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Sunday Times review: Not Even Wrong (11 June)

  1. Jun 10, 2006 #1


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    The Sunday Times review is by John Cornwell, an historian.

    ...But is string theory true? Peter Woit, a mathematician at Columbia University, has challenged the entire string-theory discipline by proclaiming that its topic is not a genuine theory at all and that many of its exponents do not understand the complex mathematics it employs. String theory, he avers, has become a form of science fiction. Hence his book’s title, Not Even Wrong: an epithet created by Wolfgang Pauli, an irascible early 20th-century German physicist. Pauli had three escalating levels of insult for colleagues he deemed to be talking nonsense: “Wrong!”, “Completely wrong!” and finally “Not even wrong!”. By which he meant that a proposal was so completely outside the scientific ballpark as not to merit the least consideration.

    Woit’s book, highly readable, accessible and powerfully persuasive, is designed to give a short history of recent particle and theoretical physics. Ultimately he seeks not only to rattle but to dismantle the cage of the string theorists...


    The British press seems to be enjoying Woit's book. This is actually the second notable British review of Not Even Wrong that I've seen. The Financial Times of London anticipated the Sunday Times with its review by physicist and science writer Robert Matthews published 2 June. PF member "oldman" kindly transcribed the FT review here:

    Here is background on Robert Matthews

    For several days, the FT did have the review available free for download at
    but just now I see THEY PUT UP A BARRIER and now are asking you to sign up for a 15 day "free subscription" before they let you read past the first couple of paragraphs.

    The same thing could happen to the Sunday Times review, so I have printed off a copy just in case.
    Last edited: Jun 11, 2006
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  3. Jun 11, 2006 #2


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    BTW you may find ERRORS in John Cornwell's review. He is an historian, not a physicist so he's very likely mistaken about some things. Please point them out!

    My take is that he sees it as a case of academic politics with one research school or clique gaining control of an entire field. It is possible he has the basic story right but is off on some details.

    there has already been some indignant blog spluttering in response to Cornwell's review.:smile: It would burn my fingers to give you the link, but since you know it already I don't have to.
  4. Jun 12, 2006 #3


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    Now an article about Woit's book in the regular Monday edition of the London Times (12 June 2006)


    this article is by Times science writer Anjana Ahuja
    and titled:

    'Just as you've solved every problem in the Universe, the string breaks'

    This is a bit about Anjana

    "Anjana Ahuja joined The Times in 1994 as a graduate trainee. She holds a PhD in space physics from Imperial College, London, and analysed data from the Ulysses mission to the Sun's magnetic poles. In her Science Notebook, published on Mondays, she writes about science, medicine and technology, and their impact on society."


    I didnt get a lot out of the article. She seems interested in how the events relate to science personalities (such as celebrity Brian Greene) and in conveying her perceptions of the "human side" to the reading public. I got more sense of the physics issues from what Robert Matthews wrote in Friday 2 June Financial Times
    and more sense of the academic struggle from John Cornwell in the 11 June Sunday Times

    But more significant, I think, is the simple fact that the British press seems to be having fun with Woit's book. Newspaper readers evidently enjoy the occasional challenge to orthodoxy and the appearance of a scrappy heckler now and then. Three reviews in the first ten days the book is out. Point for the Brits.
    Last edited: Jun 12, 2006
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