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October 1, 2014 Comments (0) Views: 1233 Astronomy, Mathematics, Miscellaneous, News, Physics, Sciences, Space

The Existence of Black Holes and the Failure of Scientific Journalism

Black holes do NOT exist and Big Bang Theory is wrong, claims scientist,” is the title of a DailyMail article about two papers (found here and here) recently published by Laura Mersini-Houghton regarding the creation of black holes. First of all, the title of the article is all for hype, and declares a level of certainty no intellectually honest scientist would ever declare, especially with a non-peer reviewed paper. This is important: the paper has not been peer reviewed. The process of peer review is indispensable to the scientific community. If results cannot be independently verified by multiple sources, then the findings are useless. News outlets like the DailyMail seem alright with trusting individual scientists, but while trusting the scientific community is advisable, trusting individual scientists is not.

Black holes, as a phenomenon, are a great mystery of physics, seeming to break all the laws. But we do know that they exist–we have observational evidence that they do. It’s true that black holes are difficult to detect, and we can’t see them directly, as they don’t emit light of any kind, but we do have indirect evidence of their existence, which is still evidence. If black holes do not exist, then something really strange is happening in our galaxy, and others we observe, as they are a conglomerate of billions of stars orbiting around a supermassive black hole.

Houghton’s paper is also mathematical. Showing something to be true mathematically doesn’t automatically make it so. It’s not the same as looking in the sky and saying, “gee, I don’t see any black holes anywhere at all!” As Matthew R. Francis wrote in a Daily Best article,

“The calculations are perfectly correct, as far as I can tell. However, the authors seem to have a lot more Hawking radiation in their model than other similar calculations—and the entire conclusion seems to be based on that large amount. “

Similarly, William Unruh, in an email to ILFS (and after calling the paper nonsense), said that the paper shows a misunderstanding of Hawking radiation. He also wrote,

To call bad speculation ‘has been proven mathematically’ is, shall we say, and overstatement.”

The paper also refers specifically to black holes forming from collapsing stars. Even if it is correct, it does not say anything about the existence of black holes in general, let alone anything about the Big Bang theory. This was born out of bad journalism, and scientific illiteracy. Many of the sensationalist articles written about this paper mention little to none about it not having been peer reviewed. I also doubt they will write new, correcting articles should a process of peer review show Houghton to be incorrect.

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