The Weizmann Experience: discussions on the future of cosmology

Together with Francoise Combes, who was recently appointed as a professor in the most prestigeous institution in France, Le College de France, and Benoit Famaey, who is an expert on Milgromian dynamics and its deeper foundations (e.g. Famaey & McGaugh 2012), we were invited by Mordehai (Moti) Milgrom to spend a whole week at the Department of Particle Physics and Astrophysics in the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot, Israel. A link to the video (dubbed in English) of the inaugural lecture given by Francoise Combes for her new chair and the introduction by Serge Haroche (Nobel Prize 2012 in physics) is available here (alternatives to the dark matter approach are explicitly mentioned by both).

I met Benoit at Frankfurt airport in the very early morning (he was heading in some random direction) since we had booked the same Lufthansa flight to Tel Aviv. We arrived on Sunday, March 6th, and met Moti at his office in the late afternoon.

In the entrance hall of the department. From left to right: Einstein's field equation without Lambda, Francoise Combes, Mordehai Milgrom, Pavel Kroupa and Benoit Famaey.
In the entrance hall of the Department. From left to right: Einstein’s field equation without Lambda, Francoise Combes, Mordehai Milgrom, Pavel Kroupa and Benoit Famaey.

Coming to know the place and first discussions

I am very impressed by the size and beautiful campus of the whole Weizmann Institut, and how pleasant the entire ambiente is.

Chairs and a pond infront of th Department.
Chairs and a pond infront of the Department.

The people are very friendly and helpful. And interested. I was staying at the spacious and luxurious San Martin Faculty Clubhouse. At night the various buildings and park areas in the Weizmann Institute are illuminated beautifully, with warm lights setting accents and emphasizing a welcoming atmosphere.

The highly-ranked  Weizmann Institute consists of many departments of various natural sciences and seems to be perfectly created for academic pursuit, including leisure areas. Its success in the pursuit of basic research in the natural and exact sciences and in acquiring funding is evident through the architecture, spaciousness, and general design.

There was no planned agenda for us, apart that Benoit was to give a talk on Wednesday, 9th of March, at 11:15, and for Francoise Combes to give a departmental colloquium on Thursday, 10th of March at 11:15. In between these talks we could do either nothing and hang about enjoying the sunshine and exquisite weather and pool, or engage in intense discussions. Perhaps due to the ambiente and of course our comparable research interests, we largely chose the latter.

On Monday, 7th of March, we had a very relaxed day, meeting with Moti at the Department in the late morning and spending our time debating. Typical discussion points (largely between Francoise, Benoit and myself) throughout the visit were the local major underdensity and its possible implications on the value of the cosmological Lambda, the underlying theory of MOND and whether it is due to a “dark” fluid which behaves like dark matter on large scales (e.g. Luc Blanchet’s dipoles and Justin Khoury’s condensate)

Given that Lambda was missing in the equation displayed in the entrance hall of the Department (see first photo above), we began to discuss it. And this is where the “local” underdensity now plays a possibly important role, see this figure from Kroupa (2015),

The underdensity is significant, according to the shown data, and may challenge any cosmological model. From Kroupa (2015).

 

and in contrast the very recent work by Whitbourn & Shanks where the authors explicitly state agreement with the previous survey by Kennen et al. (2014). The independent finding by Karachentsev (2012) on the local 50 Mpc scale appears to naturally continue the trend evident from the Kennan et al. data (see the figure on the left), IF one assumes the same baryonic to dark-matter ratio as at larger distances. The actually measured stellar density remains similar to the Keenan et al. value at small distance. So the baryonic density (assuming the gas to star ratio and the contribution by dwarf galaxies to remain unchanged out to distances of 800 Mpc [redshift of 0.2]) then within 300 Mpc there is at least a decrease in the baryonic density by factor of two. Conversely, taking Karachentsev’s measurement, we would see a disappearance of dark matter nearby to us since the stellar density remains similar to the Kennen measurement within 150 Mpc while the dark matter density decreases further. So the measurements appear to imply the following picture: within 400 Mpc the luminous (and thus baryonic) matter density decreases significantly by a factor of two. At the same time, the ratio of dark matter to baryonic matter decreases even more. Both findings violate the cosmological principle.

The work by David Wiltshire (his lecture notes) and Thomas Buchert already indicates that inhomogeneities could possibly make the Universe appear to an observer situated within such an underdensity as if it’s expansion is accelerating, although in truth it is not. That is, the inhomogeneities appear to be of the correct magnitude to eliminate the need for Lambda, Lambda (dark energy) merely being an apparent effect mis-interpreted by the supernova type 1a data. The reason lies in that a distant object’s observed redshift depends in reality on the exact paths the photons travel in a universe which consists of time-changing voids and over-densities, and this is a different redshift computed assuming a homogeneous and isotropic expanding Universe.

But we need more detailed calculations taking into account the constraints from the observed under-density shown in the figure to be assured that Lamba=0. It is certainly true that Lambda=0 may be more in line with theoretical ideas than the very small value deduced to explain an apparently accelerating Universe, because it is actually predicted, from quantum field theoretical calculations of the vacuum (for details see e.g. Padilla 2015), to have a value some 60 to 120 orders of magnitude larger. It should be emphasized, though, that “MOND likes Lambda“, in the words of Moti. The reason is that the Lambda derived from astronomical observations (e.g. from supernovae of type 1a observations) and Milgrom’s constant a_0 appear to be naturally related, and MOND may be derivable from vacuum processes (Milgrom 1999).

Within about 300 Mpc, where we can say that we have the best measurements, the Universe is nicely consistent with MOND. The mass-to-light ratios of galaxy groups are less than 10 (Milgrom 1998 and Milgrom 2002), i.e. there is only baryonic matter. The observationally inferred increased density of baryonic matter at distances larger than 300 Mpc would then perhaps be due to cosmological models being inappropriate, i.e. that the currently used red-shift–distance relation may be wrong.

We also debated galaxy evolution, the fraction of elliptical galaxies and the redshift dependence of this fraction. Notably, fig.7 in Conselice (2012)  shows that the observed fraction of massive galaxies does not evolve although the LCDM model predicts a strong evolution due to merging. This is consistent with the independent finding by Sachdeva & Saha (2016) that mergers are not a driving mechanism for galaxy evolution, and this is in turn consistent with the independent findings reached by Lena et al. (2014)  on the same issue.

We further talked about how LCDM is faring on large, intermediate and small  scales, how stellar populations change with physical conditions, the variation of the IMF, as well as political topics. The discussions were far from reaching consensus, we had different views and data sets we could quote on various problems, and time flew by such that we barely noticed.

However, Moti managed to drag us away from his Department, and showed us around the Weizmann institute. An particular station was the famous landmark tower which once housed the Koffler Accelerator and which now houses, in its “bubble”,

The tower which housed the Koffler Accelerator and which now houses a conference room (in its “bubble”) and the Martin S. Kraar Observatory.

a conference room and also the Martin S. Kraar observatory which is also used in international top-level research projects. The director of the observatory, Ilan Manulis, kindly explained to us in much detail its functionality and design for full remote-observations without human interference.

Viewing the lands from the top of the Koffler Accelerator Building. From left to right: Benoit Famaey, Francoise Combes and Mordehai Milgrom.
Part of the Weizmann Institute as viewed from the top of the Koffler Accelerator.
Part of the Weizmann Institute as viewed from the top of the Koffler Accelerator Building.
The "bubble" housing the conference room in the tower of the Koffler Accelerator.
The “bubble” housing the conference room in the tower of the Koffler Accelerator.
The Group at the Koffler Accelerator. From right to left: Benoit Famaey, Francoise Combes, Mordehai Milgrom and Pavel Kroupa.
The Group at the Koffler Accelerator. From right to left: Benoit Famaey, Francoise Combes, Mordehai Milgrom and Pavel Kroupa.

