...is the title of a provocative article by Gerry Gilmore(*) on today's astro-ph. There's a bit about the scientific method, such as:

The appropriate scientific methodology with which to address such questions is itself problematic: how does one apply what many consider the “traditional scientific method”, involving objective analysis of independent repeated experiments as a test of theory, when the Universe does not allow us to experiment, in the traditional laboratory physics sense; when we have no useful predictive theory for much of astrophysics; and when the nature of the Universe may restrict our observation to only a very small part of an unobservable larger whole? More specifically, is the observational test of prediction how science actually operates? Is that how astrophysics operates?

Good stuff. But the most cutting remarks come in his assessment of the current approach to modelling galaxy formation:

Such a long list of observations all inconsistent with apparently fundamental features of galaxy formation models suggests two approaches. In one approach, new complex physics (“feedback”) must be added, to “improve” agreement with observation. The appearances are to be saved. In another, common assumptions in the galaxy simulations could be examined further.

With the reference to the saving of appearances, the allusion is to Ptolemy's epicycles: making a misguided model seem more plausible by making it more contrived.

The specific problem Gilmore sees with cosmological simulations is the suppression of the "ultraviolet divergence", i.e., small-scale perturbations, by "numerical smoothing (‘finite resolution')": "It is unlikely that Nature does it that way." He suggests that many of the inconsistencies between galaxy formation models and observations could be a result of this poor handling of the small-scale power spectrum.

(*) Disclaimer: I will not be held responsible for any damage sustained to your eyes as a result of following links on this page.