Inflation: Cosmic, Comic, or Cosmetic?
The science media seem beside themselves with enthusiasm over some dots and lines. When scientists analyzing data from the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) told reporters they determined the polarization of certain points in the cosmic microwave background, one could almost hear the yawns. But when they suggested that this tells us something about what might have happened in the first trillion-trillionth of a second of the birth of the universe, one could hear the laptop keys chattering like old-fashioned ticker tape. “Proof of Big Bang Seen by Space Probe,” reported National Geographic. “New Satellite Data on Universe’s First Trillionth Second,” trumpeted a Johns Hopkins press release. NASA helped translate the data bits into interpretation with a glitzy diagram and title, “Ringside Seat to the Universe’s First Split Second.” And Science Now explained, “Big Bang Afterglow Points to Inflation.”
What’s the ruckus about? Some of the WMAP astronomers believe that the polarization data is consistent with a controversial model of the Big Bang proposed by Alan Guth in 1981. He claimed that the universe doubled in size a hundred times times in a trillionth of a second, going from the size of a marble to “outta sight” in less than the blink of an eye. Inflation Theory, despite numerous criticisms, overhauls, deaths and resurrections since it was proposed, has become somewhat mainstream in the last decade. Science Now explains that the WMAP polarization data merely falsify certain models of inflation, assuming inflation happened. Brian Greene, a theoretical physicist from Columbia University, said, “This is a powerful step toward winnowing the field of contenders of how inflation took place.”
Is that all? They woke us up for that? Good grief. The only inflation here is exaggeration in the media, taking a data point and making a worldview out of it (cartoon). Theoretical astrophysics is nearly incomprehensible (cartoon), certainly not enough to produce confident pronouncements (cartoon) that violate all common sense (cartoon). Whatever happened to scientific objectivity and caution? Not a word said about all the problems with inflation theory (11/02/2002). In these days of molecules-to-man hype, hubris is the highest virtue. Are all science reporters from Texas? (cartoon).