Tuesday, May 27, 2008

João Magueijo’s Big Bang

I don't normally highlight either fringe science or something that is still so highly controversial that it requires more "gestation" period. But since this thing is going to be on TV tonight, I might as well point it out. The Science channel will be airing a documentary presenting the highly controversial view of cosmology from the point of view of cosmologist João Magueijo. He, if you have followed this field closely, is a proponent of the idea that the intrinsic speed of light has been varying over time since the beginning of our universe. I'm guessing that he is justifying this view based on the still-controversial observation that the fine structure constant may have varied over time (see here and here).

Still, this NY Times review of the documentary isn't that flattering.

Not everyone will be charmed, however, by the extent to which he and his producers apparently thought it was necessary to dumb down and dress up the science in question. Everything is presented in classroom metaphors, and not very vivid ones: shots of static on a television screen represent cosmic radiation; a stretchy sweater with a lot of extra buttons stands in for the expanding universe. An inordinate amount of screen time is also devoted to shots of the dreamy Dr. Magueijo staring at models of the solar system or lying on a deck chair and gazing at the sky.

It doesn’t help when he brings his own bad-boy biography into the picture (a habit that began with his 2003 book, “Faster Than the Speed of Light”). We’re treated to the story of how he had his Einstein-was-wrong-about-the-speed-of-light breakthrough while fighting a hangover, and to the sight of him chuckling while watching what appear to be fake home movies, with an actor playing the young João.

Unfortunately, I have other commitments tonight that I won't be able to watch this show, and I didn't set anything to record it. If you did catch it, can you post something here and let me know what you think of it?

The article did get one thing rather accurate, though. I've seen his pictures several times already before this (haven't met him in person yet), and I might even go out on a limb and say that he is one of the most good-looking physicist that I've ever seen. :) I'm guessing that the camera loves him, and in many circles, that's good enough for a TV show.



Anonymous said...

After viewing this program, it appeared that Mr. Magueijo was more interested in promoting himself than his ideas. He gave a decent summary of current thinking in cosmology, but when it became time to present his own ideas he could have been a bit more specific than simply stating that his VSL theory solves many of the current problems facing cosmology. Granted, it was a TV show and not a lecture to physicists, but a little more explanation and a little fewer flashy graphics would have been nice. As a layperson myself, the horizon problem is a bit difficult to understand and I felt that simply stating that VSL makes the inflation theory unnecessary was an insufficient explantion. He should have fleshed it out a bit more.

The show was filled with strange analogies(his imagined childhood friend who grew up to be a mean looking butcher with a meat cleaver in hand was supposed to represent the horizon of the universe) and wierd graphics which seemed designed more to say 'Look at me, I'm a heretic' than to elucidate his points. I could have done without the montage of all the sweaters his grandmother supposedly knit for all his relatives as well.

For quirky TV physicists, I have to say I much prefer Michio Kaku.

Anonymous said...

To add further to this shameless bit of self-promotion, he didn't bother acknowledging Moffat for originating the notion of VSL as an alternative to inflation - bad form lad.

At the beginning of the show he talked about looking at the CMB maps at different scales which led him to the so-called axis of evil feature. Can this "observation" be reconciled at all with his VSL theory? I assume there is some maths behind it.

Unknown said...

In One of his episodes while he is talking about the Horizon Problem there is a creepy subliminal message, that i barely caught with my eye, but can confirm with Tivo. A few seconds after he uses the metaphor of seeing 3 different people with orange paint on them far away from each other in a city.
Right where the title "Horizon Problem" is a line forms, then the next frame it gets stretched into the Words "AXIS OF EVIL" - The following frame changes the words to "666 of Evil" (look closely), then the following 3-4 frames are again "Axis of Evil" but in different fonts.
It is pretty creepy this stuff is on what you would think is a politcally nuetral program.

Anonymous said...

My take on it (Big Bang). Not all material makes it to the core of the 'bang' which has already reached critical mass, the core material 'exiting' faster than material which 'was' moving towards the core.

Blazed said...

I watched this program with some unease ( i.e. self promotion, poor analogies and disturbing visulas) and a distinct lack of closure on the VSL theory!
As a layman i was a little more than confused. Wouldn't all constants,(while being the same relative to each other) have different values in a smaller, hotter, more dense.... Universe to the one we have today? Aren't they all determined relative to the expanding space/time?
(apologise if this seems ignorant :-) .)