Nature reviews Dr Woit’s book Not Even Wrong and Smolin’s book Trouble; Lubos Motl’s string snaps; Professor Bert Schroer puts string theory out of its misery
‘The problem is not that there are no other games in town, but rather that there are no bright young players who take the risk of jeopardizing their career by learning and expanding the sophisticated rules for playing other games.’
- Prof. Bert Schroer, http://arxiv.org/abs/physics/0603112, p46
‘My final conclusion is that the young and intelligent Harvard professor Lubos Motl has decided to build his career on offering a cartering service for the string community. He obviously is a quick scanner of the daily hep-th server output, and by torching papers which are outside the credo of string theorists (i.e. LQG, AQFT) he saves them time. The downgrading of adversaries is something which has at least the tacit consent of the community. It is evident that he is following a different road from that of using one’s intellectual potential for the enrichment of knowledge about particle physics. If one can build a tenure track career at a renown university by occasionally publishing a paper but mainly keeping a globalized community informed by giving short extracts of string-compatible papers and playing the role of a Lord of misuse to outsiders who have not yet gotten the message, the transgression of the traditional scientific ethics  for reasons of career-building may become quite acceptable. It would be interesting to see into what part of this essay the string theorists pitbull will dig his teeth. [He’ll just quietly run away, Professor Schroer! All these stringers don’t have any answer to the facts so they run away when under pressure, following Kaku’s fine example.]’
- Prof. Bert Schroer, http://arxiv.org/abs/physics/0603112, p22
Because of problems with this weblog, I set up an alternative at https://nige.wordpress.com/ which contains much new material and links in the comments to other things, like my potted refutation of string theory. See also the blogs of Christine Dantas, Cosmic Variance, Mahndisa Rigmaiden and Louise Riofrio who has an equation that discredit's Lubos Motl, an alleged sexist.
First, Kaku 'accidentally’ published on his website a typically inaccurate New Scientist magazine article draft which will appear in print in mid-November 2006. He falsely claimed:
‘The Standard Model of particles simply emerges as the lowest vibration of the superstring. And as the string moves, it forces space-time to curl up, precisely as Einstein predicted. Hence, both theories are neatly included in string theory. And unlike all other attempts at a unified field theory, it can remove all the infinities which plague other theories. But curiously, it does much more. Much, much more.’
Actually, it doesn’t, as Peter Woit patiently explains. String theory starts with a 1-dimensional line, when it oscillates time enters so it becomes a 2-dimensional worldsheet, which then needs at least 8 more dimensions added to give the resonances of particle physics satisfying conformal symmetry. So you end up with at least 10 dimensions, and because general relativity has 4 spacetime dimensions (3 spacelike, 1 timelike), you obviously somehow need to compactify or roll up 6 dimensions, which is done using a 6-d Calabi-Yau manifold, that has many size and shape parameters, giving the string something like 10^500 vibrational metastable resonance states and that many different solutions. The Standard Model might or might not be somewhere in there. Even if it is, you then have the problem of explaining all the other (unphysical) solutions.
10^500 is actually too much to ever work out rigorously in the age of the universe: it is 1 followed by 500 zeroes. For comparison, the total number of fermions in the universe is only about 10^80. The age of the universe measured in seconds is merely 4.7 x 10^17.
So, if stringers could evaluate one solution per second, it would take them ~(10^500)/(10^17) = 10^483 times the age of the universe. Now let’s assume they could somehow evaluate one solution every millionth of a second. Then they would get through the problem in (10^483)/(10^6) = 10^477 times the age of the universe.
Now suppose I came up with a theory which predicted even just 2 different solutions for the same thing. If one of them turned out to be consistent with the real world, and one didn’t, I could not claim to predict reality. Dirac's quantum field theory equation in 1929 gives an example of how to treat physical solutions. His spinor in the Hamiltonian predicts E = +/-mc^2 which is different from Einstein's E = mc^2.
Dirac realised that ALL SOLUTIONS MUST BE PHYSICAL, so he interpreted the E = -mc^2 solution as the prediction of antimatter, which Anderson discovered as the "positron’’ (anti-electron) in 1932. This is the way physics is done.
