Skeptic: Wronger Than Wrong; November 2006; Scientific American Magazine; by Michael Shermer; 1 Page(s)
In belles lettres the witty literary slight has evolved into a genre because, as 20th-century trial lawyer Louis Nizer noted, "A graceful taunt is worth a thousand insults." To wit, from high culture, Mark Twain: "I didn't attend the funeral, but I sent a nice letter saying I approved of it." Winston Churchill: "He has all the virtues I dislike and none of the vices I admire." And from pop culture, Groucho Marx: "I've had a perfectly wonderful evening. But this wasn't it." Scientists are no slouches when it comes to pitching invectives at colleagues. Achieving almost canonical status as the ne plus ultra put-down is theoretical physicist Wolfgang Pauli's reported harsh critique of a paper: "This isn't right. It's not even wrong." I call this Pauli's proverb.
Columbia University mathematician Peter Woit recently employed Pauli's proverb in his book title, a critique of string theory called Not Even Wrong (Basic Books, 2006). String theory, Woit argues, is not only based on nontestable hypotheses, it depends far too much on the aesthetic nature of its mathematics and the eminence of its proponents. In science, if an idea is not falsifiable, it is not that it is wrong, it is that we cannot determine if it is wrong, and thus it is not even wrong.