Status Anxiety: All ‘Theories’ Are Not All the Same

3 May 2016

Much of the recent debate about string theory and the scientific method derives from the mis-use or mis-interpretation of the word ‘theory’. Scientific theorizing follows a logical progression from idea to hypothesis to theory, and I argue that a fully-fledged scientific theory must be grounded in empirical data. In the absence of empirical data, non-empirical arguments will suffice to choose between rival hypotheses, but they cannot ‘confirm’ theories. A lack of clarity on the status of the ‘string hypothesis’ in many popular presentations has created the misleading impression that this is regarded as a valid and accepted scientific theory, threatening to undermine public trust in science and scientists. A ‘Munich Declaration’, developed by participants at the recent conference ‘Why Trust a Theory’, is proposed as a potential way forward.