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Space Science

Momentous Big Bang Findings Questioned 154

Posted by Soulskill
from the science-is-self-correcting dept.
sciencehabit writes "The biggest discovery in cosmology in a decade could turn out to be an experimental artifact, according to a report by a physics blogger. The blogger says the BICEP group — the team behind the huge announcement of the moments after the Big Bang a few weeks back — had subtracted the wrong Planck measurement of foreground radiation in deriving its famous evidence for gravitational waves. As a result, the calculation is invalid and the so-called evidence inconclusive. Intriguingly, the BICEP team has yet to flat-out deny this."
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Momentous Big Bang Findings Questioned

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  • Peer review (Score:5, Insightful)

    by meglon (1001833) on Tuesday May 13, 2014 @09:02PM (#46995281)
    That's why we call it science, not religion.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Tablizer (95088)

      Religion also has peer review; witness Martin Luther. However, disagreements often result in forking the religion, not down-grading one, unless you count popularity. If you count popularity and forking, then indeed there is peer review roughly equivalent to science and the difference is blurred, for good or bad.

      • That's a very interesting point. I hadn't thought of it that way.

      • by elwinc (663074)

        Religion also has peer review; witness Martin Luther. However, disagreements often result in forking the religion, not down-grading one, unless you count popularity. If you count popularity and forking, then indeed there is peer review roughly equivalent to science and the difference is blurred, for good or bad.

        Galileo's peer review came a few hundred years too late. Torquemada was never peer reviewed. Neither were these Popes. [wikipedia.org]

        Conclusion: in religion, peer review is more the exception than the rule.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          Galileo's peer review came a few hundred years too late.

          Alas, the myth that Galileo got in trouble with the Church for his heliocentric opinions persists to this day.

          Two things to note:

          1) note that the developer of heliocentrism was a churchman, as well as a scientist.

          2) what really got Galileo in trouble was calling the Pope a simpleton in a book he wrote about heliocentrism. Good rule of thumb - NEVER call the Pope names when you are living in a place he rules.

          For that matter, calling pretty much a

          • As any good viewer of Cosmos knows the church excommunicated the guy who hypothesized about heliocentrism.

            • by Pseudonym (62607)

              Are you by any chance referring to Bruno, whose "hypothesis" was a mystical vision? Or are you referring to Copernicus, who actually had calculations and was not excommunicated?

          • Re:Peer review (Score:4, Informative)

            by Thomas Miconi (85282) on Wednesday May 14, 2014 @01:03AM (#46996483)

            I don't know what's more ridiculous - the fact that this contrarian tripe gets regurgitated every time the subject of Galileo comes up, or the fact that it keeps getting modded up.

            Meanwhile, back in the real world... Papal condemnation of Galileo [umkc.edu]:

            We say, pronounce, sentence, and declare that you, the said Galileo, by reason of the matters adduced in trial, and by you confessed as above, have rendered yourself in the judgment of this Holy Office vehemently suspected of heresy, namely, of having believed and held the doctrine—which is false and contrary to the sacred and divine Scriptures—that the Sun is the center of the world and does not move from east to west and that the Earth moves and is not the center of the world; and that an opinion may be held and defended as probably after it has been declared and defined to be contrary to the Holy Scripture; and that consequently you have incurred all the censures and penalties imposed and promulgated in the sacred canons and other constitutions, general and particular, against such delinquents. From which we are content that you be absolved, provided that, first, with a sincere heart and unfeigned faith, you abjure, curse, and detest before use the aforesaid errors and heresies and every other error and heresy contrary to the Catholic and Apostolic Roman Church in the form to be prescribed by us for you.

            • Re:Peer review (Score:4, Interesting)

              by AthanasiusKircher (1333179) on Wednesday May 14, 2014 @01:45AM (#46996649)

              I don't know what's more ridiculous - the fact that this contrarian tripe gets regurgitated every time the subject of Galileo comes up, or the fact that it keeps getting modded up.

              Politics aside, Galileo's actual proposed science on heliocentrism was RIDICULOUS. His sole proof that the earth was in motion required there to be only one high tide per day at noon (which obviously was not true, but nevermind).

