Monday, July 10, 2006

Peter Woit's Not Even Wrong


Above my desk there is a postcard with a quotation by Winston Churchill. It says: Never, Never, Never give up. I bought this some years ago after receiving a particularly nonsensical referee report, and it's been moving with me since.


Until I read Peter Woit's book I did not know this quotation was used by David Gross at the end of his closing talk on the Strings 2003 conference. These are the opening lines of chapter I of 'Not Even Wrong', though in this version the quotation has five Never's.



My grandma taught me there is a thin line between stubbornness and stupidity. I'd say the intention of Peter Woit's book is to draw the line for the case of String Theory. It remains up to you though, on which side you place yourself. Maybe the two Never's make all the difference.

The book can be divided roughly in two parts. The first part, chapter 1-9, are an introduction into the Standard Model and its problems. The second part, chapter 11-18 are a survey on the achievements of String Theory, or rather the absence thereof. Chapter 10 I don't really know what to do with.

If Lee Smolin hadn't already said it (back flap) I'd have said the book is courageous, cause it provides all the necessary criticism that was - and is - omitted in most introductions into the subject. Criticism is always uncomfortable, for both sides. So, I am not entirely comfortable with this review either.

Unfortunately, the whole purpose of the book - to point out the 'Failure of String Theory and the continuing challenge to unify the laws of physics' (subtitle) - makes the second part of the book a rather depressing read.

The first half is an introduction into the main concepts:

A short history of experimental particle physics (2), quantum mechanics (3), quantum field theory (4), gauge symmetries (5) and the Standard Model (6 + 7). Then, problems of the Standard Model (8) are discussed, after which follows a chapter about the need to go beyond the Standard Model, and about some attempts to do so (9).

So far, the book could have been an average popular science book, but imo not an especially well written one. Even though I personally like the briefness of the introduction (having read about one thousand popular introductions to quantum mechanics), there are definitely better ways to do it. I would e.g. recommend Lisa Randall's 'Warped Passages' which is indeed a very readable, and also entertaining. If you like it brief, try Lee Smolin's 'Three Roads to Quantum Gravity'; if you like it fast and furious, try Joao Magueijo's 'Faster Then the Speed of Light'. Unfortunately ( since it defies the intention of Peter's book) I'd also say Brian Greene's 'Elegant Universe' is a much more elegant introduction into the basic concepts.

Furthermore, I myself do appreciate the use of technical terms and mentioning of mathematical abstractions, because an interested reader will have it much easier to build up on it. In this regard, the references given at the end of each chapter are also very useful. I do appreciate this because I had to read an enormous amount of pop science books in high school before I found the relevant words 'tensor calculus' and 'differential geometry'.

However, on the other hand this means, these introductions will be very hard to read without at least basic knowledge in first semester physics. Is it really necessary for an introduction into quantum mechanics to elaborate on the relations between 'a very specific representation of the group U(1), the representation as transformations of the complex plane' and Fourier analysis (p.48)?

Chapter 10 about 'New Insights in Quantum Field Theory and Mathematics' then provides you with detailed explanations on topics like

(p.128)
'The Wess-Zumino-Witten two-dimensional quantum field theory turns out to be closely related to the representation theory of Kac-Moody groups. [...] The Hilbert space of the Wess-Zumino-Witten model is a representation not only of the the Kac-Moody group but of the group of conformal transformations (actually, this is a serious over-simplification [...])'


Or

(p.144)
'Analytic fields could be classified by an integer, the so-called degree [...]The number of such fields of degree one was known since the nineteenth century to be 2875, and the number for degree two had been calculated to be 609,250 [...]The physicist's mirror space method predicted that there were 317,206,375 analytic fields of degree three [...].'

I guess, you really have to be R. Penrose to call this 'compulsive reading' (front flap).

However, if you made it through chapter 10, the books gets better in the second part. The next chapters summarize points of criticism on String Theory/Supersymmetry. None of which was really new or surprising for me, but it is good to have them written down as clearly as Peter Woit does it.

Having given up to expect a popular science book, here, I'd have wished for more technical details.

