The poll results were interesting to me since they showed how the general perceptions of HEP physicists has changed in the last five years, following the startup of the Large Hadron Collider and the observed absence of striking new physics signatures. I however reasoned that it would have been nice to see what was the perception among outsiders, too. People who read this blog make a good sample to run this kind of investigation, since you do understand -grosso modo- the issues and know the general status of particle physics and cosmology. Or maybe you are a biased sample, given that you read the blog of a die-hard sceptic. Who knows.
Anyway, I invited readers of this blog to leave their own answers to the six questions in the comments thread. Actually I asked for answers to five of the six questions, since I found the sixth too technical and off-topic for a HEP audience and blog.
I was pleased to see that the offer was taken by about three dozen readers, which are enough to extract some meaningful statistics from their answers. So let us see what you readers think of the issues raised by the poll.
Question 1 was the one allowing for most possible answers: it asked "Concerning the hierarchy problem, which of these options is in your opinion closer to the truth?" and allowed for the six possibilities below:
a) Low energy SUSY solves the hierarchy problem.
b) There is no hierarchy problem, it is a misinterpretation of how field theory works.
c) The hierarchy may be understood in the context of anthropic arguments, perhaps in connection with the existence of a landscape of string vacua.
d) There is new physics above the TeV scale (e.g. compositeness, Randal-Sundrum, some technicolor version).
e) There is a low scale string theory above a few TeV.f) Other
Here the HEP audience of the Madrid conference had given a split verdict, about a quarter of them choosing each of the three first answers, and the remaining fourth opting for one of the last three. What you think is different: 50% believe that there is no hierarchy problem; 31% pick "other", and 10% pick low-energy SUSY and anthropics each.
Question 2 was "Will the LHC and/or the ILC eventually detect non-standard properties of the Higgs boson ?". In Madrid 47% had said no. You are much more negative: 75% of you say no.
Question 3 was "Will the LHC eventually find new physics other than the Higgs boson?". In Madrid 41% had answered no, but here we see 71% of naysayers.
Question 4 was "Will dark matter (either WIMPS, axions, or other) be detected in the course of the next decade ?". In Madrid 75% said yes, here instead the optimists are only 39%.
Question 5 was "Will we eventually measure non-Gaussianities or tensor modes or other cosmological new effects?". I had planned to skip this question, but you answered anyway. In Madrid the physicists had answered mostly no (54%), here we are surprisingly at 87% yes!
Question 6, finally, was about string theory: "Do you think that String Theory will eventually be the ultimate unified theory?", and it allowed for a third answer beyond y/n: it could be said to be "a step in the right direction". 46% of the Madrid attendees had picked that third option, with the rest split between the two definite answers. Here we instead see an overwhelming majority of naysayers (83%), with the rest split between a yes and a "step in the right direction".
What conclusions can we draw from your answers ? Well, first of all I will say that you are a dirty bunch of sceptics ! Jokes aside, you are much more pessimistic than insiders in judging our chances to make quick progress in the understanding of matter and the cosmos (if we exclude question 5, which I prefer to not consider). Second, it is interesting to note how string theory is not felt as promising among outsiders. But I should say that many of you who answered the poll are not properly outsiders: many are PhD students (25%), and a further 20% are insiders (theorists and phenomenologists).
In retrospect, I think that indeed, there has to be some bias in the selection of readers of this blog (or at least, those who decide to contribute to the poll). String theory enthusiasts would probably be reading Lubos Motl instead, and since Lubos still entertains himself with defamation and personal attacks on me from time to time, they might just not want to mess with polls I run here...
In all cases, I thank everybody who participated in this interesting experiment !