Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Am I guilty of bad astronomy?

In case you didn't know (I didn't, till today) there is a website called Bad Astronomy. And there's another called Bad Astronomy and Universe Today Forum. Why they exist and what they're about, I really haven't been able to tell. But I could have sworn they had no relation to my research, which is about string theory.

Until today, when I spotted the following posting on the latter forum, in the context of "unexplained forces acting on asteroids" (the link is here):

I suppose I should elaborate on a speculated connection to string theory suggested earlier in the thread. I am not a string theorist and probably should not be making comments, but I found the discussion in a recent paper by Mukhi and Papageorgakis suggestive of a paradigm shift:

M2 to D2
Abstract: http://arxiv.org/abs/0803.3218

In suggesting an interpretation of their newly permitted derivations they said, as an alternative:

“An alternative interpretation of our results is that giving a VEV to a scalar field takes
us onto a Coulomb branch where one M2-brane has moved far away from the others, in a theory with no compactification involved.”

I think of the string theory as always having exitsted, and the string theorists are like paleontologists who are digging up the bones of the 11 dimensional Monster theory. But, unlike normal dinosaur bones in 3D, this Monster has many duals. What looks like claws from one view looks like jaws from another dual. You just don’t want to have free parameters invovled if possible. While those that dig up dinosaurs have well established tools like drills, chisels and brushes to clear the matrix from the bone, the string theorists often have to also discover what tools to make and use that won’t destroy the M-Theory bones in removing the matrix. The authors of the above paper made a breakthrough by finding that essentially turning a chisel face down would permit them to persevere in their derivations without destroying the “bone”. (See comments after equation 3.14)


I've reproduced this incredible piece of rubbish verbatim, typos and all. The only reasonable sentence in it is "I am not a string theorist and probably should not be making comments", a profound observation that its author tragically ignored right after making it.

Now I'm proud of my recent work with Papageorgakis, which has sparked off considerable research on the theory of "membranes", related to strings. But (i) it's not a paradigm shift, (ii) it's not related to unexplained forces that baffle Nasa, (iii) it's not related to astronomy at all.

If I get the time I'd even like to explain some aspects of my work on this blog. For the present, I'm bringing up this story mainly to point out that it's not always us string theorists who give string theory a bad name....

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