Not Even Wrong subject to BBC radio 4 debate…

Peter Woit is on the radio in a 7 minutes 4 seconds long BBC Radio 4 Today programme interview of Dr Peter Woit versus Dr Daniel Waldram (reader in theoretical physics at Imperial College, London University) last Thursday 27th of July 2006 (you can hear it on line as it is the second to last item listed on the page, although I fear it will automatically get lost from that html page when another Thursday passes by, so will try copy some brief audio clips and to type up a complete transcript before it is too late!). In the meanwhile here are some extracts typed up:

BBC Radio 4 Today Programme Presenter: “The first book setting out the arguments against string theory has been published. String theory is the theory of how the world works that’s held sway for the past twenty years. But now the mathematician Professor Peter Woit has written a book called “Not Even Wrong” in which he argues that the theory is “too speculative to ever be able to prove it is wrong, let alone right”.

BBC radio science correspondent Matt McGrath: “String theory is an idea that tries to bring together theories of big science dealing with space, stars, black holes, with theories of little science of the world of elementary particles such as quarks and leptons. For years, scientists have been trying to weave them together in a unified theory of everything, but there are some big problems. In big science, the fabric of space and time is smooth, but down at the subatomic level where distances are very small indeed, it’s a seething foaming mess where past, present and future are no longer predictable. To solve this conundrum, enter the string. The core of the theory is that instead of seeing the smallest elements of matter as points in space or time, we should understand them as strings or loops of vibrating energy. … No experiments have proven any of this yet. …”

Woit: “There are so many things that you can do with these [extra] six dimensions that you cannot extract a prediction from the theory.”

Copy of my comment to Woit’s blog (may get deleted):

nigel cook Says:
July 29th, 2006 at 11:10 am
The BBC interview shows how string theorists take the fact that string theory is a failure, and then use that as a reason to continue trying. You have to admire their perseverance. (If it predicted anything, would they finally call it ‘boring’, and move on?)

Daniel’s point is that string theory is interesting, exciting and ‘beautiful’ because it can’t predict anything to help physics.

He then said that there is no real problem of suppression because people are totally free to do whatever they want (they merely lose grants, jobs, career prospects if they don’t follow mainstream).


Finally, over a month after publication, NOT EVEN WRONG is available in Waterstones bookstore in Colchester today.

It is out-numbered by stringy speculation by a very large factor, about 15 titles by all the usual suspects (Kaku, Greene, etc.).

However, at least it is there!  It has been in large city bookstores (London, Cambridge, Oxford) and available on Amazon for over a month, but this is the first evidence that Woit is actually bringing the battle home to every Tom, Dick, and Harry who things strings are certainly the final theory.  The message is: don’t believe things on trust.

The book is of course a no-strings-attached analysis of the real prospects for physics.

Seeing it finally on sale in regional bookstores in an ordinary English town is cheering!