Introduction Claims that Archaeopteryx is a hoax are common amongst those who wish to deny its evolutionary significance. [edit] Origins: Fred Hoyle



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  • Introduction
  • Claims that Archaeopteryx is a hoax are common amongst those who wish to deny its evolutionary significance.
  • [edit] Origins: Fred Hoyle
  • The claims that Archaeopteryx is a fraud originated with British astronomer Fred Hoyle, best known --- or at least, most charitably remembered --- for his work on the synthesis of elements in stars, and in particular his discovery of the Triple Alpha Process.
  • According to Hoyle the fabricators of Archaeopteryx took the fossil of a Compsognathus, made a paste of limestone and glue, spread it around the arms and tail, and then made impressions in this paste, while still wet, using modern feathers.
  • Frederick Hoyle blames the palaeontologist Richard Owen for the supposed hoax. Owen was a bitter opponent of Darwinism; Hoyle therefore supposes that Owen had intended the hoax to deceive enthusiastic evolutionists, whose credulity he would then expose: and that then, for some mysterious reason, he changed his mind about revealing the hoax. Most creationists who've borrowed Hoyle's ideas have abandoned this bit of the conspiracy theory, because they don't need it.
  • We shall review the more obvious evidence against the conspiracy theory.
  • [edit] Compsognathus doesn't look like that
  • Compsognathus and Archaopteryx: note that one of them has wings and the other doesn't.
  • The most obvious difficulty with the conspiracy theory is that Archaeopteryx doesn't actually have the skeleton of Compsognathus.
  • The skeleton of Archaeopteryx has a number of birdlike characteristics absent in Compsognathus, including the reversed hallux and the extension of the arm and forearm to make a functional wing, besides various differences of degree which, though perhaps not so weighty in proving it bird-like, weigh heavily against it being Compsognathus: for example, the reduction of the ventral spines on the vertebrae of the tail. The reader will find twenty birdlike traits of Archaeopteryx listed here; feathers are but one.
  • [edit] No sign of forgery
  • Paleontologists closely examining the London Archaeopteryx reached a different conclusion from that reached by the astronomer Fred Hoyle working from photographs. The investigators, Charig, Greenway, Milner, Walker, and Whybrow found that a vertical cross-section through the fossil showed no sign of a discontinuity where the supposed limestone paste left off and the real rock began.
  • They also found positive evidence for the genuineness of the rock. Charig et al write:
  • Proof of authenticity is provided by exactly matching hairline cracks and dendrites on the feathered areas of the opposing slabs, which show the absence of the artificial cement layer into which modern feathers could have been pressed by a forger. (Charig et al, Archaeopteryx is not a forgery., Science, 1986, v.232, p.622-626.)
  • [edit] Too many specimens
  • Advocates of the conspiracy theory often talk as though there was only one Archaeopteryx. In fact, there are seven skeletons known, which have turned up over a period of 131 years. The conspiracy, if there was one, would need to be passed down in secret from generation to generation, and would have to include an unlikely assortment of people, including the quarry workers who discovered, and immediately recognised, the Solnhofen Akten-Verein specimen in 1992.
  • Or how, on the supposition of fraud, are we to explain the history of the Teyler specimen? It was excavated in 1855 (four years before the publication of the Origin of Species) mislabeled as a pterosaur, and then stuck with this mistaken identity for more than a hundred years until a paleontologist took a good look at it. It seems hardly worth the effort of faking an Archaeopteryx unless you try to pass it off as one.
  • [edit] No replication
  • The obvious step for the conspiracy theorists to take is to attempt to replicate the supposed forgery. They could hardly hope to do so with a Compsognathus --- only two specimens are known, making it considerably rarer than Archaeopteryx. It should not, however, be beyond their means to acquire some small fossil in limestone and see if they can reproduce the fossil feathers of Archaeopteryx.
  • So far as we know, no-one has tried.
  • [edit] Richard Owen: the unlikely culprit
  • The fact is that Owen, who was a vain man, and extremely jealous of his reputation, exceeded the British Museum's instructions and his year's budget in order to get the London Archaeopteryx, which he then jealously guarded and worked on so that he should be the first to give a thorough description of the creature, which he did in person before the Royal Society.
  • It is plain, then, that if the hoax had ever been revealed, Owen would have figured as the Number One Bozo: the man who couldn't recognise a fake when he had it in his hands and under his chisel; and who had squandered, some might say misappropriated, the funds of the British Museum to buy a forgery.
  • Moreover, Owen went so far as to describe Archaeopteryx to the Royal Society as "a fully-formed bird not dissimilar to several types of modern raptors". This was a pretty bad blunder to make: whether Archaeopteryx is fake or genuine, its host of reptilian features aren't going to go away any time soon. This was a mistake which would come to haunt Owen when Archaeopteryx turned out to have a toothed jaw: Charles Darwin, rather uncharacteristically, gloated "Has God demented Owen, as a punishment for his crimes, that he should overlook such a point?"[1]
  • Yet Hoyle wishes us to believe that this blunder was deliberate, and that Owen, who had gained his reputation as an expert on dinosaurs, would knowingly stand up in public and mistakenly identify a dinosaur skeleton as a "fully-formed bird" with the intention and expectation of one day being proved completely wrong.
  • If there had been a hoax of the kind envisaged by Hoyle, and it had been exposed, no-one could possibly have ended up with more Archaeopteryx egg on his face than Richard Owen himself.
