In AP Physics, I had the Elegant Universe by Brian Greene as assigned reading. My verbal reaction to it was something like, “this is all very interesting, but isn’t String Theory kind of an idle pursuit?” I recall that my teacher got annoyed. Anyway, I filed String Theory away in my mind for a while, until I watched the Nova special of the same title as the book with Kat and Bidya. I still find it very interesting and I still have a hard time as seeing it as anything more than mental masturbation. If string theory is not true, or if there is no unifying relationship between gravity and the other forces, would we miss it?What irks Kat and I is that String Theory is a sensation and it receives more attention than fields of science that are not only practical, but uncontested as fields of science. There doesn’t appear to be any way to disprove String Theory, after all. What is worrisome is the possibility that String Theory receives grant money. A quick Google search yields no evidence of this, but it isn’t a stretch to charge that for every bit of attention that String Theory gets, the rest of science gets that much less attention. For example, the Nova special on String Theory could have been a special on Medicinal Chemistry instead. Conceivably then, if there is a relationship between attention and funding, there is less funding available for the rest of science. If that’s the case, then it’s a damn shame because labs, such as my girlfriend’s, have to work really hard for their grant money.
But I am not about to take part in any war on String Theory. It is fun to think about dimensions beyond the four that we can perceive and whether or not the void of space is really a void. The truth is that funding shouldn’t be so damn scarce in the first place. The War on Drugs and the War on Terror gobble up more funding than String Theory ever could. [Yes, this article just took a political tack.] Wondering where the AIDS vaccine is, where the Male Pill is, where a viable, safe, and renewable alternative to fossil fuels is? These goals are smoldering in Iraq and decaying amongst sprayed coca crops in Colombia. Consider that in 2005, AIDS claimed an estimated 2.8 million lives. In the same year, AIDS research received $19.7 billion in funding from the US while the Iraq War received that much in a little more than three months. In contrast, it is estimated that 290,000 were killed under Saddam Hussein’s rule of 24 years. Understandably, many have strong opinions regarding terrorism and narcotics. But, if you are thinking of voting for someone who supports the Wars on Terrorism and Drugs, please consider where your tax dollars won’t be going first. When science gets the funding and attention it deserves, then maybe String Theory can finally become the non-issue it ought to be.
The above comic was taken from xkcd.com.