Comments of the Week #56: From dark energy's existence to fine-tuning

“Originality is the fine art of remembering what you hear but forgetting where you heard it.” -Laurence J. Peter

This past week was a super busy one on Starts With A Bang, from dark energy to stars to a fabulous book review and more! Just in the last seven days, we’ve looked at:

Plus I wrote a new piece over at Forbes:

You didn't miss a beat, and responded with a huge number of intelligent, thought-provoking comments. Let's take a look at the best of them on our Comments of the Week.

Image credit: The Cosmic Perspective / Jeffrey O. Bennett, Megan O. Donahue, Nicholas Schneider and Mark Voit. Image credit: The Cosmic Perspective / Jeffrey O. Bennett, Megan O. Donahue, Nicholas Schneider and Mark Voit.

From Ben on the topic of dark energy being different from what we thought: "What are the implications of these discoveries on the ultimate fate of the universe, if any?"

It is true: dark energy determines the ultimate fate of the Universe. As the energy density due to matter and radiation drop over time, it's dark energy that remains behind, coming to dominate the future expansion of the Universe. And if supernovae do fall into these two different populations, and that means that the more distant ones are intrinsically fainter, as the new study indicates, what does that mean for the fate of our Universe?

Image credit: Ned Wright, using data from Conley et al. (2011), via http://www.astro.ucla.edu/~wright/sne_cosmology.html. Image credit: Ned Wright, using data from Conley et al. (2011), via http://www.astro.ucla.edu/~wright/sne_cosmology.html.

It doesn't mean that there's no dark energy, or that dark energy is different in nature from what we'd previously thought. What it does mean is that there might be a slightly different ratio of normal+dark matter to dark energy than what we had thought before. If you look at the graph above, the black line describes a matter-dominated Universe, while the blue line describes a dark-energy-dominated Universe, and the purple line described the previous best-fit-Universe that was the combination of matter and dark energy we thought we possessed.

Change those things up a little bit? Say there's a little bit less dark energy than we'd realized? The Universe will be a little closer to the black line, a little farther from the blue line, and possibly have a slightly different slope at the beginning to compensate for the mild differences.

From Russ on dark energy mimics: "Could you expand on what light-dimming things have been considered, and what experiments have been run? It’s something I’ve always wondered about."

The biggest initial discovery, when it came to dark energy, was that these distant supernovae appeared fainter than they ought to, based on their redshift. Now, was this because they were actually farther away than they would have been in a matter-only Universe, indicating that the Universe's expansion has recently entered a more rapid phase? Or was this because something was making them fainter, perhaps causing the light to lose energy or blocking some of that light along the way?

Image credit: A.C. Updike, via http://www.mpe.mpg.de/~pschady/extcurve.html. Image credit: A.C. Updike, via http://www.mpe.mpg.de/~pschady/extcurve.html.

Your light couldn't just get tired, because that would shift the spectrum of the distant stars away from the near-perfect-blackbodies they were observed to be, just as the CMB couldn't be tired light, because its spectrum would disagree with the results from COBE/FIRAS. But what could block the light? It couldn't be normal dust, because dust is better at blocking bluer wavelengths than redder wavelengths, and we were seeing wavelength-independent changes in the light. It couldn't be grey dust (where there are greater densities of larger particles), because while that might solve the wavelength problem, there would be too much of it at high redshifts when the Universe was denser, and the supernovae would get too dim too fast.

The only solution would be to have "replenishing" grey dust, which would result in matter creation as the Universe expanded in the exact proportion needed to block the light in accordance with what's observed. Even that, though, wouldn't be truly wavelength independent, as the supernovae appear to be. So that's what we've ruled out, which is -- realistically -- every physically interesting version of what could be taking some of that light away.

From wereatheist on the great yogurt tragedy: "BTW, I like licking the lid. disgusting human I am :)"

Okay, so maybe the options I gave were a little snarky:

01

But here's the thing, all you lid lickers out there. One day, you're going to have an experience where you go to lick that lid -- and in my case in my youth, it was one of those sturdy Dannon lids -- and you're going to touch your tongue to the very rim of it, to the outside. And you're not going to realize it, and your tongue + the edge of aluminum + force and motion = your mouth filling with blood because you've given yourself the equivalent of a papercut on your tongue.

