I read in this paper (maybe popular, but I think they didn't tell nonsense) observations have been collected by a group of researchers that maybe after all dark energy doesn't exist. Dark energy implies an accelerated expansion of the universe.

For these observations, a Nobel prize (if I remember correctly in 2011) was awarded.

More generally, does anything happen for the winner(s) of a Nobel price, financially-wise or price-wise, or whatever-wise if it turned out later in time that their awarded theor(y)(ies) turn out to be wrong?
To be clear, I'm talking about physics, chemistry, medicine,...Not about literature, economics, peace...

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    Theories being disproven is part of the process of scientific progress. (It has nothing to do with fraud.) There's nothing wrong with it and scientists should not be afraid of it.
    – Thomas
    Dec 18, 2019 at 11:30
  • But couldn't they had waited until it was 100% sure (which it still isn't)? Maybe it's never possible for one hundred percent, and I do find they made a big effort, but not big enough if it turns out that dark energy doesn't exist at all. Of course, it's easy for me to say, but hey, they have a high paid job for doing things they like and which is (I think) of little importance for the major part of all people. 300 000 euros, in the name of the cosmological science!! Better, give to people who barely can survive (thanks to western intervention). Dec 18, 2019 at 11:40
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    The 2011 Nobel prize was not awarded for the discovery of "Dark Energy", but for the measurement of the accelaration (called decelaration at the time) parameter of the expansion of the universe. This is not in any doubt, and has been independently confirmed by other measurements.
    – TimRias
    Dec 18, 2019 at 12:53
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    Scientists don't make true claims, they make refutable claims (that make more sense of the facts than some other claims for some time).
    – henning
    Dec 18, 2019 at 13:02
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    @descheleschilder It was called deceleration because prior to its measurement, it was widely assumed that the expansion of the universe was slowing the down. The question at the time was whether this slow down would be big enough to cause the universe to eventually collapse in a Big Crunch. Even if they had found the expected result the measurement of this parameter would have been a likely Nobel prize candidate.
    – TimRias
    Dec 18, 2019 at 17:12

1 Answer 1


Nothing happens. After all, many, many scientific papers are wrong, and many of them aren't recognized as such for a long time. It's often not fair to criticize the prizewinners this way either, since they can be very careful and competent scientists, they just weren't "lucky" enough for their life's work to be correct.

Perhaps the most clear-cut example hearkens all the way back to 1926, when Johannes Fibiger won the Nobel Prize in Medicine for "for his discovery of the Spiroptera carcinoma." In layman's terms, he found a tiny parasitic worm that causes cancer. Subsequent research conducted in the decades following his receipt of the award would show that though the worm definitely existed, its cancer-causing abilities were entirely nonexistent. So where did Fibiger go wrong?

Though widely respected and considered to be a careful and cautious researcher, Fibiger fell victim to improper controls and inadequate technology. To elucidate his hypothesized connection between parasites and gastric cancer in rodents, he fed mice and rats cockroaches infested with parasitic worms and observed what he thought were tumors grow inside the rodents' stomachs. Later studies would show that they were not tumors but lesions likely caused by vitamin A deficiency, which resulted from a poor diet.

It's hard to fault Fibiger or the Nobel Committee too much for this blunder. At the time, cancer was much, much more of a mystery than it is today, and Fibiger worked tirelessly to solve it, exploring all sorts of hypotheses, not just those involving parasites.

That said, I wouldn't put much weight into the argument that dark matter/dark energy don't exist. There've been many attempts to do away with one or either ever since the 1980s. Every now and then they make the media too. But standard dark matter theory has scored many significant successes to the point that Sean Carroll said in 2012 that "by now we’ve accumulated enough data to conclude that the universe cannot be explained solely by modifying gravity". The evidence for dark energy is less compelling, but still getting more compelling constantly. Until we know what they are people absolutely should work on alternatives to both of them! However, these papers come with big caveats about how likely they are to be wrong, which the media seldom mentions when they write about them. For example, the paper cited by the article you link dates to 2017, which is ample time for the community to process it, but Lambda-CDM remains the gold standard (i.e. the paper hasn't convinced the community and is most likely wrong).

  • I was referring to dark energy. Not to dark matter. Just as a sidenote. Dec 18, 2019 at 12:19
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    @descheleschilder this answer mentions both dark matter & dark energy if you read it.
    – Solar Mike
    Dec 18, 2019 at 13:39
  • Yes, you're right about that. Dec 19, 2019 at 2:27
  • By now I even more like this answer! Dec 19, 2019 at 2:27

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