The later chapters then seem to me like a collection of essays that are rather vaguely connected to each other. E.g. there is an elaboration on the alleged beauty and elegance of String Theory (13), the religious aspects of the string community (14), and a chapter on the Bogdanov affair (15). I found myself explaining to Stefan that I think the point of the latter chapter was an example for how difficult it has become to sort out the crap in the field, and how peer review fails, and not that Peter tried to publish how he was misquoted by the brothers.

Then there are some well meant but unfocused attempts to analyze the problems in the community (16), which annoyingly are not very constructive. However, in big parts I share Peter Woit's view

(p.205)
'This huge degree of complexity at the heart of current research into superstring theory means that there are many problem for researchers to investigate, but it also means that a huge investment in time and effort is required to master the subject well enough to begin such research. [...] '

(p.206)
'Besides raising a huge barrier of entry to the subject, the difficulty of superstring theory also makes it hard for researchers to leave. By the time they achieve some real expertise they typically have invested a huge part of their carrier in studying superstrings [...]'

Then there is the unavoidable landscape issue in chapter 17, which I refuse to comment on, and a chapter on 'Other Points of View' (18), which also mentions LQG. This disappointingly short chapter is somewhat counter-effective to the claim that there are alternatives to superstring theory that should be pursued with more effort than currently invested.

An overall remark is that I find it quite interesting how Peter Woit gives a view on things from the mathematical side. E.g. I was not aware about most of the cross-relations mentioned in chapter 10, and some of it I will surely look into closer. I also used to say the M in M-theory stands for maths. By reading the book I came to realize that this is probably not a good interpretation either.

(p.208)
[...] it's very clear to me how my mathematician colleagues would answer the question of whether superstring theory is mathematics. They would uniformly say 'Certainly not!'

Maybe, I have been living in the US for too long, but I could not avoid asking myself which target group this book was written for. I definitely would not recommend the book to my mum (even though she's a maths high school teacher), or my younger brother (who has a MS). Moreover, for the 'interested layman', the discussion about the details of String Theory will be rather boring. I really hate to point it out, but even though Peter's or Lubos' blog might leave you with that impression, the world does not revolve around the question whether the KKLT mechanism can be considered elegant or not. And when you step back and out of the line of your peer group, the landscape discussion might rank somewhere close by the question whether aliens encoded a message in our DNA.

However, there is an audience this book is definitely addressed to. If you are a student who has just begun learning String Theory, or consider going into the field, you should without doubt read this book. I'd go so far to recommend reading it along with any String Theory lecture. It will give you much a better base to judge for yourself whether you want to enter the field.

(p. 237) Quote from Michael Atiyah:
'In the United States I observe a trend toward early specialization driven by economic considerations. You must show early promise to get good letters of recommendations to get good first jobs. You can't afford to branch out until you have established yourself and have a secure position. The realities of life force a narrowness in perspective [...] I am distressed by the coercive effect of today's job market.'

Since there are people who buy books by the cover: it features 'an artistically enhanced picture of particle tracks in the Big European Bubble Chamber'. That could have been nice, but the overlay with the title on the front flap is very sloppily done, and it just looks cheap. However, it will look nice in a bookshelf.

To summarize, I'd say Peter Woit's book 'Not even Wrong' is not an entertaining and easy to read popular science book. Neither does it provide sufficient details to be a technical introduction into the problems and alternatives to String Theory. I would really be interested to read a more technical version of the second part, and I genuinely hope Peter Woit finds the time (and the publisher) to do so. In his book, he carefully summarizes problems in Superstring Theory, and points out weaknesses of the current research programmes. The book will tell you all the things String theorists know but don't talk about in public.



If this was an amazon review, I'd give three stars. However, I am very suspicious of amazon reviews: Those who take the time to write reviews are usually either completely upset or totally excited, whereas the broad middle range is often missing.

29 comments:

Peter Woit said...

Hi Sabine,

A fair enough review, just thought I'd make a few comments.

