Friday, June 02, 2017

Cosmic inflation is no politics

...despite some nasty people's efforts to change that...

Some two or three weeks ago, we followed the inflationary wars. A bunch of famous cosmologists and physicists has explained why they found the inflationary cosmology attractive and likely. I explained a simple reason why the criticisms of inflation are silly (see Mitchell's concise summary that was unsurprisingly censored at Not Even Wrong because it made sense) and we looked how the journalists have responded to all these exchanges.

Most of the journalists had a detectable anti-inflation bias. But in Nautilus, Amanda Gefter dared to write a sophisticated, entertaining, and sensible pro-inflation article yesterday. The subtitle said that she would explain why the majority of physicists are on the pro-inflation side. Well, that was courageous. (The article is fun and starts with a record fast SLAC biking of an excited 32-year-old Guth; and Linde's waking up of his wife at night while saying that he knew how the Universe began. Gefter has gotten a good TRF press in the past, too.) She has explained lots of things, e.g. why it's utterly silly to expect that a paradigm in science must be easily falsifiable as a whole; or why numerical calculations showed by 2015 that inflation is almost guaranteed to start, even from generic crumpled initial conditions. Crackpots have immediately labeled the article politically incorrect and blasphemous.

The prominent and stuttering crackpot Peter Woit has described these exchanges as multiverse politics. Well, there are at least two problems with this title: the word "multiverse" and the word "politics" (and also their combination). A great majority of the inflationary topics that are discussed and researched by the scientists themselves have nothing to do with the multiverse; and the multiverse let alone inflationary cosmology has nothing to do with politics. The ludicrous claims that the explanations by Guth, Linde, and others are "politics" become particularly comical when Woit offers you an example. Guth discusses the inflationary prediction that the total charge and angular momentum of the Universe has to be zero. Well, inflation is not the only reason to think so but at any rate: What sort of garbage do you have to store in your skull to call similar ideas "politics"?

What happened was that Steinhardt and 2 co-authors have (repeatedly) expressed their (negative) opinion about inflation in the press. No one has ever said that he didn't have the right to express it. But just like Steinhardt and pals, more achieved physicists such as Guth, Linde, ... (and in the signature section) Hawking, Weinberg, Witten, Randall, and others surely have at least the same freedom of speech to talk about the field that has made them famous, don't they? What's political about it except that science is done by the people and they sometimes disagree? Why would you introduce this word at all?

OK, what's the answer? Why is Guth's comment about the total charge of the Universe presented as politics?
Woit: One way to interpret this claim is just that 33 is more than 3, but the reason for this is clear: while Guth, Kaiser, Linde and Nomura decided to go on a political campaign, drumming up signatures on their letter, Ijjas, Loeb and Steinhardt didn’t do this, but instead put together a website discussing the scientific issues.
The only person who tried to make a big deal out of the 33/3 ratio was Woit himself. The 33 people (only 4 of which consider themselves authors of the letter) simply signed the letter because they agreed with it but they didn't want to spend time and consume space in the media by writing their own texts. Many such folks are surely talking about this media war surrounding their field – much like many people in Berlin as well as Moscow talked about the war in 1942. What's the sin here? Ijjas et al. didn't do it because they're so great, we hear, and they do the science instead. Well, that's funny because the 33 signatories do much more science, even on the per-capita basis, than the 3.

But they could have easily gotten similar 33 names if not more, we're basically told. Oh, really? Who are they? Basically every theorist (and most experimenters) I know who has ever achieved something nontrivial in cosmology and related fields considers the cosmic inflation important and likely. If you collect 33 names of theoretical physicists whose names (or the names of one-half of them) sound at least comparable to Guth, Linde, Hawking, Weinberg, Witten, Randall, Maldacena, Wilczek, who are the opposing 33? You might collect some 33 signatures but every sensible person will understand that they're not in the same league as Guth, Linde, Hawking, Witten, Randall, Maldacena, and Wilczek, among others. At any rate, these exchanges are purely academic because it hasn't even happened.

