Saturday, February 18, 2006

Voting and Weighing

There is an old saying in finance: in the short run, the market is a voting machine, but in the long run it's a weighing machine.

That is, the price of a stock at any moment might be determined by sentiment, speculation or mania, and wildly divergent from its "real" value, but in the long run it is hard to hide a lack of profits or revenue at a company. (I guess Amazon holds the world's record, still befuddling investors 10 years down the line :-)

You might think science is a weighing machine, with experiments determining which theories survive and which ones perish. Healthy sciences certainly are weighing machines, and the imminence of weighing forces honesty in the voting. However, in particle physics the timescale over which voting is superseded by weighing has become decades -- the length of a person's entire scientific career. We will very likely (barring something amazing at the LHC, like the discovery of mini-black holes) have the first generation of string theorists retiring soon with absolutely no experimental tests of their *lifetime* of work. Nevertheless, some have been lavishly rewarded by the academic market for their contributions.


Leucipo said...

The first generation of strings theorists is not really the one breaking the rules; they got a theory evolved from experiments, particularly all these angular momentum trajectories and the bussiness of S-T channel duality. The ones enlisted during or after the "string revolutions" are the ones going home without results.

I do not know when to draw the line; the first string article in the Scientific Amer. was still a QCD string one; the ones having fundamental strings are probably in the eighties, so retire date should be about 2020 or so.

Steve Hsu said...

If LHC does not test string theory, then ILC (next linear collider) probably will not either. That brings us to 2020 :-)

Anonymous said...

Surely by 2020 the Singularity will have happened, and the AI will have proven or disproven string theory based on pure reason.

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