Woit (What the Hell is Going On?) and Motl (wrong-turn-basins-gut-critics) have sparked a new round of the discussion on the existence, or not, of a wrong turn in the development of theoretical particle physics. The excuse this time is some comments of Nima Arkani-Hamed in a couple of recent lectures, but the running joke is already old, that something broke down around 1973-74.
When this discussion happened in 2006, inspired by Rovelli’s hep-th/0310077, I proposed two examples of -arguable- wrong turns: one in the seventies with the different interpretations of the meaning of renormalizability, and one centuries ago in the Principia, with the decision, after some discarded drafts, of corfirming angular momentum as a fluent quantity, allowing for infinitesimal changes. The moral of the examples was that even after the long way we eventually return to the right route, and with a lot of mathematical and physical stuff actually useful, collected along the path.
Them in 2011 I opened more specifically “The wrong turn of string theory”, suggesting that it had been in mid 1970 the neglecting of its use as a theory of mesons, and that other way could have been the pairing of such mesons with their components, in an emulated, and recursive, sort of supersymmetry. Well, 13 pages and some summers later on this path, I found myself playing with group representations having 496 components as the best way to impose the needed symmetry. Perhaps there are some deep valleys across and bridges need to be deployed, but at the end it looks as that the destination allows for a number of turns, and it is a mater of taste to claim which ones are wrong.
Minute 0:56:12 of the first talk is specially hillarious because Nima is directly naming -and dismissing as random- the only known case where a boson and a fermion of the same charge were found having the same approximate mass, all of it under a title “Where in the World are SUSY”. I mean, pion-muon. Then he in the next phrase dismisses the next case, charmonium-tau. And it does not even pauses to notice the joke; I had expected at least a punchline “These are not the scalars you are looking for”