Only months ago the world noted the passing of a great astronomer. Dr. Vera Rubin was an esteemed scientist. For the millions who were apprised of her death last December she was touted as the supposed "discoverer of dark matter," the strange mass that we’re told constitutes by far the real stuff of the cosmos. Vera Rubin didn’t discover "dark matter" though; no one has. It is unknown if it even exists or not. She herself repeatedly corrected those who seemed determined to anoint her as its discoverer, refusing to acquiesce to the knee-jerk inclination to consider "settled" yet another dispute in science, and holding firm to something else — the scientific method.
What she did uncover doesn’t require exaggerations that actually demean her work by misconstruing it. Indeed, her achievement is more than sufficient to stand on its own with other monumental findings of the great titans of science.
Dr. Rubin found that the Andromeda Galaxy is spinning too quickly. She is the astronomer who discovered that the periphery of that galaxy is revolving at such an accelerated velocity that it should be rending the galaxy asunder, flinging the outlying stellar systems into the void. Andromeda doesn’t possess sufficient mass to account for the gravitational power that is somehow managing to hold the galaxy together.
In effect, she has caused science to wonder if Newtonian physics and the whole of classical celestial mechanics might be in error in some way — that, or else some very important, unknown nuances must be currently beyond our understanding at this point. As it turns out, all galaxies are rotating too quickly based on their masses.
It was left to others to try to explain what Vera Rubin had discovered, the invention of others that a halo of "dark matter" must envelope galaxies so as to make sense of their dizzying rotational velocities. Dr. Rubin had little to do with that. When she was asked if "dark matter" was at the heart of solving her enigma she answered as any reasonable scientist would who had no verifiable proof, "If I had my pick, I’d like to learn that Newton’s laws must be modified in order to correctly describe gravitational interactions at large distance. That’s more appealing than a universe filled with a new kind of sub-nuclear particle."
Heeding Dr. Rubin’s own words though might require decades of careful study and observation, so it’s hardly surprising that those who demand that science get to the point and be done with it brush off such silly conservatism and simply stamp this whole matter "case closed."
Such impatience with the truth though produces a society in which an obituary for a great woman becomes just another public speech to praise someone, one imprecise rather than adhering to fact. So it’s fair to ask what would impel those to insert "dark matter" into Vera Rubin’s mouth, especially now that she can’t speak for herself.
Politics certainly might, especially the kind running amok in a balkanized nation obsessed with identity politics. Dr. Rubin’s gender might actually have worked against her in this instance, giving rise to the unnecessary and patronizing aggrandizement. Activists, obsessed with ferreting out victims everywhere, can’t imagine a more bountiful hunting ground than the unfair, iniquitous, male-dominated scientific community. And, it’s not beyond them to put politicking and crusading above the lifetime of work and stellar accomplishments of those same great female scientists whom they supposedly champion.
Then again, this might just be yet another example of what happens when one of the forces most dangerous to science — political dogma — masquerades as its cheerleader. It is those insisting they are "with science" who comprise the segment of society most likely to assume the term "alpha constant" to be the name of a rock band — their understanding of physics and chemistry are slightly more sophisticated than the comprehension of a cargo cult.
Since flipping a switch and having light appear seems like magic to those neophytes who have never struggled with circuits or Maxwell’s equations, it is hardly surprising they think science can, should and does solve everything — and right now. The idea that we simply aren’t sure about dark matter could seem impossible and outrageous to them, since it implies "unsettled" science.
Our world viewed from the perspective of those who despise the rigor of the scientific method is a bizarre, meta-Orwellian place, afflicting society with more than just blundering obituaries, but with such psychoses as the recently published thesis on "intersectional quantum physics to fight the oppression of Newton."
This lunacy wasn’t broadcast on Comedy Central, but was instead printed in the Minnesota Review.
Science has no gender, nor race, nor political affiliation. And, science can never be settled; it only pauses, and then moves forward again.
David Nabhan is a science writer, the author of "Earthquake Prediction: Dawn of the New Seismology" (2017) and three previous books on earthquakes. Nabhan is also a science fiction writer ("Pilots of Borealis," 2015) and the author of many scores of newspaper and magazine op-eds. Nabhan has been featured on television and talk radio all over the world. His website is www.earthquakepredictors.com. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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