Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Irresponsible press releases

Peter Woit has already commented the newest string theory related press release and classified it as the "most outrageously misleading string theory hype of 2007". I cannot but agree.

Physicists Develop Test For “String Theory” is the title of one of the press releases. What one would expect a test for string theory to be? Even educated layman would guess that something which distinguishes string theory from its competitors so that if the string model passes the test, one can say that string model is favored experimentally over its competitors, say quantum field theory models and loop quantum gravity. Educated layman is of course correct.

The press release tells however something totally different for a layman using all trikcs of the language of lawyer. Two excerpts from the part meant for laymen serve as examples.

Until now, experimental verification has not been possible; but researchers at the University of California, Carnegie Mellon University, and the University of Texas are planning a definitive test with the future launch of the Large Hadron Collider…

... scientists have come up with a definitive test that could prove or disprove string theory. The project is described as…

The professors behind the release talk between the lines something different since they must have leave loophole open for accusing the journalists for inaccuracies. The irritated reactions of colleagues are certainly to be expected.

"The beauty of our test is the simplicity of its assumptions," explained Grinstein. "The canonical forms of string theory include three mathematical assumptions — Lorentz invariance (the laws of physics are the same for all uniformly moving observers), analyticity (a smoothness criteria for the scattering of high-energy particles after a collision) and unitarity (all probabilities always add up to one). Our test sets bounds on these assumptions.

The point is that these assumption are common to both field theories and string models!

"If the test does not find what the theory predicts about W boson scattering," he added, "it would be evidence that one of string theory's key mathematical assumptions is violated. In other words, string theory — as articulated in its current form — would be proven impossible."

"If the bounds are satisfied, we would still not know that string theory is correct," Distler said. "But if the bounds are violated, we would know that string theory, as it is currently understood, could not be correct. At the very least, the theory would have to be reshaped in a highly nontrivial way."

This says between the lines that the test is not actually a test of string theory in the sense described in the press release!

For me a test of string theory which does not test string theory is not a test of string theory. Is the situation in string theory really so bad that this kind of pathetic maneuvers are made in attempt to improve the public image of the field? I predict that the effect will not be the desired when it becomes clear that they cheated once again. Trust is the most valuable social capital and physics community as a whole loses it if it tolerates physicists who behave as second rate lawyers.


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