March 1, 2018 | David F. Coppedge

“Cosmologists Are Often Wrong, But Never in Doubt”

Astronomy used to be the flagship model of observational science. Now, the method is: embrace the dogma, then hunt for obscure details that might support it.

As a student of Fred Hoyle in the 1950s, Jayant V. Narlikar embraced Hoyle’s rogue spirit, but also his respect for observational science. This retired astronomer renowned in India recently wrote a memoir and commentary about modern cosmology in The European Physical Journal H, titled, “The evolution of modern cosmology as seen through a personal walk across six decades.” The Abstract to the paper describes the tone of Narlikar’s message to the scientific world:

The author argues that despite the popularity of the standard hot big bang cosmology (SBBC) it rests on rather shaky foundations. On the theoretical side there is no well established physical framework to support the SBBC; nor is there independent observational support for its assumptions like the nonbaryonic dark matter, inflation and dark energy. While technological progress has made it possible to explore the universe in greater detail with open mind, today’s cosmologists seem caught in a range of speculations in support of the big bang dogma. Thus, in modern times cosmology appears to have lost the Camelot spirit encouraging adventurous studies of the unknown. A spirit of openness is advocated to restore cosmology to its rightful position as the flagship of astronomy.

A summary of Narlikar’s commentary in Springer Press includes the following quote by Lev Landau: “Cosmologists are often wrong but never in doubt.” To this day, we find big bang cosmologists relying on mythical occult phenomena like inflation, dark matter and dark energy, like Narlikar says. They must exist, because the big bang system doesn’t work without them. Their papers (and the popular press write-ups) manipulate mere suggestions into facts. Is it really possible that so many highly gifted intellects could be dogmatically wrong? Let’s find out by looking at recent news:

The search for dark matter—axions have ever-fewer places to hide (Phys.org). The big bang theory, to work, requires almost six times as much dark matter as observed matter. For years we have watched dark-matter hunters look foolish, building bigger and better detectors, spending huge amounts of money, finding nothing (search). One of the proposed dark matter particles—the axion—has “fewer places to hide,” this article says. It sounds like snipe hunters converging on the bush where the snipe must be hiding. Does this mythical particle even exist? What are the hunters going to say when all the hiding places have been checked, and the coveted particles, whatever they are, continue to be missing?

The Universe Is Expanding Faster Than We Thought, Hubble Data Suggests (Space.com). Modern cosmologists are willing to toss out the venerable laws of physics to save their theory. This article, concerning dark energy, shows observations running counter to dogma. Measurements do not match up with expectations of the behavior of the universe, assuming the big bang. New observations by Hubble have left astronomers scratching their heads.

Recent Hubble Space Telescope findings suggest that the universe is expanding much faster than expected — and astronomers say the rules of physics may need to be rewritten in order to understand why.

Scientists use the Hubble Space Telescope to make precise measurements of the universe’s expansion rate. However, observations for a new study don’t match up with previous predictions based on the universe’s trajectory following the Big Bang, according to a statement from the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI).

“The community is really grappling with understanding the meaning of this discrepancy,” Adam Riess, Nobel laureate and lead researcher on the study describing the new findings, said in the statement.

The cosmologists, so “wrong” as Landau said, are never in doubt. The big bang must prevail, even with observations that run counter to predictions. “Both results have been tested multiple ways, so barring a series of unrelated mistakes, it is increasingly likely that this is not a bug but a feature of the universe,” one said. Their activity seems focused on preserving the big bang and dark matter at all costs: “it’s possible that elusive dark matter, which accounts for 80 percent of the matter in the universe [there’s the dogma], interacts more strongly with visible matter or radiation than once thought, the researchers said” with an implied Tontology. Or, maybe traditional dark energy varies in strength over time. Or, quite possibly, dark energy is a myth.

Improved Hubble yardstick gives fresh evidence for new physics in the universe (Science Daily). This article, also about those pesky Hubble observations, claims “something unexpected” is at work in the universe. Observations are “forcing astronomers to consider” facts that run afoul of consensus dogma. And yet, further reading shows these astronomers standing courageous against the onslaught, affirming the big bang against the threat of falsifying evidence.

Cosmic Dawn: Astronomers Find Fingerprints of Universe’s First Stars (Space.com). The big news of the week concerns the “discovery” of the “first stars” after the big bang. Mike Wall takes the lead in the press parade, leading reporters who couldn’t think independently of the consensus shamans if their jobs depended on it. Lining up, and marching in lockstep, they beat the big bang drum and sound the brass, informing the public that the big bang has been confirmed again, with a bonus: it might even shed light on that mysterious dark matter:

  • We have found traces of the universe’s first ever stars (New Scientist).
  • Astronomers May Have Found the First Stars Born After the Big Bang (National Geographic).
  • The Universe’s First Stars May Reveal a Big Clue About Dark Matter (Live Science).
  • Within 180 million years of the Big Bang, stars were born (Science Daily)
  • Search for first stars uncovers ‘dark matter’ (Science Daily)

NSF artwork. Caution: no real stars detected.

But wait till you hear what the claims are based on. Two papers in Nature, one by Bowman et al and another by Rennan Barkana, show that things are not so tidy. Lincoln Greenhill describes the upshot of the papers as “A Surprising Chill Before the Cosmic Dawn” in his summary in Nature. In the first place, the astronomers did not actually “see” any “first stars” out there, like the public is led to believe from the artwork of a bright blue star gracing the popular articles. Instead, they inferred the possible existence of stars that would have to be made of hydrogen and helium right after the big bang, before nucleosynthesis (another cosmology myth) could have built up the periodic table of heavier elements.

In the second place, the measurements were extremely difficult to make, with noise swamping the expected signal by a factor of a thousand. In such needle-in-a-haystack conditions, theory and assumptions can overwhelm the actual search. Astronomers can tweak their models to find the mythical needle, which might to others with different assumptions look like another piece of straw.

In the third place, even with this ‘discovery’ they had to change their big bang models again. That’s the ‘surprising chill’ Greenhill talks about: a temperature in the “dark ages” period before the first stars that has to be twice as low as previously thought. Barkana’s paper, responding to the ‘discovery,’ discusses what kind of conditions are required to support it. His paper uses forms of the word assume 32 times before he comes up with a ‘best case scenario’ that might support certain ideas about the mythical dark matter. Yet that flimsy connection was enough for the press to claim that astronomers had revealed a ‘big clue’ about it.

Greenhill has his doubts about these claims:

However, the most stringent test will be to compare the current results with those to come from independent experiments also aimed at detecting the cosmic-dawn signal. I hope that the unexpected amplitude and line shape of the reported absorption signal is indeed a hard-won breakthrough that reveals evidence of unexpected physics. But it is possible that systematic errors have escaped detection by the tests that were run.

The reporters in the press parade, less concerned about how the sausage was made, were only too happy to get the bandwagon out and pass around the sausage for the public to taste. “Cosmologists are never in doubt!” they chant, leaving out the other part, “Cosmologists are often wrong.”

 

 

 

 

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