LIGO: Neil deGrasse Tyson’s bizarre tirade

Neil deGrasse Tyson is a science-popularizing public figure with a large following. His fields generally are astronomy, astrophysics and cosmology. His following – it can be assumed – looks to him to give the correct view of things, and accepts that view in implicit trust.

In a recent Q&A session he was asked about LIGO. On that he launched on a bizarre rant. This in itself is of no interest here, but what he says proves a very important point. People of his ilk – the LIGO commentariat – are peddling absolute garbage science to the world. This is the post-truth world of LIGO: Maintaining a fraudulent discovery through total control of the news media, with “fake news” and authoritative tough-guy stance by a group of poseurs.

Read this, and then I will show that Tyson does not know whereof he speaks.

AL: Last year…they found a gravity wave. When you looked, it was the tiniest little blip, you wound up wondering is it real. Do you believe in the [LIGO] apparatus? (LIGO refers to a pair of experiments, one in Washington State and one in Louisiana, built to observe gravitational waves from astrophysical phenomena like colliding black holes.)

NDT: The word “belief” will never come out of my mouth. The instrument is highly sensitive. It can tell if there’s a car driving on a road a half of a mile away. So you have to ask yourself what kind of signal would colliding black holes leave. We know general relativity and can calculate what that signal would be: it goes like this. Woop! (Tyson draws a squiggle on a page). Has anyone seen this? No? Then all of the sudden you get it. Holy shit, this matches our model for a black hole. Excuse me, same apparatus 1500 miles away, did you get this as well? Yes you did! Did you get it at the same time? No, you got it a 30th of a second later. Einstein’s prediction is that gravity waves move at the speed of light, and that is the time delay of the speed of light between these two institutions! (Tyson is shouting now) So, you will have to tell me that there is some glitch that knows how to mimic what we calculate for two colliding black holes (Pounding fist on the table) and somehow figured out how to put the same glitch 1500 miles away, a 30th of a second delayed.

So we’re good to go. We’re on to the next problem.

AL: Okay. I just want reassurance.

NDT: No, it’s good! We have competent people thinking about this stuff. We’re not just making shit up.

OK, let us take his points one by one.

First, Tyson says LIGO is so sensitive that it picks up a car traveling far away. LIGO responding to a car far away or to snow falling on cedars nearby or whatever has absolutely nothing to do with the working principle of the LIGO instrument. These spurious signals are recorded because they cause something to go out of whack inside LIGO. And most anything that goes out of whack inside LIGO will produce a LIGO “whack” signal. This signal is not generated according to the LIGO principle of operation. This process does not test anything about the LIGO working principle.

Second, he says that the sequential arrival of the “discovery” signals is proof that it is a gravitational wave. End of discussion, he says. The sequential arrival can occur due to a number of reasons: High altitude geomagnetic disturbance, deep Earth seismic disturbance, etc. Even fluctuations in the DC bridge connecting the American Eastern and Western electric power grids have been suggested as a possible cause of this near-simultaneous observation of the same signal at the two stations. In fact, when an earlier discovery of gravitational wave was reported on the basis of such a simultaneity, Rainer Weiss himself shot this down, saying it was due to geomagnetic disturbance.

Third, Tyson says that the LIGO discovery should be accepted because it has been made by “competent” people. Similarly competent people also reported the COBE Satellite discovery and the BICEP2 discovery. Both were fraud science. LIGO leader Rainer Weiss was also the scientific leader of the COBE project.


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