Presenting the controversy: themes

24Oct10

While for obvious reasons dark energy hasn’t appeared often in the mainstream news, I had a look at 14 articles written in the New York Times between 1998 and 2001. The progression of themes went something like this:

  • Report on the discovery –> universe a ‘mess’
  • Pondering a theory to match observations à fudge factor back to haunt cosmology
  • Ultimate theory
  • New finding support –> growing evidence, age of universe
  • Flat universe –> desperately looking for a theory à philosophical arguments
  • Possible theory – other universe ‘pulling’ –> mystical nature of modern cosmology
  • Λ as one of ten fundamentally important question in physics
  • Describing the new universe

This is generally indicative of the major themes in which dark energy and the surrounding controversy has been presented, both in the popular media and even in journals like Nature and Science.

For example:

  • Perhaps the most popular theme is that of the fate of the universe – whether it will recollapse, expand forever, or reach a plateau; these futures are intricately connected to acceleration and flatness and hence, dark energy in all of its uncertainty
  • Then there’s the theme of solving cosmology, of putting new pieces into the puzzle
  • Many articles, perhaps more so in popular magazines and Science and Nature, throw light on the bad aspects of dark energy – that it may be an illusion, that scientists have many doubts and disagree with each other, it makes the cosmological model messy, that it’s hard to believe, and some even go as far as to say it appears more mystical rather than a solid scientific theory
  • On the other end of the spectrum, there are just as many, if not more, articles reporting on further evidence and confirmations of dark energy
  • And, of course, articles focussing on alternative models; predominant in both journals and popular media
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