## More Lockdown Perspectives on the Hubble Tension and thoughts on the future of scientific publications

Posted in Open Access, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , on July 28, 2020 by telescoper

This is interesting. Remember last week when I posted about a paper by George Efstathiou on the Hubble Constant controversy. This is the abstract.

Well, a new version of the paper has just appeared on the arXiv that includes some comments in response from the SH0ES team.

It is of course interesting in itself to see the cut and thrust of scientific debate on a live topic such as this, but in my mind at least it raises interesting questions about the nature of scientific publication. To repeat something I wrote a a while ago, it seems  to me that the scientific paper published in an academic journal is an anachronism. Digital technology enables us to communicate ideas far more rapidly than in the past and allows much greater levels of interaction between researchers. I agree with Daniel Shanahan that the future for many fields will be defined not in terms of “papers” which purport to represent “final” research outcomes, but by living documents continuously updated in response to open scrutiny by the research community.

The Open Journal of Astrophysics is innovative in some ways but remains wedded to the paper as its fundamental object, and the platform is not able to facilitate interaction with readers. Of course one of the worries is that the comment facilities on many websites tend to get clogged up with mindless abuse, but I think that is manageable. I have some ideas on this, but for the time being I’m afraid all my energies are taken up with other things so this is for the future.

I’ve long argued that the modern academic publishing industry is not facilitating but hindering the communication of research. The arXiv has already made academic journals virtually redundant in many of branches of  physics and astronomy; other disciplines will inevitably follow. The age of the academic journal is drawing to a close, and it is consequently time to rethink the concept of a paper.

## A Lockdown Perspective on the Hubble Tension (plus Poll)

Posted in The Universe and Stuff with tags , , on July 22, 2020 by telescoper

These are busy days in cosmological circles, especially regarding the Hubble Constant controversy. The latest contribution to appear on the arXiv is by George Efstathiou of Cambridge. Here is the abstract:

I don’t know if George has voted in my ongoing poll relating to this issue, but I bet that if he did he would vote low – along with the majority (so far):

Incidentally, I have seen no evidence of Russian interference in the voting.

## Poll – The Hubble Constant: High or Low?

Posted in The Universe and Stuff with tags , on July 17, 2020 by telescoper

Given yesterday’s news from the Atacama Cosmology Telescope, among other things suggesting a low value of the Hubble constant of around 67.6 km s-1 Mpc-1, it might be fun to run another totally unscientific poll about which of the two Hubble constant camps has the most support in the community. The two camps are:

• A high’ value H0 ~ 73.5 ± 1.5 km s-1 Mpc-1 (as favoured by most stellar distance indicators, i.e. local’ measurements).
• A low’ value H0 ~ 67.5 ± 0.5 km s-1 Mpc-1 (as favoured by most cosmological’ estimates, e.g. cosmic microwave background fluctuations).

Of course you might also believe that both are wrong and the true’ result lies outside both error regions but I’d like to focus on these two possibilities, so the question is posed assuming that one of them is right, which one is that most likely to be. In your opinion. Humble or otherwise.

## New Results from the Atacama Cosmology Telescope!

Posted in The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , on July 16, 2020 by telescoper

There’s some excitement in cosmological circles with the announcement of new results from the Atacama Cosmology Telescope, which is situated in the Atacama Desert in Chile. The two papers describing the new results can be found on the arXiv here and here and the data set will be made available here (it is Data Release 4; or DR4 for short).

If you want a laugh, the structure in the above map is on arc-minute scales – exactly the sort of thing I was trying to simulate way back in the 1980s. Here’s an ancient monochrome plot! The contours show 1σ, 2σ and 3σ fluctuations above the mean rather than the full distribution shown in the map above.

The full results will be discussed at a Zoom presentation at 11am Eastern Time (4pm Irish Time). I suspect it will be very busy so you will have to register in advance.

UPDATE: The Webinar is over but was recorded. I will post a link to the video when it is available. You can then guess which question was mine!

The new results from ACTPol are consistent with those from Planck, even down to the colour scheme used for the map, but the line taken by most media presentations I’ve seen (e.g. here and here) has been the issue of the Hubble Constant. The value of around 67.6 km s-1 Mpc-1 obtained by the Atacama Cosmology Telescope, though consistent with Planck measurements, is lower than most distance-scale measurements of H0. The dichotomy between low’ estimates from cosmological observations and high’ values persists.

