Archive for the Astrohype Category

BICEP2DAY

Posted in Astrohype, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , on March 17, 2014 by telescoper

Well, it’s official that this afternoon’s announcement of a “major discovery” is going to be from the BICEP team, and it specifically concerns the BICEP2 CMB telescope experiment. I’ve just got back to Sussex (after a weekend in Cardiff) and will be following the events in among other things I have to do before going off to give a lecture at 5pm GMT.

The schedule of events is as follows: there will be a special webcast presenting the first results from the BICEP2 CMB telescope. The webcast will begin with a presentation for scientists 10:45-11:30 EDT, followed by a news conference 12:00-1:00 EDT.

You can join the webcast from the link at http://www.cfa.harvard.edu/news/news_conferences.html

Papers and data products will be available at 10:45 EDT from http://bicepkeck.org/

EDT is four hours behind Greenwich Mean Time so the webcast will begin at 14:45 GMT, i.e. in about half an hour.

In the mean time, for those of you wondering what these BICEPS are all about, here is a useful graphic in which a Harvard astrophysicist demonstrates the possibilities:

biceps

LIVE BLOG:

14:36 The press conference server has gone down. There’s no truth in the rumour that ex-members of the Clover collaboration have sabotaged it.

14:42 There’s a grave danger that this press conference will run into tea time.

14:45 The BICEP2 papers are now live at http://bicepkeck.org/

14:48 Straight to the headline: R=0.2 (+0.07, -0.05) with R=0 rejected at about 7 sigma, if you like things stated in such terms…

14:53 Here’s the crucial graph. Results a bit higher than the expected  signal at l in range 200-300?

Bi7-IpDCEAA7frU

15:06 The news avalanche has started, e.g. here at the BBC, but there is some concern about the shape of the spectrum.

15:10 I’m not getting anything from the press conference, so may have missed important details. It seems to me though that there’s a significant possibility of some of the polarization signal in E and B not being cosmological. This is a very interesting result, but I’d prefer to reserve judgement until it is confirmed by other experiments.

15:35 Despite the press hype there’s still some scepticism among cosmologists arising from the strange-looking shape of the spectrum. I’m not convinced myself. Anyway, I have to sign off now in order to prepare a lecture..

16:20 Back-of-the-envelope time: if the result is correct then the inflationary energy scale is about 2×1016 GeV. That’s just two orders of magnitude below the Planck scale…

18:19 Returned from my 5pm Theoretical Physics lecture. Couldn’t resist spending 30 minutes talking about BICEP2, though I did tell them it’s not in the examination.

18:25 Main points of controversy:

  1. there seems to be evidence of leakage of temperature into polarization (lines in Fig. 5);
  2. there’s an excess in the B-B spectrum at l~250 shown above;
  3. there’s an excess at low l in the E-E spectrum
  4. there’s a deficit at low l in the cross-correlation with Keck

There may be a connection between 1. and 2.-4. If 2.-4 are real then they may be evidence of something interesting that requires more than a straightforward modification of inflation (such as might include just a running of the spectral index).

18:35 Other controversy: why has this result been announced before the paper has been published or even peer-reviewed?

Some B-Mode Background

Posted in Astrohype, Science Politics, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on March 15, 2014 by telescoper

Well, in case you hadn’t noticed, the cosmology rumour mill has gone into overdrive this weekend primarily concerning the possibility that an experiment known as BICEP (an acronym formed from Background Imaging of Cosmic Extragalactic Polarization). These rumours have been circulating since it was announced last week that the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) will host a press conference  on Monday, March 17th, to announce “a major discovery”. The grapevine is full of possibilities, but it seems fairly clear that the “major discovery” is related to one of the most exciting challenges facing the current generation of cosmologists, namely to locate in the pattern of fluctuations in the cosmic microwave background evidence for the primordial gravitational waves predicted by models of the Universe that involve inflation.

Anyway, I thought I’d add a bit of background on here to help those interested make sense of whatever is announced on Monday evening.

Looking only at the temperature variation across the sky, it is not possible to distinguish between tensor  (gravitational wave) and scalar (density wave) contributions  (both of which are predicted to be excited during the inflationary epoch).  However, scattering of photons off electrons is expected to leave the radiation slightly polarized (at the level of a few percent). This gives us additional information in the form of the  polarization angle at each point on the sky and this extra clue should, in principle, enable us to disentangle the tensor and scalar components.