On this Monday Moti took us to lunch at the Lebanese restaurant Petra located in Nes-Ziona, a town 5 minutes drive from the Weizmann Institute. The Lebanese cuisine was fabulous, and I ate far too much.

 

A diversion to history

And, on Tuesday, 8th of March, Moti and his wife Ivon took us on a drive-around nearby Israel. This trip, involved about 4 hours of driving by Moti, and while driving we discussed, amongst other topics, the new study by Papastergis et al. (2016) in which they use 97 gas-dominated galaxies from the ALFALFA 21cm survey to construct their estimate of the baryonic Tully-Fisher relation showing excellent agreement with the expectations from Milgromian dynamics.

The drive was incredible, as we saw places with many thousands of years of history dating back to the Caananite peoples. It is this land which took the central role in the evolution of the Mediteranean-Sea-engulfing Roman Empire to a Christian empire. It contains the scars of the episodes of the invasion by a newer religion of christian lands, christian reconquest, and reconquest by the newer religion, till the foundation of Israel, issues which remain current to this day.

We visited Caesarea:

Caesarea, once a thriving port for many centuries, from where Paulus was imprissioned and sent to Rome for his hearing at the emperor's court, was wiped out in the 13th century.
Caesarea, once a thriving port for many centuries, from where Paulus was imprissioned and sent to Rome for his hearing at the emperor’s court, was wiped out in the 13th century.

The thriving thousand-yearold medieval city of Caesarea, named by King Herod after Octavian (i.e. Augustus Caesar) and which was once the main port in his kingdom, was finally obliterated from existence after a siege by a Mamluk army in the thirteenth century.

The ruins of Caesarea. King Herodot had his palace here.
The ruins of Caesarea. King Herod is supposed to have had his palace here.
The author amongst the ruins of Caesarea. "What was the fate of Caesarea's inhabitants when it fell to the Mamluks?"
The author amongst the ruins of Caesarea. “What was the fate of Caesarea’s inhabitants when it fell to the Mamluks?”
The Group in front of the Roman ampitheater in windy Caesarea, nearly but not quite ready.
The Group in front of the Roman ampitheater in windy Caesarea, nearly but not quite ready.
The Group in Caesarea, ready. From right to left: Mordehai Milgrom, Francoise Combes, Benoit Famaey, Pavel Kroupa.
The Group in Caesarea, ready. From right to left: Mordehai Milgrom, Francoise Combes, Benoit Famaey, Pavel Kroupa.

 

 

Acre, once a blossoming port and a gate-way to the holy lands for christian pilgrims.
Acre, once a blossoming port and a gate-way to the holy lands for christian pilgrims.

Acre: the chief port in Palestine during the crusader epoch still boasting major remains of the huge crusader’s fortress:

 

 

 

 

 

Acre: the remains of the Crusader port.
Acre: the remains of the Crusader port.
Acre was under the administration of the Knight's Hospitaller who helped arriving pilgrims and food was served in this Crusaders Refectory.
Acre was under the administration of the Knight’s Hospitaller who helped arriving pilgrims and food was served in this Crusaders Refectory.

After a wonderful dinner at the seashore between Tel Aviv and old Jaffa at the restaurant Manta Ray, where some action happened just before we arrived judging from the large number of police and other forces around, we visited very beautiful Old Jaffa:

Old Jaffa, which dates back to a history of 4000 years and where alrady the Egyptian empire stationed a garrison.
Old Jaffa, which dates back to a history of 4000 years and where alrady the Egyptian empire stationed a garrison.
Old Jaffa.
Old Jaffa.

The restoration of the archeological sites of Caesarea, Acre and of Old Jaffa brings to mind how incredibly rich and beautiful the thousand year old places are along the Mediterranean coast throughout the middle East and northern Africa, if upheld with the corresponding desire to show this history.

 

Back to science

On Wednesday, 9th of March, we spend the whole day in discussions with staff of the Institute. It began with Benoit Famaey’s presentation on the latest numerical results of modelling the Sagittarius satellite galaxy and its stream in Milgromian dynamics by Strasbourg-PhD student Guillaume Thomas. Natural solutions appear to emerge and this will, once published, clearly add spice to the discussions, given that the only solutions available in LCDM by Law & Majewski (2010) are unnatural in that the dark matter halo of the Milky Way needs to be oblate at right angle to the Milky Way, a solution which poses severe dynamical instabilities for the Milky Way disk. Notably, this polar oblate dark matter halo of the Milky Way alignes with the vast-polar structure (the VPOS) of all satellite galaxies, young halo globular clusters and stellar and gas streams.

In these discussions with the staff members during the aftenoon, we dealt with supernova rates and explosions and types in different galaxies, the relevance to the variation of the IMF in various environments (e.g. metal-poor dwarf galaxies vs metal-rich massive galaxies and the dependency of the IMF on density and metallicity), and cosmological problems such as the local massive under-density mentioned above.

An important point I tried to emphasize repeatedly is that if Milgromian dynamics is the correct description of galactic dynamics, then we must keep an open mind concerning the possibility that all of cosmological theory may have to be rewritten and the large-redshift data may need to be reinterpreted in terms of different redshift–distance and redshift–age relations.

In the evening of Wednesday I tried out the swimming pool on campus, and their sauna as well. I had access to this swimming pool by staying in The San Martin Faculty Clubhouse and the Hermann Mayer Campus Guesthouse – Maison de France. I must admit, that the day was near to being perfect with the sunshine and a closing dinner with Francoise and Benoit again in our meanwhile standard kosher restaurant (Cafe Mada) nearby the San Martin guest house.

On Thursday, 10th of March, Francoise Combes gave her interdepartmental presentation on “The Molecular Universe” which was well visited, and afterwards we went together with some staff of the Weizmann Institute for lunch at Cafe Mada, where a lively and very entertaining discussion ensued on religeos questions. In the late afternoon we joined the Whisky lounge, in which anyone traveling back to Rehovot from abroad can bring a duty-free bottle of Whisky to and donate it to this lounge.

The Local Group of galaxies is highly symmetrical, with all non-satellite dwarf galaxies lying in two planes symmetrically and equidistantly situated around the axis joining the Milky Way and Andromeda. From Pawlowski et al. (2013).
The Local Group of galaxies is highly symmetrical, with all non-satellite dwarf galaxies lying in two planes symmetrically and equidistantly situated around the axis joining the Milky Way and Andromeda. From Pawlowski et al. (2013).

Young researchers meet every Thursday (remember, this is in Israel the end of the week) to sip Whisky and thereby to elaborate on various problems, such as in our case on the local underdensity, or how the two critical constraints we have from the highly organized structure of the Local Group of galaxies and the CMB together constrain the cosmological model.

An interesting statement made was that while one needs about ten LCDM Universes to get one Bullet cluster (Kraljic & Sarkar 2015), an infinite number of LCDM Universes will not give a single Local Group with its symmetries.

At least these are some of the questions we discussed while there on this Thursday. We were also impressed by all the connections of this Department with Princeton, Caltech and Harvard.

Friday and Saturday

Shops begin to close down and it becomes a challenge to find food and Francoise left for France. In the morning I went for a swim and sauna, and for luch Benoit and myself had to go out of the Weizmann Institute (exit Main Gate and turn left) to find a sandwich place.

The Basha Bar in Tel Aviv.

 

After some work and then in the evening and at about 18:00 we decided to take a taxi to Tel Aviv. We arrived at the Basha Bar by about 18:30 and stayed for three hours (see photo).

 

The Basha Bar, enjoying a three-hour shisha smoke and many Tuborg beers.
The Basha Bar, enjoying a three-hour shisha smoke and many Tuborg beers.

On Saturday, the kosher breakfast in the guest house was as excellent as ever, but it was interesting for me to note that neither the toaster nor the coffee machine were to be used, while the water boiler was on so we could still have hot Turkish coffee (which we also drink in Bohemia, by the way, so not much new for me here). Nearly everything is closed. Benoit and myself met for lunch and walked outside the Main Gate turning right, over the bridge to reach the Science Park finding bistro Cezar for lunch.

