Public interest

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  • #26
Nabeshin
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Ok, I've lost where you're going with your argument now. You started off by saying that you don't take Cosmology seriously, then gave a link to some books that you say are primarily metaphysics. But.. these books are not talking about mainstream Cosmology, they are models derived from string theory. We're here talking about the standard model of Cosmology, aren't we, and so we should surely cite books on that topic?

Anyway, I don't think this line of discussion is going anywhere.

I also should state that I agree with what marcus has said above; if popular science gives people the wrong impression of real science, then we're sorry, but there are some things that cannot be put into laymans language and still remain precise.
Ah, here we go. I wasn't aware we were only talking about the standard model of cosmology, so I apologize.
 
  • #27
marcus
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Yeah, I probably agree with this. When all these books and publicity came out about string theory and everything it sparked a lot of interest, but now in the wake of that people probably don't take cosmology very seriously.
You may be pointing out a real danger to science, and something we should consider how to cope with.

String theory was hyped to the public, roughly in the period 1994-2004, and now seems unable to make good on its promises. To the extent that the public equates string with science as a whole, or is unable to distinguish between string and observational cosmology, for example, we are clearly in trouble.

The string credit crunch could then undermine respect for science and the credibility of other fields like cosmology (if the public somehow gets them confused.) This might not show up immediately but could have a long-term harmful effect.

What is to do about this? Maybe nothing, if you think the problem will take care of itself. On the other hand if the possible erosion of respect and credibility worries you then you might try to emphasize the sharp distinction between real-time observational science on the one hand versus the more speculative flights of fantasy into extra dimensions and the like.

that is just a sample possible reaction. Personally I can't say if the danger is to be taken seriously or not, and what if anything there is to do about it. Perhaps one could write to PBS and NOVA and urge them to show TV serials of hard science where new telescopes are seeing new stuff/measuring new numbers etc and leave out the more fluffy speculation---- the series by Kaku and by Brian Greene may have done longterm harm to science cred and that kind of thing could be avoided in future.
 
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  • #28
Wallace
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The string credit crunch
:rofl:
 
  • #29
Kurdt
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The problem is the public crave the speculation over the hard proved science and numbers and for obvious reasons, but when the wild speculation doesn't bear fruit they are up in arms. Its a very dangerous double edged sword.
 
  • #30
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I can't tell if you are just complaining about various aspects of life, or complaining and trying to attach the blame to someone.

Or whether you are actually proposing that we do something.

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if you are just complaining then the whole thing doesn't mean much but we can still try to respond. "big bang" was a name given by Fred Hoyle who didn't like the expanding model of cosmology. The name caught on with journalists and the public. Too bad.

In scientific literature they don't talk about "big bang theory". The phrase big bang is typically just used to designate the start of expansion. Increasingly models go back in time before the big bang moment. In such models the big bang does not correspond to birth or creation (or other poetic ideas) it is just a step along the way. Cosmology's job is to describe the evolution of the universe as best we can, not to explain why it exists.

Tough luck for the public if they got the wrong idea. Sorry about that.

Do you feel you have to blame someone for this? Whom are you going to blame? Stephen Hawking? Brian Greene? The Pope? I think they are just trying to sell books or doing their job as best they can. If you want, blame a naive public with its craving for a Creation Story.
===================

It would be more interesting if you had something to propose. If you see a problem, then what should we do? What should we write our congressmen about and ask them to do? What books should we buy to give our children? Do you see a problem that we can take some specific action about?

===================

I'm not sure there is a problem. Astronomy research is on a roll. Discoveries are piling in fast. Funding is booming.
And for very good reasons. Astronomy/astrophysics and observational cosmology are in a hugely productive historical period.

Returns on investment here are way out of proportion with the average for normal periods of science.

It has to do with new instruments observing new parts of the spectrum. And with large coordinated arrays.

It could be argued that there isn't any problem here and there isn't anything we should be doing to correct the situation because it is going just fine already.

=======================

I think there MAY be some problems over next door in particle physics-----collider stuff---high energy physics (HEP). It might have to do with something simple, like maybe there are just too many HEP theorists and HEP phenomenologists. And there could be a problem of what to do with the more average or mediocre bulk of them. My impression is that many of the really smart ones have already gotten out and found new stuff to work on. But that is just my impression and I could be wrong. If there is a problem, I stress IF there is a problem, it might have repercussions for astronomy because it is next door. Problems at the neighbors are always worrisome. there could for instance sometime be a boatload of emigrees requiring assimilation. But that is very uncertain. I am not sure that there is a real problem here either.
Remember I am just giving my opinion on why cosmology is losing public interest. I have not blamed anyone nor have I been complaining about aspects of life, I am just addressing the OP's question.

