Reality check

Before we can agree on the interpretation of a set of facts, we have to agree on what those facts are. Even if we agree on the facts, we can differ about their interpretation. It is OK to disagree, and anyone who practices astrophysics is going to be wrong from time to time. It is the inevitable risk we take in trying to understand a universe that is vast beyond human comprehension. Heck, some people have made successful careers out of being wrong. This is OK, so long as we recognize and correct our mistakes. That’s a painful process, and there is an urge in human nature to deny such things, to pretend they never happened, or to assert that what was wrong was right all along.

This happens a lot, and it leads to a lot of weirdness. Beyond the many people in the field whom I already know personally, I tend to meet two kinds of scientists. There are those (usually other astronomers and astrophysicists) who might be familiar with my work on low surface brightness galaxies or galaxy evolution or stellar populations or the gas content of galaxies or the oxygen abundances of extragalactic HII regions or the Tully-Fisher relation or the cusp-core problem or faint blue galaxies or big bang nucleosynthesis or high redshift structure formation or joint constraints on cosmological parameters. These people behave like normal human beings. Then there are those (usually particle physicists) who have only heard of me in the context of MOND. These people often do not behave like normal human beings. They conflate me as a person with a theory that is Milgrom’s. They seem to believe that both are evil and must be destroyed. My presence, even the mere mention of my name, easily destabilizes their surprisingly fragile grasp on sanity.

One of the things that scientists-gone-crazy do is project their insecurities about the dark matter paradigm onto me. People who barely know me frequently attribute to me motivations that I neither have nor recognize. They presume that I have some anti-cosmology, anti-DM, pro-MOND agenda, and are remarkably comfortably about asserting to me what it is that I believe. What they never explain, or apparently bother to consider, is why I would be so obtuse? What is my motivation? I certainly don’t enjoy having the same argument over and over again with their ilk, which is the only thing it seems to get me.

The only agenda I have is a pro-science agenda. I want to know how the universe works.

This agenda is not theory-specific. In addition to lots of other astrophysics, I have worked on both dark matter and MOND. I will continue to work on both until we have a better understanding of how the universe works. Right now we’re very far away from obtaining that goal. Anyone who tells you otherwise is fooling themselves – usually by dint of ignoring inconvenient aspects of the evidence. Everyone is susceptible to cognitive dissonance. Scientists are no exception – I struggle with it all the time. What disturbs me is the number of scientists who apparently do not. The field is being overrun with posers who lack the self-awareness to question their own assumptions and biases.

So, I feel like I’m repeating myself here, but let me state my bias. Oh wait. I already did. That’s why it felt like repetition. It is.

The following bit of this post is adapted from an old web page I wrote well over a decade ago. I’ve lost track of exactly when – the file has been through many changes in computer systems, and unix only records the last edit date. For the linked page, that’s 2016, when I added a few comments. The original is much older, and was written while I was at the University of Maryland. Judging from the html style, it was probably early to mid-’00s. Of course, the sentiment is much older, as it shouldn’t need to be said at all.

I will make a few updates as seem appropriate, so check the link if you want to see the changes. I will add new material at the end.

Long standing remarks on intellectual honesty

The debate about MOND often degenerates into something that falls well short of the sober, objective discussion that is suppose to characterize scientific debates. One can tell when voices are raised and baseless ad hominem accusations made. I have, with disturbing frequency, found myself accused of partisanship and intellectual dishonesty, usually by people who are as fair and balanced as Fox News.

Let me state with absolute clarity that intellectual honesty is a bedrock principle of mine. My attitude is summed up well by the quote

When a man lies, he murders some part of the world.

Paul Gerhardt

I first heard this spoken by the character Merlin in the movie Excalibur (1981 version). Others may have heard it in a song by Metallica. As best I can tell, it is originally attributable to the 17th century cleric Paul Gerhardt.

This is a great quote for science, as the intent is clear. We don’t get to pick and choose our facts. Outright lying about them is antithetical to science.

I would extend this to ignoring facts. One should not only be honest, but also as complete as possible. It does not suffice to be truthful while leaving unpleasant or unpopular facts unsaid. This is lying by omission.

I “grew up” believing in dark matter. Specifically, Cold Dark Matter, presumably a WIMP. I didn’t think MOND was wrong so much as I didn’t think about it at all. Barely heard of it; not worth the bother. So I was shocked – and angered – when it its predictions came true in my data for low surface brightness galaxies. So I understand when my colleagues have the same reaction.

Nevertheless, Milgrom got the prediction right. I had a prediction, it was wrong. There were other conventional predictions, they were also wrong. Indeed, dark matter based theories generically have a very hard time explaining these data. In a Bayesian sense, given the prior that we live in a ΛCDM universe, the probability that MONDian phenomenology would be observed is practically zero. Yet it is. (This is very well established, and has been for some time.)

