# Response to Smolin and Woit books, and other barometers

by marcus
Tags: barometers, books, smolin, woit
 Astronomy Sci Advisor PF Gold P: 23,232 There are a lot of barometers to keep track of! this thread is to try to keep together a bunch of signs of a changing situation in fundamental physics theory research and how it is perceived. I'm particularly interested in what's going on in the open media accessible to nonspecialist audience. Smolin and Woit books are only part of what we can gauge by, but they are at least something to watch. Smolin's is due to hit shelves next month 16 September. The US edition of Woit's is due 30 September. So we can gauge the ADVANCE SALES of these on Amazon. I watched the sales rank numbers (i.e. low is good) at scattered times over 5 days or so last week---BTW there may have been temporary reasons these numbers looked good, like Smolin being on Talk of the Nation: Science Friday, with Ira Flatow and Brian Greene, and appearance of some favorable reviews. For various reasons the numbers could be misleading, but here they are: Smolin book: 1819 1729 1058 926 Woit book: 5075 3427 2789 2694 You can see what the numbers are today if you want. http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0618551050/ http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0465092756/ Remember these are amazon advance orders, the UK edition of Woit's book has a slightly different title and different amazon.co.uk sales figures.
 Astronomy Sci Advisor PF Gold P: 23,232 Then there are the reviews, and varous other barometers Ira Flatow's Smolin-Greene conversation is archived here, so you can listen if you missed it when broadcast Friday 18 August http://www.sciencefriday.com/pages/2...r2_081806.html ================ Discover magazine has a review of the Smolin and Woit books called "Tangled Up in Strings". http://www.discover.com/issues/sep-0...s/septreviews/ The review is by Tim Folger http://www.timfolger.net/bio.html ================ Tom Siegfried had an article in 11 August issue of Science magazine called “A Landscape Too Far?”. This is NOT a review of the Smolin and Woit books, but it spotlights some of the same issues. It covered discussions at the SUSY06 conference and the article been made available at the conference website http://susy06.physics.uci.edu/press/...aturalness.pdf Alternatively go to the conference proceedings page http://susy06.physics.uci.edu/proceedings.html and select it from the “susy06 on the web” listing. ============== Time magazine just had a review of Smolin's book by Michael Lemonick (senior science writer for Time for past 15+ years). The review is titled The Unraveling of String Theory and is posted on web, free for download. http://www.time.com/time/magazine/pr...226142,00.html =============== September 2006 issue of Sci Am has a review by George Johnson of the new book by Lee Smolin. The title of the review is "The Inelegant Universe" I haven't yet seen this review. Here is some background on George Johnson http://www.santafe.edu/~johnson/ http://www.santafe.edu/~johnson/gravestone.jpg ================ Smolin has set up a webpage for his book: it has links to reviews and also a bunch of critics comment http://www.thetroublewithphysics.com/
 Astronomy Sci Advisor PF Gold P: 23,232 Response to Smolin and Woit books, and other barometers Here's exerpts from page 5 ===N.S. editorial=== THE accepted idea of matter is that it is made up of minuscule particles guided by quantum force fields. This is already far removed from the common-sense view that matter is, well, just chunks of stuff. If that seems hard enough to take, then brace yourself for another step away from common sense. Theoretical physicists working in the rarefied field of loop quantum gravity have developed a way to describe elementary particles as merely tangles in space (see "Out of the void"). If they are right, it could be the most profound scientific generalisation of all time, in which everything in the universe emerges from a simple network of relationships, with no fundamental building blocks at all. Up to now, loop quantum gravity has seemed like a poor relation of string theory, which for years has been the most popular route to a "theory of everything" in which all the forces of nature - and especially gravity, the outsider among them - are united. ... Yet to some eyes, string theory has unravelled. It has become clear that there are inconceivably many different solutions to its equations,... String theory seems not so much a theory of everything in our universe as a theory of everything else. Another criticism is that rather than predicting the existence of space and time, string theory takes them as a given. ... Loop quantum gravity, despite its confusingly similar name, takes a different approach in which everything is built up from a network of relationships. They are not even relationships between objects as such, just an abstract graph of connections, yet at large scales something like our smooth space and time emerge out of the network. Now, perhaps, matter does too, because it turns out that when the network is tied in a braid it forms something like a particle. This entity is stable, and it can have electric charge and "handedness" - a property of particles that has them spinning either to the left or the right. What's more, some of the different braids match known particles. That already seems to be an improvement on string theory, which allows universes in which there are completely different sets of particles. As a get-out, some string theorists have turned to the anthropic principle, suggesting that the laws and constants of our universe have to be the way they are to allow the emergence of life - otherwise we wouldn't be here to measure them. This anthropic reasoning is philosophically uncomfortable for many scientists, who question whether it is even testable.... ... Both theories have been criticised because they have so far failed to predict even a single number that can be tested by experiment. ... That's a little unfair. What they're doing is struggling to accommodate what we know about the universe within a single framework. ... If loop quantum gravity turns out to be true, and everything we see is made from a single thing that is not really a thing but a connection on a graph, we could after all be left with one ultimate question ... where does that reality come from? From issue 2564 of New Scientist magazine, 12 August 2006, page 5 ===endquote=== the above is from the N.S. editorial introducing or pointing to the Castelvecchi article. some exerpts from the latter are here: http://www.physicsforums.com/showpos...7&postcount=40
