Using Finagle’s Rules in Cosmology

first_imgFudging and finagling often underlie the confident-sounding claims of cosmologists.Finagle’s Rules prescribe ways to ameliorate Murphy’s Law in science.  They are needed because, according to Finagle, “The perversity of the Universe tends towards a maximum.”  Here are the rules:To study a subject, understand it thoroughly before you start.Always keep a record of data – it indicates that you have been working.Draw your curves first, then plot your data.If in doubt, make it sound convincing.Experiments should be reproducible – they should fail in the same way.Do not believe in miracles, rely on them.The case of the impossible star:  A “Methuselah” star older than the universe was reported on Space.com.  That, of course, is impossible, so what did astronomers do?  In order to keep current theory intact, they worked the puzzle from both ends.  They increased the age of the universe, and worked to decrease the estimated age of the star from 16 billion years down to a more reasonable level, by altering theory to let it burn faster.  But the new estimate is still paradoxical, because the star has to be significantly younger than the big bang to allow time for gas to condense into galaxies.  “In the end, the astronomers estimated that HD 140283 was born 14.5 billion years ago, plus or minus 800 million years,” the article ends.  “Further observations could help bring the Methuselah star’s age down even further, making it unequivocally younger than the universe, researchers said.”  Is that further observations, or further finagling?The case of the unwelcome supernova:  Type-Ia supernovas are the “standard candles” of cosmology, critical links for determining distance and age of the universe.  An upstart new type of Type-Ia has been found, potentially blurring the calibration.  Called Type-Iax, it is 1/100th fainter and less energetic than classical Type-Ia supernovae, Science Daily said, and may account for a third of all Type-Ia supernovae.  Couldn’t that call into question earlier estimates, making some supernova events look farther away than they were?  The article didn’t say.  What it did say was not particularly encouraging for standard theory.  “Researchers aren’t sure what triggers a Type Iax,” for one thing.  What one astronomer said was even more disconcerting: “The closer we look, the more ways we find for stars to explode.” Maybe that’s why Space.com‘s headline read, “Whoa! Mini-Supernovas Discovered.”The case of the anomalous good fit:  Most of the science news media gave excited headlines about how a new map of the cosmic background radiation made from Planck Telescope data “confirms standard cosmology” (Science Now; see Finagle Rule #4). The Planck telescope, three times more sensitive than its predecessor WMAP, “backs sudden ‘inflation’ after the big bang,” according to Nature News.  They were less excited, and more worried, about the “anomaly” in the data, the so-called “axis of evil.”  Planck seems to have confirmed the presence of a preferred direction in space – a violation of the so-called “Copernican Principle” that expects every direction to look the same:The asymmetry “defines a preferred direction in space, which is an extremely strange result”, says Efstathiou. This rules out some models of inflation, but does not undermine the idea itself, he adds. It does, however, raise tantalizing hints that there may yet be new physics to be discovered in Planck’s data.Not only that, Planck found a “‘cold spot’ that covers a large area.”  Space.com discussed how the new map makes the universe “older than thought” by about 100 million years, based on its calculated value of the Hubble constant.  The new truth to be told in textbooks is 13.82 billion years, not 13.7, meaning that “space and time are expanding slightly slower than scientists thought.”  The phrase “than thought” appears again in New Scientist: “The universe is almost perfect, 80 million years older than we thought, and maybe a little bit evil.”  New Scientist suggested the anomaly might represent a bump from a neighboring universe born from”eternal inflation” putting a “bruise” on ours – a speculative notion far beyond experimental confirmation.   At best, Efstathiou said, “There is less stuff that we don’t understand, by a tiny amount.”If you don’t know how much you don’t understand, then you don’t know how much you do understand.  Suppose you don’t understand 99.99% of reality.  Improving that to 99.98% (“a tiny amount”) is hardly cause for rejoicing.  A bad sign is when you have to conclude, based on your favored notions, that the stuff of stars and galaxies is perverse or evil.  Since gas cannot be evil, the evil must reside in the minds of the theorists who fudge and finagle the data, or invent new physics, to keep their presumably righteous theories intact.  When you hear a cosmologist worrying about an “extremely strange result,” ask whether it is the evidence, or the astronomer, that deserves the adjective.(Visited 45 times, 1 visits today)FacebookTwitterPinterestSave分享0last_img read more

