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No. 65: Sep-Oct 1989

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Sweeping Anomalies Under The Rug

A series of articles in the science magazine Mercury so slavishly followed the scientific party line on the meaning of the redshift that G. Burbidge was prompted to pen a rejoinder.

Burbidge reviewed the considerable observational evidence supporting a non-cosmological interpretation of some redshifts. (Such data has been included in past issues of Science Frontiers and in our Catalog Stars Galaxies, Cosmos.) A typical observation is the apparent physical connection (streams of connecting matter) between quasars and galaxies with radically different redshifts. Burbidge remarks:

"Evidence of this kind exists. If it is accepted it means:

  1. That at least some quasars do lie at so-called cosmological distances.

  2. That at least some parts of the redshifts of quasars are due to some effect other than the expansion of the universe.

  3. That quasars are physically related to bright, comparatively nearby galaxies."

Burbidge is not concerned by the fact that some astronomers find the data unconvincing, rather he objects to the so-obvious attempts to brush such anomalous data under the rug. His concluding remarks are pertinent to all of science:

"I cannot end this part of the discussion without making two points which are rarely made, but which are important:

  1. Evidence of the kind just mentioned which is favorable to the cosmological interpretations of the redshifts does not negate the other evidence. It simply means that the world is a complicated place.

  2. Only in articles of this kind is one expected to describe such re sults. In articles such as that by Weedman, it is somehow considered all right to totally the noncosmological hypothesis."

"The fairest way to deal with the problem is not to fall back on authority (what eminent authorities believe or don't believe) but to examine the evidence for oneself. The most extensive collection of this evidence is in the book by Halton C. Arp. ...If, after examining the statistics yourself and understanding the evidence, you are unconvinced, so be it. Remember, if the conventional view is correct, all of these apparent juxtapositions must be accidental. Above all, do not be swayed by the views of the authorities, be they Dan Weedman, Allan Sandage, Maarten Schmidt, Chip Arp, or myself. We are fallible, too, and some of us (ask the others!) have axes to grind."

(Burbidge, Geoffrey; "Quasars in the Balance," Mercury, 17:136, 1988.)

Comment. Burbidge, a professor of physics at the University of California at San Diego, has had a long and dis tinguished career in science. He can write and get articles like the one above published. How many young, aspiring astronomers would dare?

Reference. The book mentioned above, Stars, Galaxies, Cosmos; is described here.

From Science Frontiers #65, SEP-OCT 1989. 1989-2000 William R. Corliss

Science Frontiers Sourcebook Project Reviewed in:


  • "A sourcebook of unexplained phenomena is therefore a valuable addition to a collection of scientific literature. William R. Corliss has provided this in the past with his source books of scientific anomalies in several subjects, and now he has provided it for astronomy. He has done an excellent job of collecting and editing a large amount of material, taken in part from scientific journals and in part from scientific reporting in the popular or semi-scientific press." -- "The Mysterious Universe: A Handbook of Astronomical Anomalies", reviwed by Thomas Gold, Cornell University, in Icarus, vol.41, 1980

  • "An interesting, systematic presentation of unusual weather [..] This book is recommended for a general audience" --"Corliss, William R., Tornados, Dark Days, Anomalous Precipitation, and Related Weather Phenomena, Sourcebook Project, 1983.", revieweed in Choice, September 1983
  • "..the science is necessarily somewhat speculative, but Corliss's symthesis is based on reputable sources." -- "Corliss, William R. (Compiler). Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal Lights, and Related Luminous Phenomena" reviwed by Joseph M. Moran, Univ. of Wisconsin in Science Books and Films, Sep/Oct 1983

  • "Before opening the book, I set certain standards that a volume which treads into dangerous grounds grounds like this must meet. The author scrupulously met, or even exceeded those standards. Each phenomenon is exhaustively documented, with references to scientific journals [..] and extensive quotations" -- "Book Review: The moon and planets: a catalog of astronomical anomalies", The Sourcebook Project, 1985., Corliss, W. R., Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 81, no. 1 (1987), p. 24., 02/1987