I tried to write the book so that a wide range of people would get something out of it. As a result, almost everyone will find parts of it not right for them. The history and explanation of the standard model is done in a different way than other popular physics books. For one thing, as you noticed, it's written from more of a mathematician's point of view (thus the emphasis on the role of Hermann Weyl and of representation theory, and the discussion of the details of how QFT has impacted mathematics in recent years). For another, I wanted to try not to do what Lisa Randall or Brian do, which is to give extended explanations with lots of analogies, aimed at someone who knows nothing about these subjects. Instead I tried to see if I could just write down in the simplest terms possible exactly what the basic ideas are, and provide references at various levels for people who wanted to learn more. If you've never seen this stuff before, yes you should be reading another book for a more leisurely and low-level introduction (but, then again, to counteract the string theory hype, you should be reading mine too...)

Yes, you got the point of the Bogdanov story right. Some parts of that story are there purely for entertainment value.

You're right that the story I'm telling is in many ways a depressing one. No way around that. I wish I had more positive suggestions, but part of the point I'm trying to make is that if people won't admit that we're in a depressing situation and analyze why, it's extremely hard to do anything to fix the situation. If people will admit that there's a problem, then many of the standard mechanisms in academia will function correctly and help us get out of it.

As for alternatives, this really is a book about particle physics, not gravity. I think Lee does an excellent job of explaining alternative ideas about quantum gravity, and for this people should read him, not me, and I mainly just referred to his books. For particle physics, string theory has failed, but it's not like there are alternate well-developed ideas out there that work. I have my own favorite ideas, but they're in a very preliminary state, and the last thing the world needs is another over-hyped sales job on ideas that still need to be thought thru much better before one can tell if they're going to work.

As for more technical detail, I'm not going to write another book at this level anytime soon. I hope that the blog can function as providing much more detail about some of the concerns of the book. Not sure exactly what you'd like more details about, I gather not the landscape... If it's quantum gravity, I'm the wrong person. I certainly do hope in the future to write more technical things about the math related to physics that interests me, some of it at an expository level.

Peter

Dimitri Terryn said...

"If you are a student who has just begun learning String Theory, or consider going into the field, you should without doubt read this book."

Guess that would be me. I was going to look for it later this week, it should be avaible in the British bookstores of downtown Brussels.

QUASAR9 said...

Bee said: "the landscape discussion might rank somewhere close by the question whether aliens encoded a message in our DNA."

Do you mean a 'hidden' encoded message, encrypted & more complex than the simple DNA code?

Peter, healthy debate is the best form of advancing learning. As Bee has pointed out, what fun would the world of Microsoft be without Apple. Inevitably they converge and assimilate or incorporate each others' features and facilities, though they retain their distint gimmicks and lay-out or individual looks, their own unique software code and patents. Their independent views and preferences in the vast world (pocketuniverse)of computing

Lumo said...

Dear Sabine,
very thoughtful remarks.

You say that the world does not revolve around the elegancy of KKLT.

I am not so sure. KKLT is probably the most cited paper in the last 2-3 years and its interpretation might be the most important conceptual question that is also dividing the theoretical physics community to a large extent.

If you want to say that it should not really be as important a topic as it is, I might kind of agree. But in reality, it is still extremely important.

Best
Lubos

Uncle Al said...

String theory is a failure of riches, 10^500 acceptable vacua. String theory is both chiral and achiral. That cannot be. Observe whether left and right shoes identically fit like socks.

Does the vacuum possess a chiral pseudoscalar background in the mass sector? Do local vacuum free falling left and right shoes pursue non-parallel (diastereotopic) minimum action trajectories?

A parity Eotvos eperiment requires 90 days in $2 million apparatus to measure Equivalence Principle parity violation to 10^(-13) difference/average. A parity calorimetry experiment requires 2 days in two calorimeters and is sensitive to 3x10^(-18) inertial-gravitational mass divergence. Benzil is $(US)16 for 100 grams.

If we wanted to empirically tighten string theory we could do it in a week - in a lab, not on a blackboard.

Thomas D said...

