‘Cosmology is not even astrophysics’

Dark matter: a big bang fudge factor

Image NASA, wikipedia.orgHubble telescope


Physicists, when critical of a theory that is really bad, that is really ‘way off base’, will sometimes say that the theory is ‘not even wrong’. They mean that some theories stand up to scrutiny and survive, other theories don’t and are rejected as being wrong, but nevertheless not scorned at, but some theories are so bad, so ridiculed, so poorly esteemed, that they are way below those that are considered ‘wrong’. Therefore physicists say they are ‘not even wrong’.

The phrase was apparently coined by the early quantum physicist Wolfgang Pauli, who was known for his colorful objections to incorrect and sloppy thinking.1 According to Wikipedia, ‘An apparently scientific argument is said to be not even wrong if it is based on assumptions that are known to be incorrect, or alternately theories which cannot possibly be falsified or used to predict anything.’ [emphasis added]

That seems to be the state of cosmology today. Is it because the unverifiable starting assumptions are inherently wrong? Some brave physicists have the temerity to challenge the ruling paradigm—the standard big bang ΛCDM inflation cosmology.2 One of those is Richard Lieu of the Department of Physics, University of Alabama.

According to Lieu, ‘Cosmology is not even astrophysics: all the principal assumptions in this field are unverified (or unverifiable) in the laboratory … .’ In a recent paper,3 Lieu says that ‘because the universe offers no control experiment, i.e. with no independent checks, it is bound to be highly ambiguous and degenerate’. This seems a fair analysis, because ‘cosmologists’ today are inventing all sorts of stuff that has just the right properties to make their theories work, but stuff that has never been observed in the lab. They have become ‘comfortable with inventing unknowns to explain the unknown’.

Cosmologists tell us we live in a universe filled with invisible, unobserved stuff—74% dark energy and 22% dark matter. But what is this stuff that we cannot detect yet should be all around us? For 40 years, one form or another of dark matter has been sought in the lab: the axion, for example.

Image NASA, wikipedia.orgSpiral

Long before that, scientists invoked dark matter to explain puzzling dynamics in the solar system, such as the planet Vulcan hiding behind the Sun to account for the discrepancy with the orbit of the planet Mercury. But Einstein solved the problem with his general theory of relativity. What was needed was new physics and not some unseen dark matter. Is this the same today? (Beam me up Scotty!) See also Has dark matter really been proven?

But today we have also dark energy that is supposedly driving the universe apart at an even faster pace than in the past. On 30 May 2004 Physicsworld.com reported4

‘New evidence has confirmed that the expansion of the universe is accelerating under the influence of a gravitationally repulsive form of energy that makes up two-thirds of the cosmos.

‘It is an irony of nature that the most abundant form of energy in the universe is also the most mysterious. Since the breakthrough discovery that the cosmic expansion is accelerating, a consistent picture has emerged indicating that two-thirds of the cosmos is made of “dark energy”—some sort of gravitationally repulsive material.’ [emphasis added]

Apparently dark energy is a confirmed fact. But does the evidence confirm the universal expansion is accelerating? They are right about the irony, that although this energy is so abundant it cannot be observed locally in the laboratory. Is this really the state of the universe today? Or does the Emperor need new clothes?

Lieu says ‘ … astronomical observations can never by themselves be used to prove “beyond reasonable doubt” a physical theory. This is because we live in only one universe—the indispensible “control experiment” is not available’. There is no way to interact and get a response from the universe to test the theory under question, like an experimentalist might do in a laboratory experiment. At most the cosmologist collects as much data as he can and uses statistical arguments to try to show that his conclusion is likely. Lieu again, ‘Hence the promise of using the universe as a laboratory from which new incorruptible physical laws may be established without the support of laboratory experiments is preposterous … ’.

In his Table 2 Lieu lists five evidences where cosmologists use ‘unknowns’ to explain ‘unknowns’, and hence he says they are not really astrophysicists. Yet these evidences are claimed to be all explained (and in the case of the CMB5 even predicted6) by the ΛCDM inflation model. None of them are based on laboratory experiments and they are unlikely to be ever explained this way. They are:

  1. redshift of light from galaxies, explained by expansion of space;
  2. CMB, explained as the afterglow of the big bang;
  3. rotation curves of spiral galaxies,7 explained by dark matter;
  4. distant supernovae being dimmer than they should be, hence an accelerating universe, explained by dark energy;
  5. flatness and isotropy,8 explained by Inflation.