In the evening Moti picked us up for a dinner at his home with Ivon, where we had a long discussion also on the dynamic situation in Germany, Europe and the future.

At the home of Moti in Rehovot.
At the home of Moti in Rehovot. From right to left: Moti, Benoit and the author.

 

Final comments

Benoit and myself stayed on until Monday, joining the astrophysics journal club which serves lunch at the Department on Sunday. I spent most of the afternoon discussing with Boaz Katz how star clusters may be relevant for type 1a supernovae. In the evening of Monday Benoit and I went again to Cafe Mada for a final dinner and drinks. On Monday, 14.03., we flew out around 16:00, taking a taxi to the Tel Aviv airport at 13:00 from the Department. We shared the same flight back. Again the 4+ hour long Lufthansa stretch without personal-screen-based entertainment system! But, this gave Benoit and myself a chance to further discuss at length the above mentioned Khoury condensate and the Blanchet dipoles as models for galaxy-scale MOND and cosmology-scale dark-matter-like behaviour. But I note that these are not dark matter models. During pauses my thinking was that as the coastal line of Tel Aviv receded in the setting Sun we left a small fraction of the Levant and northernmost Africa, all once pat of the Roman Empire, at a level of civilisation mirrored by the clear, brllliantly lit vast and dynamic power- and resource-hungry central-European night with full autobahns, radiant towns and illuminated football fields in nearly every village. In Frankfurt our ways parted after a last small dinner in the train station, Benoit taking a bus to Strasbourg at about 21:30, and me starting my odessey to Bonn at the same time using the available train connections (German trains all too often run late, these days).

The visit was most memorable for all of us, and Benoit and myself agree that we would like to return. We did not reach any conclusions but we came to know many new people and perhaps helped to underscore the very seriousness of alternative concepts to dark matter and the many failures of the LCDM model.

In closing it is probably fair to say that Milgrom contributed the greatest advance on gravitational physics since Newton and Einstein.

 

In The Dark Matter Crisis by Pavel Kroupa and Marcel Pawlowski. A listing of contents of all contributions is available here.

Advertisements

First Workshop on Progress in Modelling Galaxy Formation and Evolution in Milgromian dynamics — first results achieved with the Phantom of Ramses (PoR) code

[Note: This web-page is being updated continuously:
current status: 26.09.15]

LOCATION and TIME:
Observatoire astronomique de Strasbourg, Universite de Strasbourg, CNRS UMR 7550, Sept. 21st - 25th 2015

Below are provided
1.BACKGROUND/MOTIVATION
2.HOW TO REGISTER
3.PARTICIPANTS
4.HOTELS
5.PROGRAMME
6.PHANTOM WIKI
ORGANISERS: Benoit Famaey (Strasbourg) and Pavel Kroupa (Bonn)

1.BACKGROUND / MOTIVATION: Galaxy-scale data seem to be in accordance with the hypothesis that the extrapolation of Newtonian gravitation by orders of magnitude below the Solar system space-time curvature breaks down completely, and that collisionless astronomical systems behave according to space-time scale-invariant dynamics, as postulated by Mordehai Milgrom (2015). The classical theories of dynamics and gravitation underlying this symmetry, often referred to as MOND  theories, show a richer dynamical behaviour with new phenomena which appear non-intuitive to a Newtonian mind. Very successful analytical results have been obtained in this dynamics framework, such as accounting for the hitherto not understood properties of polar-ring galaxies (Lueghausen et al. 2013), accounting for the Bullet cluster (Angus, Fmaey & Zhao 2006Angus & McGaugh 2008) and the properties of disk galaxies (MOND reviews by Scarpa 2006; Famaey & McGaugh 2012;Trippe 2014) and elliptical galaxies (Sanders 2000; Milgrom & Sanders 2003; Scarpa 2006).

But little understanding of the dynamical behaviour of live Milgromian systems has been gathered. Live calculations, i.e. simulations of galaxies, are required in order to test, to possibly refine or to falsify this approach. The implications for fundamental physics are major in any case!

A series of Milgromian-dynamics workshops is planned to begin remedying this situation.

With this first “Phantom of Ramses” (PoR) meeting, the aim is to bring together the pioneers who have been daring footsteps into applying Milgromian dynamics to simulate live galaxies. First simulations of galaxies within MOND have been achieved with the first Milgromian Nbody code without gas (Brada & Milgrom 1999). Tiret & Combes (2007) re-visited this problem with their own code. The PhD thesis of Tiret is available here (in French). For spheroidal geometries MOND simulations have become possible with the NMODY code by Nipoti, Londrillo & Ciotti (2007), see e.g. the application of this code to the phase-transition of spheroidal systems on radial orbits (Wu & Kroupa 2013). A MOND code has also been developed for studies of cosmological structure formation by Ilinares, Knebe & Zhao (2008). While being highly successful in their ability to represent observed galaxies, all of these attempts have died-off due to a lack of long-term sustainability.

Now much more involved and more numerous studies has become possible with the first publicly available Milgromian dynamics computer code including star formation, i.e. baryonic physics (Lueghausen, Famaey & Kroupa 2015) with which even full-scale simulations of cosmological structure formation have become achievable, PoR being an official patch to Teyssier’s RAMSES code. A similar computer code (RAyMOND) has been developed independently by a Chilean research group (Candlish, Smith & Fellhauer 2015).

Because non-linear Milgromian dynamics is largely non-intuitive for researchers trained to think within the framework of linear Newtonian gravitation, this group of pioneers needs to find the chance to discuss, in as great depth as is required, the issues arising with initialising, setting-up and evolving Milgromian galaxies in virial equilibrium, including gas dynamics and star formation. The first scientific results which have already been achieved with the PoR code will be discussed at this occasion, but research related to Milgromian dynamics (e.g. by adoption of zeroth-order approximations by adding dark matter particles to Newtonan systems) will also be discussed.

The meeting will take place at the Observatoire astronomique de Strasbourg. We are planning a whole week for this event, whereby there will be one to two (at most three)  presentations per day interrupted with long discussion breaks to dwell upon problems that have been encountered and that may need solutions. Also, the breaks are intended to allow new persons to learn using PoR. The meeting will take place in the *MEETING ROOM* (with a capacity of about 20) at the Observatoire, and the presentations can be of any duration, but must have a break after the first 45 minutes if longer. After the last presentation each day discussions may continue at will, and Strasbourg offers many excellent culinary opportunities for the evening entertainments.

2.HOW TO REGISTER / IF INTERESTED:
Please register by sending an e-mail to Benoit Famaey <benoit.famaey_at_astro.unistra.fr> and to Pavel Kroupa <pavel_at_astro.uni-bonn.de>.

Note that this meeting does not have invited talks. The attendance is limited to 20.
3.PARTICIPANTS (preliminary):

Garry Angus (Brussel, Belgium)
Indranil Banik (St. Andrews, UK)
Christian Boily (Strasbourg, France)
Joerg Dabringhausen (remotely from Concepcion, Chile)
Benoit Famaey (Strasbourg, France) [SOC]
Martin Feix (Paris, France)
Hector Flores (Paris, France)
Alistair Hodson (St. Andrews, UK)
Rodrigo Ibata (Strasbourg, France)
Tereza Jerabkova (Praha, Czech Rep.)
Pavel Kroupa (Bonn, Germany) [SOC]
Fabian Lüghausen (Bonn, em.; tbc)
Marcel Pawlowski (Cleveland, USA)
Florent Renaud (Surrey, UK)
Jean-Babtiste Salomon (Strasbourg, France)
Ingo Thies (Bonn, Germany)
Guillaume Thomas (Strasbourg, France)
Yanbin Yang (Pairs, France)
HongSheng Zhao (St. Andrews, UK)

Conference Photo (24.09.2015):

PoR_group
Left to right:  Yanbin Yang, Indranil Banik, Ingo Thies, Guillaume Thomas, Garry Angus, Jean-Babtiste Salomon, Tereza Jerabkova, HongSheng Zhao, Rodrigo Ibata, Marcel Pawlowski, Hector Flores, Alistair Hodson, Florent Renaud, Benoit Famaey, Fabian Lueghausen, Pavel Kroupa
4.HOTELS:

Hotel Esplanade
ETC Hotel
Hotel Roses
Hotel21
Au Cerf d’Or
des Princes
5.PROGRAME:
The programme, abstracts and list of participants are available here as a pdf file:
PoR_Programme.pdf


PROGRAM (with downloadable presentations):  

First Workshop on Progress in Modelling Galaxy Formation and Evolution in Milgromian dynamics —
first results achieved with the Phantom of Ramses (PoR) code.
At the Observatoire astronomique de Strasbourg, 21.09.-25.09.2015.

