Our physics color commentator Rob Sheldon has this to say:
I’ve been a skeptic of the gravity wave observations from the very beginning. The noise is ONE MILLION times stronger than the signal, which in every other field of science, pretty much excludes the opportunity of seeing the signal. Making this worse, no one knows what the signal looked like, having never seen a gravity wave before. At best, we make models of what we think it might look like, but how can one be sure? Finally and perhaps the killer, LIGO’s method of signal extraction is borrowed from RADAR analysis, where “matched filters” are used. Only radar engineers actually know what the signal looks like since they sent it, and they never succeeded at getting signal when the noise is say, 100 times greater. If they try to dig deeper into the noise, what invariably happens is the matched filter turns noise into signal. It gives false returns, every time. No radar engineer in my Army lab would ever claim to do what LIGO has claimed.
Now a Danish physicist has challenged LIGO, using the same argument above plus some other features of the supposed signal that seem spurious. Here’s the response from LIGO:
“`[Jackson et al.] came to it skeptically, and I think skepticism in science is a really important thing. You have to question results,’ he says. `But these are complicated data; they are not simple to understand. Certainly nothing they’ve done gives us any reason to doubt our results.’
While LIGO has gained a (not entirely undeserved) reputation for excessive secrecy, ..”
You got that? Complicated data should not be treated skeptically, they should just be believed. On the other hand, doubt should be based on data. The burden of proof is on the skeptic. And by the way, we’re keeping the data analysis very secret…
But hey, the skepticism doesn’t matter anyway because:
“For all the sound and fury, the Danish group’s position is a minority opinion.”
“We’ve been careful to write a paper that is not a rebuttal of Jackson et al., since I don’t think that would be very useful for the community,” he says. “Instead, it will be more didactic about the specific points where we see they had difficulties.”
Where have we all seen this before?
Note: A bit of background:
This is a field long riddled with doubts. In the 1960s, physicist Joseph Weber of the University of Maryland designed and built his own detector using resonant bars that he expected would vibrate in response to a gravitational wave. Columbia University physicist Janna Levin described the apparatus in her book, Black Hole Blues, using a guitar string analogy: “A solid aluminum cylinder about 2 meters long, 1 meter in diameter, and in the range of 3,000 pounds, as guitar strings go, isn’t easy to pluck. But it has one natural frequency at which a strong gravitational wave would ring the bar like a tuning fork.” Weber claimed he had detected a signal in 1969. Alas, nobody else could replicate that result, and Weber’s professional reputation never fully recovered.
Then there was BICEPS 2’s find, which turned out to be cosmic dust.
The gravitational-wave community was sufficiently burned by the BICEP2 debacle that LIGO opted for extreme caution and secrecy—ironically a big part of the reason the collaboration is viewed with distrust in some quarters. Jennifer Ouelette, “Danish physicists claim to cast doubt on detection of gravitational waves” at Ars Technica
We’ll keep you posted.
Follow UD News at Twitter!
See also: New Scientist: LIGO gravitational waves discovery in grave doubt Was it just another PC moment in science?