The polarization signal can be decomposed into two basic types depending on whether the pattern has  odd or even parity, as shown in the nice diagram (from a paper by James Bartlett)

The top row shows the E-mode (which look the same when reflected in a mirror and can be produced by either scalar or tensor modes) and the bottom shows the B-mode (which have a definite handedness that changes when mirror-reflected and which can’t be generated by scalar modes because they can’t have odd parity).

The B-mode is therefore (at least in principle)  a clean diagnostic of the presence of gravitational waves in the early Universe. Unfortunately, however, the B-mode is predicted to be very small, about 100 times smaller than the E-mode, and foreground contamination is likely to be a very serious issue for any experiment trying to detect it. To be convinced that what is being measured is cosmological rather than some sort of contaminant one would have to see the signal repeated across a range of different wavelengths.

Moreover, primordial gravitational waves are not the only way that a cosmological B-mode signal could be generated. Less than a year ago, a paper appeared on the arXiv by Hanson et al. from SPTpol, an experiment which aims to measure the polarization of the cosmic microwave background using the South Pole Telescope. The principal result of this paper was to demonstrate a convincing detection of the so-called “B-mode” of polarization from gravitational lensing of the microwave background photons as they pass through the gravitational field generated by the matter distributed through the Universe. Gravitational lensing can produce the same kind of shearing effect that gravitational waves generate, so it’s important to separate this “line-of-sight” effect from truly primordial signals.

So we wait with bated breath to see exactly what is announced on Monday. In particular, it will be extremely interesting to see whether the new results from BICEP are consistent with the recently published conclusions from Planck. Although Planck has not yet released the analysis of its own polarization data, analysis of the temperature fluctuations yields a (somewhat model-dependent) conclusion that the ratio of tensor to scalar contributions to the CMB pattern is no more than about 11 per cent, usually phrased in the terms, i.e. R<0.11. A quick (and possibly inaccurate) back-of-the-envelope calculation using the published expected sensitivity of BICEP suggests that if they have made a detection it might be above that limit. That would be really interesting because it might indicate that something is going on which is not consistent with the standard framework. The limits on R arising from temperature studies alone assume that both scalar and tensor perturbations are generated by a relatively simple inflationary model belonging to a class in which there is a direct relationship between the relative amplitudes of the two modes (and the shape of the perturbation spectrum). So far everything we have learned from CMB analysis is broadly consistent with this simplifying assumption being correct. Are we about to see evidence that the early Universe was more complex than we thought? We'll just have to wait and see…

Incidentally, once upon a time there was a British experiment called Clover (involving the Universities of  Cardiff, Oxford, Cambridge and Manchester) which was designed to detect the primordial B-mode signal from its vantage point in Chile. I won’t describe it in more detail here, for reasons which will become obvious.

The chance to get involved in a high-profile cosmological experiment was one of the reasons I moved to Cardiff in 2007, and I was looking forward to seeing the data arriving for analysis. Although I’m primarily a theorist, I have some experience in advanced statistical methods that might have been useful in analysing the output.  Unfortunately, however, none of that actually happened. Because of its budget crisis, and despite the fact that it had spent a large amount (£4.5M) on it already,  STFC decided to withdraw the funding needed to complete it (£2.5M)  and cancelled the Clover experiment. Had it gone ahead it would probably have had two years’ data in the bag by now.

It wasn’t clear that Clover would have won the race to detect the B-mode cosmological polarization, but it’s a real shame it was withdrawn as a non-starter. C’est la vie.

Did Hawking Say “There Are No Black Holes”?

Posted in Astrohype, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , on February 5, 2014 by telescoper

telescoper:

Last week there was a rather tedious flurry of media activity about Stephen Hawking’s alleged claim that there are no black holes after all. Here’s a nice blog post explaining what Hawking actually said. Also, check out the link at the start of this article to a very nice layperson’s guide to the Black Hole Information Paradox.

Originally posted on Of Particular Significance:

Media absurdity has reached new levels of darkness with the announcement that Stephen Hawking has a new theory in which black holes do not exist after all.

No, he doesn’t.

[Note added: click here for my new introduction to the black hole information paradox.]

