The Culture Wars Have Moved into Physics

I’m about as far from being a physicist as it is possible to be, though I am fascinated by the history of science & the way it works within Western culture. I am, however, a veteran of the culture ward wars (if only a foot soldier), and I can tell you that the conservatives in the culture wars — those who oppose “post-modernism” in all its forms, who distrust the academy on principle, and who believe science exists somehow above or outside human culture — have taken up arms against string theory. This discussion thread at Cosmic Variance demonstrates my thesis. Reading through the comments, my head was spinning: I thought I was back in the early 1990s debating the politicization of the Humanities. There is just something about the language & rhetoric of cranks that distinguishes itself, whatever the debate. Could string theory be wrong? Sure, any scientific theory can be wrong: that’s what makes them scientific in the first place. But the speculations of the stringers clearly set off alarm bells among the end of history / end of science crowd. They respond with venom & derision. The mark of a crank is that he hates imagination.

One thought on “The Culture Wars Have Moved into Physics

  1. I think this all started when it hit the public sphere. First Greene’s popular book on the merits of string theory, then Smolin’s popular book on why its a waste of time, etc. Before these recent developments, I don’t recall anyone getting all hot and bothered about it, and it’s been around for 20 years.

    We are facing a situation where theorists have gotten very speculative because there’s not much new data to work with, except on the cosmology side. I would be very curious to see what happens if the LHC doesn’t produce anything totally unexpected–perhaps a fundamental shift in how we pursue basic science. Though I’d much rather have it spit out subatomic black holes.

    Of course, 99.9% of physicists are too busy aligning lasers and firing up vacuum pumps to pay much attention.

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