Not even wrong

The phrase not even wrong is generally attributed to theoretical physicist Wolfgang Pauli, who was known for his colorful objections to incorrect or sloppy thinking. Rudolf Peierls writes that ‘a friend showed Pauli the paper of a young physicist which he suspected was not of great value but on which he wanted Pauli’s views. Pauli remarked sadly, ‘It is not even wrong.” Peierls remarks that quite a few apocryphal stories of this kind have been circulated and mentions that he listed only the ones personally vouched by him. He also quotes another example when Pauli replied to Lev Landau: ‘What you said was so confused that one could not tell whether it was nonsense or not.’

It has come to be used to describe any argument that purports to be scientific but fails at some fundamental level, usually in that it cannot be falsified (i.e., tested with the possibility of being rejected) by experiment or cannot be used to make predictions about the natural world. ‘Not even wrong’ has also been used by Peter Woit to mean proposed scientific theories that are well-meaning and based on current scientific knowledge, but can neither be used for prediction nor falsified. He has applied the phrase to aspects of string theory in physics on the grounds that, although mathematically elegant, it does not currently provide predictions or tests.

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