Woit, Peter

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Woit, Peter

PERSONAL:

Education: Princeton University, Ph.D., 1984.

ADDRESSES:

Office—Columbia University, Department of Mathematics, 421 Mathematics, 2990 Broadway, New York, NY 10027; fax: 212-854-8962. E-mail—[email protected]

CAREER:

Academic. Columbia University, New York, NY, mathematics lecturer.

WRITINGS:

Not Even Wrong: The Failure of String Theory and the Search for Unity in Physical Law, Basic Books (New York, NY), 2006.

Author of the blog Not Even Wrong.

SIDELIGHTS:

Peter Woit is an academic. After graduating with a Ph.D. in the field of physics from Princeton University in 1984, Woit began lecturing in mathematics at Columbia University.

In 2006 Woit published his first book, Not Even Wrong: The Failure of String Theory and the Search for Unity in Physical Law. The book covers the concept of string theory, a theory that is widely believed but technologically unable to be proved with current and foreseeable technology. Woit claims that string theory does not even meet the definitions of what a theory is and warns against scientists who are trying to change the rules in order to justify their work.

Tom Siegfried, writing in the New York Times Book Review, observed that "Woit offers some intriguing ruminations on the relationship between physics and mathematics, but little intelligible insight into string theory itself." Anthony Doerr, writing in the Boston Globe, found that Woit argues his points "passionately," calling him a "cautious writer." Writing in Seed, Charles Seife compared the account with other books on the topic, noting that Woit's approach is "more strident." But Seife found the book "uneven," adding that "the focus is a bit fuzzy, the prose is occasionally stilted and passive and the level of detail is inconsistent—some technical terms like ‘synchrotron radiation’ and ‘eigenstate’ are left unexplained, making it likely that the lay reader will give up before the payoff in the later chapters." Seife conceded, however, that "the persistent will be rewarded by, among other things, a first-person account of Woit's investigations of a scientific quasi-hoax: the curious case of the two French brothers whose publications left physicists wondering whether they were the victims of a joke." David Minot Weld, writing in Science & Spirit, remarked that Woit "does an excellent job conveying the power and beauty" of this theory. Weld noted that "for a book with such a truculent title, Not Even Wrong begins rather mildly, but the gloves come off midway through, when Woit takes up the topic of string theory."

While writing on the Solidarity Web site, Ansar Fayyazuddin observed that "whatever else may be said about Not Even Wrong, it is one of the bravest popular science books that I have read." Fayyazuddin clarified his statements, saying that among other things, "the bravery of this book lies … in the willingness to accept the possible wrath that will be unleashed by your scientific colleagues." A contributor to the Science a Go-Go Web site called the book "an extremely important book for anyone remotely interested in string theory and physics." Brian Clegg, writing in Popular Science, remarked that "this is a hugely recommended book, but one that is extremely difficult to understand." Clegg added, "This is a story that needs to be widely told—and Woit has a powerful voice in doing so."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

American Scientist, January 1, 2007, Joseph Polchinski, review of Not Even Wrong: The Failure of String Theory and the Search for Unity in Physical Law, p. 72.

Bookseller, July 7, 2006, Kevin Saldanha, review of Not Even Wrong, p. 11.

Boston Globe, September 17, 2006, Anthony Doerr, review of Not Even Wrong.

Discover, February 20, 2006, Susan Kruglinski, author interview; September, 2006, "Tangled Up in Strings: Two Books Say That Today's Theoretical Physicists Are Way off Course," p. 68.

Economist, September 16, 2006, review of Not Even Wrong, p. 93.

Guardian (London, England), September 16, 2006, Steven Poole, review of Not Even Wrong.

Library Journal, August 1, 2006, Jack W. Weigel, review of Not Even Wrong, p. 118.

Midwest Book Review, November, 2006, review of Not Even Wrong; January, 2008, review of Not Even Wrong.

New Scientist, July 1, 2006, Amanda Gefter, review of Not Even Wrong, p. 56.

New York Times Book Review, September 17, 2006, Tom Siegfried, review of Not Even Wrong.

Philadelphia City Paper, November 8, 2006, Matt Hotz, review of Not Even Wrong.

Popular Science, February 21, 2008, Brian Clegg, review of Not Even Wrong, p. 48.

Prospect Magazine, August, 2006, John Horgan, review of Not Even Wrong.

Publishers Weekly, July 24, 2006, review of Not Even Wrong, p. 48.

Science News, October 7, 2006, review of Not Even Wrong, p. 239.

Scientific American, September, 2006, George Johnson, review of Not Even Wrong, p. 118.

SciTech Book News, June, 2007, review of Not Even Wrong.

Seed, September 19, 2006, Charles Seife, review of Not Even Wrong.

Skeptic (Altadena, CA), summer, 2007, James N. Gardner, review of Not Even Wrong.

Skeptical Inquirer, November 1, 2006, Robert P. Crease, review of Not Even Wrong, p. 53.

Times (London, England), June 11, 2006, John Cornwell, review of Not Even Wrong; June 12, 2006, Anjana Ahuja, review of Not Even Wrong.

Times Higher Education Supplement, August 25, 2006, Philip Anderson, review of Not Even Wrong, p. 22.

Wilson Quarterly, autumn, 2006, David Lindley, review of Not Even Wrong.

ONLINE

Columbia University, Department of Mathematics Web site,http://www.math.columbia.edu/ (February 21, 2008), author profile.

Laser Focus World,http://www.laserfocusworld.com/ (August 1, 2006), Jeffrey Bairstow, review of Not Even Wrong.

Physics World,http://physicsworld.com/ (August 2, 2006) Gordon Fraser, review of Not Even Wrong; (May 1, 2007), author interview.

Science a Go-Go,http://www.scienceagogo.com/ (February 21, 2008), review of Not Even Wrong.

Science & Spirit,http://www.science-spirit.org/ (February 21, 2008), David Minot Weld, review of Not Even Wrong.

Scienceline,http://scienceline.org/ (December 28, 2006), Karen Schrock, author interview.

Solidarity,http://www.solidarity-us.org/ (February 21, 2008), Ansar Fayyazuddin, review of Not Even Wrong.