So – confronted with an unpopular theory that nevertheless had some important predictions come true, I reported that fact. I could have ignored it, pretended it didn’t happen, covered my eyes and shouted LA LA LA NOT LISTENING. With the benefit of hindsight, that certainly would have been the savvy career move. But it would also be ignoring a fact, and tantamount to a lie.

In short, though it was painful and protracted, I changed my mind. Isn’t that what the scientific method says we’re suppose to do when confronted with experimental evidence?

That was my experience. When confronted with evidence that contradicted my preexisting world view, I was deeply troubled. I tried to reject it. I did an enormous amount of fact-checking. The people who presume I must be wrong have not had this experience, and haven’t bothered to do any fact-checking. Why bother when you already are sure of the answer?

Willful Ignorance

I understand being skeptical about MOND. I understand being more comfortable with dark matter. That’s where I started from myself, so as I said above, I can empathize with people who come to the problem this way. This is a perfectly reasonable place to start.

For me, that was over a quarter century ago. I can understand there being some time lag. That is not what is going on. There has been ample time to process and assimilate this information. Instead, most physicists have chosen to remain ignorant. Worse, many persist in spreading what can only be described as misinformation. I don’t think they are liars; rather, it seems that they believe their own bullshit.

To give an example of disinformation, I still hear said things like “MOND fits rotation curves but nothing else.” This is not true. The first thing I did was check into exactly that. Years of fact-checking went into McGaugh & de Blok (1998), and I’ve done plenty more since. It came as a great surprise to me that MOND explained the vast majority of the data as well or better than dark matter. Not everything, to be sure, but lots more than “just” rotation curves. Yet this old falsehood still gets repeated as if it were not a misconception that was put to rest in the previous century. We’re stuck in the dark ages by choice.

It is not a defensible choice. There is no excuse to remain ignorant of MOND at this juncture in the progress of astrophysics. It is incredibly biased to point to its failings without contending with its many predictive successes. It is tragi-comically absurd to assume that dark matter provides a better explanation when it cannot make the same predictions in advance. MOND may not be correct in every particular, and makes no pretense to be a complete theory of everything. But it is demonstrably less wrong than dark matter when it comes to predicting the dynamics of systems in the low acceleration regime. Pretending like this means nothing is tantamount to ignoring essential facts.

Even a lie of omission murders a part of the world.

24 thoughts on “Divergence

  1. In my view the scientific method has failed in this current era because important prior interpretations were cemented into the prevailing scientific view, but were, we will come to find, wrong. I think that is what has happened in particle physics and cosmology. I won’t belabor my idea here, but ask yourself why immutable point charges around the Planck length in radius have not been studied with due diligence by the field.

    So, in my view, we are in this strange time where some leading physicists recognize that there is a crisis yet it is also considered taboo to revisit these major priors or to argue against the prevailing view on some subjects, like dark matter. The reason I like reading your blog and papers (to the extent I understand) is because I think you are absolutely intellectually honest. So it really bothers me to hear that you are subjected to these presumptions and any degree of intellectual-cancellation or dismissal. As an ideating enthusiast I’ve experienced another side of this on full blast bullying, but never from you, which i appreciate. The people I worry most about though are the new entrants to the field who must deal with all the prior generations and power networks, and especially those that already have good reason to be wary of other people with power.

    Regarding the subject of MOND and dark matter, I’m leaning towards BOTH. If the dark matter are the particles that create Einstein’s spacetime which is an aether as I see it, we would expect such an aether to get more dense as a function of local standard matter mass. Super dense by SMBHs and fairly dense around any object that is refracting light. So each galaxy would have this large cloud of dark matter and it would thin out considerably in intergalactic space. So the MONDian behaviour would result from this changing density of the aether. There is more to say, but I’ll stop here.


  2. Anyone who has studied immutable point charges around the Planck length in radius should give us some testable predictions from their theory which differ from those of other theories, or forever hold their peace.


    1. Oh gosh, there are so many. But Stacy prefers I keep it short. I’ll mention only a few and you can always visit my blog, which I think you can get to by clicking on my name. The quantum is not fundamental – it’s real and fixed, but it is an artifact of the most primitive emergent structure, the dipole of point charges. Some of them are sort of scary, like the idea that gen2 and gen3 fermion energy is actually present in a gen1 fermion, but those interior dipoles are shielded by the outer dipole. I imagine it must all sound outlandish to a scientist, but this is uncharted territory after all.


        1. Expanding on Philip’s comment, even one theoretical prediction that agrees with experimental measurements where existing theories do not, say g-2 for the muon, would be a start. Particle physics doesn’t get much simpler than the rate of precession of a particle’s spin axis in a magnetic field.


          1. I hesitate to respond to this, when there are so many people jumping on the bandwagon of “explaining” the muon g-2 anomaly. It isn’t something I have ever given much thought to, and I don’t have a ghost of a theory to explain it. But whenever I see an anomaly in particle physics, my immediate assumption is that it is a clue to the nature of quantum gravity. I therefore look immediately to see how much the direction of the gravitational field varies over the size of the experiment. This particular experiment is 15 meters in diameter, and therefore the gravitational field direction changes by .015/6371=2.35 x 10^-6 radians from one side of the experiment to the other. Now it may be a coincidence that the magnitude of the effect in the latest experiment is 2.39 x 10^-6, or it may not. But I cannot see any scientific reason why anyone would want to ignore a comment to this effect without thinking about it first.


