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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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  • 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:Peer review (Score:5, Informative)

    by tloh (451585) on Tuesday May 13, 2014 @09:20PM (#46995409)

    Hold on there, Nellie. Aren't we being just a bit quick to point fingers? It is entirely appropriate to stand your ground if it is firmly rooted in solid evidence and good reason. Let the data be subjected to scrutiny and defend itself to the extent possible. More likely than not, it isn't as conclusive or accurate as some may hope, but it doesn't automatically make it bad science. Whatever short-coming is uncovered this time around is another stepping stone toward getting it right. No one is wrong simply because you or anyone else arbitrarily say so.

  • Re:Peer review (Score:3, Informative)

    by CrimsonAvenger (580665) on Tuesday May 13, 2014 @10:13PM (#46995709)

    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 any secular ruler an idiot put you in grave danger at that time if you were well enough known that people would pay attention to what you say.

  • 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 []:

    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:5, Informative)

    by AthanasiusKircher (1333179) on Wednesday May 14, 2014 @01:35AM (#46996597)

    Why do you need that to prove the heliocentric model?

    Because stellar parallax had been suggested as a necessary requirement for the heliocentric theory to be correct since the 1500s. Various attempts to measure it by Galileo's time had failed. So, the absence of parallax was one significant strike against heliocentrism in Galileo's day, if you go by evidence and scientific method. (Of course, the reality is that the "fixed stars" were much farther away than anyone thought possible, so it took much longer to measure the tiny movements necessary to show parallax.)

    You just need to look at the planetary movement of one of the outer planets, like Mars. The outer planets appear to make a loop if watched from earth. The apparent retrograde motion could also be explained with deferent and epicycle but then you already left the geocentric model.

    You should read some actual history of science, rather than the inaccurate executive summary version from some TV documentary.

    In case you didn't know, Galileo's model of the solar system used perfect circles rather than ellipses (contrary to Kepler's elliptical model at the time, which actually fit the data -- Galileo frequently ignored inconvenient data when it didn't fit his astronomical theories). Thus, Galileo's model (and Copernicus's too) still required the whole Ptolemaic apparatus of epicycles. Contrary to popular belief, the circular heliocentric model that Galileo endorsed -- 'cause circles are cool and "perfect"! -- did not result in significantly easier math to explain the orbits.

    Dig a little further into the controversy (for example, here [] or here [], just to start with a few articles that are ~40 years old, showing how long historians of science have been pointing out significant problems), and you'll discover all sorts of other problems with Galileo's theories. For one, he originally wanted to publish his book as a theory of the tides -- because, frankly, that was the ONLY reason he had according to empirical science of the day that would differentiate a geocentric and heliocentric model. Of course -- well, the tides were caused by the moon, not the sun (again, Galileo thought Kepler's ideas that the moon caused the tides were stupid). But the bigger hole is that Galileo's theory required there to be only one high tide per day. As anyone who lived near the ocean at the time knew, there were two tides per day... but, well, that didn't fit with Galileo's theory. Oh well.

    And, yeah, that was basically the only incontrovertible evidence Galileo put forward that proved heliocentrism over geocentrism (and note these were not just ignorant geocentrists: many of those in the Church at the time favored the Tyconic model, based on ideas from Kepler's teacher Tycho Brahe, who actually spent decades doing detailed empirical observations).

    Seriously -- there were all sorts of valid objections to the earth's motion at the time when Newton's laws of motion weren't yet fully understood. Like why don't we fly off if the Earth is moving at such high speeds? Why don't we feel the motion? Why aren't there ridiculously high winds caused by rotation at high speed? Etc. We now know why these things don't happen, but actual scientists at the time weren't sure.

    And Galileo's astronomical evidence really didn't amount to much (if he accepted Kepler's models, he might have something that fit the data better, but it still couldn't prove the motion of the Earth).

    So, he hung his whole assertion of the proof of heliocentrism on the tidal theory -- which was so idiotic and so obviously contrary to observable evidence (one tide per day that has to come at noon?!?) that the censors refused to let him title his book "On the Tides" or whatever he wanted to call it, so he came up with the "Discourse on the Two World Systems" title.

    Galileo was a great

  • 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.

    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.)

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

    by meta-monkey (321000) on Wednesday May 14, 2014 @09:59AM (#46998751) Journal

    Not really, Nothing bad happened to Copernicus when he proposed the heliocentric model.

    Young Earth creationism is a recent invention of fundamentalist Christians. The Catholic Church has always interpreted Genesis as an allegorical tale. Both Saints Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century and Augustine in the fifth wrote about the allegorical nature of Genesis, Aquinas going so far as to call anyone who believed in a literal interpretation of these events as "an embarrassment to Christians." Saying things that contradicted the literal truth of parts of the Bible didn't stop these men from being canonized. Since they were canonized, you'd be far more likely to be called a heretic for insisting on a literal interpretation of Genesis, as you'd be calling these saints wrong. You can't really accuse saints of heresy after they've been canonized.

    Galileo wasn't persecuted for his scientific beliefs. He didn't really even have what we would consider "scientific" beliefs as he had no evidence. The learned Jesuits at the time were rightly skeptical of his ideas because no one had observed stellar parallax. The diagram of the solar system was basically set to "unknown" not because of anything the bible said but because nobody had evidence it was one way or the other yet, until Kepler came up with his three laws and backed them with Tycho Brahe's observations. Galileo just ranted and in poor fashion, called anyone who disagreed with him, including the Pope, a simpleton. While absolutely no one should be arrested for their words/beliefs, Galileo wasn't persecuted for his scientific beliefs but for being a dick.

    The new Cosmos offered up another false "martyr for Science" in their first episode telling the story of Bruno, who was burned at the stake by the Church. Bruno had an idea the universe was infinite and the sun was just another star. This is a great idea that turned out to be true. Unfortunately, Bruno was not a scientist. He did not base his ideas on observation or experiment. He was right about this in the same way a broken clock is right twice a day. Bruno was a mystic who wrote books on magic and thought the planets and stars had souls. In Cosmos, he was persecuted for refusing to recant his "belief" in the scope of the universe. In reality, no one gave a shit about his astronomical ideas. He was persecuted and burned for his religious heresies, like denying the divinity of Christ. Again, no one should be burned for their religious beliefs, but he was not a martyr for science. Unfortunately Cosmos sacrificed its credibility by intentionally lying about the trials of Bruno.

    The Catholic Church has never been anti-science and has always seen inquiry into the workings of the natural world as a way to better understand and grow closer to God. The Church accepts as fact the theory of evolution and the implications of modern cosmology. The Big Bang was proposed by a Catholic priest. Gregor Mendel, father of genetics was a monk. The "religion hates science!" trope is popular, but only really true with regards to fundamentalists, Christian or otherwise.

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