And then we'll see who's disgusting, and who has no regrets about the 12 extra yogurt molecules they wasted.

Image credit: Vicent Peris (OAUV / PTeam), MAST, STScI, AURA, NASA. Image credit: Vicent Peris (OAUV / PTeam), MAST, STScI, AURA, NASA.

From Alone Joubert on the Sombrero Galaxy: "And what a magnificent Sombrero it is! I was wondering, what is it about this galaxy allows it to have so many stars? As it is much smaller than the Milky Way, I would imagine it to have less stars, and also less matter available to form stars."

Size, you must remember, isn't the only measure of how big something is. And in addition to that, you'd do well to remember how much bigger three dimensions are than just two. Think about it for a moment: what's bigger, a disc galaxy 100,000 light years in diameter, with a thickness of 2,000 light years to its disk? Or a galaxy in the shape of an oblate spheroid that's only 50,000 light years in diameter, but has a short axis of 20,000 light years?

Image credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA; Acknowledgement: Josh Barrington, via http://www.spacetelescope.org/images/potw1505a/. Image credit: ESA/Hubble & NASA; Acknowledgement: Josh Barrington, via http://www.spacetelescope.org/images/potw1505a/.

The galaxy above, NGC 7814, is a good example of another galaxy with both spiral and elliptical components. Which one is more massive? The elliptical, by far. If we assume the same density of stars in the spiral, disk-like part and the elliptical, bulge-like part, even with half the diameter for the elliptical part, is has somewhere between five and seven times the mass of the spiral part. No wonder elliptical galaxies are by far the most massive ones in the Universe!

Its rich merger history, and its ancient, intense star-formation rate is what allowed it to achieve the state is has today.

Image credit: Paul Halpern / Basic Books. Image credit: Paul Halpern / Basic Books.

From Robert Paine on Einstein and Schrodinger: "Wow, Halpern’s book is a thrill ride from cover to cover. I ordered it off amazon last week and didn’t put it down until I had finished reading the riveting chronicles of the feud between Einstein and Schrodinger. I highly recommend that anyone who hasn’t purchased this treasure of a book, does."

You will notice, long-time readers, that I don't review a lot of books here. Why? Because I only review the ones I recommend, and I don't recommend everything I get my hands on. But this was a great combination of informative, interesting, and a compelling read. We all know how the basic story goes -- Einstein and Schrodinger's great accomplishments, followed by them dying without accomplishing anything of note after the 1920s (and really after the 1930s) -- but there's so much more to their stories than that, from things we'd roll our eyes at to things that humanize them. It's worth reading; get your copy here today.

Illustration credit: ESO/L. Calçada. Illustration credit: ESO/L. Calçada.

From Omega Centauri, changing the subject from my post: "I suppose you’ll soon do a blog on the latest ESO (Massey) result, claiming evidence that dark matter interacts with other dark matter?"

Oh, so you maybe didn't get the memo: I'm a contributor at Forbes now, in addition to all the other stuff I'm doing! And my latest piece there...

is that dark matter may not be completely dark. But it probably is: the Massey result is only a 3.3-sigma result, and it only occurs in one group of galaxies, versus the 72 groups they saw null results from. Don't hold your breath on dark matter interactions just yet.

Image credit: E.M. Huff, the SDSS-III team, and the South Pole Telescope team; graphic by Zosia Rostomian. Image credit: E.M. Huff, the SDSS-III team, and the South Pole Telescope team; graphic by Zosia Rostomian.

From Michael Kelsey on the "slicing" problem for BAO: "Is there enough data throughout to do the correlation measurement in slices of z? Or do you assume an expansion history (i.e., some a(t)) which allows you to integrate out the z dependence? Or am I missing something here that makes the angular correlation somehow independent of z?"

First off, this is a real issue. If you want to know how far two galaxies are from one another, you need to know how far apart those distances are in not just two dimensions, but three. Can we do this? You've got to remember three things when it comes to this:

  1. SDSS has measured a great many (>1,000,000) galaxies that can be used for these purposes out to a redshift of around 1, which is huge, and that it measures these redshifts really well.
  2. The maximum peculiar velocities that galaxies usually have -- which means the errors you're going to see from using redshift as a proxy for distance -- is only ~ 1,000 km/s, which corresponds to a distance error of less than 100 Mpc.
  3. We can undo redshift-space distortions via well-studied reconstructions, which means we can take the  large amounts of data that SDSS collects, slice it thin, do our reconstruction, and measure the correlation function in three dimensions.
Image credit: Anderson et al. (2013b), via https://www.sdss3.org/science/boss_publications.php. Image credit: Anderson et al. (2013b), via https://www.sdss3.org/science/boss_publications.php.

