Friday, April 17, 2009

Just How Many Ways Can You Mangle Physics?

I got criticized for being too harsh on the Wired article in one of my previous blog entry. Now let's see if I am still too harsh with this awful reporting.

This is from Toronto's "The Star", which, I'm guessing, is a local news media (someone can tell me that that's not right and I would be happy). First of all, why is a "medical oncologist" writing an article on cosmology? They can't get the many cosmologists hanging around the University of Toronto, or they can't contact someone from the Perimeter Institute?

In any case, that should be a major tip-of that things are not going to go well as far as accuracy is concerned. For example:

So the creation wasn't really a matter of "Let there be light", as much as a matter of "Let there be a separation of light and anti-light."

Of course I have to admit, as I have mentioned before, there is no simple way of explaining the concept of anti-light (because I simply don't understand it actually). Perhaps it would be useful to think of anti-light particles as the units of darkness that suck up light and create all-pervading gloom and impenetrable night.

That makes no sense, of course, since a photon is its own antimatter. I guess he's confusing the scenario where pair production forms out of energy during the early period after the BB. How this became "anti-light" is anyone's guess.

Anyway, as we now understand it, the entire cosmos is made of matter. Which is rigorously defined in the complex jargon of quantum physics as "that of which the entire cosmos is made." (Do stop me if I'm going too fast, won't you?)

No, I think you are going too fast for you! It is a general consensus that the predominant content of our universe, as of now, is dark energy, followed by dark matter (the nature of which we still haven't quite pinned down). So the "matter" that we know of is actually a very small portion of our "entire cosmos".

Anyway immediately after the Big Bang and the subsequent Big Separation, all the antimatter disappeared, although nobody seems quite certain where it went. A friend of mine called Derek, who is a major astrophysics nerd, has a theory that all the antimatter in the cosmos ended up in Huddersfield in Northern England, but I think that was just because it was a wet Sunday and there was nothing to do.

Anyway, Picozza's group simply set up a particle collector and put it on a satellite. (Since it collects cosmic rays you can't just leave it running in the living room apparently.) And it has collected low-energy positrons which are the antimatter equivalent of electrons (minus the GST of course). But there's more. After that, they discovered high- energy positrons — the "Grande Latte'' of subatomic particles – which, they deduced, must have been produced from dark matter. So (apparently) Q.E.D. – the theory of the Big Separation still holds.

Those two paragraphs combined produced utter nonsense. How does the possible detection of "dark matter" somehow verifies the "big separation"? Of course, the article never even once mentioned that the imbalance of matter and antimatter could be due to the CP-violation that we have detected. But then again, one actually has to understand what "CP-violation" is to be able to make such a connection.

If this was someone's blog entry or some "letter-to-the-editor" type of nonsense, I probably wouldn't have cared, though I might still write something. But this appears to be a regular article in, of all places, the "Living" section of the news. Did anyone proof-read it for accuracy before it got published? Obviously not. Maybe since it wasn't in a "Science" section, there's no reason to make sure it is scientifically accurate since, maybe, this is more of an attempt at humor than anything else. At least, I hope it is, because the content sucks!

If you are interested in reading a MORE ACCURATE report of the report that is being referred to in this silly article, read the PHYSICS article at the APS webpage. It may be "dryer" and does not have all the "funny" retorts, but it is at least accurate! I've also reported on this in an earlier blog entry.

So, anyone wants to tell me that I'm being too harsh on the guy?



Daniel Doro Ferrante said...

Dear Zz,

What i really want to know is why are we (Physicists) not contacted by newspapers to talk about cancer?! :-P

"The force is strong amid the cranks…" so strong that they create all of the monster-windmills we have to quixotesquely fight later… :-(

ZapperZ said...

Your guess is as good as mine. It is not as if Toronto is in the middle of nowhere without having immediate and direct contact with reputable physicists.

I think the writer was trying to be "cute". But in the process, he bastardized a lot of physics and played loose with accuracy.

And oh, I think a physicist talking about cancer would have done a better job than this.



YKhan said...

Oh relax! Or better yet, get a funny bone transplant. Remember, the "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" was not actually a work of astronomy. It's quite obvious to me it's done tongue-in-cheek, why wasn't it obvious to you? The dead giveaway was that "light" and "anti-light" thing, it is a humorous mangling of the concepts of matter/antimatter and the Biblical "Let there be light" description of creation. Lighten up! Or even anti-lighten up! :-)

ZapperZ said...

The best and funniest physics jokes are the ones that are the most accurate. It takes no talent to make bad jokes.

I have quite a wicked sense of humor, despite my criticism of this article. It just ISN'T funny, if that was the intention. The non-physicists certainly won't get it, while the physicists are too distracted by the bad physics. He's appealing to no one!


ratz said...

You asked, so yes, you're being too harsh.
I'm a Torontonian, a non-scientist (actually, a lawyer) who is very interested in cosmology. Since I lack your profound specialized education I find it hard to grasp some of the stuff I read about your science but I try.
It's nice to know a highly-educated oncologist has the same problem
By the way, the Toronto Star is the top newspaper in Ontario, Canada. And if you think we're all a bunch of hicks up here you might go to the Toronto Star website and read some of the articles about the wonderful discoveries being made at Toronto university and research centres in - oncology.

ZapperZ said...

But see, THAT is my point! For a well-know media outlet, I find it hard to believe that they can't find someone better to write on Cosmology! Remember that I said that if this were some small-time operation, or someone's blog, I wouldn't have bothered, because who's going to read it. But for a major news media like this, why aren't they paying more attention to the accuracy?

It is nice that you want to learn more about physics and cosmology. However, you, of all people, I would think, should be thoroughly annoyed that the few articles in which you do read and might be able to understand, are laced with a lot of errors and inaccuracies. Don't you care if you are being fed with at least accurate information, even if it is in a more "amusing" form?