Brainy Quote of the Day

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Peer Review...

Timberwood Park, San Antonio, TX: Caveat emptor
Yesterday (17 March), researchers from the Background Imaging of Cosmic Extragalactic Polarization (BICEP2) telescope at the South Pole revealed that they have detected the first evidence for the primordial B-mode polarization of the cosmic microwave background (CMB). The astronomers claimed that the primordial B-mode polarization signal – which is related to primordial gravitational waves that flowed through the early universe – is the first direct evidence for cosmic inflation and has been measured to a statistical certainty of 3σ. Now, cosmologist and Perimeter Institute director Neil Turok, who worked on an inflationary model of his own with Stephen Hawking in the 1990s, urges caution and says that extensive experimental confirmation is necessary before BICEP2's results can be considered as evidence for inflation.

"If...and it's a big if...this is true, it would be spectacular evidence for what happened at the Big Bang," Turok told While he agreed that at first glance, the BICEP2 observations are in keeping with inflation "as suggested over 30 years ago, wherein space–time would resonate with the aftershocks of inflation and would ring like a bell", a closer look at the discrepancy between the new results and previous data from the Planck and WMAP telescopes is what worries Turok. Indeed, the tensor-to-scalar ratio of 0.20 that BICEP2 measured is considered to be significantly larger than that expected from previous analyses of data. But the BICEP2 researchers said in their press conference yesterday that they believe certain tweaks could be made to an extension of the ΛCDM cosmological model that could make the two results agree.

"But these tweaks would be tremendously ugly....and in fact, I believe that if both Planck and the new results agree, then together they would give substantial evidence against inflation!" exclaims Turok, further explaining that "[we] must be careful before we treat them as true".

"Extraordinary claims requires extraordinary evidence." Carl Sagan.

Even though Tuesday's announcement was exciting news, and I really want it to be true, it might not be. After the Scientific Method, this is the rigor of peer review and the necessity of it. Without it, we march down the primrose path of pseudoscience and created entities like the Discovery Institute ("intelligent design") and World Science Database (which purports - from one of its adherents - that the Special and General Theory of Relativity have been "disproved"  despite yesterday, I was discussing superconducting quantum interference devices - SQUID's). Both organizations are of "sounding brass and tinkling cymbal" to quote Corinthians. The Science Channel - when it's not suggesting UFO close encounters - promotes the tagline "question everything." We really should.

Physics World: Neil Turok urges caution on BICEP2 results

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