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HOME > PAST ISSUE > May-June 2002 > Article Detail


Is String Theory Even Wrong?

Peter Woit

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What can be done to inject more diversity of thought into this great quest of theoretical physics? Even granting that string theory is an idea that deserves to be developed, how can people be encouraged to come up with promising alternatives? I would argue that a good first step would be for string theorists to acknowledge publicly the problems and cease their tireless efforts to sell this questionable theory to secondary school teachers, science reporters and program officers.

The development of competing approaches will require senior string theorists to consider working on less popular ideas and begin encouraging their graduate students and postdocs to do the same. Instead of trying to hire people working on the latest string-theory fad, theory groups and funding agencies could try to identify young mathematical physicists who are exploring completely different avenues. (Pushing 45, I no longer qualify.) Finding ways to support such people over the long term would give them a much-needed chance to make progress.

Although I am skeptical of science writer John Horgan's pessimistic notion that physics is reaching an end, the past 15 years of research in particle theory make depressingly clear one form such an end could take: a perpetual, well-promoted but never-successful investigation of a theory that has no connection with the physical world. If only physicists have the will to abandon a failed project and start looking for some new ideas, this sad fate can be avoided.

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