              I've already posted more details above in response to another comment, but the fact is that -- while Galileo was a great scientist -- if you believe in modern science, you should NOT be holding up Galileo's defense of heliocentrism as if he were the model scientist or was following any sort of empirical scientific method.

              It's a common mythology that was created in the 1800s (over 200 years after Galileo's trial) to make a "martyr" for the developing scientific cause. Galileo absolutely should NOT have been punished, if you believe in free speech.

              But, as science, his astronomical theories were way off the mark, and he was going around asserting them to be true without question, all the while by insulting some of the most powerful people on the planet.

              By all means, condemn the Church's action as suppression of free speech. But if you think Galileo was acting as a good "scientist" in his heliocentrism arguments (at least in the modern definition of "empirical scientist" who tests theories and relies on empirical data), you're sorely mistaken, and you're basically ignoring the entire literature of the history of science that has been researched and thoroughly discussed for at least the past 50 years!

              • by oreaq (817314)

                But, as science, his astronomical theories were way off the mark, and he was going around asserting them to be true without question, all the while by insulting some of the most powerful people on the planet.

                I think it's not fair to measure him against what we know today. You have to compare his model against the scientific believe and knowledge of his time. That is what science is all about: finding a model that is less wrong than the model you had before. Are you arguing that the geocentric model is less wrong than what Galileo proposed? Which is closer to the truth? I understand that Galileo's model is more wrong than the geocentric model we use today but that seems irrelevant to the case.

                • I would argue that Galileo's version of a heliocentric solar system was less predictive than a geocentric model. As another poster said, his ideas lead to the necessity of only one high tide at noon, and we know that isn't true. His idea of the motion of the planets still relied on epicycles to explain why they appeared to move forward then backwards then forwards again throughout the year because he was stuck on perfectly circular orbits.

                  His ideas made clearly false predictions, yet he insisted he was righ

                  • by oreaq (817314)

                    As another poster said, his ideas lead to the necessity of only one high tide at noon, and we know that isn't true

                    Both sides had no explanation for tides. This is not a difference in the quality of the theories, no predictive or explanatory power on either side.

                    His idea of the motion of the planets still relied on epicycles to explain why they appeared to move forward then backwards then forwards again throughout the year because he was stuck on perfectly circular orbits.

                    Again: Both theories are wrong; Galileo's is arguably closer to the truth.

                    Geocentricism certainly wasn't right, but its predictive power was better than Galileo's ideas.

                    Galileo's observed that Venus exhibited a full set of phases in clear violation of Ptolemy's geocentric model. His discovery of a couple of Jupiter's moons proofed that not all heavenly bodies orbit the earth. These are some examples for Galileo's theory being superior to geocentrism. Can

                    • Galileo's observed that Venus exhibited a full set of phases in clear violation of Ptolemy's geocentric model. His discovery of a couple of Jupiter's moons proofed that not all heavenly bodies orbit the earth. These are some examples for Galileo's theory being superior to geocentrism.

                      No, these are examples for Galileo's theory being superior to the Ptolemaic version of geocentrism, where EVERYTHING orbits the earth.

                      Can you name a concrete example, where the church's geocentric model actually did better than Galileo's ideas?

                      Yes. Many scientists of the time, particularly the Jesuits who were arguing with Galileo, subscribed to the Tychonic model [wikipedia.org] of the solar system. It is a geocentric model, but one that actually fits the data better than Copernicus's model in some ways, since it was derived from decades of empirical observations by Kepler's mentor, Tycho Brahe. Many scientists associated with

                    • Can you name a concrete example, where the church's geocentric model actually did better than Galileo's ideas?

                      By the way, if you want just a few examples:

                      (1) Stellar parallax was predicted by the geocentrists if the Earth moved around the sun. It was not observed clearly until the 1800s.

                      (2) Coriolis forces (e.g., displacement of projectiles due to Earth's rotation) were predicted by the geocentrists if the Earth was in motion. These were not observed until the 1800s.