If you are asking what I suggest should be done about it(assuming you mean public opinion) then I would say that there isn't much that can be done. Frankly cosmology isn't something that the public shouldn't logically be concerned with. The only way to gain public interest in cosmology is to be dishonest and to pervert cosmology in the public eye being sell outs.

I agree that public interest shouldn't determine funding, for the most part. On the other hand, why should too much funding go into things that have no physical returns and nothing to the people. I mean, people don't read books on brain surgery, but the research is still done in their interest because they may one day need it, so even though it isn't interesting to them, it is in their interest to be done. The same cannot be said about cosmology.

I think that astronomy should get a lot more funding that cosmology because as you said, they are the observers and they use the instruments. Maybe cosmology should be postponed for a couple decades until we have more to work with?
 
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  • #31
marcus
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Remember I am just giving my opinion on why cosmology is losing public interest. ... Frankly cosmology isn't something that the public shouldn't logically be concerned with. The only way to gain public interest in cosmology is to be dishonest ...
I think that astronomy should get a lot more funding that cosmology because as you said, they are the observers and they use the instruments...
We differ both in how we use words and how we see the world.
For me, cosmology is an observational science and an important part of modern astronomy. I didn't say what you seem to think I said, contrasting cosmology with the rest of astronomy.

Cosmology is the part of astronomy where they observe the largescale structure, and measure basic parameters of the universe (like its average density and curvature) and deduce its past and future.
I think there is intense and growing public interest in cosmology.
I think there is growing funding to cosmology (as a branch of observational astronomy) because many of the newest instruments can help us measure the basic parameters and understand the structure of the universe.
Also the newest computer methods, for analyzing data-----to detect dark matter by gravitational lensing----to map largescale structure and compare it with the microwave background map. In other words many of the newest instruments and methods are especially suitable for determining largescale features. The technical deck is stacked in favor of more comprehensive understanding.

Cosmology is an observational part of astronomy which is getting a lot of public interest and is getting a lot of public money and is currently providing a very high scientific return on investment.

So as I see reality, it is pretty much the opposite of what you say. You have a different idea of what it is, you say public is losing interest, you say funding of it should be postponed, you say the public has no business being interested in it, and you say that in order to stimulate interest one would have to tell lies to the public.

AFAICS that is completely out of contact with reality as I know it, at every point.

As for your point about lies. I think ordinary people are apt to be interested in the overall structure of the universe and how it works. Everybody has looked at the night sky and wondered about these things.

There is also the question about why it happens to exist, which is not in the province of cosmology (although fundamental physics may eventually have something to say). I would encourage people not to worry for the moment about why it exists, and to ask questions about how it is shaped and how it works. There is plenty to ask in that department and much that is being discovered. The dishonesty I think is on the part of those who pretend that those sorts of questions are not interesting.
 
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  • #32
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You may be right, and I have no good reason why my opinion is of any value because it is based mostly on why I personally lose interest in cosmology. Your points are well taken. I guess I also didn't use my words right because i was judging cosmology as separate from astronomy. If you call the larger scale astronomy observations and call it cosmology then that is different then how I viewed it. I was pretty much judging cosmology for its theoretical aspects ie. birth evolution scale and such of the universe.
 
  • #33
Kurdt
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As far as I'm concerned funding sucks at the minute.
 
  • #34
marcus
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I'm sorry to hear that, Kurdt. Both that funding sucks and that you cut your hair. You would have had enough for your girlfriend to knit a sweater, or at least several pairs of socks, in case you saved it. That was a great graduation photograph.

I am curious as to what you expect your PhD research to be about, but only if you care to mention it. No one expects you to answer questions like that. Still I'm curious. Anything in the general area of astronomy astrophysics cosmology looks really good to me.

Oh, I remember now! Astronomy funding got cut back recently in the UK! Duh. maybe that's what the subtext is in this thread, what it is all about.
 
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  • #35
marcus
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Now I realize I've been talking overconfidently from a limited perspective. There are doubtless political and funding things going on in the UK that I don't have a clue about.
Part of it is probably connected to the cost of Iraq war and hopefully temporary economic crises. There have been cutbacks in the US in high energy physics, and I understand in the UK cutbacks in astronomy as well as particle physics.

