I finally got some writing done today, in the Anderson paper on the empirical, deconvolved color-magnitude diagram. We are very explicitly structuring the paper around the assumptions, and each of the assumptions has a name. This is part of my grand plan to develop a good, repeatable, useful, and informative structure for a data-analysis paper.
I missed a talk last week by Andrew Pontzen (UCL), so I found him today and discussed matters of common interest. It was a wide-ranging conversation but two highlight were the following: We discussed causality or causal explanations in a deterministic-simulation setting. How could it be said that “mergers cause star bursts”? If everything is deterministic, isn't it equally true that star bursts cause mergers? One question is the importance of time or time ordering (or really light-cone ordering). For the statisticians who think about causality this doesn't enter explicitly. I think that some causal statements in galaxy evolution are wrong on philosophical grounds but we decided that maybe there is a way to save causality provided that we always refer to the initial conditions (kinematic state) on a prior light cone. Oddly, in a deterministic universe, causal explanations are mixed up with free will and subjective knowledge questions.
Another thing we discussed is a very neat trick he figured out to reduce cosmic variance in simulations of the Universe: Whenever you simulate from some initial conditions, also simulate from the negative of those initial conditions (all phases rotated by 180 degrees, or all over-densities turned to under, or whatever). The average of these two simulations will cancel out some non-trivial terms in the cosmic variance!
The day ended with a long call with Megan Bedell (Chicago), going over my full list of noise sources in extreme precision radial-velocity data (think: finding and characterizing exoplanets). She confirmed everything in my list, added a few new things, and gave me keywords and references. I think a clear picture is emerging of how we should attack (what NASA engineers call) the tall poles. However, it is not clear that the picture will get set down on paper in time for the Exoplanet Research Program funding call!