            1. Phillip and Laurence, When I comment here I am trying to engage on Stacy’s content from my perspective of a new way to interpret nature and the projected differential to modern physics and cosmology, with a ever shrinking bit of hope that someday the lightbulb will illuminate for others. I am not in this to capture readers or hijack Stacy’s blog. That said, if I go crickets it will look like another enthusiast was bullied away, so I put a short response here:


  3. @DH: please don’t embed links and Twitter posts like that. It gets you sent to the spam folder.
    The paper about gravitomagnetism is complete bunk. Not even wrong. I got enough questions about it that I started to write a post, but stopped after doing the most basic calculation. This effect scales as (v/c)^2 ~ (300 km/s/300,000 km/s)^2 [where the biggest spiral spins at 300 km/s] so this is at most a one part in a million effect. No way this solves the missing mass problem. I did read some of the paper, and spotted numerous problems. The M/L of NGC 1650 is still ridiculously high, for example, so hardly gets rid of the need for dark matter. Its rotation curve isn’t actually fit. There’s just no substance of value to this.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. @DH: please don’t embed links and Twitter posts like that. It gets you sent to the spam folder.

      ok, I didn’t know this.

      “I got enough questions about it that I started to write a post, ”

      i’m sure you have as it has gotten lots of comment in news and blogs and forums.

      “but stopped ”

      that’s too bad i’d like to see it any ideas on how he gets his calculations so wrong then, he is a plasma physicist as Locklnn pointed out, he works with magnetic effects all day.

      “There’s just no substance of value to this.”

      I’m surprised it got published in a peer reviewed journal, that the peers didn’t also identify these issues.


        1. That seems to be it.

          A sample of 2 is small, but that is the second astrophysics article I’ve read in the European Physical Journal C. I haven’t read it in detail, but my instinct tells me that Stacy is right in his assessment of it. The other paper I read in that journal is in the field I probably know most about, and is probably the worst paper I have read in any half-way serious journal, just really, really, really bad. I actually wrote a complete rebuttal, but decided not to publish it unless the paper gets any citations by anyone other than the authors.

          Suffice it to say that the European Physical Journal C is not known as a top-tier journal for astrophysics. I don’t know how it fares in other areas.

          There are several European Physical Journals, with letters denoting various topics (probably modelled after Physical Review). Most or all grew out of previous country-specific journals, sometimes in languages other than English, some of them quite respected. Other than the common name, they seem to be more or less independent. I’m more familiar with the European Physical Journal H, which is for history of science (in a broad sense), and the quality there is fine.


          1. While “the European Physical Journal C is not known as a top-tier journal for astrophysics” it isn’t a paper-mill either. It is a legitimate journal, just not a top tier one. Peer review, in general, isn’t very ribgorous.


  4. I like that Gerhardt quote (which was new to me). We have identical views about intellectual honesty, and I’ve often ranted about willful ignorance.


    1. The longer quote is “When a man lies, he murders some part of the world. These are the pale deaths which men miscall their lives.” (Poet Paul Gerhardt) The second sentence really gets to the emotion behind each decision to commit an anti-scientific act to advance ones own interests. Each such decision chips away at the self as well as science. However, this is the reality in such a competive field as yours these days. There is more temptation than ever to commit these figurative murders. I also advocate adding to the list from Tracy : the lie of acquiescence to power lest challenge be career limiting. Ahhh, I don’t know why I even get into these discussions. All of this would be moot in the land of endless opportunity of hard little balls with an Lp circumference and a point charge center at +e/6 and -e/6.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I think ‘pull’ is an unfortunate term. In my ‘spacetime is an aether’ view, mass continuously causes an AC energy gradient in the aether that decreases by r^2, yet the aether particles are accumulators of h-bar like anything dipole based. So, if I were to rephrase your question in my language: ‘does dark energy contribute to the energy levels and energy gradients in the aether’? I think the answer is yes, because dark energy is essentially the net energy flow away from each galaxy in my galaxy local cosmology. (Yes, I am aware this reads like word salad if you don’t understand the immutable point charge universe.)


    2. Real answer: yes, in the sense that all forms of energy gravitate, and dark energy (keep in mind that there is absolutely no evidence that dark energy is anything more complicated than the cosmological constant, so I prefer the latter term) is a form of energy. However, it does not clump (that and its negative pressure are why Sean Carroll’s term “smooth tension” is so much better), so it behaves like a homogeneous fluid. In other words, at any given time it has the same effect as any other smoothly distributed substance. What makes it different from ordinary matter is that the density remains constant even though the Universe is expanding.


      1. if dark energy clumps inside a galaxy could it exert a gravitational pull on matter like mond?


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