PoR-code talks are scheduled for the afternoons allowing for discussion and learning time.  A few scientific talks relevant to the mass-deficit problem are scheduled for the mornings.


******* Sunday, 20th September

evening, approximately 18:00-
Meet for drink and food at Au Brasseur
ACCUEIL
******* Monday, 21st September 10:00 MORNING COFFEE 10:30 Welcome/Introduction/First presentation and discussion: Setting the scene: 1. Kroupa_PoR.pdf: Why is the dark-matter approach ill-fated? (Pavel Kroupa) 2. Famaey.pdf: The basics of Milgromian dynamics/MOND (Benoit Famaey) LUNCH (12:15-14:45) 15:00-16:15 1. Lueghausen_PoR.pdf: The PoR code (Fabian Lueghausen) 2. Thies_PoR.pdf: Setting up a stable disc galaxy in PoR (Ingo Thies) 16:30 AFTERNOON TEA 17:00-18:00  Open Discussion ******* Tuesday, 22nd September 10:00 MORNING COFFEE 10:45-11:15 (30 minutes) Angus_PoR.pdf: The DiskMass Survey’s implications for MOND, CDM and itself  (Garry Angus) LUNCH (12:15-14:45)   14:45-15:15 (30 minutes) Banik.pdf: The External Field Effect In QUMOND: Application To Tidal Streams (Indranil Banik) 16:10 AFTERNOON TEA 16:30 Thomas_PoR.pdf: Simulating Tidal Streams with PoR (Guillaume Thomas) PoR Movie (dSph Sgr, slide 19 in presentation): YouTubelink 17:00-18:00  Open Discussion - decision to set up PhantomWIKI ******* Wednesday, 23rd September 10:00 MORNING COFFEE 10:45-11:15 Yang_PoR.pdf: (30 minutes) Reproducing properties of MW dSphs as descendants of DM-free TDGs (Yanbin Yang) MEETING PHOTO  (12:15) LUNCH (12:20-14:45) 14:15-14:45 Angus2_PoR.pdf: The sub-subhalo connection to M31’s plane of satellites (Garry Angus) 14:45-15:15 Pawlowski_PoR.pdf: (30 minutes) Small-scale problems of cosmology and how modified dynamics might address them (Marcel Pawlowski) 16:00 AFTERNOON TEA 16:30 Renaud_PoR.pdf: Gravitation-triggered star formation in interacting galaxies (Florent Renaud) 17:30-18:00  Open Discussion 18:30--  Workshop dinner at Au Brasseur
ACCUEIL
******* Thursday, 24th September 10:30 MORNING COFFEE 10:45-11:15 Hodson_PoR.pdf: (30 minutes)  EMOND (Extended MOND) and effective galaxy cluster masses (Alistair Hodson) 11:30-12:00 Preliminary results on QMOND forces between point masses (HongSheng Zhao) LUNCH (12:15-14:45) 14:45-15:15  Salomon_PoR.pdf: The tangential motion of the Andromeda System (Jean-Babtiste Salomon) 15:15-15:45 Dabringhausen_PoR.pdf: Early-type galaxies in Milgromian dynamics (Joerg Dabringhausen, remotely from Concepcion, Chile) 16:15 AFTERNOON TEA 16:45-17:15 Banik2_PoR.pdf: Evidence for Dynamical Heating in The Local Group (Indranil Banik) 17:15-18:00  Open Discussion ******* Friday, 25th September 10:00 MORNING COFFEE 10:30-12:00 Kroupa_IMF_Strasbrourg.pdf Main Seminar of the Observatory: Is the stellar IMF a probability distribution function, or is star formation highly regulated? (Pavel Kroupa) LUNCH (12:15-14:45) 15:00 Final discussion and FAREWELL
6.PHANTOM WIKI

PhantomWIKI
This wiki is dedicated to supporting the research making use of the “Phantom of RAMSES” (PoR) patch.

Can one say anything, even the most obviously wrong things, to discredit an alternative to the standard model? An incident: cosmology at CalTech

The answer to the question posed in the title is  “Apparently, and sadly, yes.”

In previous contributions we have blogged about sociological problems that arise when attempting to do research in non-standard cosmological frameworks (for example the attempt at closing down “The Dark Matter Crisis”).

Early 2015 an incident occurred which is a contemporary example of this, but which may also possibly be a serious case of scientific misconduct. It appears to be an aggressive act in an attempt to discredit new approaches to cosmology and those working on them. A senior professor at CalTech has expressed, in a public forum, “Take the world’s best courses, online, for free“, directed at students of cosmology, wrong and unacceptable views which are likely to discourage young researchers from studying important theoretical concepts. The statements are derogatory, dismissing and demeaning to those full-time researchers who have been performing research in such fields, and who are without exception very talented physicists.

Prof. George Djorgovski teaches Cosmology at CalTech and his course can be followed by students world wide. In order to dismiss alternatives to the standard cosmological model, he recently used in a public forum (see below) the argument that General Relativity is “conformal”, and that this is “well tested”, while MOND is not. He further writes that “Cosmology tends to attract a certain type of crackpots, and some of them even have PhD’s.” “Some were great scientists, before sinking into the downward spiral” thereby implying, it seems from the context, researchers who work on MOND. He makes other, wrong statements, about MOND.

While there are indeed valid and rational arguments to make about the problems of MOND on large scales and on sub-galactic scales (such as globular clusters), one could seriously wonder whether a respectable institution like CalTech should find it acceptable for someone affiliated with it to make such erroneous statements about physics in a public forum dedicated to an official online lecture.

We remind the reader that a conformal transformation is a transformation preserving the angles but changing the magnitude of the length vectors. While many equations in physics are invariant under conformal transformations, Einstein’s equations are not. If they were, their weak-field limit giving rise to Newtonian dynamics would also be conformally invariant in space-time. Since one of the conformal transformations is the one known as “scaling” (others being related to rotations in space-time), conformal invariance would imply space-time scale invariance. But obviously, Newtonian dynamics is not space-time scale-invariant.

Indeed, assume we seek a trajectory (x,y,z,t): which equations of motion are required such that the trajectory n(x,y,z,t), where n is a number, is also acceptable?

This space-time-scale invariance (Milgrom 2009) actually leads quickly to equations of motion different from Newtonian dynamics, and, remarkably, these strictly imply the baryonic Tully-Fisher relation, flat rotation curves of galaxies as well as the external field effect. The above space-time scale invariance has been noted by Milgrom (2009) to be a new symmetry which may have deep theoretical implications. Milgromian dynamics, or MOND, is a classical framework which contains the Newtonian regime and extends it to the very weak-field regime which is identical to the space-time-scale invariant regime. The interested reader may find additional information in the important review by Famaey & McGaugh (2012) and in Kroupa (2015) as well as in Trippe (2014).

To summarize, it is certainly true that space-time scale-invariance does not imply full space-time conformal invariance. But this is a) of course not a problem, and b) GR is not conformally invariant either.

