Schedule Nov 03, 2006
String Wars, Part 2
George Johnson, KITP

An article in this week's Science News quotes Andrew Strominger -- "I've felt for a long time that the general public's impression of what string theory had accomplished and how much of it was correct was too positive" -- and suggests that a souring of this inflated enthusiasm is contributing to the current backlash. In that light, I thought it would be interesting to look back at the coverage in the New York Times and see if it follows the classic boom-and-bust cycle we talked about at an earlier session. Here are some milestones:

  1. First mention of the word "superstrings" in the New York Times:
    Walter Sullivan, "Is Absolutely Everything Made of Strings?" May 7, 1985
  2. New York Times Magazine discovers Ed Witten:
    K.C. Cole, "A Theory of Everything," October 18, 1987
  3. First mention of the word "branes" in the New York Times:
    George Johnson, "Almost in Awe, Physicists Ponder 'Ultimate' Theory," September 22, 1998 (with a sidebar, "New Dimension in Dance: Thinking Man's Macarena")
  4. Early signs of a backlash:
    Dennis Overbye, "String Theory, at 20, Explains It All (or Not)," December 7, 2004
As fodder for Friday's discussion (1:30 in the Auditorium), I've placed pdfs of these and the Science News article at

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