Goddamn Particle

Hey, did you hear that Planck released its results today? The universe remains preposterous, if still pretty awesome. And it might be lopsided, which is intriguing.

Planck says that dark matter makes up 26% of the universe, while the best-fit WMAP number from a few years ago was 23%. This led me to joke on Twitter that we needed a model in which the dark matter density was rapidly increasing. Just a joke, people!

I hope to say something more substantive soon, but in the meantime there’s plenty of good stuff around the web; at the risk of leaving many people out, see Ethan Siegel, or Jester, or simply refuse to see the universe through anyone’s filter but your own and read the original papers. (An even thirty of them, helpfully indexed by the ultramodern system of Roman numerals.)

Meanwhile, our old friend the Higgs boson has not gone away. Here’s the second of the videos I did for Sixty Symbols while visiting the UK (after the first one I did on quantum mechanics).

The comments on the YouTube page are nicer than average. Maybe it’s the British temperament.

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31 Responses to Goddamn Particle

  1. Bob Iles says:

    Say, Prof. Carroll, do you realize that you’ve been libeled on TED? There’s a coupla crackpot cranks whose lectures got kicked off the main TED menu & they’re quite upset about it. They accuse you of just “copying Wikipedia” in some kind of rebuttal you made on the speed of light. I don’t remember all the details but here’s the URL for the discussion: http://blog.ted.com/2013/03/14/open-for-discussion-graham-hancock-and-rupert-sheldrake/

  2. @Bob Iles,

    while you can find the TedX talks a ‘little out there’ I think ‘coupla crackpot cranks’ oversimplifies a little. Wikipedia has this on Rupert Sheldrake (a singleton of the “coupla'”):

    …. He obtained a scholarship to study Biology at Clare College, Cambridge. He specialized in biochemistry, graduated with double-first-class honours, and won the University Botany Prize. He won a Frank Knox fellowship to study philosophy and history at Harvard University at around the time Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962) was published, which he writes informed his view on the extent to which the mechanistic theory of life is just a paradigm. He returned to Cambridge, where he obtained his Ph.D. in biochemistry ….

    Clearly a smart guy whether right or wrong … and perhaps Prof Carroll can set me straight, but one of the bushes Sheldrake was shaking in his talk was the tree of universal constants. It is my understanding that, putting whatever happened to C between 1928 and 1945 aside, there is indeed a lot of questioning as to when, and if, certain cosmological constants became constant (and, all punning aside, certainly the Cosmological Constant is anything but).


  3. halooza says:

    I don’t understand the argument over a recorded changing speed of light between the late 18th century and today. Or even the 20s and 40s. Technology improved…therefore…our ability to accurately measure the speed of light improved. We noticed errors in our earlier experiments and fixed them. I thought this would be common sense.

    Hey, did you know that the speed of electricity has been getting faster and faster?! A steady trend in the speed of electricity can be observed when looking at the data. Every 18 months, IT DOUBLES! My new iphone and my new computer are twice as fast as my old ones, therefore, the speed of electricity must increasing over time.

  4. Sean Carroll says:

    Bob, if I wrote a careful reply every time a crackpot said something wrong about me, I wouldn’t get anything else done. 🙂

    There are many respectable scientists (including me, or at least “as well as me”) who study the possibility that physical parameters vary with time, both theoretically and experimentally. For the most part they understand the concept of error bars, as well as how different parameters are related to each other, neither of which Sheldrake has any clue about. Life is too short.

    Alan, if you think that winning an undergraduate prize in botany is good evidence that someone is not a crackpot when talking about physics, you need to raise your standards a bit.

  5. Bob Iles says:

    Thanks for your reply, Prof. Carroll. It certainly entered my mind as well that you wouldn’t have time to respond to every crackpot. 🙂 I just wanted to let you know that this libel was out there, in case you hadn’t been aware of it. And I agree about the botany prize. In fact, as soon as I saw that his Ph.D. was in biochem., I started to wonder what the heck he thought he was doing pontificating about physics!

  6. MKS says:


    do you think there could be dark matter life?