So the trouble is due to the fact that a large number of extra dimensions are needed to get string theory to 'work’ as an ad hoc model, and to make those extra dimensions appear invisible they are curled up into a Calabi-Yau manifold. Because there are loads of parameters to describe the exact sizes of the many dimensions of the manifold, it is capable of 10^500 states of resonance, and there is no proof that any of those gives the standard model of particle physics.
Even if it does, it is hardly a prediction because the theory is so vague it has loads of unphysical solutions. Susskind's stringy claim (see here for latest Susskind propaganda) that all the solutions are real and occur in other parallel universes is just a religious belief, since it can't very well be checked. The anthropic principle can make predictions but it is very subjective and is not falsifiable, so doesn’t fit in with Popper’s criterion of science.
As for its claim to predict gravity, it again only predicts the possibility of unobservable spin-2 gravitons, and says nothing checkable about gravity. See the comment by Eddington made back in 1920, quoted here:
‘It is said that more than 200 theories of gravitation have have been put forward; but the most plausible of these have all had the defect that that they lead nowhere and admit of no experimental test.’
- A. S. Eddington, Space Time and Gravitation, Cambridge University Press, 1920, p64. Contrast that caution to Witten's stringy hype:
‘String theory has the remarkable property of predicting gravity.'
- Edward Witten, stringy 10/11 dimensional M-theory originator, Physics Today, April 1996.
Nature's review is available here and it reads in part:
Nature 443, 491(5 October 2006). Published online 4 October 2006:
Theorists snap over string pieces
‘Books spark war of words in physics. Two recently published books are riling the small but influential community of string theorists, by arguing that the field is wandering dangerously far from the mainstream.
‘The books’ titles say it all: Not Even Wrong, a phrase that physicist Wolfgang Pauli used to describe incomplete ideas, and The Trouble with Physics: The Rise of String Theory, the Fall of a Science, and What Comes Next. Both articulate a fear that the field is becoming too abstract and is focusing on aesthetics rather than reality. Some physicists even warn that the theory's dominance could pose a threat to the scientific method itself.
‘Those accusations are vehemently denied by string theorists, and the books - written by outsiders - have stirred deep resentment in the tight-knit community. Not Even Wrong was published in June and The Trouble with Physics came out in September; shortly after they appeared on the Amazon books website, string theorist Lubos Motl of Harvard University posted reviews furiously entitled "Bitter emotions and obsolete understanding of high-energy physics’’ and "Another postmodern diatribe against modern physics and scientific method’’. As Nature went to press, the reviews had been removed.
‘Few in the community are, at least publicly, as vitriolic as Motl. But many are angry and struggling to deal with the criticism. "Most of my friends are quietly upset,’’ says Leonard Susskind, a string theorist at Stanford University in California. ...
‘The books leave string theorists such as Susskind wondering how to approach such strong public criticism. "I don’t know if the right thing is to worry about the public image or keep quiet,’’ he says. He fears the argument may "fuel the discrediting of scientific expertise’’.
‘That’s something that Smolin and Woit insist they don’t want. Woit says his problem isn’t with the theory itself, just some of its more grandiose claims. ‘‘There are some real things you can do with string theory,’’ he says. [Presumably Woit means sifting through 10^500 metastable solutions trying to find one which looks like the Standard Model, or using string theory to make up real propaganda. ]’
- Geoff Brumfiel, in Nature.
Lubos Motl responds on Peter Woit’s blog with disgusting language, as befitting the pseudo-scientific extra dimensional string theorist who can't predict anything checkable:
Lubos Motl Says: October 3rd, 2006 at 8:14 pm
Dear crackpot Peter, you are a damn assh***. I will sue you for the lies those crackpot commenters telling on me on your crackpot blog. I hope you will die soon. The sooner the better.
So: be prepared to hear from my lawyer.
Note: string theorist Aaron Bergman reviewed Not Even Wrong at the String Coffee Table, and now he writes in a comment on Not Even Wrong that if he reviewed Smolin's Trouble he would 'probably end up being a bit more snide’ in the review than Sean Carroll was on Cosmic Variance. That really does sum up the arrogant attitude problem with stringers...
