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Is Too Much Physics Bad For Astronomy?

  1. May 9, 2007 #1

    ZapperZ

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    I didn't realize there was such "animosity". This was published in this week's edition of Nature (the link is open without subscription only for a short time).

    So, for people who are majoring or working in this field, do you share White's analysis of the state of your field?

    Zz.
     
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  3. May 9, 2007 #2

    Office_Shredder

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    Yeah, he's real quick to deny that. I wonder what he's hiding?
     
  4. May 9, 2007 #3

    marcus

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    I think this may be related or similar to an article I posted link for on 18 April, when it became available free on arxiv. Members who don't have subscription to Nature may want to look at this:

    http://arxiv.org/abs/0704.2291
    Fundamentalist physics: why Dark Energy is bad for Astronomy
    Simon D.M. White
    Essay commissioned for publication in Reports on Progress in Physics. 19 pages including 3 figures

    "Astronomers carry out observations to explore the diverse processes and objects which populate our Universe. High-energy physicists carry out experiments to approach the Fundamental Theory underlying space, time and matter. Dark Energy is a unique link between them, reflecting deep aspects of the Fundamental Theory, yet apparently accessible only through astronomical observation. Large sections of the two communities have therefore converged in support of astronomical projects to constrain Dark Energy. In this essay I argue that this convergence can be damaging for astronomy. The two communities have different methodologies and different scientific cultures. By uncritically adopting the values of an alien system, astronomers risk undermining the foundations of their own current success and endangering the future vitality of their field. Dark Energy is undeniably an interesting problem to attack through astronomical observation, but it is one of many and not necessarily the one where significant progress is most likely to follow a major investment of resources."
     
    Last edited: May 9, 2007
  5. May 9, 2007 #4

    marcus

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    the article by Simon White has an interesting history.
    White is the director of the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics at Garching.
    one of the best outfits in the world. He is world-class---an important leader in cosmology and astrophysics. I believe he is Cambridge-educated.

    David Gross (coming from the particle physics side) might very easily see Simon White as a kind of counterpart across the border in astrophysics and might easily wish to make overtures to him for a possible alliance to get combined research funding.

    In any case Gross had White come spend some time at Kavli ITP in Santa Barbara, where Gross is director, and he used to have White join him in the select company of the "Director's Lunch".

    It seems that Gross proposed to White in some fashion and tried to persuade him that they had a common interest----or that their two fields Particle Physics and Astronomy had a common interest---in focusing research effort on the "Dark Energy" puzzle.

    Gross has a very strong personality and is very hard to say no to. It seems that, intentionally or not, he pushed fairly hard on this.

    So White wrote this article partly in reaction to what he felt, and the points he was trying to make in response to Gross, in their conversations over lunch.

    It is an extremely interesting and thoughtful article, I think.

    It brings out the difference in STYLE in the two fields. How astronomy is on a roll partly because of a particular multipronged strategy where they design new instruments to serve multiple purposes. not so linear-sequential in thinking about the next big problem---less dominated by preconceived ideas.
    so they typically have several things going---several lines of investigation pursued using the same instrument. the amount of intellectual usage they get out of a single satellite or groundbase instrument is truly impressive. and I would agree with Simon White that it has to do with STYLE of thinking and managing resources.

    they don't all go charging at one Big Problem. they have a more complicated process for allocating research resources. Astronomy provides telescope-time and satellite-time for small collaborations and even for single self-motivated individuals----as contrasted with huge teams.

    Conditions in Astronomy, with this style, help attract brilliant self-motivated individuals--exceptionally creative young researchers---to the field. White felt the danger to his field of getting EATEN UP by a powerful numerous well-funded mob of Particle experimentalists used to working in teams of HUNDREDS. He saw a danger that unavoidable changes in style might make Astronomy less attractive to the kind of young minds he wants to keep entering the field.

    there is a lot more to the article---that is just what I remember from reading it some three weeks ago. It was a fascinating document, which you could very easily see growing out of having "Director's Lunch" with David Gross.
    A lot of it rang true.

    I did not sense ANIMOSITY, just laying cards on the table, how he sees it. White commands my respect because not only can he think about cosmology but also he can think perceptively about issues of style and sociology in various branches of science, and the yet unborn ideas and discoveries he wants to see come out of his field

    ====================
    I see the day after I posted link to the White article here at PF that Sean Carroll had a blog about it
    http://cosmicvariance.com/2007/04/19/dark-energy-fundamentalism-simon-white-lays-the-smackdown/

    and as an update to the blog there is this video!
    http://online.kitp.ucsb.edu/online/bblunch/white1/

    hadn't seen the video, it is likely to be very interesting.
     
    Last edited: May 10, 2007
  6. May 9, 2007 #5

    mgb_phys

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    About 10years ago the UK reorganised particle physics and astronomy into their own research council - the cynical view at the time was that the two groups would argue with each other and funding could be cut because neither of them was "useful".
    In practice it seems to have worked quite well, both have similarities in having long term funding commitments to large international projects and but at an individual level are very different as the above said.
    Particle physicists have to cooperate in large groups whereas astronomers are generally about as cooperative as bears with sore heads.

    (ps. I'm an astronomer - particle physicis involved too many high voltages and radiation risk!)
     
  7. May 10, 2007 #6

    ZapperZ

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    While it is true that a large part of particle physics involves colliders and accelerators, this is not the only expertise that experimental particle physicists have that happens to be useful in other areas of astronomy and astrophysics. Their knowledge of detectors, especially in detecting high-energy particles such as TeV neutrinos and other energetic cosmic rays, are proving to be extremely useful in various astrophysics experiments. Two that currently stand out are Veritas and the Auger Observatory. Both of these are what most people would think to be an astronomy/astrophysics projects. Yet, there's a huge involvement of high-energy physicists in both of them. At the other extent, projects such as the Dark Energy Survey that many would consider to be an astrophysics project seems more to be a high-energy physics experiment. In fact, such experiment might be one of those that White objected to in his article. Yet, while its main purpose is to study the dark energy phenomenon, there is still a wealth of physics that could be gained out of the info being gathered, the same way that the WMAP survey just doesn't give only one "data" point or one piece of info even though it is only doing essentially one thing.

    Things change and evolve, including the way we do science. High energy physicists have a lot more to gripe about especially the state of their funding and their field, something White didn't consider. When you have an outstanding and prestigious facility that had produced a series of incredible discovery suddenly changing its colors from a particle collider facility under your control to a "light source" under control of a different field of physics, I'd say you have A LOT to complain about. That is what is happening to SLAC. Yet, they move on and adapt to the situation, especially when most of it is beyond their control, and one of their ways of adapting is to move into areas that are slowly merging into their field - astrophysics/astronomy.

    This, btw, is not that uncommon. Atomic/molecular field of study has overlapping interest in condensed matter physics in BE condensation. Even condensed matter physicists have dabbled in elementary particle physics. In all of these cases, I've only seen how such fields are strengthened by the "new blood", especially when different ideas and different ways of doing things are brought in. So in some aspect, I don't quite understand the complain in this article.

    Zz.
     
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