Last summer the entire editorial board of the prestigious journal Topology resigned, in protest over the high prices that Elsevier was charging. It was announced today that a new journal called the Journal of Topology is being launched by many of the same people. It will be published by the London Mathematical Society, printed and distributed by Oxford University Press, and the first issue should appear in January 2008.
There’s a recent report from HEPAP evaluating how far along the field is towards reaching certain set “long-term goals” (where “long-term” here is not a very long time-scale).
The New York Times Science Times section has a new columnist, John Tierney. Tierney has been with the paper for a long time, writing columns about New York and on the Op-Ed page, typically from a consistently Libertarian perspective. He also has a blog (where he promises to “rethink conventional wisdom about science and society”) and explains his conversion to science journalism by writing that he “always wanted to be a scientist but went into journalism because its peer-review process was a great deal easier to sneak through.”
The Templeton-funded magazine Science and Spirit, dedicated to bringing science and religion together, has a new issue out. It contains an interview with Max Tegmark about the Foundational Questions Institute. There’s also an article called The World on a String about the anthropic landscape and the problems with string theory. Susskind and Wilczek are quoted saying positive things about the multiverse, Krauss and I on the other side of the question. Finally there’s a review of my book by David Minot Weld with the title Stringing Us Along. It’s pretty accurate, although it’s not true that the book describes string theory as “totally without scientific merit” (that would be the string theory anthropic landscape…). Weld appears to be the son of ex-Massachusetts governor William Weld.
The Templeton foundation has a new web-site, and has announced a moratorium on new proposals over the next few months while they change their grant-making process. The web-site gives various information about the grants they have made in the past. I hadn’t realized that they make grants in mathematics. There was one last summer for about $16,000 to W. Hugh Woodin for research in mathematical logic.
New institutes devoted to “foundations” appear to be popular, with Templeton Prize winner Paul Davies starting up one at Arizona State University to be called Beyond: Institute for Fundamental Concepts in Science. This was announced by ASU president Michael Crow, who before he left for ASU was Executive Vice Provost here at Columbia and in charge of overseeing research and various “strategic initiatives”.
In the bookstore this past weekend I saw a new glossy book from National Geographic called Theories For Everything: An Illustrated History of Science. Lots about physics, but as far as I could tell, no mention of the Standard Model, Glashow, Weinberg, QCD, etc, but a whole page about string theory. In their version of physics history, one skips from Feynman to black holes, Hawking and string theory.
The coverage of string theory in popular media these days is decidedly mixed. A couple weeks ago I attended a performance of the play “Strings” by Carole Bugge, for a review, see here. It wasn’t bad as a play, and reminded me of another similar one from a couple years back, String Fever. But I’m kind of dubious that this sort of thing actually communicates any accurate understanding of physics to anyone. The play deals with themes of adultery, loss and 9/11 with a plot based on the train ride supposedly during which Steinhardt and Turok came up with the ekpyrotic scenario (the play’s train ride is jazzed up with a woman cosmologist, who is sleeping with the two other physicists). Unfortunately the playwright’s understanding of all this seems to be based on little more than watching a British TV show on the topic. In the pamphlet distributed to the audience various popular books on string theory and physics are recommended, together with much more dubious sources, like the film “What the Bleep Do We Know?”
There does seem to be a much more skeptical take on string theory getting out into the media these days. A recent episode of Numb3rs featured Judd Hirsch telling his genius mathematician son Charlie that string theory is “bogus”, more or less the same insight into the universe as that of late sixties hippies, everything is “vibes”. String theorist Larry has been shot off into earth orbit for some reason.
As mentioned here and at Cosmic Variance, the New Yorker recently actually ran a cartoon about the string theory controversy. If that’s not an indication that something has made it into the zeitgeist, I don’t know what is. Besides the New Yorker, string theory features in Zippy the Pinhead and recent Doonesbury cartoons, as well as one from Rodrigo Alonso entitled Pulling Strings that he sent me recently.