Update 6 October 2006
The distinguished algebraic quantum field theorist, Professor Bert Schroer, has written a response to Lubos Motl in the form of an updated and greatly revised paper, the draft version of which was previously discussed on Dr Peter Woit weblog Not Even Wrong: http://arxiv.org/abs/physics/0603112. (Schroer’s publication list is here.) He analyses the paranoia of string theorists on pages 21 et seq.
He starts by quoting Motl’s claim 'Superstring/M-theory is the language in which God wrote the world’, and remarks:
‘Each time I looked at his signing off, an old limerick which I read a long time ago came to my mind. It originates from pre-war multi-cultural Prague where, after a performance of Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde by a maestro named Motl, an art critic (who obviously did not like the performance) wrote instead of a scorcher for the next day’s Vienna newspaper the following spooner (unfortunately untranslatable without a complete loss of its lovely polemic charm):
‘Gehn’s net zu Motl’s Tristan
schaun’s net des Trottels Mist an,
schaffn’s lieber ’nen drittel Most an
und trinkn’s mit dem Mittel Trost an’
(A very poor translation is:
Do not go to Motl’s Tristan.
Don’t appear at this nincompoop muck,
Get yourself a drink instead
And remain in comfort.)
‘After having participated in Peter Woit’s weblog and also occasionally followed links to other weblogs during March-June 2006 I have to admit that my above conclusions about Lubos Motl were wrong. He definitely represents something much more worrisome than an uninhibited name-calling (crackpot, rat, wiesel.....) character who operates on the fringes of ST and denigrates adversaries of string theory23 in such a way that this becomes an embarrassing liability to the string community. If that would be true, then at least the more prominent string theorists, who still try to uphold standards of scientific ethic in their community, would keep a certain distance and the whole affair would not even be worth mentioning in an essay like this. But as supporting contributions of Polchinski and others to Motl's weblog show, this is definitely not the case. My final conclusion is that the young and intelligent Harvard professor Lubos Motl has decided to build his career on offering a cartering service for the string community. He obviously is a quick scanner of the daily hep-th server output, and by torching papers which are outside the credo of string theorists (i.e. LQG, AQFT) he saves them time. The downgrading of adversaries is something which has at least the tacit consent of the community. It is evident that he is following a different road from that of using one’s intellectual potential for the enrichment of knowledge about particle physics. If one can build a tenure track career at
a renown university by occasionally publishing a paper but mainly keeping a globalized community informed by giving short extracts of string-compatible papers and playing the role of a Lord of misuse to outsiders who have not yet gotten the message, the transgression of the traditional scientific ethics24 for reasons of career-building may become quite acceptable. It would be interesting to see into what part of this essay the string theorists pitbull will dig his teeth.’
Peter Woit links to Risto Raitio’s weblog discussion of Schroer’s paper which points out aspects which are even more interesting:
‘For the present particle theorist to be successful it is not sufficient to propose an interesting idea via written publication and oral presentation, but he also should try to build or find a community around this idea. The best protection of a theoretical proposal against profound criticism and thus securing its longtime survival is to be able to create a community around it. If such a situation can be maintained over a sufficiently long time it develops a life of its own because no member of the community wants to find himself in a situation where he has spend the most productive years on a failed project. In such a situation intellectual honesty gives way to an ever increasing unwillingness and finally a loss of critical abilities as a result of self-delusion.
‘I would like to argue that these developments have been looming in string theory for a long time and the recent anthropic manifesto  (L. Susskind, The Cosmic Landscape: String Theory and the Illusion of Intelligent Design) (which apparently led to a schism within the string community) is only the extreme tip of an iceberg. Since there has been ample criticism of this anthropic viewpoint (even within the string theory community), my critical essay will be directed to the metaphoric aspect by which string theory has deepened the post standard model crisis of particle physics. Since in my view the continuation of the present path could jeopardize the future research of fundamental physics for many generations, the style of presentation will occasionally be somewhat polemic.