  • [edit] Related Articles
  • Harry Kroto 2004
  • Harry Kroto 2004
  • In 1968, polycyclic aromatic molecules were detected in interstellar dust (4). In 1972, convincing evidence that the dust contained porphyrins was obtained (5). Then in 1974 Wickramasinghe demonstrated that there are complex organic polymers, specifically molecules of "polyformaldehyde" in space (6). These molecules are closely related to cellulose, which is very abundant in biology.
  • http://panspermia.com/astronmy.htm#%205ref
  • Harry Kroto 2004
  • By 1975, Hoyle and Wickramasinghe were convinced that organic polymers were a substantial fraction of the dust. This line of thought was considered wildly speculative at that time. Now however, the idea that organic polymers in space are abundant and may be necessary for life is well accepted. Today we often see stories about things like vinegar among the stars (7), or "buckyballs" from space as "the seeds of life" (8). To that extent the scientific paradigm for the origin of life on Earth has already shifted.
  • Harry Kroto 2004
  • Book Review: The Black Cloud
  • August 31, 2007 12:30 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)
  • I once said that 2007 on Universe would include many new features, one being an occasional review of a work of science fiction. Hello!
  • The Black Cloud is a 1957 science-fiction novel written by British astronomer Fred Hoyle. Like the novels of Carl Sagan, and, often, Arthur C. Clarke, it's something of an extrapolation of the author's deeply-held scientific conceptions. Because it was written by a scientist, further, it's almost overwhelmingly dry at times; the narrative often gives way entirely to pages full of mathematical formulae, diagrams, and lengthy expository footnotes.
  • The premise is such: teams of scientists around the world simultaneously discover the presence of an inexplicable mass moving steadily through the solar system, seemingly dead-set on hitting the Earth. After some pontification, it turns out to be a highly dense dark cloud, unlike any cosmic dustball ever observed. Cue a panic attack and the deft warning of heads of state.
  • Harry Kroto 2004
  • .
  • As the cloud's erratic behavior proves to be impossible to predict scientifically, the scientists -- British stodgies at Cambridge, Americans lolling around Cal Tech and Mount Wilson -- realize the cloud might be some kind life-form in itself. Terrified that the being will block the Earth from the Sun's rays, unwittingly or otherwise, they attempt to communicate with it, a venture which, to their surprise, proves to be successful.
  • The black cloud turns out to be a startling, non-organic superorganism that is -- and this is an excellently clever turn of events -- completely surprised by the existence of life-forms other than itself. The cloud even claims to have always existed; "Wait until the Big Bang hears about that!" one of the scientists exclaims.
  • Our author, Fred Hoyle is an interesting character: he was the director of the Institute for Cosmology at Cambridge, but rejected the Big Bang theory because he found the idea of the universe having a beginning, and thus a cause, philosophically troubling. He was a notable feminist, pioneered the steady state theory, and even went against the commonly-held theory of chemical evolution, arguing rather that life on Earth was seeded by a steady influx of bacteria arriving from outer space on comets.
  • Harry Kroto 2004
  • Book Review: The Black Cloud 2
  • It's no surprise, then, that The Black Cloud is such an interesting, and fundamentally marginal, book. I originally picked it up because Hoyle's ideas -- particularly about the nature of life and its cosmic origins -- kept popping up in my reading: in footnotes, in passing, in complexity theory, particularly lauded by cosmic eschatologists like Freeman Dyson, who really do believe human life might evolve into conscious, interstellar dust clouds.
  • In a terrifyingly topical example of science imitating art, an international team of physicists have literally just discovered that under the right conditions, particles of inorganic dust (like that making up Hoyle's "black cloud") can become organized into corkscrew-shaped structures, which, under the right circumstances, can then interact with each other in ways that are usually associated with organic compounds and, ahem, (holy shit!) life itself.
  • These helical strands behave in a totally counterintuitive way, like attracting like, and can perform biological feats usually reserved for primordial stew: they can divide and form copies of identical structures, or "evolve" into more complex systems, for example.
  • Harry Kroto 2004
  • According to the researchers, who just published their finding in the New Journal of Physics, (an interesting action in itself, since the NJP is an open-access, online journal) nonorganic life is a definite possibility, and clouds of interstellar dust can likely self-organize, intuit, reproduce, and evolve.
  • The relationship between reality and fantasy in the realm of science fiction is in a constant state of evolution. Things which seem fantastic in 1957 can become scientific reality decades later; who are we to say if any speculation is too outlandish?
  • To quote the literary critic Robert Scholes, whose mid-1970s books on science fiction are among the rare few intelligent critical analyses of the genre, "because we know that the unexpected happens continually in the history of science itself, fiction...has a license to speculate as freely as it may, in the hope of offering us glimmers of a reality hidden from us by our present set of preconceptions."
  • Fred Hoyle, Cosmologist and Crank
  • What made Fred Hoyle such a fascinating figure in big-time cosmology was that he combined the accomplishments and understandings of the century’s elite – think Einstein, Bohr, Feynman – with proposals associated with cranks. In mainstream science, he helped construct one set of theories that looks spectacularly right, and another set that looks just as spectacularly wrong. As an apparent member of the lunatic fringe, he talked about an alien consciousness that ran the earth, diseases from space, and panspermia (his intriguing proposal that interstellar space dust is composed largely of bacteria.) His career raises interesting questions about the role of orthodoxy in the sciences, especially cosmology, where answers are necessarily provisional.
  • Hoyle’s biggest contribution to orthodox cosmology was nucleosynthesis – the process by which elements heavier than hydrogen are created within both stars and exploding stars, or supernovas. In a classic paper from 1957, Hoyle, along with three other scientists, showed how stars, in their spectacular death throes culminating in supernova explosions, create heavier elements that are then blown out into the universe. The planets in our solar system, many rich in elements heavier than hydrogen, are aggregated remnants of stars that exploded billions of years ago.
