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Peter Woit

Peter Woit

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Peter Woit is a Departmental Computer Administrator and Senior Lecturer in Discipline at Columbia University
Columbia University
Columbia University in the City of New York is a private, Ivy League university in Manhattan, New York City. Columbia is the oldest institution of higher learning in the state of New York, the fifth oldest in the United States, and one of the country's nine Colonial Colleges founded before the...

, known for his criticisms of string theory
String theory
String theory is an active research framework in particle physics that attempts to reconcile quantum mechanics and general relativity. It is a contender for a theory of everything , a manner of describing the known fundamental forces and matter in a mathematically complete system...

 in his book Not Even Wrong, and his blog of the same name.


Woit graduated in 1979 from Harvard University
Harvard University
Harvard University is a private Ivy League university located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States, established in 1636 by the Massachusetts legislature. Harvard is the oldest institution of higher learning in the United States and the first corporation chartered in the country...

 with bachelor's and master's degrees in physics
Physics is a natural science that involves the study of matter and its motion through spacetime, along with related concepts such as energy and force. More broadly, it is the general analysis of nature, conducted in order to understand how the universe behaves.Physics is one of the oldest academic...

. He obtained his PhD
PHD may refer to:*Ph.D., a doctorate of philosophy*Ph.D. , a 1980s British group*PHD finger, a protein sequence*PHD Mountain Software, an outdoor clothing and equipment company*PhD Docbook renderer, an XML renderer...

 in particle theory
Particle physics
Particle physics is a branch of physics that studies the existence and interactions of particles that are the constituents of what is usually referred to as matter or radiation. In current understanding, particles are excitations of quantum fields and interact following their dynamics...

 from Princeton University
Princeton University
Princeton University is a private research university located in Princeton, New Jersey, United States. The school is one of the eight universities of the Ivy League, and is one of the nine Colonial Colleges founded before the American Revolution....

 in 1985, followed by postdoctoral work in theoretical physics
Theoretical physics
Theoretical physics is a branch of physics which employs mathematical models and abstractions of physics to rationalize, explain and predict natural phenomena...

 at State University of New York at Stony Brook
State University of New York at Stony Brook
The State University of New York at Stony Brook, also known as Stony Brook University, is a public research university located in Stony Brook, New York, on the North Shore of Long Island, about east of Manhattan....

 and mathematics
Mathematics is the study of quantity, space, structure, and change. Mathematicians seek out patterns and formulate new conjectures. Mathematicians resolve the truth or falsity of conjectures by mathematical proofs, which are arguments sufficient to convince other mathematicians of their validity...

 at the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute
Mathematical Sciences Research Institute
The Mathematical Sciences Research Institute , founded in 1982, is an independent nonprofit mathematical research institution whose funding sources include the National Science Foundation, foundations, corporations, and more than 90 universities and institutions...

 (MSRI) in Berkeley. He spent four years as an assistant professor at Columbia and now holds a permanent position as Senior Lecturer in Discipline http://www.math.columbia.edu/fac-bios/woit/faculty.html in the mathematics department where he is the Departmental Computer Administrator and teaches.

Woit is a U.S. citizen but has a Latvia
Latvia , officially the Republic of Latvia , is a country in the Baltic region of Northern Europe. It is bordered to the north by Estonia , to the south by Lithuania , to the east by the Russian Federation , to the southeast by Belarus and shares maritime borders to the west with Sweden...

n passport
A passport is a document, issued by a national government, which certifies, for the purpose of international travel, the identity and nationality of its holder. The elements of identity are name, date of birth, sex, and place of birth....

. His father was born in Riga
Riga is the capital and largest city of Latvia. With 702,891 inhabitants Riga is the largest city of the Baltic states, one of the largest cities in Northern Europe and home to more than one third of Latvia's population. The city is an important seaport and a major industrial, commercial,...

 and his parents became exiled at the beginning of the Soviet occupation of Latvia.

Critic of string theory

He is critical of string theory
String theory
String theory is an active research framework in particle physics that attempts to reconcile quantum mechanics and general relativity. It is a contender for a theory of everything , a manner of describing the known fundamental forces and matter in a mathematically complete system...

 on the grounds that it lacks testable predictions and is promoted with public money despite its failures so far, and has authored both scientific papers and popular polemics on this topic. These claim that excessive media attention and funding of this one particular speculative mainstream endeavour risks undermining public faith in the freedom of scientific research. His moderated weblog on string theory and other topics is titled "Not Even Wrong
Not even wrong
An argument that appears to be scientific is said to be not even wrong if it cannot be falsified by experiment or cannot be used to make predictions about the natural world. The phrase was coined by theoretical physicist Wolfgang Pauli, who was known for his colorful objections to incorrect or...

," Wolfgang Pauli
Wolfgang Pauli
Wolfgang Ernst Pauli was an Austrian theoretical physicist and one of the pioneers of quantum physics. In 1945, after being nominated by Albert Einstein, he received the Nobel Prize in Physics for his "decisive contribution through his discovery of a new law of Nature, the exclusion principle or...

's term for scientifically useless speculative theories.

"For the last eighteen years particle theory has been dominated by a single approach to the unification of the Standard Model
Standard Model
The Standard Model of particle physics is a theory concerning the electromagnetic, weak, and strong nuclear interactions, which mediate the dynamics of the known subatomic particles. Developed throughout the mid to late 20th century, the current formulation was finalized in the mid 1970s upon...

 interactions and quantum gravity
Quantum gravity
Quantum gravity is the field of theoretical physics which attempts to develop scientific models that unify quantum mechanics with general relativity...