‘An age old problem of QFT which resisted all attempts to solve it is the problem of existence of models i.e. whether there really exist a QFT behind the Lagrangian name and perturbative expressions. Since there are convincing arguments that perturbative series do not converge (they are at best asymptotic expressions) this is a very serious and (for realistic models) unsolved problems. The problem that particle physics most successful theory of QED is also its mathematically most fragile has not gone away. In this sense QFT has a very precarious status very different from any other area of physics in particular from QM. This is very annoying and in order to not to undermine the confidence of newcomers in QFT the prescribed terminology is to simply use the word ‘‘defined” or ‘‘exists” in case some consistency arguments (usually related in some way to perturbation theory) have been checked.
‘These problems become even worse in theories as string theory (which in the eyes of string protagonists are supposed to supersede QFT). In this case one faces in addition to the existence problem the conceptual difficulty of not having been able to extract characterizing principles from ad hoc recipes
‘... Particle physics these days is generally not done by individuals but by members of big groups, and when these big caravans have passed by a problem, it will remain in the desert. A reinvestigation (naturally with improved mathematical tool and grater conceptual insight) could be detrimental to the career of somebody who does not enjoy the security of a community.
‘In its new string theoretical setting its old phenomenological flaw of containing a spin=2 particle was converted into the ‘‘virtue” of the presence of a graviton. The new message was the suggestion that string theory (as a result of the presence of spin two and the apparent absence of perturbative ultraviolet divergencies) should be given the status of a fundamental theory at an energy scale of the gravitational Planck mass, 10^19 GeV, i.e. as a true theory of everything (TOE), including gravity. Keeping in mind that the frontiers of fundamental theoretical physics (and in particular of particle physics) are by their very nature a quite speculative subject, one should not be surprised about the highly speculative radical aspects of this proposals; we know from history that some of our most successful theories originated as speculative conjectures. What is however worrisome about this episode is rather its uncritical reception. After all there is no precedent in the history of physics of a phenomenologically conceived idea for laboratory energies to became miraculously transmuted into a theory of everything by just sliding the energy scale upward through 15 orders of magnitudes and changing the terminology without a change in its mathematical-conceptual setting.
‘In this essay I emphasized that, as recent progress already forshadows, the issue of QG will not be decided in an Armageddon between ST and LQG, but QFT will enter as a forceful player once it has conceptually solidified the ground from where exploratory jumps into the blue yonder including a return ticket can be undertaken.
‘The problem is not that there are no other games in town, but rather that there are no bright young players who take the risk of jeopardizing their career by learning and expanding the sophisticated rules for playing other games.’
I've enjoyed Schroer's excellent paper and the first part has quite a bit of discussion about the ultraviolet (UV) divergence problem in quantum field field where you have to take an upper limit cutoff for the charge renormalization to prevent a divergence of loops of massive nature occurring at extremely high energy. The solution to this problem is straightforward (it is not a physically real problem): there physically just isn't room for massive loops to be polarized above the UV cutoff because at higher energy you get closer to the particle core, so the space is simply too small in size to have massive loops with charges being polarized along the electric field vector.
To explain further, if the massive particle loops are simply energized Dirac sea particles, i.e., if the underlying mechanism is that there is a Dirac sea in the vacuum which gains energy close to charges so that pairs of free electrons + positrons (and heavier loops where the field strength permits) are able to pop into observable existence close to electrons where the electric field strength is above 10^18 volts/metre, then the UV cutoff is explained: for extremely high energy, the corresponding distance is so small there is not likely to be any Dirac sea particles available in that small space. So the intense electric field strength is unable to produce any massive loops. We rely on Popper's explanation of the uncertainty principle in this case: the massive virtual particles are low energy Dirac field particles which have simply gained vast energy from the intense field:
‘... the Heisenberg formulae can be most naturally interpreted as statistical scatter relations [between virtual particles in the quantum foam vacuum and real electrons, etc.], as I proposed [in the 1934 book The Logic of Scientific Discovery]. ... There is, therefore, no reason whatever to accept either Heisenberg’s or Bohr’s subjectivist interpretation ...’
– Sir Karl R. Popper, Objective Knowledge, Oxford University Press, 1979, p. 303.
