Preposterous Universe

Thursday, February 10, 2005
Bad cosmology hurts America

Chad Orzel just wants to be a good citizen and read some post-Super-Bowl football commentary. But he can't, because Gregg Easterbrook can't resist the temptation to spice up his respectable (or at least unobjectionable) football writing with utterly senseless remarks about science.
Recently some astronomers proposed that the universe is shaped like a gigantic donut. Then a competing group proposed that the universe actually is shaped like a gigantic soccer ball. The cosmic-doughnut group, based at the University of Pennsylvania, took exception to the cosmic-soccer-ball gang, who are mainly French academics. Cosmic-donut supporters asserted if the whole universe is a soccer ball, then individual views of the sky should resemble a sliced bagel.

Both the donut and soccer-ball camps hold that when astronomers scan deep space, the infinity they think they see is an illusion. In some doughnut-shaped or soccer-inspired or bagel-sliced way, the cosmos appears much larger than it is. Cosmologists estimate there are at least 100 billion galaxies; actually, these researchers contend, what we observe is reflections of a much smaller number of galaxies: a traveler moving at super-speed straight out into the universe would eventually end up back at the starting point, not continue forever. The universe is an illusion? Well, this seems easier to swallow than the idea that all material for the entire cosmos popped out of a single point with no content, as Big Bang theory maintains.
And in a comment, Kip Dyer points to Easterbrook's mindless attack on the entire enterprise of particle physics. Chad puts it best: "Just... stop. You're hurting America. Take your cue from John Madden, and just disappear until August."

Ideas on culture, science, politics.
Sean Carroll

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