trade publisher. He has no business at all complaining about how this book was published, and it was unethical of him to do so knowing full well that he was responsible for this.

    I’m pretty sure I know who the second string theorist referee was, but won’t say anything publicly about that. Unless he gets a blog and starts complaining about how the book was published….

  26. Anon says:

    “I’m not the one who put Clifford on the spot about this, blame that on CIP.”


    You are the one who publicly stated the accusation (excuse me, the “suspicion”). CIP merely brought it to Clifford’s attention, which someone else would have done sooner or later, anyway.

    And then you were the one who took Clifford’s non-committal response (the only ethical one he could make) as a confirmation.

  27. I don’t really think it’s unethical to speculate on who anonymous reviewers are – I’ve certainly heard a lot of reputable scientists do so. Is it unethical to ask? It’s a bit hard for me to believe that it is, but if it is I apologise, abjectly but not profusely, to the gods of ethical physics, if such there be. Generally speaking, the baloney I serve on my blog *is* strictly Kosher.

    In any case, Clifford had several options – to ignore my question, criticize my question for violating the sacred bond between a publisher and the authors it already publishes, or to say something noncommital. He chose the last option, but in a rather strange fashion – one that I thought looked like a politician’s non-denial non-denial.

    In any case, I’m not much impressed with anonymous review anyway. I’ve had the experience of running technical review for a publication system with all reviewers public, and I don’t think the loss of anonymity was a major problem.

  28. Gina says:

    The whole hype issue is very much over-hyped. Let’s say that string theory had the blessing (which can quickly turn into a curse) of unproportional media attention, so what? It will not make the next major scientific step any easier (or any harder). I do not understand this issue.

  29. Marty Tysanner says:


    Having occasionally “defended” you in the past, I would feel a little hypocritical in keeping silent on this. From what I have seen, I agree with Gina and Anon that you should not have publicly aired your hunches this way about Clifford’s possible role as The Referee. It tends to create a suspicion of him without objective evidence. I also agree that you should not have publicly concluded that Clifford’s non-answer to CIP showed that he really was that person. The whole thing just looks too much like dirty politics, with one candidate creating suspicion of ethical failure by an opponent, and then taking the opponent’s refusal to confirm or deny the accusation as “proof” of guilt. I didn’t think you were running a political campaign.

    While I can understand how some of your experiences with Clifford could make you resentful, and it doesn’t seem unreasonable to privately suspect him of the role you imply, the whole idea of publicly throwing suspicion on him this way is distasteful to me. It doesn’t seem like one of your finer moments.

  30. Arun says:

    That LA Times review would make anyone wonder.

  31. Clark says:

    Jim Weatherall at The CSW Blog provides some numbers that, for me at least, added interesting perspective to the discussion. This will not be news to Peter, who has been the chief interlocutor there, but may be of interest to some readers.
    If this falls under the prohibition of not mixing blogs, please feel free to delete this post.
    One of the most illuminating of recent developments has been hearing from the experimentalists, such as Richter, Spear Mark II,
    and Weatherall, who may not have been as concerned as theorists in publicizing their viewpoint and observations.
    For instance, SM II’s appraisal of Pauli’s role in the neutrino hypothesis suggested a consensus among the experimentalists
    of which I must concede having been unaware.

  32. Thomas Love says:

    Searching for K C Cole led me to:

    Opening talk by K.C. Cole, Los Angeles Times

    By Elise Kleeman

    “Really good science writers need to lie, cheat, and steal, said K. C. Cole in the first plenary of the workshop. She outlined 15 rules for writing in her talk, but focused most on the value of lying.”

    That says a lot about her review, does it not?

  33. woit says:


    Perhaps you’re right. It’s certainly true that I was highly annoyed about Clifford’s recent behavior on his blog and because of that my judgement at the time may have not been the best. But still, I think mentioning my suspicions can be justified, even beyond the grounds I gave earlier that Clifford should not be criticizing how this book was published unless he is willing to have his own role in that story examined.

    Part of the story of string theory is the story of how it has acquired and kept its dominant position. Some string theorists claim that this is purely through its “triumph in the marketplace of ideas”, but, especially recently as a critical point of view on string theory has gained traction, less than ethical tactics have been used to try and discredit me and Smolin. I suppose I should be extremely careful of my own ethics. The question about Clifford is bit of a tricky one, since it has to do with what tactics are acceptable in order to expose less than ethical behavior and attempts to censor legitimate scientific views.

  34. woit says:


    That’s pretty funny. One hopes that her “rules” (which seem to include “eschew objectivity and quote out of context”) are tongue-in-cheek, but I’m not so sure…

  35. TheGraduate says:

    “Quotes are always out of context”

    I guess that explains the way she used the neutrino quote which for me was bizarre.