If on the other hand, Prof. Djorgovski meant that MOND is conformal, while GR is not, this is not true either. And there is certainly nothing “well-tested” about this. So one may be led to conclude that Prof. Djorgovski has either misunderstood some important issues or has a non-scientific agenda when interacting with students, and one could wonder whether a respectable institution such as CalTech ought to accept this, whatever one’s stance on the validity of alternative approaches such as MOND. A rigorously working scientist can only accept objective and evidence-based arguments when testing hypotheses.

Personal opinion ought not to play a role when testing the possible laws of nature. For nature it is irrelevant what opinion someone may have, or how prestigious the institute is where the scientist is opinionating from. A scientist may decide which field to work in, and which tests to perform, but dismissing hypotheses without a rigorous and solid analysis is unscientific behavior.

But perhaps Prof. Djorgovski used the wrong word (“conformal”) but meant “covariant”. GR is covariant, but the original paper by Bekenstein & Milgrom 1984 also explicitly proposed a covariant MOND theory, so this is obviously incorrect too.

As explained by a high-profile colleague interested in modified gravity theories (who however does not want to be named here, given the quality of Prof. Djorgovski’s statements) below, it is possible that Prof. Djorgovski has been confused by the fact that this first covariant version of MOND proposed by Bekenstein & Milgrom in 1984 involved a conformal transformation between the Einstein metric and the physical metric. This could not reproduce the observed enhancement of lensing, and led Bekenstein to propose a non-conformal relation between the Einstein and physical metric in 2004 (which is not a problem). So, Prof. Djorgovski is likely to have become confused here, leading to his nonsensical sentence. As stated by our colleague below, this again appears to suggest that Prof. Djorgovski may not understand what he is talking about. It would be a rather serious issue for modern cosmology to have ignorant people teaching it to youngsters.

Coming back to Milgromian dynamics, it has proven to be an incredibly rich theoretical approach to understanding the dynamics of galaxies with convincing success. The success in accounting for observations and more importantly in predictions is convincing evidence that Milgromian dynamics needs to be taken very seriously by theoreticians. It is false to claim, as Prof. Djorgovski does, that “epicycles” kept being added to MOND in order “to salvage it”. The classical framework of MOND, written down in Princeton by Prof. Milgrom in 1983, contains one single free parameter a_0 (possibly a new constant of nature, call it Milgrom’s constant, probably related to the properties of the vacuum; is has the value a_0=3.8 pc/Myr^2 approximately, e.g. Kroupa 2015), which is an acceleration, and this parameter can be fixed by one single galactic rotation curve leaving no freedom for further adjustments in other systems. Exploration of how to embed this classical framework into general-relativistic theories do not constitute “adding epicycles” but are important and necessary theoretical and mathematical research at the highest level of intellectual activity (see the comment below by our high-profile colleague and e.g. Zhao & Li 2010).

Indeed, dismissing the possibility that Einstein’s theory of general relativity (GR) may not be correct in the extreme weak-field regime, constitutes an unphysical ideological constitution of the mind in question. It is well known that Einstein’s GR is not unique. It should also be well known that Einstein 1916 put much effort in constraining his geometical interpretation of gravitation to agree with the Newtonion law of universal gravitation in the appropriate limit. But Newton derived this empirical law based on Solar System data only. Even Einstein did not know what galaxies are. Any person claiming that Einstein’s GR is valid on all scales is effectively performing an extrapolation by many order of magnitudes beyond the empirical data which the law was derived from. It is high-school knowledge that such extrapolations are extremely dangerous and are not likley to work. The apparent failure of GR on galactic scales and beyond may thus be the mere break-down of an extrapolation. It may also harald the existence of dark matter particles, which is a resaonable hypothesis a physicist may probe (as done here at great length). But it is not the only hypothesis.

While incredibly successful on galaxy scales, the hardest test of Milgromian dynamics designed until now has come from my (Pavel Kroupa) group in Bonn using globular clusters (Baumgardt, Grebel & Kroupa 2005; see Kroupa 2012 for a discussion). The evidence until now is ambiguous, but Milgromian dynamics appears to be under some stress on these globular star cluster scales.

Another interesting test being followed up now by observational astronomers in Chile has been proposed by Michael Bilek using shell galaxies (Bilek et al. 2015).

World-wide, the interest in Milgromian dynamics is increasing significantly, partly due to its most amazing success in accounting for the properties of galaxies. The increasing interest is shown in the figure below though the rising number of citations of Milgrom’s paper per year.

 

Milgrom1983citations
This chart shows the development of citations to the original research paper by Milgrom (1983). The increase in citations after the year 2004 comes with the break-through by Bekenstein (2004). Source: ADS.
Two independent groups have now created, for the first time ever, Milgromian simulation codes to allow full cosmological computations of galaxy formation and evolution using baryonic physics with feedback and star formation: the publicly available Phantom of Ramses (PoR) code by Lueghausen, Famaey & Kroupa (2015) and the RAYMOND code by Candlish, Smith & Fellhauer (2015). Numerical experiments on galaxy formation and evolution are being started in Concepcion (Chile), Strasbourg (France), Bonn (Germany), St Andrews (Scotland) and other places.

Surely this increasing activity world-wide is not due to “a certain type of crackpots, and some of them even have PhD’s” (me included with a BSc (hon) from UWA, Perth, a PhD from Cambridge University and habilitation from the University of Kiel as well as receiving a Heisenberg Fellowship, amongst other prizes). It is not so very clear where the crackpots actually are. Prof. George Djorgovski teaches Cosmology at CalTech and his course can be followed by students world wide. Questions may be asked in a forum. Early 2015 a very talented MSc student studying Astronomy and Astrophysics at Charles University, Prague, asked Prof. Djorgovski why he discounts MOND  (here is the MOND_Djorkovski-1 of the discussion, and here is a mond_djorgovski_forum-1screen shot:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Question by a MSc student to Prof. Djorgovski:

In module 7.2 there is short note about the alternavitve explanation of Dark Matter – the MOND. It was the first time I’ve seen such a possibility, so I did some research about it.

1. There is note in the table, that the gravity is modified on large scales, in papers I’ve found about MOND there is wrriten that the non-Newtonian regime should apply not on large space scales but in very weak gravity regime (such as the General relavity in strong gravity regime). Am I correct?

2. Also in the lecture was mentioned that the MOND does not work properly. I tried to find any references, but I did not. Could someone please explain me where is the problem with MOND?

 

The answer by Prof. George Djorgovski:

(In the forum “Take the world’s best courses, online, for free“)

The original formulation of MOND was a purely ad hoc modification of the Newtonian gravity, designed to explain the flat rotation curves, and without any other physical motivation. This made it also predict that galaxy clusters should not exist. More to the point, it was not a conformal theory, and thus in a conflict with the well established (and tested) aspects of the GR. Theoretical proponents of the theory (there are one or two of them) kept adding “epicycles” to it, to salvage it, thus sacrificing any putative elegance to this purported solution, and again, purely in order to save it, and without any other physical motivation.
A very small number (<< 10) of observers keep finding “evidence” that supports MOND, while ignoring any of the problems. Then some other observers point out that this is not the case, and the cycle continues. Most people see it as an exercise in futility.
Why do people persist in such pursuits? I think that this is a matter of psychology, not astrophysics. Cosmology tends to attract a certain type of crackpots, and some of them even have PhD’s. Some were great scientists, before sinking into the downward spiral; the most famous (and most tragic) example was Fred Hoyle, who simply cannot bear the idea that he was wrong about the Steady State cosmology, and he turned what was a brilliant career into becoming an irrelevant crank. Another, lesser, example was Geoff Burbidge, who refused to accept that the quasar redshifts were cosmological, despite an overwhelming and growing evidence, saying how there may be some new physics behind them, but never producing any. There are many more examples, and the proponents of MOND are not nearly as smart as Hoyle or Burbidge were. Once your ego becomes bigger than your ability to be a critical thinker and an honest scientist, so that you cannot admit that you were wrong and move on, it is over.
I should also note that a great majority of theoretical models turn out to be wrong, and simply disappear without a trace – they turn out to be in conflict with some measurements, fail to make good predictions, and that’s that. That is how science works. Sometimes a brilliant, new, original idea does work, or even transforms the physics – e.g., the relativity – by explaining the known facts and by making testable predictions (and surviving those tests). Most do not.
So if you really want to waste your time, go ahead and sift through those 600 papers on arXiv, and make up your own mind, but I think that you could spend your time more productively on other things.