  • In the late 30s, no one knew just how elements heavier than hydrogen were created. Prevailing wisdom held that the sun was composed mainly of iron. By 1960 it was widely accepted that the sun (and all other stars) was mostly hydrogen, and that heavier elements were produced by the nucleosynthetic processes that Hoyle’s team had postulated. Though the work garnered a Nobel Prize for one of the paper’s authors, William Fowler, in 1983, Hoyle and the two other collaborators were somehow overlooked by the committee.
  • Hoyle’s biggest mistake, so far as orthodox science is concerned, was his conception of the Steady State Universe, first proposed in 1948. The current consensus holds that the Universe was created in an explosion now popularly known as the Big Bang. Hoyle envisioned instead an expanding universe in which matter was spontaneously created in gaps between galaxies. There was no explosion. Hoyle’s Steady State Universe was perhaps infinitely old – at any rate at least 800 billion years old, as opposed to 10-20 billion for the Big Bang. The theory was a worthy adversary of Big Bang until the mid-60s. Then it was dealt a ringing blow by the discovery of cosmic background radiation, predicted by Big Bang but unaccounted for by Steady State. Hoyle never ceased to tinker with his theory, eventually accounting for background radiation within its parameters, but it was too late; barely anyone takes it seriously today. In his memoirs, Hoyle was philosophical in defeat: “The Universe eventually has its way over the prejudices of men, and I optimistically think it will do so again.”
  • Hoyle cast his net widely. While simultaneously devising the idea of nucleosynthesis and defending the Steady State, he was developing a new theory of gravity (which went nowhere), giving talks on the BBC (in which he derisively coined the phrase “Big Bang”), scaling all 280 peaks over 3000 feet in Scotland, and writing science fiction. GoodBye! decided to take one for the team, and actually read one of his novels, October the First Is Too Late, from 1966. Because it would be irritating to find a single person who did everything well, it comes as great comfort to report that this book sucks. The protagonist, a composer of “modern music,” is cast into a world in which Hawaii and Great Britain exist in 1966, while all of the Americas are in the 18th century, Greece is still in the classical period, and Russia is so far in the future that it is covered by a great glass dome. Since the protagonist knows nothing of physics, a physicist sidekick soliloquizes until the plot is comprehensible. The protagonist sails to classical Greece, towing a grand piano, and fights a musical duel with a priestess who … enough. Suffice it to say that Hoyle’s hero manages coitus with women of classical Greece, modern California, and Futureworld, without sounding the least note of passion. The book’s theme is an exploration of quantum time and the many-worlds hypothesis – the idea that in every quantum event two universes are created, each spinning off to its own unique future. Scintillating it is not. [Instructor's note: Hoyle's science fiction is very uneven. His first effort, "The Black Cloud," has an original and interesting premise and is well written. It is recommended as interesting reading that will give a new insight to the breadth of forms that alien life might assume.]
  • In 1958, Hoyle was appointed to the Plumian Professorship at Cambridge, the realm’s highest post in astrophysics. He had recently published his groundbreaking paper on nucleosynthesis. He was well-known to the public for his BBC radio lectures, and for his first science fiction novel, The Black Cloud, which soon became a TV show as well. So how did it happen that by 1974, he had been knighted and yet was completely marginalized within science? It’s hard to say exactly, but it may have been committee work.
  • His memoir, Home is Where the Wind Blows (1994) is wonderfully evocative of the English society of Hoyle’s boyhood, when he forced his family to allow him to school himself, and used his learning in chemistry to blow things up. The book is full of fascinating ferment through the 40s and 50s, when his contributions to radar were important to the war effort, and his contributions to physics were seminal. But by the 60s his reminiscences become nearly unreadable as one committee blends into the next and political infighting among cosmologists apparently causes him to become unhinged.
  • Hoyle earnestly fought with his nemesis, the astronomer Martin Ryle of Oxford, over any number of issues. In the memoir, this conflict caused the usually-temperate Hoyle to explode in an attack on the discipline of astronomy for its adherence to what he called the “principle of maximum trivialization,” its tendency “when two alternatives are available, [to] choose the more trivial.” Conflict and resentment between the two were personal as well as professional; when Ryle was awarded the Nobel in 1974, Hoyle went public with his accusation that Ryle’s research had actually been done by a woman, a junior scientist on Ryle’s team. This imbroglio is posited by some as the reason Hoyle did not share in the 1983 Nobel. Though Hoyle was knighted in 1972 for contributions to astrophysics, in 1973 he resigned his professorship over a series of committee problems. From that time on his ideas were devalued and his dogged devotion to Steady State prompted his reputation as a crank. Rather than retreat, he began to promulgate a series of ideas which the mainstream scientific community regarded as idiosyncratic at best.
  • ***
  • The ideas at the core of cosmology are, for humans on Planet Earth, absurd: the Big Bang, quantum theory, black holes, the size and age of the universe. Cosmologists basically take ideas derived from mathematics and attempt to cast them on to the entire universe – and they have an incredible record of success in predicting subsequent observations. It is not too much to say that theirs is the pinnacle of human rationality in terms of understanding the observable universe, from the tiniest particles to the most gigantic structures of intergalactic space.
