Archive for May 11, 2011

Shooting at the Cosmic Circles

Posted in Astrohype, Bad Statistics, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , on May 11, 2011 by telescoper

Another brief update post of something that whizzed past while I was away and thought I’d mention now that I’m back.

Remember the (now infamous) paper by Gurzadyan and Penrose about evidence for the Conformal Cyclic Cosmology that I blogged about last year?

The original analysis was comprehensively dissected and refuted by a number of papers within a few days of its appearance – see here, here and here – only for Gurzadyan and Penrose to dig an even bigger hole for themselves with a nonsensical reply.

Undaunted, the dynamic duo of Gurzadyan and Penrose have produced yet another paper on the same subject which came out just as I was heading off on my hols.

There has subsequently been another riposte, by Eriksen and Wehus, although I suspect most cosmologists ceased to care about this whole story some time ago. Although it’s a pretty easy target, the Eriksen-Wehus reply does another comprehensive demolition job. The phrase “shooting fish in a barrel” sprang to my mind, but from facebook I learned that the equivalent idiomatic expression in Italian is sparare sulla Croce Rossa (i.e. shooting on the Red Cross). Perhaps we can add a brand new phrase for “taking aim at an easy target” – shooting at the cosmic circles!

I was struck, however, by the closing sentences of the abstract of Eriksen-Wehus reply:

Still, while this story is of little physical interest, it may have some important implications in terms of scienctific sociology: Looking back at the background papers leading up to the present series by Gurzadyan and Penrose, in particular one introducing the Kolmogorov statistic, we believe one can find evidence that a community based and open access referee process may be more efficient at rejecting incorrect results and claims than a traditional journal based approach.

I wholeheartedly agree. I’ve blogged already to the effect that academic journals are a waste of time and money and we’d be much better off with open access and vigorous internet scrutiny. It may be that this episode has just given us a glimpse of the future of scientific publishing.