Review in Nature by Geoff Brumfiel

In summary, the Nature review, written by Geoff Brumfiel, discusses two recently published books that criticize the field of string theory for becoming too abstract and disconnected from reality. The books, titled "Not Even Wrong" and "The Trouble with Physics", argue that the theory's dominance could pose a threat to the scientific method. However, string theorists vehemently deny these accusations and claim that the theory has made significant contributions to fields such as heavy-ion physics and has provided simpler approximations in some cases. The review also touches upon the difficulties and controversies surrounding string theory, including its inability to link gravity and quantum mechanics as well as its 10500 possible models of the universe. The review concludes by mentioning the debate within the string theory community
  • #1
marcus
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Nature’s review is available thru various blogs (one called Gravity and one hosted by Lubos Motl) which i will quote:
http://nige.wordpress.com/2006/10/09/16/
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Nature 443, 491(5 October 2006). Published online 4 October 2006:

The Nature review link no longer works. Never mind, here is the review:
http://www.haloscan.com/comments/lumidek/116000857491015071/#612528
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===quote===

Nature 443, 491(5 October 2006) | doi:10.1038/443491a; Published online 4 October 2006

Theorists snap over string pieces
Geoff Brumfiel


Abstract
Books spark war of words in physics.

Two recently published books are riling the small but influential community of string theorists, by arguing that the field is wandering dangerously far from the mainstream.

The books' titles say it all: Not Even Wrong, a phrase that physicist Wolfgang Pauli used to describe incomplete ideas, and The Trouble with Physics: The Rise of String Theory, the Fall of a Science, and What Comes Next. Both articulate a fear that the field is becoming too abstract and is focusing on aesthetics rather than reality. Some physicists even warn that the theory's dominance could pose a threat to the scientific method itself (see page 507).

Those accusations are vehemently denied by string theorists, and the books — written by outsiders — have stirred deep resentment in the tight-knit community. Not Even Wrong was published in June and The Trouble with Physics came out in September; shortly after they appeared on the Amazon books website, string theorist Lubo Motl of Harvard University posted reviews furiously entitled "Bitter emotions and obsolete understanding of high-energy physics" and "Another postmodern diatribe against modern physics and scientific method". As Nature went to press, the reviews had been removed.

Few in the community are, at least publicly, as vitriolic as Motl. But many are angry and struggling to deal with the criticism. "Most of my friends are quietly upset," says Leonard Susskind, a string theorist at Stanford University in California.

String theory postulates that the Universe consists of tiny strings vibrating in ten or so dimensions. Its fortunes have been buoyed by popular books in the past — most notably Brian Greene's 1999 bestseller The Elegant Universe, which said that the approach might unify the incompatible theories of gravity and quantum mechanics.

Strung up

But the theory has its share of problems, and these are the focus of the new works. For one thing, recent calculations suggest that it generates 10500 possible models of the Universe (see Nature 439, 10–12; 2006). This renders the theory essentially meaningless, according to critics. When these countless possibilities were first announced, Lee Smolin was already working on the book that eventually became The Trouble With Physics. A physicist at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Canada, Smolin had previously worked on string theory. "I and many other people began to get worried," he says.

The danger is that you'll end up with the theoretical community becoming completely isolated from the rest of physics.

Another difficulty is that if strings exist, they would be detectable only at energies far above anything that today's experiments can measure. "As you're not constrained by having to reproduce experiments, you can go off and play with whatever you want," says Peter Woit, a mathematician at Columbia University in New York City, and author of Not Even Wrong. "The danger is that you'll end up with the theoretical community becoming completely isolated from the rest of physics."

Smolin, whose book promotes an alternative theory known as loop quantum gravity, adds that string theorists have intentionally cut themselves off. "None of the major string theory groups has hired a postdoc or faculty member working in any of the other approaches to quantum gravity," he says. "But other research groups in quantum gravity have often hired young people working in string theory out of a sense that it should be encouraged."

Boundary issues

String theorists dispute the claim that they are isolating themselves. In recent years the theory has contributed significantly to heavy-ion physics, according to Joe Polchinski, a string theorist at the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics in Santa Barbara, California. When the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider at Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, New York, first produced a hot quark gas, it was string theory that correctly predicted, retrospectively, some of the gas's properties. "In many ways, I feel the boundaries with other areas of physics are coming down," Polchinski says.

Warren Perkins, a cosmologist and particle theorist at Swansea University in Wales, agrees. In recent years, he says, string theory has been proven equivalent to a conventional 'field theory', of the type being used to predict how particles will behave at the soon-to-open Large Hadron Collider, sited near Geneva. "There has been a lot of cross-talk between field theory and string theory," says Perkins. In some cases, string theory has provided far simpler approximations than its field-theory counterpart.

None of the major string theory groups has hired someone working in any of the other approaches to quantum gravity.

But strings have yet to provide the elusive link between gravity and quantum mechanics, hoped for by so many theorists. "The claims, when it comes to theoretical physics, tend to be exaggerated," says Abhay Ashtekar, who works on quantum gravity at Pennsylvania State University in University Park. He believes the inability of the community to live up to those expectations has made it defensive.

The books leave string theorists such as Susskind wondering how to approach such strong public criticism. "I don't know if the right thing is to worry about the public image or keep quiet," he says. He fears the argument may "fuel the discrediting of scientific expertise".

That's something that Smolin and Woit insist they don't want. Woit says his problem isn't with the theory itself, just some of its more grandiose claims. "There are some real things you can do with string theory," he says.

Smolin agrees, and says he hopes theorists will read his book to get a better understanding of his specific issues. "If they don't want to buy it, tell them to get in touch with me and I'll send them a copy."

===endquote===
 
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  • #2


Dear fellow scientist,

I have read the forum post and the Nature review you have provided and I must say that I find the discussion on string theory very interesting. It seems that there are some valid concerns being raised about the direction of the field and the potential consequences it may have on the scientific method. As scientists, it is important for us to constantly question and challenge our theories, and I believe that these books are doing just that.

While string theory has made significant contributions to other areas of physics, it is important to address the issues raised by these authors and not dismiss them as mere bitterness or misunderstanding. The fact that there are 10500 possible models of the Universe generated by string theory is a valid concern and it is important for the community to address this issue.

I also find it concerning that there seems to be a lack of diversity in the hiring practices of major string theory groups, as pointed out by Smolin. As scientists, we should be open to different approaches and not isolate ourselves from other theories.

However, I do believe that string theory has some merits and should not be completely discredited. As Woit mentioned, there are real things that can be done with string theory and it should not be dismissed entirely. But we should also be open to other theories and not solely focus on one approach.

In the end, I believe that this debate will only push the field of string theory to evolve and address the concerns raised by these authors. It is important for us as scientists to listen to and consider different perspectives, even if they may challenge our own beliefs. That is how progress is made in science.

Thank you for bringing this discussion to our attention and I look forward to seeing how the field of string theory evolves in the future.
 
  • #3


it is important to consider all perspectives and criticisms of a theory. While string theory has made significant contributions to physics, it is also important to address the concerns raised by the books "Not Even Wrong" and "The Trouble with Physics." These books bring up valid points about the potential limitations and challenges of string theory, and it is important for the scientific community to openly discuss and address these issues. It is also important to avoid becoming too isolated and to continue collaborating and considering alternative theories. As scientists, it is our responsibility to continuously question and test our theories in order to further our understanding of the universe.
 

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The review contributes to the wider discussion on climate change by providing a critical analysis of a book that adds to the growing body of evidence and dialogue surrounding the issue. It also encourages readers to consider the urgency of the issue and the need for action.

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