  • But events at the Big Bang and at the origin of life cannot be tested in the same sense as a chemical reaction; they are unique. Therefore much of what scientists believe to be true about the history of the universe is conjectural, yet predictions can be made. Physicists are constantly coming up with bizarre ideas that are shot down by colleagues, no harm there. But when Hoyle went solo after resigning from Cambridge there was no longer any check on him. His reputation allowed him to publish whatever he wanted. Soon he was coming up with really strange stuff. The interstellar dark matter was, he said, composed in part of bacteria. Since bacteria permeated the Universe, it seeded life everywhere, what Hoyle called “panspermia.” The chances of life appearing spontaneously on Earth were vanishingly low: according to Hoyle, one in 1040000. (In Hoyle’s defense, it must be said that there is no really convincing account of the origin of life on Earth.) This theory was in line with his well-accepted work on nucleogenesis. If all the heavier elements were the product of supernova dispersion, why not life itself?
  • But even if Hoyle could produce tantalizing spectrum evidence that bacteria existed in space, his theories got much weirder. He theorized that not only the origin of life, but evolution was also too complex to have occurred by chance: an evolved alien consciousness must have directed it. Diseases such as BSE, influenza, and polio were the result of comets or sunspots that caused interstellar particles to fall to earth. Worse: he declared that bumblebees were well fitted for interstellar space travel. In a supremely silly moment he published a book claiming that the classic archaeopteryx fossil was a hoax – this despite having no professional credential in paleontology.
  • His memoirs record a tea party in Princeton in 1953, where he met Immanuel Velikovsky, perhaps the 20th century’s premier scientific crank. Hoyle gently told Velikovsky that his work was not properly scientific. “This made Velikovsky look sad, which is how we parted.” Hoyle must have felt the irony. By the time his memoirs appeared, his own favorite ideas were as out of favor as Velikovsky’s. But he did not remark on the matter.
  • Hoyle’s failures should not be damning, for he was a man who followed ideas wherever they led him. He wrote that ideas were like catching a bird that has flown into your house. “The transformation from wild terror to calmness seems entirely magical … the bird watches you with a bright eye … you throw up your arms and release the bird, and away it soars. I feel it should be like that with ideas.” He said that much theorizing in physics was about style and described his own style as “ruthless.”
  • Some of his contrarian work was useful. His tweaks to the Steady State theory forced Big Bang believers to come up with better evidence, and his fundamental attack on the Big Bang is succinct: “Big-Bang cosmology is an illusion because, after asserting that matter cannot be created, it proceeds to create the entire Universe. It does so outside of both mathematics and physics, by metaphysical assertion.” The “theory,” he said, “is really a catalogue of hypotheses, like a gardener’s catalogue.” Together with Hoyle, we may find it disturbing that scientific orthodoxy is so firmly rooted around a single, quite unprovable, hypothesis.
  • Hoyle continued to seek mainstream scientific approval and was widely respected despite his quirks. His memoirs omit Nobels, his knighthood, science fiction, or, for that matter, panspermia or bumblebees. Last year he published a book with more evidence for the Steady State theory titled A Different Approach to Cosmology. Unsurprisingly, it was not well-received, although Scientific American said, “it’s heterodoxy is seductive.”
  • The heroes of 20th century cosmology have all had their quirks. Einstein famously rejected quantum theory. Feynman was a wild man. Stephen Hawking recently recommended that human genetic engineering should proceed because otherwise robots may take over the world. Of one thing we may be certain: the Universe is much stranger than the quirks of the cosmologists who attempt to explain it.
  • Hoyle was 86 when he died. He continued to hike in the mountains and theorize to the end.
  • http://www.goodbyemag.com/jul01/hoyle.html
  • Meanwhile, Fred Hoyle made an even greater contribution by solving the "helium-carbon gap." The formation of hydrogen and helium in either a steady state or a single creation was easy enough to understand. Gamow had done the work and his model explained the hydrogen-helium balance of the universe. The formation of larger atoms beyond four-proton carbon was also easily comprehensible. It took place in the stars.
  • The roadblock was getting from helium to carbon.
  • The roadblock was getting from helium to carbon. The intervening beryllium isotope lasted only a millionth of a billionth of a second—far too short for further synthesis. Without bridging this gap, the universe didn't seem possible.
  • Hoyle tackled the problem with what Singh calls "one of the greatest intuitive leaps in scientific history." He found a theoretical excited state of carbon-12 that would enable the transition. Such a state must exist, he argued, even though it had never been observed. On sabbatical at Caltech, Hoyle approached Willy Fowler, one of the greatest experimental nuclear physicists in the world, and asked him to look for such an excited state. Fowler replied that all the states of carbon had already been explored and there was no such thing. Hoyle insisted, promising Fowler he would be part of one of the greatest discoveries in nuclear physics. Fowler relented and spent 10 days looking for carbon-12 at a state of 7.65 megaelectronvolts higher than the basic carbon nucleus. He found it. The path to the universe was clear.
  • "It was," says Singh, "an instance of extreme genius." He argues that Hoyle should have won the Nobel Prize but was probably denied because he had offended so many astronomers in his pursuit of the steady state.
  • A pigeon trap in the Smithsonian
  • Wilson and Penzias
  •  
  • The route from proton to the transuranic elements was now known, both for the Big Band and the steady state. All that was needed was evidence to tip the balance one way or the other. It came in 1962, when Robert Wilson and Arno Penzias, the two Bell Labs technicians, began puzzling over a steady hum of background interference they kept encountering when trying out their new radio telescope. The background radiation was in the microwave range. "It's the same signal that you hear between stations on a dial radio," said Singh.
