Shooting at the Cosmic Circles

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.


11 Responses to “Shooting at the Cosmic Circles”

  1. Anton Garrett Says:

    Personally I would never use the “fish in a barrel” metaphor for arguing against Penrose. Although I think his stuff on quantum consciousness is fit only to light the fire with, and that twistors approach the problem backwards and in a manner technically inferior to Clifford algebra, Penrose put out world-class research a generation ago – tiling, the GR singularity theorems, and (pedagogically) the spacetime diagrams that now are named after him.

    It is obvious that www gives an opportunity for scientists to take control back from racketeering publishers. The big question is how to maintain quality control, which was latterly the tacit function of journals. Your suggestion (Peter) sounds like sense to me, although I am always wary of the law of unintended consequences.

    There is an interesting article in the May Physics World about how the mania for ‘impact’ of scientific research is distorting even the way it is written up.


    • telescoper Says:

      I just read the article in Physics World this lunchtime. Do you think it’s possible for string theorists to “oversell and exaggerate their findings” any more than they do now?

    • Anton Garrett Says:

      I expect that string theory will soon be posited as the solution to the financial crisis.

  2. telescoper Says:

    I should probably make it clear that the fish in the barrel is not Penrose himself, but this particular paper….

  3. telescoper Says:

    Ps. “Shooting fish in a barrel” is a curious metaphor. I wonder where it comes from?

    “Pushing at an open door” is another I’ve heard in the context of cosmology.

    I’d be interested to hear of any similar idiomatic expressions in other languages, if anyone reading this knows any….

  4. Paolo Natoli Says:

    “Pushing at an open door” in Italian reads “Sfondare una porta aperta” (“sfondare” is closer to “kick in” than to “push”…)

  5. […] to do with gravitational entropy, but my heart sank when he tried at the end to resurrect his discredited “Circles in the Sky” […]

  6. […] have to admit that I am very skeptical of the claims made in this paper – as I was in the previous case of claims of a evidence in favour of the Penrose model. In that case the analysis was flawed because it did not properly calculate the probability of the […]

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