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THREE ON THE TOWN

NAME-DROPPING : If the Politically Correct Have Their Way, Big Bang Theorists Will Have to Call It Quits

July 11, 1993|Patt Morrison

I never expected science to let us down.

Political correctness has had its way everywhere else: There are no bad cooks; there are only the culinarily impaired. Bald people are no longer bald; they are only follically challenged. Death and taxes aren't inevitable; only negative patient outcome and revenue enhancements are.

But science was always dependable. Science was always austere, rational, above all that. Science called a spore a spore. Good ol' science.

Now, in the biggest betrayal since Piltdown Man, here's what good ol' science is up to: changing the Big Bang.

Not the theory ; scientists still think that the universe expanded 10 or 20 billion years ago from a pinpoint that contained all matter, all time. It's the name they want to change. UC Berkeley professor Timothy Ferris, who used to teach at USC and who has written widely on astronomy, says: "It does science no good to be wedded to an ugly, disrespectful name for Genesis."

That would certainly explain why all those galaxies are moving away from us at top speed. Who wants to hang around and hear yourself being dissed?

Big Bang is not only disrespectful, it's also off-color. NASA astronomer Steve Maran says that every time he used the phrase in front of college students, "all sorts of tittering was heard around the room." Point taken, Steve. And we've been meaning to speak to you about the word tittering.

Lest science continue to be lewd and rude, Sky & Telescope magazine, which you won't find offered by Publisher's Clearing House, is sponsoring a contest to rename the theory. Big Bang is inaccurate, they say, and, besides, the astronomer Sir Fred Hoyle had his own theory about the origin of the universe and made up Big Bang in 1950 to slam the competition. (How someone with a handle like Sir Fred minted a name as neat as Big Bang is beyond me.)

I loved Big Bang. It had poetry to it, as well as science. It sounded like a nickname, casual and yet so smart, like being on intimate terms with the real Masters of the Universe. Al and Niels and me, gabbing about the Big Bang.

It was one of those phrases you could toss out when your parents demanded to know just what you were learning in that school anyway. You said "the id" or "the dialectic" or "the Big Bang," and they'd shut right up, softly close the door on their little scholar and leave you in peace to listen to the new Rolling Stones album.

What could possibly take Big Bang 's place? Universe Helper? E Unum Pluribus , out of one, many? Now We Are Six (Billion)?

Ferris will judge the Big Bang Challenge, along with TV newsman Hugh Downs, a stargazer from way back, and Carl Sagan, who has counted more stars than McDonald's has served burgers. There is no prize but the honor of being chosen. Sky & Telescope will announce a winner in January, at which point, given the matchless tyranny of PR and PC, everyone from science-fair winners to Stephen Hawking can kiss the Big Bang goodby.

Why stop there?

How can we clean up Big Bang and still call some stars red dwarfs? Please, they're Soviet little-people stellar phenomena.

That particle known as a charmed quark sounds suspiciously close to witchcraft. Spiritually enhanced quark will keep the book-banners out of your physics class.

Tropic of Cancer? Too depressing. Try Tropic of Pretty Serious But Often Curable Carcinoma.

Earthquake faults can't be faults because we now know that nothing is anyone's fault. Seismically disruptive areas is more culturally sensitive.

The element polonium, named by Marie Curie for her native land, is far too jingoistic for this day and age. Central Europinium is much nicer.

Hurry up with your entries. The contest deadline is Aug. 31.

Did I say dead line? What I really meant to say was biological deactivation limit.

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