  • This bit of chance might seem a small hook on which to hang a Nobel Prize. But Singh points out that Wilson and Penzias were dogged in pursuit of a seemingly minor problem. "They could have dismissed it, they could have easily written a footnote and moved on to other things," he told the Academy audience. "But they persisted. At one point they discovered a pair of pigeons had built a nest in the bowels of the telescope. They trapped the pigeon and cleaned up the 'white dielectric material' that had accumulated. Still, the signal didn't go away." The pigeon trap is now in the Smithsonian.
  •  
  • After a year of frustration, Penzias finally mentioned the problem to Bernard Burke, a physicist at MIT. Two months later, Burke called excitedly and told Penzias he had just received a paper from two Princeton scientists, Robert Dicke and James Peebles, who were predicting that the Big Bang would have left a universal "cosmic microwave background" (CMB) radiation at exactly the wavelength they were observing. (By now, the Gamow-Alpher-Herman paper of 1948 was forgotten.)
  • The rest is history. Wilson and Penzias had discovered the echo of the Big Bang—or at least its release of visible light after the "recombination" of matter after 300,000 years. They received the Nobel Prize in 1978. As George Gamow boasted in a piece of doggerel:
  • The Steady State Is out of date, Unless my eyes deceive me.
  • Fulfilling the prediction made by Thomas Kuhn, however, neither Hoyle nor Gold ever abandoned the steady state theory and stood by it until their deaths in 2001 and 2003. They left no progeny.
  • Continued
  • Big Bang
  • Simon Singh Takes on the Cosmos
  • Reported by William Tuckerposted Mar 31, 2005
  • Big Bang: The Origin of the Universe
  • Simon Singh
  • HarperCollins, 2004. 544 pages.
  • Read an excerpt of the book: Chapter 1
  • Listen to "Stairway" backwards
  • Simon Singh's home page
  • Resources
  • First proposed by a Belgian priest in the 1920s, the Big Bang found confirmation in the 1970s with the discovery of its "cosmic echo." Along the way, quite a few scientists changed their minds, including Albert Einstein.
  • See and hear the speaker's presentation
  • Sponsored by HarperCollins Publishers
  • The course of scientific discovery never did run smooth.
  • This is the message of Simon Singh, noted journalist and chronicler of some of science's greatest mysteries, who addressed an audience at the Academy on February 8. Singh appeared to promote his latest book, Big Bang, published in 2004 by HarperCollins and already making a sizable splash in the commercial market. By February 20, it was listed as #10 on The New York Times nonfiction bestseller list.
  •  
  • The Big Bang is now the accepted theory for the origin of the universe. Sometime about 13.7 billion years ago, the universe began expanding outward from a single point.
  • What is surprising is that Big Bang theory is not identified with any one advocate. There is no Charles Darwin of the Big Bang. Nor, for that matter, is there a Fred Hoyle, the British astronomer who sponsored the alternate theory, the "steady-state" universe of "continuous creation."
  • There is no Charles Darwin of the Big Bang.
  • If anyone can be credited with originating the Big Bang theory, it is a Belgian priest, Georges Lemaître, who originated the idea on almost no empirical evidence and took it to Albert Einstein—who promptly dismissed him, saying, "Your calculations are correct, but your physics is abominable." Within ten years, Einstein became the most famous convert to the Big Bang theory.
  • The scientific paradigm
  • Georges LemaîtreTo frame his narrative, Singh employs Thomas Kuhn's theory of scientific "paradigms." As outlined in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962), Kuhn argued that inexact or wrong theories can be accepted for a long time, even under the weight of contradictory evidence. A shift will not occur until a new theory or "paradigm" arises. Suddenly everything makes sense in a new way. Even so, as Singh points out, the new theory is often accepted only as a new generation of scientists grows up with it. The older generation may remain wedded to the old theory until they die off.
  • Before the Academy audience Singh illustrated how easy it is for stray facts to congregate around any existing theory with a little exercise involving Led Zeppelin's anthem "Stairway to Heaven." Singh played a brief excerpt of the chorus, then played it backwards and asked if anyone had heard the word, "Satan." (Half a dozen audience members raised their hands.) Finally, he projected a few somewhat incoherent stanzas on the screen, including the verse, "There was a little toolshed where he made us suffer, sad Satan," and asked everyone to listen. The lyrics were clearly audible (listen to "Stairway" backwards).
  • "Once a theory provides an explanation for a set of facts, it becomes very easy to accept that explanation, even if it is manifestly wrong, as this one obviously is," said Singh.
  • Einstein's biggest mistake
  • The steady state was the explanation of the universe by default through the early portion of the twentieth century, its principle exponent being Albert Einstein. Already famous for the general and special theory of relativity, Einstein was seeking a unified theory of everything when he confronted the puzzle that had been around since the time of Newton. If, as both Newtonian gravity and Einstein's time-space curve argue, everything is attracted toward everything else, what keeps the universe from collapsing upon itself?
  • Einstein introduced a fudge factor—the "cosmological constant"—which he said counteracted the universal attraction and kept the universe in a steady state. He later referred to this as "the biggest blunder I ever made."
  • Einstein on Friedmann Click to enlarge
  •  Just how big a blunder it might be was soon illuminated by Alexander Friedmann, a talented Russian mathematician, who showed that a different choice of a cosmological constant would lead to very different outcomes. A smaller constant would not be enough to offset gravity and the universe would eventually collapse on itself. A larger value, on the other hand, would not only offset gravity but send the universe expanding outward forever. Einstein admitted the accuracy of Friedmann's reasoning but dismissed the result as scientifically irrelevant—almost perfectly echoing the Catholic church's earlier dismissal of the Copernican model of the solar system.