 

Note by P. Kroupa:

Remarkable are the comments by some of the other students, if this is what they are, as evident in the forum. Noteworthy is Stephen Schiff’s addenda: “unscrupolous people”, “quacks”, “own egos or self-delusion” etc. with Prof. Djorgovski replying “Exactly”.

 

A commentary by a high profile colleague who is also an expert on modified gravity:
(given the contents of the text above by Prof. Djorgovski this colleague asked to remain anonymous)

This forum post by Mr. Djorgovski is absolute nonsense. To say that “the original formulation of MOND” was “not a conformal theory (sic)” casts serious doubts that he actually understands what he is talking about. I don’t think anyone could even understand what it is for a theory to be “conformal”… Is GR “conformal”? What does he mean? Does he mean it is conformally invariant? Of course, it is not. So what does he mean, then? Probably one should ask him, but the sad and clear truth is that this statement of Mr. Djorgovski simply does not make any sense whatsoever. But it may surely award him a rather high crackpot index. This is rather ironic, given the rest of his comments, which would probably be best applied to himself.

Actually, the problem of the original scalar-tensor theory proposed to reproduce the MOND phenomenology back in 1984 (which is actually what one would now call a “k-essence” scalar-tensor theory) is that it invoked a physical metric (coupled to matter fields in the matter action) which was conformally related to the Einstein metric, and for that reason, while enhancing the dynamical effect (g_00 term of the metric) could not enhance gravitational lensing (through the other space-space diagonal terms) by similar amounts. This is why a disformal transformation, invoking a vector field in addition to the scalar field, was proposed by Jacob Bekenstein 20 years later. This is perhaps what confused Djogorvski. But of course this is not “in a conflict with the well established (and tested) aspects of the GR” (sic). The latter statement relating to a mysterious “conformal” nature of GR, I have still a hard time believing has been written by someone with a PhD in Physics, and not by some random crackpot.

But this so-called TeVeS theory of Bekenstein does have real phenomenological problems, like the fact that without additional non-baryonic matter it has a hard time reproducing the CMB. Much better models in this respect are those recently proposed by Justin Khoury 2014  or Blanchet & Le Tiec 2008 and Bernard & Blanchet 2014.

Regarding his other comments, MOND is obviously not an “ad hoc” modification of gravity, but simply a phenomenological law relating the distribution of baryons to the gravitational field in galaxies. The original Milgrom’s formula is of course not a theory “per se” but a phenomenological law which allows to make predictions on the scale of galaxies. These a priori predictions do work extremely well on these scales, and do of course concern data that were not available back in 1983, which is why it is ridiculous to call it “ad hoc”. Especially so since MOND can be derived from space-time scale-invariance.

Now, the MOND interpretation of these observations is, very generally speaking, just that this fine-tuned relation between baryons and the gravitational field is not a consequence of “gastrophysical” feedback mechanisms (as is usually assumed in the standard dark matter context based on Einsteinian/Newtonian dynamics) but rather a reflexion of something more profound in the Lagrangian of nature, which one usually refers to in the standard context as “dark matter”, and which one also usually conflates with “non-baryonic, mostly collisionless, particles”, which is by no means requested by galaxy-scale data.

It is very true that it is not easy to write a modified action which reproduces this phenomenology, appears natural, and also keeps the most successful aspects of the current standard model such as successes in reproducing the acoustic peaks of the CMB. There are however a few proposed actions which do achieve this such as those proposed by Justin Khoury and Luc Blanchet (see references above), but they still appear a bit unnatural. These should of course just be considered as examples of what kind of Lagrangian can be written to both reproduce the phenomenology of MOND and reproduce the undeniable successes of LCDM on large scales.

Also, to say that MOND predicted galaxy clusters not to exist is of course blatantly wrong. MOND actually leads to galaxy clusters forming more rapidly than in the standard model of cosmology, as has been published years ago. It actually predicted that there should indeed be missing mass there, e.g. in the form of missing baryons such as cold molecular gas clouds, or in the form of hot dark matter with a free-streaming length above galaxies, or that the new degree of freedom in the Lagrangian of nature (see references above in the work of, e.g., Khoury and Blanchet) creating an effective modification of gravity on galaxy scales which is behaving like a collisionless preassureless fluid on these scales, just as it should do to reproduce the angular power spectrum of the CMB.

All of this does of course not mean that “MOND” is right, or in any way a final theory (which it cannot be because it could only come out of a larger theoretical framework), but it is a proof that the criticisms raised by Djorgovski just display ignorance. His comments are, at best, nonsensical.

Until the many challenges to LCDM (see Kroupa 2012; Kroupa 2015) are addressed within the standard model, if they ever can be, it is only a fair scientific endeavor to also consider modifications of the action which could address these issues. That does not prevent people from working on the solutions in the standard context, nor to criticize these alternatives. But when doing so, only rational arguments are admissible. The expressions used by Djorgovski in a public forum are instead completely nonsensical from a physics point of view, demeaning and offensive from a behavioral point of view, and generally unacceptable.

 

Concluding remarks:

The above episode demonstrates that the cosmological research field is broken. It apparently allows its members to teach students the most blatantly wrong contents as long as they are considered to be defending the “mainstream”. It appears that knowledge of basic physical concepts may not seem to be a requirement to teach cosmology at CalTech anymore. This is both pathetic and terrifying.

This example exemplifies the serious sociological forces acting against the few bright and inquisitive minds who, in the true spirit of science, dare to venture outside the dull beaten track followed by most.

 

See the overview of topics in The Dark Matter Crisis.

Question E: The Dark Matter Crisis continues: on the difficulties of communicating controversial science

(Continuation of the series A-E)

There has been an unsuccessful attempt to close down The Dark Matter Crisis. Here is the story (and an email by Jim Peebles): UPDATE: The guest post is now online.

As regular readers of our blog know, and first-time readers may be able to guess from this blog name, Pavel and I mostly write about the problems and shortcomings of the dark matter hypothesis. One aspect of our research is to test dark matter models on cosmologically small scales such as the Local Group of galaxies. Over the past years, our research and those of others has revealed that numerous model expectations of the dark matter hypothesis are not met by observations. This led us to the conclusion that we should consider a paradigm shift in how we understand the dark matter phenomenon. Maybe, we thought, a modification of the laws of gravity, one possible approach being Mordehai Milgrom’s MOdified Newtonian Gravity (MOND), could solve these issues.

Doing research that identifies shortcomings in a widely-held assumption and that is skeptical of a mainstream hypothesis is certainly a very interesting and rewarding endeavor for a scientist. It is closely connected to the fundamental scientific method of falsification and holds potential for groundbreaking discoveries. However, working on a controversial scientific topic also has its downsides. For one, papers criticizing basic assumptions are less attractive to be cited in mainstream publications. And before publication, controversial science already faces a more challenging peer-review process. For example Ashutosh Jogalekar explains in his blog The Curious Wavefunction:

“[…] reviewers under the convenient cloak of anonymity can use the system to settle scores, old boys’ clubs can conspire to prevent research from seeing the light of day, and established orthodox reviewers and editors can potentially squelch speculative, groundbreaking work.”

In addition to these ‘formal’ scientific interactions via academic publishers, there is also communication amongst scientists. For instance, early PhD students, who are still in the process of learning about the business of doing science, may be looking for advice from mentors and other more experienced scientists. Unfortunately, when the talk comes to controversial areas of science, students are often discouraged from getting involved in non-mainstream research (note, however, Avi Loeb‘s opposite advice). This begins with the commonly expressed belief that such research might “hurt your career”, but sometimes even more direct warnings are made. For example, a few years ago a professor told me that he would never hire someone who has published even a paper on MOND. A fellow PhD student got a similar piece of “advice” while visiting a different university, where one scientist advised him that he should only publish results which are negative for MOND, but nothing in support of it.

