Friday, 18 November 2011

Nobel Laureate H. Alfven & Scientific Peer Review

Hannes Alfven (1908-1995) got Nobel in physics in 1970 for his research on Magnetohydrodynamics (MHD). The term ``Alfven Wave''  is widely used in Plasma Physics & Astrophysics. Another term ``Alfven Surface'' is also widely used to denote the surface where the accretion flow around a compact magnetized object (like White Dwarf, Neutron Star/Pulsar) gets stalled due to the magnetic pressure of the central compact object.

Most of the cosmos we know of contain some amount of plasma; and in many cases, the region lying between stars, galaxies or cluster of galaxies is mostly plasma. Accordingly, Alfven proposed that, one must consider the existence of such plasma explicitly even while considering cosmology. In fact, he even wanted to explain many of the large scale structures of the universe by effects (like pinching) of plasma tubes; this was obviously was rather hypothetical. But the point to be noted here is that, his ideas came in conflict with popular cosmological models, and most notably with the Big Bang Paradigm.

So even though, he was a most renowned physicist, his papers arguing for importance of Plasma Physics for cosmology would often be rejected by mainstream journals. In particular, The Astrophysical Journal, whose editor was another would be Nobel Laureate, S. Chandrasekhar, would invariably reject.

``When scientists are specialized, its easy for orthodoxy to develop. The same individuals who formulate orthodoxy theory enforces it by reviewing papers submitted to journals, and grant proposals as well. From this standpoint, I think the Catholic Church was too much blamed in the case of Galileo -- he was just a victim of peer review.''

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