|12 April 2004|
An Open Letter to Closed Minds
>> Sir Martin Rees, the Astronomer Royal.
[BOLD"]Everything astronomers can see, stretching out to distances of 10 billion light-years, emerged from an infinitesimal speck."
Martin Rees, Our Cosmic Habitat (2001).
"A widely-accepted foundation stone of scientific logic
involves a process of elimination, requiring all available
possibilities to be considered with incorrect ideas discarded when they
fail to predict experimental results. Just as the police must consider
all possible suspects during an investigation, so a scientist must, as
a matter of professional responsibility and competence, consider all
possible explanations when forming his conclusions. However, some
scientists are able to ignore these duties, while the safeguards built
into the scientific bureaucracy, supposedly to ensure quality, do not
prevent such malpractice but rather enable it."
John Hewitt, A Habit of Lies.
The open letter exhibited here is addressed to the scientific
community by a leading group of concerned scientists. It questions a
core belief -- the belief in the so-called big bang theory. So it will
be instructive to watch the behavior of that community in response.
Already, the first line of defense -- censorship -- has held. The journal
Nature rejected the letter for publication. New Scientist, the more
populist magazine, on 22 May 2004 finally published the letter under
the title 'Bucking the big bang.' [Note: This news item was temporarily withdrawn while waiting for publication of the final version of the letter.]
"You could write the entire history of
science in the last 50 years in terms of papers rejected by Science or
Nature." -- Paul C. Lauterbur, winner of the Nobel Prize for medicine,
whose seminal paper on magnetic resonance imaging was originally
rejected by Nature.
That scathing commentator on errant human behavior, John Ralston
Saul, has compared the scientific community to the medieval church.
Some of the signatories to the open letter would agree with him. We
humans, at least the males it seems, have a penchant for setting up
organizations -- political, religious, and scientific -- that with time
become authoritarian, exclusive and dogmatic. Despite this we are led
to believe that scientists are somehow trained to be above such human
failings. The deception only succeeds because there is no effective
investigative reporting of science.
A challenge to orthodoxy tends to be ignored at first. But if it
gains popular support, the first move is to discredit and silence the
challenger. The protectors of the scientific faith often parade the
'scientific method' like a holy icon to warn off evil, heretical
spirits. And the demand is made that 'extraordinary claims demand
extraordinary evidence.' However, as Robert Matthews in the New
Scientist of 13 March 2004 notes: "Over the
years, sociologists and historians have often pointed out the glaring
disparity between how science is supposed to work and what really
happens. While scientists routinely dismiss these qualms as anecdotal,
subjective or plain incomprehensible, the suspicion that there is
something wrong with the scientific process itself is well founded. The
proof comes from a rigorous mathematical analysis of how evidence
alters our belief in a scientific theory."
'Belief' is the crux of the matter. The usual declaration that
extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence is merely a
smokescreen for the fact that no amount of evidence will change the
consensus view until a sufficient number 'convert' to a belief in the
new theory. Science is therefore a political numbers game based on subjective beliefs. Max Planck was right when he said, "An
important scientific innovation rarely makes its way by gradually
winning over and converting its opponents. What does happen is that its
opponents gradually die out, and that the growing generation is
familiarized with the ideas from the beginning."
Matthews continues: "It gets worse. As the
evidence accumulates, the two camps will not only fail to reach
consensus but actually be driven further apart - propelled by their
different views ..And worst of all, there is no prospect of such a
consensus unless the two sides can agree about the cause of the data." Such a conclusion bodes ill for any attempt to change the status quo. Meanwhile, the big bang theory continues to make extraordinary claims based upon little or no evidence.
An Open Letter to the Scientific Community
(Published in New Scientist, May 22, 2004)
The big bang today relies on a growing
number of hypothetical entities, things that we have never observed--
inflation, dark matter and dark energy are the most prominent examples.
Without them, there would be a fatal contradiction between the
observations made by astronomers and the predictions of the big bang
theory. In no other field of physics would this continual recourse to
new hypothetical objects be accepted as a way of bridging the gap
between theory and observation. It would, at the least, raise serious
questions about the validity of the underlying theory.
But the big bang theory can't survive without these fudge factors.
Without the hypothetical inflation field, the big bang does not predict
the smooth, isotropic cosmic background radiation that is observed,
because there would be no way for parts of the universe that are now
more than a few degrees away in the sky to come to the same temperature
and thus emit the same amount of microwave radiation.
Without some kind of dark matter, unlike any that we have observed
on Earth despite 20 years of experiments, big-bang theory makes
contradictory predictions for the density of matter in the universe.