First, Hawking does not have a new theory… at least not one he’s presented. You can look at his paper here — two pages (pdf), a short commentary that he gave to experts in August 2013 and wrote up as a little document — and you can see it has no equations at all. That means it doesn’t qualify as a theory. “Theory”, in physics, means: a set of equations that can be used to make predictions for physical processes in a real or imaginary world. When we talk about Einstein’s theory of relativity, we’re talking about equations. Compare just the look and…

View original 979 more words

Scott Tremaine on “Astrohype”

Posted in Astrohype, The Universe and Stuff with tags on February 2, 2014 by telescoper

I recently came across a post by distinguished astrophysicist Scott Tremaine who works at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. The piece is entitled “Overblown Statements in Press Releases Undermine Science”, something that exercised me so much that I invented the category Astrohype so I could post particularly egregious examples on this blog.

Soctt Tremaine’s piece is on the American Astronomical Society website, but I’m reposting the text here to give it wider circulation as I think it makes some very important points that we’d all do well to heed. And of course in the interest of full disclosure I should point out that I am a theoretical astrophysicist myself, so may be a bit biased…

–o–

In a recent column, AAS President David Helfand argued correctly that negative public messages about subfields within our own discipline, or even about other disciplines — “shooting inward at each other” — damage all of us.

Consider, then, the following public messages:

  • from a major research university, a press release titled “Astronomers Discover Planet that Shouldn’t Be There,”
  • from the European Southern Observatory, a press release titled “Turning Planetary Theory Upside Down,”
  • from the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, a press release containing the quote, “Much of what we thought we understood about the physics of pulsars and neutron stars may be wrong,”
  • from the Space Telescope Science Institute, a press release stating, “New observations from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope challenge 30 years of scientific theory about quasars,” and
  • from a respected news organization, an interview with a prominent exoplanet researcher containing the quote, “Theory has struck out.”

The point is not whether these messages provide accurate characterizations of the state of theoretical understanding in their respective subject areas (though in most cases they do not). The point is that by belittling and trivializing the efforts of theoretical astrophysicists — who try to understand extremely complex processes in exotic environments, with limited clues from observations — they damage the public perception of the entire astronomy community. As just one example, statements from press releases such as those above are often repeated on creationist websites, where they carry extra weight because they have the imprimatur of NASA or a major observatory or university.

Advances in observational astronomy are spectacular enough to appeal to the public on their own merits, without “shooting inward” at efforts to understand these observations. Astronomers and press officers can provide a more realistic picture of the synergy between observation and theory, and in so doing would improve the public perception of astronomy research in particular and of the scientific enterprise more generally.

Inflation and the Multiverse

Posted in Astrohype, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , , , on January 6, 2014 by telescoper

I was quite excited when I discovered, via Twitter, a paper on the arXiv with the title Quantum Fluctuations in Cosmology and How They Lead to a Multiverse, which was written by one of the architects of the inflationary universe scenario, Alan Guth. Despite numerous attempts to understand the argument how inflation leads to a Multiverse I’ve never really succeeded. To me it always seemed like  a version of the Mind Projection Fallacy inspired by a frequentist interpretation of probability: the construction of notional ensembles for the purposes of calculation in quantum mechanics does not imply that such ensembles are realized in nature. In fact I’ve never found much more substance in articles about this issue than the assertion that Quantum Physics = Woo! = Multiverse.

Anyway, since the paper I found is a review article I hoped it would help teach me the error of my ways. Here is the abstract

This article discusses density perturbations in inflationary models, offering a pedagogical description of how these perturbations are generated by quantum fluctuations in the early universe. A key feature of inflation is that that rapid expansion can stretch microscopic fluctuations to cosmological proportions. I discuss also another important conseqence of quantum fluctuations: the fact that almost all inflationary models become eternal, so that once inflation starts, it never stops.

My eye was drawn to the phrase “almost all inflationary models”.  I had hoped to see “almost all” used in its strict mathematical sense, ie “apart from a set of measure zero” with the measure being fully specified. Disappointingly, it isn’t.   Guth discusses the consequences of the tail  the inflationary potential V (for large values of the inflaton field ϕ) on the long-term evolution of inflationary dynamics and then states

Since V3/2/|V ′| grows without bound as ϕ → ∞ for most potentials under consideration, almost all models allow for eternal inflation.

