A cosmological deviation…

08Oct10

I was just about to open a book and continue my dark energy controversy research when I made a last, quick check of Twitter… and found these articles: Study predicts end of the universe from ABC and Countdown to oblivion from New Scientist.

Both of these articles regard a study from ARXIV (have a look here), where physics papers are uploaded before publication. This article has not been accepted for publication anywhere, so assumedly, has not been peer reviewed. I have issues with newspapers and popular science magazines picking up on wacky papers such as this and running stories on them as if they’re a true representation of current scientific thought (even though they state the paper is from arxiv, how many ABC news readers know what this is?)… it’s like they’re digging for a cosmic controversy. And here I may mean both the scientists and the journalists.

But, as usual, it’s the public comments that interest me the most. Here’s a selection of particularly painful comments from the ABC article (which are not only painful scientifically…):

The arrogant’s of man kind. We are babes in the woods and know very little about our universe. Yet we still get self important people make guesses about our future and past, then claim it as fact.
Yes that’s right I said guesses, ok they maybe educated guesses but still just that.
I’m still to be convinced the we know enough to even make claims about the “Big Bang”
Once upon a time nothing existed exepect alot of gas then one day the gas exploded and the universe came in to existance. Sounds like a line from a Sci Fi show.
Just crazy!

This article is complete nonsense. This ‘study’ which predicts the end of the universe in 3.7 billion years has no scientific grounding whatsoever. The data clearly indicates that the universe will end in 4.6 billion years (give or take a few million). Any estimation to the contratry is obviously incorrect.

were they paid to come up with these sort of rubbish? trying to win the Ignoble prize? any kid could pick a random number. as long as it’s over 1 million years, who really cares. they could have used 3.68937456 billion years to sound a bit more ‘scientific’

You would think that people would have more to do than try and establish the end of the universe in billions of years. This reminds me the bull sessions we used to have in college about the meaning of life. It’s fruitless and pointless and will net nothing in the grand scheme of things.

Obviously naughty man is responsible for this somehow and therefore governments of the world must make us suffer and introduce a new tax to fix this new ‘problem’ – I mean after all paying governments (and banks, fund managers, accountants, solicitors and all associated rent seekers) piles of cash is going to change the climate of the planet and the unstoppable process of natural climate change isn’t it?………anyone who believes that is either totally deluded and/or knee deep in gouging money for themselves from the scam.

All of these comments demonstrate points that we have covered in science communication… scientific illiteracy, distrust of science, and misunderstanding of scientific process. I don’t think news or popular science articles that dig for controversial material help to improve the public’s understanding of any of these points, but even in articles covering ‘acceptable’ cosmology, you can get comments similar to these. I’ve seen several articles about dark energy (that is, dark energy in cosmological constant form) that have many disgruntled comments from the public, with issues ranging from the aesthetics of a ‘dark’ universe to scientists making ideas up.

But, sometimes, you do come across a shining comment; a comment that you hope that other readers are paying attention to:

On a more serious note, studies of this type do increase our collective knowledge and understanding of our universe and its relationship(s) with other universes (within a multiverse context). The increase in our knowledge, even though the underlying assumption may be flawed due to its arbitraryness, has its own intrinsic value and should not be dismissed lightly.

So until our individual bubbles burst, I’m all for keeping our knowledge (and the universe) expanding.

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