Hey Al! Some people are thinking in the same way ... at least in theory.

hep-ph/0605342

Spin-Dependent Macroscopic Forces from New Particle Exchange
Authors: Bogdan A. Dobrescu, Irina Mocioiu
Comments: 37 pages
Report-no: FERMILAB-Pub-06-084-T

Long-range forces between macroscopic objects are mediated by light particles that interact with the electrons or nucleons, and include spin-dependent static components as well as spin- and velocity-dependent components (...)


As for string theory being too difficult, I'd love to see the 'easy' alternative.

Lots of things are difficult without being interesting, but string theory is often difficult and unexpected, which is why people seem still to be interested. I doubt so many people would continue if they didn't find it interesting on some level. If strings did boil down to just constructing tens of thousands of models and running their properties through a computer I don't think it would last long as a field of enquiry. If you want to make a living from something that boring... there's always financial analysis.

Anonymous said...

hi, thanks. this is actually more helpful than the amazon reviews. wasn't sure whether to get the book but will so now.

Bee said...

Hi Peter,

I hope I made clear that I found the book interesting. I just wanted to summarize what the reader has to expect, and what not. Sadly enough I agree with you that this depressing story had to be written, or otherwise the situation will get even worse.

Not sure exactly what you'd like more details about, I gather not the landscape... .

What I mean is a brief introduction into the main concepts, including the formalism around the important steps, and an outline of the central problems.

E.g. you might start with the usual arguments why 26? Tachyons? Oh -ha! We have a spin-2 field, why is this gravity? Supersymmetry, 10 dimensions. Parameters of Susy, why so many, Sugra, but then: symmetry breaking, what problems, what possible solutions, how do they work, what problems bring these solutions... wimps, gravitinos, R-parity, KKLT - just write down what it is, an equation as brief as possible, references, explain why it works, and what further follows from that. Likewise for GUTs, what is the doublet-triplet splitting, what is the deal with non-comm. geometries? Topological qft, etc. Some Lagrangians, or discussions of it's terms.

You seem to have a good overview about these things, and this is very valuable. I (and many others I suspect) am interested in the matters (failure or not) but don't have the time to look up the details on every of these topics (as research papers are usually hard to read). I'd just like to get a rough idea what it is about, know how things belong together and how inevitably one step follows from the other.

I hope that the blog can function as providing much more detail about some of the concerns of the book.

I am kind of old fashioned I guess. I just don't like to read on a screen. I'd rather spend of order $100 to get a book, have everything together and take it to the beach, instead of scrolling up and down websites.

Best, B.

Bee said...

Do you mean a 'hidden' encoded message, encrypted & more complex than the simple DNA code?

There is plenty of stuff in our DNA we have absolutely no idea what it's good for. Depends on what you mean with 'hidden' since the the sequences of the 3 billion chemical base pairs that make up human DNA have been determined, and this information in stored in databases, see

The Human Genome Project

Best, B.

byen00 said...

You would like the quote by Jim Valvano (basketball coach for NC State "Wolfpack"), he's known for the quote "Don't Give Up. Don't ever give up".

"Victory belongs to the Most Persevering"
-- Napoleon

Without knowing the details of ST & it's history, I think a multiplexed approach ("multiple threads") for Theories need to be tried..incl ST. I wouldn't give up on ST..or any Alternative Models either. I think P. Woit's book is raising concern that the ST thread is running out of steam.

I like the analogy used by Andrew Wiles/Princeton (proved Fermat's Last Theorem), of Research: "wandering around in a dark room". Once the "lights are turned on", you can see the path towards the final theory: "Oh, it's easy..of course!". But, the challenge is we don't know.."lights are turned off". Enlightenment.

Good metaphor by L. Lederman:

"These guys [ & gals ] are really smart, right? You know there's a solution? It's like trying to open a treasure-chest, there's a lock in the front. But, there's possibly a backdoor route of opening it..an alternative approach"

I myself used an Indirect Method, to break-open my field 20 odd yrs ago (PhD research). Everyone else was plugging the solution-variables into a long complicated equation. I simply said: "solve for the 9 3x3 rotation matrix elements in R" (linear problem) & do a transformation (solve for 3D rotation parameters from R). That was it. Broke open the field, & I extended it to another domain. I did my PhD thesis in 2 weeks (conceptually).

