The Frontal Cortex

String Theory Backlash

Sharon Begley has an interesting column today in the WSJ on the growing chorus of voices aiming to discredit string theory.

String theory isn’t any more wrong than preons, twistor theory, dynamical triangulations, or other physics fads. But in those cases, physicists saw the writing on the wall and moved on. Not so in string theory.

“What is strange is that string theory has survived past the point where it should have been clear that it wouldn’t work,” says Mr. Woit. [Professor Peter Woit of Columbia University] Not merely survived, but thrived. Virtually every young mathematically inclined particle theorist must sign on to the string agenda to get an academic job. By his count, of 22 recently tenured professors in particle theory at the six top U.S. departments, 20 are string theorists.

Having just read a review copy of Lee Smolin’s new book The Trouble With Physics, I must confess that I’m convinced. Smolin argues that string theory is responsible for the failure of physics to “make any real headway in the last 30 years.” According to Smolin, string theory is slowly strangling particle physics, and moving a fundamental science into the realm of metaphysics. Woit’s book, which is due out this fall, has a damning title: Not Even Wrong.

Begley ends her article on a harsh and sobering tone: “That string theory abandoned testable predictions may be its ultimate betrayal of science.”


  1. #1 Eric Wallace
    June 23, 2006

    String theory is just a theory, not a fact! Teach the controversy!

    Oh, wait, that sounds right this time.

  2. #2 Babe in the Universe
    June 23, 2006

    My cat was very fond of strings too. If you don’t believe in String Theory, it benefits you if potential competitors waste their careers on it.

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