You might have noticed a deafening silence coming from this obscure stop on the Information Superhighway. It has been more than a month since my previous blog post, which is nearly unheard of for me. I might go a week to two without blogging, but rarely a month! In fact, one of my readers was concerned enough to text me and ask if everything was okay. Yes, everything is fine. I was really, really busy last month finishing up my new book Discovering Design with Chemistry. Things are still on track for it to be released on August 17th, so that’s good. After I got done submitting the final pages of my book to the publisher, my wife and I then left the country for two weeks to celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary, which was actually last year. We had a wonderful time and just got back into the country.
With all that said, I thought I would break the silence with something a bit different – a question to my readers. Since many of you are interested in science, I wonder if you remember back in March of 2014 when it was announced that evidence for inflation, a a necessary fudge factor in the Big Bang Model, had been discovered. Researchers on the BICEP2 experiment supposedly found a polarization pattern in the cosmic microwave background that should have happened as a result of the inflationary process. It was greeted with great media fanfare. For example, Scientific American (which should be more scientific) had an article entitled, “Gravitational Waves from Big Bang Detected.” In it, the author said:
Physicists have found a long-predicted twist in light from the big bang that represents the first image of ripples in the universe called gravitational waves, researchers announced today. The finding is direct proof of the theory of inflation, the idea that the universe expanded extremely quickly in the first fraction of a nanosecond after it was born.
Of course, there were other news outlets that were more responsible, including the fact that the results were tentative and not yet peer reviewed. Nevertheless, the overall coverage made it seem like the research team had confirmed that cosmic inflation really occurred.
A few months after the media storm, I gave a talk at the University of Michigan, and the session is in the YouTube video at the top of this post. I am the second speaker, and I start at 16:30. Don’t worry about watching the entire thing, because the important part for this blog post starts at 48:48, when I am doing my favorite thing, which is taking questions from the audience. Someone asks about the BICEP2 results, and in about three minutes, I explain why I think the data are wrong. I further predict that the data will eventually be shown to be wrong, probably because the experiment did not account for dust properly.
My prediction turned out to be correct. In April of 2015, a definitive paper showed that the BICEP2 result can all be explained by cosmic dust. Now please understand that this wasn’t a hard prediction to make. Indeed, about a month before I answered that question, several astrophysicists had published some data to indicate dust was the cause of the result. Thus, I am not saying there is anything special about my prediction coming true. It was the most likely explanation of the BICEP2 results.
However, I am interested in the second prediction I made. I said that when the BICEP2 data are shown to not provide evidence for inflation, the media attention will be much lower than when the data were thought to provide evidence for inflation. I am not sure that prediction came true. For example, Scientific American, Space.com, and The New York Times later ran stories indicating that the data were not evidence for inflation. Thus, I am wondering what you think.
Had you heard about the BICEP2 results supposedly confirming inflation? If so, did you also hear later that they were shown to not be evidence for inflation? If you followed the story at all, do you think the original result got more, less, or the same amount of coverage as the final result?