This means, to me, most models people have constructed but doesn’t mean all possible models. I don’t doubt that some inflationary models  become eternal, but would have preferred a more rigorous statement.  This is particularly strange because Guth spends the last section of his paper discussing the “measure problem”:

While the multiverse picture looks very plausible in the context of inflationary cosmology — at least to me — it raises a thorny and unsolved problem, known as the “measure problem.” Specifically, we do not know how to define probabilities in the multiverse.

The measure problem to my mind also extends to the space of all possible inflationary theories.

And then there’s the title, which, I remind you, is Quantum Fluctuations in Cosmology and How They Lead to a Multiverse. Guth’s argument consists of going through the (standard) calculation of the spectrum of cosmological density fluctuations (which does fit a host of observational data). He then states:

Since the density perturbation calculations have been incredibly successful, it seems to make sense to take seriously the assumptions behind these calculations, and follow them where they lead. I have to admit that there is no clear consensus among cosmologists, but to many of us the assumptions seem to be pointing to eternal inflation, and the multiverse.

I have to admit that I get a bit annoyed when I read a paper in which the actual conclusions are much weaker than implied by the title, but that seems to be par for the course in this field.

For the record, I’ll state that I am an agnostic about the multiverse. It may be a correct idea, it may not. I will say, however, that I still haven’t found any article that puts it on a firm scientific footing. That may well, of course, just be a measure of my ignorance. If you know of one, please let me know through the comments box.

Top Ten Gaia Facts

Posted in The Universe and Stuff, Astrohype with tags , , , on December 20, 2013 by telescoper
Gaia looks nothing like the Herschel Space Observatory shown here.

Gaia looks nothing like the Herschel Space Observatory shown here.

Since yesterday’s successful launch of the European Space Agency’s Gaia mission I have been inundated with requests for more information about this impressive satellite and the science behind it. As a service to the community, and for the edification of the public at large, I therefore thought I’d share my list of top ten Gaia facts via the medium of this blog:

  1. The correct pronunciation of GAIA is as in “gayer”. Please bear this in mind when reading any press articles about the mission.
  2. The GAIA spacecraft will orbit the Sun at the Second Lagrange Point, the only place in the Solar System where the  effects of cuts in the UK science budget can not be felt.
  3. The data processing challenges posed by GAIA are immense; the billions of astrometric measurements resulting from the mission will be analysed using the world’s biggest Excel Spreadsheet.
  4. To provide secure backup storage of the complete GAIA data set, the European Space Agency has commandeered the world’s entire stock of 3½ inch floppy disks.
  5. As well as measuring billions of star positions and velocities, GAIA is expected to discover thousands of new asteroids and the hiding place of Lord Lucan.
  6. GAIA can measure star positions to an accuracy of a few microarcseconds. That’s the angle subtended by a single pubic hair at a distance of 1000km.
  7. The precursor to GAIA was a satellite called Hipparcos, which is not how you spell Hipparchus.
  8. The BBC will be shortly be broadcasting a new 26-part TV series about GAIA. Entitled WOW! Gaia! That’s Soo Amaazing… it will be presented by Britain’s leading expert on astrometry, Professor Brian Cox.
  9. Er…
  10. That’s it.

Tension in Cosmology?

Posted in Astrohype, Bad Statistics, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , on October 24, 2013 by telescoper

I noticed this abstract (of a paper by Rest et al.) on the arXiv the other day:

We present griz light curves of 146 spectroscopically confirmed Type Ia Supernovae (0.03<z<0.65) discovered during the first 1.5 years of the Pan-STARRS1 Medium Deep Survey. The Pan-STARRS1 natural photometric system is determined by a combination of on-site measurements of the instrument response function and observations of spectrophotometric standard stars. We have investigated spatial and time variations in the photometry, and we find that the systematic uncertainties in the photometric system are currently 1.2% without accounting for the uncertainty in the HST Calspec definition of the AB system. We discuss our efforts to minimize the systematic uncertainties in the photometry. A Hubble diagram is constructed with a subset of 112 SNe Ia (out of the 146) that pass our light curve quality cuts. The cosmological fit to 313 SNe Ia (112 PS1 SNe Ia + 201 low-z SNe Ia), using only SNe and assuming a constant dark energy equation of state and flatness, yields w = -1.015^{+0.319}_{-0.201}(Stat)+{0.164}_{-0.122}(Sys). When combined with BAO+CMB(Planck)+H0, the analysis yields \Omega_M = 0.277^{+0.010}_{-0.012} and w = -1.186^{+0.076}_{-0.065} including all identified systematics, as spelled out in the companion paper by Scolnic et al. (2013a). The value of w is inconsistent with the cosmological constant value of -1 at the 2.4 sigma level. This tension has been seen in other high-z SN surveys and endures after removing either the BAO or the H0 constraint. If we include WMAP9 CMB constraints instead of those from Planck, we find w = -1.142^{+0.076}_{-0.087}, which diminishes the discord to <2 sigma. We cannot conclude whether the tension with flat CDM is a feature of dark energy, new physics, or a combination of chance and systematic errors. The full Pan-STARRS1 supernova sample will be 3 times as large as this initial sample, which should provide more conclusive results.