As an experimentalist, I know the standards used in so-called ‘cosmology experiments’ would never pass muster in my lab. Yet it has been said we are now living in the era of ‘precision cosmology’.9,10,11

Recently Max Tegmark said, ‘ … 30 years ago, cosmology was largely viewed as somewhere out there between philosophy and metaphysics. You could speculate over a bunch of beers about what happened, and then you could go home, because there wasn’t a whole lot else to do’. But now they are closing in on a ‘consistent picture of how the universe evolved from the earliest moment to the present’.11

How can that be true if none of Lieu’s five listed items can be explained by ‘knowns’? They have been explained by resorting to ‘unknowns’ with the sleight of hand that allows the writer to say ‘we are closing in on the truth’. I recall Nobel Laureate Steven Chu speaking to a large gathering of high school children on the occasion of the Australian Institute of Physics National Congress at ANU in Canberra in 2005. He said that we now understand nearly all there is to know about the universe, except for a few small details like what is dark energy and dark matter, which [allegedly] make 96% of the stuff in the universe. As Homer Simpson would say, ‘Doh!’

Lieu then lists a few counter evidences to ΛCDM inflation cosmology, all of which have been, or are in the process of being, published in topmost astronomy journals. They are:

  1. the number density evolution curve in galaxy clusters (there is a massive dark matter problem in them also) does not agree with the ΛCDM prediction to 7σ statistical significance;
  2. only 50% of the baryons12 predicted by the ΛCDM model seem to exist at low redshifts—called the missing baryon problem;
  3. no explanation for the soft X-ray excess from clusters: Abell 3112, for example;
  4. the disparity between the values Sandage et al. (H0 ≈ 62 km/s/Mpc) and Freedman et al. (H0 ≈ 70 km/s/Mpc) determine for the Hubble constant from two independent analyses of HST data;
  5. galaxy groups like our own Local group seem to harbour too much matter;
  6. very feeble SZE13 detected by WMAP—no shadow cast in the foreground as expected from a background source; this has now been tested by separate authors respectively on two sets of 31 and 100 rich clusters;14
  7. the Axis of Evil15 in the CMB octopole and quadrupole expansion terms correlate with HI clouds in the galaxy, where Lieu concludes that a significant fraction of the WMAP anisotropy at the primary acoustic peak16 is not cosmological;
  8. dwarf galaxy rotation curves. The data indicate constant density cores, whereas ΛCDM halo profiles have central cusps.

These evidences match other cosmological models better than the ΛCDM, yet no model has a good match to all the evidence. (See Lieu’s figure 3 for a comparison with two other models and his paper for details.)

There also remain discrepancies particularly with analyses of the WMAP data. Only recently did the WMAP people at NASA release individual year maps and difference maps of the anisotropy data.17 They should be a good test of whether the anisotropies are cosmological. If cosmological then the noise levels should be frozen in time, not affected by local effects from one year to the next. The differences should be nulled across the whole sky: they are not. But at the time of writing this, I have not yet had an opportunity to examine them in any detail. However, I have been told that such a ‘difference map’ between WMAP2 and WMAP3 data was presented at COSMO 06, the International Workshop on Particle Physics and the Early Universe, 25–29 September 2006, Lake Tahoe, California. Apparently it caused quite a stir. Most of the difference map had very mild (small) temperature fluctuations but 5% of the difference map had an oblong area of very high temperature fluctuations with the highest temperature differences at the area’s center. Either there is an error in the data reduction extracting the effects from the galaxy (which is meant to be minimal at the high frequency band chosen), or the effect is not cosmological but caused by something closer to the earth. My informant who was there tells me ‘ … the audience went into a defence mode with excuses, band-aids and blaming dark matter, whatever. The speaker claimed it really was not part of his formal presentation. The mood was, ‘let’s not do that again, and we all know that the data looks better if we put all the years together so we can attain our planned objectives’.18

Well, the cosmologists may have their planned objectives, to shore up their faith in a model that is based on false and unverifiable assumptions, but it is leaky bucket that cannot hold back the evidence that ultimately will be published against it.

