Thursday, October 04, 2007

Dark Energy and Straw Men

On today's set of astro-ph preprints is a conference proceedings article by Andreas Albrecht (astro-ph/0710.0867) entitled "The case for an aggressive program of dark energy probes" caught my eye. Specifically the abstract attracted my attention:

The observed cosmic acceleration presents the physics and cosmology communities with amazing opportunities to make exciting, probably even radical advances in these fields. This topic is highly data driven and many of our opportunities depend on us undertaking an ambitious observational program. Here I outline the case for such a program based on both the exciting science related to the cosmic acceleration and the impressive impact that a strong observational program would have. Along the way, I challenge a number of arguments that skeptics use to question the value of a strong observational commitment to this field.

From the abstract I had hoped this would address and rebut the criticisms raised by Simon White earlier this year in "Fundamentalist physics: why Dark Energy is bad for Astronomy" (astro-ph/0704.2291). Unfortunately Albrecht's article does not address any of these substantive criticisms regarding discovery space, scientific method, whether Dark Energy experiments advance our knowledge of astrophysics, or experiment systematics, so for now I am left to believe that White's criticisms remain valid and significant.

Don't misunderstand me - IF we can confirm and constrain the nature of dark energy it may revolutionize our understanding of particle physics, but its role in explaining the Universe of galaxies, stars and planets that we live in is extremely limited. By all means fund dark energy probes out of the DoE and classics physics funding, but significant progress in astrophysics will be stifled if too much astrophysics money is diverted into DE.

Understanding the nature of the dark matter particle would also advance fundamental physics greatly, and dark matter plays a much larger role than dark energy in shaping the nature of the Universe and the specific objects we live in than dark energy does. Yet the discovery of the dark matter wasn't met with a program of dropping successful existing astronomy projects and throwing vast resources at satellites that could only quantify one number about dark matter.

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