Has Nature “got” what is at stake in the string theory controversy?

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soap bubbles/Timothy Pilgrim

We are told that physicists are turning to philosophers for help. Given what’s out there in philosophy, the physicists would be wise to pick carefully.

From That said,

String theory is at the heart of a debate over the integrity of the scientific method itself.

Earlier this month, some of the feuding physicists met with philosophers of science at an unusual workshop aimed at addressing the accusation that branches of theoretical physics have become detached from the realities of experimental science. At stake is the integrity of the scientific method, as well as the reputation of science among the general public, say the workshop’s organizers.

You mean … they actually noticed?

About time, of course. How many people of normal intelligence are going to continue to show any interest in, let alone fund, research into an untestable and unfalsifiable multiverse (the attraction of string theory) where everything turns out to be true (except philosophy and religion, of course). Or, if that; not bizarre enough, Many Worlds. The new cosmologists do not need reality-based thinking, but oddly enough they do seem to need salaries, tenure, book deals, and lots of public attention.

Thus, many of them now question how important testability is in science.

Workshop attendee Carlo Rovelli, a theoretical physicist at Aix-Marseille University in France, agrees that just because string theory is not testable now does not mean that it is not worth theorists’ time. But the main target of Ellis and Silk’s piece were observations made by philosopher Richard Dawid of Ludwig Maximilian University in his book String Theory and the Scientific Method (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2013). Dawid wrote that string theorists had started to follow the principles of Bayesian statistics, which estimates the likelihood of a certain prediction being true on the basis of prior knowledge, and later revises that estimate as more knowledge is acquired. But, Dawid notes, physicists have begun to use purely theoretical factors, such as the internal consistency of a theory or the absence of credible alternatives, to update estimates, instead of basing those revisions on actual data. More.

It’s not so much that science will change as that it will cease to exist.

The world is full of viable, widely believed, often useful, but untestable theories. They’re fine— unless someone calls them science.

The stakes may be higher than Silk and Ellis, whose warnings sparked these high-level discussions, grasp.

It is quite proper that we are all taxed to pay for science if it means reality-based, testable, falsifiable work that at least potentially leads to advances for all. But there is no moral justification for letting the multiverse on the public payroll, and doing so will impact perceptions both of science and science funding in general.

See also: In Forbes, string theory is NOT science The fact that Forbes is sponsoring this alarm suggests that many key people grasp what is at stake, given that the war on falsifiability continues.

Multiverse cosmology: Assuming that evidence still matters, what does it say?

In search of a road to reality

The bill arrives for cosmology’s free lunch

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2 Replies to “Has Nature “got” what is at stake in the string theory controversy?

  1. 1
    groovamos says:

    It’s not so much that science will change as that it will cease to exist

    Come on. Whey stick your neck out needlessly.

    It is quite proper that we are all taxed to pay for science

    This works out great for Canadians. Example – it takes almost a $billion to bring a drug to market. The market in Canada is heavily price controlled by the government. Hence, U.S. citizens pay the difference to keep the pharmaceutical companies in business. Thus we are taxed in the marketplace to subsidize Canadians and their wonderful system which gets compared to ours with much derision, when in fact biomedical research funding is burdened on us through this market tax. Biomedical research is one area of American Science and technology that is supreme, and Canada can’t carry its load here and is good with us helping them out with our tax dollars, making good on their superior political thinking.

    While we’re working hard to continue medical research and development in our country, the reality is Canada only attracts approximately 1 per cent of pharmaceutical research and development investment in the world. Canada has an immense opportunity to attract foreign investment and more clinical trials but only if we support our industry and create a regulatory environment on par with the rest of the world. ——>

  2. 2
    jimmontg says:

    This article reminds me of “The Big Bang Theory” TV show’s character named Barry Kripke when he said that he gets grants to research String Theory, but he spends it all on “Bwoads and booze.” when the lead character Sheldon was deciding to change his field of study from the unprovable String Theory field of study to something more useful and promising.

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