2004, Movies

The Universe: Cosmology Quest (2004, Randall Meyers)

Full disclosure: I never once took physics in high school and I certainly never took physics after that. My math background is so far in my past that I cannot rely on it. So you have to take everything I have to say about the physics of this film with a giant grain of salt. (Or, if you have a good physics background, you can rip my review to shreds.)

But before I get to the nature of the content of this filme, let me just say that this is a poorly made film:

  • the narrator is brutal – his voice is given some kind of effect to make him sound like he’s from “Deep Space” and the script is kind of “I am blowing your mind right now!”
  • the graphics are terrible – sure, it was 2004 but they’re bad for 2004
  • and the budget severely hurts the presentation -somebody today could easily make a better looking film on their laptop (and I guess someone should).

Now, let’s get dicey.

I try to have an open mind but this film clearly rankles something deep in me, because I find myself reacting to what these people have to say without even fully understanding it. They question the scientific consensus and that bothers me. And I think it bothers me because I don’t know anything about it, and I guess I want to side with the consensus. Yes, consensus can indeed be wrong, and has been wrong many times, but knowing little about this, I want to say that the consensus is probably (I stress probably) right.

And I say this because the director has assembled a very small group of people, and even though these people are mostly very articulate and seem to put forward intelligent arguments, quick wikipediaing of these people shows that their opinions are based on research they did in the 1960s (1970s in one case) and that most of them seem to have been the losers in the Big Bang-Steady State battle. And they resent that. And from the little I know of physics, there is more evidence in favour of the Big Bang argument than the Steady State argument.

A lot of these talking heads use anecdotes about bad behaviours in the academic community to suggest that there is some kind of conspiracy to deny that the universe is in fact a Steady State. And that’s where I struggle with the film, at least I’d like to think so. (I know that I am really struggling with it because the whole film smacks of conspiracy theory, a few of these people have martyr complexes, though not most of them. Also, if there is an academic conspiracy in the West, why aren’t scientists in other countries advancing Steady State models?)

It also doesn’t help that an AIDS denier is one of the scientists interviewed. (Not only that, the guy is a chemist, not a physicist. What is he doing here? Exactly. That’s the problem. Oh yeah, and he claimed he has met ETs. So that doesn’t help either.)

What the film does get right is that academia does indeed stifle alternative approaches – I have witnessed that first hand – and we should all be fighting for an academic world in which evidence determines theories rather than those theories determining the evidence. I should like to actually talk to an astronomer or astrophysicist about this, to know whether or not people really are being shut out for alternative ideas.


PS I am on the side of this debate that Karl Popper would be on, were he alive. So if you know which side he’d be on, by all means let me know in the comments.

PPS I asked about this on Reddit and the response I got from physicists is that these guys were all proven wrong decades ago, but claim there’s a conspiracy because they don’t believe they’re wrong.

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