. This line of thought has hardened into a new orthodoxy that postulates an unknown fundamental supersymmetric theory involving strings and other degrees of freedom
Degrees of freedom (physics and chemistry)
A degree of freedom is an independent physical parameter, often called a dimension, in the formal description of the state of a physical system...

 with characteristic scale around the Planck length. [...] It is a striking fact that there is absolutely no evidence whatsoever for this complex and unattractive conjectural theory. There is not even a serious proposal for what the dynamics of the fundamental ‘M-theory
In theoretical physics, M-theory is an extension of string theory in which 11 dimensions are identified. Because the dimensionality exceeds that of superstring theories in 10 dimensions, proponents believe that the 11-dimensional theory unites all five string theories...

’ is supposed to be or any reason at all to believe that its dynamics would produce a vacuum state
Vacuum state
In quantum field theory, the vacuum state is the quantum state with the lowest possible energy. Generally, it contains no physical particles...

 with the desired properties. The sole argument generally given to justify this picture of the world is that perturbative
Perturbation theory (quantum mechanics)
In quantum mechanics, perturbation theory is a set of approximation schemes directly related to mathematical perturbation for describing a complicated quantum system in terms of a simpler one. The idea is to start with a simple system for which a mathematical solution is known, and add an...

 string theories have a massless spin two mode and thus could provide an explanation of gravity, if one ever managed to find an underlying theory for which perturbative string theory is the perturbative expansion."

"The String Wars"

A discussion in 2006 took place between University of California, Santa Barbara
University of California, Santa Barbara
The University of California, Santa Barbara, commonly known as UCSB or UC Santa Barbara, is a public research university and one of the 10 general campuses of the University of California system. The main campus is located on a site in Goleta, California, from Santa Barbara and northwest of Los...

 physicists at the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics
Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics
The Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics is a research institute of the University of California, Santa Barbara. KITP is one of the most renowned institutes for theoretical physics in the world. KITP programs bring theorists in physics and related fields together to work together on topics at...

 and science journalist George Johnson regarding the controversy caused by Lee Smolin
Lee Smolin
Lee Smolin is an American theoretical physicist, a researcher at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, and an adjunct professor of physics at the University of Waterloo. He is married to Dina Graser, a communications lawyer in Toronto. His brother is David M...

 and Woit's books. The meeting was titled "The String Wars" to reflect the impression the media has given people regarding the controversy in string theory caused by Smolin and Woit's books. A video of the proceedings is available at UCSB's website.

Scientific publications

Between 1983 and 1989, Woit published eight papers in peer-reviewed physics journals. Since then, he has turned in his writing from scientific research to popularization and polemical writing.

Select publications

  • 1988, "Supersymmetric quantum mechanics, spinors and the standard model," Nuclear Physics B303: 329-42.
  • 1990, "Topological quantum theories and representation theory" in Ling-Lie Chau and Werner Nahm, eds., Differential Geometric Methods in Theoretical Physics: Physics and Geometry, Proceedings of NATO Advanced Research Workshop. Plenum Press: 533-45.
  • 2002, "String Theory: An Evaluation," American Scientist 90(2): .
  • 2002, "Quantum Field Theory and Representation Theory: A Sketch."
  • 2006. Not Even Wrong: The Failure of String Theory & the Continuing Challenge to Unify the Laws of Physics. ISBN 0-224-07605-1 (Jonathan Cape), ISBN 0-465-09275-6 (Basic Books)

External links

  • Peter Woit's Home Page.
  • Not Even Wrong, Woit's weblog.
  • "The Unraveling of String Theory," by Michael Lemonick
    Michael Lemonick
    Michael Lemonick is the senior staff writer at Climate Central and a former senior science writer at Time magazine. He has also written for Discover magazine, Yale Environment 360, Scientific American, and others, and has written a number of popular-level books on science and astrophysics,...

    , Time
    Time (magazine)
    Time is an American news magazine. A European edition is published from London. Time Europe covers the Middle East, Africa and, since 2003, Latin America. An Asian edition is based in Hong Kong...

    , August 21, 2006.
  • Joseph Polchinski
    Joseph Polchinski
    Joseph Polchinski is a physicist working on string theory. He graduated from Canyon del Oro High School in Tucson, Arizona in 1971, obtained his B.S. degree from Caltech in 1975, and his Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley in 1980 under the supervision of Stanley Mandelstam...

     (2007) "All Strung Out?" a review of The Trouble with Physics
    The Trouble with Physics
    The Trouble With Physics is a 2006 book by the theoretical physicist Lee Smolin about the problems with string theory. Subtitled The Rise of String Theory, the Fall of a Science, and What Comes Next, the book strongly criticizes string theory and its prominence in contemporary theoretical physics,...

    and Not Even Wrong, American Scientist
    American Scientist
    American Scientist is the bimonthly science and technology magazine published since 1913 by Sigma Xi. Each issue includes four to five feature articles written by scientists and engineers. These authors review research in all fields of science...

  • Radio Interview from This Week in Science
    This Week in Science
    This Week in Science is a science radio talk show broadcasting from KDVS 90.3FM on the UC Davis campus. Each week, TWIS founder/host Kirsten Sanford and co-host Justin Jackson review current research in technology...

     September 19, 2006 Broadcast.
  • SPIRES publications for Peter Woit.
  • The Times
    The Times
    The Times is a British daily national newspaper, first published in London in 1785 under the title The Daily Universal Register . The Times and its sister paper The Sunday Times are published by Times Newspapers Limited, a subsidiary since 1981 of News International...

    "Review" of Not Even Wrong.
  • Video of discussion/debate with Peter Woit on Bloggingheads.tv
    Bloggingheads.tv is a political, world events, philosophy, and science video blog discussion site in which the participants take part in an active back and forth conversation via webcam which is then broadcast online to viewers...

  • Response by Luboš Motl