Archive for Dark Cosmology Centre


Posted in Cosmic Anomalies, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , on August 12, 2011 by telescoper

Well, I’m back home from Copenhagen after a very interesting and stimulating workshop called “DEUS” (subtitled “Current and Future Challenges of the Dark and Early Universes”). I just thought I’d post a brief message to thank the organizers for inviting me and for arranging such an interesting and varied programme, and especially for giving so many young researchers the chance to give talks (as well as some old farts like me).

Although I’d originally planned to talk about something else, I evenually decided to do a variation on the theme of cosmic anomalies, a topic I’ve blogged about at various times over the past couple of years. In a nutshell this was a quick overview of various features of the observed universe that seem to suggest departures from the standard “Lambda-CDM”  (or LCDM, for short) cosmological model, including the famous WMAP Cold Spot, the Axis of Evil, and various other statistical hints of anomalous behaviour in present-day observations.

To add a bit of audience participation I gave those attending my talk the chance to vote on what they thought about these – I was genuinely interested to see what this particular audience felt about whether the standard model is threatened or not.  I asked specifically about these in order to exclude other niggling worries people might have about LCDM from other astrophysical arguments, such as galaxy formation. Anyway, I thought it might be fun to repeat the poll here, so feel free to add your vote here:

As for the results of the vote during my presentation, I was somewhat surprised to see a roughly equal division between A and B, but there were even a few in C. I had assumed the vast majority would vote “A”….

Anyway, thanks again to the organizers of a fun meeting. That’s three trips to Copenhagen in as many months. I guess it will be a while before I go back again. 😦

Keep the home fires burning

Posted in Biographical, Finance, Politics with tags , , , , on August 9, 2011 by telescoper

I’m in Copenhagen, yet again, for the third time in as many months, this time for a  workshop arranged by the Dark Cosmology Centre at the Niels Bohr Institute. It’s my talk this morning, in fact, so although I’m up early I haven’t got much time to post. I have to work on my talk to see if there’s a way I can make it all fit in 30 minutes!

Copenhagen is a pretty familiar place to me, but this has to be the most unsettling trip I’ve ever made here. I’m not talking about the long delay at Heathrow airport before we took off; I’ve come to expect that. The airport clearly can’t cope with the level of traffic it is supposed to handle during the summer months, so you have to reckon on at least an hour delay inbound and outbound. Sitting on the tarmac for an hour while being told over and over again that it will be “just a few minutes” really does bring out the grumpy old man in me. Still,  at least I didn’t lose any luggage.

No, the reason this is such an unsettling trip is that back home in Blighty all hell seems to have broken lose, with riots in the streets of, first, London and now apparently Birmingham, Liverpool and Bristol. I was also on the march in 1990 that turned into the Poll Tax riot. I was appalled by the violence that day and got myself and my friends away from trouble as soon as it flared, but it has to be said that it did lead to a change in the law, something Parliament had failed to achieve.

Back to the present, I note that the Tesco at Bethnal Green, where I used to live, has apparently been looted. I hope all my friends in London are keeping themselves safe.

I don’t think there’s anything I can say about these riots that wouldn’t be ill-informed, unhelpful, or even downright stupid. I am however old enough to remember that such things have happened before, in deprived inner-city areas, including Liverpool and Bristol. The circumstances were similar too.  Given the public spending cuts that have hit community programmes extremely hard,  it doesn’t surprise me that some have decided to lash out, especially at the Police,  whose criminal collusion with the media over phone-tapping and draconian tactics in dealing with lawful protests has turned many others against them .

I find it hard to separate these signs of social disintegration from the large-scale economic landscape. The huge level of debt accumulated by banks during the Credit Crunch of 2008 has now been absorbed by governments across the globe, who are attempting to deal with it by cutting public spending rather than raising taxes. Meanwhile the bankers have accepted their bailouts with glee, paying themselves bonuses by the bucketful and no doubt squirreling away the dosh in the Cayman Islands. If the state sanctions greed on that scale, is it surprising that people at the bottom of the heap decide to join in by looting the local supermarket?

The young  have the right to feel particularly disillusioned. The current generation has lived beyond its means for too long and, realising it too late, is trying to pay for it by mortgaging the future. The opportunities our young people, especially those from less affluent  backgrounds, can look forward to, in terms of education and jobs, will be much poorer than my generation.

I’m not usually one to endorse the view of the Daily Telegraph, but I think this piece hits the nail pretty much on the head. As Karl Marx would have said, it’s all about alienation, and I can tell you it’s not just the “underclass” that’s feeling it at the moment.

None of which is to condone the violence: you can be angry with the looters and the arsonists and those engaged in wanton destruction, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to understand why it’s happening.

But I’m very afraid that there’s going to be a lot more of this. The sovereign debt crisis is far from over. In many ways it has only just begun. There will be deeper cuts in public spending, greater inequality, greater social divisions and more upheavals like this. I think we’re in for a rough ride. I’m just glad I’m no longer young.

Signs of the Times

Posted in Biographical, Science Politics, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , on June 5, 2010 by telescoper

Well, I’m back from sunny Copenhagen to a very muggy Cardiff. I arrived by train just as this afternoon’s rugby match between Wales and South Africa finished so I got caught up in the crowds and had to follow a lengthy diversion to get home. I was a bit tetchy with the heat and feeling a bit tired, but feel a bit mellower now after a nice shower. Apparently it was a cracking game, with Wales losing narrowly to the Springboks in the end. I missed it all.

Not feeling like doing anything more energetic blogwise, I thought I’d just put up a few pictures of the trip before making dinner. I heard while I was in Copenhagen that there are plans to relocate the historic Niels Bohr Institute to new accommodation nearby. I’m very attached to the old place and I think it will be a terrible shame if the original buildings are flogged off or bulldozed. I believe that’s not going to happen but I’m not sure what their fate is going to be. Anyway, I asked one of the locals, Tamara Davis, to take a picture in front of the sign outside the old NORDITA  building, looking grumpy, to show my disapproval. I think she caught the mood perfectly.

Actually, Tamara isn’t really a local because she’s Australian, but she spends a couple of months a year in Denmark at the Dark Cosmology Centre, which is about ten minutes’ walk from the Niels Bohr Institute. I sat next to her at the conference dinner and found out that she’s also an international quality Ultimate Frisbee player. I wish I could pretend I knew what that was, but it sounds impressive. The fact that she’s training for a major event at the moment meant that she wasn’t drinking much wine so, being a gentleman, I drank the surplus on her behalf.

I wonder if there’s such a sport as Penultimate Frisbee?

Here’s another picture in front of the same building, featuring some folks from the workshop.

From left they are Dominik Schwarz (Bielefeld, Germany), Anthony Lasenby (Cambridge, UK), Carlo Burigana (Bologna, Italy),  Sabino Matarrese (Padova, Italy) and Paolo Natoli (Rome, Italy).

Last one shows the view in the evening sun looking down towards the picturesque old harbour area, called Nyhavn. I took this in anticipation of a nice cold beer among the crowds of people out enjoying themselves in the lovely weather. I wasn’t disappointed!