Cosmology Turns into Pseudoscience

BICEP2 Collaboration –the Hot Air Merchants from the South Pole

bicep2It is a little suspicious when a discovery is declared worth a Nobel Prize the very same day of the discovery by the discoverers. The BICEP2 claim that gravitational waves have been found was breaking news this week.

Let us have brief a look at gravitational wave detection—since the 1960s, this has always been a tricky business. Its history is beautifully described in Gravity’s Shadow by Harry Collins—this is probably the field with the highest number of retracted claims. Huge efforts were undertaken to prove the existence of gravitational waves directly, but all big sience experiments such as LIGO have been unable to confirm gravitational waves to this day. One may even wonder why none of the various anomalous signals were interpreted as gravitational waves in the meantime.

Ultimately, this is a merit of the very clear methodology and definition of the wave signal in laboratory experiments—it must show up in different places at fixed times, determined by the wave velocity c. This difficulty can hardly be appreciated highly enough—it is an almost unsourmountable barrier for artifacts to be falsely declared as signals. Unfortunately, the cosmic microwave background does not contain such a barrier.

One persisting problem is, as a speaker at the conference “The first billion years” (Garching, 2005) already put it in a nutshell: “The limit of background measurement is foreground.” A considerable amount of filtering and modeling is included in the analysis, rendering it gradually more prone to artifacts. (One would wish the entire anaylsis to be publicly available and transparent.)

This is already a huge problem for the tiny polarization signal seen at the time of the formation of the cosmic microwave background (CMB), assumed to be 380,000 years after the Big Bang, but it renders ridiculous the claims about the first seconds of the universe. How could such subtle information survive in a sizzling hot soup for almost half a million years?

In addition, the signal declared as evidence for gravitational waves, the “B-Mode polarization,” is utterly banal—polarization is (practically) a vector field and every vector field can be decomposed into “div” and “curl” parts. Cosmologists now claim that they cannot explain the origin of the curl part, but so what? Why gravitational waves? A pile of theoretical assumptions enters through the back door of this so-called observation. Hundreds of unknowns, artifacts, or dirt effects could cause such a “B-mode polarization.” To call this ‘direct observation’ (much more indirect as the already inconclusive evidence from the Taylor-Hulse pulsar) is audacious, to put it mildly.

To further the hype, they added the preposterous claim that those gravitational waves constitute evidence for the theory of inflation, an obviously nonsensical assertion that should leap to the eye of any sane researcher. How could an effect of the first 10-32 seconds be tracked over 50 orders of magnitude, to 380,000 years? Utterly absurd.

However, we live in a period in which the borders of science and fairy tale stories are blurring. Laura Mersini-Houghton, in all seriousness, has claimed that a “cold spot” in the CMB chart is evidence for the multiverse. MIT cosmologist Max Tegmark has recently published a book with ridiculous speculations, but he is nevertheless respected for his work on the CMB. I prefer to view it the other way around: whoever spreads such obvious baloney will hardly engage in serious science elsewhere.

The analysis of the CMB, since Penzias and Wilson, gradually became a more complicated issue and is now running for the most intransparent astrophysical business, much alike particle physics. It becomes increasingly harder to separate the hard facts from the tea leaves; thus, I would like to mention the work of Pierre-Marie Robitaille, who is even more skeptical about the CMB than I am. So much nonsense being published about the CMB makes me increasingly suspicious about its very foundations.

6 thoughts on “Cosmology Turns into Pseudoscience

  1. The so called CMB is not microwaves but the energy of the individual ZPE particles, which are neutrinos. Their probes COBE and WMAP, used infra red spectrometers, not antennas to detect the energy. Penzias and Wilson originally assumed these signals were background noise, and they were correct.

  2. Hello!

    Thank you for publishing this blog and giving people an honest opinion of what is happening.

    I am replacing the Nebular Hypothesis and the Big Bang with a new theory of star evolution, it is called “The General Theory of Stellar Metamorphosis”. I propose that stars are mutually exclusive of other stars in other galaxies, and I also propose that a star cools and dies becoming what is called a “planet”. In other words, a star in the Milky Way Galaxy is not related to a star in the Andromeda Galaxy, and there is no such thing as “planet”, as a “planet” is an ancient cooling, dying star.

    Thus the Big Bang is obsolete. Galaxies are different ages.

    Thus the Nebular Hypothesis is obsolete. Its all stars, not stars and planets.

    All the best!

    -Jeffrey J. Wolynski

    I

  3. The indirect evidence for gravity waves since the ’70s, which is only mentioned here in passing, is very strong. They’ve been detected in the same way quite a few times since then, via the energy loss implied in the spindown rates of binary systems. The numbers fit each time – this is not to be dismissed quite so easily.

  4. After all the hype on this I’m now having doubts about inflation. See Kevin Brown’s formation and growth of black holes where he refers to the original frozen-star interpretation. He doesn’t favour it, but IMHO that’s the one that’s right, because otherwise the elephant goes to the end of time and back and is in two places at once. Then look at inflation on wiki. There are parallels drawn between black holes and the early universe. But a “frozen star” early universe is flat because the coordinate speed of light is zero, and it can’t go lower than that. And it’s the same in all directions. So there is no flatness problem and there is no horizon problem. So whilst the universe expands, you just don’t need inflation any more.

  5. NB. This might convince you. If you go to this page
    http://relativity.livingreviews.org/open?pubNo=lrr-2008-8&page=articlesu22.html
    and click on the white thumbnail of a graph two paras below, marked
    “Orbital decay in the binary pulsar B1913+16″, you’ll see a graph of how the predicted curve for the emission of gravity waves matches the observations. The observations go from 1975 to 2005. Looking at this, it becomes clear that whether general relativity is right or wrong, gravity waves exist.

    • Hi, this indirect evidence for GW is long known, some other possible causes remain however.
      The main point I was attacking at gthe BICEP2 results was their methodological carelessness and their
      additional, hilarious claims.

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