Inflation requires a density 20 times larger than that implied by big
bang nucleosynthesis, the theory's explanation of the origin of the
light elements. And without dark energy, the theory predicts that the
universe is only about 8 billion years old, which is billions of years
younger than the age of many stars in our galaxy.
What is more, the big bang theory can boast of no quantitative
predictions that have subsequently been validated by observation. The
successes claimed by the theory's supporters consist of its ability to
retrospectively fit observations with a steadily increasing array of
adjustable parameters, just as the old Earth-centred cosmology of
Ptolemy needed layer upon layer of epicycles.
Yet the big bang is not the only framework available for
understanding the history of the universe. Plasma cosmology and the
steady-state model both hypothesise an evolving universe without
beginning or end. These and other alternative approaches can also
explain the basic phenomena of the cosmos, including the abundances of
light elements, the generation of large-scale structure, the cosmic
background radiation, and how the redshift of far-away galaxies
increases with distance. They have even predicted new phenomena that
were subsequently observed, something the big bang has failed to do.
Supporters of the big bang theory may retort that these theories do
not explain every cosmological observation. But that is scarcely
surprising, as their development has been severely hampered by a
complete lack of funding. Indeed, such questions and alternatives
cannot even now be freely discussed and examined. An open exchange of
ideas is lacking in most mainstream conferences. Whereas Richard
Feynman could say that "science is the culture of doubt", in cosmology
today doubt and dissent are not tolerated, and young scientists learn
to remain silent if they have something negative to say about the
standard big bang model. Those who doubt the big bang fear that saying
so will cost them their funding.
Even observations are now interpreted through this biased filter,
judged right or wrong depending on whether or not they support the big
bang. So discordant data on red shifts, lithium and helium abundances,
and galaxy distribution, among other topics, are ignored or ridiculed.
This reflects a growing dogmatic mindset that is alien to the spirit of
free scientific enquiry.
Today, virtually all financial and experimental resources in
cosmology are devoted to big bang studies. Funding comes from only a
few sources, and all the peer-review committees that control them are
dominated by supporters of the big bang. As a result, the dominance of
the big bang within the field has become self-sustaining, irrespective
of the scientific validity of the theory.
Giving support only to projects within the big bang framework
undermines a fundamental element of the scientific method -- the
constant testing of theory against observation. Such a restriction
makes unbiased discussion and research impossible. To redress this, we
urge those agencies that fund work in cosmology to set aside a
significant fraction of their funding for investigations into
alternative theories and observational contradictions of the big bang.
To avoid bias, the peer review committee that allocates such funds
could be composed of astronomers and physicists from outside the field
Allocating funding to investigations into the big bang's validity,
and its alternatives, would allow the scientific process to determine
our most accurate model of the history of the universe.
(Institutions for identification only)
Halton Arp, Max-Planck-Institute Fur Astrophysik (Germany)
Andre Koch Torres Assis, State University of Campinas (Brazil)
Yuri Baryshev, Astronomical Institute, St. Petersburg State University (Russia)
Ari Brynjolfsson, Applied Radiation Industries (USA)
Hermann Bondi, Churchill College, Cambridge (UK)
Timothy Eastman, Plasmas International (USA)
Chuck Gallo, Superconix, Inc.(USA)
Thomas Gold, Cornell University (emeritus) (USA)
Amitabha Ghosh, Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur (India)
Walter J. Heikkila, University of Texas at Dallas (USA)
Michael Ibison, Institute for Advanced Studies at Austin (USA)
Thomas Jarboe, Washington University (USA)
Jerry W. Jensen, ATK Propulsion (USA)
Menas Kafatos, George Mason University (USA)
Eric J. Lerner, Lawrenceville Plasma Physics (USA)
Paul Marmet, Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics(retired) (Canada)
Paola Marziani, Istituto Nazionale di Astrofisica, Osservatorio Astronomico di Padova (Italy)
Gregory Meholic, The Aerospace Corporation (USA)
Jacques Moret-Bailly, Université Dijon (retired) (France)
Jayant Narlikar, IUCAA(emeritus) and College de France (India,France)
Marcos Cesar Danhoni Neves, State University of Maring (Brazil)
Charles D. Orth, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (USA)
R. David Pace, Lyon College (USA)
Georges Paturel, Observatoire de Lyon (France)
Jean-Claude Pecker, College de France (France)
Anthony L. Peratt, Los Alamos National Laboratory (USA)
Bill Peter, BAE Systems Advanced Technologies (USA)
David Roscoe, Sheffield University (UK)
Malabika Roy, George Mason University (USA)
Sisir Roy, George Mason University (USA)
Konrad Rudnicki, Jagiellonian University (Poland)
Domingos S.L. Soares, Federal University of Minas Gerais (Brazil)
John L. West, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology (USA)
James F. Woodward, California State University, Fullerton (USA)
What is the Real Problem with Cosmology?
