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Supersymmetry revisited

By Hamish Johnston

Supersymmetry and Beyond

Courtesy: Basic Books

I think it’s safe to say that Peter Woit was never going to like Gordon Kane’s latest book about string theory. Woit, who is at Columbia University, is a prolific anti-string-theory blogger and author of Not Even Wrong: The Failure of String Theory and the Continuing Challenge to Unify the Laws of Physics, whereas Kane is a leading string theorist who is based at the University of Michigan.

Kane’s latest tome is called Supersymmetry and Beyond: From the Higgs Boson to the New Physics and it will be published later this month by Basic Books. On his blog – also called Not Even Wrong – Woit compares the new book with Kane’s previous effort Supersymmetry: Unveiling The Ultimate Laws Of Nature, which was published in 2000.

Woit makes the controversial claim that about 75% of Supersymmetry and Beyond is a simply a rehash of the 2000 book. To make his point, Woit focuses on several examples of how Kane has updated the text to paper over the fact that little experimental evidence for supersymmetry has been found over the past 13 years.

Of course, it is entirely normal that Kane would have to update his material to reflect more than a decade of measurements by Fermilab’s Tevatron and the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. However, Woit claims that Kane has not addressed several predictions he made in 2000 regarding signatures of supersymmetry appearing in Fermilab data – discoveries that simply have not happened.

While I can see Woit’s point, for Kane to have raked over the coals of past predictions would hardly make for a ripping yarn, string theorists have naturally recalibrated their ideas in light of recent data, and people want to know about the latest predictions and how they could be seen when the Large Hadron Collider fires up again in 2015.

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  1. Robert L. Oldershaw

    I’d say that Woit’s arguments on string theory and supersymmetry are spot-on.

    To the extent that these theories make any predictions at all, and string theory cannot seem to do so, the predictions are plastic, i.e., they can shape-shift to avoid falsification.

    Back to science anyone?

  2. John Duffield

    Well said Robert. Some experimentalist finds something, then lo and behold a month later some guy puts up a paper that “predicts it”. Hubble bubble, retrofit and juggle. But you’re wrong with your “Back to science” quip. Didn’t you know that this is science? Feynman had a name for it: cargo-cult science.

    • But isn’t that exactly how science is done? An experimental observation is made; a theory is then proposed; a better observation is made; the theory is improved; and so on.

      I’m not sure where you are suggesting the inspiration for a theory should come from if not from experiments? Divine inspiration perhaps…I would call that personality cult science.

      • Robert L. Oldershaw


        This comment has been removed because it does not meet our guidelines.

  3. Hi Hamish,

    The “75%” number wasn’t meant to be either controversial or a criticism. It was in a comment responding to someone who asked for an estimate of how much of the book was new. Having read the old book, and gone through the new one to see what was different, about one-quarter new material was the best estimate I could come up with, but it’s only an impressionistic one. I should make clear that I see nothing at all wrong with the idea of updating a book like this and nothing at all wrong with it being only one-quarter new material. New experimental results since 2000, including the Higgs discovery, have changed somewhat what we know about the topic of the book, but not that much. If I had the energy or interest to update “Not Even Wrong”, I doubt I’d come up with even as much as one-quarter new material.

    The problem with Kane’s book is not the amount, but the nature of some of the “updates” he did, and on this topic, I didn’t say much myself on the blog, but just provided some of the passages I thought were problematic, with the edits Kane did made visible. I urge anyone who thinks this is worth having an informed opinion about to look at those passages and make up their own minds. To me, they show Kane simply deleting all evidence that he had made arguments and predictions which have now been conclusively falsified by experiment, raising a couple serious issues.

    1. Is it all right for a scientist to not acknowledge that an argument they are making is the same one they made thirteen years ago, but has been falsified by experiment in the meantime?

    2. Do you think a reader has the right to know that the text they are reading making predictions about the LHC is exactly the same text from 13 years ago, then referring to the Tevatron, with the Tevatron data showing the prediction was wrong? Knowing this might very well change the reader’s evaluation of the author’s credibility, no?

  4. Robert L. Oldershaw


    This comment has been removed because it does not meet our guidelines.

  5. Robert L. Oldershaw

    Science flourishes best in an atmosphere of freedom of inquiry, freedom of speech and freedom from dogma.

  6. AttitudeCheck

    Quantum Physicists need to focus on developing a “beyond Standard Model Theory” that does the following.

    1. Background independent
    2. Non-linear theory (just like Newtonian and Relativistic Gravity, as well as Maxwell’s Equations – Yes Maxwell’s theory is non-linear when you include free-charge)

    I read a book by Werner Heisenberg from 1957 and he stated that he assumed that the future direction of Quantum Theory was to develop a non-linear version. We are still waiting.


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