While visiting Alex Szalay in Munich recently, I spent some time talking with Simon White, director of the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics. Alex later pointed me at an article that Simon authored recently, entitled Fundamentalist physics: Why Dark Energy is bad for Astronomy. It's a fascinating commentary on the goals and cultures of two scientific communities that one the surface might appear to have much in common. The abstract:
Astronomers carry out observations to explore the diverse processes and objects which populate our Universe. High-energy physicists carry out experiments to approach the Fundamental Theory underlying space, time and matter. Dark Energy is a unique link between them, reflecting deep aspects of the Fundamental Theory, yet apparently accessible only through astronomical observation. Large sections of the two communities have therefore converged in support of astronomical projects to constrain Dark Energy. In this essay I argue that this convergence can be damaging for astronomy. The two communities have different methodologies and different scientific cultures. By uncritically adopting the values of an alien system, astronomers risk undermining the foundations of their own current success and endangering the future vitality of their field. Dark Energy is undeniably an interesting problem to attack through astronomical observation, but it is one of many and not necessarily the one where significant progress is most likely to follow a major investment of resources.