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Category: Systematics

Physicists undertake stamp-collecting

Ernst Rutherford, the “father” of nuclear physics, once airily declared “In science there is only physics. All the rest is stamp collecting”. By this he meant that the theory of physics is the only significant thing in science. Such mundane activities as taxonomy in biology were just sampling contingent examples of physics.

So it is with some amusement that I note that in order to make sense of string theory, a group of physicists have been trying to do taxonomy over string theories. Why this is more than a “gotcha!” is that since the late nineteenth century, philosophers of science have ignored classification, although some of the more important advances in physics relied on it, such as Mendeleev’s Table, which drove theoretical advances in both chemistry and physics (and led even more ironically to the understanding Rutherford had of radioactivity).