By Hamish Johnston
“Gina is very curious about science blogs”, writes Gil Kalai in his book Gina Says: Adventures in the Blogsphere String War .
“Can they be useful for learning about, or discussing science? What happens in these blogs and who participates in them?
Kalai, who is a mathematician at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, tried to answer these questions by entering the fray of the “String Wars” — a sometimes heated online debate about the scientific merits of string theory that kicked off in 2006.
His first post as the fictional “Gina” was on Not Even Wrong — the blog of Peter Woit, an outspoken critic of string theory who has written a book with the same title.
“Peter, is it possible to state the main points for the case against string theory — with 4-5 sentences on each? This will be very helpful. Please consider doing it…”
50 days and many postings later, Gina was “expelled” from the discussion for apparently contributing to the “noise” on Woit’s blog. Fair dues, you might think, because she wasn’t exactly up front about her intentions. However, I couldn’t help feeling sorry for Gina as she tried to ingratiate herself back into the conversation.
Gina also conversed online with Lee Smolin — who, like Woit, had just published a book highly critical of string theory. She asked Smolin to address 16 specific objections to his book The Trouble With Physics and the ensuing discussion accounts for a large chunk of the book.
So what did Kalai learn from his undercover adventure? He told me that he was disappointed by what he thought was the low scientific content of the debate — he believes that it quickly turned into a political argument. “90% of the issues discussed had nothing to do with string theory”, he said.
And what about the bloggers — are they upset to discover the real identity of Gina? Peter Woit seemed rather pleased, you can read his comments here.