Big Bang blunder bursts the multiverse bubble

Jun 7, 2014

By Paul Steinhardt.

When a team of cosmologists announced at a press conference in March that they had detected gravitational waves generated in the first instants after the Big Bang, the origins of the Universe were once again major news. The reported discovery created a worldwide sensation in the scientific community, the media and the public at large (see Nature 507, 281–283; 2014).

According to the team at the BICEP2 South Pole telescope, the detection is at the 5–7 sigma level, so there is less than one chance in two million of it being a random occurrence. The results were hailed as proof of the Big Bang inflationary theory and its progeny, the multiverse. Nobel prizes were predicted and scores of theoretical models spawned. The announcement also influenced decisions about academic appointments and the rejections of papers and grants. It even had a role in governmental planning of large-scale projects.

The BICEP2 team identified a twisty (B-mode) pattern in its maps of polarization of the cosmic microwave background, concluding that this was a detection of primordial gravitational waves. Now, serious flaws in the analysis have been revealed that transform the sure detection into no detection. The search for gravitational waves must begin anew. The problem is that other effects, including light scattering from dust and the synchrotron radiation generated by electrons moving around galactic magnetic fields within our own Galaxy, can also produce these twists.

The BICEP2 instrument detects radiation at only one frequency, so cannot distinguish the cosmic contribution from other sources. To do so, the BICEP2 team used measurements of galactic dust collected by the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe and Planck satellites, each of which operates over a range of other frequencies. When the BICEP2 team did its analysis, the Planck dust map had not yet been published, so the team extracted data from a preliminary map that had been presented several months earlier. Now a careful reanalysis by scientists at Princeton University and the Institute for Advanced Study, also in Princeton, has concluded that the BICEP2 B-mode pattern could be the result mostly or entirely of foreground effects without any contribution from gravitational waves. Other dust models considered by the BICEP2 team do not change this negative conclusion, the Princetonteam showed (R. Flauger, J. C. Hill and D. N. Spergel, preprint at http://arxiv.org/abs/1405.7351; 2014).

The sudden reversal should make the scientific community contemplate the implications for the future of cosmology experimentation and theory. The search for gravitational waves is not stymied. At least eight experiments, including BICEP3, the Keck Array and Planck, are already aiming at the same goal.

26 comments on “Big Bang blunder bursts the multiverse bubble

  • Gravitational waves from the early universe were never evidence of a multiverse to begin with, as far as I understand it. (It would have been nice if Papier had linked to the original study; see here. The study doesn’t make or even mention multiverse claims.) Even if they were, the closest the title comes to being true is to to say that the empirical case for the multiverse has been undermined, not that the multiverse has been somehow refuted. The truth is we still don’t know which types of multiverses, if any, exist. (It’s worth bearing in mind, for example, that Papier has in mind the inflationary multiverse, as opposed to the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics. It always amazes me how often those two get conflated. And then string theory goes and introduces a third type…)



    Report abuse

  • I can’t even pretend to understand much of this article, but one thing I do know is that this is science working by means of self correction; if the rigours of the scientific methods are adhered to things will pan out in the end.



    Report abuse

  • Well said, I agree. I also find it ironic the article is essentially all about how a scientific discovery was over hyped to begin with and now the article is more or less doing the exact same thing it is complaining that earlier articles did only in reverse. Just as the original research never “proved” the multiverse theory the alternative view hardly “bursts the multiverse bubble”.



    Report abuse

  • 5
    hmkingofbosnia says:

    Steinhardt, Sperge and others associated with Princeton are clearly in a conflict of interest here, as BICEP2 kills Steinhardt’s cyclic universe model and the big(!) grants he so much cries about (see last WSF video below). Princeton boys are getting too much space for political campaigning. The “dust affair” comes from a Princeton-associated “independent” researcher too. Rings a bell? Steinhardt loses = Princeton loses, not just grants, but also prestige and a lots of other things.
    Pure politicking in science.

    Meanwhile, from the lastest, 31 May, WSF discussion we learn:
    – BICEP2 stand by their result
    – there is no proof whatsoever dust forges polarization as observed by BICEP
    – Linde is more convinced (and convincing) than ever
    – Guth is not suspicious of BICEP
    – Princeton (Steinhardt & Co) seems alone in attacks while crying about grants

    From WSF:
    Rumor 1: Planck final result coming up in 3 weeks tops (that’s 2 weeks now), not in October
    Rumor 2: Planck to confirm BICEP

    VIDEO: http://www.worldsciencefestival.com/2014/05/ripples-from-the-big-bang-listening-to-the-beginning-of-time/

