Friday, June 20, 2014

A Public Display of How Physics is Done in 2014

The March 2014 announcement bu the BICEP2 team that they have observed gravitational waves signatures in the cosmic microwave background (CMB) was big new in the physics community.  As expected BICEP's results and conclusions were studied by other research groups in the field and questions about BICEP's results were in question.  No questions about their data but questions about their interpretation of the data. The questions were about how BICEP dealt with the polarization that might arise from dust in our galaxy mixing in with polarized radiation from the CMB.  This is a tricky question which BICEP tried their best to address in their paper arxiv paper. This is all expressed in an article in yesterday's New York Times given here:

Astronomer's Hedge Bet

This is an excellent article covering the material and debate.  One of my favorite blog's Not Even Wrong has a post out today discussing the latest in what is happening.

Smoking Gun?

All is this is showing in the public how science is done.  Data is taken to answer a question.  This data is analyzed to their best ability to answer the question with all they have available.  They write a paper and post it online in arxiv and submit it to Physics Review Letters (PRL) the most prestigious journal in the world of physics. They hold a press conference since what they believe that they have discovered is a big deal, namely primordial gravitational waves.  Outside groups examine the paper and discover something that they think is a flaw in BICEP's analysis.  Namely that they didn't correctly analyze the influence of polarization radiation from dust in our galaxy.  This is all out in the public in talks and meeting held to discuss results,  All showing how science is done.  Meanwhile the submitted paper to being peer reviewed and this week the paper is published (in a quick turnaround time).  The BICEP team toned down their conclusions about their interpretation of the data.  Nevertheless this is wonderful data and more and better data on this subject is coming in and hopefully this data will be understood in a few months or maybe a few years.  This all shows how science gets done.  Very carefully and clearly.

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