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See Inside April 2011

Readers Respond to "A Geometric Theory of Everything" and Other Articles

Letters to the editor from the December 2010 issue of Scientific American


Disagreeing On Everything
As theoretical physicists, we deplore the publication of A. Garrett Lisi and James Owen Weatherall’s “A Geometric Theory of Everything,” as well as of Zeeya Merali’s “Rummaging for a Final Theory” [News Scan] in the September issue, which was PR-level praise of Lisi’s research that presented him as struggling against an entrenched establishment.

As you surely knew Lisi’s views to be, to say the least, controversial, basic editorial precaution would have required first consulting a reputable particle physicist. You would have learned that duly refereed and published work of Jacques Distler of the University of Texas at Austin and Skip Garibaldi of Emory University has shown that Lisi’s model cannot even reproduce parity violation.

This effect, experimentally verified more than 50 years ago, is a basic element of the overwhelmingly successful Standard Model of particle physics. Instead Lisi predicts a host of particles that have not been detected and fails to account for the existence of other particles that do exist. His model simply fails to provide any correct physics.
Stanley Deser, Albion Lawrence and Howard J. Schnitzer
Brandeis University

THE EDITORS REPLY: Merali’s article covered a scientific meeting on new algebraic approaches to unifying physics, one of which is Lisi’s. She acknowledged his theory to be controversial, mentioning the work by Distler and Garibaldi, even quoting Garibaldi himself. She also quoted Lisi’s response, in which he said his ideas are still works in progress and sketched a possible solution to the criticism.

Separately, we had invited Lisi and Weatherall to describe Lisi’s work for the benefit of readers who may have been ­­curious about it after seeing its geometric beauty hinted at elsewhere. We did so in the spirit of presenting fresh ideas that are illuminating if admittedly tentative—one notable example being Scientific American’s articles on string theory in its early days. That decision was made after consultation with experts, most of whom were indeed skeptical about Lisi’s theory, but some of whom still thought it promising.

SKEPTICAL ABOUT FLUORIDE
I was saddened to see the inclusion of water fluoridation in Michael Shermer’s “The Conspiracy Theory Detector.” Perhaps Sher­mer should go back and look at Scientific American’s own coverage of fluo­ride [see “Second Thoughts about Fluoride,” by Dan Fagin; January 2008] or, better still, read the science in the 2006 National Research Council report “Fluoride in Drinking Water: A Scientific Review of EPA’s Standards.”

I have seen and read the science, and I no longer drink and cook with my city’s fluoridated water supply. I wish I could afford to not be forced to wash in it. Incidentally, carbon filters such as Brita’s do not remove fluoride from the water, and boiling it makes the fluoride more concentrated. Infants exposed to fluoride could have reduced IQ. Can our society really afford to take that chance?
Greg Warchol
Oakville, Ontario

GOOD AND BAD TRIPS
In “Hallucinogens as Medicine,” Roland R. Griffiths and Charles S. Grob describe the therapeutic benefits of hallucinogens such as psilocybin and LSD, as well as some of their risks. I was surprised, however, to see no discussion of perhaps the largest risk: causing patients to form false beliefs. Patients in the studies they cite emerge from their hallucinogenic experience believing that “all is One,” that “God asks nothing of us except to receive love,” and having a “peculiar disregard for ... their impending death.”

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