We can clearly see the effect of BAOs, what the magnitude of the effect is, what the scale of the effect is, and we can use this information to measure how our standard ruler evolves over time. The data is sufficient to do this, something it could only marginally do thanks to 2dF, but SDSS has really opened up this avenue as a method for truly precision cosmology. And this is so good it's even a better (although complementary) probe of dark energy than supernovae!

Or, as Michael Richmond more succinctly said:

"> Is there enough data throughout to do the correlation measurement in slices of z?

Yes."

Image credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / T. Pyle; Spitzer Space Telescope. Image credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / T. Pyle; Spitzer Space Telescope.

And finally, from Ragtag Media on the fine-tuning question: "“we already know that we live in this Universe, and that it has the properties we observe.”
Yes, but it is an illusion and we cannot peer behind the curtain of the illusion anymore than we can go faster than the speed of light.

Thus philosophy, religion, [etc.] is what we use to bridge the Scientific gap."

There are some people who really believe this: that when you get right down to it, what we experience as reality -- physical existence with all the matter and energy and the laws that govern them -- isn't real. That restricting ourselves to what we can "know" in this Universe is extremely limiting, and must not be the full sum of all that is true. That there's got to be more than this out there, whether there are underlying unobservables that determine what happens here, extra dimensions, or a divine being that governs it all.

Now I won't say that line of reasoning is wrong, but I will say -- from a scientific perspective, when it comes to learning something meaningful about our Universe -- that line of reasoning is irrelevant. You can't learn anything about the Universe, other than coming up with possibilities that cannot be ruled out (and please, don't let this enable you to keep believing in possibilities that have been scientifically ruled out), and in many ways, it can prevent you from recognizing what the true nature of the Universe actually is.

Yes, there is a limit to what we can know from science, but don't allow yourself to fill it with a fiction of certainty. If you cannot know, scientifically, about the physical nature of the Universe, then you don't know at all, and the best you can do is have a non-scientific opinion. Which is fine, but don't pretend you're bridging a gap; you're staring into the great abyss of uncertainty of what lies beyond the cosmos.

Image credit: European Space Agency, NASA, Keren Sharon (Tel-Aviv University) and Eran Ofek (CalTech). Image credit: European Space Agency, NASA, Keren Sharon (Tel-Aviv University) and Eran Ofek (CalTech).

Thanks for a great week, everyone, and see you back here next week for another one!

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Ethan,
Have you done any pieces on the earth’s magnetic field?
I was wondering how our magnetic field could have been powered and sustained for billions of years.

Wiki says earth’s magnetic field has declined 10%-15% in the last 150 years, and 35% in the last 2,000 years: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Earth%27s_magnetic_field#Earliest_appearan…

See also http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2545465/Forget-global-wa…

By See Noevo (not verified) on 18 Apr 2015 #permalink

Yeah, right.

I think it would be a very interesting topic. I have even read about there being evidence that the earth's magnetic field has reversed several times. Is this true? If so, what could such a drastic change to take place?

By Monique 15028382 (not verified) on 19 Apr 2015 #permalink

yes the poles flip and are due to flip in the near future.

By Ragtag Media (not verified) on 19 Apr 2015 #permalink

@See Noevo #1: If you really have any interest in the science, you might start with the Wikipedia article on "dynamo", and follow some of the relevant links provided there.

If you don't understand how the Earth's outer core has remained liquid (and electrically conductive), and really have any interest in the science, you may want to look up information on the following:
-- primordial radioisotopes (Al-26 being the most significant)
-- phase diagram for iron (pressure-temperature relations)
-- thermal conductivity of olivine and basalt
As the Earth's core slowly cools, the solid inner core grows at the expense of the liquid outer core, at a present-day rate of roughly 1 mm per year.

By Michael Kelsey (not verified) on 19 Apr 2015 #permalink

Michael, the link See Nowt gave includes information on the dynamo, but all it wanted to point out was how it's been dropping by maybe a third for 2000 years, therefore "it must have started 6000 years ago! The BIBLE!" was the intended conclusion.

