Links

Starting tomorrow there’s a workshop in London entitled M-theory in the City, in some sense celebrating the 11th birthday of M-theory. There will be a reception on Thursday evening, and the organizers of the workshop are noting that:

Recently there have been a variety of publications presenting a sceptical view of string and M-theory. These have been reported extensively in both the national press and various popular science journals.

and encouraging journalists interested in this topic to attend the reception and use:

the opportunity to discuss with the participants and question where string theory is heading and address the recent criticisms string theory has faced.

Various and assorted quantum gravity news:

The latest Physics Today has an article by Lee Smolin entitled Quantum Gravity Faces Reality (available only to APS members). People concerned about open access to the scientific literature should note that sometimes professional societies like the APS are among the worst offenders. It appears that Physics Today is one of relatively few scientific publications that universities and other institutions are not even allowed to buy electronic access to. I’ve been told that this restriction of electronic access to subscribers is an intentional tactic of the APS to keep up its circulation figures and thus advertising rates.

The latest Nature Physics has a report from Ashtekar about recent developments in loop quantum gravity.

There’s a new paper on the arXiv by Baratin and Freidel that looks quite interesting. It’s too bad that Christine Dantas has given up her blog that provided an excellent location for discussion of this kind of quantum gravity research. I hope someone else will pick up where she left off. Blogger Sabine Hossenfelder has a recent arXiv preprint on Phenomenological Quantum Gravity.

I heard from my sister-in-law that NPR yesterday ran a segment on string theory, but it was mostly about soccer. I found this hard to believe, but she was right, the story is on-line here. NPR’s Richard Harris covered a soccer game in Santa Barbara between visiting string theorists and laser physicists. The string theorists were trailing much of the game, but finally won on a penalty kick they got due to a misunderstanding by the laser physicists. The story does have some remarkable quotes from string theorists about the prospects for the theory. Steve Giddings “is actually feeling somewhat more optimistic about the fate of string theory these days”, arguing that maybe the LHC will start producing strings (the article does note that “even most string theorists say this is a real long shot”). David Gross says that the reason to do string theory is that “…there’s nothing else. There’s no other game in town.” He acknowledges that string theorists don’t even know what the theory is, and are out on a limb and trusting in faith:

Even those of us who work in the field aren’t really sure what string theory is or what it’s going to be, Gross says. So when you’re in this kind of speculative, exploratory science, it’s important to have faith because you’re out on a big limb. So I think it’s really a question of whether we believe this is the right direction; and that I do believe rather firmly.

Update: Lee Smolin has put up a letter on his web-site in response to queries and criticisms he has received in response to his recent book.

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36 Responses to Links

  1. Hard to keep score. I’m not sure I understand the relationship between the icosahedral symmetry of soccer balls, Lie groups for glueballs, and the apparent confusion between theory and GOOOOOOoooooAAAAALLLLL!

  2. Bee says:

    Hi Peter,

    thanks for the link to my paper. It’s not really a paper though, but just a writeup of a talk I gave at the SUSY06. The full paper is hep-th/0603032, and there’s also a brief summary of it’s content on my post The Minimal Length Scale. Best,

    B.

  3. anon says:

    The fact that Physics Today follows such restrictive circulation policies shows. It’s sooo umbearably dull.

  4. M says:

    a criticism for Smolin, about physics.

    He carefully explains why unification is in trouble with proton decay. Later, when discussing “phenomenology of quantum gravity”, he does not mention the Crab nebula constraint (astro-ph/0212190 and later works), that forbids some “quantum gravity” effects suppressed by one power of the Planck mass.

    I would say that both scenarios start to have trouble with experimental data. And of course in both cases one can avoid trouble in the standard way: if the simplest realization has problems, add complictations.

  5. Ejjay says:

    you know Peter, the string theorists are like these dilluded pot smking hippies, thinking they have this beautiful theory that will one day cure cancer and bring world peace.
    And you are like this nasty party-pooping right wing bastard, who slaps them around and telling them that their dreams are unrealistic and silly.

  6. I have been wondering for more than two decades when people start to take the absence of proton decays seriously and be ready to consider separate conservation of B and L. I am also still wondering why the huge discrepancies in mass scales of fermions (think of top/neutrino mass scale ratio) do not raise the question whether mass scale might be a discrete dynamical variable. The attempt to force quarks and leptons into same multiplets might have looked natural when theoreticians discovered gauge groups but not anymore. In light of proton stability and huge mass scale differences for leptons, I am really amazed hearing people to claim that there is no data to guide theory building. What is data if this is not it?