  36. LDM says:

    The problem is Cole is writing on topics she probably does not deeply understand, and hence cannot really explain well…and instead of lying and cheating, better to write nothing at all…but if she were to need an example of honest science writing, she should read Feynman.

    The Feynman Lectures are maybe the best examples of how to explain ,without lying and cheating, advanced concepts — accurately — to an not particularly advanced audience.

    …When explaining things, Feynman did omit the details of lengthy calculations (that would normally be found in advanced texts or papers on the topic he was discussing) so he could concentrate on the PHYSICS…
    (For a concrete example, see the discussion of the Molecular Hydrogen Ion in Feynman vol 3– all results are complete and correct, but many details of the standard calculations, normally laborious (Born- Oppenhemeir, etc) are simply not given)

  37. Michael Bacon says:

    “And then you were the one who took Clifford’s non-committal response (the only ethical one he could make) as a confirmation.”

    I know I’m missing something here, but why was it the only ethical statement Clifford could make? Even if there are certain prohibitions on publically acknowledging that one was a referee, I believe that there must be limitations on this type of prohibition in the context of subsequent controversies that may arise; perhpas like this one. In such cases, a simple acknowledgment or deniel would settle the issue, and no real violence to ethics would be done.

  38. Peter Woit says:

    Michael Bacon,

    In general I don’t think there are prohibitions against a referee revealing his or her identity, either publicly or privately. Anonymity is there to allow the referee to give an honest and unbiased opinion without having to worry about having to suffer repercussions because of this. That’s why Marty is right it is not a good idea in general to try and pierce this anonymity.

    On the other hand, anonymity of referees has a dark side, with anonymity allowing a referee to behave unethically, knowing that he or she won’t have to answer for less than completely professional behavior. So, it’s not always so simple….

  39. Gina says:

    I agree that the issue of refereeing is not simple and sometimes loaded. In fact, almost every negative referee report is a little controversy. A completely open system may be an option, a “double blind” system is another option. But I do not see a simple solution except the universal advice: “take it easy”.

    I read Cole’s review and it does not look to me as that negative. It is critical both to string theory and to the books by Lee and Peter, and this looks reasonable.
    There were 20-30 reviews on the book, most are positive, a few (like mine) are mixed or negarive. I do not think it is right or wise, Peter, to regard negative reviews as “hit jobs” (it is also completely meaningless) and to “go after” the people who write them. If you want that people will listen to your criticism you should be ready to accept criticism, and if your success rate with string theorists or other sientists will be as high as with science journalists you will be in a good shape :).

  40. John Ramsden says:

    Apologies if it’s already been mentioned, above or in another article in this blog, but last week Bert Schroer issued a new version of his anti-string-theory polemic (or “samisdat” as he calls it – I must look up that word) at

    Before rereading the paper, I was rash enough to mention its revised release in a footnote to one of my replies on Lubos Motl’s blog ( but this reply mysteriously disappeared within minutes. However, the mystery was solved when I did get round to reading it the next day, and reached page 21 😉


  41. Arun says:

    “Woit, and Smolin in “The Trouble With Physics,” write mostly about how string theory has ruined their careers” – balance is not being equally negative or positive about both sides – i.e. “It is critical both to string theory and to the books by Lee and Peter, and this looks reasonable.”
    It wouldn’t matter if Cole was uniformly critical of Lee and Peter and uniformly supportive of string theory, as long as she didn’t misrepresent what the books were about.

    Whether or not a book is worth reading is opinion, and one can have any opinion. But what is in the book or not in the book should not be lied about.

  42. Gina says:


    indeed this quote striked me as very unfair but I double checked and it is not the full quote. Here it is:

    “These issues are well worth addressing, which makes it all the more disappointing that Woit, and Smolin in “The Trouble With Physics,” write mostly about how string theory has ruined their careers — and physics as well.”

    I think it is correct to characterize Peter’s position as claiming that string theory ruined particle physics and this is what Peter mostly writes about, in the polemic part of the book. (As I already said the, 80% of the book is an excellent and inspiring description of particle physics and related mathematics.) Now, the part about string theory ruining Peter’s career is an interpretation of Cole of what Peter tells in the book about himself. This is what Cole reads between the lines. It is a legitimate interpretation (for a journalist). I do not agree with this simplistic interpretation and would not have written it myself – but I am not a journalist.

    Overall, the sentence is somewhat unfair but not nearly as much as seen from cutting the last words “– and physics as well”.

    Anyway, overall Cole’s review is not that negative, and overall she is doing a good job describing the controversy, and overall, even if there are a few cheap shots here and there it is wrong and unwise (and a waste of time) to “go after” people who write negative reviews.