IOW, more godbotherer BS.

Michael:

@See Noevo #1: If you really have any interest in the science, you might start with the Wikipedia article...

If he really had an interest in science, he would've read the entire article which he himself cited, because it talks about the magnetic field having been around for at least 3.5 billion years. But since that doesn't accord with his YECism, he selectively quotes only that part of a fairly reasonable and mainstream Wikipedia entry to make it sound like the magnetic field data indicates a geologically short-time-period linear decay. Because, y'know, nothing says good scholarship like taking quotes from one paragraph of a Wikipeida article while completely ignoring the paragraph immediately before it.

"I was wondering, what is it about this galaxy allows it to have so many stars? As it is much smaller than the Milky Way, I would imagine it to have less stars, and also less matter available to form stars.”

The images of the galaxies taken from the Hubble space telescope are truly beautiful. However, is in not true that the size of a galaxy's centre affect its gravitational strength and therefore, the number of stars it may have?

By u15063242 (not verified) on 20 Apr 2015 #permalink

To eric #7:

I’m well aware of the scientific statements about billions of years and of that wiki paragraph.

However, my QUESTION was HOW our magnetic field could have been POWERED and SUSTAINED for billions of years, given the alleged significant and recent declines in the field’s strength.

You haven't answered. And neither has Michael.

By See Noevo (not verified) on 20 Apr 2015 #permalink

No, your QUESTION was "Have you done any pieces on the earth’s magnetic field?"

You then added another then leapt to a stupid conclusion by this appeal to the Daily Hate Mail:

Forget-global-warming-worry-MAGNETOSPHERE-Earths-magnetic-field-collapsing-affect-climate-wipe-power-grids.html

IOW *at best* you were running a troll event.

We haven't answered your questions because you don't seem to have bothered with anything substantive that you couldn't otherwise read yourself on the same damn link you provided.

However, my QUESTION was HOW our magnetic field could have been POWERED and SUSTAINED for billions of years, given the alleged significant and recent declines in the field’s strength.

Answer: it is not a linear decay over time but rather a cyclical phenomenon. This is discussed and the data for it is given in your own citation. HERE it is again in case you missed it.

Even though we have data that shows it to be cyclical (again, from your own citation), for some perverse reason you've decided to ignore 99% of the data and predict all future behavior based on only the slope from the last few thousand years.

Eric, sn isn't ignoring things: he is flat out lying. That is how he operates.

@See Noevo #7: You didn't ask any questions of us. As both eric and Wow have noted, you asked _Ethan_ whether he had written any blog posts on Earth's magnetic field (presumably because you're either too stupid, too lazy, or too afraid of knowledge to use the search box yourself).

You then posted an IDiotic [capitalization deliberate] cherry-picked factoid from Wikipedia, including a link to _precisely_ the detailed information that refutes your barely concealed antiscientific inference. Clearly, you're too much of an IDiot to notice that.

By Michael Kelsey (not verified) on 20 Apr 2015 #permalink

The Earth's magnetic field is actually generated constantly inside it's core. The flow of liquid iron in the outer core generates electric currents, which in turn produce magnetic fields. Charged metals passing through these fields go on to create electric currents of their own, and so the cycle continues. This self-sustaining loop is known as the geodynamo. Now you know how the Earth's magnetic field is sustained.

By u15009565 (not verified) on 20 Apr 2015 #permalink

This issue seems about as “settled” as man-made global warming. Wiki says “The Earth's magnetic field is BELIEVED TO BE generated by electric currents in the conductive material of its core, created by convection currents due to heat escaping from the core. However the process is complex, and computer MODELS that reproduce SOME of its features have ONLY been developed in the LAST FEW DECADES.”

This abstract acknowledges multiple theories (e.g. “the ‘hidden’ reservoir alternative”) and mysteries regarding the magnetic engine (“… supplying a substantial part of the ‘MISSING’ heat source for the geodynamo.”).
http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v520/n7547/full/nature14350.html

Where are you, Ethan?

By See Noevo (not verified) on 20 Apr 2015 #permalink

So sn, you're upset because not everything is known about how the field is generated, and you're upset because the theories are new(ish)?

