I have recently been quite shocked to learn of the blog of an accomplished string theorist, which includes a lot of personal invective against physicists he disagrees with, as well as a lot of non-physics-related posts on politics from a right-wing perspective.

This is not the only example of which I am aware. There are some books that try to engage a mass audience in a foundational debate about physics in which a mainstream research program (string theory) is claimed to be fundamentally misguided. I have heard several anecdotes from acquaintances more along the lines of personal invectives, including one that included denunciations in social media and an editorial in Forbes magazine.

I am a mathematician, and it seems like such a culture of polemics is absent from my field. So I wonder: Is there something different about physics in this respect? Or have I just been lucky enough to avoid this side of the math community?

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    "What other academic fields have a culture of polemical writing and personal hostility" It is not because one physicist have such a blog that you can say that physics "have a culture of polemical writing and personal hostility". People are people, even if they are physicist, mathematician or whatever. Some will express their opinion like him, some will not. I'm pretty sure you can find examples in all fields. – EigenDavid Aug 9 '18 at 6:34
  • But it is not the first example like this I have heard about in physics. I will update the post. – mbsq Aug 9 '18 at 6:38
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    While I assume that your questions were asked in good faith, naming specific examples is very prone to incite debate about these examples (and not really necessary to understand or answer your question). The same goes for your second question, which is problematic for the same reason shopping questions are. I therefore removed them. Note this is not because I want to generally suppress debate about these individual cases or large-scale comparisons of field cultures. This is just not the right place for them. – Wrzlprmft Aug 9 '18 at 8:21
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    Don’t clutch your pearls too hard, most of the divisive bloggers in physics don’t actually do much themselves. Your own example was kicked out over a decade ago! – knzhou Aug 9 '18 at 8:44
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    I see no need to delete (or close) the question. – Pete L. Clark Aug 9 '18 at 13:43

Scientists are people too, and in every field you will find some people who express themselves loudly and viciously toward others, whether rightly or wrongly.

While you may not have encountered this in your particular subfield of mathematics, I guarantee that if you turn over the right rocks you will find people slinging mud at one another (I'll bet there's at least some of it around P/NP and complexity theory in general, given how much that is both important and a crank magnet).

There will, of course, be significant differences in the culture of different fields, but that will not be due to anything about the nature of the material being studied, but rather due to the particulars of their history and circumstances and the degree to which the members of the field work to build a positive culture of communications within their community.

In fact, in my experience, there can be such radical differences in interpersonal culture between closely related subfields that I strongly suspect that community efforts are likely to dominate over all other factors.

  • I don’t know. There sure are a lot of books and magazine articles by theoretical physicists arguing that everyone is wrong. – mbsq Aug 11 '18 at 15:55

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