I tend to see all that as temporary. But it could be very serious to a young researcher who is looking for funding right now. So I will try not to minimize the problems.

On a longer timescale, with a broader (global) perspective, I can't help feeling enormously optimistic. Huge new developments all over the world. Chile, Argentina, Australia, Canary Islands, Africa. these big international collaborations like Auger, MAGIC, ESO. arrays of telescopes, space instruments GLAST, Planck...it is impossible to list them all.
A lot of the new development is in the Southern Hemisphere naturally, or in orbit.
New parts of the spectrum---gammaray, Xray, infrared. Imaging cosmic ray and gammaray by the tracks they leave in the atmosphere. Totally new concept telescopes.

Maybe there is a review paper that would save me the trouble of trying to say this. If you know a URL that gives the overview picture of new astronomy, let me know.

And another thing is, so far I don't see serious cuts in the bulk of all this, in spite of the bad economic news and the war budget. If I am missing something please let me know.
Part of it is European funding----like MAGIC and Auger and ESO are somewhat insulated from troubles in the US and UK. Correct me if I'm wrong or just too optimistic.
 
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  • #36
Kurdt
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Marcus, sorry I didn't see your reply for a while since I've been looking after our new puppy. As ever you're probably right marcus. Funding is going through a bit of a turbulent time at the minute but shouldn't last too long (fingers crossed).

As for astrophysics research in the Uk from my limited perspective, it seems to be heading away from theoretical stuff such as modeling of accretion discs, star formation and solar system evolution to exoplanet observations and infrared astronomy. The reason being that there are a lot of developments instrument wise on those fronts and so its very easy to get funding in those areas if your department has any involvement in that instrument (things like AKARI and DARWIN).
 
  • #37
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i think physics in general is very itneresting and i have just taken an interest in cosmology and astrohpysics. I find it very very interesting however it is slightly irratating that i cannot get my head around things like 4D spacetime and things being infinite. The thing i was wondering is what use does cosmology have? Can cosmology be used for something back on earth? I'd be very interested to find out
 
  • #38
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1)Frankly cosmology isn't something that the public shouldn't logically be concerned with.

2)The only way to gain public interest in cosmology is to be dishonest and to pervert cosmology in the public eye being sell outs.

3)On the other hand, why should too much funding go into things that have no physical returns and nothing to the people.

4)I think that astronomy should get a lot more funding that cosmology because as you said, they are the observers and they use the instruments. Maybe cosmology should be postponed for a couple decades until we have more to work with?
Everything in the above quote is fundamentally opposed to science in general. I will explain point by point:

1)Not sure about the meaning of this sentence with the double negative, however if your point was to say that the public should not be concerned with cosmology then you are quite wrong. First of all each individual member of the 'public' has the freedom and the right to choose what he/she is concerned with. Secondly I don't see how the search for the understanding of the origins and the future of everything could ever not matter to anyone with half a brain. Granted most of the American public only has half a brain.

2) Being dishonest and perverting cosmology will build public interest in dishonest and perverted cosmology, not real cosmology. If public support of cosmology is important at all, then the only way to build that support is by making the true state of modern cosmology freely available to the public. If the current state of scientific research is not interesting enough to the public then too bad, I guess the real scientist will have to stand alone.

3)If physical returns were the only criteria for what humans should research then we would indeed be in a sad state today. If you or anyone else in the public don't care about anything unless it directly and physically affects your world, then that is their problem. But you cannot stand in the way of people who do care about pure information that may not affect them in any way except mentally. In my opinion there is nothing more important than the search for more and better understandings of the world around us.

4)This is really just a completely unfounded statement. Yes indeed telescopes and the like are used in astronomy, but the like is true for cosmology as well. And even if cosmologist didn't use direct observation what do you have against mathematics and models? Especially when none of those models are taken as very probable until they are backed up by observational data.


The knowledge of the what, when, and how of the universe can have major effects on any human's life.

I still remember how it felt when I found out that the atoms that make me up were once inside the core of a star. :bugeye:
 
  • #39
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I just feel that cosmology is destined to always be extremely speculative if it is going to attempt to explain the universe how it is aimed to. In a way it may never amount to much more than a sophisticated and advanced form of religion. In that sense, sure people might be interested in it, but will they make that leap of faith on speculation or not? All cosmology does is encourage that.

People get comfort from filling in those gray areas in life. Cosmology seeks to fill that void. In a way I think cosmology is a religion for scientists.
 