For people who are just starting in science, especially, such comments may be alarming. Graduate students do not yet know much about the job market. They therefore tend to believe what the ‘old boys’ tell them. To researchers who have a bit more experience, such warnings are often incomprehensible since they know by then (if they didn’t already initially) that it is entirely unscientific to withhold research results that do not fit a pre-determined picture.

The difficulties of working in a controversial field of research do not stop here. Communicating such science to a wider audience can also result in problems. While the public is generally very interested in the challenges faced by prevailing theories, there are difficulties to overcome. One of them is the question of how to differentiate completely unscientific things (the paranormal, creationism, …), from actual, albeit controversial, science.

A promising approach to overcome this difficulty is to discuss controversial science publicly. This way, the public can follow and be part of the debate, learn that arguments are backed by references to peer-reviewed research and see that hypotheses need to be tested through comparison with observational data—essentially the public gets to view the scientific process as it is applied in any branch of research. By demonstrating that scientists stick to facts, respond to opposing arguments and do not resort to emotionally driven rhetoric, we can adequately demonstrate the strengths of science.

The strength of the scientific method over dogmatic beliefs should always prevail in order to be able to contemplate the possibility of paradigm shifts. This is indeed a complex idea to explain, and presenting research results as absolute truth is something scientists should be prepared not to do. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Sometimes, some people profess the ideas they subscribe to as the scientific or absolute truth. Such claims of absolute truth completely contort the nature of science. It is certainly going too far when science bloggers, in an attempt to protect their preferred mainstream theory, demand that a scientists’ blog be closed because their views differ. Scientists who publish their research in scientific journals, who go through the peer-review process and who in the end publish slightly unorthodox but nonetheless valuable ideas, should not be censored from the science blogosphere.

Unfortunately, this is what happened to our blog, The Dark Matter Crisis.

A popular science blogger demanded that SciLogs.com discontinue our blog and has, for a short time, succeeded. We would like to use this occurrence as an example of the reactions and difficulties faced when doing online communication of controversial science topics. The incident demonstrates why debate in science must be based on objective facts and not be driven by personal opinions. It illustrates the dangers of mixing scientific convictions with personal goals and emotions.

Why we started the Dark Matter Crisis blog

In late 2009, Pavel and I wrote an invited article for the German popular science magazine Spektrum der Wissenschaft about dwarf galaxies as tests of cosmology. During the process, Spektrum asked us to also start an accompanying science blog on SciLogs.eu, to provide a place for discussions that might arise due to the controversial nature of our work. We were very hesitant initially, but after talking to students and colleagues we agreed to start a blog. What convinced us to blog was the possibility to get in touch with readers, which would allow immediate feedback and discussions, and the ability to continuously provide current information about our active field of research. When the Spektrum article was published in July 2010, the blog The Dark Matter Crisis went online, too. We blogged on it for about two years, and then agreed to move The Dark Matter Crisis to the new SciLogs.com network. The first article on the SciLogs.com blog was published on January 3, 2013.

The discontinuation of The Dark Matter Crisis

On January 28, we received an email from the SciLogs.com community manager. The email informed us that our blog had been discontinued and that we would no longer be able to update it, although the blog’s archive would remain on the site. The short explanation provided was that the “thesis pushed by The Dark Matter Crisis is now overwhelmingly considered incorrect by the scientific community and as such cannot be considered sound enough to be promulgated by SciLogs.com”.

As we blog mostly about our own and related research, such a justification not only attacks our blogging but also hits at the very heart of our scientific work. Consequently, the first reaction to this email was shock, quickly followed by many questions. Which “theses pushed” by our blog “is now overwhelmingly considered incorrect”? That the currently prevailing hypothesis of cold dark matter has serious problems? This certainly is not considered overwhelmingly incorrect, as there are many scientists working on addressing these problems, both within the framework of standard cosmology (e.g. Mutch et al. 2013, Fouquet et al. 2012), as well as by modifying it (e.g. Lovell et al. 2012, Macció et al. 2012) or even by taking a completely different approach (e.g. Famaey & McGaugh 2012). Also, we were invited to start the blog because of the controversial nature of this topic.

Furthermore, at the time of discontinuation, the SciLogs.com version of The Dark Matter Crisis had only one blog post thus far. The sole post presents the recent discovery of a co-rotating plane of satellite galaxies around Andromeda reported in Ibata et al. (2013, Nature). It discusses possible implications which are right now actively debated among scientists. In fact, that blog post was, as far as I can tell, the only one on the web to provide a detailed explanation as to why the Nature paper might be a threat to Einstein’s theory of gravitation, which was explicitly alluded to by numerous publications, but explained by none (most articles in classical media focussed on the 15-year-old co-author of the study). Surely, it is not the aim of SciLogs.com, as a service to provide information to the public, to censor a blog that was communicating science to the public. Therefore, we concluded that this blog post could not have been the reason for the discontinuation.

But even expanding the scope to the old SciLogs.eu blog, we cannot see where we push a thesis which is not scientifically sound. Our blog posts are full of references to peer-reviewed publications. While we often discuss non-mainstream interpretations, we always remain within the realm of science and discuss an active field of research. For example, we frequently mention alternatives to dark matter which try to explain the missing mass phenomenon by non-Newtonian gravity laws. As an active scientist in this field, one can certainly not say that this is not scientifically sound and “overwhelmingly considered incorrect”. Just looking at the number of citations to the first paper about MOND by Milgrom, shows a citation count that has been constantly rising over the last few years and is currently at 1066.

So, what might have triggered the decision to discontinue our blog?

What Who has triggered our blog’s discontinuation?

Digging around on Twitter revealed several interesting discussions which were obviously related to the discontinuation of The Dark Matter Crisis. It turns out that a former-scientist-turned-blogger, who had spent a few years doing research in cosmology (publishing 5 first-author papers with now 88 citations), demanded the discontinuation.

The blogger (@StartsWithABang) contacted @scilogscom on January 24 by replying to a 15-day old tweet that announced our blog’s move to the new domain. He tweeted “Bummed that @scilogscom is in the business of promoting contrarian scientist viewpoints.”, and asks the SciLogs.com community manager (@notscientific) “[Why] are you allowing @scilogscom to promote contrarian voices that undermine public understanding of [science]?”, adding “You have taken on “Dark Matter Crisis” blog, whose mission is to undermine all of physical cosmology & promote MOND.”

The two agreed to discuss the issue via email, with the blogger adding that he was “*personally* worried that you are promoting clicks & false controversy over quality science content”, and states that he is “very, VERY disappointed about this move that @scilogscom has made”.

By now the SciLogs.com community manager has explained to us what happened after these tweets. He and the publishing director responsible for SciLogs.com unfortunately assumed that the blogger’s criticism was justified. They decided to close our blog without conferring with others or asking us for a statement. After we complained about the discontinuation, they performed an internal investigation, which involved reaching out to astrophysicists and other people, and have realized that discontinuing our blog was a big mistake. We attribute SciLogs.com’s poor judgement to two factors: neither the community manager nor the publishing director has an (astro)physical background, it was the first time that SciLogs.com had experienced an attack against one of its blogs.

So, the result was that four days after the tweets about The Dark Matter Crisis were posted, our blog was discontinued. Interestingly, only a few hours later the blogger who complained about our blog tweeted: “Shout out to the @SciLogscom  team, esp. @notscientific  and @laurawheelers, for stepping up & vetting their #science blogs for quality!”. (@laurawheelers was not involved in the decision to discontinue our blog. She only referred @StartsWithABang to SciLogs.com’s community manager.) @StartsWithABang added “They are storing the archives, but the blog is inactive and will not be continued”. While until then this situation was only an example of one blogger attacking our blog and our research with contorted accusations, the reactions of a few other Twitter users  were disheartening.  Some of them, science communicators and even an active astronomer, welcomed the blog’s discontinuation. One would have hoped that they would see the value of our science blog, regardless of their own opinions on the controversial topic we blog about.