The mysterious Pan-STARRS stands for the Panoramic Survey Telescope and Rapid Response System, a set of telescopes cameras and related computing hardware that monitors the sky from its base in Hawaii. One of the many things this system can do is detect and measure distant supernovae, hence the particular application to cosmology described in the paper. The abstract mentions a preliminary measurement of the parameter w, which for those of you who are not experts in cosmology is usually called the “equation of state” parameter for the dark energy component involved in the standard model. What it describes is the relationship between the pressure P and the energy density ρc2 of this mysterious stuff, via the relation P=wρc2. The particularly interesting case is w=-1 which corresponds to a cosmological constant term; see here for a technical discussion. However, we don’t know how to explain this dark energy from first principles so really w is a parameter that describes our ignorance of what is actually going on. In other words, the cosmological constant provides the simplest model of dark energy but even in that case we don’t know where it comes from so it might well be something different; estimating w from surveys can therefore tell us whether we’re on the right track or not.

The abstract explains that, within the errors, the Pan-STARRS data on their own are consistent with w=-1. More interestingly, though, combining the supernovae observations with others, the best-fit value of w shifts towards a value a bit less than -1 (although still with quite a large uncertainty). Incidentally  value of w less than -1 is generally described as a “phantom” dark energy component. I’ve never really understood why…

So far estimates of cosmological parameters from different data sets have broadly agreed with each other, hence the application of the word “concordance” to the standard cosmological model.  However, it does seem to be the case that supernova measurements do generally seem to push cosmological parameter estimates away from the comfort zone established by other types of observation. Could this apparent discordance be signalling that our ideas are wrong?

That’s the line pursued by a Scientific American article on this paper entitled “Leading Dark Energy Theory Incompatible with New Measurement”. This could be true, but I think it’s a bit early to be taking this line when there are still questions to be answered about the photometric accuracy of the Pan-Starrs survey. The headline I would have picked would be more like “New Measurement (Possibly) Incompatible With Other Measurements of Dark Energy”.

But that would have been boring…

Just a minute! Is space really expanding?

Posted in Astrohype, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , on August 2, 2013 by telescoper

Now then. I’m sure this little video will get a few cosmologists’ hackles rising:

The video was produced by minutephysics, so presumably the expansion of time accounts for the fact that lasts more than two minutes. More importantly, though, is the content. Here’s an old  discussion of mine on this question. Let me know what you think via the comments box!

Universality in Space Plasmas?

Posted in Astrohype, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , , , , , on June 16, 2013 by telescoper

It’s been a while since I posted anything reasonably technical, largely because I’ve been too busy, so I thought I’d spend a bit of time today on a paper (by Livadiotis & McComas in the journal Entropy) that provoked a Nature News item a couple of weeks ago and caused a mild flutter around the internet.

Here’s the abstract of the paper:

In plasmas, Debye screening structures the possible correlations between particles. We identify a phase space minimum h* in non-equilibrium space plasmas that connects the energy of particles in a Debye sphere to an equivalent wave frequency. In particular, while there is no a priori reason to expect a single value of h* across plasmas, we find a very similar value of h* ≈ (7.5 ± 2.4)×10−22 J·s using four independent methods: (1) Ulysses solar wind measurements, (2) space plasmas that typically reside in stationary states out of thermal equilibrium and spanning a broad range of physical properties, (3) an entropic limit emerging from statistical mechanics, (4) waiting-time distributions of explosive events in space plasmas. Finding a quasi-constant value for the phase space minimum in a variety of different plasmas, similar to the classical Planck constant but 12 orders of magnitude larger may be revealing a new type of quantization in many plasmas and correlated systems more generally.