  • Arguments for an expanding universe
  • Friedmann died quite young, however, and the first complete model for an expanding universe came from Father Lemaître, who once wrote "There are two ways of pursuing the truth, science and religion. I chose both." In the 1920s, Lemaître proposed that the universe had begun with a single atom and had multiplied and subdivided billions and trillions of times over into the universe we see today. It wasn't exactly the "Big Bang" of later theory—an explosion of all matter from a single point—but it was close.
  • "Lemaître's idea was rejected because it implied a creator," Singh told his audience. "People said, 'You're just trying to bring God into the picture.' " Lemaître insisted he was simply following science—he did have a PhD in physics—but it made no impression. After being dismissed by Einstein, Lemaître quietly gave up the promotion of his idea.
  • Within two years of the Einstein-Lemaître conversation, however, Edwin Hubble, the greatest observational astronomer of the 20th century, made an announcement that suddenly gave Lemaître's model extraordinary credibility. Hubble had already won the "Great Debate" of the early 1920s when he proved that—contrary to prevailing opinion—the fuzzy "nebulae" just visible with the largest telescopes were not dust clouds but galaxies outside of the Milky Way containing billions of stars on their own.
  • Suddenly the architecture of the universe cried out for a Big Bang.
  • Applying the analysis of the Doppler shift to these galaxies, Hubble now determined that those furthest away were receding the fastest. Suddenly the architecture of the universe cried out for a Big Bang. Hubble, who stoutly adhered to the facts, refused to speculate on the obvious conclusion. But others did and in 1933 Einstein and Lemaître met again and Einstein publicly renounced the steady state.
  • The "Horrendous Space Kablooie"
  • All this may come as a surprise for anyone who remembers Big Bang theory as a relatively recent development. In fact, the expanding universe was widely accepted in the 1930s. The problem was the concept didn't have a really catchy title. This was supplied in the 1950s by—of all people—Fred Hoyle, its principle opponent.
  • One of Hoyle's greatest legacies became a name for a theory he didn't believe.
  • "Hoyle was doing a radio show in 1950," said Singh. "At one point he said dismissively, 'The proponents of this theory think the universe began with one big bang.' Ironically, the name caught on." One of Hoyle's greatest legacies became a name for a theory he didn't believe.
  • "Has there ever been any effort to think of a different name?" Singh asked . "Yes there has," and he went on to relate it.
  • "In 1992, in a Calvin and Hobbes cartoon, Calvin is carrying forth about how the name doesn't seem to express the unimaginable wonder of the universe. He finally suggests another term—'Horrendous Space Kablooie!' Cosmologists abbreviated this as HSK and several scientific papers actually used it before the term faded."
  • The steady state fights back
  • Although the Big Bang/HSK definitely held the upper ground by the 1950s, the steady state supporters regrouped. Stung by the mounting evidence, Hoyle revised the theory. The universe was not completely static, he said, eternally the same without any beginning or end. Instead, it was involved in what Hoyle termed "continuous creation."
  • "The idea seems to have come to Hoyle and his two associates, Thomas Gold and Hermann Bondi, while watching a post-war horror movie, Dead of Night," said Singh. "In the film, the hero keeps waking up from a bad dream and going to a party, where he tells the guests about it. They are suspicious and begin telling him a series of stories that horrify him. The hero becomes agitated until suddenly he wakes up and finds it was all a dream. He gets out of bed and hurries off to a party, where once again he meets the same guests and the same thing happens."
  • Gold, Bondi, and Hoyle
  •  Contemplating this 1940s version of Groundhog Day, Gold came up with the idea that the universe might work the same way. "The universe was expanding but matter was continually being created to fill in the gaps," explained Singh. "This seemed to answer all the questions posed by Hubble. Instead of happening all at once, creation was a continuing process that had always been and would go on forever."
  • What made the steady state credible was that the Big Bang had its own difficulties. Hubble's calculations had shown a universe that was only 1.6 billion years old. Geological radioactivity revealed an earth that was already 3.6 billion years old. How could that be?
  • "In fact, Hubble had vastly underestimated the distance of the furthest galaxies," said Singh. "It wasn't until the 1950s that this was straightened out and it became clear the universe is actually about 13.7 billion years old.
  • What is amazing about the story is how much good science was done by supporters on both sides before the next pieces of the puzzle fell into place.
  • The a,b,c's of radiation
  • George Gamow, a light-hearted Ukranian immigrant with a taste for drama and poetry, became the principal exponent of the Big Bang. Taking the process step-by-step, Gamov and his associates figured out what would have happened in the first few minutes of a universe created from nothing. Using the new knowledge of nuclear reactions, Gamow determined that protons, electrons, and neutrons would have been too agitated to associate into atoms but would have remained in a highly electrolytic "plasma."
  • "At the beginning, even light would be bottled up by this highly charged environment."
  • "At the beginning, even light would be bottled up by this highly charged environment," said Singh. "But after about 300,000 years the universe would cool to 3000 degrees, which would allow hydrogen and helium atoms to form. For the first time, rays of light would be free to sail through space unhindered."
  • Gamow and his associates, Ralph Alpher and Robert Herman, theorized that this huge burst of light would still be reverberating around the universe. "In 1948 they published a paper predicting that the wavelengths of this echo would now be stretched into the microwave range of the electromagnetic spectrum," he said.
  • Gamow designed a comic photo of himself with Alpher and Herman  
  • The provenance of this prediction became somewhat confused because the whimsical Gamow wanted to list Hans Bethe as coauthor. Bethe, who had already worked out the fusion cycles of the stars, had contributed nothing to the research, but Gamow was charmed with the idea of a paper presented by "Alpher, Bethe, and Gamow," an echo of the first three letters of the Greek alphabet. The paper was published and its predictions soon forgotten.
