Human beings are not known for their humility, particularly the most educated and arguably "smartest" among us.
This paucity of respect for what we don't know, never mind what we think we know but really don't, has been a source of personal annoyance to me for some time.
I bristle every time someone barks "science!" at me as if that's an argument in and of itself. They wield it like science is truth itself, even though to do so is to strip science of its very essence.
Science is not truth. Science is theory, and theory is always subject to question. In fact, science demands those questions otherwise it's not science, it's gospel.
Science is, at its best, an educated guess, one that is consistent with known observable data, and describes the world in a predictable and repeatable manner. When new data is gathered, or old data is reexamined in a new way, what was once known can suddenly become unknown.
If you've lived long enough, or at least paid attention, you realize that the history of science is the overturning of what was once thought to be unassailable, that is, the ever-popular notion of "consensus." The biggest breakthroughs are usually the ones that reveal that we were completely wrong.
These breakthroughs do not come easily, and do not come without a battle. That is desirable to a degree in that you don't lightly overturn decades if not centuries of accepted theory without being able to thoroughly substantiate your claims.
It goes beyond that, of course, because humans are going to human, and ego, self-interest, and institutional inertia throw up additional, unnecessary, and totally predictable obstacles.
A near-perfect illustration of this process is the increasing realization that we don't know what we thought we did about how the universe was formed and why it behaves the way it does.
If the universe has been expanding since its inception 14 billion years ago, the galaxies the furthest away from us should appear huge and have a certain amount of "red shift" in their light. But what Webb is showing us is almost exactly the opposite.
That's a problem for the big bang theory. If the universe was born in a monumental blast with everything traveling outward at incredible speed, all of that matter should still be traveling and expanding. But it doesn't appear to be. In fact, the universe might not really be expanding at all. And if it's not expanding, then it probably didn't come from a massive explosion at a single point in the void. If that's the case… where did all of this stuff come from?
All this new data that is upending the world of astronomy and potentially quantum physics as well is coming from the recently operational James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), named after a pioneer in the fledgling field of bureaucracy, a true trailblazer in budgeting and general ledger entries who changed the world, one internal office memo at a time.
This article, upon which HotAir based theirs was written by Eric J. Lerner, President and Chief Scientist of LPP Fusion and the author of "The Big Bang Never Happened."
To everyone who sees them, the new James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) images of the cosmos are beautifully awe-inspiring. But to most professional astronomers and cosmologists, they are also extremely surprising — not at all what was predicted by theory. In the flood of technical astronomical papers published online since July 12, the authors report again and again that the images show surprisingly many galaxies, galaxies that are surprisingly smooth, surprisingly small and surprisingly old. Lots of surprises, and not necessarily pleasant ones. One paper's title begins with the candid exclamation: "Panic!"
That's an awful click-baitey headline for a scientific paper, so I downloaded the paper itself, and while the word "panic" appears nowhere else, the conclusions make clear just how much the JWST is challenging what we thought we knew.
The morphological types of galaxies changes less quickly than previously believed, based on precursor HST [Hubble Space Telescope] imaging and results. That is, these early JWST results suggest that the formation of normal galaxy structure was much earlier than previously thought.
A major aspect of this is our discovery that disk galaxies are quite common at z ∼ 3 − 6, where they make up ∼ 50% of the galaxy population, which is over 10 times as high as what was previously thought to be the case with HST observations.
Distant galaxies at z > 3 in the rest-frame optical, despite their appearance in the HST imaging, are not as highly clumpy and asymmetric as once thought.
You get the idea.
Why do the JWST's images inspire panic among cosmologists? And what theory's predictions are they contradicting? The papers don't actually say. The truth that these papers don't report is that the hypothesis that the JWST's images are blatantly and repeatedly contradicting is the Big Bang Hypothesis that the universe began 14 billion years ago in an incredibly hot, dense state and has been expanding ever since. Since that hypothesis has been defended for decades as unquestionable truth by the vast majority of cosmological theorists, the new data is causing these theorists to panic. "Right now I find myself lying awake at three in the morning," says Alison Kirkpatrick, an astronomer at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, "and wondering if everything I've done is wrong."
Lerner goes on to note that he was ringing the alarm bell years before the JWST became operational.
While Big Bang theorists were shocked and panicked by these new results, Riccardo and I (and a few others) were not. In fact, a week before the JWST images were released we published online a paper that detailed accurately what the images would show. We could do this with confidence because more and more data of all kinds has been contradicting the Big Bang hypothesis for years... But our papers, published over the past decades, have pointed to far more contradictions, each individually acknowledged by other researchers.
You know how this story goes.
Readers may well be wondering at this point why they have not read of this collapse of the Big Bang hypothesis in major media outlets by now and why the authors of so many recent papers have not pointed to this collapse themselves. The answer lies in what I term the "Emperor's New Clothes Effect" — if anyone questions the Big Bang, they are labeled stupid and unfit for their jobs. Unfortunately, funding for cosmology comes from a very few government sources controlled by a handful of committees that are dominated by Big Bang theorists. These theorists have spent their lives building the Big Bang theory. Those who openly question the theory simply don't get funded.
I will pause here to note that everything old is new again.
This startling idea [the Big Bang theory] first appeared in scientific form in 1931, in a paper by Georges Lemaître, a Belgian cosmologist and Catholic priest. The theory, accepted by nearly all astronomers today, was a radical departure from scientific orthodoxy in the 1930s. Many astronomers at the time were still uncomfortable with the idea that the universe is expanding. That the entire observable universe of galaxies began with a bang seemed preposterous.
I would be derelict were I not to point out that Lerner clearly has a self-interest in being proven right. He makes a good case, but so do others. As I was reading through his arguments (and I encourage you too, as well) I started thinking that that is all well and good, but maybe we just have an incomplete understanding of how galaxies form and a theory could be developed to explain the discrepancies, large as they are, in a manner consistent with the Big Bang.
After all, we don't know what we don't know.
In fact, let's return to one of Lerner's more catchy pull quotes.
"Right now I find myself lying awake at three in the morning," says Alison Kirkpatrick, an astronomer at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, "and wondering if everything I've done is wrong."
I clicked through that link, which was to a tweet.
Sounds like an endorsement, no?
Scott Stevens: Do you question the Big Bang theory? Genuinely asking, I came across this tweet through an article claiming there was no Big Bang and that a lot of the data from the Webb images support that- and I'm curious as to whether thats what you're implying here.
Alison Kirkpatrick: Absolutely not! Galaxy evolution is actually a problem completely separate from the Big Bang. You can have a Big Bang and yet create no galaxies. One does not imply the other. I was referring to our current understanding of galaxy evolution.
Part of the data that the Webb telescope cannot show us is the background radiation imprint of the universe's beginning.
Where does that leave us?
Science, real science practiced in accordance with the scientific method, is messy. Humans are messier, creating, well, a big mess.
All we can be sure of is that what we thought we knew, we didn't. Whether the Big Bang holds up or not is in question, but what is not in question is that our understanding of how the universe behaves has been upended, and that the science community's understanding of the origin of the universe has been thrown in genuine doubt for the first time in years.
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