  • #40
Wallace
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I just feel that cosmology is destined to always be extremely speculative if it is going to attempt to explain the universe how it is aimed to. In a way it may never amount to much more than a sophisticated and advanced form of religion. In that sense, sure people might be interested in it, but will they make that leap of faith on speculation or not? All cosmology does is encourage that.
This is complete rubbish. You certainly aren't talking about the cosmology as it is practiced in Universities and other research institutions around the world. It sounds like you have a very warped and misconceived view of what cosmology is, otherwise you would never make a statement such as the above.

People get comfort from filling in those gray areas in life. Cosmology seeks to fill that void. In a way I think cosmology is a religion for scientists.
Why is cosmology 'a grey area'??? Like any science it proceeds by putting theories to the test of observational evidence. The only theories that are thought to be good are those supported by evidence. It is no more a 'grey area' than any other science??

Again, your view of what cosmology is seems very strange.
 
  • #41
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I'm talking about the same grey area that religions try and illuminate. The origin and evolution of the universe, the reason the universe exists and what it is. Is our scope not entirely small on the scale of a universe. I mean we have just recently found out that other stars have planets only because we see the star wobble. So we cannot even see planets orbiting the nearest star to us yet cosmology attempts to put a size on the universe. Cosmology is nothing but one huge gray area, one of the biggest ones around.

Actually I have just realized a huge mistake I have been making with word usage. The universe and its origins is the gray area.
 
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  • #42
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The knowledge of the what, when, and how of the universe can have major effects on any human's life.

I still remember how it felt when I found out that the atoms that make me up were once inside the core of a star. :bugeye:
Yeah your right, but isn't just the same as religion. Religion is important to people because it answers that big what and how question about the universe, cosmology is important in only that same way, to fill in a grey area. Cosmological models are nothing more than a scientists religion, and will it ever be anything more?
 
  • #43
Wallace
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I'm talking about the same grey area that religions try and illuminate. The origin and evolution of the universe, the reason the universe exists and what it is.
Science would never claim to ever try and uncover 'the reason' the universe exists. Not in the same sense as religion would. As for the other things you mention, if we can observe things that tell us about the evolution of the Universe and the origin of the structure within it, why is it inherently a 'grey area'? Again, by applying the same scientific method as any other science we can understanding what happened by testing our theories via observation.

Is our scope not entirely small on the scale of a universe. I mean we have just recently found out that other stars have planets only because we see the star wobble. So we cannot even see planets orbiting the nearest star to us yet cosmology attempts to put a size on the universe. Cosmology is nothing but one huge gray area, one of the biggest ones around.
What do extra-solar planet observations via doppler wobble have to do with observations of the CMB, distant galaxies etc etc that are the observation cosmology relies on? You are using false logic, comparing things that have no relevance.
 
  • #44
Wallace
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Cosmological models are nothing more than a scientists religion, and will it ever be anything more?
Cosmology has been an observational science since the 1930's when the Hubble Law was first discovered. The models that have been developed since have all been based on that and subsequent data. There is no basis for your assertion (without any justification) that cosmology is somehow a religion??
 
  • #45
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It is at least used so when presented to the public eye via magazines television etc.

Sure there is the CMB which is controversial, but I somehow have many doubts that the CMB is sufficient to give us much knowledge of things that are many light years beyond our faintest view. It gives us one or two pieces of a 1,000,000,000 piece puzzle and so now we have that much more to speculate on.
 
  • #46
cristo
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Sure there is the CMB which is controversial
Why is the CMB contraversial? You can't just make comments like this, and not back them up in any way.


As an aside, please all note that further discussion relating Cosmology to religion will not be permitted here.
 
  • #47
Kurdt
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With nulling interferometry projects like DARWIN we soon will be able to see exoplanets directly. I do however fail to see your point with this. I take it then TR345 that you disagree with the cosmological principle since you think that the limited things we see can't be applied on the large scale of the entire universe? How then would you explain the accurate correlation of current cosmological models with observation if this was not true?
 
  • #48
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I am just very skeptical when scientists claim they think they know the age and size of the universe when we have such a limited view of it.
 
  • #49
Kurdt
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I am just very skeptical when scientists claim they think they know the age and size of the universe when we have such a limited view of it.
Well I'm afraid its the best value anyone has that is backed up by observable evidence.
 
  • #50
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Doesn't that presuppose that the universe has a size and an age?
 

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