  7. Good point, Matti…
    There is indeed tons of data to speculate on. I see a tendency of self-constraint in the theorists in this respect. Why lepton and quark masses are what they are ? Why the values of the CKM ? Oh, sure, the landscape…
    T.

  8. Lee Smolin says:

    Dear M,

    Thanks for mentioning that. I agree I did not give a complete survey of the field of Planck scale phenomenology in either TTWP or the Physics Today article. My own view, which is consisstent with what you say, is that order l_P effects comingn from Lorentz symmetry breaking are already constrained by existing data, especially the lack of a polarization odd variation in the speed of light with energy. (The Crab nebula constraints are impressive but purists argue that there could be loop holes due to the modeling required.) However, as I hope I’ve made clear, the experiments leave room presently for possible order L_P effects coming from deforming special relativity.

    Thanks,

    Lee

  9. data lover says:

    To Tommaso and Matti:

    A lot of well known theorists work on/have worked on models attempting to explain masses and mixings of the fermions out there. For instance to name a few, barbieri, hall, murayama, etc… High energy theory is a fast moving field based on what are the most promising and interesting directions at the time, so one shouldn’t generalize that theorists aren’t interested in these things just because you aren’t seeing a whole host of flavor symmetry papers at the current time. However theorists are still interested and well aware of the shortcomings of the SM, however from EFT reasons there are more pressing issues to be solved in the SM, and presumably any succesful mechanism that explains the value of V_{cs} won’t be able to be probed at the LHC.

    As to the whole point of theorists not having data to guide them, this is a matter of perspective. There of course is a lack of data saying this is what physics there is beyond the SM, because up until now every experiment has always agreed with the SM. On the other hand we have tons of data and everything agrees with the SM which does inevitably guide model building in many ways. What most people outside of the theory community(and some theory savy experimentalists) don’t realize is that it is very hard to solve your favorite issue in the SM without already having your solution be completely ruled out by other existing experiments if it predicts new phenomena at energies the LHC will probe!

  10. Datalover, I think I do know a little bit about those studies of mass generations. My point is that it is a minor branch of current theoretical effort, while it should by all means be a major one.
    And I know it is very hard to formulate things that fit something without being at odds with some other data point. That, in fact, is the whole heart of the matter. The standard model rulez! I bet we will not break it in ten years (I have already, actually). But theory should try to fit the data, try and try. Present-day attempts appear a bit like philosophy to me.

    Cheers,
    T.

  11. Peter Woit says:

    Ejjay,

    Funny, I thought I was the pot-smoking hippie telling the up-tight right-wing bastard string theorists that they needed to see the light, give up their uncool and unworkable rigid ideology, let a thousand flowers bloom, loosen up and try something new and different…

    I do like the idea of Lubos as the pot-smoking hippie though.

  12. Mahndisa says:

    11 09 06

    Well thanks for linking to Lee’s letter, Peter. Although I found it a bit verbose, I was happy that he took the time to clarify his positions. As a student who has learned a lot of this stuff from personal study, it was rather difficult to figure out whose opinions I should listen to or not, as I relied upon more advanced persons for input. After seeing many of his comments on other blogs and reading a few of his papers, I appreciate the sanity of his approach, and his willingness to say that stringy options aren’t a total impossibility, but that limiting our minds to only string theory isn’t a good idea. Sounds reasonable to me:)

    Have a nice day

  13. Pindare says:

    In the meantime Witten is still working on the Langlands program
    http://math.berkeley.edu/index.php?module=announce&ANN_user_op=view&ANN_id=63

  14. Pot Smoking Hippie says:

    Maybe if we all got together and got high we’d get along better.

  15. anon. says:

    … because extra dimensions are created by pot.

  16. There you go guys, if you put yourself into it you can create a hilarious thread for once! (Of course I read and love all threads here, but I laughed at the last few comments…)

    And whoever was it that signed himself as a “pot smoking hippie” I bet it was not what he faked to be… Good try at peace on earth, buddy, but we prefer to keep fighting 🙂

    T.