Bee said...

Dear Lubos,

You say that the world does not revolve around the elegancy of KKLT.

I am not so sure.


I guess my world is just larger than your reference frame.

KKLT is probably the most cited paper in the last 2-3 years [...]

I refuse to define 'importance' through number of people who write about it. Otherwise I'd come to the conclusion that my next paper should be about Angelina Jolie.

If you want to say that it should not really be as important a topic as it is, I might kind of agree. But in reality, it is still extremely important.

Could you please define 'reality'?

Anyway, I'd like to clarify that my sentence that 'the world does not revolve around KKLT' meant to say that the average person, (say as average as the Dalai Lama, George W. Bush, Angelina Jolie and Pope Benedikt) doen't give a shit about it.

Best, B.

stefan said...

KKLT is probably the most cited paper in the last 2-3 years [...]

just for the record, Nakano's pentaquark paper hep-ex/0301020, which was on the arxive just two weeks before KKLT, is, according to spires, cited more often. Pentaquarks would have been an exciting and long-expected discovery within the framework of the standard model and QCD. However, it may well be the case that this discovery was some strange blunder.

Best, Stefan

Garrett said...

"I refuse to define 'importance' through number of people who write about it. Otherwise I'd come to the conclusion that my next paper should be about Angelina Jolie."

Ha!

Ahem, let me recompose myself so I can reply. (That was a good one.)

Some people seem a bit mystified as to what Peter's book is actually for, and I'd like to suggest my opinion (even though I haven't read the book, as it isn't yet available in the states). The book may not be the best introduction to physics for the layman, and it may not be the best technical critique of string theory. And Peter himself says this book has "something for everyone" and therefore, necessarily, all of it isn't for anyone in particular. But, more than anything, I think this book, and Peter's blog, is a

bellwether

for the physics community. As a physicist standing up and very vocally proclaiming that string theory might not be the final theory everyone hoped for, Peter is playing the role of the little boy in the crowd pointing out that the Emperor has no clothes. By instantiating this opinion as a book, it lends credibility to this notion, and gives proponents of this opinion a good source to cite for reinforcement.

The book may lack a good description of the road ahead for physics, but that is not its purpose. Its purpose is to sound the collapse of string theory under it's own ponderous weight, and clear the road so that new approaches may enter the field and be given a little attention.

Peter himself may or may not have some good new, non-stringy ideas on unification. But I think whoever does will soon owe him and his book a debt of gratitude.

QUASAR9 said...

[See, Lubos, the thing is I made my MS on the Hawking effect and my PhD on black hole evaporation, and I am still skeptic about the importance of the matter. I don't say it's UNimportant, but imo it's completely overhyped. Now you tell me what a microstate of a black hole is, the eternal as well as the dynamically formed one.]

Bee, Did you say to me you don't believe in singularities, or were you pulling my chain

Bee said...

Hi Quasar,

not sure what this has to do with anything, but no, I don't think singularities (or infinities in general) are physical and do describe reality. Best, B.

Bee said...

Hi garrett,

bellwether! That is great! It fits perfectly! Thanks :-) (Now I only have to find someone who tells me how to pronounce this.)

I just want to mention again that the intention of my above review was to state what the book is about, and what it is not about.

I read some of the reviews on amazon and could not avoid thinking that statements like [...] the best ever popular introduction to the Standard Model [...] or [...] can be read by anyone are somewhat misleading, and will leave readers disappointed who expect an entertaining pop science book.

Best, B.

Lumo said...

Dear Bee,
you say

"I guess my world is just larger than your reference frame. ... I refuse to define 'importance' through number of people who write about it. Otherwise I'd come to the conclusion that my next paper should be about Angelina Jolie."

The more accurate description of the "larger world" is that you are not so able to focus on a question and study it carefully.

Concerning citations, sure, generally speaking, citations are not 100% correlated to importance, no doubt about it. But the more clearly someone may be classified as a crackpot, the more her or his understanding of the importance of scientific papers deviates from the number of citations.