No, of course not: you are faking upset because things aren't as completely "explained" as saying "spirit in the sky" is responsible. Your refusual to acknowledge MIchael, Eric, or Wow, gives away your motives (as if your dishonest posts on other sites hadn't already).

But, just to see what you will find to misrepresent:

http://apps.usd.edu/esci/creation/age/content/creationist_clocks/magnet…

To dean #15:

“Likewise, scientists will need to continue their research of the dynamo model until the mysterious energy source is identified. If they can discern the source, they will move one step closer to verifying their model; if they cannot identify it, they will need to turn to other models for answers.”

And they’ll have to explain how that mysterious energy source keeps firing for 3.5 billion years.

By See Noevo (not verified) on 20 Apr 2015 #permalink

And they’ll have to explain how that mysterious energy source keeps firing for 3.5 billion years.

Yep, they will. That's what science is all about: figuring out how to explain phenomenon we can't yet explain.

But I'm glad you accept that the earth has existed and had a magnetic field for 3.5 billion years. Progress!

"This issue seems about as “settled” as man-made global warming"

and again this problem is in your head, SeeNowt.

Oh, and faithiests like yourself have faith and belief in god, a complete fiction. Sane people have no faith and belief doesn't mean the same thing.

Yes sn, you found the key point. Scientists will have to keep working and thinking to find the explanation. Those seem to be two things beyond your will and probably your ability, hence your fallback "that seems complicated, so a spirit is responsible" position . It keeps you from having to learn anything too.

It should also be noted that this is not the first time sn has attempted to portray scientific research and the search for understanding as a bad thing. He made a comment on another post that people shouldn't study things simply for the sake of learning things, and that study should only be for things that have immediate appication.
It's almost as though he doesn't want people to be able to think and end up realizing that creationism is a steaming pile of crap. His protests only make his claims to have attended two elite universities more laughable.

Here is how the resident creationist troll sees the value of research and knowledge:

I don’t buy the argument that it’s just to learn. Nobody advocates, or should advocate, spending untold man-years and billions of dollars just to learn more about something that has no impact on our daily lives.
Whatever could be the purpose?

Yup - everything he needs to know was written down by goat herders a couple thousand years ago and only been updated when the men at the top of the religious power structure wanted it tweaked.

@21: I don't mind when governments make budget prioritizations based on expected practical value. They are caretakers of public funds, they should spend it on improving the concrete, measurable prosperity of their citizens. The trap we need to avoid, however, is discounting anything expected to have significant long-term value because it doesn't yield a short-term benefit. Basic research is in the 'long term value' class. Another frustrating thing (for nonscientists) about research funding is that it is somewhat stochastic: you can't always predict whether money spent in a certain research area will yield a discovery, and even when you can have a reasonable expectation that it will, you can't predict which research project will be the most fruitful. But the seed analogy works well: since you can't know which seeds will germinate, you buy enough to ensure a good crop even knowing that some of them fail. And you try to never ever eat your seed corn (i.e., spend your basic research funding on more immediate needs).

I don’t mind when governments make budget prioritizations based on expected practical value. They are caretakers of public funds, they should spend it on improving the concrete, measurable prosperity of their citizens.

Just to be clear, however, sn's position is that funding should NEVER go where there is no immediate, clearly applicable, described result.

To dean #24:
You appear to have better records than me of my comments on these blogs. Would you please provide the link to the blog from which you say you’re quoting me? I’d like to see the full quote and context.

I THINK it was about the $13 billion scientists have spent at the CERN to find the Higgs Boson. I think all significant expenditures of time and money – in science and out – warrant cost-benefit analysis. And I question the LEVEL of expenditures for a SPECIFIC result (i.e. finding a Higgs Boson) which has no known applicable benefit in the foreseeable future.

I am not against general research (i.e. research with no specified result or benefit foreseen), per se. However, expenditures for such general research must be weighed against the multitude of other expenditures desired. I worked for 25 years for major companies which spent millions on general research, along with greater millions on “applied” research.

Bottom-line, I think your statement that “sn’s position is that funding should NEVER go where there is no immediate, clearly applicable, described result” is FALSE.

Please provide the link to the quote.

By See Noevo (not verified) on 21 Apr 2015 #permalink

SeeNowt, not what you said before.

Dean recalls far more correctly than you.

Really sn? What I posted was a direct quote from you? Now you are lying and saying you never said it? Unbelievable.