This gives me an excuse to include my poll again:

There have been nearly a thousand responses so far, with opinion very divided.

The burning question however is when will face masks featuring the above map be made available for purchase? It could be a nice little earner…

## Cosmology Talks – Colin Hill on Early Dark Energy

Posted in The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , , on June 2, 2020 by telescoper

Here is another one of those Cosmology Talks curated on YouTube by Shaun Hotchkiss.

In the talk, Colin Hill explains how even though early dark energy can alleviate the Hubble tension, it does so at the expense of increasing other tension. Early dark energy can raise the predicted expansion rate inferred from the cosmic microwave background (CMB), by changing the sound horizon at the last scattering surface. However, the early dark energy also suppresses the growth of perturbations that are within the horizon while it is active. This mean that, in order to fit the CMB power spectrum the matter density must increase (and the spectral index becomes more blue tilted) and the amplitude of the matter power spectrum should get bigger. In their paper, Colin and his coauthors show that this affects the weak lensing measurements by DES, KiDS and HSC, so that including those experiments in a full data analysis makes things discordant again. The Hubble parameter is pulled back down, restoring most of the tension between local and CMB measurements of H0, and the tension in S_8 gets magnified by the increased mismatch in the predicted and measured matter power spectrum.

The overall moral of this story is the current cosmological models are so heavily constrained by the data that a relatively simple fix in one one part of the model space tends to cause problems elsewhere. It’s a bit like one of those puzzles in which you have to arrange all the pieces in a magic square but every time you move one bit you mess up the others.

The paper that accompanies this talk can be found here.

And here’s my long-running poll about the Hubble tension:

## Hubble Tension in Perspective

Posted in The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , on May 18, 2020 by telescoper

In my office today for the first time in a couple of months I stumbled across a folder containing the notes from the summer school for new Astronomy PhD students I attended in Durham in 1985. Yes, that’s thirty five years ago..

Among the lectures was a set given by Richard Ellis on Observational Cosmology from which I’ve taken this little snippet about the Hubble Constant:

It’s not only a trip down memory lane but also up the cosmological distance ladder! You will see that there were two main estimates, one low and one high. Both turned out to be about three sigma away from the currently-favoured value of around 70.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose…

Does this change your mind about today’s tension between another pair of “low” (67) and “high” (73) values?

## Cosmology Talks: Adam Riess on Cepheid Crowding and the Hubble Tension

Posted in The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , , on May 15, 2020 by telescoper

Here’s another example from the series of cosmology talks being curated by Shaun Hotchkiss. In this one, esteemed astronomer and Nobel Prize winner Adam Riess talks about what he and collaborators considered to be the leading candidate for a systematic error in the SHOES measurement of the expansion rate of the Universe. This is “Cepheid crowding”, the possibility that background sources change our interpretation of Cepheid brightness, ruining one step in the SHOES distance ladder. Riess and collaborators devise a nice way to test whether the crowding is correctly accounted for and find that it is, so crowding cannot be the “explanation” of an error in the distance ladder measurement of H0. Riess also stresses that both the early and late universe measurements of H0 are now backed up by multiple different measurements. Accordingly, if the resolution isn’t fundamental physics, then no single systematic can entirely solve the tension.

P. S. The paper that accompanies this talk can be found on the arXiv here.

## Early Dark Energy and Cosmic Tension

Posted in The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , , on March 19, 2020 by telescoper

To avoid talking any more about you-know-what I thought I would continue the ongoing Hubble constant theme. Rhere is an interesting new paper on the arXiv (by Hill et al.) about the extent to which a modified form of dark energy might relieve the current apparent tension.

The abstract is:

You can click on this to make it bigger; you can also download the PDF here.

I think the conclusion is clear and it may or may not be related to a previous post of mine here about the implications of Etherington’s theorem.

Here’s my ongoing poll on the Hubble constant poll. Feel free to while away a few seconds of your time working from home casting a vote!