    Besides, Multiverse of Type II actually has been proven, experimentally first in 2005 from 10+ billion 1Hz gravity measurements taken by the (Canadian) superconducting gravimeter as the Earth’s most accurate instrument used for studying G, as well as mathematically (by expressing G via c on both quantum and mechanist scales – as Einstein hinted in 1930s) and multi-physically (w/o units of any universe): http://www.mynewsdesk.com/ba/pressreleases/as-big-bang-gets-downgraded-to-a-bang-the-first-scientific-proof-of-the-multiverse-claimed-975493



    Report abuse

  • 6
    HM King of Bosnia says:

    Steinhardt, Sperge and others associated with Princeton are clearly in a conflict of interest as BICEP2 kills Steinhardt’s cyclic universe model and the grants he so much cries about (see latest WSF video below). Princeton boys are getting much space for political campaigning. The “dust affair” comes from a Princeton-associated “independent” researcher too… Rings a bell? Steinhardt loses = Princeton loses. Pure politicking in science.

    Meanwhile, from the latest, 31 May, WSF discussion we learn:
    – BICEP2 stand by their result
    – there is no proof whatsoever dust forges polarization as observed by BICEP
    – Linde is more convinced (and convincing) than ever
    – Guth is not suspicious of BICEP
    – Princeton (Steinhardt & Co) seems alone in attacks while crying about grants

    From WSF:
    Rumor 1: Planck final result coming up in 3 weeks tops (that’s 2 weeks now), not in October
    Rumor 2: Planck to confirm BICEP

    VIDEO:
    worldsciencefestival.com/2014/05/ripples-from-the-big-bang-listening-to-the-beginning-of-time/

    Besides, Multiverse of Type II actually has been proven, experimentally first in 2005 from 10+ billion 1Hz gravity measurements taken by the (Canadian) superconducting gravimeter as the Earth’s most accurate instrument used for studying G, as well as mathematically (by expressing G via c on both quantum and mechanist scales – as Einstein hinted in 1930s) and multi-physically (w/o units of any universe): mynewsdesk.com/ba/pressreleases/as-big-bang-gets-downgraded-to-a-bang-the-first-scientific-proof-of-the-multiverse-claimed-975493



    Report abuse

  • HM King of Bosnia, your “sources” seem to think Earth’s lithosphere is ruining our physical analysis. This is absolutely ridiculous. It’s a classic example of trying to alternatively explain the one or two most famous facts about a topic while forgetting the consensus passes many other tests that the alternative idea does not. For example, if G doesn’t work the way most modern physics says it does, the Friedmann equations break down, as does Hubble’s law. In fact, I’d go so far as to say pretty much every equation in this “paper” is complete garbage. This is unsurprising considering its author.



    Report abuse

  • For the sake of the audience here, this not being the place to debate highly complex astrophysics since few here, myself included, have the foggiest notion of the technicalities involved, the important point is that scientific method allows for errors and corrections.

    Faith based dogmatic belief does not. And here is the point of separation.

    Any decent scientist will cheerfully acknowledge change that is evidence based and contrary to his or her work. If a greater truth stems from and relies upon that work, the acknowledgement will be not just cheerful, but downright joyful.

    The dogmatist, religious or otherwise, will retreat into his or her cave, growling resentment, and demanding that greater knowledge or evidence be ignored, or subverted, or corrupted, until the dogma can continue to be shouted, excluding all sense, as truth.



    Report abuse

  • I entirely agree with you.

    It’s difficult enough to be expert in one field, it can take a life time, but to attempt to comment expertly on all of them is nothing short of ridiculous.

    However, the common underlying factors in all fields are the scientific methodologies; if they are adhered to by all those involved in the great endeavour then “everyone’s a winner”.

    Even the bone-heads who don’t quite grasp the sweet irony of them themselves employing the fruits of science to disseminate their anti science diatribes.

    I don’t know whether to laugh or cry; it’s probably best to cry with laughter.



    Report abuse

  • These days, I’m increasingly skeptical that science reporting in most media outlets (newspapers of all kinds and even specialist magazines and websites) is reliable and helpful to scientific enterprises, such as medicine and cosmology. It’s probably more productive to wait a few months or even a few years until such findings become more strongly established or mainstream, not desensitize oneself reading articles that turn every beginning steps into a mind-blowing breakthrough. It reminds me of Ben Goldacre’s article, “Don’t dumb me down”, on how the media distorts what science is and turns it into something else:

    And last, in our brief taxonomy, is the media obsession with “new breakthroughs”: a more subtly destructive category of science story. It’s quite understandable that newspapers should feel it’s their job to write about new stuff. But in the aggregate, these stories sell the idea that science, and indeed the whole empirical world view, is only about tenuous, new, hotly-contested data. Articles about robustly-supported emerging themes and ideas would be more stimulating, of course, than most single experimental results, and these themes are, most people would agree, the real developments in science. But they emerge over months and several bits of evidence, not single rejiggable press releases. Often, a front page science story will emerge from a press release alone, and the formal academic paper may never appear, or appear much later, and then not even show what the press reports claimed it would (www.badscience.net/?p=159).

