Cosmic inflation one more time—well, two

Reader Sergio called this comic to my attention (via  Twi**er: @JenLucPiquant and @phdcomics), which gives a good explanation of the meaning of the recent evidence for cosmic inflation.  Maybe you understand those scientific findings by now, but just in case you didn’t read this, from Jon Kaufman and Jorge Cham at PhD Comics (Kaufman was a member of the BICEP2 team that helped make the discovery):


And here’s a video of Official Website Physicist™ Sean Carroll explaining the phenomenon on PBS (Public Broadcasting Service) and its significance. He does a very good job!


  1. Jesper Both Pedersen
    Posted March 21, 2014 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

    Beautiful comic.

    Sean’s website and his post’s on this,, are very recommendable.

  2. Lianne Byram
    Posted March 21, 2014 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

    Such an exciting discovery. I’ve really been enjoying all the media coverage. Hopefully the timing will give COSMOS a boost. I continue to be perplexed about how so many of us managed to make it out of high school without a proper understanding of the scientific method and what a theory is.

  3. Posted March 21, 2014 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

    I was waiting for it. I just knew she was going to take it there. And then there it was:

    “Sounds almost theological”.

    Why was that necessary? Just report the story.

    • Larry Gay
      Posted March 21, 2014 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

      Gwen Ifill’s father was some sort of minister, so she grew up in a very religious environment. Don’t know about her current views on the subject.

      • Posted March 21, 2014 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

        Of course this is just my feeling on the matter, but I think most journalists, regardless of background, would’ve done the same.

        I feel like most people tend to view this kind of “ultimate physics” through a god filter.

        • Larry Gay
          Posted March 21, 2014 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

          I watched the video a second time and was struck, as others were, by Sean’s beautiful explanations. But I also watched Ifill and got the impression that she was trying very hard to follow his explanations. She seemed deeply involved in the discussion, unlike a lot of TV personalities. Sean took the suggestion that Inflation is almost like theology and turned it into: physics and theology both arise from our desire to understand our world, or something to that effect. Boy is he good.

          • Keith
            Posted March 21, 2014 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

            Agreed. Sean is masterful at science communication. Brilliant!

          • Posted March 21, 2014 at 5:34 pm | Permalink

            I thought the same thing about how he negotiated the sudden theological turn the interview took.

            “Ok…some of the same impulses are behind both science and religion…but here’s why they’re very, very different.”

          • Scott Woody
            Posted March 21, 2014 at 7:49 pm | Permalink

            That was my take-home message from the interview– the dude’s got game. How he was able to so deftly pivot from debating religious canards to a vigorous defense/elaboration of the scientific enterprise is an ability we should all aspire to.

  4. Cathy Anne
    Posted March 21, 2014 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

    Sean Carroll explains things so well. WLC didn’t have a chance in their debate.

    • davidintoronto
      Posted March 21, 2014 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

      Indeed; Dr. Carroll is an EXCEPTIONALLY good public speaker and explainer.

  5. Edward Hessler
    Posted March 21, 2014 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

    I thought Ifill provided Carroll an opening which he took and used very well (as he always does), providing considerable insight into the nature of science. And what a sweet use of Sagan’s comment as well as Carroll’s impeccable sensitivity to promoting Cosmos old and new.

  6. Kevin
    Posted March 21, 2014 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

    The interviewer (PBS) of Sean Carroll did not have particularly good questions. (Carroll did a great job!) She also looked a little confused about his answers. Maybe she was acting that way to make viewers feel smarter.

    This is not a new phenomena. The press generally has anxiety about science. It is heartening to think that people like Colbert, Stewart, and Maher at least act like they are excited about stuff like this, even if they do not understand it. We do not need to educate the press about science, we just need more comedians in the press.

  7. Posted March 21, 2014 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

    The PhD comics go back to 1997! It is rather impressive to see how it evolved over a PhD career.

  8. Posted March 21, 2014 at 2:40 pm | Permalink


  9. Peter Ozzie Jones
    Posted March 21, 2014 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

    Sean Carroll is most assuredly “Da man.”

    Concise explanatory responses to some penetrating questions from Gwen.

    It’s also awesome that way down here I can watch & read it all from my kitchen. My thanks to all who made the interwebs a reality, including our CC host for content.

  10. JohnnieCanuck
    Posted March 21, 2014 at 3:58 pm | Permalink

    I’m guessing someone still needs to take Ifill aside and explain what a Theory is in Science and how it relates to Facts, Laws, Proofs and Hypotheses. Carroll did correct her but probably didn’t convince her. I blame religion for distorting public perception regarding basic science concepts.

    • Posted March 21, 2014 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

      We physicists tend to be a bit looser with the way we use *theory* than evolutionary biologists


      • Diane G.
        Posted March 21, 2014 at 6:10 pm | Permalink

        Yes, much of the time Carroll was using ‘theory’ in the colloquial sense as well. As we all do.

    • Posted March 21, 2014 at 8:45 pm | Permalink

      Yep – I caught that as well. The spot went really smoothly overall, but I couldn’t help but notice how the question was framed… as in “what is it going to take to make this not be a theory anymore?”

      I would’ve likely gone charging out of the gate saying: “hopefully, this will always be a theory, successfully explaining the facts we observe, unless some other facts come along that can allow us to refine this theory firther…” and would’ve lost the drift and interest of the vast majority or viewers. I agree with your take on religious culture muddling the picture.

  11. Posted March 22, 2014 at 6:56 am | Permalink

    Reblogged this on Episyllogism.

  12. Filippo
    Posted March 28, 2014 at 7:36 pm | Permalink


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