Uncommon Descent Serving The Intelligent Design Community

Peter Woit on the Paris string theory showdown

arroba Email

Woit is a skeptical Columbia University mathematician.

We like him in part because it is a pleasure to read someone who makes the word “skeptical” mean something concrete and useful, as opposed to the war on common sense and evidence-based reason usually marketed under that name.

Anyway, further to Has Nature “got” what is at stake in the string theory controversy?, we see where he writes, with respect to Joseph Conlon’s new book Why String Theory?,

The book is explicitly motivated by the desire to answer a lot of the criticism of string theory that has become rather widespread in recent years (wasn’t always so…). For a typical example from the last few days, see Why String Theory is Not a Scientific Theory at Starts With a Bang. I have mixed feelings about this sort of thing. It gets the main point quite right, that string theory unification is untestable, having failed to make any predictions, and by the conventional understanding of the scientific method, it’s past the time at which most theorists should have abandoned it and moved on. On the other hand, I don’t see at all the point to arguing about the term “scientific theory”. Sure, it’s a scientific theory, a failed one. I’ve personally never noticed any consistent usage by physicists of terms like “theory”, “model” and “hypothesis” in ways that accurately indicate degree of experimental support, don’t see why some writers insist that there is one. I also very strongly object to the article’s standard move of trying to make a failed theory a “mathematical theory”. Mathematics is about well-defined ideas, and there is currently no such mathematical construct as “string theory”. The problems with string theory have nothing do with mathematics, rather have to do with a physical idea that didn’t work out.

To a large extent the problems Conlon is struggling with are ones that the community of string theorists has inflicted on itself. The great majority of writing for the public by string theorists is characterized by large amounts of outrageous hype. More.

Someone else noticed?

See also: Has Nature “got” what is at stake in the string theory controversy?
(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.)


Royal Society meet on paradigm shift in evolution? Many of the 50 or so scientists associated with The Third Way of Evolution will attend.


Leave a Reply