Here at Cosmic Variance we’re all about the football/physics crossovers. But even we have our limits.
These limits have been emphatically violated by Gregg Easterbrook, commenting at NFL.com about the weekend in football and gamma-ray bursts. Easterbrook doesn’t even attempt to actually tie his occasional science musings into the subject matter of his football columns; he just sticks them in there because nobody would ever read anything he wrote about science by itself. (Well, pot, kettle, okay.) His unfortunate track record along these lines includes weird statements about cosmology, particle physics, and extra dimensions.
Now he’s on about gamma-ray bursts. These are mysterious events that don’t last very long (minutes down to milliseconds) but are very bright, much brighter than supernovae. Astronomers have recently put together a convincing story about short-duration bursts: they arise from the collisions of two neutron stars with each other.
This story was assembled from such old-fashioned techniques as making observations with actual telescopes, and comparing to the predictions of theoretical models that involve equations and all that. None of which is necessary in the great Easterbrookian scheme of things. He has a better idea: that gamma-ray bursts are “the emission lines of horrific weapons being used by civilizations that have acquired fantastic knowledge compared to us, but no additional wisdom.” Aliens blowing themselves up! Of course, NFL.com is a publication aimed at the general public, so Easterbrook wasn’t able to show us his calculation of how the spectrum and time-series data from the Swift satellite and ground-based followups are better fit by the suicidal-aliens hypothesis. But I’m sure he’ll be submitting his findings to the Astrophysical Journal any day now.
Thanks to Kriston for the pointer.