Three wrongs


Seattle sign, courtesy jcb.

Sometimes I check out Arts and Letters Daily, which is a digest of essays, reviews, and the like, some well-written and moderately interesting. Today I found a link to a John Cornwell review of Peter Woit’s new book, Not Even Wrong: The Failure of String Theory and the Continuing Challenge to Unify the Laws of Physics, in which he argues against string theory, which is a big deal these days in physics research. Cornwell says

String theory, he avers, has become a form of science fiction. Hence his book’s title, Not Even Wrong: an epithet created by Wolfgang Pauli, an irascible early 20th-century German physicist. Pauli had three escalating levels of insult for colleagues he deemed to be talking nonsense: “Wrong!�?, “Completely wrong!�? and finally “Not even wrong!�?. By which he meant that a proposal was so completely outside the scientific ballpark as not to merit the least consideration.

I had never encountered Pauli’s three levels of incorrect, mistaken, in error, erroneous, inaccurate, inexact, imprecise, fallacious, wide of the mark, off target, unsound, and faulty (list courtesy of Apple’s built-in dictionary), but I am ready to use them!

I hate to say that the extent of knowledge that many students get from high school means my friends who are teaching undergraduates have reams of their students’ answers to test questions that are easy to deem “not even wrong.�? Note that many are “graduating literate” and prepared for college, and I think life, see Mouse’s blahg.

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