Some slightly earlier attacks

The incident seems to be related to a recently published paper by us: Kroupa, Pawlowski & Milgrom (2012). When the paper appeared on the preprint server arXiv on January 18, this lead to a short discussion on Twitter, during which the same blogger who would later led to the short-timed discontinuation of our blog, made some pretty harsh accusations against “the MOND zealots”, whom he seems to call a mix of skeptics and liars and deniers who trot out misinformation and undermine confidence in science. In reaction to our paper, he published a blog post in which he claims to rule out MOND with one graph. Unfortunately, his blog post does not address any of the issues discussed in our recent paper, nor does it address those discussed in many other papers over the recent years.

In reaction to the accusations and contorted depiction of our research, I submitted a comment to the blog post. It asks for a clarification of the accusations and tries to start an objective discussion. There was no reason to censor it. Nevertheless, the comment was not published the first time, so I submitted it again the following day. Again, it was not published. I then decided to ignore the issue and the blogger in the future, as a factual debate seemed to be undesired and emotion-laden quarreling on the web is a waste of time. However, as our blog was actively attacked only a few days later by that very same blogger, the comment is being published here for transparency:

“When I understand your Twitter tweets from yesterday correctly, you think that “Kroupa and some of the other MOND zealots” are, at least to a certain extend, liars and deniers who “trot out misinformation & undermine confidence in science”. Is this what you were saying or did I misunderstand something? My honest opinion is that this would be unnecessarily aggressive, insulting, unprofessional and unscientific as it does not help to establish a well-founded discussion of the scientific issues.

The fact that you do not address the numerous problems of LCDM, many of which are mentioned in the recent paper, does not help shaping a discussion. In your blog post, you base your argumentation on only one problem of MOND: the the strong oscillations in the matter power spectrum. However, according to e.g. Famaey & McGaugh (2012), this problem is not as clear-cut as you claim. They write: “the non-linearity of MOND can lead to mode mixing that washes out the initially strong signal by z = 0”, and even suggests a more robust test.

More fundamentally, basic logic tells us that falsifying one hypothesis does not provide information about the validity of an opposing one. Just to give an example: Disproving that the world is a disk does not prove that the guy who is claiming that the earth is donut-shaped is right. As it turns out, the earth is neither a disk nor a donut, but essentially a sphere. Nevertheless, you jump from this graph to a conclusion about “MOND, MOG, TeVeS, or any other dark-matter-free alternative”. In addition, if you would consider the numerous failures of the LCDM model in a similar way like those of MOND, according to your argumentation we would have to give up on both, modified gravity theories and dark matter.

As a last note, I’d like to point out that in our recent paper we do not present MOND as the final answer. The fact that there is not a single “MOND”, but many different attempts to construct a full theory of modified gravity (see Sect. 6) already demonstrates that more work needs to be done. But in order to search for a solution of the many problems LCDM has on scales of many Mpc and below (where MOND is very successful), scientists should be encouraged to investigate this possibility. That is what a paradigm shift is, in my opinion: acknowledging that there are problems and being open-minded for new or alternative explanations, without hiding the problems that these alternatives may themselves face. As we acknowledge in the paper, mass discrepancies in galaxy clusters and building a consistent cosmology are real challenges for MOND, but there exist more or less convincing answers to these problems in the various effective covariant theories that have been proposed to date (see e.g. the list of theories in Famaey & McGaugh 2012 and their Section 9.2). Even if most of these tentative new explanations will turn out to be unsuccessful, I am sure there still is much to learn about the Universe. We have made this clear in the final sentences of our paper, too: “Understanding the deeper physical meaning of MOND remains a challenging aim. It involves the realistic likelihood that a major new insight into gravitation will emerge, which would have significant implications for our understanding of space, time and matter.”

So, I don’t think there is any lying, denying or misinformation involved on part of us as active scientists. It is just that the Universe is a hard nut to crack. Having the strength to admit that none of the current models are the final answer should in fact increase our confidence in science.”

It is ironic that in a comment on this very blog post, the blogger suggests to a critical reader that if he does not like his way of blogging, the reader could get his own blog. Only a few days later the blogger seems to have worked towards the discontinuation of our blog …

The aftermath and an upcoming guest post

After being informed about the discontinuation and after having discovered the background story on Twitter, we got in touch with the staff responsible for SciLogs.com. As mentioned before, they quickly realized that the discontinuation of The Dark Matter Crisis was a mistake. After discussing the issue with Richard Zinken, the publishing director of Spektrum der Wissenschaft (who is also responsible for the SciLogs.com blog network), he and the community manager apologized for the incident. We have accepted the apology and understand that mistakes can happen. During the last weeks, we worked together with the SciLogs.com team, thinking about what would be the best way to re-open the blog and how to handle the recent events in a constructive way. Together with Richard and the community manager we developed this blog post on the difficulties faced when communicating controversial research.

Together, we also decided to invite a guest blogger to The Dark Matter Crisis, preferably a cosmologist who is skeptical about our views. We hope that this helps to shape the debate and keep it at a scientific level, in contrast to the seemingly emotionally driven attacks which misshape the public’s view of how science handles controversial research. We have asked a few colleagues for such posts, and are content that one experienced scientist has agreed to act as our guest blogger. We know that he is well-respected in the field. His guest post will go online tomorrow.

UPDATE (March 09 2013): In a recent blog post, supposedly trying to shut off people working on dark matter alternatives forever, the blogger attacking us wrote: “Courtesy of Scott Dodelson, I present to you the one graph that incontrovertibly settles the matter.” We now rather offer you a guest blog post on that matter by … Scott Dodelson.

In the meantime, Jim Peebles, Albert Einstein Professor Emeritus of Science at Princeton University, gave us his explicit permission to publish the full, unedited email in which he explains that he would not like to be our guest blogger. We would like to thank him for this and, given our recent experience, fully understand that he prefers to not start blogging:

“Hello Pavel

Sorry for the delay. I have been thinking about your email, and have decided that I will not contribute a commentary on your situation.

I agree with many of your points. The behavior of [SciLogs.com] is silly; this is not the way of science. As you indicate, the community is remarkably optimistic about galaxy formation within the standard LCDM cosmology. I consider this an example of the human herd instinct. With you I distrust talk of precision cosmology; we are still seeking an accurate cosmology. But I think we differ on the weight of evidence for LCDM. I am deeply impressed by the variety of independent lines of evidence that point to LCDM, and conclude that the case for LCDM as a useful approximation to reality on the scale of the Hubble length is about a good as one gets in physical science. No one can prove that there is not another cosmology without dark matter that fits the data as well as LCDM, and no one can prove that there is not another theory that works as well as quantum mechanics. I expect we both put the odds on the latter as too low to matter. I feel close to the same about the former.

You are entirely entitled to take the approach I see in your blog, but I do not want to state my opinion on your blog. I don’t want to take up [blogging] anywhere!

Regards, Jim”

In addition, you can have a look at a recent article in New Scientist: “Dark matter rival boosted by dwarf galaxies”. The article mentions James Binney, from the University of Oxford, who says that he “believes that some sort of MOND-like behaviour may manifest itself on small scales”, while Avi Loeb, of Harvard University, being skeptical about MOND, nevertheless states that: “The theory deserves a lot of respect.”

We believe that all astronomers, whether skeptical or not of our controversial research, are able to agree with Loeb’s statement, and it is in this spirit that we would like to continue our endeavours in online science communication.

By Marcel S. Pawlowski and Pavel Kroupa  (08.03.2013): “The Dark Matter Crisis continues: on the difficulties of communicating controversial science” on SciLogs. See the overview of topics in The Dark Matter Crisis.