  17. Pot Smoking Hippie says:

    Actually, I’m not a he but a she, and I don’t fake anything. 😉

  18. Mahndisa says:

    11 11 06

    Hello Peter:
    I wanted to bring something to your attention that has been bothering me. You have made a crusade out of pointing out the flaws in string theory methodology and even dedicated threads to Motl. But I have not seen you address his posts which are more pernicious than any ‘wrongness’ with string theory. If I am mischaracterizing you, or am incorrect, pls forgive. But I am sick of visiting blog sites where people are linked to this guy and his is spewing this racist nonsense. As a physicists, I am really offended that more people haven’t delinked him or taken him to task. How in the world can he mentor anyone with these attitudes?

    I think that tunnel vision is a bane to science at large, which is why I can appreciate this blog. However, tunnel vision in scientific ideas doesn’t even compare to the evil of saying that one racial group is inherently more intelligent than another. If any of the physicists who read this comment have heart, they will consider what I have said because by linking to him, they are tacitly endorsing his screwed up positions.

    Lastly, to keep in line with the thread, LQG’s newest loopy oscillator by Corichi is quite interesting and gives us some insight into regulating and approximating the fundamental rep.

  19. Benni says:

    Peter, I agree with mahndisa. I also think it is time to delink him…

  20. Peter Woit says:

    Mahndisa,

    Lubos is a grotesque racist, and his views on almost every topic are completely idiotic. He does however occupy a very prominent position as someone that string theorists have judged to be among the best young scientists in their community, and many continue to support him. I suggest you discuss his appalling behavior with them, not here.

    The fact that I have a link to something in no way indicates any sort of approval of it, in many cases quite the opposite.

  21. Mahndisa says:

    11 11 06

    Peter thanks for the response. I left the comment here because I knew it would be read. Also since you link to him I had no issue bringing this up to you. As to the position he occupies among string theorists, I will be leaving another comment on other blogs about this.

    Take Care.

  22. Pingback: The Pit of Babel Blog » Taking Proton Stability Seriously

  23. anonymous says:

    Mahndisa,

    As a very junior string theorist, I can’t help but laugh at the contrast between what peter said and what I hear from real string theorists. Lubos is widely viewed as a lunatic in the string community, and people think it was only gross midjudgement that got him a (relatively undesirable, non tenure track) juniorjob at Harvard. I’m sure his colleagues there find him an embarassment. He hasn’t been even a junior leader in this field for many years now.

  24. Peter Woit says:

    To correct “anonymous”

    Lubos may be “widely viewed as a lunatic in the string theory community”, but this doesn’t appear to be true at Harvard.

    As for his job, I believe it is technically tenure-track, although Harvard does rarely tenure people from these positions. The “gross misjudgement” appears to be an on-going one: Lubos was hired as a Junior Fellow (not a job I’ve ever seen referred to as “relatively undesirable”), then after dealing with him for a few years, they promoted him to a junior faculty position, and seem to be keeping him on.

    Doubtless many string theorists do consider him an embarassment, but it’s remarkable how hard it is to get any of them to say so publicly and put their names to it.

    Remarkably, the publicity material on Amazon for the forthcoming book by Michael Dine about string phenomenology contains a blurb by Lubos. Evidently Dine and the people at Cambridge consider him not to be a “lunatic”, but instead a leading member of the community.

    Please though, enough about Lubos here.

  25. TheGraduate says:

    The connection between science and marketting is getting so strong. I can just see the thinking behind this soccer game story. Perhaps I am cynical but it comes across as an ad for string theory. It is not unusual for a company being maligned to then want to humanize itself.Think oil company executives hugging their kids and watering plants.

    Apparently now scientists have wised up about this. There was a similar story with Yau in the Times “The Emperor of Math”. It was again basically a sort of soft piece meant, I think, to prop up Yau’s maligned profile. It’s potentially a good cause but is this the right method?

  26. rumor says:

    ..then after dealing with him for a few years, they promoted him to a junior faculty position, and seem to be keeping him on.

    During one of Lubos’s rants he mentions that he only has a few more months left to endure in the Republic of Cambridge.

    I think his time at Harvard is done. I’m curious to see what department will be willing to take on such a polarizing figure.

  27. Who says:

    Though age from folly could not give me freedom,
    It does from childishness: can Fulvia die?

