I Don’t Know Whether to Laugh or Cry at This Cartoon

Bob Englehart of the Hartford Courant drew this cartoon yesterday discussing religion and dark matter:

Initially, I laughed. Suck it, religion, right?

But the science wasn’t accurate… and Englehart’s description didn’t help the matter:

I was inspired to draw this cartoon by a comment scientist and Nobel prize-winning physicist Samuel Ting made. When asked to give a stronger conclusion to his possible discovery of dark matter, he said, “We, of course, have a feeling what is happening”…

Dark matter is still a theory. It’s also invisible. So the proof that it exists is the fact it can’t be seen. The more you can’t see, the more there is. This involves anti-matter, which is not a friend of matter. In fact, it’s the suicide bomber of sub-atomic particles. When anti-matter hits matter, they both cease to exist.

That’s just not true. Check out this image and description from theoretical cosmologist Sean Carroll, author of The Particle at the End of the Universe:

That ghostly haze is dark matter — or at least, an impression of the gravitational field created by the dark matter. This is galaxy cluster Abell 1689, in the constellation Virgo… It’s easy to see that the images of many of the galaxies have been noticeably warped by passing through the gravitational field of the cluster, a phenomenon known as strong gravitational lensing. This cluster has been studied for a while using strong lensing.

There are a number of ways that we know dark matter exists and none of them involve a “gut feeling.”

I asked Carroll what he thought of the cartoon and his response came quick:

We definitely have lots of evidence for dark matter — multiple kinds of evidence, from completely different sources, all fitting the same basic picture. The “feeling” to which Sam Ting is referring is a judgment about what model best fits his new data, perfectly analogous to someone saying “I have a feeling the Eagles are going to win the Super Bowl this year.”

In short, Englehart needs to go back to the drawing board. His heart’s in the right place — Yay science! Boo religion! — but his brain was on a break when he drew this.

(Thanks to Luther for the link!)

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