Everything you know is wrong – or is it ?

December 1, 2008

There is a paradox at the heart of science. The root of science is scepticism; doubt authority and do the experiment. However the result of all that scepticism and experiment over four hundred years is the most secure body of knowledge ever produced. If you go around doubting Newton’s Laws every day you’re a nutter.

Around the edges of the clearing, where we still face the darkness of the forest, its a different story. We could be hacking uselessly into dense growth, when the path to the meadow is hidden just a few yards away to the left. Its fashionable now to be sceptical about String Theory  – see Lee Smolin’s book The Trouble With Physics – but inflationary cosmology worries others, and some folks are still nervous about the logical basis of quantum mechanics. Three years ago in Warsaw I saw David Gross and and Roger Penrose  give alternating public talks. This was very entertaining. Penrose’s title was “Faith, Fashion, and Fantasy in Modern Physics” – thats Quantum Mechanics, Inflation, and String Theory. You could almost hear David Gross’ teeth grinding. More recently, Robert Simpson (the Orbiting Frog) wrote a lovely post called Five Scientific Ideas that could just be Bullsh*t . Do give it a read.

Of course some people are just career long rebels. Recently on astro-ph Geoff Burbidge set out his dish of sour grapes yet again. Mostly this was quietly ignored, but over at Cosmic Variance Sean Carroll picked it apart. But its not just Burbidge you know. Accomplished, distinguished and terribly serious young cosmologist Douglas Scott, along with his possibly even more distinguished colleague Dr Frolop, has written a series of three papers questioning many of the key assumptions of modern cosmology : see here, here, and here.

So here’s some fun. Below I paraphrase a few statements from Burbidge and Scott, not saying which is which. A big no-prize for who-ever can give the best one-sentence rebuttal or confirmation of each statement. John Peacock has to wait until everybody else has finished.

(1) Dark Energy is just Hoyle and Narlikar’s C-field, so the Steady State Universe can come back.

(2) H_0 * t_0 is consistent with 1.0 to within 3%;  there is no reason this should be the case, so it tells us we are missing something obvious.

(3) We believe in a hot Big Bang because there isn’t time to make the Helium in stars; but if the Universe is cyclic, with a bounce before the Big Crunch, some stars could be much much older, and the Helium can be easily made.

(4) We believe that black holes powering radio galaxies are 10% efficient; however, man made particle accelerators like SLAC are a thousand times less efficient than this, so we are almost certainly kidding ourselves.

(5) The biggest galaxies have the oldest stars; younger galaxies are smaller; therefore galaxies are coming apart.

(6) If likewise clusters of galaxies are breaking up, the virial theorem doesn’t apply, and there is no need for dark matter.

(7) The energy density in the CMB is almost exactly the energy density associated with converting Hydrogen to the observed density of Helium; therefore the latter is the cause of the former.