Cosmic storytelling

The making of a story

The never ending big bang story

by John Hartnett

The big bang is indeed a good story … as far as storytelling goes. As one business website affirms,

“Storytelling has been the single most powerful communication tool for thousands of years and we are just starting to understand how relevant and significant it is today.”


It also illustrates what Mark Twain is reputed to have said:

“Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.”

And what Hitler’s propagandist Joseph Goebbels supposedly claimed, that “if you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.”

The story matters more than the science

As a physics professor working in a secular university in Australia, publishing in scientific journals and knowing the importance of communicating one’s science to the wider community, I have had many opportunities to see how the system works. Outside of the experts in your field the details do not matter, but a good story does.

For example, in early 2013 I published a cosmology paper in a specialist journal,2 where I found that using a finite bounded expanding universe, with a unique centre and an edge, one could describe the observed large-scale structure of the universe very well.

And one could do so without including ‘dark energy’ or ‘dark matter’, the fudge factors assumed in the standard big bang model.

Soon I received a call from someone from my university’s publicity department who wanted to write a press release on it. She asked me what I felt was important about the paper. I told her that the paper was consistent with the notion that our galaxy could be located in a privileged location in the universe. This was contrary to the oft quoted cosmological principle which states that there are no privileged locations—that our location is purely random and the universe has no centre or edge. My paper suggested that that is not necessarily so.

Once she understood what I was saying, her facial expression told me everything. She said: “I don’t think we can do anything with this.” I never heard from her again. I had published the science, passing secular peer-review, but the real story could not be told because it was contrary to the one the establishment promoted

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image credit: Thomas Drouault