Stacy McGaugh

American astronomer (born 1964)

Stacy S. McGaugh (born January 11, 1964) is an American astrophysicist, known for his research on Modified Newtonian dynamics (MOND) and tests of the dark matter hypothesis.


  • It is often stated that the evidence for dark matter is overwhelming. This is not quite correct: the evidence for mass discrepancies is overwhelming. These might be attributed to either dark matter or a modification of gravity.
  • My gut reaction to all these questions is negative. But it appears that one set or the other must be answered in the affirmative. Either way, we are missing something fundamental about the nature of our universe.
  • I came to the subject a True Believer in dark matter, but it was MOND that nailed the predictions for the LSB galaxies that I was studying (McGaugh & de Blok, 1998), not any flavor of dark matter. So what I am supposed to conclude?
  • One should not only be truthful, but as complete as possible. It does not suffice to be truthful while leaving unpleasant or unpopular facts unsaid.
  • A long standing prediction (Milgrom 1983) of MOND is that rotating galaxy curves will fall on a single mass-velocity relation with slope 4: Mb   Vf4. This prediction is realized in multiple independent data sets. Gas rich galaxies fall where predicted by MOND with no free parameters. There are not many predictions in extragalactic astronomy that fare so well a quarter century after their publication. … a physical understanding for why galaxy formation in the context of ΛCDM should pick out the particular phenomenology predicted a priori by MOND remains wanting.
  • The current cosmological paradigm, the cold dark matter model with a cosmological constant, requires that the mass-energy of the Universe be dominated by invisible components: dark matter and dark energy. An alternative to these dark components is that the law of gravity be modified on the relevant scales. A test of these ideas is provided by the baryonic Tully-Fisher relation (BTFR), an empirical relation between the observed mass of a galaxy and its rotation velocity. Here, I report a test using gas rich galaxies for which both axes of the BTFR can be measured independently of the theories being tested and without the systematic uncertainty in stellar mass that affects the same test with star dominated spirals. The data fall precisely where predicted a priori by the modified Newtonian dynamics.
  • ... It was (in part) Gross’s excessive enthusiasm for string theory in the mid-80s that drove me (as an impressionable grad student at Princeton) away from theoretical physics (and into astronomy). String theory may have been a beautiful idea, but it made no predictions that could be tested experimentally in the then-foreseeable future. That’s not science. 
A quarter century later and the theoretical physics community has yet to wake up and realize that there is new physics right under their noses – just not the new physics they’ve been expecting (GUTs, strings, membranes, etc.). Galaxy dynamics are consistent with a single, universal force law, but this unexpected behavior has largely been ignored because it doesn’t fit with particle theorists’ dreams of super symmetric dark matter particles. That we do not understand the observed behavior makes it more interesting than the “expected” (but unobserved) new physics: who ordered this?
  • The concordance model of cosmology, ΛCDM, provides a satisfactory description of the evolution of the universe and the growth of large scale structure. Despite considerable effort, this model does not at present provide a satisfactory description of small scale structure and the dynamics of bound objects like individual galaxies. In contrast, MOND provides a unique and predictively successful description of galaxy dynamics, but is mute on the subject of cosmology. … it is far from obvious that the mass spectrum of galaxy clusters or the power spectrum of galaxies can be explained in MOND, two things that ΛCDM does well. Critical outstanding issues are the development of an acceptable relativistic parent theory for MOND, and the reality of the non-baryonic dark matter of ΛCDM. Do suitable dark matter particles exist, or are they a modern aether?
  • People have been looking for this dark matter because there is a Nobel prize, for sure, waiting for whoever discovers it.
  • ... I was deeply shocked when it was not my predictions or any of my immediate colleagues' predictions that came true in my data — but Milgrom's. This was completely outside my conceptual framework.
  • A long time ago when I first got interested in MOND, having come from the background where I believed in dark matter, I wrote a proposal saying, "Gee, this theory had its predictions come true, ... we should look into that" and it was rejected, you know, very harshly. And I thought "OK, the community is not willing to fund this kind of thing" — this was almost twenty years ago. And so I basically did a global substitute, replaced MOND with dark matter, resubmitted, and I got my money. ... Pavel is totally correct that scientists are focused on getting grants, because that's what you need to support your students, and your postdocs, and getting the data, and all those sort of things. And I would like to believe that that was an anecdote from the distant past, but I am aware of a colleague who had this experience very recently where this person did not even mention MOND in the proposal, but the panel came back saying "MOND is no good — you must not spend money on this." ... the panel had associated ... this person's name with having at some point written a paper about MOND and projected that onto this proposal that ... did not mention MOND. And so it really is that bad.

Quotes about McGaughEdit

  • ... Dark matter provides the additional gravitational pull to bring model and reality broadly into alignment. Researchers now routinely take this model – Einstein plus dark matter, often called the ‘null hypothesis’ – as their starting point and then perform detailed calculations of galactic systems to test it. ... Most recently, Stacy McGaugh at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio and his team documented that the pattern of rotation in spiral galaxies seems to precisely follow the pattern of the visible matter alone, posing yet another challenge to the null hypothesis.

See alsoEdit

External linksEdit

Wikipedia has an article about: