back to article GRAV WAVE DRAMA: 'Big Bang echo' may have been grit on the scanner – boffins

Data from the European Space Agency's Planck satellite has cast doubt over the claimed discovery of a gravitational wave tsunami sweeping the universe from the Big Bang. In March, a team of astrophysicists running the Background Imaging of Cosmic Extragalactic Polarization 2 (BICEP2) observatory shocked the scientific …

  1. Michael Hoffmann
    Facepalm

    How not to do science

    From my amateur scientist reading of a number of blogs and science magazines, this is, sadly, far less a case of mis-interpreting data than another instance of "science by press release and media hype".

    In their desperate drive to be the first to claim a discovery and to secure future funding by sheer amount of headlines - knowing full well how the ignorami in the MSM and the public would interpret the report and, worse, its possible refutation (*) - they jumped the gun.

    I recall a similar case a few years ago, in which deformities in skeletons found in Herculaneum were misinterpreted as coming from Syphilis. Announced to the media before even a peer review of the paper, it was jumped on by the usual suspects in the "the Columbian exchange was only a one-way road of disaster to the Americas and lovely tomatoes and chillis the other way, perpetrated by Evil White Men" crowd. Egg on face all around when it turned out that the deformities likely were the result of a "relative" of Syphilis out of Africa, known since ancient times - but, of course, *that* wasn't in the MSM.

    (*) Because you just know that "certain" people take this all the way to "see, the Big Bang is just rubbish, these scientists all just make it up as they go along".

    1. Martin Budden Bronze badge

      Re: How not to do science

      This is why Nobel Prizes can sometimes take decades to be awarded*.

      *if the person dies in the meantime they become ineligible.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Pint

      Re: How not to do science

      '(*) Because you just know that "certain" people take this all the way to "see, the Big Bang is just rubbish, these scientists all just make it up as they go along".'

      I'm still holding out for a variant of Fred Hoyle's Steady State theory ;-).

      Seriously.

    3. despun

      Re: How not to do science

      "science by press release and media hype"

      Exactly.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Jumping the gun ?!?

      In their desperate drive to be the first to claim a discovery and to secure future funding by sheer amount of headlines - knowing full well how the ignorami in the MSM and the public would interpret the report and, worse, its possible refutation (*) - they jumped the gun.

      With all due respect, I'm afraid there is some irony here:

      The BICEP2 team spent three years checking its facts before yesterday announcing the sighting of the first gravitational waves generated the moment after the universe as we know it blinked into existence 13.8bn years ago

      If you had bothered to check ALL the facts available to you (as in reading the original article of which the above is a verbatim quote), you would have seen that scientific rigour indeed applies, moreover, the new discussion doesn't yet dispel the idea, it seeks to improve accuracy - the matter is not as "simple" as the original team envisaged as there are more variables to address.

      I would agree that there is huge competition in any scientific field and not always for the right reasons, but in this case it's fact checking and refining theories, and I'm quite happy it takes place.

      Hats off to all.

      1. rh587 Silver badge

        Re: Jumping the gun ?!?

        Indeed. The other clue is in the project title - BICEP2. The observations were a decade in the making, including going and building the original BICEP instrument and working out what needed to be refined to physically detect and observe the phenomena they were trying to study.

        No one is fundamentally disputing the observation here (as they did with the FTL-Neutrinos, indeed the team themselves were sceptical of that observation, they just wanted help working out what they'd missed).

        All they're saying here is that BICEP2 may have observed something closer (and therefore younger) than first thought.

        This is how GOOD science is done - run an experiment and make an observation, publish your findings to the best of your ability, and let the scientific community scrutinise it. It's why we have scientific journals.

        Many papers are not

        "We established this as absolute fact."

        they're

        "We observed this, which was unexpected. We think our methodology is good, can someone else reproduce it?"

        When someone challenges some specific aspect of your experimental methodology or data analysis techniques, those challenges are either successful or are met by a robust defence. And so the state of human knowledge moves forward.

  2. JustWondering

    This is one of the reasons that Science is better than Religion.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Lets face it, at a push a quiet night in front of the telly on your own with a flaccid microwave pizza for dinner, watching the latest ITV "hard hitting" drama is better than religion. Particularly ones that would deny you a damnation-free beer to wash away the taste of the pizza.

    2. Wzrd1

      Another is, we've never had a science war over differences in science.

      Only religion holds that dubious distinction.

      1. JDX Gold badge

        What? I don't remember WW1 or WW2 being religious wars.

        1. Julz Bronze badge

          Lebensraum

        2. The First Dave Silver badge

          I certainly don't recall that WW1 was fought over the value of Pi,

          nor WW2 having anything to do with string theory.

      2. Primus Secundus Tertius Silver badge

        @Wzrd1

        That may be because there are far fewer scientists than there are religionists.

    3. Mage Silver badge

      Science vs Religion

      There is no competition. One is about measurable things and the other is about meaning. There should be no overlap. Religion should have almost nothing to say about science (be Ethical). Science has nothing to much to say about Morality, Love, Hate, Justice, Mercy, Faith.

      You need both, even if your 'religion' is 'Rational Atheistic Humanism".

  3. Tezla P
    Joke

    Grit on the scanner scope.

    Well at least they didn't think they'd spotted 5 black holes!

    1. Kinjuru

      Re: Grit on the scanner scope.

      Just typical, 3 million years and you don't see one, then all of a sudden, 5 come along at once!

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Grit on the scanner scope.

      .. or another asteroid hurtling towards Earth.

      "INCOMING! SOUND THE ALARM! CODE RED ..

      .. oh, wait, it's not moving. Someone get me a duster and NOT A WORD, you hear?".

      :)

    3. davidp231
      Pint

      Re: Grit on the scanner scope.

      Not the same episode but....

      "It turned out to be one of Mr Lister's old sneezes that had congealed on the radar screen."

  4. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
    Paris Hilton

    Andrei Linde's theory of cosmic inflation – that for a few moments the expansion of space exceeded the speed of light.

    I am shocked! I always thought that Alan Guth came up with inflation and that Andrei Linde only tacked the "inflationary multiverse" idea onto this, whereby the visible universe is just a local region of a forever inflating bubbly multiverse, where the various regions of that multiverse may or may not have varying values for natural constants. This idea is somewhat romantic though largely content-free and to all likelihood forever unverifiable. Not to be confused with the stringy multiverse whereby there are alternate realities that exist in some sort of quantum superverse, an idea which is content-free-er and frankly bonkers metaphysical.

    1. Michael Hoffmann

      Now that you mention it...

      You may be right. The post BB inflationary phase is still very much a part of current models that fit observations. Unlike the post-modern "we can't know, so everybody come up with their favourite hypothesis multi-versy stringy thingy and get a huge cash bonus from some Russian oligarch with more money than sense or science knowledge".

      I definitely have been reading too much Woit and Smolin...

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Two modes of investigation - you chose

    Religion: God!

    Science: Hmmmm, let's see the data first....

    1. JDX Gold badge

      Re: Two modes of investigation - you chose

      That's rather an ignorant thing to say for someone espousing a data-based methodology. You clearly haven't actually gathered or analysed data about science Vs religion before making a bold statement on the results.

      Religion asks Why, Science asks How... when either attempts to investigate the other's domain things generally get very wish-washy.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Two modes of investigation - you chose

        Actually religion, as experienced by the majority of people the world over, usually suggests that you shut up, pay attention, do as you're told and let people a bit further up the hierarchy do any thinking in the unlikely event it is deemed necessary - perhaps you're just thinking of the CofE.

        In any case, its only fairly recently some religion has settled for "why" at all. Most of them had a good deal to say - nay, insist - on having the definitive answer to the "how" question for most of mankinds history, with dubious consequences, usually involving fire, metal or a combination of the two, for anyone with the temerity to disagree. Funnily enough, every Friday a bunch of people turn up at my door, handing out leaflets that seem to dwell rather more on "how" than "why", couched in terms so simplistic I'm surprised they don't actually feel embarassed at handing them out.

        Even when they do stick to more "why" themed questions the answers they come up with on issues like morality don't usually work without their particular brand of "how" being correct. An awful lot of the explanations of why not to do things revolve around $deity not liking them for unexplained reasons, and the punishments that will be handed out. When those questions are gone, they don't seem to do a spectacularly good job of whats left at all. So in the case of religion, perhaps "why" should be more like "why bother".

        1. JDX Gold badge

          Re: Two modes of investigation - you chose

          People using religion to gain power and influence has nothing to do with religion, and everything to do with people. A certain type of person sees everything in terms of "how can I make money", another type in terms of "how can I use this to gain power", and so on.

          The fact I can stab you with a screwdriver or smash your head with a hammer doesn't make those things 'bad'.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Two modes of investigation - you chose

            People using religion to gain power and influence has nothing to do with religion, and everything to do with people

            You can't divorce the two just like that; religion is entirely man made, it doesn't exist in some rarified pure form unsullied by man. There's a pretty good argument that (with a couple of honourable exceptions) by the time the large religions that persist to this day came into being, they were constructed entirely to achieve control of others, the components used being anything that would allow some to claim secret knowledge or understanding of events or myths. Any half decent thinking that appeared to come out of the process was pure accident, those doing the thinking simply put it within the dominant religious framework because to do anything else would have been very unwise or simply impossible.

            Religion simply has no life of its own.

          2. The First Dave Silver badge

            Re: Two modes of investigation - you chose

            People using religion as anything other than "an opiate for the masses" is inherently bad. It is also, unfortunately, completely normal, and cannot and must not be seen as a merely some sort of aberration that can be safely ignored.

          3. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

            Re: Two modes of investigation - you chose

            "The fact I can stab you with a screwdriver or smash your head with a hammer doesn't make those things 'bad'."

            No, but we sure as shit shouldn't give you tax breaks for doing so. We should hunt you down and put one in your head and two in your chest.

      2. smartypants

        NOMA bollocks

        "Religion asks Why, Science asks How

        ... when either attempts to investigate the other's domain things generally get very wish-washy."

        Oh please.

        With a few exceptions (those exceptions generally being the religions which don't cause wars), religion's basis of authority is predicated entirely on its supernatural claims, and the punishment you'll enjoy should you fail to listen to their advice on how to engage with the supposed being(s) therein.

        Science ran into trouble with the religions largely because the religious saw the challenges to their claims of reality and the consequences for their hold on authority. This problem hasn't gone away. If anything, it's never been more relevant than ever.

        Yes, of course people sometimes manage to ringfence their cultural beliefs from cross-examination by their own faculties of reason. There are many human reasons to so do, but it doesn't make it right.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Non-overlapping_magisteria

      3. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

        Re: Two modes of investigation - you chose

        Religion tells you why, then murders you by torture, burning alive, beheading and being raped to death if you disagree or even show the vaguest hint of disrespecting the almighty $religious_leader currently trying to bamboozle the flock.

        There's plenty of empirical evidence to that effect. There is no god. Cope.

    2. Cipher

      Re: Two modes of investigation - you chose

      Science: Steady State

      Religion: Georges Lemaître, French priest, convinces Hubble and Einstein of Big Bang Theory. He is later awarded the Francqui Prize in Belgium, the highest honour for a scientist in the country, with Einstein and Eddington among his proposers and judges respectively.

  6. P. Lee Silver badge

    Two modes of investigation - you chose

    Science: Big Bang!

    Science: Hmmmm, let's see the data first....

    1. Michael Hoffmann
      Boffin

      Re: Two modes of investigation - you chose

      Nice troll. Actually it was more like:

      One scientist: heh, going by these observations the universe must have been in a hot dense state. Maybe it started in a huge Big Bang

      Other scientists: ugh, not sure that term is a good idea

      Media and Popsci: OMG, that's so awesome, BIG BANG! Giant space kablooie! So the universe started as a giant explosion, so cool!

