At what point does theory depart the realm of testable hypothesis and come to resemble something like aesthetic speculation, or even theology? The legendary physicist Wolfgang Pauli had a phrase for such ideas: He would describe them as "not even wrong," meaning that they were so incomplete that they could not even be used to make predictions to compare with observations to see whether they were wrong or not. In Peter Woit's view, superstring theory is just such an idea. In Not Even Wrong , he shows that what many physicists call superstring "theory" is not a theory at all. It makes no predictions, even wrong ones, and this very lack of falsifiability is what has allowed the subject to survive and flourish. Not Even Wrong explains why the mathematical conditions for progress in physics are entirely absent from superstring theory today and shows that judgments about scientific statements, which should be based on the logical consistency of argument and experimental evidence, are instead based on the eminence of those claiming to know the truth. In the face of many books from enthusiasts for string theory, this book presents the other side of the story.
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Peter Woit is a lecturer in the mathematics department of Columbia University, where in recent years he has taught graduate courses in quantum field theory, representation theory, and differential geometry. His math and physics blog, Not Even Wrong (www.math.columbia.edu/~woit/wordpress), has been featured in Discover , Seed , and New Scientist . He lives in New York.From Publishers Weekly:
String theory is the only game in town in physics departments these days. But echoing Lee Smolin's forthcoming The Trouble with Physics (Reviews, July 24), Woit, a Ph.D. in theoretical physics and a lecturer in mathematics at Columbia, points out—again and again—that string theory, despite its two decades of dominance, is just a hunch aspiring to be a theory. It hasn't predicted anything, as theories are required to do, and its practitioners have become so desperate, says Woit, that they're willing to redefine what doing science means in order to justify their labors. The first half of Woit's book is a tightly argued, beautifully written account of the development of the standard model and includes a history of particle accelerators that will interest science buffs. When he gets into the history of string theory, however, his pace accelerates alarmingly, with highly sketchy chapters. Reading this in conjunction with Smolin's more comprehensive critique of string theory, readers will be able to make up their own minds about whether string theory lives up to the hype. (Sept.)
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