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The admiral of the string-theory wars, add-male-author-gate, the Einstein font and more…

Xxxx Particle Zoo. (Courtesy: CERN)

Julie Peasley, creater of the Particle Zoo. (Courtesy: CERN)

By Hamish Johnston

Peter Woit is lauded by some for having the courage to speak the truth to the physics establishment, while others see him as an enemy of science. Woit writes the Not Even Wrong blog, which has the same title as a controversial book he once wrote about the merits of string theory. In an article in the latest issue of Nautilus, Bob Henderson profiles Woit and his three decades of doubt over various incarnations of the theory that culminated about 10 years ago in the “string wars”. Henderson’s article is called “The Admiral of the String Theory Wars” and provides a fascinating insight into how the rise of string theory caused Woit to switch from physics to mathematics and his relationships with string theorists – some of whom work in the same building as Woit at Columbia University.

Over at BuzzFeed, there is a good discussion of the “Add-male-author-gate” controversy that arose recently when the geneticist Fiona Ingleby of the University of Sussex was told by a reviewer that her scientific paper would benefit from her finding “one or two male biologists to work with”. With foot firmly in mouth, the reviewer went on to suggest that papers by male authors tend to benefit from the “marginally better health and stamina” enjoyed by men. The fallout so far is that PLOSone, the journal to which Ingleby submitted her work, has asked the editor involved to resign and removed the reviewer from its list of experts. Beyond the appalling sexism of the incident, one has to ask if anyone actually read the reviewer’s report before it was accepted.

Elsewhere in the Red Folder, we give you a great profile of Julie Peasley, who in 2008 founded Particle Zoo – the maker of small plush toys based on subatomic particles. Peasley, who has no formal training in physics, was inspired to create cuddly quarks, muons and gravitons after seeing a popular lecture about the Big Bang by Lawrence Krauss. Peasley works alone and can make up to 100 toys a week. Not surprisingly, there was a boom in sales when the Higgs boson was discovered and Peasley says she is looking forward to the discovery of the next new particle. It will be interesting to see if the Large Hadron Collider – which saw its first collisions of the year this week – is forthcoming.

Finally, if your colleagues aren’t taking you seriously, then perhaps you could start sending e-mails in a new font that mimics the handwriting of Albert Einstein. The font is being developed by the German typographer Harald Geisler, who first combed through samples of the great man’s writings to gain an understanding of both how the physicist formed his letters and the pen strokes he used to write them. Geisler’s project is described in an article in Fast Company magazine written by John Brownlee and Geisler says of Einstein that “He was a thinker outside of mainstream physics, and this was also reflected in his style of writing”.

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  1. M. Asghar

    Whatever the merit of the string theory, it still has to squeeze out somehing hard to be tested on the ground with the LHC that has just started its Run2. Moreover the phrase: “Not Even Wrong”, was first used by Pauli, to mark in the margin, his “evaluation” of different papers he went through.

    • BGK

      Peter Woit deliberately chose “Not Even Wrong” borrowing from Pauli when he wrote his book and the follow up blog.

      He has never claimed any originality for this phrase.

  2. John Duffield

    IMHO Woit is a self-appointed white knight who castigates string theory in order to promote himself. If you leave a comment on his blog making a good point that challenges what he’s saying, he will delete it. He had a ding-dong with Matt Strassler about 18 months back, and IMHO most people reckoned Matt won because of his honesty. Even people who aren’t fans of either Matt or string theory.

  3. I do not delete comments on my blog because they disagree with me, as I think anyone who reads the comment section of my blog will quickly notice. I do however have a very different policy about comments than Matt Strassler’s, and anyone who reads the two blogs can make their own judgement about which policy leads to a more useful comment section. In particular, they can get some idea from Strassler’s blog of the kind of comments Duffield submits.

  4. MJ Bridger

    I guess part of string theory’s hovering longevity may be due to the supposition that it is not testable
    But I follow the precept that every distinct theory should be associated with some physical effect.

    For example, suppose our cosmos was surrounded by infinite others in an infinite multiverse. Tradition says there may be no physical effect. Gravity in particular would exert no overall resultant vector between our cosmos and the infinite that surround it (see Newton’s infinite concentric shells theorem).
    So, given the precept that there should be a physical effect, I analyse the conventional assumption to find that (given an updated view that includes special and general relativity) there was an error in the mathematical approach, and there should indeed be a physical gravitational effect, which happens to be the observed (accelerating) accelerating expansion of the cosmos. The cosmos is gravitationally falling outward to the infinity of other cosmoses.
    The reasoning, maths and implications may be difficult to grasp, so for the moment the traditional ignorance will stand.

  5. Trackback: Physics Viewpoint | The admiral of the string-theory wars, add-male-author-gate, the Einstein font and more…


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