Emeritus
PF Gold
P: 8,147
 Quote by Marcus Bobby Lee Jones says they get things before the New York Times does. (He was talking about the Enquirer, but it's the same idea.)
They have this pool of super-smart super analytical highly trained failed boffins over in Blighty (failed as in couldn't find a job doing what they were trained for) who staff mags like this, and also, the economy wallahs, the Economist. It makes for wild and crazy stuff, but every now and then, just like wildcat oil drilling, it pays off.
 Astronomy Sci Advisor PF Gold P: 23,232 elegantly put taken with a grain of salt, and laughter
 Emeritus PF Gold P: 8,147 I originally used the wildcat oil search as a metaphor for pure mathematics. It also pays off occasionally.
 P: 900 I get the impression that the actual complaint is that universities are hiring too many string theorists -- because of the bandwagon effect? I don't know enough to judge -- and not enough some-other-currently-useless-theory theorists. Knowing how rigid academia can be, I suspect it's easier to tarnish the reputation of string theory via pop-sci books rather than directly attacking this institutional flaw.
Astronomy
PF Gold
P: 23,232
 Quote by marcus Then there are the reviews, and various other barometers Ira Flatow's Smolin-Greene conversation is archived here, so you can listen if you missed it when broadcast Friday 18 August http://www.sciencefriday.com/pages/2...r2_081806.html ...
I probably shouldn't have to repeat this, as several technical papers have made the point and it came out again in Friday's radio program: Freidel indicates his spinfoam model predicts energydependent photon speed and that a certain number should be detectably greater than zero---as measured at the GLAST satellite's level of sensitivity. Majid, with whom Freidel has co-authored, has echoed this. There is a prediction on the books which if confirmed by GLAST in 2007 or 2008 would have deep and broad consequences, and if not refuted would shoot down some excellent work by a number of people. When measured from GLAST data, the number in question could, after all, turn out to be negative Related testing is already in progress with the AUGER experiment. So these ongoing and upcoming empirical tests of some non-string QG are part of the background and came out in oblique references during Friday's Talk of the Nation radio program IIRC. It probably has or will have some effect on how things are perceived.
 Astronomy Sci Advisor PF Gold P: 23,232 Here is George Johnson's review of the Smolin and Woit books in the September issue of SciAm. http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?cha...F0000&colID=12 here is the printer version http://www.sciam.com/print_version.c...EC83414B7F0000 I shall quote a brief sample to give some indication of the general tone of the review ===sample exerpt from Sept 2006 Scientific American=== The Inelegant Universe Two new books argue that it is time for string theory to give way By George Johnson The Trouble with Physics: The Rise of String Theory, the Fall of a Science, and What Comes Next by Lee Smolin Houghton Mifflin, 2006 Not Even Wrong: The Failure of String Theory and the Search for Unity in Physical Law by Peter Woit Basic Books, 2006 When you click the link for the Postmodernism Generator (www.elsewhere.org/pomo), a software robot working behind the scenes instantly throws together a lit-crit parody with a title like this: "Realities of Absurdity: The dialectic paradigm of context in the works of Fellini." And a text that runs along these lines: "In a sense, the main theme of the works of Fellini is the futility, and hence the stasis, of precapitalist sexuality. An abundance of deconceptualisms concerning a self-falsifying reality may be revealed." Reload the page, and you get "The Dialectic of Sexual Identity: Objectivism and Baudrillardist hyperreality" and then "The Meaninglessness of Expression: Capitalist feminism in the works of Pynchon." With a tweak to the algorithms and a different database, the Web site could probably be made to spit out what appear to be abstracts about superstring theory: "Frobenius transformation, mirror map and instanton numbers" or "Fractional two-branes, toric orbifolds and the quantum McKay correspondence." Those are actually titles of papers recently posted to the arXiv.org repository of preprints in theoretical physics, and they may well be of scientific worth--if, that is, superstring theory really is a science.... ... ... ===end of sample quote===
P: 37
 Quote by marcus With a tweak to the algorithms and a different database, the Web site could probably be made to spit out what appear to be abstracts about superstring theory: "Frobenius transformation, mirror map and instanton numbers" or "Fractional two-branes, toric orbifolds and the quantum McKay correspondence." Those are actually titles of papers recently posted to the arXiv.org repository of preprints in theoretical physics, and they may well be of scientific worth--if, that is, superstring theory really is a science....
This just shows that you obviously have no idea about this field. To laymen almost any relevant scientific work sounds the about the same as complete crackpot papers (and that's why the crackpots thrive on the internet). The latter can be equally well generated by paper generators. Experts can of course in most cases immeditaly see whether something makes sense or not, while others have no clue.