                      (3) Observed stellar diameters were fixed. According to the geocentrists, if the Earth was in motion relative to the "fixed stars," they shoul

                    • by oreaq (817314)

                      Interesting. Thanks for all your replies. I guess my disgust for the behavior of the catholic church, all the "heresy" and imprisonment stuff, clouded my judgement of Galileo. Looks like he actually was wrong on most everything.

                    • by oreaq (817314)

                      clouded my judgement of Galileo.

                      Poor wording, i wanted to say that I took for granted that he was "right" without ever checking it.

                    • by elwinc (663074)

                      Actually, the funny thing about Galileo is that he wasn't so much challenging the Bible as he was challenging Aristotelian ideas that got conflated with scripture. A few years ago I asked two Jesuits and a Protestant minister (on separate occasions) where in the Bible I could find statements about geocentrism. They all told me that the Church at the time was full of Aristotelian "science" and that the source of geocentrism was Aristotle, not scripture, though one fellow did note the "sun stopped in the sk

                • You have to compare his model against the scientific believe and knowledge of his time. That is what science is all about: finding a model that is less wrong than the model you had before. Are you arguing that the geocentric model is less wrong than what Galileo proposed?

                  You don't get to have it both ways. You can't simultaneously say "We have to judge Galileo by standards of his time" AND say "We now know his theory to be 'less wrong' (whatever that means)" and use that as a basis for evaluating his theory, when the evaluation of "wrongness" requires hindsight he and his contemporaries didn't have.

                  Anyhow, YES, I do think Galileo was ABSOLUTELY "less right" than many of his contemporaries, according to modern scientific standards. Why? Because the people he was arguing

            • by kamapuaa (555446)

              Well it's easy to believe that "you're getting in trouble for calling the pope an idiot" wouldn't fly, so they gave him trumped-up charges. Like maybe you condemn the US President in the press, so you get prosecuted for some unrelated charge of smoking a joint. Just sayin'.

            • by will_die (586523)
              Stop cherry picking parts of the trial and what happened before and after!
              The fact is he was given a trial to prove this idea and when he could not got slammed hard for it.
            • by elwinc (663074)

              Interested readers might also like to see what the Catholic Church itself wrote [catholiceducation.org] regarding the 1992 pardoning of Galileo. They cite a mutual misunderstanding, and place blame on both sides. Here's a quote from a portion blaming the Church:

              Galileo was finally condemned by the Holy Office as "vehemently suspected of heresy." The choice of words was debatable, as Copernicanism had never been declared heretical by either the ordinary or extraordinary Magisterium of the Church. In any event, Galileo was sentenced to abjure the theory and to keep silent on the subject for the rest of his life, which he was permitted to spend in a pleasant country house near Florence.

              I think the fact that in 1992 the Church itself, after more than a decade of studying Galileo's case, concludes that Copernicanism was Galileo's suspected heresy, should lay the question to rest. Heliocentrism, AKA Copernicanism, was indeed Galileo's heresy.

          • by Pseudonym (62607)

            You also have to see the situation from the point of view of Galileo's scientific critics. He was known to love a drink. Scratch that, he was known to love a lot of drink. He designed his improved contraption to look at the night sky, and reported little moving lights around Jupiter.

            His fellow scientists had good reason to be very skeptical about his claim. We might have had to wait another hundred years if it hadn't been for Kepler.

      • by meglon (1001833)
        No. Your attempt to elevate power struggles of con men to be the same as peer review, where knowledgeable people in the same field work to duplicate results is laughable, unless you consider a group of inmates on death row judging the newcomer in the same light. New religions form (forked, if you want to use your term) because a group within the old religion didn't have enough power and control over their "sheep," and wanted more. If a science changes, it's because new ideas that come from new observatio
        • by Tablizer (95088)

          But it's hard to objectively measure the alleged motivations you mention. Also, the big bang is not scientifically repeatable (any time soon) such that repeatability of experiment is not an issue here.

          I generally agree with your assessment of motivation, but it's very difficult to measure and present such objectively. Science shouldn't rest on guessing motivations of theory proponents.