‘It always bothers me that, according to the laws as we understand them today, it takes a computing machine an infinite number of logical operations to figure out what goes on in no matter how tiny a region of space, and no matter how tiny a region of time. How can all that be going on in that tiny space? Why should it take an infinite amount of logic to figure out what one tiny piece of space/time is going to do? So I have often made the hypothesis that ultimately physics will not require a mathematical statement, that in the end the machinery will be revealed, and the laws will turn out to be simple, like the chequer board with all its apparent complexities.’
- R. P. Feynman, Character of Physical Law, November 1964 Cornell Lectures, broadcast and published in 1965 by BBC, pp. 57-8.
Updated diagram of mass model: http://thumbsnap.com/vf/FBeqR0gc.gif. See the first comment on this post for more information on the dynamics of this model.
Note that string theory claims to solve the ultraviolet divergence problem at high energy by postulating 1:1 boson to fermion supersymmetry (one massive bosonic superpartner for every fermion in the universe) which is extravagant and predicts nothing except unification of forces near the Planck scale. It is artificial and even if you want string theory to be real, there are ways of getting around that by modifying 26 dimensional bosonic string theory as Tony Smith shows (he is suppressed from arXiv now, for not following the mainstream herd into M-theory). Previous posts are here (illustrated with force unification graphs showing effect of supersymmetry) and here (background information). So everything string says is wrong/not even wrong. The greatest claims of string theory to be successful are unphysical, uncheckable.
More on the mechanism of the cosmic landscape string theory hype, ie, "selling more copies":
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... Jeremy Webb, editor of New Scientist, graduated in electronics from Exeter University before working for the BBC as a sound engineer.
An article in The Hindu newspaper explains his editorial approach . New Scientist has come under some criticism as a result of his editorial decisions (see for example  and ).
A Daily Telegraph article  reports:
Prof Heinz Wolff complained that cosmology is "religion, not science." Jeremy Webb of New Scientist responded that it is not religion but magic. ... "If I want to sell more copies of New Scientist, I put cosmology on the cover," said Jeremy.
Physics in the UK is allegedly in a "terminal decline" , and the efforts of Jeremy Webb and the rest of New Scientist (Britain's main science weekly) to "sell more copies"  have not boosted student interest in the subject, according to recent statistics:
Since 1982 A-level physics entries have halved. Only just over 3.8 per cent of 16-year-olds took A-level physics in 2004 compared with about 6 per cent in 1990.
More than a quarter (from 57 to 42) of universities with significant numbers of physics undergraduates have stopped teaching the subject since 1994, while the number of home students on first-degree physics courses has decreased by more than 28 per cent. Even in the 26 elite universities with the highest ratings for research the trend in student numbers has been downwards. .
One writer for Electronics & Wireless World magazine was emailed by Jeremy Webb on 30 August 2004:
Hawking and Penrose are well regarded among their peers. I am eager to question their ideas but I cannot afford to ignore them. Any physicist working today would be daft to do so. Nevertheless, neither makes regular appearances in the magazine. Paul Davies writes for us between zero and three times a year, writing as much about biology these days as he does about physics. He is invited to write. , 
Helene Guldberg in an article for Spiked Science on 26 April 2001  reported that Jeremy Webb's behaviour had been sarcastic and rude towards her and others who disagreed with the New Scientist during "the horrendous event that was the New Scientist's UK Global Environment Roadshow":
Webb asked - after the presentations - whether there was anybody who still was not worried about the future. In a room full of several hundred people, only three of us put our hands up. We were all asked to justify ourselves (which is fair enough). But one woman, who believed that even if some of the scenarios are likely, we should be able to find solutions to cope with them, was asked by Webb whether she was related to George Bush!
When I pointed out that none of the speakers had presented any of the scientific evidence that challenged their doomsday scenarios, Webb just threw back at me, 'But why take the risk?' What did he mean: 'Why take the risk of living?' You could equally say 'Why take the risk of not experimenting? Why take the risk of not allowing optimum economic development?' But had I been able to ask these questions, I suppose I would have been accused of being in bed with Dubya. 
However, New Scientist had an online link with a podcast of Jeremy Webb very politely interviewing British Prime Minister Tony Blair , where Jeremy Webb explains New Scientist's standpoint:
In certain areas, we seem to be moving further away from rational thought, whether it’s the rise of fundamentalist religious beliefs or the use of unproven alternative therapies.