Anyway, what you try to convey here is a disservice to science.
P: 1,544
R.X. I’m not sure what you mean.
First, the quote you are attributing to Marcus was clearly given as quoted from George Johnson and his review of the two books by Smolin and Woit.
I’m sure the magazine can relay your comments to George if you send them there.

But when you say he (George) has “no idea about this field” to what “field” are you referring too, (that I assume you support)?
The ideas being perused by Smolin and/or Woit in opposing Strings.
OR the field of String / M Theories.

I don’t really find G. Johnson’s review as picking sides.
 P: 37 Well, just read the quote I was referring to, and this is what I mean: picking on titles of papers without any understanding. And since we are at it: how to think about those "barometers" ... as if these were in any way meaningful or relevant. Shall the general public decide whether GR or QM or string theory are right? I am sure that in a public vote, all three will be voted down. Not the least for the common attitude: "I don't understand it, therefore it must be wrong".
Emeritus
PF Gold
P: 8,147
 Quote by R.X. Well, just read the quote I was referring to, and this is what I mean: picking on titles of papers without any understanding. And since we are at it: how to think about those "barometers" ... as if these were in any way meaningful or relevant. Shall the general public decide whether GR or QM or string theory are right? I am sure that in a public vote, all three will be voted down. Not the least for the common attitude: "I don't understand it, therefore it must be wrong".