The numbers of people are irrelevant. Science isn't about the counting of numbers and consensuses. What's important is that crackpots like Peter Woit would love to hide the very fact that the top cosmologists and physicists in the world – whom many people, even the laymen, know (because of independent reasons) – simply consider inflation important and likely. He's been lying to the stupid filth that keeps on visiting his website for some 15 years and he hysterically fights against every event that proves that he is a liar.

Concerning the wonderful geniuses who don't like inflation, who are they?
My anecdotal data is that the majority of those I’ve ever talked to about this don’t think the Guth-Linde multiverse claims are science, but don’t see any reason to waste their time arguing with pseudo-science.
That's great anecdotal data. Would the dear crackpot kindly tell us at least one name? He surely could – there are about 7 billion people in the world who either find the cosmic inflation unimportant or false or, more likely, don't have a clue what it is ;-) – but naming an example wouldn't be good for Mr Woit because everyone could see that they're intellectual zeroes – mostly piles of worthless stuff or trolls similar to Mr Woit himself. Physicists aren't created equal. Later, a commenter named Louis Wilbur mentions some of these names of "critics of inflation", e.g. "Kohli and Haslam" (that a troll tried to oversell on Wikipedia). You haven't heard of these names, have you? Surely you didn't think that those were in the same league as Witten, Maldacena, and Hawking, did you?

There are controversial papers mentioning the multiverse and I surely think that many of them are wrong but the multiverse seems to be implied by – or, if you take the real-world perspective, physically produced by – the cosmic inflation. Or at least by some (widespread) types of it. So if your theory predicts that something rather large and well-defined is created, you should better talk about it. Cosmologists simply have to talk abut the multiverse at some moment because it's a possibility, an object that may exist or not and whose existence has some evidence for and against etc. To suggest that they should treat the concept as a taboo because some crackpot has declared it "non-science" is utterly idiotic. Questions about it obviously are scientific. In fact, it's a duty for every theoretical cosmologist (or at least "every principal investigator in a sufficiently fundamental and broad research project") to address this concept or hypothesis.

The commenters represent quite a gallery of nuts, too. The first anonymous one starts by postulating that the whole defense of inflation is an effort to secure the Nobel prize for Guth and Linde. So Steinhardt must clearly be a supporter because he and his 2 co-authors started this campaign. Now, is it true or not? What can I know and why should I care? I know that both Guth and Linde consider inflation to be an established theory, they think that they deserve the Nobel prize, they are modest and not talking about it, but they wouldn't reject the prize. And the rest of the cosmologists and theoretical physicists may be split, perhaps 50-50. Some evidence supporting inflation exists, including some rather new and detailed one. Some evidence that could have existed hasn't emerged. Some evidence is likely to never emerge etc. Meanwhile, sociologically, it's obvious that inflation has conquered most of the research in theoretical cosmology since 1980 – almost four decades.

It's a complicated situation. But there has been not a single sentence about the Nobel prize in those articles so why would someone bring this pure speculation as a key topic to the discussion? When you will try to decide whether the total charge of a patch is zero, will you think about Stockholm? Do you really think that this is a way to think intelligently, honestly, and scientifically? The validity of an inflationary model or its prediction has nothing to do with someone's desire to get a Nobel prize or take it away from someone else. This is an effort to politicize cosmology – but only Woit and the individuals visiting his distasteful website are doing it.

Another anonymous member of the "gallery" wrote:
I must say, I find something rather disappointing about major scientists trying so hard to defend their pet theories.
What should they do? If Guth and Linde think that inflation is right, basically established, but underestimated by others, should they criticize it instead? Wage jihad against inflation? Distribute their Milner prizes among the critics? What the hell are you talking about? Of course if an honest scientist thinks that some idea is true and/or important, he will say so. The term "pet theory" is just a lame demagogic attempt to mock the theory. But the theory is important and much more than a "pet".

