Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Dan Brown, cracker-jack researcher. (Um, NOT.)

As I've written in my book, to this day, ignorance and misunderstanding of Lemaître’s background and his specialty continues to color popular accounts of his work in the most slipshod fashion.

This is most amusingly on display in Dan Brown’s lightweight thriller Angels and Demons, where he refers to Lemaître as a “monk” who all along planned to reconcile science and faith specifically by positing the “Big Bang” theory in 1927. (Interestingly, even the Talk Origins FAQ on Big Bang theory makes a mistake, claiming that Lemaître was a Jesuit. He wasn't, he was a standard diocesan priest.) Brown not only errs in assuming the Big Bang was outlined as such by Lemaître, he incorrectly dates Lemaître’s version, the Primeval Atom hypothesis in that year of 1927 (it was actually in 1931 the Belgian introduced his theory in a letter to Nature). What Lemaître did in 1927 was he wrote the paper that finally (eventually) convinced everyone, including Einstein and Eddington, that the universe could no longer be considered static.

Brown propounds this howler by further stating that Edwin Hubble “proved” the theory in 1929 with his famous report on the red shifts of extra-galactic nebulae. In fact, Hubble, notoriously cautious to the very end of his life, never claimed any such thing. Not only was there no such theory known as the Big Bang in 1929, but Hubble suggested in his paper only that the red-shifts measured by him and Milton Humason appeared to support non-static relativistic models of the cosmos (i.e. expanding universe models), and that there was a direct relation between the distance of nebulae measured and the velocity of their apparent recession.

And Brown gets paid to mislead his readers like this. Sheesh.

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