Archive for Nominal

On Nominal

Posted in The Universe and Stuff with tags , on December 26, 2021 by telescoper

Yesterday’s launch of the James Webb Space Telescope reminded me of something I blogged about many years ago. At regular intervals during the launch we heard staff at Mission Control in Kourou saying that everything was “nominal”. As always when wondering about the meaning of words, I searched in the One True Chambers Dictionary, where I found:

nominal, adj relating to or of the nature of a name or noun; of names; by name; only in name; so-called, but not in reality; inconsiderable, small, minor, in comparison with the real value, hardly more than a matter of form…

So was the so-called launch of JWST only in name, but not in reality? Was it faked? Is the telescope real?

That reminds me that years and years ago I had an idea for a crime novel with a plot that revolves around the murder of a prominent cosmologist just as some important scientific discovery is about to be announced. Suspicion gathers that the whole thing is an enormous hoax and the discovery bogus. But the experiment is shrouded in secrecy, and was so expensive that it can’t easily be repeated, so  who can tell, and how?

I wouldn’t put it past some conspiracy theorist to argue that the data from JWST (assuming there is some) is manufactured.

It’s very difficult to know for sure whether any scientific discoveries are genuine or not, even if the data and analysis procedures are made public. There’s always the possibility that everything might have been fabricated or simulated, but in most cases the experiment can be repeated at a later date and the fraud eventually exposed, such as in the Schön Scandal.  In Big Science, this may not be practicable. However, Big Science requires big teams of people and the chances are someone would blow the whistle, or try to…

Anyway, I know that there are people out there who take everything I write on this blog absurdly literally so I’ll spell it out that I am in no way suggesting that the James Webb Space Telescope is a fraud. Or predicting that there’ll be a murder just before the first observations are released. Any similarity purely coincidental and all that. And I’ve never had time to write the book anyway – perhaps a publisher might read this and offer me an advance as an incentive?

Moreover, going back to the Chambers Dictionary, I note the final definition given there and omitted above i

…according to plan (space flight)

So that’s that. Nothing sinister. I’m not sure how “nominal” acquired that meaning, mind you, but that’s another story…