Saturday, March 28, 2015

March 2014

Here is one excerpt from the new book, THE YEAR OF LIGHT, March 2014 and the BICEP2 announcement:

Albert Einstein's birthday, March 14, is easy as Pi for physicists to remember because it is 3.14. In The Year of Light it will be even more memourable, 3.14.15. On March 14, 2014 Paul Steinhardt planned to post online a paper that would review and demolish cosmic inflation, showing its many inconsistencies and failings. Unfortunately Steinhardt was "scooped" by the dramatic BICEP2 announcement.

Already on March 7 someone on the BICEP2 team had leaked to Mark Kamionowski that they had found his long-sought gravitational waves. On March 12 Harvard-Smithsonian notified the press that a dramatic announcement was scheduled for Monday March 17, with Alan Guth and Andre Linde invited to attend. By Friday, March 14 speculation was abuzz around the internet and the scientific world that BICEP2 had discovered something important about the universe.

On March 17 the four chief scientists of BICEP2 staged a dramatic press conference at Harvard. They proudly wore matching blue BICEP2 T-shirts and sat in front of a diagram of cosmic inflation. They told the assembled press, and the whole world, that they had discovered gravitational waves from the time of inflation. Ron Cowen of Nature was in attendance, and he called the evidence a "smoking gun." That day Alan Guth said the BICEP2 result was 'definitely' worth a Nobel Prize.

The front-page headline in The New York Times read "Space time ripples reveal Big Bang's Smoking Gun," accompanied by a worshipful profile of Alan Guth. On March 18 Guth gave a triumphant talk at MIT. In attendance were Andre Linde and Ron Cowen. That week speculation turned to who would get the Nobel Prize. Guth? Linde? The BICEP2 team? Experts were proclaiming a gravitational wave revolution. Nature devoted a special issue to "Waves From the Big Bang".

In succeeding months the BICEP2 discovery had crumbled literally to dust. Doubts raised by other scientists, and better data from PLANCK, showed conclusively that BICEP2 simply saw dust in the sky. What had gone wrong? Why had a near-certain detection turn out to be false?


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