Uncommon Descent Serving The Intelligent Design Community

Multiverse: String theorists are not getting the key positions any more?


From Peter Woit at Not Even Wrong, ”Latest from the Rumor Mill“, (May 16, 2012)

There’s at least one thing about string theory that has changed dramatically since my book was written back in 2002 or so. At the time I accumulated various numbers showing the way hiring in particle theory at leading institutions in the US had been dominated by string theory hires. Overall, at that time about 20 people/year were getting tenure-track positions, roughly half in string theory half in phenomenology. … The number of string theorists getting positions had come down to about 2/year, then down to only one last year.

This is consistent with the fact that the popular science media seem to be back to fronting the multiverse, acknowledging the lack of evidence.

The hiring season is not yet over and not all the data is in, but so far the Rumor Mill shows no job offers to string theorists at all. …

If the multiverse – or anything associated with it – was a pharmaceutical, it would have been pulled from the shelves long ago. They had a long enough run for what they were offering: A fantasy escape from the fact of fine-tuning of the universe.

On a sobering note, however,

One thing hasn’t changed though since 2002: there’s a much larger number of talented and accomplished candidates than there are jobs, and departments are playing it safe, offering the few jobs available only to people working in a small number of areas that are conventionally agreed to be “hot”. As always, if you’re working on some idea that’s not in the narrow mainstream, there’s no chance you’ll get hired into a permanent position at a US institution.

The comments are a solid contribution to the post.

One problem with hiring on the basis of perceived hotness is that it is not an investment in the future. Pardon the analogy, but what’s “hot” today is not within a few fashion seasons. Solid growth requires a long term approach, insulated against the shocks of fad.

See also: The multiverse: Just an excuse to sell books now?

Well, when I was in academia it was common practice to hire new profs who could help contribute to the research interests of the institution. 'Hot' topics are hot because there is promise and interest. Obviously no one knows if a particular topic will pan out but I don't see the problem with pursuing something that is 'hot'. You want people to do research. If the department in question is doing research in a particular area then why not hire others with a similar inclination? Cold Fusion was 'hot' at one point. Fortunately, it was quickly debunked by its lack of repeatability. Most 'hot' topics have already passed the first few plausibility hurdle before departments commit their few 'hires' to them. Jerad

Leave a Reply