In an interview with science writer John Horgan, who starts out by saying,
At its best, physics is the most potent and precise of all scientific fields, and yet it surpasses even psychology in its capacity for bullshit. To keep physics honest, we need watchdogs like Peter Woit. He is renowned for asserting that string theory, which for decades has been the leading candidate for a unified theory of physics, is so flawed that it is “not even wrong.” That phrase (credited to Wolfgang Pauli) is the title of Woit’s widely discussed 2006 book (see my review here) and of his popular blog, which he launched in 2004. Woit, who has degrees in physics from Harvard and Princeton and has taught mathematics at Columbia since 1989, tracks mathematics as well as physics on his blog, and some of his riffs (like a recent one on the difference between Lie groups and Lie algebras) are strictly for experts. But he provides plenty of clear, non-technical explanations for non-experts like me. Woit, whom I’ve known for more than a dozen years, is a good guy. He can be blunt, but he is always fair, and he does not indulge in cheap shots, snark or grandstanding. The next time the media tout an alleged breakthrough in physics or mathematics, check out Not Even Wrong to get the real scoop. Woit and I recently had the following email exchange. More.
It’s a good thing Scientific American is offering such an interview. Recently, we’ve been treated to claims that Americans, for example, “hate science” (also in SciAm) and (by way of example) to the announcement by Lisa Randall, a Harvard theoretical physicist, that space aliens could be living in an invisible civilization in dark matter, the way fairies could be living at the bottom of the garden (Nautilus).
Harvard buys this? As noted earlier, the problems today are not with people who are “anti-science” but with people who make science equivalent to nonsense done with math—and think it an achievement of some kind.
It’s barely conceivable that the public is not too stupid to notice. Here, we’d give better odds on that than on the space aliens or the fairies.
See also: 2016 worst year ever for “fake physics”?
Blinkers Award goes to… Tom Nichols at Scientific American! On why Americans “hate science” Health science is the way most people interact with science and in many areas, it is running neck and neck with the office rumor mill for credibility.
Dark matter: An invisible civilization could be living right under our noses…
Marchin’, marchin’ for Science (Hint: the problems are back at your desk, not out in the streets)
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