The Economist: 90% of theoretical physicists work in String Theory?

An article in the weeks Economist on Loop quantum gravity contains this interesting statistic.

String theory is the more established of the two; some 90% of theoretical physicists are engaged in developing it.

I’m wondering where they get this statistic from. Having spent some time in a Theoretical Physics department, albeit not one of worlds top ones but far from the worst either, this stat comes as a surprise. I would have thought the majority of theoretical physicists didn’t work on either theory.

Most in my experience are more involved in exploring the outcomes of existing fundamental theory rather than trying to work out new ones. Those trying to solve various other unexplained phenomena like high temperature superconductivity for example.

Perhaps they are using a definition of theoretical physics that fundamental theories? Even so I would be amazed given the number of people working on fundamental Quantum Theory and Particle Physics etc. So did they make it up or does it arise from some very narrow definition of theoretical physicist?

Update: Due to my own sloppy style the title originally read “physicist” rather than “theoretical physicists”.

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2 Responses to The Economist: 90% of theoretical physicists work in String Theory?

  1. Sacha says:

    Maybe 90% of those working in quantum gravity are working on string theory?

  2. Steve says:

    It would have to be something like that. I can’t imagine they just made the figure out of the blue, but its obviously wrong as written.

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