Response to Smolin and Woit books, and other barometers

  1. marcus

    marcus 25,071
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    There are a lot of barometers to keep track of! :smile:
    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:
    Code (Text):

    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.
     
    Last edited: Aug 20, 2006
  2. jcsd
  3. marcus

    marcus 25,071
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    Then there are the reviews, and varous other barometers:smile:

    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/2006/Aug/hour2_081806.html
    ================
    Discover magazine has a review of the Smolin and Woit books called "Tangled Up in Strings".
    http://www.discover.com/issues/sep-06/departments/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/susy06_science_naturalness.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/printout/0,8816,1226142,00.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/
     
    Last edited: Aug 20, 2006
  4. marcus

    marcus 25,071
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    Something besides reviews

    OK it is nice to be able to glance at reviews and it is a way to gauge the temperature of the response to the books and helps, like straws in the wind, to tell how the wind blows in the open public. It would be different, for example, if the Woit and Smolin books weren't getting any media attention at all.

    But I was struck by a recent issue of the New Scientist, a magazine that I usually don't read and am a bit suspicious of. In my deep curmudgeonhood I regard it as like THE NATIONAL ENQUIRER used to be, when Bobby Lee Jones, the man in black, would consult it regularly for news of alien invasions. But, well, here it is, the 12 August issue

    http://www.newscientist.com/contents/issue/2564.html

    It says very plainly on the cover YOU ARE MADE OF SPACE-TIME.

    Yes I know. I realize that, but I didn't think you had caught on yet, Mr. New Scientist.:smile:

    It has to do with an article by Davide Castelvecchi, who is a web editor employed by the AMERICAN INSTITUTE OF PHYSICS in Washington DC, same people who publish Physics Today. I would like to get some sample exerpts from that 12 August issue and urge people to check out the full articles. It represents non-string QG coming into broader public awareness.

    and it relates to some sections of the Smolin book. Let me get the TOC of that book and see where it fits.

    TABLE OF CONTENTS
    Introduction vii
    PART I: THE UNFINISHED REVOLUTION
    1: The Five Great Problems in Theoretical Physics 1
    2: The Beauty Myth 18
    3: The World As Geometry 38
    4: Unification Becomes a Science 54
    5: From Unification to Superunification 66
    6: Quantum Gravity: The Fork in the Road 80
    PART II: A BRIEF HISTORY OF STRING THEORY
    7: Preparing for a Revolution 101
    8: The First Superstring Revolution 114
    9: Revolution Number Two 129
    10: A Theory of Anything 149
    11: The Anthropic View 161
    12: What String Theory Explains 177
    PART III: BEYOND STRING THEORY
    13: Surprises from the Real World 203
    14: Building on Einstein 223
    15: Physics After String Theory 238
    PART IV: LEARNING FROM EXPERIENCE
    16: How Do You Fight Sociology? 261
    17: What Is Science? 289
    18: Seers and Craftspeople 306
    19: How Science Really Works 332
    20: What We Can Do for Science 349

    http://www.thetroublewithphysics.com/
    (click on "contents" in the top-bar menu)

    I guess what we are talking about is Part III BEYOND STRING THEORY, chapter 15 "Physics After String Theory"
    What we are hearing about, from Davide Castelvecchi of the AIP, is work on manifestly background independent post-stringy quantum theory of space time and matter. Matter as a kink in quantum geometry. So that space time and matter all emerge from a substrate of abstract geometric relation. Since this sounds fairly confusing, I had better fetch some exerpts from the New Scientist.

    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.)
     
    Last edited: Aug 20, 2006
  5. marcus

    marcus 25,071
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    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:
    https://www.physicsforums.com/showpost.php?p=1062487&postcount=40
     
    Last edited: Aug 20, 2006
  6. selfAdjoint

    selfAdjoint 8,147
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    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.
     
  7. marcus

    marcus 25,071
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    elegantly put :smile:
    taken with a grain of salt, and laughter
     
    Last edited: Aug 20, 2006
  8. selfAdjoint

    selfAdjoint 8,147
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    I originally used the wildcat oil search as a metaphor for pure mathematics. It also pays off occasionally.
     
  9. 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.
     
  10. marcus

    marcus 25,071
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    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:smile: 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.
     
    Last edited: Aug 20, 2006
  11. marcus

    marcus 25,071
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    Here is George Johnson's review of the Smolin and Woit books in the September issue of SciAm.

    http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?chanID=sa006&articleID=000713DC-8161-14E3-BAEC83414B7F0000&colID=12

    here is the printer version
    http://www.sciam.com/print_version.cfm?articleID=000713DC-8161-14E3-BAEC83414B7F0000

    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===
     
    Last edited: Aug 21, 2006
  12. 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.
     
