While I was sitting at the coast throwing stones into the ocean, it seems Lubos has written a very interesting post about an important topic: Science vs Democracy.
I don't quite share the perception of the so-called-crisis-in-theoretical-physics, but we are currently in a situation that requires adjustment to the changes that front research has made during the last decades. Without doubt, the number of people working in theoretical physics has increased a lot. Research fields have become more and more specific. It takes a long time to gain enough knowledge to be able to contribute to the front of research.
This has caused the community to fall apart into many distinct fields. Most often, people working on one field don't know much about other fields. Worse, I even noticed that the basic knowledge that postdocs should have, already begins to be filtered by the supervisor they had, or the topic they were focused on. This is not only annoying, but it also hinders progress.
Reading Lubos', Peter's and other blogs, following articles in newspapers, or recent books, it is pretty obvious that currently there is some controversy about which direction research in theoretical physics should take in the future. This is a question that most likely won't be answered by calling each other names in comments on blogger's posts.
It concerns me very much that this discussion is lead on such a level, without serious attempts to resolve the problem in a constructive way. Our work is based on the support of the society we live in. Research funding has to be distributed to the most promising researchers. These decisions have to be made based on something. These decisions ARE made on the basis of SOMETHING. But something is not good enough.
This is the context in which I mentioned the advisory committee. Not to decide on the number of critical dimensions, as Lubos indicates, but to decide which researchers and projects are worth supporting.
Besides this minor misunderstanding, Lubos essentially agrees on what I say.
Lubos: it is absolutely critical that scientists have the freedom to reveal the truth whatever it is and they are unconstrained by the pre-determined truth defined by someone else...
If that alone was the base on which researchers are supported, I would be very happy! However, one might keep in mind that 'truth' is something to search for in mathematics as well as in physics.
To clarify another statement:
Lubos: The blogger mentioned at the beginning has even proposed to establish "advisory committees" that would be deciding what research directions are promising and what conclusions about general questions that scientists are allowed to make and what conclusions they are not allowed to make. I just can't believe she's serious ...
I certainly never said someone should decide what conclusions scientists are allowed to make. I want to point out again that there ARE people deciding what research is promising in terms of financial support. It is definitely possible, and necessary, to improve this decision making process. It requires an objective analysis of what science is, what it should be, and how it can work best.
Lubos: The more specialized and advanced questions in science we try to answer, the more devastating effect the committees would have. It's simply because the very specialized topics in science are always correlated with very small groups of people who understand these things well.
I am very glad that Lubos understands the problem. Groups of people specialized on things they understand will most likely fail to appreciate important contributions outside their line of thought. Candidates picked on this level are most likely those which pursue research topics the group of people who understand these things well understands well. I.e. when things go wrong, they go really wrong.
Lubos: But it is completely crazy for deciding about highly difficult science questions.
To make this clear one more time: truth is not decided about by committees. When truth remains to be found, and resources are limited, decisions ought to be made where the resources go. How this can be done in a way that hopefully leads out of the so-called-crisis-in-theoretical-physics is exactly the discussion that we need.
Note added: This discussion originated from the comments on Lubos' post Dean of crackpots, Hitler's Pope, and string theory.