    *
    [Antony and Cleopatra Act I scene 3]

  28. William says:

    Pot-smoking hippies? I thought all the string theorists were getting high on LXD (Large eXtra Dimensions).

  29. Tony Smith says:

    Peter, about the cover of the UK edition of your book:

    Isn’t the cover particle physics event
    the same event
    that is shown on the cover of Freeman Dyson’s new book “The Scientist as Rebel” ?

    Since Dyson’s book is not (according to Amazon USA) to be released until Tuesday 14 Nov 2006 (2 days from now), I have not yet read it,
    but
    the Amazon book description says in part:
    “… An illuminating collection of essays …
    His topics fall into four groups.
    The first takes up contemporary issues in science, from cosmology to nanotechnology to global warming.
    The second group deals with questions of war and peace, particularly questions of nuclear weapons and disarmament.
    The third group is concerned with the history of science, especially physics, with essays ranging from Isaac Newton, to Sir Ernst Rutherford and the discovery of the structure of the atom, to Einstein and Raymond Poincar, to Norbert Wiener, Richard Feynmann, and string theory.
    The final section contains more personal and philosophical essays, dealing with such questions as the differences between science and religion, and the relation between science and the paranormal …”.

    With respect to the “third group … essays ranging from … to … string theory”:
    a 2003 web page at http://www.thirteen.org/bigideas/printable/about.html says:
    “… Freeman Dyson returns to provide an alternate, skeptical assessment of string theory. …”.

    Since both you and Dyson have “alternate, skeptical assessment”s of string theory, I wonder:

    Does the common cover photo event on the two books signify that Dyson regards you as one of the constructive rebels of science ?

    Tony Smith
    http://www.valdostamuseum.org/hamsmith/

  30. Peter Woit says:

    Thanks Tony,

    Yes, the two covers ultimately are based on the same source, although I kind of doubt that Dyson was trying to make the point you suggest. One reason this happened is probably just that that image is in the public domain and easily accessible. Look at the interactions.org ImageBank, it’s at

    http://www.interactions.org/imagebank/search_detail.php?image_no=CE0057

    The UK cover of my book was the third try. The first one involved a drawing of a piece of string and seemed a bit too silly, the second one I vetoed since it looked too much like the cover of “The Elegant Universe”. At that point I suggested that they forget about strings and Calabi-Yaus and find a purely particle physics image, since that would be more appropriate for the theme of the book. I pointed them to the interactions.org ImageBank web-site, and that’s what they came up with.

  31. Who says:

    There is now even a third book cover that has appeared this year with the same image!

    http://backreaction.blogspot.com/2006/11/not-even-zong.html

  32. Anonymous 17 says:

    I see Lubos Motl’s racist comments have been removed from his blog … there are apparently some things that his colleagues (or possibly his administration) at Harvard are unwilling to tolerate.

  33. Who says:

    NEW and TTWP have been #3 and #2 on the UK amazon physics bestsell list whenever I looked today. It’s nice to see them doing well. #1 on the list is a new book by Paul Davies called “The Goldilocks Enigma” about why the universe is “just right” for life. Hard to beat a title like that.

  34. Eric Dennis says:

    I am no fan of Lubos, but I’ve seen no evidence that he is a racist. (Linking to a psychometric study and stating simple statistical facts does not make one a racist. In Lubos’ case, his target is not black people but rather leftist intellectuals. Despite much incredulity on the part of the latter, it is in fact possible to disagree with a leftist intellectual for reasons other than that one hates black people.)

    This issue is obviously way off-topic but the charge of racism is probably the single most fear-provoking and consequential one in the modern acadamy, and it should not be made lightly.

  35. Peter Woit says:

    Eric,

    I don’t think Lubos hates black people, just that he thinks they’re stupid. He also thinks women are stupid, Democrats are stupid, LQGer’s are stupid, environmentalists are stupid, anyone who doesn’t believe in string theory is stupid, and that I’m stupid.

    But please, enough about him, on the whole it’s a really stupid topic, and the last thing I want here is to have to deal with a stupid discussion of racism and “leftist intellectuals”.

  36. woit says:

    I’m shutting off comments on this posting due to the behavior of “TheGraduate”, who insists on repeatedly reposting the same comment about Lubos, using different names, no matter how many times I delete it. Sometimes dealing with the comment section here is just incredibly annoying due to the obnoxious behavior it attracts.

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