Last Week’s Hype

Now back from vacation, more regular blogging should resume imminently. While away, lots of press stories about claims that LIGO could be used to get “evidence for string theory”. As usual, these things can be traced back to misleading statements in a paper and the associated university press release. In this case, there had already been an initial round of hype, debunked by Sabine Hossenfelder. The new round seems to have been generated by the June 28 press release. The Guardian has a version of this, but at least there the author found someone to make the obvious point, that this is irrelevant to string theory.

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9 Responses to Last Week’s Hype

  1. Jeff M says:

    I’m curious, why wouldn’t the authors account for stabilization of extra dimensions? It’s required, right? So an argument ignoring it is prima facie incorrect.

  2. Peter Woit says:

    Jeff M,
    For the technicalities of the actual result of the authors, better to raise the issue at Backreaction, where Sabine Hossenfelder has some expertise. What I’d like to understand is why they think it’s a good idea to put out a press release invoking string theory and leading to the usual nonsense in the press.

  3. Jeff M says:


    Will do. I wonder if the authors have anything to do with the press release.

  4. srp says:

    At least one author of the paper in question is claiming no real link to string theory, from the comments at Backreaction:

    “As the second author of the paper in question I fully agree with Olivier’s comment (first comment here above), particularly with his first point. Moreover, I believe the whole point of vue of your post is a little forced. Talking about falsifying string theory on the basis of our analysis is quite a stretch, to say the least, and I don’t think this viewpoint conveys the message very well or fits with the study at all. While ruling out string theory is a legitimate question to ask, I do not think one can answer it based on our simple study, which focuses on the propagation (ignoring sources and emission) and furthermore is not directly related to string theory but more genetically to extra dimensions.”

  5. Peter Woit says:

    I saw that too. A good question for this author is why he thought it was a good idea to have his university put out a press release about his paper mentioning string theory (by the way, this was done AFTER there had already been misleading press stories about string theory and this paper).

  6. srp says:

    The PR equivalent of “I just send them up and where they come down, that’s not my department said Werner von Braun?”

  7. CIP says:

    Today’s NYT has a story on an analog of the mixed axial-gravitational anomaly that invokes string theory:

    The experiment is also a success for string theory, a branch of esoteric mathematics that physicists have used to try to tie gravity into the Standard Model, the laws of physics that describe the other forces in the universe. But string theory has been maligned because it makes predictions that cannot be tested.

    Here, Dr. Landsteiner said, string theory was used to calculate the expected anomaly. “It puts string theory onto a firm basis as a tool for doing physics, real physics,” he said. “It seems incredible even to me that all this works, falls all together and can be converted into something so down to earth as an electric current.”

    Any comment?

  8. Peter Woit says:

    Thanks, hadn’t seen that, one of the worst examples of This Week’s Hype yet. Depressing that it’s in the New York Times.

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