The LHC ended the String Wars, if not the Trouble with Physics

April 21, 2009

Peter Woit is one of the two lead critics of string theory who touched off the String Wars. Today I was going through his blog scanning for leads and found this, in a post about a Pop Sci story that listed “theoretical physicist” as one of the worst jobs in science:

As mentioned here repeatedly, claims that hiring in particle theory is dominated by string theory are behind the times. String theorists are now yesterday’s fad, with terrible job prospects if they don’t have a permanent position. Today’s fads are LHC phenomenology and cosmology…

LHC of course = that Large Hadron Collider thingy.

String theory is on its way out in American universities it seems, but the long-standing pattern of fad-driven hiring isn’t. Which is one thing that makes the idea of trying for a career in theoretical physics these days about as appealing to many smart young people as the idea of going into the vermin handling business…

Which of course makes perfect sense. The particle theory community has an opportunistic, aphilosophical, arguably hierarchical style because it “evolved” to get a bunch of of people to quickly solve problems coming out of accelerator data. Or so claims Lee Smolin, anyway – the other lead string theory critic – whose book (The Trouble with Physics) I was flipping through last night. So of course when New Scientist caught up with the Horgan-bashing Ed Witten, he was at CERN waiting for the LHC to come back online.

In a word: fascinating!


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