Attacked by astronomers!

Dan G.
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Topic 192864

I recently read an article in Nature about a paper written by Simon D.M. White of the Max Planck Institute where he attacks contemporary astrophysics on several fronts for undermining fundamental methods of astronomy. He complains that "big science" projects like WMAP are taking all the money and new physics talent aways from more pure forms of astronomy. Specifically, he complains that projects like WMAP are too specialized and serve problems that are too narrowly focused.

Dr. White did not mention LIGO specifically, but I think it is in the best interests of all GW enthusiasts to be aware of assaults on our field like this one are out there. Here is a link to Dr. White's manifesto:

http://arxiv.org/abs/0704.2291

I judge Dr. White's view to be reactionary, but I would enjoy hearing your thoughts on the matter!

Cheers,

_dan

tullio
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Attacked by astronomers!

Astronomers are very much addicted to optical astronomy. When Karl Jansky started his first attempts at radioastronomy he was an AT@T engineer and not an astronomer. The same thing can be said of the 2.7 K microwave background discovered by two AT@T engineers while testing an antenna for telecommunications. On the other hand, astronomers are very quick in adopting new techniques when they get some new results. Maybe astronomers are just waiting for us to detect a gravitational wave in order to include this new method into old astronomy.
Tullio

Chipper Q
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Here are some thoughts I

Here are some thoughts I had:

The distinction between HST as an observatory, and WMAP as an experiment, is not so great. The 'P' stands for probe, making observations.

If there's one common theme in all that I've read from the astrophysics community, it's that more observations are needed. When all you have are 'snapshots', you need therefore as many of them as possible, if you expect to see in one, for example, dark matter being stripped away from a galaxy during a merger with another. And how will a GRB ever be spotted in entirety without something already observing the patch of sky wherein the burst occurs?

There used to be a 'powerful lobby' in favor of detecting the ether: it led directly to the recognition of relativity. What ill, if any, befell the 'powerful lobby'?

When earth, air, fire, and water was all there was to it, there was plenty of room for creativity and single-authored scientific papers were few and far between. There's a tremendous difference between charting courses of the constellations and constructing a useful astrometric grid, and the latter would be hard for a single individual to do, if possible at all. Note that funding for the SIM mission has been held up, and that it's not because of a scientific dark energy lobby... :)

When it comes to a quest for 'Truth', I think all the young, bright, and ambitious students will be able to make their own decisions as to which particular area of physics is most exciting. They will make their own decisions regardless, as a natural process of their own ambitions.

AgnosticPope
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RE: I recently read an

Quote:
I recently read an article in Nature about a paper written by Simon D.M. White of the Max Planck Institute where he attacks contemporary astrophysics on several fronts for undermining fundamental methods of astronomy. He complains that "big science" projects like WMAP are taking all the money and new physics talent aways from more pure forms of astronomy. Specifically, he complains that projects like WMAP are too specialized and serve problems that are too narrowly focused.

If his attack on WMAP is used to judge his overall argument, then I would conclude it is nothing but sour grapes from somebody who can't write decent grant proposals.

The summary of WMAP results to date seems to cover a hugely broad and impressively comprehensive set of basic astronomical data, including the age of the universe, the matter composition of the universe, the Hubble constant, and various confirmations of inflation theory.

If Dr. White meant to assert that non-visual research is somehow less valuable than visual research, then I would assert that he is even more off-base. The visual spectrum is such a tiny piece of the overall range of electromagnetic radiation, and as GW scientists know, electromagnetic radiation encompasses but one range of ways of looking at the universe when there are probably at least two and possibly more such independent ranges.

I would personally assert that we have not yet begun to look at the universe with anywhere near enough diverse types of sensors. I see any suggestion by people with opinions like Dr. White, to the effect that sticking to "more pure forms of astronomy" would offer some benefit to mankind, as being extremely misguided and narrow-minded. History clearly demonstrates that the better approach to scientific investigation is always the more-robust and diverse approach. This is true because of the many opportunities that arise to cross-correlate and verify data from diverse experimental approaches.

And that's my thoughts on the matter.

== Bill

barkster
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RE: nothing but sour

Message 68275 in response to message 68274

Quote:
nothing but sour grapes from somebody who can't write decent grant proposals.... History clearly demonstrates that the better approach to scientific investigation is always the more-robust and diverse approach.
== Bill

Quote:
I think all the young, bright, and ambitious students will be able to make their own decisions
== ChipperQ

Quote:
I judge Dr. White's view to be reactionary
== Dan

Harumph!! (I agree)

Glenn

"No, I'm not a scientist... but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express."

Nereid
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It's a strange paper, with a

It's a strange paper, with a strange idea .... that, somehow, there is something inherently wrong, or unhealthy, for astronomy/astrophysics/cosmology in having dedicated missions/observatories/instruments. Of course, in astronomy, as in any branch of science, you need broad surveys, narrow searches, focussed tests, ... the whole gamut of investigations (not just one type).

The idea that 'visual results' have enormous popular appeal is an interesting one; if an unstated objective of a big (or medium) budget experiment/probe/mission is to produce visually stunning results, then perhaps these teams do need to boost their marketing departments somewhat.