  13. 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.
     
  14. 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".
     
  15. selfAdjoint

    selfAdjoint 8,147
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    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".
     
  16. 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.

    Misleading statement. Just look what the leading key people do and
    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
    always brilliant leaders of the trade, other good scientists,
    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.

    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.
     
  17. marcus

    marcus 25,071
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    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/books/14545/ref=pd_ts_b_ldr/102-4540543-7840144

    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.
     
    Last edited: Aug 23, 2006
  18. 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.
     
  19. marcus

    marcus 25,071
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    I assume so too.
    I don't have any idea how long the time period is.
    I know what you mean about dumb books that shouldnt even be on the list.

    ===edit Thursday===
    I just checked at 9AM pacific time today and the two books were #16 and #18
     
    Last edited: Aug 24, 2006
  20. marcus

    marcus 25,071
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    Time to winnow and gather the links:

    Ira Flatow's Smolin-Greene conversation on Talk of the Nation is archived here, so you can listen if you missed it when broadcast Friday 18 August
    http://www.sciencefriday.com/pages/2006/Aug/hour2_081806.html
    ================
    Discover magazine has a review of the Smolin and Woit books called "Tangled Up in Strings".
    http://www.discover.com/issues/sep-06/departments/septreviews/
    ================
    Tom Siegfried had an article in 11 August issue of Science magazine called “A Landscape Too Far?” and the article is available at the SUSY conference website
    http://susy06.physics.uci.edu/press/susy06_science_naturalness.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/printout/0,8816,1226142,00.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"
    http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?chanID=sa006&articleID=000713DC-8161-14E3-BAEC83414B7F0000&colID=12

    here is the printer version
    http://www.sciam.com/print_version.cfm?articleID=000713DC-8161-14E3-BAEC83414B7F0000

    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/

    =================
    the New Scientist recently had some remarkable coverage of non-string QG alternatives
    http://www.newscientist.com/contents/issue/2564.html
    Here is a brief editorial providing context for the one following
    http://www.scienceforums.net/forums/attachment.php?attachmentid=1386&d=1155742654

    which is by American Institute of Physics web-editor Davide Castelvecchi
    http://www.scienceforums.net/forums/attachment.php?attachmentid=1385&d=1155742646

    =================
    here is the Amazon general physics bestseller list, updated hourly.
    http://www.amazon.com/gp/bestsellers/books/14560/ref=pd_ts_b_nav/102-4540543-7840144

    for example here are bestseller standings as of 9PM eastern Friday 25 August, with a few other wide-audience books for comparison (the list is dominated by textbooks so this is meant to give a rough notion of the non-textbook contingent)

    Elegant Universe #5
    Warped Passages #10
    Not Even Wrong #11
    Brief History of Time #13
    Road to Reality #18
    Trouble with Physics #19
    Kaku's "Hyperspace..." #47
    Susskind's "Cosmic Landscape..." #76

    earlier I was using a broad "physics" list which has a lot of specialized application books, the above is from Amazon's "general physics" bestsellers list which seems to track all the general reader books I was interested in and, although it has some general physics textbooks, does not have so many other categories.

    I see that Peter Woit has added a page of links to reviews of his book. It has several that I don't have here:
    http://www.math.columbia.edu/~woit/NEWreviews.html
     
    Last edited: Aug 25, 2006
  21. marcus

    marcus 25,071
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    this list is fairly volatile, to give an idea of how things move around
    here is the Amazon general physics bestseller list as of 11 AM eastern Saturday 26 August (compare with yesterday)
    http://www.amazon.com/gp/bestsellers/books/14560/ref=pd_ts_b_nav/102-4540543-7840144

    Elegant Universe #5
    Trouble with Physics #8
    Brief History of Time #11
    Not Even Wrong #14
    Warped Passages #18
    Road to Reality #21
    Kaku's "Hyperspace..." #25
    Susskind's "Cosmic Landscape..." #80


    a few hours later, at 2:30 PM eastern, the ranking was slightly different

    Elegant Universe #4
    Trouble with Physics #6
    Brief History of Time #10
    Not Even Wrong #13
    Road to Reality #16
    Warped Passages #18
    Kaku's "Hyperspace: A Scientific Odyssey..." #40
    Susskind's "Cosmic Landscape..." #91

    still later, at 6:30 PM eastern the same day

    Trouble with Physics #5
    Elegant Universe #6
    Not Even Wrong #12
    Brief History of Time #15
    Road to Reality #17
    Warped Passages #20
    Kaku's "Hyperspace: A Scientific Odyssey..." #65
    Susskind's "Cosmic Landscape..." #77
     
    Last edited: Aug 26, 2006
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