    Last month there was an interesting essay in the journal PLoS Medicine, about how most brand new research findings will turn out to be false (www.tinyurl.com/ceq33). It predictably generated a small flurry of ecstatic pieces from humanities graduates in the media, along the lines of science is made-up, self-aggrandising, hegemony-maintaining, transient fad nonsense; and this is the perfect example of the parody hypothesis that we’ll see later. Scientists know how to read a paper. That’s what they do for a living: read papers, pick them apart, pull out what’s good and bad.

    Scientists never said that tenuous small new findings were important headline news – journalists did.

    And this was in 2005, nearly nine years ago. It’s disheartening to identify what he was talking about even when reading articles in the present day.



    Report abuse

  • I trust journalists even less than I trust politicians. At least politicians have to resign if they’re too dishonest. Journalists just “print a retraction”, making the piece short and placing it somewhere hard to find. And that’s the best-case scenario. I’ve never heard of a journalist admitting they messed up on science reporting, but I’ve also never read a journalist’s physics article that I didn’t already know had gotten something wrong. I’m sure someone who knows as much about, say, biology as I do about physics has a similar reaction to how their own science is twisted in “the news”. The worst part is people who want to believe nonsense judge science by the way journalists describe it, then act as if those failings give them the freedom to think anything they like. For example, climate contrarians love to say that in the 1970s “scientists” predicted an ice age was on the away. But “scientists” can mean anything from all of the millions of them to just two people. The truth is that, even at the height of cold-soon ideas in climatology, they were still limited to a small minority of the actual climatologists. If people knew what consensus actually thought about things, they’d realise there are hardly ever major reversals.



    Report abuse

  • JC Sheepdog:

    It seems there might be a glitch in the Reply link.

    I’m not sure my response to your post on June 8 @ 10:29 pm registered as such.

    Or perhaps I haven’t yet learnt to drive this new set up properly.



    Report abuse

  • Or perhaps I haven’t yet learnt to drive this new set up properly.

    Me either. Note to moderators:
    Puleeze, how about a few explanatory notes about the new system? With particular reference to the whereabouts of the discussion section, (I can’t find it) how to reverse order the posts to newest first etc etc.

    I have no doubt that it is all there and I am simply too thick to find it, all assistance would be welcome however.

    Ken Ham’s website works great, by the way. It is just the content that is crazy.



    Report abuse

  • It is not at all clear from this repost but it appears from nature’s site that this piece was written by Paul Steinhardt; a cosmologist and in fact one of the principle physicists responsible for the development of new inflation. Clearly in the intervening 30 years he has changed his mind.

    The title is sensationalist, overreaching and refers to “Paul Steinhardt.” So unless Dr. Steinhardt refers to himself in the 3rd person I don’t think he wrote the title.

    In any case I think he is still overreaching with a few statements in the article: “Now, serious flaws in the analysis have been revealed that transform the sure detection into no detection.”

    I watched Raphael Flauger’s presentation and he did not say anything that definitive. He pointed out high uncertainties in the BICEP teams method of removing foreground signals. His own analysis demonstrated that the grav-wave signal is very likely lower than than the famous BICEP claim of 0.2 (this is no shock as BICEP team said they expected future data to lower the result) due to these uncertainties in foreground signal removal. He also showed in his analysis that the uncertainties could be so high as to make the grav-wave contribution less than 0.1 and even 0 (no primordial gravitational waves).

    Flauger then noted that he had to use a similarly flawed analysis to BICEP to analyze the BICEP data. Uncertainty piled on top of uncertainty. Both he and BICEP are stuck with this flawed analysis as Planck has not yet released the pertinent data. Flauger did work hard to justify his method however and made a convincing argument.

    The final takeaway is the measurement is very uncertain until more results are released by the Planck team. This in no way means the BICEP results have been shown erroneous. I guess Steinhardt is annoyed by all the media attention BICEP is getting and he seems to have overstated the negatives of the result.



    Report abuse

  • 17
    psybertron says:

    Where to start. So much science reporting is hype, including much of the science reported – obviously both have incentives to sell to attract funds.

    Or, worse than that – the emperor’s suit of clothes, to justify massive funds already invested in “big science” (and even worse still; taking the eye of the real ball to wield a big club against faith-based religion – shooting pointless fish in a barrel).

    So a dispassionate step back from the mess we’re in is called for. The idea of “a” big bang, the “universe” in which such a big bang occurs and the universe it “creates” – the boundary conditions that relate a pre-existing universe to another, sequential or parallel multiple universe – the latter are a statistical hack surely. The very idea of the “mass” we’re looking for, let alone time and causation. Gravitational constants and inflation. A step-back and a wind-back needed. 80 to 100 years should do the trick, the house of cards will fall, but we’ll never get to spend the big science funds again. Mersini-Houghton would be a good place to start the rebuild.



