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Monday, July 8, 2019

#math.columbia (University)

#math.columbia (University)

What happens when we can’t test scientific theories?

Posted: 08 Jul 2019 02:12 PM PDT

Just got back from a wonderful trip to Chile, where the weather was perfect for watching the solar eclipse from the beach at La Serena.

While I was away, the Guardian Science Weekly podcast I participated in before leaving for Chile went online and is available here. Thanks to Ian Sample, Graihagh Jackson, and the others at Science Weekly who put this together, I think they did a great job.

The issues David Berman, Eleanor Knox and I discussed in the podcast will be familiar to readers of this blog. Comparing to the arguments over string theory that took place 10-15 years ago, one thing that strikes me is that we’re no longer hearing any claims of near term tests of the theory. Instead the argument is now often made, by Berman and others, that it may take centuries to understand and test string theory. This brings into focus the crucial question here: how do you evaluate a highly speculative and very technical research program like this one? Given the all too human nature of researchers, those invested in it cannot be relied upon to provide an unbiased evaluation of progress. So, absent experimental results providing some sort of definitive judgment, where will such an evaluation come from?