Thursday, October 18, 2007

Tilting at a Sacred Cow

An Essay
by Dave Swinford

Chances are that you, like most writers, feel perfectly secure in referencing the "Big Bang" and its central assumption that our universe is expanding as if they are a scientific fact rather than a popular theory that was definitively refuted more than twenty years ago.

In 1978, Astrophysicist Paul Labiolette undertook a study that compared the"Big Bang" expanding universe model against the stationary universe "Tired Light" model in four different tests of the data sets. This had never before been done. The usual approach was based on a single data set.

LaViolette's study was published in the Astrophysical Journal in 1986 under the title "Is the Universe Really Expanding?" Note that it took Labiolette eight years and three peer reviews before he had satisfactorily refuted all referee's objections and the study, which demonstrated that the stationary universe "Tired Light" cosmology consistently fit the data better than the expanding universe "Big Bang" model, was finally accepted and published.

If you have never heard of Labiolette or his study, you are among the majority. The mass media did not rush to publish the findings. Popular science writers and authors of Science Fiction continued to write their articles and stories as if Labiolette's study had never been published. The "Big Bang" had become one of science's Sacred Cows, and the establishment chose to ignore anything that called it into question.

This is still the case. So much so that in 2004, a group of cosmologists, astrophysicists and astronomers published an "Open Letter" in New Scientist deploring the climate of repression that blocked funding for research and systematically rejected any studies or articles that might challenge the "Big Bang" model.

Such reactions seem unscientific and yet, there is little doubt that those who have invested much of their career in support of the "Big Bang" model are not going to willingly admit that they have supported a flawed cosmology. And this is equally true for those writers who have invested their trust in that cosmology by making it a "fact" in their articles and stories.

As a writer, I can understand this attitude. It's difficult to face the possibility that some of one's creative efforts may now be considered flawed, naive and/or invalid. It's much easier to join the establishment in ignoring the contrary data and the growing number of scientists who are openly questioning this Sacred Cow.

Perhaps it is time that some courageous authors donned the armor of research, fired up their laptops and went forth for a bit of tilting. Writers of SF could examine the stationary universe "Tired Light" models and do some extrapolating. They might even come up with original and creative speculations. Authors of SF are often well ahead of the mainstream, and this Sacred Cow offers an opportunity to be a creative pioneer.



Ruth D~ said...

This is so interesting, Dave, and only one example of a potential of many more situations where data has been buried, altered or refuted, only to later be ressurected. I hope you share some more.

Rick Bylina said...

Fascinating. But it does beg a question. If the universe is tired, should we worry about it collapsing like an exhausted marathon runner at some point in our future?

Much fodder for a good story.


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