Nonsense published in London

Peter Woit’s book has, he tells us, been now been published in the U.K..

It is annoying how slowly things are dragging out. Normally Woit has useful discussions and some dry humour on his weblog, but recently it has descended into complete crackpot trash with Professor Bert and others arguing whether the vacuum polarisation is real and someone else arguing that if the vacuum were full of particles it would be radioactive. All this nonsense detracts from the serious issues with physics. It is very depressing to me, but I’m coming to the conclusion Woit is a boring physicist, albeit a fully trained and mathematically competent one. I hope his book disproves this suspicion.

An amusing earlier post of his is The Holy Grail of Physics.. Read it, and the comments that follow it. For what my comment is worth, I agree with Dr Woit that electroweak symmetry breaking mechanism is the Holy Grail, explaining the masses and everything else.

Update: The first published review of Peter Woit’s book:

First Public Reaction From String Theorist to “Not Even Wrong”

A review from the London FINANCIAL TIMES national newspaper

“Nothing gained in search for ‘theory of everything’

“By Robert Matthews

“Published: June 2 2006 19:45 | Last updated: June 2 2006 19:45

“They call their leader The Pope, insist theirs is the only path to enlightenment and attract a steady stream of young acolytes to their cause. A crackpot religious cult? No, something far scarier: a scientific community that has completely lost touch with reality and is robbing us of some of our most brilliant minds.

“Yet if you listened to its cheerleaders – or read one of their best-selling books or watched their television mini-series – you, too, might fall under their spell. You, too, might come to believe they really are close to revealing the ultimate universal truths, in the form of a set of equations describing the cosmos and everything in it. …

“Those who have show signs of having fallen prey to the “sunk-cost fallacy”, the huge intellectual effort needed to enter the field compelling them to plough on regardless of the prospects of success. It is time they were put out of their misery by being told to either give up or find funding from elsewhere (charities supporting faith-based pursuits have been suggested as one alternative).

“Academic institutions find it hard enough to fund fields with records of solid achievement. After 20-odd years, they are surely justified in pulling the plug on one that has disappeared up its Calabi-Yau manifold.

“The writer is visiting reader in science at Aston University, Birmingham”

Now a string theorist has finally written a weird review at amazon based on an early draft manuscript copy, instead of the published article: http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/0224076051/026-2916686-5566838

“Bitter emotions and obsolete understanding of high-energy physics, June 1, 2006
Reviewer:

“Lubos Motl (Cambridge, MA United States)

“Peter Woit is the owner of a well-known blog that provides high-energy theoretical physics with the same service as William Dembski’s blog offers to evolutionary biology: it is designed to misinterpret and obscure virtually every event in physics and transform it into poison – and to invent his own fantasies to hurt science. This makes Woit’s blog highly popular among the crackpots, for example the first reviewer of this book. The book is not identical to the author’s blog but it is not too different either. …”

Peter Woit has hit back: http://www.math.columbia.edu/~woit/wordpress/?p=401

The “crackpot” referred to by Motl is Dr Chris Oakley, a quantum field theorist like Dr Peter Woit. Motl apparently objects to Oakley quoting Feynman on his home page at http://www.cgoakley.demon.co.uk/qft/

One other amazon reviewer (called J.B. Cook, apparently not any relative of mine!) writes: “Back in 1988, Richard P. Feynman wrote about string theory before dying:

” ‘… I do feel strongly that this is nonsense! … I think all this superstring stuff is crazy and is in the wrong direction. … I don’t like it that they’re not calculating anything. … why are the masses of the various particles such as quarks what they are? All these numbers … have no explanations in these string theories – absolutely none! …’ (Davies & Brown, ‘Superstrings’ 1988).

“String theorists hate Feynman and want to destroy the credibility of physics by turning it into a religion (check out the $1 million Templeton Prize for religion which has been awarded to string theory advocates including Davies and Barrow). String theorists will be BITTERLY disappointed to discover that the book – as actually printed and published (someone bitter has reviewed a two-year old draft version of the book here on amazon) – has been proof read very carefully and does not contain any errors of fact.”

Another amazon reviewer at http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0224076051/103-9321064-9062262?v=glance&n=283155 says:

“String theory is usually presented (without evidence but with excess hype) as being the “best candidate for the final theory”, an extension of existing well-accepted ideas of the Standard Model to produce a complete theory. However, as Peter Woit states in this book, the actual problems of physics which are known to be real are simply ignored by string theories, while various speculative or imaginary solutions are invented in string theory which contains neither useful quantitative predictions, nor physical dynamics of a scientifically useful kind.

“The actual major problems facing physics concern (1) dynamical (predictive) unification of gravity/general relativity and the Standard Model (string theory is merely consistent with a spin-2 graviton force boson, and makes no predictions that can be checked), (2) the quantitative masses and gravity strength (these are all a related problem, since gravity acts on mass rather than charge, so the Standard Model doesn’t describe any of this), and (3) the actual mechanism for electroweak symmetry breaking, i.e., how the vacuum polarisation (or other phenomena relating to a speculative Higgs field) give mass to three out of four of the electroweak gauge bosons at low energy, hopefully predicting an exact value for the key particle involved such as a Higgs boson.

“String theory fails to even tackle any of this. String theory instead postulates 10 dimensional superstrings with 6 dimensions rolled up into a complex Calabi-Yau manifold (Witten showed using M-theory that this can be unified with 11 dimensional supergravity). String theory includes supersymmetry (SUSY) which attempts to demonstrate unification of forces at a massive energy – far beyond anything achievable (even with a particle accelerator the size of the solar system) – by the extravagant addition of a superpartner for every existing particle. None of these superpartners have been observed. Nor does string theory predict anything quantitatively checkable about them, such as the exact energy of superpartners.

“Claimed successes for string theory such as “predicting gravity” are vacuous because there is no prediction, no connection between abject speculation and reality. The mathematics for string theory is clearly what defends it from being dismissed out of hand as crackpot speculation by the media and by its own practitioners: because of the complex mathematical nature of the Calabi-Yau manifold, it yields a “landscape” of a spectacular number of different possible metastable vacua for the ground state of the universe, about 10^350 solutions. This uselessness, far from proving string theory is “not even wrong”, is usually interpreted as meaning it covers everything conceivable and is a safe bet to stake an academic career on. It’s snakeoil. As the position of string theory gets worse, more popularising hype is poured into the media about the “possibility” of using strings to communicate by telepathy backwards in time across the universe, and other science fiction. (This is just like the band playing cheerfully as the Titanic sinks.)

“Let’s spell it out: string theory is so vague it is consistent with about 1-followed-by-350-zeroes different ground states. So much for the science of string theory. The next thing is that string theory involves group-think. Peter Woit does not unfortunately present his own ideas in this book, which are interesting alternatives to string theory. This book is aimed at a wide audience and his mathematical papers can be found quite easily on the internet for free. But he makes the point that physics is more likely to advance rapidly if there is a diversity of ideas than with almost everyone thinking around the same mainstream “fashionable” speculation for decades. String theory is a new ether, and has bogged down physics for twenty years. The landscape of vacua is a pathetic end to physics. String theory is not even wrong.”

Another reviewer has now headed his review: “The emperor has no clothes and will crucify you for saying so.”

I am suspicious whether Lubos Motl’s review is a genuine attack on Woit and on Oakley for being a Feynman follower, or whether Professor Motl is simply trying to help Woit’s book sales by stirring up as much controversy as he possibly can by being loony.

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