The asinine comments (some as in the ones I referred to earlier: I know all of them are asinine) were made in
Cosmology in the 21st Century (Synopsis), a post from February of this year.

It will be telling to see how he lies to explain what he meant isn't what he said. But again, that's how he is.

A lot of the benefit to society is in perfecting the engineering necessary to build large experiments and in creating a body of experts to apply that knowledge elsewhere. Spending money on science also helps to increase aggregate demand which more countries need to do in order to reach full employment. Science investments provide the research for advanced technologies necessary to prevent secular stagnation.

Eric is arguing that we need an index fund of science investments since it is impossible to know what undiscovered phenomena will create future economic industries. The money spent on high energy physics may be small compared to the total investments in science. The funding for multiple cancer research labs combined over the lifetime of their research may be many times more expensive than CERN. Without funding for this one project there would be no reason for anyone to pursue high energy physics and eventually the high energy physics tribal knowledge would be lost. Of what use is a new born baby?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proton_therapy

By Trolling Boat … (not verified) on 21 Apr 2015 #permalink

Eric is arguing that we need an index fund of science investments since it is impossible to know what undiscovered phenomena will create future economic industries.

"Index fund" seems unnecessarily obtuse or abstract, given that a far more simple and accurate description is: a broad-based basic research portfolio. But okay, yeah, I kinda agree with the above.

The money spent on high energy physics may be small compared to the total investments in science. The funding for multiple cancer research labs combined over the lifetime of their research may be many times more expensive than CERN. Without funding for this one project there would be no reason for anyone to pursue high energy physics and eventually the high energy physics tribal knowledge would be lost. Of what use is a new born baby?

I have no idea how you got THAT from my post.

SN:

I THINK it was about the $13 billion scientists have spent at the CERN to find the Higgs Boson.

I believe $13Bn is about the cost to build the facility and detectors, which will do a lot more than just one experiment. Its a large facility that will perform useful science for many experimental groups for decades to come.

Besides which, I don't see how you have any warrant to complain about it, given that the US was not part of the international partnership that built it and we contributed only a few tens of millions of dollars (a few tens of millions is 0.01% of our Defense budget. About as much as DHS spent on uniforms in 2013). Complaining about how other countries spend their money on science makes as little sense as complaining that some private sector venture capitalist isn't spending their money the way you wish they would.

To dean:
Thanks for directing me to the blog from which you quoted me. I should have remembered that one, because I started the comments there (and had the last comment as well). http://scienceblogs.com/startswithabang/2015/02/03/cosmology-in-the-21s…

Today I enjoyed re-reading the posts there.

The quote in question was taken from this post of mine, [[ ]] below in its entirety:
[[Eric #16 says “…we continue to use the best available explanations for phenomena to guide our studies and help us make decisions, untill better explanations come along.”
His citing of “help us make decisions” brought to mind two questions:
First
“Help us make decisions” about what? Are these decisions that will have any practical impact our daily lives?
Second
Related to the First, what is the purpose of MODERN cosmology?
OLD cosmology, even ancient cosmology, at least had practical benefits for navigation and tide and temperature predictions.
But what’s the purpose of modern cosmology?

I don’t buy the argument that it’s just to learn. Nobody
advocates, or should advocate, spending untold man-years and billions of dollars just to learn more about something that has no impact on our daily lives.
Whatever could be the purpose?]]

I stand by my comment. General learning and exploration is one thing. Earlier I noted I’m OK with general or basic research, provided it’s properly prioritized with more urgent, applied research.

But you’ll note that the context of the quote was in a discussion of MODERN cosmology. And I think much of modern cosmology is bordering on, if not completely engulfed in, science fiction (e.g. multiverse theory). I asked :“Whatever could be the purpose [of, say, promoting multiverse theory]?” A Sinisa Lazarek later responded: “… [modern cosmology] showed us that there is nothing “godly” out there…”

And I responded: “I think you’re getting warmer.”

By See Noevo (not verified) on 22 Apr 2015 #permalink

"I stand by my comment. General learning and exploration is one thing. Earlier I noted I’m OK with general or basic research, provided it’s properly prioritized with more urgent, applied research."

That's not what you said. What a tremendously bold liar you show yourself to be.

"And I responded: “I think you’re getting warmer.”