Focus on African resources at Mining Indaba

first_imgDelegates at the 20th annual African Mining Indaba at the Cape Town International Convention Centre on Monday 3 February. (Image: African Mining Indaba)The Investing in African Mining Indaba got off to an energetic start in Cape Town on Monday 3 February, with a number of parallel sessions and a busy exhibition hall.Now in its 20th year, the Mining Indaba is hosting 7 800 delegates at the Cape Town International Convention Centre, representing 110 countries across six continents, with the majority – 61% – from Africa.With #MiningIndaba trending on Twitter, the morning was given over to workshops and discussions focused was on transparency in the extractive industry, and on the scramble for Africa’s resources – the continent accounts for 30% of global resources, much of it untapped.Experts at the indaba agreed it had been a challenging year for mining, with a commodity demand stabilising and prices dropping. But they forecast an uptick globally. There was plenty of growth potential, they said, particularly in China. The message out of the Securities Exchange Panel, for instance, was that a month into 2014 things were “unquestionably getting better” for mining financial markets.Red Door Research’s managing director, Jim Lennon, said in the next five years, “expect recovery in non-Chinese demand. China provides ground to get bullish again about commodities.” China represented almost 50% of the global commodity demand, though there was “no question” we were in a much slower growth period in China, but growth would remain strong in volume terms.China represented close to 50% of demand for commodities, but, he asked: Would the next 50 years be Africa’s period? “Possibly, if challenges are overcome.”David Cox, from analysts SNL Metal Economics Group, had a gloomier outlook, predicting a 15% to 20% decrease for exploration in Africa in 2014. At present, Canada drew 14% of world mineral exploration spending; South Africa only 1%. Spending on exploration was at $2-85-billion, although Africa was still lagging behind Latin America, while Canada continued to lose ground.Worldwide exploration in 2013 was led by Latin America at 26.7%; the rest of world took 16.5%; Africa took 16.5%. Adding copper shifted Africa to second place, however.Some good news came from Professor Magnus Ericsson, executive director at research group IntierraRMG, who said iron ore prices were expected to remain steady well into 2030, hovering around $120. And MoneyGold’s James Turk put the case for a return to gold as money in the 21st century. It retained its purchasing power over a long period, he pointed out.Social compact in miningThe Mining Ministerial Forum, running alongside the indaba, was opened by Mineral Resources Minister Susan Shabangu, who focused on the need for a social compact between companies and communities. Africa had high exploration potential, requiring local and international partners and investment to unearth.She called for responsible investment on the continent, “not based on exploitative principles centred solely on expectations for unrealistic rates of returns that are disguised on the principle of high risk – high return. As you know, mining is a long term investment and not about quick wins. Those who balance Africa’s mineral development with growth will ultimately receive the greatest reward in the long term.”Enduring partnerships, community development, nurturing human capacity growth and development, as well as institutional collaboration on joint technology development and deployment were strong themes in her remarks.“We also have to be cognisant of the fact that in order to effectively and comprehensively address the plight of the African continent, a gigantic shift and transformation in traditional mining jurisdictions is required,” the minister said. “This should entail a shift from exporting of largely raw materials to ensuring that minerals serve as a catalyst for accelerated industrialisation through mineral value-addition. This will also require development corridors that are a subject of multi-purpose infrastructure development.”Such investment required partners to agree on a creative win-win formula for financing of infrastructure that would deliver “Africa’s promise” and enable the emergence of a resilient African continent. The outlook for growth in the medium to long term was extremely positive, but Africa must speak with a single voice. “The African Mining Vision is indeed that voice. However, it is important that the Mining Vision be driven and led by Africans, who must ensure that Africa’s mineral resources are exploited in an equitable and optimal manner that underpins a broad-based sustainable inclusive growth and socio-economic development.”‘Make the most of what we’ve got’In his keynote address at the main indaba, Phil Newman, the chief executive of consultancy CRU Strategies, said he was optimistic. “I think we are due another game change.” He was speaking about the changing face of world mineral supply. His key point was that changing mineral supply was not new, and was something that would always change. It was important, however, not to miss it, and to remember that necessity was the mother of invention. “We can all learn from the ability of China to make the most of what we’ve got.”Mineral supply was affected by a number of drivers, two of which were technology and political will, or interference. Technology was going to become more and more important to mining, and innovation was key. He would not make any political predictions, but concluded by saying: “I believe technology will surprise us this decade – if only I knew how.”last_img read more