Big Bang ‘Inflation’ Theory Proved

Stanford astrophysicist Andrei Linde gets a nice surprise.

Stanford astrophysicist Andrei Linde gets a nice surprise.

PolicyMic (“Watch As the Scientist Who Predicted Big Bang Theory Learns His Research Was Correct“):

Confirmations of hypotheses come from the accumulation of many little pieces of data, generated by experiment upon experiment, over long periods of time. And even when you think you have a breakthrough, there’s the laborious process of systematically ruling out counter theories before you can even begin to believe your own hype. Scientific discovery is a slow, careful process by necessity.

That’s why this video of Stanford Professor Andrei Linde hearing about new evidence for the rapid expansion of the universe after the big bang is so absolutely joyous.

In the video, Assistant Professor of Astrophysics Chao-Lin Kuo pays Linde a personal visit in his California home to surprise him with the news. Kuo was part of the team that uncovered the first evidence for cosmic inflationary theory — the rapid expansion of the universe that happened a fraction of a second after the big bang. Linde was one of the first scientists to propose inflationary theory back in the ’80s.

For those of you who, like me, didn’t get significance of the numbers the two scientists are bandying about, Lucky Tran translates:

When Kuo delivers the news, Linde seems initially startled with shock and disbelief. He keeps asking Kuo to repeat the figures: “5-sigma, r is .2.” Why are these numbers so important? Well in plain English, the r stands for “ratio,” and sigma is a measure of statistical accuracy.

The ratio is used to evaluate the strength of different models of the early universe by comparing the contribution of gravitational waves with other effects. A ratio of zero would mean that no gravitational radiation exists, ruling Linde’s inflation theory out. As for the sigma value, a statistical threshold corresponding to around 5 is a common standard of accuracy required to announce scientific discoveries.

So a non-zero r-value, with a sufficient sigma-value is elating news for Linde because it means that the data is accurate and supports his theoretical model for the early universe.

A human endeavor: When Kuo knocked on his door, Linde’s wife (who also is an astrophysicist) asked him if he was expecting a delivery. Afterwards Linde wonderfully remarked, “Yes, I ordered something 30 years ago, finally it arrived.” Poignantly, even after hearing the news of his life, Linde sticks to his scientific instincts — healthy skepticism. “If this is true, this is a moment of understanding of nature of such a magnitude that it overwhelms,” he says. “Let’s see, let’s just hope that it’s not a trick.”

Let’s hope, indeed.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. ernieyeball says:

    Well since god has fooled us by planting dinosaur fossils to make it look like they are millions of years old instead of the 4000 years old that the Bible states, I’m going with the notion that it is a trick.

  2. Tillman says:

    @ernieyeball: Bible doesn’t say anything about the age of the universe or earth. That’s just idiot literalists adding numbers from metaphors together to cement their shaky faith. They also have to convince themselves that God wrote the book.

    But mankind will never forget that great divine joke the Lord played on us when we “discovered” the Brontosaurus. Almost as good as male nipples.

  3. ernieyeball says:

    @Tillman: The King James Version of the Bible that my parents gave me at age 12 when I completed my study of Luther’s Small Catechism and Confirmed into the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod had a time line on the pages that started with Genesis 1:1. It started about 4000? something BC and counted to year 1 BC.
    As far as I was concerened at the time it was “in the Bible”.
    Thank you for pointing out my error. I will now go self flagellate.

  4. @ernieyeball:

    That timeline is the fault of Bishop James Ussher:

    It was widely seen as garbage even when it came out. Which of course means it’s widely popular with Evangelicals today. It does serve a useful function in that it makes it easy to identify people who claim to be Christian who haven’t actually studied the Bible.

  5. Gustopher says:

    Inflation? I think that means the Fed has to raise interest rates to slow the economy down.

  6. grumpy realist says:

    @Stormy Dragon: To add even more amusement to the mix, it looks like the destruction of Solomon’s Temple never actually occurred.

  7. Anderson says:

    Paul Krugman is pleased that inflation is 13.8 million ly away, as opposed to COMING ANY DAY NOW.

  8. Tyrell says:

    I don’t know when the “big bang” started, but the effects are really being seen today with inflation of food prices. When I go in the stores, everyone is talking about the rising prices of groceries.

  9. ernieyeball says:

    @Stormy Dragon: That timeline is the fault of Bishop James Ussher

    Yeah. I heard of that guy. He used to take your ticket at the Varsity Theatre here in Sleepytown and then he would escort you to your seat with a flashlight if you got there after the trailers started,

  10. Tillman says:

    @grumpy realist: Now, now, let’s be fair, it’s possible the First Temple didn’t even exist. You can’t destroy something what ain’t there.

    The only surefire way to prove its existence would be to let archaeologists excavate the Temple Mount, but you can hear Israeli and Palestinian sphincters tighten in a room when you mention it.

  11. Tillman says:

    Also, Hawking has won another bet.

  12. Kylopod says:

    The connection with monetary inflation is not a coincidence; Alan Guth coined the term in 1979, when it was on everyone’s mind.

  13. Ben Wolf says:

    @ernieyeball: The Jews planted those fossils in 1923. Everyone knows that.

  14. Kylopod says:

    @Ben Wolf: It’s funny you mention that. Late in 2006, Sacha Baron Cohen appeared on Fox as Borat to inform Alan Colmes that Jews killed the dinosaurs. Just a few weeks later, in a classic case of life imitating art, a couple of legislators from Georgia and Texas were involved in a controversy where they were found circulating a memo claiming that evolution was a Jewish conspiracy. It was all the fault of that cunning Charles Darwinsky, I suppose.

  15. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Or not. Needs confirmation.

  16. C. Clavin says:

    Record drought in Cali….record cold in the East.
    Climate change is going to cost you…whether you believe in science or not.

  17. C. Clavin says:

    Between this and the CERN/Higgs Boson it’s an exciting time to be alive and believe in science.
    At the other end of the spectrum I was having breakfast in a hotel this am…and Fox and Friends was on the TV.
    From the sublime to the ridiculous.

  18. Hal_10000 says:

    As an astronomer, I heard some whispers about this. The response of the community has been what I like to call “enthusiastic skepticism”. People are excited about it but there’s some arguments going on about their stats (where it’s a 5 sigma or 2.3 sigma detection). And rumor is that the next shoe will be dropped by a group out at Keck. Reminds me of the supernova results that showed the cosmological constant. Initial skepticism and rigorous testing follow by acceptance.

    It’s an exciting time to be a scientist!

  19. grumpy realist says:

    @Hal_10000: if there’s a 5-sigma vs. 2.6 sigma argument, that means your data is REALLY noisy!

    We’ve got error bars on our error bars…..

  20. John H says:


    ” Initial skepticism and rigorous testing follow by acceptance whatever conclusion the evidence supports.”

    FTFY – and yes, just being picky. James’ headline tossed the “proof” bomb, and we know it’s not nearly that. Very exciting though.

  21. ernieyeball says:

    @John H: ” Initial skepticism and rigorous testing follow by whatever conclusion the evidence supports.”

    Say it again Sam…

  22. SKI says:

    A easy to understand summary of this in youtube format:

  23. Grewgills says:

    Keck has an amazing set up. Several of our Big Island friends work their and their outreach was great when I was teaching on Hawaii.

  24. bill says:

    awesome, maybe they can find out what caused the big bang/what was there before it/how is that even possible…!