It looks an interesting claim, so I thought I’d have a look at the paper in a little more detail to see whether it holds up, and perhaps to explain a little to others who haven’t got time to wade through it themselves. I will assume a basic background knowledge of plasma physics, though, so turn away now if that puts you off!

For a start it’s probably a good idea to explain what this mysterious h* is. The authors define it via ½h*ctc, where εc is defined to be “the smallest particle energy that can transfer information” and tc is “the correlation lifetime of Debye Sphere (i.e. volumes of radius the Debye Length for the plasma in question). The second of these can be straightforwardly defined in terms of the ratio between the Debye Length and the thermal sound speed; the authors argue that the first is given by εc=½(mi+me)u2, involving the electron and ion masses in the plasma and the information speed u which is taken to be the speed of a magnetosonic wave.

You might wonder why the authors decided to call their baby h*. Perhaps it’s because the definition looks a bit like the energy-time version of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, but I can’t be sure of that. In any case the resulting quantity has the same dimensions as Planck’s constant and is therefore measured in the same units (Js in the SI system).

Anyway, the claim is that h* is constant across a wide range of astrophysical plasmas. I’ve taken the liberty of copying the relevant Figure here:

constant_h

I have to say at this point I had the distinct sense of damp squib going off. The panel on the right purports to show the constancy of h* (y-axis) for plasmas of a wide range of number-densities (x-axis). However, but are shown on logarithmic scales and have enormously large error bars. To be sure, the behaviour looks roughly constant but to use this as a basis for claims of universality is, in my opinion, rather unjustified, especially since there may also be some sort of selection effect arising from the specific observational data used.

One of the authors is quoted in the Nature piece:

“We went into this thinking we’d find one value in one plasma, and another value in another plasma,” says McComas. “We were shocked and slightly horrified to find the same value across all of them. This is really a major deal.”

Perhaps it will turn out to be a major deal. But I’d like to see a lot more evidence first.

Plasma (astro)physics is a fascinating but very difficult subject, not because the underlying requations governing plasmas are especially complicated, but because the resulting behaviour is so sensitively dependent on small details; plasma therefore provide an excellent exemplar of what we mean by a complex physical system. As is the case in other situations where we lack the ability to do detailed calculations at the microscopic level, we do have to rely on more coarse=grained descriptions, so looking for patterns like this is a good thing to do, but I think the Jury is out.

Finally, I have to say I don’t approve of the authors talking about this in terms of “quantization”. Plasma physics is confusing enough as classical physics without confusing it with quantum theory. Opening the door to that is a big mistake, in my view. Who knows what sort of new age crankery might result?

Das Letzte Gericht

Posted in Art, Astrohype, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , on December 20, 2012 by telescoper

Apparently the world is due to end tomorrow, so I’ve saved quite a lot of money by not having done my Christmas shopping yet. Anyway, the forthcoming Apocalypse reminded me of the painting that I often use to introduce cosmology talks. I usually use this piece of Hieronymus Bosch Das letzte Gericht (The Last Judgement) to illustrate my feelings about the standard cosmological model:

das_letzte_gericht

The top part represents the concordance cosmology. It clearly features an eminent cosmologist surrounded by postdoctoral researchers. Everything appears to be in heavenly harmony, surrounded by a radiant glow of self-satisfaction. The trumpets represent various forms of exaggerated press coverage.

But if you step back from it, and get the whole thing in a proper perspective, you realise that there’s an awful lot going on underneath that’s not so pleasant or easy to interptet. I don’t know what’s going down below there, although the unfortunate figures slaving away in miserable conditions and suffering unimaginable torments, are obviously supposed to represent graduate students. The large knife visible in the bottom right corner clearly symbolises budget cuts looming in the next Comprehensive Spending Review.

The main point is that the concordance model is based on rather strange foundations: nobody understands what the dark matter and dark energy are, for example. Even more fundamentally, the whole thing is based on a shotgun marriage between general relativity and quantum field theory which is doomed to fail somewhere along the line.

Far from being a final theory of the Universe I think we should treat our standard model as a working hypothesis and actively look for departures from it. I’m not at all against the model. As models go, it’s very successful. It’s a good one, but it’s still just a model.

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