Popperazi: Lenny Susskind’s crass dismissal of string theory critics

“You might be guessing the probability of something that–unlike cancer—does not even exist, such as strings … In this way, Bayes’ theorem can promote pseudoscience and superstition … If you aren’t scrupulous in seeking alternative explanations for your evidence … Bayes’ theorem, far from counteracting confirmation bias, enables it.” – John Horgan, Bayes’ Theorem.

Professor Leonard Susskind invented the word “Popperazi” for the string critics, over 10 years ago in the New Scientist: “Susskind … attacking those who ask for falsifiable predictions as “Popperazi” ” – http://www.math.columbia.edu/~woit/wordpress/?p=312 So I guess Susskind is one of the people who are defending ad hoc, untested elitist speculation hype, because he benefits from this. Witten’s 16 November 2006 letter in Nature v. 444, p. 265, advised string theorists not to directly engage in discussions about their use of elitist power to suppress dissent for fear of fuelling discussion: “A direct response may just add fuel to controversies.” Convenient if Witten can’t give a direct answer!

It’s groupthink hubris: the mainstream wants to defend itself by saying “there are no alternatives” while they publically dismiss or ridicule “alternatives” as being speculative (not acknowledging hypocrisy here). I don’t see a problem with purely mathematical speculations in physics. Some of the basic superstring theory mathematics of spinors is interesting, and defenders point out that string theory does have relevance in post-dictions like explaining the Regge trajectory relationship between hadron spin and mass. What’s irritating is the way “string theory” (a set of ad hoc ideas) is built on implicit faith in existing foundations. I’d prefer, for instance, to allow publication of speculative ideas on replacing “gravitation” with a Casimir effect of dark energy, e.g. http://vixra.org/abs/1305.0012

However, one problem is that even amongst friends with similar interests, radical ideas are very easy to censor and ignore. Both leading string theory critics who wrote books about string in 2006, namely Lee Smolin and Peter Woit, have their own pet theories. Woit’s is the deepest because he claims to derive the electroweak symmetry charges (including zero weak isospin charge for right handed spinors) by using Clifford algebras in representation theory to pick out the unitary group U(2) as a subset of SO(4), the usual 4-d spin orthagonal group which is topologically isomorphic to SU(2) X SU(2). See page 51 of Woit’s 2002 paper, http://arxiv.org/abs/hep-th/0206135 where after showing at the top of that page that “the most basic geometry of spinors and Clifford algebras in low dimensions is rich enough to to encompass the standard model” he adds a damning criticism of string theory later on the same page: “a new orthodoxy that postulates an unknown fundamental supersymmetric theory involving strings…” (See also page 17 of that paper for the Lie algebra generators.)

Thus, the light of string theory acts to detract attention from alternative ideas, and this seems to be the motivation of Woit and Smolin. On a lesser level, in 1996 – two years prior to experimental (or rather observational) confirmation – I submitted a calculation replacing “gravitation” with a Casimir effect of dark energy to 9 journals, predicting that there is a cosmological acceleration of 10^{-10} m/s2, the small, positive cc (dark energy effect). Nobody wanted to publish my calculation because this result was either “too small” to measure or “the wrong sign and far too small” to be compatible with string theory’s massive negative cosmological constant: I got these excuses from Classical and Quantum Gravity, Nature’s editor Philip Campbell, etc. that string theory had “ruled it out”, despite the lack of evidence supporting string theory. Fair enough, I wasn’t a big shot.

But I also received rejections from relatively friendly physicists who were also apparently biased by string theory’s claims of a large negative cc. For instance, in 1996 the physics teacher and fellow Electronics World magazine contributor Mike Renardson set up a journal for alternative ideas called “First Thoughts”. He wrote to say that 10^{-10} m/s2 was too small to ever measure, rejecting the paper! Of course, by laboratory standards and normal experiment times he was right, but such a small acceleration adds up to a large velocity when it has been continuing for half the age of the universe, as astronomer Saul Perlmutter discovered in 1998. Supernovae at half the age of the universe (over 5 billion light years away) were accelerating at 10^{-10} m/s2. Thus, dark energy was predicted.

(I did get publish the prediction as an 8 page paper both via the letters column of Electronics World, October 1996, page 896, and in full in February 1997 in “Science World” journal, ISSN 1367-6172.  However, Renardson’s attitude predominated with more suitable journals like Nature, Classical and Quantum Gravity, and even New Scientist which adopts instead what I’d call a hypocritical attitude: publishing celebrity or mainstream science “news” after it has gone viral, while refusing the hard work of checking the facts and publishing news purely on objective merit.)

If anyone’s interested in replacing “gravitation” with a Casimir effect of dark energy, see http://vixra.org/abs/1305.0012 Susskind’s ad hoc explanation of the small positive cc using the anthropic landscape is still frequently and conveniently used to dismiss calculations!