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Gravitational waves flatten? BICEP2 losing its muscle?

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Further to the scrutiny that the current gravitational waves finding (BICEP2) is facing, here are some notes from theoretical physicist Matt Strassler:

From the very beginning of the BICEP2 story, I’ve been reminding you (here and here) that it is very common for claims of great scientific discoveries to disappear after further scrutiny, and that a declaration of victory by the scientific community comes much more slowly and deliberately than it often does in the press. Every scientist knows that while science, as a collective process viewed over time, very rarely makes mistakes, individual experiments and experimenters are often wrong. (To its credit, the New York Times article contained some cautionary statements in its prose, and also quoted scientists making cautionary statements. Other media outlets forgot.)

Forgot? The heck they forgot! Some rushed to proclaim evidence for a multiverse. Anyway, Strassler says,

Doing forefront science is extremely difficult, because it requires near-perfection. A single unfortunate mistake in a very complex experiment can create an effect that appears similar to what the experimenters were looking for, but is a fake. Scientists are all well-aware of this; we’ve all seen examples, some of which took years to diagnose. And so, as with any claim of a big discovery, you should view the BICEP2 result as provisional, until checked thoroughly by outside experts, and until confirmed by other experiments.

He suggests four sources of such errors (all technical).

His thoughts about physics are interesting too. As sciences go, physics is less prone to invasions by sheer crackpots than some other sciences. Physics had to branch off cosmology in order to host the Where Are They? debates about space aliens. From a strict physics perspective, it makes no difference whether aliens exist, any more than whether angels exist. But people don’t usually think that way, so while physicists take a huge amount of time and money to verify the Higgs boson, popular science media are still coming up with reasons why They aren’t returning our calls.

See also: The Science Fictions series at your fingertips (cosmology).

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5 Replies to “Gravitational waves flatten? BICEP2 losing its muscle?

  1. 1
    Mapou says:

    BICEP2 is typical of how science works. Scientists generally assume that their hypothesis is true and then look for corroborating evidence. This is the way it works in physics and it’s the way they do it in evolutionary biology. But this is not the way science should work. Scientists should instead come up with experiments that can falsify a hypothesis, not confirm it.

    BICEP2 is based on the unproved assumption that gravitational waves will leave traces in the CMB that will last for billions of years. This is an unfalsifiable conjecture.

    BICEP2 is not science. It’s pure superstition.

  2. 2
    phoodoo says:

    Mapou,

    I have really enjoyed your exceptions to Einsteinian theory.

    BTW, what does mapou mean? Is it mandarin or Mauritius?

  3. 3
    Dr JDD says:

    Mapou – I completely agree. I have been saying this for years, the best scientific experiments to do are the ones that can disprove your hypothesis.

    It is an inherent problem in modern science though with the way the peer-review system works and the way funding works. In most fields, it would be near impossible (and not wise in terms of career, often) to publish negative results.

    Even more so when one gets a result they were hoping for, the standard joke in the lab is always “if it worked the first time it won’t repeat again the second or third time…”

    Modern science has unfortunately gone down a very slippery slope in that regard, and most scientits being trained these days are not taught to think of the experiments that will falsify their theory, but rather to come up with a very clever way to prove their theory. One without the other is useless and the best experiment is the former.

  4. 4
    bornagain77 says:

    OT: Luskin nails Tyson on his hypocrisy

    Panspermia, Environmental Alarmism, Socialism, Gaia, Nazi-Comparisons, and More: Cosmos’s Endgame Is Becoming Clear – Casey Luskin May 20, 2014
    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2.....85801.html

  5. 5
    PaV says:

    I have my own pet theories on all of this, and gravitational waves from the earliest parts of our universe are consistent with that; but, this said, I’ve looked at Strassler’s website, and the graph that he displays shows data with opposite trends. I can’t see how one data set that trends opposite another data set can be thought to be the source of the other.

    Bottom-line: I think the results, in time, will stand up.

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