Another reader, Adam, wrote:
Reducing “physicists” to “string theorists” and affiliated is quite tiring, but I guess this is just usual business in pop science…
Except that no one has reduced physicists to string theorists and pals. There have just been articles and exchanges among cosmologists, string theorists, and people like that, which talk about the fundamental laws of the Universe. Other physicists may be uninterested in all such questions but that makes them irrelevant for these exchanges – and perhaps irrelevant for the broader picture as well because this kind of cosmology and theoretical physics is clearly more fundamental for the big picture than some physics of the intermediate scales etc.

(Some commenter has pointed out that it's an admission of guilt if some physicists boast that they're not interested in fundamental physical questions but that comment was erased because it made sense, just like Mitchell's comment that was also erased.)

Another amazing idiot visiting Woit's website, RP, wrote:
I am just a mathematician who is somewhat versed in the philosophy of science, but I do wonder: Does it makes sense to classify a statement X as a ‘testable prediction’ if the verification of X depends on scientists, at some point in time, becoming ‘convinced that the universe has a nonzero density of electric charge or angular momentum’? Clearly we are not talking about things which are ‘directly measurable’, in any reasonable sense of the expression.

The whole idea behind falsifiability is that scientific theories should be answerable to nature in as direct a way as possible, so certainly without the interference of other theories...
You're not just a mathematician, RP. You are a mathematician as well as a complete idiot. Of course the total value of a charge or anything like that in some region of the Universe is a prediction just like any other prediction. Almost all predictions in natural science – all of sciences – are analogous to that.

"The whole idea behind falsifiability" can be anything but what you must have overlooked, Mr RP, is that all the people using this "falsifiability" buzzword in discussions that should be about the science instead are stupid clueless šitheads. Scientific theories should be falsifiable in principle – and it's enough if only a specific model with all the details is falsifiable in principle.

The idea that whole classes or general ideas must be falsifiable as a whole, i.e. collectively eradicated, is absolutely ludicrous. Some classes of models may be falsified as a whole but many others clearly can't. In particular, classes of models that actually include the correct one will never be falsified. Also, it's absolute nonsense that the falsification should be "as direct as possible". The actual progress in physics goes exactly in the opposite direction. While we may prefer more direct methods to compare theories and the empirical data, the actual trend obviously implies that the connections are increasingly indirect.

Galileo could have said something about Jupiter's moons. People would like to look at things with their naked eyes. But you can't see those moons. So he improved a telescope and saw the moons. The church found the telescope observations too indirect (and therefore potentially untrustworthy or "not scientific enough") but after some year or so, they stopped with these insane criticisms. But in the subsequent centuries, the observations got much more indirect than just the usage of telescopes and microscopes. The LHC is studying the interaction constants describing the Higgs boson and other particles by seeing some energy deposited by completely different particles, such as photons, in the LHC detectors, and this data has to be statistically analyzed – quadrillions of collisions – to say something about the underlying laws of physics. But there are arguably many more cheaper experiments that test theoretical ideas much more indirectly than the LHC. Even the LIGO is a good enough example. When you listen to the gravitational wave, you have to build L-shaped vacuumed tunnels with laser beams and look at some interference pattern. Why don't you just directly listen to the gravitational waves using your ears? Well, you just can't. So you must use the LIGO tunnels as an "amplifier" and this amplifier involves many additional physical phenomena governed by laws that people must have discovered, described, and validated.

You might want things to be direct because you're a stupid and lazy peabrain, Mr RP, but this wishful thinking doesn't have to be guaranteed by Nature for spoiled brats like you. To think that when things become harder and require more thinking, more indirect chains, more complicated and more expensive experiments, it ceases to be science and should be banned, is something that only a pile of feces shaped to the form resembling a human being may believe. Indeed, the trend has obviously been going in the opposite direction for many centuries – theories, experimental devices, as well as their connections are increasingly complex, structured, and indirect. Don't you like it? Just move to a different multiverse where these common sense trends don't exist. But don't occupy the volume of our multiverse that was created rather easily because inflation exponentially expanded the volume – but we may still have a finite volume available for all of us and you're just blocking 100 liters that could be exploited more effectively.

