LIGO UPDATE: Fat lady hasn’t sung yet

The latest on LIGO is that they are off to a new discovery binge. The top-flight LIGO engineers have toiled for nearly a year and achieved a whopping 25% increase in sensitivity. Imagine that! Instead of measuring mirror movements as small as 1/10,000-th of the proton diameter, they can now measure 1/12,500-th of the proton diameter.

In connection with this new beginning, the solidity of the original discovery has been extensively stressed. The Director of NSF, speaking for the US Government, made it a point to reaffirm the original discovery in specific language:

The last time scientists from the NSF-funded Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) searched for gravitational waves, they succeeded.

The Special Breakthrough Prize has been awarded to LIGO, and this time they managed to make as trusted a forum as the PBS Newshour.

In fact, awards and accolades continue to flow in to LIGO even as I write.

But not to despair! Nothing is happening with LIGO that did not happen with BICEP2. At this stage BICEP2 was flying high, and their funding agency Kavli Foundation was making similar upbeat statements as NSF. Where is BICEP2 today? That is where LIGO is headed.

The higher they fly, the louder the thud with which they will land. It will not be a pretty sight.

Here are some things to watch:


India LIGO is now a fact on the ground. There is nothing “proposed” or “planned” about it anymore. They have received an initial tract of land and put down stakes (marking the LIGO position). Committees and panels are in place to run LIGO and receive the transfer of the funds (Rupees 50 crores) from the government. Now a project development plan will be submitted to the government for final approval and release of funds.

Until the funds are released, India still has time to cut her losses and pull out of LIGO.

If India feels beholden to honor various personal contacts/rapport with Americans at various levels (from scientists to technocrats to heads of state), then that is a wrong compulsion for continuing with LIGO. Those contacts are ephemeral. Only the science is the constant. And that science is wrong.

On the other hand, if the Indian physics community at large and their government decide together not to continue with LIGO, that is when that nation will establish herself as “world-class” in science. They will demonstrate to the world that they can analyze the very best science the western civilization can produce, and find it lacking.


This time the LIGO Nobel nominations will be technically legit (submitted within the nomination deadline). There will undoubtedly be strong nomination letters – many of them. It is the LIGO proponents themselves who have made the Nobel Prize a touchstone for the LIGO discovery. So if the prize also does not come through in 2017, what is the world to conclude?


A Ligonaut is nothing if not clever. So he understands that the good ship Ligosy is doomed. He also understands that the senior Ligonauts have nothing to lose when the ship goes under. The media-bloated and prize-fattened leaders all have escape capsules. So it is the younger Ligonauts that will be left holding the bag.

So these younger Ligonauts have started or will start abandoning ship. The cleverer ones will try to leave first, before the stampede for the lifeboats starts. What employers will absorb hundreds of LIGO refugees who have no sellable hard skills and no record of independent research, and are tarnished to boot?

So LIGO may die from attrition also.

All in all, the fat lady has not sung yet.


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