      • by drinkypoo (153816)

        If you count popularity and forking, then indeed there is peer review roughly equivalent to science

        Well, no. Because scientific peer review is based on science, while religious peer review is based on politics, or on making shit up.

        • by Tablizer (95088)

          That's a sticking point, especially with conservatives in that they often believe that bias toward "big government" or "hedonistic lifestyles" causes many scientists cherry pick or misinterpret data, either consciously or unconsciously.

          • by drinkypoo (153816)

            That's a sticking point, especially with conservatives in that they often believe that bias toward "big government" or "hedonistic lifestyles" causes many scientists cherry pick or misinterpret data, either consciously or unconsciously.

            They are absolutely correct. That's why science demands verification.

            • by Tablizer (95088)

              But often the evidence is not so clear cut, or conflicting. For example, the relatively sudden appearance of most known phyla during the dawn of the Cambrian Explosion tends to be a ding against natural selection. But how big of a ding is tricky to objectively measure: opinion comes into play, and that opinion could be influenced by subconscious factors.

              • by drinkypoo (153816)

                Yep. And science permits us to account for the ambiguity by being willing to accept new theories and evidence, instead of demanding that the universe works in some way that it clearly doesn't.

                Granted, this can be a slow process. Perhaps there is a better one. It's still better than religion at adapting to new situations.

      • Thing is, Luther disagreed, and we have Lutheranism (which comprises more than one church organization) as well as Catholicism. Einstein disagreed with Newton, and everybody now figures Einstein was more correct than Newton, although Newtonian mechanics are still very useful in very many circumstances. Aristotle disagreed with Plato, and we still have Aristotelian vs. Platonic philosophy.

        The difference between science on the one hand and religion and philosophy on the other is that, in science, we can

    • by Anonymous Coward

      And why must you make this a debate of science vs what you call religion? Try posting about something else for a change.

    • by artor3 (1344997)

      Yup, 'cause those are literally the only two things in the world, and we can never ever talk about one without bringing up the other.

    • by paiute (550198)

      That's why we call it science, not religion.

      Yes, but your science keeps getting corrected and refuted. My religion is free of mistakes.

      • by meglon (1001833)
        No. Science is a distillation of our observations of the universe and things within it. When we can make better observations, we can get a more precise understanding of what and how it happened. That is science. That is why Newton was right, until he wasn't; and why Einstein is right, until some future date where he will no longer be. The understanding changes as we make better observations.

        Religion, on the other hand, only changes when some new group no longer wants to believe in the old dogma becau
        • by gtall (79522)

          " Science is a distillation of our observations of the universe and things within it."

          Not really. Much of physics starts with a mathematical theory. Biology starts with theories about how something works. Theories may be informed by observations, but they are human imagination at its best. When a theory is confirmed up to some epsilon, we tend to believe it correct up to that epsilon...unless further results prove otherwise, or a better theory comes along which explains more. Science is not mere reading obs

          • by Anonymous Coward

            This is the stupidest comment in this thread so far. EVERYTHING stats with maths, as a matter of fact, math used to be a religion by itself in the ol'e Greek civilization (look for the pythagoreans). Arguably, only thorough reason you can understand the universe and the foundation of reason is logic, a subset of maths. Even in a more basic way, understanding something means finding relationships between entities and thats PRECISELY what maths is about.

            Physics do NOT starts with maths. Physics is about the o

      • Science is like a journey, not a destination.

    • That you even bring this up is an indication that supporters of science today are in an ideological battle with supporters of religion -- and engaging in ideology of any kind is a loss for science. Let the religious folks do their thing, the brighter among them already know that religion concerns the spiritual and not the material aspect of human existence, the less bright you can't reasonably convince in anything anyway. (And let me point out that it works both ways -- the brighter in the science camp also

    • Except, this story is religion. It's just one guy making an unsubstantiated claim, and another guy linking to said unsubstantiated claim and giving truth to it based on "internet rumours". There's no peer review to be found.

    • You're thinking of "dogma". Religion isn't necessarily dogmatic.

