Sunday, February 17, 2013

Data is data

Hey all - time for my second post! But first, some good news and some bad news.

The good news is that I already have one follower (yay!). The bad news is that his blog, Background Dominated, which is supposedly also devoted to scientific and rational thinking, has begun attacking this blog, namely my own research.

Well, I won't stand for this! It's time to defend what I do! Background Dominated claims that what I generate from my simulations is not actual data. Haha, well it is, and here's why!

The primary driver behind science is the collection of information by observing our natural world.  In the case of astronomy, scientists go to telescopes (or have remote access to them) and take "pictures" of the universe.  The information they collect is often times referred to as data.  And that's perfectly fine because data refers to information that is collected for reference or analysis, and that is precisely what observational astronomers do.  They collect data and then analyze it.

But another key component to the scientific method is constructing a model to fit the observations.  This model will then be used to describe the phenomenon being observed and make predictions that can be tested by future observations. That's where I come in. In my case, I run computer simulations of processes that we think are occurring out there in space.  These simulations produce information to be analyzed (i.e., DATA) and the resulting analysis is used to construct a model for what is happening.  We then compare our model's predictions to what other scientists observe.   If they agree, well then that's great because it means our model is good.  If they don't agree, we have to change our model to better understand what is happening.  Either way, we iterate until we get a good model that can accurately predict how things work in the universe.

But none of this means that what comes out of a computer simulation isn't data - it is!  It is just artificially generated, rather than collected through a telescope.

Personally, I think Background Dominated is just jealous because despite his data coming from a telescope, he only gets a few bits of data at a time.  This is because he observes X-rays in space and these X-rays are so high in energy that they enter the telescopes only in small numbers.  MY simulations on the other hand produce tons of data.  So, I think Background Dominated is suffering from data-envy ;)

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