Two weeks ago, Science By Number was introduced to an area of research in Quantum Gravity that is rarely mentioned – Quantum Gravity Phenomenology. It seems ever since the phrase “Non-Empirical Based Evidence” has been coined, those who fear Science with lose to the seductive callings of beautiful math have been speaking up more, expressing genuine (and legitimate) concern for entertaining the idea.(P.S. — This tweet just in. literally. I couldn’t of planned this any better even if I had an infinite amount of universes to try it in…)
— Sabine Hossenfelder (@skdh) September 8, 2016
To start off, I would like to give John Horgan his job back and let him explain the inter-workings of why the idea of no evidence for mathematically consistent models is just simply not enough (don’t get me started too, and I’m just the undergrad watching all of this unfold…mind blown.)
“How to decide which theory is the most promising one is a pressing question in an area starved of data, and it was also the central question at the Munich workshop I attended in December. How can non-empirical arguments increase confidence in a theory?
The use of non-empirical arguments in theory development is nothing new, what is new is that its relevance is much larger now that it takes so long to test theories.
Theorists use non-empirical theory assessment all the time, when they decide what to work on or even what conference to go to. In principle that is reasonable, taking into account all knowledge that has accumulated about a theory, such as how well it’s been shown to be compatible with already confirmed theories or how many alternative explanations there are. But the problem is that this non-empirical assessment can, and almost certainly is, skewed by social and cognitive biases.” – Sabine Hossenfelder
But there is something more insidious going that is an actual real challenge to try and fix. It’s a two punch combination of grad students not going into other areas of research because if you aren’t working on String, you won’t be getting paid for your help. This REALLY begs the question whenever someone says “String theory is the only game in town!” Well..is it because it is correct, or because it was the only one that gained popular traction, and consequently more funding in hope that it would prove itself as it claims itself. Either way, today, if you want to do work in Quantum Gravity Phenomenology, you may have to work on a more popular trending idea until something somewhere gives.
Sabine is currently expressing this to be, in part, a mess that cognitive bias is aiding in causing, and that scientists, are people too. And this idea? I like. I fear the day we are not susceptible to the deeper underlying currents of human nature. But that also means, there are methods we can adopt to change this. We don’t have to keep perpetuating the current status quo. I will be very curious to watch what happens and as always,
For those who want a youtube accompainied slide to a snippet of the previous interview, you will never guess what I found on accident! And again, thank you, Sabine, for keeping me on my toes!
Jes and Jen