Prof. Richard Hamilton wrote
explaining more details why the text in the New Yorker was neither fair nor true and why he respects Prof. Shing-Tung Yau so much. As you know, Prof. Shing-Tung Yau has decided to go after these particular shoddy journalists. Recall that we have brought your attention to the Yau webcast, too, and discussed the Poincaré's conjecture in many contexts, for example after the paper of Zhu and Cao and Dennis Overbye's popular article.
Of course, the actual number of shoddy journalists who have written stupidities and nasty lies about science recently is far too high to be listed here. Even if you look at the New Yorker itself, you will see additional jerks of this kind. One of them is called
who writes a lot of the very same junk as his fellow garbage journalists as well as the blue crackpot and the black crackpot, among dozens of others, but the point of his relation to theoretical physics is well captured by the last two sentences of his diatribe (thanks to Charles T.!):
- And, even if a final theory is found, it will leave the questions about nature that most concern us—how the brain gives rise to consciousness, how we are constituted by our genes—untouched. Theoretical physics will be finished, but the rest of science will hardly notice.
First of all, the origin of "consciousness" can either be treated scientifically - like in neurobiology and psychology (and I am sure that Holt wouldn't like this approach) - or unscientifically, and then it is just philosophy.
At any rate, the people who can write that "we will hardly notice when the theory of everything is completed" are uncultural simpletons and physics-haters without any intellectual curiosity because, as Feynman emphasized, the physical picture of reality constitutes the main part of the true culture of our epoch, and it is literally flabbergasting that these cretins from the garbage bins of the journalistic colleges are allowed to write about this very issue in major magazines.
Using the words of one of the leading physicists of the current world: What's wrong with these people? Why don't they choose f***ing instead of writing about things that they don't like and they don't understand? ;-)
We've been thinking how to stop this whole new industry of parasites who have very significant profits from writing sensational patent lies about science and the scientists. Some people have damaged science and the civilization more than what can be easily undone. This is a moral judgement of people with questionable moral motivations but as you can guess, it is not straightforward to transform moral values to a final verdict of a court.
Needless to say, these journalists are not the only villains. Someone must buy their "products". Many people actually believe these "products". Many people, and not only those with basic or high school science education, are completely unable to understand that the impact of two books written for the laymen on science is exactly equal to zero if there is no new scientific content in them. And of course, there is no new scientific content in the blue crackpot book and no new scientific content in the black crackpot book.
Even Brian Greene's books that were much more professionally and more honestly written and also much more successful couldn't change the cutting edge physics. Science simply doesn't build on popular books.
Many people are just used to their dirty tricks from politics, propaganda, lies, intimidation, and violence, and they think that this is how science works, too. But science works very differently. Science stands exactly where it stands based on the existing knowledge of observations and experiments and rational arguments that are usually of a very sophisticated nature in the context of theoretical physics, and if you write 7,800 stupid journal articles and newspaper articles backed by 24,700 journalists, science will be standing exactly where it was standing before you killed all these trees. Science is not driven by the desires of journalists to change the truth. It is driven by the truth itself.
So I must inform all the journalists who actually think that their writing measurably changes what theories are viewed as promising and what theories are not: you will be disappointed. If you write something that doesn't agree with the actual results obtained by science, you will be viewed just as an imbecile who is dishonestly informing the laymen about the actual results - but you will have no impact on the opinion of those who actually matter in science.
In the context of theories in high-energy physics, there is simply no real alternative to string theory, and if you write 67,800 articles that suggest otherwise, it will still be true that there is no real alternative to string theory. What will change after 67,800 of such articles is that there will be 123,456,789 new laymen who will have completely flawed ideas about the real situation in cutting-edge science.
Even if you take these 67,800 junk newspaper articles and use them to influence the policies of hiring etc., for example to hire thousands of people who are not good enough to learn string theory, you won't change the fact that string theory will still be the only state-of-the-art description of physics beyond quantum field theory. The places that will have string theory (or individual string theorists in dissent, if you go to the extreme) will be those that do serious stuff, and the places that will be forced to grow the non-existent "alternatives" will become money-wasting centers of crackpot physics, just like various institutes of creationism are money-wasting centers of crackpot biology. The mechanisms are analogous in both cases: the cutting edge in science has nothing to do with the desires of journalists or laymen to alter the form how the truth looks like.