    • Oh please. Like a major religion's never mistakenly subtracted the wrong Planck constant from a radiation background before. There are reasons that angel-pin partial repose ratios were so contentious you know. :/
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 13, 2014 @09:08PM (#46995321)

    It would be momentous if the editors actually did anything around here.

  • um (Score:5, Informative)

    by Charliemopps (1157495) on Tuesday May 13, 2014 @09:19PM (#46995407)

    He is basing his objections on a screenshot of a PDF file and not the real data. I'm not saying his findings are incorrect, this is a huge discovery and needs to be thoroughly vetted, but come on. 1 guy suggesting a problem isn't news worthy.

    • Re:um (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Frosty Piss (770223) * on Wednesday May 14, 2014 @01:45AM (#46996647)

      ...but come on. 1 guy suggesting a problem isn't news worthy.

      This is Slashdot.

      "You must be new here."

      • ...but come on. 1 guy suggesting a problem isn't news worthy.

        This is Slashdot.

        "You must be new here."

        point taken

    • Wasn't there already a hole poked in the BICEP findings, like a day after publication? Something about not accounting for the possibility that their findings were evidence of post expansion gravity polarization, not pre-expansion...or something like that. I recall that the consensus was still "this is super cool observation and probably right, but the Nobel hangs on that tiny detail."
      • Wasn't there already a hole poked in the BICEP findings, like a day after publication? Something about not accounting for the possibility that their findings were evidence of post expansion gravity polarization, not pre-expansion...or something like that. I recall that the consensus was still "this is super cool observation and probably right, but the Nobel hangs on that tiny detail."

        Lots of holes have been poked into it since it came out. This is a revelation on the scale of Relativity and that wasn't entirely settled for decades. Expect there to be a LOT of criticism going forward. As there should be. Something this big has to have every concern addressed before it can be totally accepted.

  • by PvtVoid (1252388) on Tuesday May 13, 2014 @09:37PM (#46995505)
    There are at least a half a dozen experiments either taking data or analyzing data which will either confirm or refute the BICEP2 data, some releasing results in less than a year. Then we'll know the answer.

    It's interesting, and sort of icky, how much "science" is being done by blog these days. No hard data to back up the claims, just rumors and hearsay. Yech.
  • by edibobb (113989)
    That's got to be really embarrassing, especially for all the people who didn't catch the error.
  • by Tekoneiric (590239) on Tuesday May 13, 2014 @10:56PM (#46995947) Journal
    I really think it will turn out that the big bang/big crunch is a constant process where the universe is shaped like a stretched torus or bar magnet and matter flows out the hole on one side across the surface and back into the hole on the other side constantly. The hole would likely be so small that it crunches matter down to energy as it flows thru to the other side. Since the universe appears to be expanding quicker we would likely be on the outflow side.
    • I really think it will turn out that the big bang/big crunch is a constant process where the universe is shaped like a stretched torus...

      Based on any science in particular, or just a love of doughnuts?

    • by gtall (79522)

      Nah, it is really like corkscrew pasta. Particles slide around the corkscrew until they get dizzy and then fall off. What we see are the ones who couldn't stay on.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Nice image, but in a pure sense a torus doesn't actually possess a hole (much less the two holes you seem to imply!) That may seem counterintuitive because when someone says "torus" we usually conjur up in our minds the picture of a donut-shaped object floating in space - and the donut obviously has a hole in it, right?

      Well, the torus is actually the 2D surface, characterised by its topological properties, which don't mention a "hole" at all. The "donut" picture actually shows a torus embedded in 3D-space,

  • If it helps (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 14, 2014 @03:53AM (#46997073)

    New Scientist, not a publication known choosing for sobriety over sensationalism but still at least a professional organisation who attempt to get quotes, have reported on this story.

    http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn25558-rumours-swirl-over-credibility-of-big-bang-ripple-find.html

    This article contains this couple of paragraphs:

    " "The rumour is that the BICEP team has now admitted to the mistake," wrote Falkowski.

