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How did we get to the Standard Model of Cosmology?

Humans have always sought to understand the World we live in. All cultures throughout the ages have had a story of how the World was created and as part of that story there is often a deity to look after the World. The belief in these stories, and deities gives hope, an essential requirement for humans. People prayed to the Gods that a storm wouldn’t come because they hoped to prevent their crops being destroyed or their houses being turned to rubble. And if a destructive storm came they prayed again so that another one wouldn’t come.

And then scientific thinking came along and gave us the knowledge to predict the weather and tell us when a storm is coming so that we can act to limit the damage from the storm. Today, science is telling us that there will be more storms, an increasing number of storms that will be stronger, wilder and more damaging. Science also tells us how we can prevent these storms, by stopping global warming, and for that we can again use science to develop new technologies. Importantly, we can also use scientific thinking to guide our actions, well thought through actions based on evidence. The scientific process has been, and continues to be, important and is the bedrock of our technological age.

Is there something really clever about it? No. It is the process of trial and error, of observing something and trying to explain it, of using evidence rather than belief. The basic scientific process is:

  • 1. to gather some evidence by experiment or observation,
  • 2. to develop a theory that will explain that evidence,
  • 3. to test the theory by gathering more evidence, for example, by using the theory to predict something we can measure and then measuring it to see if it fits the theory.

This is a simple yet powerful ‘evidence-based’ process of gathering evidence, devising a theory, then testing of the theory with more evidence.

Science is a well tested process that continually develops knowledge. It is the scientific process that we should be precious about not the knowledge itself, that changes as we improve what we know. The true activity of science is working in such an unsure environment; our theories change as we get more evidence. Science is not ‘fact’, it is accepted knowledge based on the best evidence we have to date. There is an element of art to science, it is a creative process based on knowledge. It is also a process of persuading other scientists that your ideas are right, although sometimes, the loudest voices do not always have the best answers.

So why is cosmology a good topic for understanding the scientific process? In cosmology we have scientific observations, clues, that we cannot fully explain and several different theories exist to understand these clues. There is an accepted view, the ‘Standard Model of Cosmology’, and although this explains much of the evidence, there are significant unknowns such as what is dark matter, what is dark energy and what was the Big Bang. But the process of observing, making theories and predictions, and then testing those theories is an active one at the moment; the research being done today uses the scientific process and it is easy to see it in action.


A brief history of cosmology

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