Yes, you never miss a moment to display your ignorance.

“Help us make decisions” about what? Are these decisions that will have any practical impact our daily lives?

Today? Probably not. In the future? Yes probably. It is extremely rare for basic research to discover something of immediate practical value. That's kind of why we call it "basic," because we don't expect it to do that. Applications tends to lag basic science discoveries by several decades, but basic science IS where applied science gets its 'grist for the mill.' Don't do the basic science, and your applied science stops and dies a few decades later.

So for a cosmological example, Chandreskar and Bethe and others developed the nuclear fusion model of how the sun works in the 1930s. Was this useful for anything? No, not at the time. But now we can use it to understand and characterize sunspots and solar flares, which can have an impact on satellite performance and (in potentially really bad cases) major impacts on the global infrastructure and economy.

Another example: Boyle discovered his famous law in 1660. Hooke was publishing on (what we now call) thermodynamics around the same time. But the first "lab demonstration" of a refrigerator didn't occur until the mid 1700s and the first commercial model didn't come out until the early to mid 1800s. Was Boyle's law immediately useful to the 'Irishman on the street'? No. Did it have an impact on people's daily lives eventually? I would say yes, a very profound impact. Wouldn't you?

I'll note now with irony that the pharmaceutical companies spend a higher percent of their R&D budget on basic research than the government does. The market has spoken, SN: your government is not overspending on basic research, its underspending on it. If you want greater 'prosperity for the people' coming out of science, the problem is not that the government spends too much on basic research and not enough on applied research, but the opposite.

Though the marketing budget of the pharma corps is much bigger than their R&D budget.

Some of that going to "advertising" (i.e. telling doctors to use their new stuff, not the old crap which is becoming a generic).

To eric #34:
“So for a cosmological example, Chandreskar and Bethe and others developed the nuclear fusion model of how the sun works in the 1930s. Was this useful for anything? No, not at the time.”

We have always OBSERVED the sun and been affected by its activity, and it’s only natural for the ever-inquisitive human beings to wonder how it keeps going. And it would also be reasonable, even in the 1930s, to hypothesize that we could learn some things about the sun which might be applied to the ways we humans generate power and heat on earth and also to how we might better predict temperature changes. So, I would have no issue with the research of these guys, even if I was alive back then.

“Another example: Boyle discovered his famous law in 1660. Hooke was publishing on (what we now call) thermodynamics around the same time. But the first “lab demonstration” of a refrigerator didn’t occur until the mid 1700s …”

As in the first example, we have always OBSERVED thermodynamics (per M-W: “physics that deals with the mechanical action or relations of heat”) and been affected by its properties, and it’s only natural for the ever-inquisitive human beings to want to learn more about it. And it would also be reasonable, even in 1660, to hypothesize that we could learn some things about thermodynamics which might be applied to the ways we try to control heat.

No one, myself included, expects, say, useful consumer products, to result immediately from such scientific research. Everyone, myself included, knows that the passage of often significant amounts of time comes in between a discovery and an application of the discovery.

“I’ll note now with irony that the pharmaceutical companies spend a higher percent of their R&D budget on basic research than the government does.”

Do you think those pharmaceutical companies are hoping for basic research discoveries which will benefit the steel industry or the clothing industry or any industry other than the one which pushes drugs?

Fortunately, your examples this time didn’t include your “The theory of evolution gives you better and more effective flu vaccines.” http://scienceblogs.com/startswithabang/2015/02/03/cosmology-in-the-21s…
Probably the silliest statement from that blog.

What, if anything, might be gained from all the time PhDs spend on “multiverse theory”?

By See Noevo (not verified) on 22 Apr 2015 #permalink

"We have always OBSERVED the sun and been affected by its activity"

We wouldn't know how or why, though, if you were in charge.

Hell, if you or your like were in charge, we'd still be worshipping the bastard as a god and sacrificing people to it.

"What, if anything, might be gained from all the time PhD's spend on "multiverse theory" ",

You've missed the point (probably intentionally). The answer to your question is the same as the answer to "what, if anything, might be gained from a clearer elucidation of the relationship between the volume and pressure of a gas sample" at the time that research on the question was being done. Answer: we don't know, and we cannot know right now. It may be nothing will come of it. It may be that the next great technological advance may come from it. We don't know right now, but that's not a reason to quit doing basic research.