There are very good reasons why most of the superhighly cited papers are superhighly cited, and if someone misunderstands these reasons and thinks that this misunderstanding is a reason to be proud, then she or he is a pompous fool.

Best
Lubos

Thomas D said...

Well, 'bellwether' is a term of propaganda at this point. You cannot tell if something is really a 'bellwether' unless it does actually signal a major shift in general opinion. That is still to be seen. Perhaps many people would like the book to be a bellwether.

Influential people (much more so than Woit) have been criticizing string theory for many years and not got very much traction, probably in part because they have not seen any comparably interesting alternative. For example Veltman has not done anything interesting for decades. Now they have their views summarized in a book, that may or may not be a great step forwards.

'Clear the road' is quite bogus. No-one is being prevented from pursuing these 'other approaches', in fact there is a reasonably-sized pot of money for them, quite enough for basic theoretical work which is the cheapest possible form of science.

The implied idea that once we get rid of string theory things will become easier and better is not only bogus but dangerous (not that I would attribute such a view to Peter). Deliberate negative publicity for some branch of research is always dangerous since funding bodies can easily interpret it as a signal to cut total funding, which many in government would like to see happen.

To caricature: Non-string theorists want strings to get less money and other things to get more. Hence they start saying negative things about strings. Funding bodies pay attention to this and then cut the strings money and government is happy because it was able to cut the overall budget. Non-string theorists see no benefit.

Science funding is not a zero-sum game!

MoveOn said...

"The implied idea that once we get rid of string theory things will become easier and better is not only bogus but dangerous (not that I would attribute such a view to Peter). Deliberate negative publicity for some branch of research is always dangerous since funding bodies can easily interpret it as a signal to cut total funding, which many in government would like to see happen.

Science funding is not a zero-sum game!"

Only too true. There is as a matter of fact no convincing alternative to string theory (or can you name one?) Cutting funds in this field of fundamantal physics would hurt everyone - it is naive to believe that suddenly more money would be avaiable in such a diffuse and unconcrete field as LQG, for example.

It seems to me that doing as much as damage as possible is the real aim of the usual suspects; sorta understandable in view of them that some of them failed in a career in particle physics. Reading between the lines of certain blogs I gather that a lot of people would only be happy if the LHC wouldn't produce interesting data, or would not work at all.

"Yes, you got the point of the Bogdanov story right. Some parts of that story are there purely for entertainment value."

I haven't read the book, and do not intend to do so, but from a discussion in the usenet a while ago during the Bogdanov affair, I expect that this affair is going to be misrepresented as well.
At any rate, I do know collegues who were involved in it, and according to them it was the string physicists in the panel who opposed the passing of the PhD theses. It was the quantum gravity guys who were in favor of passing it.

Bee said...

Dear Lubos,

The more accurate description of the "larger world" is that you are not so able to focus on a question and study it carefully.

I'd say the questions I focus on are less constrained, and I like to see the large picture. If my car breaks down on the Highway, I don't focus on removing the spot on the driver's seat. If that's what you mean, I agree.

But the more clearly someone may be classified as a crackpot, the more her or his understanding of the importance of scientific papers deviates from the number of citations.

This is another very interesting definition. Taken together with your above statement about importance, you say everybody who belongs to a minority is a crackpot. The smaller the number of people working on a topic, the less important it is, the higher is the crackpot-factor. If that had discouraged people in the last centuries (including the bloom of string theory), we hadn't gotten anywhere.

There are very good reasons why most of the superhighly cited papers are superhighly cited, and if someone misunderstands these reasons and thinks that this misunderstanding is a reason to be proud, then she or he is a pompous fool.

Oh, I understand the reasons why these papers are superhighly cited. It's not hard to find out. Try citebase. You will find the following very interesting fact: for the average paper the number of full-text downloads is larger than the number of citations. You can say a paper has become famous when the number of citations is significantly larger than the number of downloads...

Anyway. You are of course right that the number of citations is a good indicator for the importance of a paper. I just want to point out that on the short run it can be misleading, and it should not be overinterpreted.

Best, B.

Bee said...

