Monday, December 30, 2013

Biting the Hand

A couple of prominent string theorists were ungracious enough to use the acknowledgments section of their paper to complain about their summer salaries. Peter Woit has the story.

Physics, and particle physics in particular, has long enjoyed the privilege of rather generous, albeit declining, public support. It's worth remembering why that happened. It's because science, and especially physics, won World War II. Radar and the bomb made for good publicity. For decades, physicists could get up and say you need to support us or we will fall behind in this crucial technology of war. I'm not quite sure when that stopped being true, but could anybody believe it today?

Is there any reason to believe that string theory, holography, and ADS/CFT are likely to be any more relevant to the average taxpayer than the study of Byzantine erotica? Yes, there are many questions about the Universe that it might be nice to answer, but do any of them have significant technological or military implications?

Meanwhile, there are all sorts of questions in biology, robot technology and social science that have urgent relevance for the human race - not that we are likely to listen.