Another troll named atreat told us:
In the linked article, the Linde-Guth side argue that inflation is not really a theory, but rather a “class of models, a sweeping principle, a paradigm” containing a multitude of testable models. As I understand it, Linde-Guth do not disagree with Steinhardt that inflation can support any/all outcomes. Yet, they want to take credit for only those models which have continued to survive nature’s verdict. They say the, “key is to figure out which model of inflation is right,” but why must one of them be right? ...
Yes, inflation is a wide enough framework with lots of detailed activity within its territory. But that doesn't make it unscientific, it makes it grand and important, just like Asia isn't doomed just because of its large territory.

Also, Guth and Linde may take some credit for all models of inflation, including the wrong ones. The only subtlety is that if a model of inflation is known to be both wrong and otherwise uninteresting, its value or the value of the credit you may get for it is close to zero so it doesn't matter whether you take credit for it or not.

But of course Guth and Linde may take and deserve a part of the credit for the more successful detailed models of inflation as well because these models could only be found with their help. (Well, if the history proceeded differently [I carefully censored my original plan to write about a "different branch" because that would be way too distracting in this context], someone else could have discovered inflation, and she would then be getting the credit. At any rate, it's sensible to credit those who actually did things and not those who speculatively could – and that is also why we celebrate him and him and not her LOL.) All the inflationary researchers are basically "disciples" of Guth and Linde. So why those men shouldn't take the credit for the work, including the exciting one?

Why must one of the models be right? It's not true. All of the models in the literature may be wrong. And this is a real possibility, not just an academic one. But it's true in all of science. When credit is being divided, people may only take credit for theories and models that have actually been proposed. If the scientists only have wrong theories for an effect, XY, then they take credit for the most promising but wrong theories. Is this controversial? Is this trivial point so hard to be understood?

The point is that among the theories and models that have been proposed, there are really no alternatives that look truly competitive to inflation – apologies to the kind folks who have spent hours by explaining string gas cosmology and other things to me. So the founders of inflation unsurprisingly get lots of credit, an amount that is proportional to the other cosmologists' belief that their ideas were very important relatively to other ideas in cosmology of the recent 35 years.

Sabine Hossenfelder adds her own stuff:
The problem that nobody seems to want to talk about is that rather than trying to find a minimal model that explains the data and leave it at this, there are many hundreds of models for inflation all of which are almost certainly wrong because they contain too many details that aren’t supported by data. As the philosophers have it, these models are severely underdetermined.
The minimal models of inflation have been studied since 1979, especially in the early years. But they're clearly not the whole story. They don't answer all the relevant theoretical and empirical questions. They don't connect the knowledge about inflation/cosmology with that of high-energy particle physics – although it's clear that at some level, these two realms start to interact. There are lots of reasons why people didn't stop the research once the foundational or elementary papers about inflation were being written. It's simply way too exciting and one simply wants to know more details. It may be hard but it doesn't mean that physicists and cosmologists give up.

Then she complains that cosmologists are getting a salary for doing research. What a sin to be getting a salary for the cutting-edge research in cosmology (a discipline that remarkably exploded and matured to a full-blown precise, quantitative, and rigorous scientific discipline in recent 20 years) that at most tens of thousands of people in the world have the talent to do – and where you often face 10+ competitors for a job. What I am more worried about is that there are full-blown parasites such as Sabine Hossenfelder and the whole "gallery" at Not Even Wrong who are being paid by the taxpayer even though they have never done any research that is considered valuable – and quite often, they are getting paid literally for efforts to undermine the research and attack the actual scientists personally.

In her comment, similarly to the other anti-cosmology trolls, Hossenfelder called for a reduction of theoretical cosmology. I am sorry but inflationary and similar cosmology is a certain, important enough part of natural science – as evaluated by the people in science and science funding in general – and it is getting a corresponding fraction of the funding. You may hate physics, cosmology, and inflation in particular but that opinion of yours doesn't agree with that of the "beautiful souls" and those are more important. Your negative attitude towards cutting-edge theoretical physics only reflects the extremely low quality that you may brag as a scientist or a human being, for that matter. I don't understand why you're trying to deceive yourself (and other lousy people) into thinking that these sick views of yours are anything more than symptoms of your personal inferiority.

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