This is the last of the four part series about the Edge discussion between Lee Smolin and Leonard Susskind.

I previously discussed the physics and the philosophical issues. You will have by now understood who won the battle in my eyes. However, I would like to use this final opportunity to stress that we have yet again a clear showcasing of that it is, as so often, sufficient to merely analyze the style of argumentation in order to figure out who is not to be trusted.

What is maybe the most revealing is Susskind’s constant avoidance of the actual issues and distortion of his opponent, then merciless destroying the straw men with contempt. He says for example that Smolin’s preventing a “split in the community of theoretical physicists” is an “absurdly ridiculous reason for putting forward a scientific hypothesis.” In fact, Smolin wrote about

a split in the community of theoretical physicists in which different groups of smart people believe different things, with no recourse to come to consensus by rational argument from the evidence.

So, this is not about some split in some community, it is a split through science that is not resolvable by scientific evidence! Instead of just lamenting such, Smolin tries to present an alternative that focuses on evidence. You may not agree with his proposal, or with there being such a split in the first place, but assuming there is such a split, then attempting to focus on exactly those hypotheses that can be decided by observational evidence is certainly very recommendable, apart from being proper science anyways. What is wrong with that? It is not Susskind’s favorite strings, and so Susskind resorts to wistful misrepresentation and quoting out of context.

The winner: Lee Smolin - (and I don't even agree with almost anything he writes recently)

What is outright obnoxious is that in the end, after stripping away all the smoke and empty bubbles like the many gratuitous counter examples that all fail on the same grounds, Susskind is actually doing little more than drawing on big names: telling us that his big guy friends agree with him, which rarely improved science historically. Look at how he ends the argument and compare it with the scientific references given by Smolin. Susskind finishes his letter like a total jerk:

[2] Professor of Physics, University of Texas and Nobel Prize winner 1979.
[3] Professor of Physics, Kavli Institute for Theoretical Phyiscs.
[4] Professor of Physics, Stanford University, Winner of many awards and prizes including the Dirac Medal and Franklin Medal.
[5] Astronomer Royal of Great Britain.

Astronomer Royal my ass your highness! What is Smolin against that? I tell you what. He is one of the few people who against all that royal power of many of the big names and the whole string community, which draws in almost all funding and grad students like a black hole, has developed an important, background independent contender to string theory!


Interesting debate or not: definitively full 10 points for both together to share
and bicker about.

Rhetoric: Rhetoric that seems convincing to people who do not know the issues: 7 points for Susskind. This is straight “kick the enemy where you can and let your own glamour shine” as expected from people selected by Darwinian evolution in academia and media world. Compare Susskind’s

those simple ideas, that sound like you understand them, often have deep technical flaws and the correct ideas can be very difficult to explain. All a person like myself can do is to say, "Trust me. I know what I'm doing and he doesn't."
Smolin has simple ideas and he just does not understand??? Compare it with Smolin’s somewhat similar comment:
This question turns out to rest on key issues in the quantum theory of gravity, which many string theorists, coming from a particle physics background, have insufficiently appreciated.
Friendly, to the point, addressed at educated people, not a mob. But a mob we are, and so, only 3 points for Smolin. He needs to differentiate his critical view of anthropic arguments from flogging his favorite already half dead black hole horse. The science mob is not smart enough to differentiate them; Susskind fully cashes out on that.

Leading a scientific discourse that is worth my respect: Susskind thinks he is above arguing the actual topic at hand. Changing the subject is not science: One point. Smolin wins 9 points here.

Science/philosophical insight: Only 2 for Susskind, 4 for Smolin. Both are far away from high marks as long as they have not the guts to look more critically at their own stuff, so the other 4 points go down the drain.

What has the judge learned from all this? Susskind is by now well enough established and financially settled. He is main stream; no “underdog must survive” excuses are allowed anymore, and maybe it is time to start transcending the gutter dog-bites-dog attitude. It would be much better for overall progress, if you are really interested in such. I had a lot of respect for my holographic-universe-hero Susskind before I read his exchange with Smolin. However, he has proven to be down there with the rest of the science community: career, money, status is everything; show who is the biggest dick, scientific integrity is only a label that comes in handy at times.

I often asked myself: how far up do you have to get before you can relax a little and start being less of a usual, ugly human, biased slave to your urges and systemic pressures? Well, that is just not how it works at all. Tom Shadyacs are rare.