Oddly, one thing the paper does not seem to cover is the extraordinary openness of the results, of both the HST and WMAP - part of the 'deal' that got them funded was that all data would be available, after a proprietary period (in some cases)! So, no matter what you are researching, you can get your hands on everything the HST and WMAP has ever produced, including the raw, unprocessed data.

Dan G.
Dan G.
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You raise some very

Message 68277 in response to message 68276

You raise some very interesting points. In the April 2002 Scientific American, there is an overview article about LIGO and in the article there are several opinions from astronomers who objected to expenditures on gravitational wave research over traditional methods. I believe this resistance was the main reason why LIGO didn't receive funding ealier. It was the tireless efforts of Kip Thorne and others that eventually got the funding through. In fact, I recall at the recent Pacfic Coast Gravity Meeting at Caltech, Professor Thorne asked the group to call their congressmen asking them to vote for Advanced LIGO funding.

I must wonder if the same astronomers objected to big science projects such as the Keck scopes on Mauna Kea?

You also mention the proprietary period for HST data, which is 1 year. Although there may be many stated reasons for this, the fact is it is simply because they want to protect the credit for discoveries.

I've encountered the same thing with LIGO. Asked why LIGO data wasn't published openly, I got a variety of somewhat nebulous reasons. The reality is most likely the same as the HST example. I believe, however, that if I were to call my senator and issued a formal request, I would be able to get access to the data. After all, as a U.S. taxpayer, I'm funding this project.

Quote:

It's a strange paper, with a strange idea .... that, somehow, there is something inherently wrong, or unhealthy, for astronomy/astrophysics/cosmology in having dedicated missions/observatories/instruments. Of course, in astronomy, as in any branch of science, you need broad surveys, narrow searches, focussed tests, ... the whole gamut of investigations (not just one type).

The idea that 'visual results' have enormous popular appeal is an interesting one; if an unstated objective of a big (or medium) budget experiment/probe/mission is to produce visually stunning results, then perhaps these teams do need to boost their marketing departments somewhat.

Oddly, one thing the paper does not seem to cover is the extraordinary openness of the results, of both the HST and WMAP - part of the 'deal' that got them funded was that all data would be available, after a proprietary period (in some cases)! So, no matter what you are researching, you can get your hands on everything the HST and WMAP has ever produced, including the raw, unprocessed data.


tullio
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Astronomers never wanted

Astronomers never wanted radioastronomy, or neutrino astronomy or GW astronomy. They are too much in love with their beautiful telescopes, dating back to Galileo.
What do these physicists want, to invade our turf?
Tullio

Nereid
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RE: Astronomers never

Message 68279 in response to message 68278

Quote:
Astronomers never wanted radioastronomy, or neutrino astronomy or GW astronomy. They are too much in love with their beautiful telescopes, dating back to Galileo.
What do these physicists want, to invade our turf?
Tullio


I'm not so sure about that ... no doubt there are, and were, astronomers who would like (would have liked) to continue with just (optical) telescopes.

However, I think a proper survey of astronomers would show that, overwhelmingly, they embrace advances. First, into regions of the EM spectrum outside the visual; then through new windows such as cosmic rays, neutrinos, and GW.

Where there is, and always will be, vigourous debate is over funding for large, new projects.

It's hard, and dangerous, to generalise, but it seems astronomers prefer large projects to be flexible and versatile, capable (in principle) of addressing a wide range of open scientific questions, rather than projects focussed on just one, narrow question. So, for example, the Hubble Space Telescope has a design that permits instruments to be changed (assuming servicing missions!); the LSST team is working on a significant number of instruments and data pipelines; even LOFAR may revolutionise UHECR research, despite the fact it's basically just a radio telescope!

And there are some hard lessons, for example HETE (which has contributed little to GRB research; cf Swift), and the HST (without servicing missions, new instruments can't be installed, and failed ones can't be repaired).

tullio
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From the SETI message boards

From the SETI message boards I have learned that the Arecibo radiotelescope, still the largest in the world, is at risk of closure. While the astronomical world community has violently opposed the end of support to the Hubble space telescope, no such thing seems to happen for Arecibo. Maybe the association of Arecibo with the SETI BOINC program, which derives fron it its raw data, has undermined the scientific image of Arecibo? But SETI observations are only piggy backed on a much larger set of astronomical, ionospheric and radar astronomy projects. I think scientists and amateur scientists like myself should make their voices heard against the closure of Arecibo.
Tullio

Nereid
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RE: From the SETI message

Message 68281 in response to message 68280

Quote:
From the SETI message boards I have learned that the Arecibo radiotelescope, still the largest in the world, is at risk of closure. While the astronomical world community has violently opposed the end of support to the Hubble space telescope, no such thing seems to happen for Arecibo. Maybe the association of Arecibo with the SETI BOINC program, which derives fron it its raw data, has undermined the scientific image of Arecibo? But SETI observations are only piggy backed on a much larger set of astronomical, ionospheric and radar astronomy projects. I think scientists and amateur scientists like myself should make their voices heard against the closure of Arecibo.
Tullio


What, do you think, is the unique set of astronomical observations that could be made from Arecibo?

'Unique' in the sense that so many astronomical observations can be made only with the HST.

What about 'maybe not unique, but Arecibo is much more effective (or efficient)' than any alternative?

In terms of addressing what you see as the central (astronomy) questions of today, how would you rank those which only Arecibo can do? Which Arecibo can do (significantly) better than any other facility?

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