Nope, you miss the point still. String physics has been sold and oversold to the public and the media in the USA for years. The barometer is tracking the unravelling of this smoke and mirrors act. If string physicists don't want the public and the media calling them on their empty claims, let them clean their own act up. But letting the likes of Lubos Motl be your spokesman is just going to drive the stake further into the heart of string research. And you yourself sound to be in furious denial. Wake up and smell the coffee! The landscape problem isn't going to go away because someone famous waves his hands and says "Anthropic".
P: 37
As for overselling, I see mainly Kaku, and judging from a scientific
viewpoint, Brian Greene's works are a bit too rosy; but I think selling
any kind of science in the media to the public always needs a bit
of exaggeration. But you cannot hold an entire generation of hard
working, honest scientists responsible for that. There was tremendous
progress in the field until a few years ago, and denying that and
even worse, publicly misrepresenting its state for whatever personal
reasons, is really dishonest.

 Quote by selfAdjoint The barometer is tracking the unravelling of this smoke and mirrors act.
write, and there is nothing wrong with that -- there is no such
thing as "the emperor has no clothes". As in any field, there are
mediocre researchers and bad researchers close to crackpots. It's
typically the latter who make illegitimate statements, but they
don't count. Just listen to the big guys, and you won't find much
objectionable.

>But letting the likes of Lubos Motl be your spokesman is just going
to drive the stake further into the heart of string research

As you guys always insist, there is free speech.

 Quote by selfAdjoint And you yourself sound to be in furious denial. Wake up and smell the coffee! The landscape problem isn't going to go away because someone famous waves his hands and says "Anthropic".
I am aware of this problem for a longer time than most of the other
string physicists, in particular those who wave their hands today.
It is a problem and needs to be resolved. It is
first of all a scientific problem, and discussing it and performing
computations to get a better handle on it is not only legitimate,
but a necessity. There are all those people who say "it's no science,
so you must drop it", but that's simply foolish - no progress can
be made with this kind of thinking. That the landscape appears to
exist (within the approximations that were made) is an important
scientific result per se, and one needs to find out whether it
really exists in the exact quantum theory or not (which is unclear
as the whole framework dealing with this problem is intrinsically
perturbative and background dependent). It may or may not exist,
and it may also well be that a major point has not yet been understood
or a major ingredient is missing. All these considerations is
perfectly valid science that has to be done.

And whatever the outcome will be, string theory has ammassed to
many results which make sense (eg about gauge theories, black
holes), that it is pretty clear that any improvement will come from
an extension (or rather reformulation) of it and not from some
disjunct "different" alternative. There are simply too many consistency
criteria in the game to be satisfied that there is little space for
"something else".

Unfortunately, most of this is thoroughly misrepresented not only
on the web but now also in books and probably soon on TV, and since
controversy is always more attractive in the media, "alternative" always
sounds morally more justified than the real thing, and undermining
the success of others is a major motivation of human beings,
things will only get worse for the immediate future.
 Astronomy Sci Advisor PF Gold P: 23,232 I found a new way to keep track of the advance sales of Woit and Smolin books---probably some of the rest of us knew this already, but it is very easy so I'll explain you just go here http://www.amazon.com/gp/bestsellers...540543-7840144 and it gives the sales rank of all books in the "Physics" category---a lot are either widely used textbooks or popularizatons like Hawking "Brief History". It is updated hourly. In that category, right now when I looked, Woit was #10 and Smolin was #17. Smolin's book came right below Hawking Brief History of Time, which was #16 in sales. this sales rank page is gotten by narrowing down from All Books salesrank Books > Science > Physics The "Science" category is too broad to be useful because sales in "Science" are dominated by diet books and stuff like that. So you have to go down to the next narrower category. ============== By Jove! I just went back to that link to check that it worked and Woit had moved up to #5! With Smolin now at #16. Woit has moved ahead of Brian Greene "Elegant Universe" which is #7. All that stands between Peter and the top is now three college physics texts and one about the brain and music.
P: 1,544
 Quote by marcus track of the advance sales .... amazon.com .... sales rank ....
Now I am depressed – I find “What the Bleep” much too high on Physics List !
– It’s too bad it sells at all under any list let alone the wrong one.
Do you know how long they keep counting a sale, just those from the past hour, day, week ?? I couldn't tell from the site. I assume it only counts Amazon Sales.
Astronomy