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Is this question on topic? Or should it be?

How come some people are claiming that the Big Bang never happened?

I actually had the same question (namely how valid is the conclusion) but felt it would be opinion based so I asked it in chat. Now that it's on the main page (and the "Hot Questions" bar) we started discussing whether it is on topic or not. No close votes have been cast at the moment, but I thought it might be worth clarifying here.

Reasons it might be off-topic:

  1. Primarily opinion based. It asks if the assumptions and conclusions are valid.
  2. Answers are mostly discussion. You can see in the comments that it is actually mirroring the same discussion we had in chat about it.
  3. Non-mainstream physics. It's a new theory (although it is a peer-reviewed, published one now) that has not yet been verified and goes against the prevailing scientific opinion.

Reasons those reasons may not be good ones:

  1. Because it has been peer-reviewed, there must be some validity to their claims. Even if it is limited to universes located within spherical cows.
  2. Although it seems the answers are mostly discussion, they are all kind of presenting the same answer. And I know in the past that I have said that answers cannot make a question on topic so I personally have some mixed opinions about it.
  3. Although non-mainstream in the sense it goes against prevailing opinion, I think this is exactly the kind of non-mainstream question we should allow. It is a "How and why does this buck the trend" question. It is also a "Are these assumptions valid to make" question if you really drill into the physics of the problem.

So that said, how does everybody feel about it being on-topic?

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    $\begingroup$ so you assert a peer reviewed article in a top journal is not mainstream physics? who is the arbiter of mainstream physics, and how does that work anyway? is it done by committee? is it like in psychology with the DSM? is this kind of getting twisted up by the mainstream physics criteria of this site? seems also the site could serve a useful purpose in debunking breathless or inaccurate media reports in applicable cases. $\endgroup$ – vzn Feb 11 '15 at 22:56
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    $\begingroup$ @vzn If you read what I said, I listed being peer-reviewed as a reason why the non-mainstream physics close reason doesn't hold. The "It's a new theory (although it is a peer-reviewed, published one now)..." indicating that being peer-reviewed makes the close reason not apply. $\endgroup$ – tpg2114 Feb 11 '15 at 23:02
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    $\begingroup$ And if we want to get philosophical, I would argue peer-review isn't enough for an idea to be correct. Independently replicated and validated against a measurement or theory is just as, if not more, important than peer review. But that opinion may be field dependent and I can't make that judgement on this field. $\endgroup$ – tpg2114 Feb 11 '15 at 23:04
  • $\begingroup$ No idea who downvoted, but I'm curious what the rationale is. Disagreement that the topic should be discussed? The question does not advocate any position, merely a request for clarification about whether questions like this are on topic. $\endgroup$ – tpg2114 Feb 11 '15 at 23:07
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    $\begingroup$ so you are actually taking no stand on whether it is "mainstream" or not? maybe that is a big part of the challenge of dealing with the question then wrt mainstream physics policy! or maybe it starts to show some limitations of the mainstream physics policy! $\endgroup$ – vzn Feb 11 '15 at 23:11
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    $\begingroup$ @vzn I won't argue with you there. I think the fact this is published in a peer reviewed journal is why it is allowed to stick around. If it was just sitting on a blog or preprint service somewhere, it would be closed as non-mainstream from a site perspective. In particular, the close reason actually says: "...although specific questions evaluating new theories in the context of established science are usually allowed." I think this clearly fits that acceptability limit. $\endgroup$ – tpg2114 Feb 11 '15 at 23:15
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    $\begingroup$ that exception sounds reasonable/ fair/ great, but dont have enough rep to see close reasons (is there one for nonmainstream physics etc?), can you give a link somewhere to what you quoted? $\endgroup$ – vzn Feb 11 '15 at 23:20
  • $\begingroup$ @vzn "We deal with mainstream physics here. Questions about the general correctness of unpublished personal theories are off topic, although specific questions evaluating new theories in the context of established science are usually allowed. For more information, see Is non mainstream physics appropriate for this site" $\endgroup$ – tpg2114 Feb 11 '15 at 23:22
  • $\begingroup$ And that is one of the custom close reasons. The other is our homework like policy and our engineering question policy. $\endgroup$ – tpg2114 Feb 11 '15 at 23:24
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    $\begingroup$ overall, think its cool there was a question on the topic, saw news accounts on the paper myself & was wondering about it, glad it made the jump from mere chat room fodder to main site, think its worthwhile, the high votes on it (33v now, wow, se hot question!) also gave me the idea/ courage to ask a somewhat similar question re other new research & QM foundations etc, also it all ties into cyber peer review on se etc $\endgroup$ – vzn Feb 11 '15 at 23:29
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I personally don't have that much patience for this sort of hullaballoo, which seems to come and go periodically. Nevertheless we do play a role in it, and I think it's important that we respond to these sorts of questions appropriately. The flow goes something like

  • Scientist comes up with crazy idea, and (a bit surprisingly)

  • actually comes up with some plausible-looking maths that merit a closer look, so

  • they send it off to a journal, and it passes peer-review with referee comments along the lines of "don't think it will take off, but this much is technically sound and worth publishing so people can find why exactly it won't work, maybe we'll learn something in the process". However,

  • the journal's publicity department doesn't see the referee report and, caught by the trendy title and snazzy possibilities in the abstract, ships it off to a trendy news outlet mentioning the snazzy possibilities and dropping all the qualifiers behind the result, so

  • it gets reported on some credible news site, and

  • a bunch of readers get confused.

Our role is to stop it right there. Point out that it depends on frictionless cows and spherical surfaces. Give precise pointers to why the Established Theory does work and to the Mountain of Evidence that supports it. Explain why the new theory needs to explain a substantial fraction of that Mountain of Evidence before we'll start taking it as a real candidate for What Actually Happens in the World.

In short, we sort of need to interrupt the science news cycle pointed out by PhD Comics' Jorge Cham,

The Science News Cycle - from PhD Comics

about halfway through. We want it to look something like this:

In particular,

  • If the paper in question is indeed a peer-reviewed journal publication, and

  • the paper in question does initially contradict a well established theory,

we should be a bit more lax in terms of keeping these questions open. A few comments on the usual close reasons:

  • "It's non-mainstream" doesn't hold if it's actually in a peer-reviewed publication, because of how we structure that in the first place.

  • It's unclear what you're asking is a pretty high bar for something like this. It's often the case that we as professional physicists are confused by one of these, and it takes us time to get to grips with what the paper is saying. For a student or someone in the general public, we should set a slightly lower bar if they see something in mainstream media which is backed up by a peer-reviewed publication, and are simply confused about how credible it is.

  • It's primarily opinion-based and it most likely will remain so, with anything that's speculative like this. We do need to make an effort to keep it concise and to the point, but I think this is effort we need to make on keeping the answers trim and as low on discussion as possible, rather than something that makes us close the question immediately.

Apologies for the long, rambly post. Feel free to shoot me down with reasoned arguments.

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  • $\begingroup$ I agree with you actually (which is why I haven't VtC). The only thing I would nitpick is that I don't think we have a role in it at all. We shouldn't let something marginally on topic stick around just to explain why it's bad science due to some altruistic notions. Mostly, I'm bummed out I thought it would be off-topic so I asked it in chat. I missed out on at least another day of being rep-capped :( It is a rare thing for me! $\endgroup$ – tpg2114 Feb 11 '15 at 21:42
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    $\begingroup$ While we're on the topic, see this great campaign by the NHS. Also here. $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty Feb 12 '15 at 14:47

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