    Kovac says no one has admitted anything. "We tried to do a careful job in the paper of addressing what public information there was, and also being upfront about the uncertainties. We are quite comfortable with the approach we have taken." "

    What this means is that BICEP2 are happy that the approach they took should eliminate the foregrounds correctly. The challenge is that they misapplied a preliminary Planck foreground map, which presented foregrounds across a range of frequencies, as applying only to a single frequency. If they actually did this then the BICEP2 analysis will certainly have to be redone, but there's no way Kovac is going to comment on that while work is going on behind -- it would be breach of contract if nothing else. If BICEP2 have done it and it comes out either in their own further release (most likely dropping the detection of gravitational waves down to a constraint of r~0.15 or so, which would still be good results) or ultimately in Planck's own polarisation release, then they'll explain what's gone wrong, or have it explained for them. Of course, it will be less embarrassing if they release their own partial retraction and explain their own mistake, rather than having others do it for them.

    Ultimately, what we can say is that the BICEP2 dataset is valuable and, at present, nigh-on unique. It won't stay so for very long given the number of experiments that also target CMB polarisation which are upcoming, but we will never sneer at a further dataset -- and whether or not they've made a mistake in their analysis it's not as though the team were composed of chumps; this is a high-quality team, who have produced high quality data, which can be combined with other datasets to ultimately yield far tighter bounds on a variety of cosmological parameters. Any kind of witch-hunt should be ignored as the media-driven infantilisation it will doubtless be.

    (Also while I agree with a couple of other posters that science by blog is pretty nauseating, it's ultimately no different from its previous incarnation, science by conference coffee break - just more pervasive. I still really don't like it but it's a fairly natural progression.)

    • by PvtVoid (1252388)

      (Also while I agree with a couple of other posters that science by blog is pretty nauseating, it's ultimately no different from its previous incarnation, science by conference coffee break - just more pervasive. I still really don't like it but it's a fairly natural progression.)

      There's a big difference between rumors spreading among specialists in a field at conference coffee breaks and somebody putting them on a public blog, where it's picked up by the press. If Falkowski had something substantive to say about the subject himself (and that's doubtful, since he's a particle physicist and not an expert on CMB foreground removal), he should have written a paper, put it on arXiv, and submitted it for peer review. Running to the press with unsubstantiated rumors is seriously unethical

    • What exactly is "science by conference coffee break" ?

      • by PvtVoid (1252388)

        What exactly is "science by conference coffee break" ?

        That's when you got to a Starbucks and just make shit up.

    • by PvtVoid (1252388)

      What this means is that BICEP2 are happy that the approach they took should eliminate the foregrounds correctly. The challenge is that they misapplied a preliminary Planck foreground map, which presented foregrounds across a range of frequencies, as applying only to a single frequency. If they actually did this then the BICEP2 analysis will certainly have to be redone, but there's no way Kovac is going to comment on that while work is going on behind -- it would be breach of contract if nothing else. If BICEP2 have done it and it comes out either in their own further release (most likely dropping the detection of gravitational waves down to a constraint of r~0.15 or so, which would still be good results) or ultimately in Planck's own polarisation release, then they'll explain what's gone wrong, or have it explained for them. Of course, it will be less embarrassing if they release their own partial retraction and explain their own mistake, rather than having others do it for them.

      I certainly hope AC is not a member of the Planck team. If he (or she) is, he (or she) should really think twice about shooting his (or her) mouth off in public about details of pre-release "polarisation" data, especially when it amounts to a veiled threat aimed at the competition. Just sayin'.

  • by Bootsy Collins (549938) on Wednesday May 14, 2014 @10:43AM (#46999075)

    Specifically, the original poster writes: " Intriguingly, the BICEP team has yet to flat-out deny this."

    However, the very first link quotes one of the PIs for BICEP by saying: "As for Falkowski's suggestion in his blog that the BICEP has admitted to making a mistake, Pryke says that "is totally false." The BICEP team will not be revising or retracting its work, which it posted to the arXiv preprint server, Pryke says: "We stand by our paper.""

    The /. editors didn't actually look at the submission before approving it. Yeah, yeah, I know.

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