The sentiments expressed in the open letter are welcome. However, I
don't think it will result in any change. The proposal that "the peer
review committee that allocates such funds could be composed of
astronomers and physicists from outside the field of cosmology," is a
small step in the direction that science generally should be taking.
However, many astronomers and physicists outside the field of cosmology
believe in the big bang theory or have a vested interest in it. It
would be preferable if there were a kind of jury system with educated
people from engineering and the humanities as well. Any proposal that
could not be explained simply to such an audience would demonstrate
that the author did not understand it either. In addition, arguments
against a proposal should be admissible from any quarter.
The modern problem with cosmology began with an assumption about
the nature of the redshift in the spectrum of faint extragalactic
objects, discovered by Edwin Hubble. Hubble wrote, "If
the redshifts are a Doppler shift ... the observations as they stand
lead to the anomaly of a closed universe, curiously small and dense,
and, it may be added, suspiciously young. On the other hand, if
redshifts are not Doppler effects, these anomalies disappear and the
region observed appears as a small, homogeneous, but insignificant
portion of a universe extended indefinitely both in space and time." (Royal Astronomical Society Monthly Notices, 17, 506, 1937).
>>The astronomer Edwin P. Hubble
Hubble's logical scientific attitude toward the phenomenon of
extragalactic redshift is in stark contrast to the illogical and
nonsensical opening quotation from the Astronomer Royal. The big bang
theory sprang from a theoretical preference for Hubble's first
possibility. Hubble's brilliant student, Halton Arp, later confirmed
that the second possibility was correct. But by then the big bang
theory had become dogma. Arp was effectively 'excommunicated' for his
>>Abbé Georges Lemaitre, astrophysicist and a monsignor in the Catholic church, with Einstein in 1933.
The medieval church of science now has its own miraculous version
of creation, partly because the astronomer who first proposed the Big
Bang, Georges Lemaitre, wanted to reconcile the creation of the
universe to Genesis. It is reported that after the Belgian detailed his
theory, Einstein stood up, applauded, and said, "This is the most
beautiful and satisfactory explanation of creation to which I have ever
listened." But the great surrealist artist, Salvador Dali, has
effectively parodied Einstein's appreciation of aesthetics. Einstein
also said, "When I examined myself and my methods of thought, I came to
the conclusion that the gift of fantasy has meant more to me than my
talent for absorbing positive knowledge." Is it any wonder that big
bang cosmology is a fantasy?
Modern astronomers have never understood what the ancients meant
when they talked about "creation." It is clear from comparative
religion that creation stories are NOT about the origin of the
universe. In fact, our modern view of the concept of "creation" would
be incomprehensible to the authors of the religious texts. What they
were memorializing was the 're-creation' of a new cosmic order in the
skies following apocalyptic chaos.
>> We have stared annihilation from heaven in the face and it
has deeply scarred us. It fuels our irrational fear of comets and
imagined impacts from space. It colors our cosmology as we desperately
seek to understand the cosmos in reassuring terms.
So my misgivings about cosmology run much deeper than the theories
written in scientific journals. My concern is with human fallibility in
observing and interpreting the cosmos. I consider that the human psyche
and therefore our cosmological beliefs are deeply affected by the past,
which science has chosen not to recognize. It is a past of cosmic
catastrophe. Recent genetic research has shown that the entire human
race "may have been in such a precarious position that only a few
thousand of us may have been alive on the whole face of the Earth at
one point in time, that we almost went extinct, that some event was so
catastrophic as to nearly cause our species to cease to exist
completely." It is therefore not surprising that ALL religious
symbolism relates back to the heavens, the home of the capricious gods
This could help explain the tendency for cosmologists to be drawn
into a theory that has much in common with the biblical creation story
and little to do with science. Ironically, if astronomers took the time
to understand the earliest information we have about the heavens we
would be closer to seeing the universe clearly for the first time.
Observation and experience should come first, not theory. Until we
understand our own planet's history and that of our solar system a lot
better we cannot hope to chart the history of the universe. And that,
necessarily, will require a wider perspective than the current tunnel
vision predominating in astronomy and physics. But first we must
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