String theory hype, good or bad

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Mostly due to the publication of the books of Woit and Smolin my attention has been drawn to the desirablility of the hype around string theory. I recently read, ~90% of the research in TOE is performed in string theory.

Do you think this is a desirable status quo and why?

(Of course your answer may be guided by string theory arguments, but I'm actually more interested in the general opinion on the desirability of such a focus)
 

selfAdjoint

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Mostly due to the publication of the books of Woit and Smolin my attention has been drawn to the desirablility of the hype around string theory. I recently read, ~90% of the research in TOE is performed in string theory.

Do you think this is a desirable status quo and why?

(Of course your answer may be guided by string theory arguments, but I'm actually more interested in the general opinion on the desirability of such a focus)
That's kind of a loaded question on this forum where nearly every espablished poster has some favorite approach to particle theory ansstring partisans are distinctly in the minority.

If you actuallly read Smolin's book, you saw that his focus is not on some ideal distribution of funds, but on what he sees as a distorted culture among physicsts. And the reaction to the book among string physicsts illustrates his points. For example:

At a recent string seminar a noted physicist (I forget which one) said "Well, Smolin is not a crank..." and the whole body erupted in jeering laughter.

This is what you might expect from a left wing political gathering responding to a defense of Bush, or a right wing one to a defense of Chomsky. Not at all what you expect from scientific leaders.
 
If you actuallly read Smolin's book, you saw that his focus is not on some ideal distribution of funds, but on what he sees as a distorted culture among physicsts.
Right, but this distorted culture could be a reason not to want a market-like culture in choosing the area's of research in theoretical physics and to plee for a different distribution of funds. Theoretical physicists might choose for investigating a theory not by arguments based on the plausibility of the theory but on different grounds. Do you think that is now the case?
 

selfAdjoint

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Right, but this distorted culture could be a reason not to want a market-like culture in choosing the area's of research in theoretical physics and to plee for a different distribution of funds. Theoretical physicists might choose for investigating a theory not by arguments based on the plausibility of the theory but on different grounds. Do you think that is now the case?

Well in the US the funding is based ultimately on perceptions by Congress members, and they are not so very sophisticaled about particle physics and they have a lot of competing requests for money to balance. So if you tell them string theory is a sham (which is NOT TRUE!, but is a caricatured position of some writers), they are not going to say "Oh! Fine! We'll give the money to the LQG people". They're going to say "Physics is not producing anything useful, let's give the money to Seniors' Drug Programs." Or whatever. "The Perfect is the enemy of the Good".
 
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josh1

Theorists can do their work even while sitting on the can. I`m pretty sure that funding for string theory isn`t something that congress needs to worry about. Of course I could be wrong (but not about the sitting on the can part).
 

selfAdjoint

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Theorists can do their work even while sitting on the can. I`m pretty sure that funding for string theory isn`t something that congress needs to worry about. Of course I could be wrong (but not about the sitting on the can part).

Absolutely! The only big budget items for mathematicians is blackboards:biggrin: And Ramanujan didn't even ese those, he did it all with little slates he held on his knees!

I think what tenured theoretical physicists mainly need money for is students, essentially their living expenses. There's a complicated reputation calculus based on papers, citations, Ph.D. mentoring, and famous ex-students.
 

robphy

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josh1 said:
Theorists can do their work even while sitting on the can. I`m pretty sure that funding for string theory isn`t something that congress needs to worry about. Of course I could be wrong (but not about the sitting on the can part).

I think what tenured theoretical physicists mainly need money for is students, essentially their living expenses. There's a complicated reputation calculus based on papers, citations, Ph.D. mentoring, and famous ex-students.
I think theoretical physicists, tenured or tenure-track, need money for postdocs and other visiting research positions. While work is possible in isolation, I think it would be enhanced by some critical mass of [semi-permanent] interacting researchers in a given location... supported by at least some minimal (i.e. nonzero) funding.
 
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in industry wages are often the biggest cost. perhaps the same in academia

string theory has a great name. no congressman wants to have to say q*-strong epsilon theory (i made that up). if anyone ever comes up with something new make sure you give it a darn good name
 

selfAdjoint

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in industry wages are often the biggest cost. perhaps the same in academia

string theory has a great name. no congressman wants to have to say q*-strong epsilon theory (i made that up). if anyone ever comes up with something new make sure you give it a darn good name

I think the great name, among the "great unwashed" is fading. I dread the day when Woit is called to testify before a Congressional committee.
 
The only big budget items for mathematicians is blackboards.
This reminds me of a joke, or is it a famous quote mangled. Mathematicians are cheap in that they only need paper, pencil and trashcan. And philosophers are even cheaper. They don't require a trashcan.
 

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