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New study confirms BICEP2 detection of cosmic inflation wrong


In 2014 the BICEP2 team of astronomers operating out of their South Pole telescope made the spectacular claim of detection of cosmic inflation via a signal that was expected in the CMB radiation from accompanying gravitational waves in the period of time much less than a second after the alleged big bang. I expressed my doubts back then. And other scientists much closer to the field than I doubted the discovery. See the list of related articles below.

BICEP2 sought characteristic swirls in the polarisation of the Universe’s so-called relic radiation from the big bang

By the time the BICEP2 team’s 25-page paper was accepted for publication in the prestigious journal Physical Review Letters1 they had added a half-page caveat saying that they might be wrong. It was later confirmed that they were most probably wrong due to their not properly accounting for the foreground contamination of their putative signal from dust emission in the Galaxy. That highlights one of the dangers of rushing to publish when you have not ruled out all other possible sources. And cosmology is particularly more difficult than other branches of science, if we can even call cosmology science.

The Planck satellite team then looked at the foreground dust contamination problem:

The Planck team has indeed followed up the BICEP2 result, analyzing data from the same patch of sky in a variety of frequencies that range from 30 gigaherz [sic] to 857 gigaherz [sic]. (BICEP2 looked in just a single frequency, 150 gigaherz [sic].) And the news is not great for the BICEP2 crew, a new study reports.

“Unfortunately, according to our analysis, the effect of contaminants and in particular of gases present in our galaxy cannot be ruled out,” co-author Carlo Baccigalupi of the International School for Advanced Studies in Trieste, Italy.2

Others had already analysed the possible outcomes if dust emission, using the Planck satellite data, was properly accounted for in the BICEP2 analysis. No gravitational wave effects of the alleged inflation epoch could be justified.3

After this all was aired in the public domain, and many others by this time (late 2014) had published on the web their reasons why the claims were either premature or wrong, the BICEP2 team teamed up with the Planck Consortium who had much better data than they had on the effects of dust in the Galaxy. The results of their collaborative work have now been submitted also to Physical Review Letters.

The following is excerpted from an online BBC News site (my emphases added):

The BICEP2 team used every piece of dust information it could source on the part of the sky it was observing above Antarctica.

What it lacked, however, was access to the dust data being compiled by the Planck space telescope, which had mapped the microwave sky at many more frequencies than BICEP2.

This allowed Planck to more easily characterise the dust and discern its confounding effects. The Planck Consortium agreed to start working with BICEP2 back in the summer. The European group incorporated its high frequency information—where dust shines most brightly—and the US team added additional data collected by its next-generation instrument in Antarctica called the Keck Array.

However, the results of the joint assessment would suggest that whatever signal BICEP2 detected, it cannot be separated at any significant level from the spoiling effects. In other words, the original observations are equally compatible with there being no primordial gravitational waves.

“This joint work has shown that the detection of primordial B-modes is no longer robust once the emission from galactic dust is removed,” Jean-Loup Puget, principal investigator of Panck’s [sic] HFI instrument, said in the Esa statement.

“So, unfortunately, we have not been able to confirm that the signal is an imprint of cosmic inflation.”4

So after all that it is definitively claimed that they have no confirmed detection.

Naïve apologetics based on dubious science

A word of caution for those who would use the dubious science of big bang cosmology, which is today based on an atheistic worldview as opposed to a biblical worldview, in support of their biblical apologetics.

space.com planck-view-bicep2
This image from the European Space Agency's Planck satellite shows the space observatory's view of the same region observed by the Antarctica-based BICEP2 project. The Planck data suggests that light patterns that confirmed cosmic inflation theory were actually caused by space dust. Credit: ESA/Planck Collaboration. Acknowledgment: M.-A. Miville-Deschênes, CNRS - Institut d'Astrophysique Spatiale, Université Paris-XI, Orsay, France

Jeff Zweerink of the Reasons to Believe ministry wrote an article “A Response to Four Young-Earth Objections to Inflation” in April 2014 using this BICEP2 data as support of cosmic inflation and hence as some sort of confirmation of the biblical account of creation that he and Hugh Ross promote, in their strange ‘science-first’ form of apologetics. Anyway, Zweerink’s claim was that science supported their particular apologetics and the BICEP2 result was evidence that biblical creationists were wrong.

The big bang is Hugh Ross’s creation of the universe, and thus cosmic inflation is proof that this alleged big bang did indeed occur. Hence they are right and biblical creationists, who reject as fairy tales any origin story that does not conform to the creation narrative with 24-hour days and a 6-day creation about 6000 years ago, are proved wrong. But quite clearly the Genesis 1 account does not describe the big bang, which in no way even follows the biblical sequence of events.

Where is Zweerink’s claim now? Dashed on the rocks of a false religion where it always was. If God’s Word described the origin of the universe in a big bang inflation scenario 13.8 billion years ago, long before God made the earth and the rest of the solar system, with all the other myriad details that disagree with the biblical account, I would believe it. But it does not and that is where we should take our stand.

Concluding note

Now let me add one more word of caution: Even if the Planck Consortium team had so-called confirmed the original BICEP2 B-mode polarization results, in those swirls in the CMB radiation, it still would not prove the concept of cosmic inflation. It certainly would strengthen the case in favour of it but you would still have to rule out all other possible causes (besides foreground dust emissions in the Galaxy), even those you have not thought of. This is the particular problem with cosmology, because we cannot interact with the universe, we have no control experiment. Thus it is like saying we cannot get a control signal from a ‘typical’ universe that did not start off with cosmic inflation. So what are the chances of misidentifying the real source of those swirls? As it turns out from this saga, quite high.

Published: 5 February 2015

References and Notes

  1. Normally Physical Review Letters has a strict page limit of 4, and sometimes allowing up to 6 for extremely important discoveries. To give you some feeling of the weight they placed on this ‘discovery’ they allowed 25 pages. Yet half a page was devoted to a face-saving exercise explaining why they might be wrong. This obviously came about because the journal Editor had already accepted the paper for publication before the counter claims and doubts had been fully aired. Return to text.
  2. Wall, M., Epic Big Bang Discovery Might Just Be Space Dust, 23 September 2014; space.com. Return to text.
  3. Mortonson, M. J. , Seljak, U., A joint analysis of Planck and BICEP2 B modes including dust polarization uncertainty, JCAP 10:035, 2014; available at http://arxiv.org/pdf/1405.5857v2.pdf. Return to text.
  4. Amos, J., Cosmic inflation: New study says BICEP detection was wrong, 30 January 2015; bbc.com. Return to text.

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