  • An intuitive leap
  • Meanwhile, Fred Hoyle made an even greater contribution by solving the "helium-carbon gap." The formation of hydrogen and helium in either a steady state or a single creation was easy enough to understand. Gamow had done the work and his model explained the hydrogen-helium balance of the universe. The formation of larger atoms beyond four-proton carbon was also easily comprehensible. It took place in the stars.
  • The roadblock was getting from helium to carbon.
  • The roadblock was getting from helium to carbon. The intervening beryllium isotope lasted only a millionth of a billionth of a second—far too short for further synthesis. Without bridging this gap, the universe didn't seem possible.
  • Hoyle tackled the problem with what Singh calls "one of the greatest intuitive leaps in scientific history." He found a theoretical excited state of carbon-12 that would enable the transition. Such a state must exist, he argued, even though it had never been observed. On sabbatical at Caltech, Hoyle approached Willy Fowler, one of the greatest experimental nuclear physicists in the world, and asked him to look for such an excited state. Fowler replied that all the states of carbon had already been explored and there was no such thing. Hoyle insisted, promising Fowler he would be part of one of the greatest discoveries in nuclear physics. Fowler relented and spent 10 days looking for carbon-12 at a state of 7.65 megaelectronvolts higher than the basic carbon nucleus. He found it. The path to the universe was clear.
  • "It was," says Singh, "an instance of extreme genius." He argues that Hoyle should have won the Nobel Prize but was probably denied because he had offended so many astronomers in his pursuit of the steady state.
  • A pigeon trap in the Smithsonian
  • Wilson and Penzias
  •  
  • The route from proton to the transuranic elements was now known, both for the Big Band and the steady state. All that was needed was evidence to tip the balance one way or the other. It came in 1962, when Robert Wilson and Arno Penzias, the two Bell Labs technicians, began puzzling over a steady hum of background interference they kept encountering when trying out their new radio telescope. The background radiation was in the microwave range. "It's the same signal that you hear between stations on a dial radio," said Singh.
  • This bit of chance might seem a small hook on which to hang a Nobel Prize. But Singh points out that Wilson and Penzias were dogged in pursuit of a seemingly minor problem. "They could have dismissed it, they could have easily written a footnote and moved on to other things," he told the Academy audience. "But they persisted. At one point they discovered a pair of pigeons had built a nest in the bowels of the telescope. They trapped the pigeon and cleaned up the 'white dielectric material' that had accumulated. Still, the signal didn't go away." The pigeon trap is now in the Smithsonian.
  •  
  • After a year of frustration, Penzias finally mentioned the problem to Bernard Burke, a physicist at MIT. Two months later, Burke called excitedly and told Penzias he had just received a paper from two Princeton scientists, Robert Dicke and James Peebles, who were predicting that the Big Bang would have left a universal "cosmic microwave background" (CMB) radiation at exactly the wavelength they were observing. (By now, the Gamow-Alpher-Herman paper of 1948 was forgotten.)
  • The rest is history. Wilson and Penzias had discovered the echo of the Big Bang—or at least its release of visible light after the "recombination" of matter after 300,000 years. They received the Nobel Prize in 1978. As George Gamow boasted in a piece of doggerel:
  • The Steady State Is out of date, Unless my eyes deceive me.
  • Fulfilling the prediction made by Thomas Kuhn, however, neither Hoyle nor Gold ever abandoned the steady state theory and stood by it until their deaths in 2001 and 2003. They left no progeny
  • Stories of discovery and mystery
  • There is much, much more to Singh's chronicle. Did you know, for example, that helium was discovered in the sun before it was found on earth? Most terrestrial helium had long since drifted into space—hence the name, derived from "helios," Greek for the sun. Then there is story of George Gamow's first scientific experiment, when he took home the communion wafer in his cheek and put it under the microscope. He found no evidence of the Transubstantiation. "I think this was the experiment that made me a scientist," he later wrote.
  • None of this touches on the first half of Big Bang, which traces the transition from the Ptolemaic to the Copernican view of the solar system. And who can forget Giordano Bruno, the Italian philosopher, who argued in On the Infinite Universe and Words that the universe was infinite, that the stars have their own planets, and that life exists on these planets. In 1600 he was burned at the stake by the Catholic church for his heresy. Copernicus
  •  
  • The conflict between scientific discovery and the Catholic Church is well documented. What is less known, as Singh points out, is the recent support that the Church has given the Big Bang—and, for that matter, the theory of evolution. "When Lemaître first suggest the universe expanding from a single atom, people accused him of trying to smuggle religion into cosmology," he told the Academy audience. "But it turned out he was right."
  • Singh is willing to balance science and religion. He quotes favorably American astronomer Robert Jastrow, who wrote with gentle irony about Big Bang cosmologists: "He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak, as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries."
  • The dazzling success of Big Bang theory only uncovers greater mysteries.
  • Like all scientific endeavors, the dazzling success of Big Bang theory only uncovers greater mysteries. As astrophysicist Owen Gingerich pointed out in the New York Times Book Review, Big Bang largely ignores the questions of dark matter and dark energy that have occupied cosmologists in recent years. Einstein's cosmological constant has even had a revival with the observation that the universe is expanding faster than anticipated. And of course there is the ever-present mystery as to whether our universe is only one of many, and "What Happened Before the Big Bang?"
  • Earthrise
  •   Still, the triumph of Big Bang theory is a commanding height from which the next mountaintops can be viewed. Singh has chronicled this long ascent with grace, wit, and eloquence.
