Archive for oslo

Cosmology – Confusion on a Higher Level?

Posted in Biographical, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , , on January 19, 2015 by telescoper

I’ve already posted the picture below, which was taken at a conference in Leiden (Netherlands) in 1995. Various shady characters masquerading as “experts” were asked by the audience of graduate students at a summer school to give their favoured values for the cosmological parameters (from top to bottom: the Hubble constant, density parameter, cosmological constant, curvature parameter and age of the Universe).

From left to right we have Alain Blanchard (AB), Bernard Jones (BJ, standing), John Peacock (JP), me (yes, with a beard and a pony tail – the shame of it), Vincent Icke (VI), Rien van de Weygaert (RW) and Peter Katgert (PK, standing). You can see on the blackboard that the only one to get anywhere close to correctly predicting the parameters of what would become the standard cosmological model was, in fact, Rien van de Weygaert.

Well, my excuse for posting this again is the fact that a similar discussion was held at a meeting in Oslo (Norway) at which a panel of experts and Alan Heavens did a similar thing. I wasn’t there myself but grabbed the evidence from facebook:


I’ll leave it as an exercise for the reader to identify the contributors. The 2015 version of the results is considerably more high-tech than the 1995 one, but in case you can’t read what is on the screen here are the responses:


The emphasis here is on possible departures from the standard model, whereas in 1995 the standard model hadn’t yet been established. I’m not sure exactly what questions were asked but I think my answers would have been: 3+1;  maybe; maybe; don’t know but (probably) not CDM; something indistinguishable from GR given current experiments; Lambda; and maybe. I’ve clearly become a skeptic in my old age.

Anyway, this “progress” reminded me of a quote I used to have on my office door when I was a graduate student in the Astronomy Centre at the University of Sussex many years ago:

We have not succeeded in answering all our problems. The answers we have found only serve to raise a whole set of new questions. In some ways we feel we are as confused as ever, but we believe we are confused on a higher level and about more important things.

The attribution of that quote is far from certain, but I was told that it was posted outside the mathematics reading room, Tromsø University. Which is in Norway. Apt, or what?