    Report abuse

  • So let me get this straight$: you warn that science journalism is hype, yet you trust the latest hip thing (Mersini-Houghton’s paper from literally yesterday) more than long-standing inflationary Big Bang cosmology.

    $ Assuming I’ve read you correctly. Feel free to correct my understanding of your views in a clarification.



    Report abuse

  • 19
    psybertron says:

    No. Mersini-Houghton I’ve been following for several years – directly, not just through journalism. The flaws underlying the “standard” models of cosmology I’ve been following with several sources for at least 12 years …. if we get “on topic” we can, as your invitation suggested, get into some of the specific indicators of specific flaws.

    I suggested Mersini-Houghton “for starters” above simply because she is, as you spotted, “topical”.

    The point, which you didn’t acknowledge, was that in all this hype and counter-hype, (and irrelevant distractions) is that a step back is called for, to question “long-standing” inflationary big-bang authority from the perspective that it’s a very short-time in cosmological terms.



    Report abuse

  • I’m aware that the time for which inflationary Big Bang cosmology has been theorised is small compared with the Universe’s age. But what specific empirical failings of the model do you have in mind? Your questioning step back has to be based on that. What testable predictions of hers (or anyone else’s) have been not only different, but more successful?



    Report abuse

  • 21
    psybertron says:

    OK, try this one: The simplest starting point of empirical doubt for me is the apparent CMBR alignment with the ecliptic of our home solar system. Of which Larry Krauss said back in 2006:
    > [T]here appears to be energy of empty space that isn’t zero! This flies in the face of all conventional wisdom in theoretical particle physics. It is the most profound shift in thinking, perhaps the most profound puzzle … … when we look out at the universe, there doesn’t seem to be enough structure — not as much as inflation would predict … … when you look at CMB (Cosmic Microwave Background) map, you also see that the structure that is observed, is in fact, in a weird way, correlated with the plane of the earth around the sun. Is this Copernicus coming back to haunt us? That’s crazy. We’re looking out at the whole universe. There’s no way there should be a correlation of structure with our motion of the earth around the sun — the plane of the earth around the sun — the ecliptic … … telling us that all of science is wrong and we’re the center of the universe, or maybe the data is simply incorrect, or … maybe there’s something wrong with our theories on the larger scales. Larry has never responded to later questions as what later evidence or interpretation has explained that "crazy" observation, or removed the suggestion of doubt "maybe there's something wrong with our theories". [Link to user’s website removed by moderator.]



    Report abuse

  • Physicists at the LHC determined that the higgs field is likely to have started out in a high energy metastable state, rather than in a stable, low energy configuration But Inflation fields that best match up with the data are what they call “plateau models” because their potential energy locks in at low energies. But it is much less probable that they will occur naturally and things get dramatically worse when the results are compared with the latest results on the higgs field.

    The likelihood that the higgs field would be perched in such a precarious metastable way is, as Steinhardt puts it, about the same as “dropping out of the sky over the Matterhorn and conveniently landing in a “dimple near the top”, rather than crashing down to the mountain’s base.” and once inflation starts the quantum fluctuations generated would have quickly sent the higgs field to the bottom of the hill to an extremely low energy state.

    http://abyss.uoregon.edu/~js/images/instability.gif

    This would cause inflation to end far too soon and the universe would collapse into black hole.

    It is a hierarchy problem, just like the cc problem, and it also requires an anthropic suppression mechanism in order for it to be viable.

    Two fields that have the same impossible problem and solution… hmmm, couldn’t be because they are the same field and inflation has nothing to do with it… eyeroll



    Report abuse

  • 24
    psybertron says:

    And in your editing of my post, you’ve screwed-up the formatting of the attributed quote. Are you deliberately trying to suppress evidence ?



    Report abuse

  • 25
    Promethean Entity says:

    The universe had no origin. It’s necessarily always existed. If we’re going to to talk about a ‘multiverse’, then this multiverse is itself the universe. We should talk about ‘our universe’ as ‘our bubble’ within the universe.

    Sorry, just wanted to clear that up for everyone, in case someone was having other thoughts.



    Report abuse

  • 26
    psybertron says:

    Promethean, agreed. This basic “ontology” of existence is beyond physics. The real issue here is the physics in our bubble, and its relationship to previous bubbles – turtles all the way down, as John Ellis quipped recently. I’d post links to some other discussions on this distinction, but the moderators don’t seem to allow it. (Meanwhile anyone interested in evidence against current big bang theories and the standard model of physics within it, should follow Rick Ryals comment above.)



    Report abuse

Leave a Reply

View our comment policy.