  43. anon says:

    Gina, I’ve never, ever heard Peter say that string theory ruined his career. In fact, Peter sounds to me as happy with his career as a pig in mud. Cole’s sentence is groundless, a calumny, a character assassination; what she means is that Peter criticizes string theory because he is bitter; that his criticism has almost nothing to do with any shortcomings of string theory .

  44. Gina says:

    OK, I agree that Cole should not have written as a fact that the books are about string theory ruining Peter and Lee’s careers even if she believes or just conjecture that this is what is ‘going on’. (I criticize Peter himself for mixing too much the factual matters, his own interpretations, and unrealeted “gossip items”, and I certainly do not like when journalists do it. But they do it all the time.)

  45. jeremy says:

    If someone wrote a review for my book, I would first thank him or her for at least taking time to read the book. I agree with Gina that it is not wise to “go after” the reviewer. It is reasonable to correct reviewer’s misquotes and, sometimes calculated, distortions, but consider a review with different opinion as “a hit-job” is, for me, not prudent. It is really unnecessary for Peter being overly sensitive to criticism. Any review, positive or negative, will only make more people become aware of “the failure of string theory”, and increase the possibility of bringing in fresh air to the research. It is a good thing that someone is willing to read your book and writing a review about it. I would suggest Peter, borrowing a line from Gina. “take it easy” on the reviewers.

  46. Gina,

    Your defense of KC Cole’s review does not conform to a reasonable interpretation of the facts. Neither does her review. It wasn’t merely biased, it was deeply dishonest.

    Writers (and actors, painters, and others) are totally justified in criticizing their critics, especially those who don’t evaluate them honestly.

    Since you have strongly insinuated yourself in this debate, including questioning my ethics, let me ask the following: what is your expertise? Are you a string theorist? A physicist?

  47. LDM says:

    I went to the library, examined one of Coles books, “The Hole in the Universe” for myself just so I could accurately gauge her level of science writing first hand — and the content is watered down to the extent of either being meaningless or, unfortunately, just physically misleading if not wrong…

    Also telling is that on the cover was a blurb by string theorist Briane Greene…So obviously an endorsement by Greene is not worth too much.

    Essentially, she is a reviewer who does not understand the subject , has no problem distorting (lying) the subject, and seems to be strongly associated with string theorists. Interesting.

  48. John A says:

    More substantively, it’s clearly a waste of one’s time to try and debate these issues with someone who is on record as claiming that criticizing string theory is like criticizing the theory of evolution.

    Actually that’s been done before in climate science. To criticize Greenhouse Warming as a hypothesis that makes no useful testable predictions gets the critic compared to creationists (and deniers of evolution therefore) and deniers of the Holocaust. It doesn’t get more tasteless than that.

    Now again, I do not make the case that Peter Woit agrees with my views on climate science, only that for reasons that appear to me obvious, the same dynamic of attacking the person rather than engaging in the actual questions of substantial scientific import are occurring in disparate fields.

    BTW Peter, I bought Lee Smolin’s book rather than yours because I’m frankly not up to the math and I felt happier dealing with Smolin’s more general approach. I’m also reading QED by Richard Feynman, and find myself chuckling over Feynman’s direct attack on theories that don’t predict anything no matter how beautiful they are.

  49. Arun says:


    If you are correct then it should have read:

    “These issues are well worth addressing, which makes it all the more disappointing that Woit, and Smolin in “The Trouble With Physics,” write mostly about how string theory has ruined physics, though they disclaim any impact on their careers.

  50. Gina says:

    Well guys, appart from the controversial sentence and misunderstanding about neutrinos, Coles review is good:

    Take this one sentence explanation of string theory:

    “Simply put, string theory does this by replacing point-like particles with tiny strings of some fundamental stuff vibrating in 10-dimensional space — their harmonies creating everything from quarks to galaxies. The loops of string don’t let anything get small enough to let quantum fidgeting rip space and time apart.”

    and the critique on string theory

    “String theory has its troubles, which the authors analyze in great and sometimes lucid detail: It appears to be untestable because the strings are too small to be seen, and recent research suggests that the theory may have an infinite number of solutions, so it can’t make predictions. And string theory is so ill-defined that even ardent supporters admit they don’t know what, exactly, it is.”


    “The authors are right to say that physicists can get cliquish; that some of them swagger; that they frequently fool themselves and that science has become too risk-averse.”

    maybe she should have change the ordering and write

    “These issues are well worth addressing, which makes it all the more disappointing that Woit, and Smolin in “The Trouble With Physics,” write mostly about how string theory has ruined physics — and their careers as well.”

    It is legitimate for Cole to think that the books express personal frustration
    even if not explicitely expressed. She does not have to prove it, and it is common not to distinguish facts from interpretations, this is journalism and not science. (But I agree that even in this form it is unfair to Peter and Lee and not referring to the careers would be a much better choice.)

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