  • Speaker
  • Simon Singh received his PhD in particle physics from the University of Cambridge. A former BBC producer, he directed the BAFTA Award-winning documentary film Fermat's Last Theorem and wrote Fermat's Enigma, the best-selling book on the same subject. His best seller The Code Book was the basis for the BBC series The Science of Secrecy. Visit his web site for a fascinating tour of Singh's articles, favorite science books, radio programs, and more.
  • William Tucker is a writer for The American Enterprise.
  • Resources
  • Books:
  • The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, by Thomas S. Kuhn. 1996. University of Chicago Press. Amazon | Barnes & Noble
  • Big Bang: The Origin of the Universe, by Simon Singh. 2005. Harper Collins, New York. Amazon | Barnes & Noble
  • The Code Book, by Simon Singh. 2000. Anchor, New York. Amazon | Barnes & Noble
  • Fermat's Enigma, by Simon Singh. 1998. Anchor, New York. Amazon | Barnes & Noble
  • Web Sites:
  • The Astronomy Cafe Subtitled "The website for the astronomically disadvantaged," Sten Odenwald's site includes answers to many frequently asked questions about the universe and its origins and describes a number of books and articles he has written on the subject.
  • "Big Bang" on Wikipedia An encyclopedic overview of the subject, including the history of the theory, problems it has faced, and questions remaining to be investigated. The essay includes extensive hyperlinks to other related topics.
  • Creation of a Cosmology: Big Bang Theory A concise scientific explanation of the Big Bang theory.
  • Curious About Astronomy? Ask an Astronomer This Web site for laypeople provides an archive of questions and answers about the Big Bang, and allows visitors to pose their own questions on the subject.
  • "A Day Without Yesterday": Georges Lemaître & the Big Bang Extensive biography of Georges Lemaître (1894-1966).
  • The First Three Minutes Review of Steven Weinberg's The First Three Minutes, a book about the very early development of the universe.
  • Sir Fred Hoyle Extensive biography of astronomer, mathematician, and novelist Sir Fred Hoyle (1915-2001).
  • Great Debates in Astronomy A series of debates held at the Smithsonian's Museum of Natural History among leaders in the astronomical community. Features background information, educational material, and published proceedings for each debate.
  • The History Guide: Giordano Bruno Links to resources about the life of philosopher and astronomer Giordano Bruno (1548-1600).
  • Hubble Brief biography of Edwin Hubble.
  • Physics: Cosmology and Astronomy A collection of links to popular information on the subject, from About.com.
  • Science & the Arts A program organized by the City University of New York New Media Lab that bridges the two worlds. Expert speakers and performers—including recent participants like Laurie Anderson, Wallace Shawn, Michel Gondry, Brian Eno, and Todd Haynes, as well as Mighton and Greene—present examples of the interplay of science and the arts in dance, art, and theater. A calendar of upcoming events is available, as well as information about past offerings.
  • The Ten Big Questions: Big Bang Theory This page ponders philosophical questions related to the Big Bang theory.
  • Theories Section—Big Bang Concise article on the subject, written for educated non-astronomers, from Astronomy Today.
  • From the Academy:
  • What Caused the "Bang" of the Big Bang?, featuring Alan H. Guth, Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 2001. New York Academy of Sciences eBriefing.
  • A 50-50 Chance of Making It to the 22nd Century? Martin Rees Asks Scientists to Help Improve the Odds. 2003. New York Academy of Sciences eBriefing.
  • String Theory: A Conversation with Brian Greene. 2003. New York Academy of Sciences eBriefing, co-sponsored by NOVA.
  • Mirror, Mirror: Robin Kerrod and the Romance of Astronomy. Reported by William Tucker. Author: Robin Kerrod. 2004. New York Academy of Sciences Readers & Writers article.
  • Cosmic Questions Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences Volume 950, published Dec 2001 Edited by James B. Miller description | full text
  • Faber, S. M. The Big Bang as Scientific Fact. 2001. Annals Online 950: 39-53 abstract | full text
  • Guth, A. H. Eternal Inflation. 2001. Annals Online 950: 66-82 abstract | full text
  • Russell, R. J. Did God Create Our Universe? Theological Reflections on the Big Bang, Inflation, and Quantum Cosmologies. 2001. Annals Online 950: 108-127 abstract | full text
  • While studying Fowler's experimental data, Salpeter realized that the beryllium nucleus 8Be — the fusion product of two helium nuclei — is actually metastable, and would exist in low concentrations inside red-giant stars. The 8Be nucleus could therefore capture another helium nucleus to make 12C. In 1997, Salpeter won the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences' Crafoord prize for his discovery of this triple-alpha process. He shared the award with the astronomer Fred Hoyle, who predicted that 12C must have a specific energy-level structure for the rate of the process to correspond to the known temperature of giant stars.
  • In cosmology, the Steady State theory (also known as the Infinite Universe theory or continuous creation) is a model developed in 1948 by Fred Hoyle, Thomas Gold, Hermann Bondi and others as an alternative to the Big Bang theory (known, usually, as the standard cosmological model). In steady state views, new matter is continuously created as the universe expands, so that the perfect cosmological principle is adhered to. Although the model had a large number of supporters among cosmologists in the 1950s and 1960s, the number of supporters decreased markedly in the late 1960s with the discovery of the cosmic microwave background radiation, and today only a very small number of supporters remain. The key importance of the steady-state model is that as a competitor to the Big Bang, it was an impetus in generating some of the most important research in astrophysics, much of which ultimately ended up supporting the Big Bang theory

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