Scientific Sense Podcast

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Reality bites

Recent news that the Chandra observatory has produced data showing the Milky Way is embedded in a vast halo of hot gas extending many hundreds of thousands of light years and possibly forming a bridge across the Local Group, may help reintroduce reality and less fanciful speculation in Astrophysics. The field has been dominated by those adept at concocting undefined constructs – dark matter, energy and flow - to account for the missing baryons and the inexplicable tilt of the universe for many decades. Such a simple explanation – that one has to look harder to find the thin veil – if proven correct, may inject a much needed reality check, with many positive effects.

Occam’s razor rules and those who forget it in any field are not progressing knowledge, just introducing noise to constrain it. One can never underestimate the power of simplification and this is especially true in a regime of exponentially increasing data, driving every scientist into analysis-paralysis and pattern finding. Empiricism and speculation without a mathematical framework are unlikely to be useful. The tendency has been either to take the status-quo equation as sacrosanct and reject observations that do not fit or to use observations to create hypotheses without a mathematical foundation.

Next time, perhaps, it is better to seek simpler explanations for exotic phenomena and badly behaving equations.

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