Science funding is not a zero-sum game!

Thats the reason why I say we should stop accusing each other to be crackpots and figure out a way to improve the situation. Otherwise funding agencies are likely to say: let these guys figure out what they really want before we invest money.
See e.g.

Science and Democracy II

Science and Democracy

Peter has made some first steps with his book, and Lee's book will have to say more about it.

Best, B.

Arun said...

Bee,
Thanks for the review! Now I'll have to buy the book, too :)

nige said...

Hi Bee,

I've read around QFT a lot, and found Woit's book very helpful.

Regards the Bogdanov story: those brothers published stringy nonsense in the British Institute of Physics' "Classical and Quantum Gravity", but the journal eventually "retracted" the publishedpaper.

"Classical and Quantum Gravity" is the only non-electronics journal has peer-reviewed my paper on an alternative to ST. (That was six years ago and the paper was as advanced then as it is now. The editor of PRL and other journals simply reject without peer-review.)

The anonymous peer-reviewer sent a non-constructive one paragraph review which the editor passed on to me, which just stated that the paper doesn't say anything about useful to string theory, or related mainstream ideas, and should not therefore be published.

It completely ignored the science!

So I read the Bogdanov story in a more constuctive way than you ddid, perhaps. It shows me how stringy physics stinks. Write unhelpfully on a mainstream topic and then the reviewer will pass it in case it is right, but come up with a checkable alternative and the reviewer will sink you for not contributing to the mainstream.

Woit's book is very helpful reading for the background of QFT, mainly because it isn't selling any speculative ideas, so you know it is reliable. I'm studying two introductory mathematical texts on QFT http://arxiv.org/PS_cache/hep-th/pdf/0510/0510040.pdf and http://gabriel.physics.ucsb.edu/~mark/MS-QFT-11Feb06.pdf

It is clear that string theory has taken over research goals, which is why the Bogdanov brothers were published. Popularity of a subject leads to such disasters.

Kind regards,
nigel

Johan Couder said...

Excellent review - really wish I had written it myself !
Actually, I did write a review for Amazon - reviews of which you seem very suspicious :) - gave Peter's book 4 instead of 3 stars though, but again, IMO you hit the nail right on the head
I also have this uncomfortable feeling Lubos Motl is sending his goons round to give every positive review of the book a marking "not useful".
One may not always have agreed with R.P. Feynman, but at least he had some sense of humour ...

Russell said...

Good review, but I'm more forgiving of the book. Darwin's Origin isn't really for the average pigeon fancier either, but his earlier paper addressed only to biologists invested in other theories vanished without a trace. So what's a revolutionary or counter-revolutionary to do?

You have to do your best to straddle the task of upbraiding those dispensing the funds, voters, and defensive scientists.

So on the one hand, no real math can be included, but on the other hand, no possible mathematical objection or tangent that ones scientific opponents might raise can be wholly ignored. The most difficult of tasks for an essayist, to have at least two masters. But I thought Peter Woit pulled it off as well as one could.

It told me (a non-mathematician, non-physicist) enough to get me to switch sides, at least tentatively.

Russell said...

"So many String Theories, so Little Time"
(Why 10 to the 500th power is a small number.)

I couldn't resist chewing on this at greater length, starting with "Suppose you are a prosecuting attorney. You believe you have the criminal. Unfortunately you need evidence, and so far the admissible evidence, including a blood type only restricts the perpetrator to one of 10 to the 500th power DNA combinations..."


at http://confusioncomplete.blogspot.com/2008/10/so-many-string-theories-so-little-time.html

emyl said...

"You must show early promise to get good letters of recommendations to get good fist jobs."

I won't express any opinion on this statement. Just point out that what's written is most likely not what you meant to write.

Bee said...

Thanks... I fixed that.

Steven Colyer said...

"I guess, you really have to be R. Penrose to call this 'compulsive reading' "

LOL! Wow. No comment except thanks Bee that was funny. :-) :-)

I currently misplaced my copy of the book. What are the 2 avenues Peter said to be looked into? It's on the very last page. One had the word diifeomorphism, if i recall.