The fact is that the history of the universe cannot be determined from a model which cannot be independently tested. The big bang cosmology is verified in the minds of those who already hold to that belief—that the universe created itself about 14 billion years ago—ex nihilo. To me the biblical big picture is far more believable—only we are left to fill in the details.

Published: 3 December 2008


  1. See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Not_even_wrong. Return to text.
  2. ΛCDM = cold dark matter cosmology with a non-zero cosmological constant, that also involves a rapid Inflation stage to smooth out the clumpiness of the early density variations and solve numerous other problems, including the lack of monopoles etc. See footnote 8 for further details, and Lisle, J., Light-travel time: a problem for the big bang, Creation 25(4):48–49, 2003. Return to text.
  3. Lieu, R., LCDM cosmology: how much suppression of credible evidence, and does the model really lead its competitors, using all evidence? 17 May 2007, arxiv.org/abs/0705.2462v1 Return to text.
  4. See physicsworld.com/cws/article/print/19419 Return to text.
  5. CMB = cosmic microwave background radiation. Return to text.
  6. But for the logical and scientific fallacies of this claim, see Sarfati, J., Nobel Prize for alleged big bang proof, 7–8 October 2006. Return to text.
  7. The speeds of gases (and stars) in the outer regions of the disk in spiral galaxies are inferred from Doppler line redshifts or blueshifts and they don’t obey Keplerian motion as predicted by Newton’s law of gravitation. Return to text.
  8. Flatness describes the fact that all we ever measure in the universe is Euclidean. This is a cosmological fine-tuning problem and since the universe has departed from the needed critical density over cosmic time it must have been closer to perfect flatness soon after the big bang. Another problem is the horizon problem which has to do with the fact that light has not had enough time since the big bang to travel between what should be causally coherent regions of the visible universe, which means they are not causally connected. For example, light from diametrically opposite side of the universe. Then why is it isotropic generally in every direction we look. This is particularly true for the temperature of CMB radiation where we see the same thing—the universe is isotropic, the same in all directions to within 1 part in 104 at least. This is called the smoothness problem and it is even more incredible because as the universe expanded the isotropy supposedly lessened, starting at the level of 1 part in 1040. Return to text.
  9. See for example, Ellis, R., New age of precision cosmology, physicsworld.com, 1 July 1999. Return to text.
  10. Primack, J.R., Precision Cosmology, New Astron.Rev. 49:25–34, 2005. Return to text.
  11. Tegmark M., Precision Cosmology, MIT World, 7 June 2008. Return to text.
  12. Normal matter: protons, neutrons, etc. Return to text.
  13. Sunyaev–Zel’dovich effect is the result of high energy electrons distorting the cosmic microwave background radiation (CMB) through inverse Compton scattering, in which some of the energy of the electrons is transferred to the low energy CMB photons. Sunyaev [Сюняев], R.A. and Zel’dovich [Зельдович], Y.B., Small-scale fluctuations of relic radiation, Astrophysics and Space Science 7:3–19,1970. See also https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sunyaev-Zeldovich_effect. Return to text.
  14. Lieu, R., Mittaz, J.P.D. and Shuang-Nan Zhang, The Sunyaev–Zel’dovich effect in a sample of 31 clusters: A comparison between the x-ray predicted and WMAP observed Cosmic Microwave Background temperature decrement, Ap. J. 648:176–199, 1 September 2006; Bielby, R.M. and Shanks, T., Anomalous SZ contribution to three-year WMAP data, MNRAS 382(3): 1196–1202, December 2007. Return to text.
  15. Hartnett, J.G., CMB Conundrums, JoC 20(2):10–11, 2006. Return to text.
  16. See cmb.as.arizona.edu/~eisenste/acousticpeak/acoustic_physics.html and arxiv.org/abs/astro-ph/0203153. Return to text.
  17. See WMAP Data Products and Three-Year Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) Observations: Beam Profiles, Data Processing, Radiometer Characterization and Systematic Error Limits. Return to text.
  18. Private email communication from Don Wilson, 2 November 2008. Return to text.

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