Lee Smolin posted this today on Woit's blog. His comment and the surrounding discussion raise some interesting issues. http://www.math.columbia.edu/~woit/wordpress/?p=392#comment-10953 ===quote=== Lee Smolin Says: May 20th, 2006 at 12:07 pm Since Peter asked, let me just introduce some objectivity into the discussion about the consequences of choosing to work on an approach to quantum gravity apart from string theory. In the US now there is a single research group with more than one faculty member working on non-string quantum gravity; at Penn State it has one senior and two junior faculty. Apart from Penn State, and a single person who left Penn State and got a position largely on the basis of his work in another field, the last time there was a new faculty position in the US for someone working on a non-string approach to quantum gravity was 1990. There are at most 4-5 NSF funded postdocs now in the US that a non-string quantum gravity person might apply for. The situation is slightly better in Canada, Mexico, and a few European countries, but the situation is that there is no graduate student or postdoc-even the stars with widely read and admired single authored papers-who has an easy or assured career. The situation would be vastly improved if there were open competition on the basis of quality, originality and promise for the large number of postdoc and faculty positions controlled by string theorists. But I am unaware of a single instance of a string theory group hiring a postdoc or faculty member in any other approach to quantum gravity, in spite of the fact that this has happened in reverse several times- because the ethic in non-string quantum gravity is to choose on the basis of quality and individual promise, whereas the string theorists seem uninterested in applicants who do not work in the mainstream of string theory. As far as someone wanting to do a Ph.D. in non-string quantum gravity, there are many and indeed the number of applicants is increasing dramatically because of the visibility of recent important results. But there are very few places in the few groups around the world where this work is done. We literally turn away good applicants weekly who apply to our group. As a result, an increasing number of very promising students are doing PhDs in non-string quantum gravity on their own without the benefit of an advisor in the field. The only advantage of this is that the few young people who persevere against these odds have visibly much more creativity, intellectual independence and courage than their counterparts in trendy, mainstream fields. So they do better science, and indeed young people are responsible for the bulk of the new results and ideas which have driven the fast rate of progress of recent years. So it is getting increasingly evident that their exclusion from consideration for the best positions cannot be justified on any objective scientific basis. And yes, my forthcoming book is not an attack on string theory, it is an examination of how this kind of situation can develop, which hurts not just many of the best young researchers but the progress of science itself. ===endquote=== To clarify one point note that John Baez at UC Riverside has been exploring non-string QG approaches----and has graduate students doing that. But it is not a group with several faculty members AFAIK. the number of QG research "groups" in the US with only one faculty person could also be counted, as another statistic indicative of the situation, and would i think prove to be strikingly small. However Smolin chose to count the groups with several. there was some quibbling about this in the blog comments. Some may wish to argue that this situation represents a wise science policy. Others may consider it a shortsighted way for the nation to handle investment in physics theory. In any case, what one sees here is that Smolin is preparing another BOOK. And this time it is about how science institutions manage intellectual resources---like extra bright independent assets among the postdocs, what freedom do you allow them---like research positions, how do you allocate them (to the individual mind or to the camp)---and interesting policy questions like that. So it could be quite a fascinating book. If anyone has heard more about it please let us know!