      Scientists: uhm, no, that's not what we meant!

      Media and Popsci: don't bore us with the math!

      Every crank, kook and religious nutcase with a crank to grind: Ha! First they say it was a huge explosion then they don't! Scientists don't know anything!

      Scientists: But... we never actually said...

      Every crank, kook and religious nutcase with a crank to grind: don't bore us with the math!

      Hang out on the Against The Mainstream forum of Cosmoquest or Physicsforum or similar and you'll see what I mean.

      1. JDX Gold badge

        Re: Two modes of investigation - you chose

        Um, generally the Big Bang theory is immensely popular with ignorant religious folk because it sounds just like "let there be light" :)

        1. Fred Flintstone Gold badge

          Re: Two modes of investigation - you chose

          Um, generally the Big Bang theory is immensely popular with ignorant religious folk because it sounds just like "let there be light"

          .. briefly :)

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Two modes of investigation - you chose

        Nice troll. Actually it was more like:

        One scientist: heh, going by these observations the universe must have been in a hot dense state. Maybe it started in a huge Big Bang

        Other scientists: ugh, not sure that term is a good idea

        Media and Popsci: OMG, that's so awesome, BIG BANG! Giant space kablooie! So the universe started as a giant explosion, so cool!

        I've heard something similar a while back.

        The letters "W", "M" and "D" were involved, I think. I do recall that the people with the actual facts were far from certain, but runaway grab for war profits and stuff to write about accelerated so quickly that it sought to demolish anything and anyone in its path.

      3. Trigonoceps occipitalis

        Re: Two modes of investigation - you chose

        I always understood that Fred Hoyle first coined the phrase "Big Bang" to to denigrate the alternative to his steady state theory.

        No source to quote but give me 20 mins and then check Wikipedia.

        1. Cipher

          Re: Two modes of investigation - you chose

          Hoyle tried, and ultimately failed, to destroy the theory of Georges Lemaître, French priest, who proposed the Big Bang in every way but the name. Einstien, Hubble and Eddington all saw that the Big Bang was correct...

  7. Mage Silver badge

    Importantly!

    Wonderful Boffinry

    I have no idea though why some people are trying to drag in Religion.

    1. JDX Gold badge

      Re: Importantly!

      It's amazing how often atheists want to talk about religion when the topic is science :) It's rarely the religious who bring the subject up in this kind of situation.

      1. David Pollard

        Ontological Insecurity

        There's a conundrum: If the universe has always existed, then how did it start? Alternatively, if it started with the big bang then what came before it?

        Everyday logic doesn't work too well with this sort of problem and many people have recourse to an act of faith in order to quieten their brains, jumping either to some or other religion or to reductionism.

  8. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge
    Coat

    I thought I had come to the right place for an argument

    but I didn't expect the Spanish Inquisition

    Sorry, couldn't resist.

    I went to a Jesuit school, and had frankly exhilarating discussions on life, the universe and everything with the (very few) priests who taught religious education. They greatly encouraged our setting up an astronomy club, and I was in my turn honoured to be invited to a (voluntary) extra class on "religious and philosophical matters" as one Jesuit put it. He said he knew I was an atheist, and that I had very good arguments, so wanted me on board "because I like people to think about their beliefs," as he put it. Hats off to the attitude of respectfully differing in opinion of those particular priests.

    Hats off too to the scientists behind both BICEP2 and the follow up. Science is about presenting your findings, warts and all, and to encourage others to scrutinize your work. You should not fear losing face because you might be found out to be wrong. Most of the time, all you produce is not the next piece of the puzzle, but a glimpse of what the next piece might look like.

  9. Frankee Llonnygog

    We've all been there

    Minutely scrutinising imperfections in photos and interpreting them as physical attributes ...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: We've all been there

      We've all been there

      Minutely scrutinising imperfections in photos and interpreting them as physical attributes ...

      .. but enough about your pr0n collection :)

      1. Frankee Llonnygog

        Re: We've all been there

        Thanks for explaining my comment to me!

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