I finally had a chance to watch The Great Global Warming Swindle this weekend, the British expose on the history and questionable claims about the global warming scare. So, when I read this review of a pair of books exploring the problems with string theory, I was primed to notice some interesting parallels with the corruption of science described in the documentary.
In a chapter on sociology, Smolin introduces the concept of ?groupthink? — the tendency of groups to share an ideology. This creates a cultlike atmosphere in which those who disagree with the ideology are considered ignoramuses or fools. Most physicists tied up in the string mania, Smolin believes, have become groupthinkers, blind to the possibility that they have squandered time and energy on bizarre speculations that are leading nowhere.
A portion of the documentary deals with the same subject — the trouble AGW dissenters have when they raise objections to aspects of the theory or the validity of data used to support claims made by its proponents. Gardner doesn’t say whether string theory skeptics are tarred with the highly-objectionable epithet “denier”, but it would seem unlikely given the less politically-charged nature of string theory — in that respect, AGW skeptics have it worse.
Gardner then quotes Sheldon Glashow, Nobel physics laureate and co-predictor of the charm quark:
Until string people can interpret perceived properties of the real world they simply are not doing physics. Should they be paid by universities and be permitted to pervert impressionable students? Will young Ph.D?s, whose expertise is limited to superstring theory, be employable if, and when, the string snaps? Are string thoughts more appropriate to departments of mathematics, or even to schools of divinity, than to physics departments?
A similar line of speculation came up in Swindle, in regards to those who have become heavily invested in AGW over the past two decades. With climatology (not to mention other disciplines…wildlife studies is used as a humorous example by one interviewee in the film) becoming so warped by AGW hysteria, and specifically the need to perform research in support of AGW or to wrap one’s unrelated research up in global warming catastrophism in order to tap into the large pool of grant money being thrown at proving global warming as a means to certain political ends, what happens to those ensnared in the cult five or ten years from now when anthropogenic global warming collapses under its own contradictions and the weight of contrary evidence?
And just as the documentary shows how global warming catastrophism was preceded by global cooling catastrophism, Gardner’s review touches on a discredited predecessor of string theory:
In the nineteenth century, a conjecture called the vortex theory of the atom became extremely popular in England and America. Proposed by the famous British physicist Lord Kelvin, it had an uncanny resemblance to string theory…
Kelvin published two books defending his conjecture. It was strongly championed in England by J. J. Thomson in his 1907 book The Corpuscular Theory of Matter. Another booster of the theory was Peter Tait, an Irish mathematician. His work, like Witten?s, led to significant advances in knot theory. In the United States, Albert Michelson considered vortex theory so ?grand? that ?it ought to be true even if it is not.? Hundreds of papers elaborated the theory. Tait predicted it would take generations to develop its elegant mathematics. Alas, beautiful though vortex theory was, it proved to be a glorious road that led nowhere.
Amusing…or it would be amusing, if the consequences to other human endeavors of climatologists continuing to feed the AGW beast were as trivial as those of physicists clinging to strings or the ether vortex theory.