The emperor has no clothes

The emperor has no clothes

Sabine Hossenfelder has some very nice YouTube videos on cosmology, quantum mechanics, and other heavy science topics. This is one of the best – but it’s not about a scientific discovery. It’s about the ugly truth of science and academia. I have personally seen academic egos – and they’re just as bad, or even worse, than those in the corporate world.

People like to point to science as an ivory tower in which truth is sought above everything else – but the reality of how string theory has dominated the last 50 years of research has demonstrated the very real ugly underbelly of how science and academia really happens. It’s not just string theory – my experience is that you don’t need to look far into any major college faculty to see the same things. It’s a field of egos, iron-fisted orthodoxy of thought, and funding only for the ‘right’ kind of thinking. Step out of line, and you’ll be canceled.

String Theory dominated a lot of science for decades. Yet, problem after problem arose and every time a string theory prediction was proven wrong they either simply changed the math or said that the ‘next larger experiment’ would prove them right. String theory got more and more convoluted for almost 50 years.

The end came with the construction of the Large Hadron Collider. Thousands of scientists (such as Sabine Hossenfelder herself) wrote thousands of papers about which parts of string theory would should be proven by the Large Hadron Collider – only for LHC experiments to show none of the things string theory predicted were true. In fact, it proved to high degrees of certainty there was no evidence of supersymmetry and other predicted effects. Any of the fix-ups this time involved things like 10^500 simultaneously true models – none of which could describe proven observations made by the standard model. There were no more places to run. People that got enamored with the beautiful math of string theory found they weren’t chasing science, they were chasing science fiction.

But what makes this whole story so painful is scientists made whole careers out of string theory and destroyed the careers of those that didn’t agree. Professors and scientists could not get tenure or funding unless they were exploring string theory. Sabine herself could not bring herself to work with string theory because she believed it wasn’t true, and says she ‘threw away any chance at tenure” because of that decision.

Exploring string theory got you funded, exploring other alternatives could end your academic or scientific career. People in the video’s comments talk about how their academic and scientific careers were ended by not jumping onboard string theory. Anyone that started pointing out the increasingly glaring problems became the target of vicious personal and professional attacks. But in the end, the emperor had no clothes – as Richard Feynman originally thought.

This isn’t the first time. The Big Bang theory, first proposed in 1927 by Catholic priest and physicist Georges Lemaitre, was vilified by anti-religious sentiment in the existing scientific community that believed the universe was static. The ‘Big Bang’ theory was given as a derogatory term for the theory by pundits. Yet Lemaitre was proven right. (side note: it’s also worth noting that science and religion is NOT at odds. Straight from paragraphs 159 and 2293 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

It makes one think of many other fields of science that are likely going through the same kind of ram-rodding of orthodoxy today. I would guess that you’d find the worst culprits in fields/research areas that have high government funding along with a very pervasive, viciously defended, single explanatory theory for the entire field.

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