It’s only a few weeks until “A Fortunate Universe: Life in a Finely Tuned Cosmos” is released – you can now pre-order the Kindle version. Our publisher, Cambridge University Press, has posted reviews from some people who read an advance copy and had nice things to say.

From the Foreword: Brian Schmidt, Australian National University, and Nobel Laureate in Physics (2011)

‘My colleagues, Geraint and Luke, in A Fortunate Universe, take you on a tour of the Cosmos in all of its glory, and all of its mystery. You will see that humanity appears to be part of a remarkable set of circumstances involving a special time around a special planet, which orbits a special star, all within a specially constructed Universe. It is these sets of conditions that have allowed humans to ponder our place in space and time. I have no idea why we are here, but I do know the Universe is beautiful. A Fortunate Universe captures the mysterious beauty of the Cosmos in a way that all can share.’

Advance praise: Tim Maudlin, New York University

 ‘Geraint Lewis and Luke Barnes provide a breathtaking tour of contemporary physics from the subatomic to the cosmological scale. Everywhere they find the Universe to be fine-tuned for complex structure. If the quark masses, or the basic forces, or the cosmological constant had been much different, the Universe would have been a sterile wasteland. It seems that the only reactions are either to embrace a multiverse or a designer. The authors have constructed a powerful case for the specialness of our Universe.’

Advance praise: George Ellis, University of Cape Town

‘The Universe could have been of such a nature that no life at all could exist. The anthropic question asks why the constants of nature that enter various physical laws are such as to permit life to come into being. This engaging book is a well-written and detailed explanation of all the many ways these physical constants affect the possibility of life, considering atomic, nuclear and particle physics, astrophysics and cosmology. It then discusses in an open-minded way the variety of explanations one might give for this strange fine-tuning, possible solutions ranging from pure chance, existence of multiverses, or theistic explanations. The book is the most comprehensive current discussion of this intriguing range of issues. Highly recommended.’

Advance praise: Robin Collins, Messiah College, Pennsylvania

‘Lewis and Barnes’ book is the most up-to-date, accurate, and comprehensive explication of the evidence that the Universe is fine-tuned for life. It is also among the two most philosophically sophisticated treatments, all the while being accessible to a non-academic audience. I strongly recommend this book.’

I’m quite pleased to have recommendations from two philosophers (Maudlin and Collins), and in particular, two philosophers who lined up on opposite sides of the 2014 Greer Heard Forum on “God and Cosmology”.

I had the pleasure recently of having at chat with Oxford University’s David Sloan, Co-Leader of the Consolidation of Fine-Tuning project in the Department of physics. We talked about fine-tuning, probability, and theory testing in physics. they’ve now been posted to YouTube. Enjoy!

In other news, the Facebook page for my book with Geraint Lewis, “A Fortunate Universe: Life in a Finely Tuned Cosmos” (preorder now!) has over 600 likes. Come join us!

On the 6th of July, I had the great privilege of presenting the Astronomical Society of Australia’s (ASA) Harley Wood Lecture: “Life in a Finely Tuned Cosmos”. The Harley Wood Lecture was inaugurated in 1984 as an annual lecture in honour of the first President of the ASA. Harley Wood was Director of Sydney Observatory for over thirty years from 1943 to 1974. It was great to see nearly 300 people come out on a rainy Wednesday night.

Audio from the talk is now online at the Sydney Ideas Soundcloud. It also includes a response from Prof. Mark Colyvan, a philosopher at the University of Sydney, and a Q&A session. I don’t think that a video exists, but my slides are also online here if you want to follow along. Mark’s slides are here.

A Co-Blogger!

It’s probably a good time to remind ourselves that, in spite of the evidence of the past few years, this is a collaborative blog. I hope you enjoyed the glorious return of Berian (who named this blog, incidentally). I’m hoping he’ll write more about the overlap of astronomy and data science, and the difference between the academic and business world more generally.

Incidentally, Brendon Brewer is blogging some Bayesian thoughts over at Plausibility Theory, so please follow that blog. There’s some particularly interesting stuff on probabilities and thermodynamics. Matt Francis, after working for a time in Italy and at the Bureau of Meteorology, has also wandered into the business world. Matt was kind enough to come back to the astronomers at the University of Sydney and share his experiences outside academia.

I’m (Berian, that is, rather than Luke) attending the SF Data Science Summit today and tomorrow. I’m taking some rough notes as I go and want to publish them in digestible bits. One of the speakers I most enjoyed today was Carlos Guestrin (@guestrin), who gave a keynote and then a little 25-minute appendix later in the day. Here’s what I wrote down.

Continue Reading »

The 2016 Astronomical Society of Australia’s Annual Scientific Meeting is over for another year – congratulations to all involved for a wonderful conference.

Naturally enough, I’ve been pondering conference posters for the last week. Here is my unsolicited advice.


I’ll probably read a poster in spite of a boring title, but do yourself a favour and make it interesting. In particular, make your title a scientific claim. I got this idea from Josh Peek, who makes the title of every slide of his talks a summary of the slide, not just the theme. E.g. instead of “Observations”, put “We observed 234 galaxies”. Instead of “Modelling”, put “A warped disk fits our data”.

My preference (comment if you disagree) is for titles that are claims. E.g. Instead of “The GALAH Survey: An Overview”, put “GALAH will survey 1 million stars”.

Also, consider a subtitle: a one sentence summary of your poster.


Always start the main body of text with an abstract or summary. I won’t read every word on every poster, so don’t make the point of your poster hard to find.

Also, put the introduction after the abstract. I found myself being irritated by posters with vague titles that then started with “There are lots of stars in the sky. Stars are bright. …” I found myself scanning through the poster to try to find what was new, what I could learn.

Language and Layout

  • This is a lesson from writing grant proposals, but beware of soft verbs like characterise and classify. Even probe can be a bit weak. Tell us what the science goal is, even if you’re not there yet.
  • Flow charts and diagrams are very useful. Equations are particularly useless on a poster.
  • Light text on a dark background, or vice versa. Contrast,contrast,contrast.
  • Don’t make the text too large. Readable from a metre away, not from across the room.
  • Include a photo of yourself
  • Labels, comments and arrows on plots are great. In particular, summarise the point of the plot in one sentence. E.g. “This model (arrow to line), which includes stellar feedback, best fits the data.”

Have I missed anything? Comment below!


Next Wednesday (6 July, 2016), I have the honour of presenting the 2016 Harley Wood Lecture, which was inaugurated in 1984 as an annual lecture in honour of the first President of the Astronomical Society of Australia (ASA). Harley Wood was Director of Sydney Observatory for over thirty years from 1943 to 1974.

The event is sponsored by Sydney Ideas. After my talk, there will be a response by Professor Mark Colyvan, a philosopher at the University of Sydney who has published on philosophical aspects of fine-tuning.

The lecture is free; register online here. Continue Reading »