Sunday, February 14, 2016

Some gravity wave skepticism

SciAm curmugeon John Horgan wrote a book about how the big scientific discoveries have already been made, so he tries to throw skepticism about the LIGO gravity wave announcement:

Media coverage of LIGO is remarkably similar to that generated by a previous gravitational-wave announcement. In March 2014, a team overseeing the Background Imaging of Cosmic Extragalactic Polarization observatory, or BICEP2, claimed to have detected gravitational waves produced by inflation, an extremely rapid--and hypothetical—cosmic growth spurt.

The lead BICEP2 researcher, John Kovac, assured The New York Times that “the chance that the results were a fluke was only one in 10 million.” I expressed doubts, saying I wanted “an explanation of why only inflation, and not other more conventional physical phenomena, can account for the gravity-wave findings.” Early in 2015, the BICEP2 researchers withdrew their claim, acknowledging that their observations had been distorted by dust in the Milky Way.

LIGO is just claiming the observation of one event, so far. And that occurred very soon after upgrading to more sensitive equipment.

Now it is 5 months later. Has anything happened since? They are not telling us.
LIGO has cost American taxpayers about $1.1 billion. That is how much the National Science Foundation has spent on the project over the past 40 years, according to the Times.

Chemist Ashutosh Jogalekar, who blogs as Curious Wavefunction, notes that while “the detection of gravitational waves will be a fitting testament to both experimental and theoretical science and the dedication of countless scientists over the years, in one sense it would be utterly unsurprising. That's because it is the logical prediction of a theory that has been around for a hundred years.”

Jogalekar adds that “some sources are already calling the putative finding one of the most important discoveries in physics of the last few decades. Let me not mince words here: if that is indeed the case, then physics is in bad shape.”

In an email to me, a technology scholar was more blunt: “So a 100 year old theory has been confirmed experimentally -- big whup. Did anyone think Einstein was wrong? There wasn't any controversy, was there? Was anyone credible claiming that spacetime isn't curved, or that black holes don't exist?
Chemists must be frustrated that esoteric physics gets all the money and publicity.

If confirmed by subsequent events, this result does plug a gap in our knowledge. We have found star-sized black holes, and giant million-star sized black holes at the nucleus of galaxies. But we had no evidence of medium-sized black holes, or of how they get so big. If the LIGO folks are right, then the black holes get big from collisions emitting detectable gravity waves.

My hunch is that they have not really nailed down the cause of the gravity wave, or told us what they know about other possible events. But we should soon see, as more data and analysis come in.


  1. What about another blind injection possibility? When they did it it worked perfectly. The whole team got fooled.
    The original blind-injection exercises took 18 months and 6 months respectively. The first one was discarded, but in the second case, the collaboration wrote a paper and held a vote to decide whether they would make an announcement. Only then did the blind-injection team ‘open the envelope’ and reveal that the events had been staged.

    The pressure to justify the $200 upgrade of detectors was probably very high.

  2. Yes! There should be far more skepticism at this point! Why did they not wait for a second event?

    The signal came in about 45 minutes after Anamaria and I left,” Schofield said. “If I had been in the control room, I wouldn’t have seen it. It lasted one-tenth of a second. Had I been in the control room an alarm would have sounded, and I could have seen it by looking back at the data. But I was at my motel.”

    LOL! Nobody was watching the machines, computers, and detectors! What security devices were in place to make sure nobody was contaminating the data? Was anyone in the building? Was Elvis there? Were the servers be hacked? Who runs security on the building and servers? Are there logs? And why no replications of the results? Science must be reproducible, or it’s not science!

    LIGO’s one and only “observation” was made while the “researchers” were back at the Motel, after having left LIGO on during an unofficial test run! LOL!

    And the big question is “Hows comes LIGO only detects gravity waves when nobody is watching? LOL LIGO!” Are they going to invoke Schrodinger’s Cat and claim the Nobel for Quantum Gravity too? With all the dozens of LIGO events forecast for each month following that September 2015 “observation,” why was did the only “signal” ever happen when “nobody” was there?

    And too, let us not forget that the LIGO setup was designed with the capability of being intentionally deceived!