You have pooh-poohed every example of basic research that has been pointed out to you to have turned out to be of practical value by saying that "it's something that we observed anyhow". Well, haven't we always observed and theorized about the universe? Isn't that really what multiverse theory is all about, just another theory about the structure of the universe? What is so different about multiverse theory vs any of the other basic research examples? The only difference is that we, with hindsight, can see where the other examples of basic research ended up being of benefit. We cannot yet see what the benefit of research into multiverse theory will be.

If you're honest, though, you would admit that the real problem you have with things like multiverse theory is that you believe it's encroaching upon your religious belief, not with any lack of practical utility. That points to a weak faith, IMO. If your religious belief is correct, then ALL scientific advances should be perfectly harmonious with your beliefs. If they are not, then perhaps it is your religious belief that needs to change. That has happened in the past, albeit slowly, even just within the context of Catholic belief. The Catholic Church is no longer committed to the belief that the earth is the center of the universe, for instance, based on the scientific advances of Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, and Newton.

I think Sean T's general response covers my opinion, so I will limit this one to specific points:
1. Some of the oldest "technology" humanity has is astronomical, so as Sean T. says, your defense of these other scientific investments ("we have always observed...") applies directly to astronomy and its related sciences. If "we've always looked at the sun" justifies spending money to develop modern solar theory, then stonehenge certainly justifies expenditures in cosmology.
2. I don't understand what point you're trying to make about pharmaceutical companies. Yes they review basic research proposals and select the ones they think are most promising/most likely to help them achieve their goals. Governments do exactly the same thing: what do you think the NSF, NIH, and various DOD review boards do? Are you under the mistaken impression that they hand out money willy-nilly, with no consideration given to a research proposal's likely outcome?
3. Yes, the TOE has lead to many useful products and practical benefits. See here for examples. Or just read Your Inner Fish, it discusses how the TOE assists with medical training and medicine in more detail than that reference, but still in an approachable way for the layperson.

Probably the silliest statement from that blog.

Nobody says anything sillier (or more sad) than you sn.

To Sean T #38:
Me: “What, if anything, might be gained from all the time PhD’s spend on “multiverse theory”?”
You: “Well, haven’t we always observed and theorized about the universe? Isn’t that really what multiverse theory is all about, just another theory about the structure of the universe?”

No it is not. We have never observed nor experienced any effects of any other universe than our own.

“What is so different about multiverse theory vs any of the other basic research examples?”

It’s like the difference between spending billions on unicorn theory and spending billions on basic pharmaceutical research.

To eric #39:
“I don’t understand what point you’re trying to make about pharmaceutical companies. Yes they review basic research proposals and select the ones they think are most promising/most likely to help them achieve their goals. Governments do exactly the same thing: what do you think the NSF, NIH, and various DOD review boards do? Are you under the mistaken impression that they hand out money willy-nilly, with no consideration given to a research proposal’s likely outcome?”

They better not be. But given this gobbling government goliath, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if they DID give out research money “willy-nilly”. In fact, many examples can be found of grants of government funding for outrageously stupid “research” (http://freebeacon.com/issues/feds-wonder-why-fat-girls-cant-get-dates/).

How should the funders review basic research proposals on “multiverse theory” and how would they select the ones they think are most promising/most likely to help them achieve their goals? What would those goals be?

To dean #40:
Eric: “The theory of evolution gives you better and more effective flu vaccines.” http://scienceblogs.com/startswithabang/2015/02/03/cosmology-in-the-21s…
Me: “Probably the silliest statement from that blog.”
You: “Nobody says anything sillier (or more sad) than you sn.”

I can think of three reasons why eric’s statement was silly:
1)Both the antiobiotic/vaccine-resistant bacteria/flu and the antiobiotic/vaccine-susceptible bacteria/flu are… hold on….. bacteria/flu. No evolution.
2)Antibiotic resistance predates antibiotics. This is well-known in the science community. Recent story: http://news.sciencemag.org/biology/2015/04/resistance-antibiotics-found… .
3)Evolution has provided exactly zero practical benefit to mankind. Exactly zero scientific/medical breakthroughs required a belief in evolution. And exactly zero science discoveries have proven evolution, or even provided evidence beyond a reasonable doubt.

By See Noevo (not verified) on 23 Apr 2015 #permalink