## Voids, Galaxies and Cosmic Acceleration

Posted in The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , , , on February 4, 2020 by telescoper

Time for a quick plug for a paper by Nadathur et al. that appeared on the arXiv recently with the title Testing low-redshift cosmic acceleration with large-scale structure. Here is the abstract:

You can make it bigger by clicking on the image. You can download a PDF of the entire paper here.

The particularly interesting thing about this result is that it gives strong evidence for models with a cosmological constant (or perhaps some other form of dark energy), in a manner that is independent of the other main cosmological constraints (i.e. the Cosmic Microwave Background or Type 1a Supernovae). This constraint is based on combining properties of void regions (underdensities) with Baryon Acoustic Oscillations (BAOs) to produce constraints that are stronger than those obtained using BAOs on their own. The data used derives largely from the BOSS survey.

As well as this there’s another intriguing result, or rather two results. First is that the the BAO+voids data from redshifts z<2 gives H0 = 72.3 ± 1.9, while, on the other hand adding, BAO information from the Lyman-alpha forest for from z>2 gives a value H0 = 69 \pm 1.2, favouring Planck over Riess. Once again, the tension’ over the value of the Hubble constant appears to be related to using nearby rather than distant sources.

## More Cosmic Tension?

Posted in The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , , , , , , on November 12, 2019 by telescoper

Quite a lot of fuss was being made in cosmological circles while I was away last week concerning a paper that had just been published in Nature Astronomy by Eleonora Di Valentino, Alessandro Melchiorri and Joe Silk that claims evidence from the Planck Cosmic Microwave background and other data that the Universe might be closed (or at least have positive spatial curvature) in contrast to the standard cosmological model in which the spatial geometry is Euclidean. Nature Astronomy is behind a paywall but the paper is available for free on the arXiv here. The abstract reads:

The recent Planck Legacy 2018 release has confirmed the presence of an enhanced lensing amplitude in CMB power spectra compared to that predicted in the standard ΛCDM model. A closed universe can provide a physical explanation for this effect, with the Planck CMB spectra now preferring a positive curvature at more than 99% C.L. Here we further investigate the evidence for a closed universe from Planck, showing that positive curvature naturally explains the anomalous lensing amplitude and demonstrating that it also removes a well-known tension within the Planck data set concerning the values of cosmological parameters derived at different angular scales. We show that since the Planck power spectra prefer a closed universe, discordances higher than generally estimated arise for most of the local cosmological observables, including BAO. The assumption of a flat universe could, therefore, mask a cosmological crisis where disparate observed properties of the Universe appear to be mutually inconsistent. Future measurements are needed to clarify whether the observed discordances are due to undetected systematics, or to new physics, or simply are a statistical fluctuation.

I think the important point to take from this study is that estimates of cosmological parameters obtained from Planck are relatively indirect, in that they involve the simultaneous determination of several parameters some of which are almost degenerate. For example, the `anomalous’ lensing amplitude discussed in this paper is degenerate with the curvature so that changing one could mimic the effect on observables of changing the other; see Figure 2 in the paper.

It’s worth mentioning another (and, in my opinion, better argued) paper on a similar topic by Will Handley of Cambridge which is on the arXiv here. The abstract of this one reads:

The curvature parameter tension between Planck 2018, cosmic microwave background lensing, and baryon acoustic oscillation data is measured using the suspiciousness statistic to be 2.5 to 3σ. Conclusions regarding the spatial curvature of the universe which stem from the combination of these data should therefore be viewed with suspicion. Without CMB lensing or BAO, Planck 2018 has a moderate preference for closed universes, with Bayesian betting odds of over 50:1 against a flat universe, and over 2000:1 against an open universe.

Figure 1 makes a rather neat point that the combination of Planck and Baryon Acoustic Oscillations does not separately give consistent values for the Hubble constant and the curvature and neither does the combination of Planck and direct Hubble constant estimates:

I don’t know what the resolution of these tensions is, but I think it is a bit dangerous to dismiss them simply as statistical flukes. They might be that, of course, but they also might not be. By shrugging one’s shoulders and ignoring such indications one might miss something very fundamental. On the other hand, in my opinion, there is nothing here that definitely points the finger at spatial curvature either: it is possible that there is something else missing from the standard model that, if included, would resolve these tensions. But what is the missing link?

Answers on a postcard, or through the comments box.