Crashing the Gates
"Even the smallest person can change the course of the future."
GOAL: This experiment tests whether one person can affect the course of science. PROCEDURE: The academic year 2006-2007 might have been more comfortably spent on the beach in Waikoloa or Queensland. Presentations were made at multiple meetings. Except for one missed appointment in the UK (which doesn't affect US science policy) they went well. Along the way we found other people, even big people, who had been seeking change all along. This entry is limited to physics meetings in which the writer spoke or gave a presentation.
COSMO 06 September 25-28 also heard from physicist Michael Turner. Though often credited with coining the term "dark energy," Turner is open to adopting better ideas. His highlights: 1) The highly-touted "precision cosmology" depends on priors. 2) Measuring the gears is not the same as understanding the machine, 3) We are "over-invested" in string theory (Lisa Randall was there too) and inflation, 4) There is no Plan B for cosmology. The top of his list of ideas that need to be investigated: VARYING CONSTANTS.
Both this meeting and the AAAS meeting in February were very convenient to the SNAP collaboration. At COSMO, SNAP was represented by just a single junior researcher. The poor woman was so short of funds that she went about asking for a ride back to Berkeley. They didn't show their faces at all during AAAS. Is the mighty SNAP running low on petty cash?
AAS High Energy Astrophysics Division October 4-7 heard Chief Scientist Harvey Tananbaum point out that Constellation-X is considered the next priority after the James Webb Space Telescope. He didn't badmouth human spaceflight, but showed ways to carry CON-X in the Atlas V booster. He also reminded us that CON-X and LISA are NASA-approved programs, unlike SNAP/JDEM.
2 years earlier KIPAC's Roger Blandford had been corralled into giving a public talk on "dark energy." In a meeting full of CON-X supporters, Blandford diplomatically avoided mentioning DE. He urged us to attack fundamental problems directly, instead of "assumption-fitting model-building." He called the current physics "epicycles."
American Geophysical Union December 11-15 was full of scientists studying practical matters like Earth's climate. "Hot Young Solution to Faint Sun Paradox" was accepted for its contribution to climate science. Interest in this planet has led to great benefit, which I hope to write about soon.
NRC Town Hall February 1 heard comments from this writer (picture below) that were echoed in the journals as Why Dark Energy Is Bad For Astronomy. Shortly they will announce the important decision as to which "Beyond Einstein" mission will fly. It also gave one a good excuse to see Disneyland!
GLAST Symposium February 5-8 saw Roger Blandford again avoid mentioning "dark energy." One of the first issues he did mention was "Violations of Lorentz Invariance," or a changing speed of light. He said that once Lorentz violations are discovered, other researchers will claim that they knew it all along. Thanks for seeing my presentation, Dr. Blandford!
CONCLUSION: Academic year 2006-2007 saw signs of a "c change" in physics. As with previous paradigm shifts in science, much depends on the individual. Seeking and joining with other individuals can have enormous effect. Many photographs and direct quotes from others have been included to show that "c change" is a real phenomenon. Regardless of the outcome, this has been an adventure which one would not trade for anything.
UPDATE: The National Academies are due to release an important decision September 5, 2007 at 4 PM EST. Have a nice weekend! Check out the new Carnival of Space!