This Week’s Hype

In recent years universities have taken to issuing press releases when one of their particle theorists gets a paper on some speculative topic published in a journal like Physical Review Letters. Many examples of such things, often involving bogus claims to have a “test of string theory” have been covered here.

The University of Delaware has now decided to break new ground: they’ve issued a press release promoting a 1997 paper by some of their faculty that was published in Physical Review D. I gather the argument must be that it’s timely because it’s about the multiverse and anthropics.

As a bonus topic in the “This Week’s Hype” category, there’s a new paper out yesterday promoting the idea that string inflationary models have been successfully tested by the Planck data:

We argue that as a group the predictions made before Planck agree well with what has been seen…

The authors start out by addressing the obvious problem with string cosmology:

given the complexity of these models it is worth first asking why they are worth scrutinizing in detail at all. After all, if the data is perfectly consistent with much simpler models, Occam’s razor suggests we should leave it at that.

It seems that in our new anthropic multiverse-based framework that drops conventional ideas about predictions and testability, Occam’s razor has to go too.

Update: I should have mentioned that the Delaware press release links to the article discussed here.

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5 Responses to This Week’s Hype

  1. Tom H says:

    The UD press release links to a SciAm article, which in turn states:
    ” … If no new particles appear and the Higgs remains astronomically fine-tuned, then the multiverse hypothesis will stride into the limelight. ‘It doesn’t mean it’s right,’ said Bousso, a longtime supporter of the multiverse picture, ‘but it does mean it’s the only game in town.’ ”

    “only game in town” ? Where have we heard that before?! 😉

    In the past, I don’t doubt the prevailing sentiments were
    “epicycles are the only game in town”,
    “the aether is the only game in town”, etc etc

    Seems to reflect an absence of a breakthrough insight into the real physical world.

  2. M says:

    This 1997 paper, despite being largely ignored, is THE important paper where the connection between anthropic selection and the Higgs mass was pointed out. It is the analogous of the Weinberg paper where the connection between the cosmological constant and anthropic selection was pointed out.

  3. Bee says:

    I actually found the Burgess et al paper to be a really useful comparison of previously made constraints with existing data. They also give quite frank assessments on the theoretical appeal of the various models. Isn’t that the sorting-out of models that we’ve all been waiting for? Why are you unhappy with that?

  4. Peter Woit says:


    I’ve never really seen the point of constructing this kind of complicated model, and the Planck data consistent with the simplest model would seem to provide experimental evidence against them. The authors I guess are hearing this from their colleagues, the response of an introduction arguing against one of the most fundamental principles of doing science (Occam’s razor) is fairly remarkable.

    Coupling this with attempts to mislead like claiming “the predictions made before Planck agree well with what has been seen” doesn’t help.

  5. nemo says:

    Kenneth G. Wilson here:
    If your aim is to have an impact on science literacy — in fact, on literacy in all its forms — you need to rivet your attention on the 46 million students in our public schools, not on graduate students in our universities.
    That is also an antidote against hype.

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