Camille Carlisle

Camille Carlisle, assistant editor Sky & Telescope
Camille Carlisle
Camille M. Carlisle was an editorial intern at Sky & Telescope in 2008 and joined the staff as an assistant editor in 2011. In 2014 she took the moniker science editor.

Beginning as an astronomy and astrophysics major at Villanova University, Camille soon discovered that her favorite part of physics lab was writing lab reports. She eventually switched to an English major halfway through her junior year. After graduation she went on to complete a master's degree in science writing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Before returning to S&T Camille worked at Science News magazine in Washington, D.C., where her primary role was as the publication’s fact checker. Her articles have appeared in S&T, Science News, Technology Review, and MIT’s webzine Scope. She was also a fellow of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing in 2009-2010.

Camille covers science news for Sky & Telescope magazine and SkyandTelescope.com. She also edits the magazine's news section and does whatever else may land on her desk. She’s fond of chocolate chip cookies and passionate about black holes — she wrote both her bachelor's and master's theses on them (black holes, not cookies). She is a native of northern California but nowadays can be found weaving her bike through Cambridge traffic.

29 thoughts on “Camille Carlisle

  1. lamport

    Dear Ms. Carlisle,

    Reading your article in the January Sky and Telescope on the formation of supermassive black holes, I was struck by the elephant that might be in the room but is neither seen nor mentioned: dark matter. If dark matter consists of particles that interact only through gravity, then they can contribute to a black hole and feel no radiation pressure, so they obey no Eddington limit. Has this possibility been considered? There is plenty of dark matter out there, and I believe we don’t know very much about how it is distributed now, let alone 13 billion years ago.

    1. Camille M. CarlisleCamille M. Carlisle

      Greetings,

      Thanks for the question. The issue is that, in order to fall into a black hole, matter needs to lose angular momentum. Gas can do this via friction. But dark matter — as far as we currently know — does not interact with itself. So dark matter probably wouldn’t be able to pour into a growing black hole.

      We’re actually learning a surprising amount about how dark matter is distributed on cosmic scales. The Planck satellite mapped matter’s gravitational lensing effect on the cosmic microwave background (http://sci.esa.int/planck/51603-planck-sees-a-cosmic-journey-13-billion-years-in-the-making/), and other teams have also used lensing to map matter: http://www.skyandtelescope.com/astronomy-news/mapping-dark-matter-05071532/.

  2. rayyeagerrayyeager

    Been enjoying your articles on black holes. The images and artists renderings show a black hole facing us. If a black holes were facing away from us would we see it. Would the light pulled in a black hole facing away from Earth appear to us.

    Thanks,

    Ray Yeager

  3. julian

    subject line: how the future builds its present.

    camille, you are the brightest spark at sky % telescope. i read your articles before anybody elses, and i have the inkling that you play your cards close to your chest, and that you know more than you let on. please dip into my blog COSMOSFOOM at word press.com so we can start a discussion at the highest discourse level possible: “how to keep the cosmos from going (foom) ; apologies to zaphod beeblebrox.” i critique corporate cosmology from a literary, philosophical, abnormal psychology 102 (!) and political economy point of view and find it wanting.

    “if we do not make the cosmos humane, it will kill us all, and then it will kill itself.” the arming sequence for the self- destruct button is just across the hall.

    julianmagpie@gmail.com

  4. pmarshall7pmarshall7

    Dear Camille;
    Truly enjoyed your Focal Point article “Two Routes to the Truth” in this June 2017 issue of Sky and Telescope. Too many of my atheist friends see the universe as something to study and intriguing. But I see the complexity and diversity (living and material) as awe inspiring. Seeing the precise and watch care of God’s overarching creative power. Thank you for this article of yours, when to many articles in S&T have belittled people of faith.

    1. nateklaibernateklaiber

      To both you and Camille:
      I would be interested for you to both share more about your experiences with God. For instance: which God? Does your shared believe in a creator God – and your communication with him (as the article states that Camille has “heard, felt, and seen God.”) lead to the same conclusions or outcomes? Would you be open to answering more questions separately?

      Thanks,
      Nate

    2. AndyLiakosAndyLiakos

      Dear Camille,
      It was wonderfully refreshing to read your article Two Routes to Truth last night. I read it to my wife, and we were both delighted to FINALLY hear this perspective from someone in the science community. Science and Religion are not mutually exclusive, as many would say, in fact, it truly takes an open mind to see how the two support each other. We have been subscribers for years, and recently purchased a very nice ES telescope which we have had a lot of fun with. We have always been Christian, and have always hungered for knowledge, and the older (and I suppose wiser, I hope) we get, the stronger our Faith becomes as we learn more about the world around us and the universe. As you can see from the many (not all) comments, your article was very well received, and appreciated. Please do keep this up. You have earned S&T subscribers for life with this article. Thank you, and may God bless you and your family! Andy & Ann Marie

  5. tom-dasilva

    Great focal point article. The compilation of facts and physical laws can either inspire faith, or hubris. Unfortunately, hubris tends to dominate in the professional scientific community. I don’t understand why faith has taken a beating at the hands of science. It would seem that the ever deeper unveiling of the precision and complexity of the universe would have had the opposite effect. Anyhow, it did for me.

      1. tom-dasilva

        The observation that the universe appears to be governed by mathematical laws requiring finely tuned physical constants is what leads me to believe in a Creator. This isn’t a universe where anything can happen. It is a universe where order (maybe just locally) developed from disorder in accordance with physical laws.. laws ascertained after the fact by human intellect.

      1. nateklaibernateklaiber

        It’s a false dichotomy to think that it leads to “inspired faith” or “hubris.”

        For instance, there is a belief that there is a creator God. This creator God created humans as special creatures in his image. He created the universe ex-nihilo, and created us from the dust of the earth. I’m in relatively good health and a human – God must love me. I live a relatively comfortable life and my needs are met. This is referred to as “faith” by the believers. It’s a cozy and warm place to be. Seen from this perspective, anyone who doesn’t believe in God is full of hubris.

        If we look outside the bubble we see intense suffering all around us. Historically and in the present. Humans owning other humans as slaves. Innocent children starving to death. Humans going without clean water. Psychopathic humans are killing with no regard to human life (they were created by God, too, psychopathy and all). Humans are brutally raping and killing other humans. Humans are torturing and killing innocent men, women, and children all around the globe. Humans not granting other humans equal rights due to them not sharing the same “beliefs.” Children born with diseases that take their life either immediately or after a short time. Nature riling up and killing people with disasters (if everything is fine-tuned, then so are the disasters that kill humans). A creator God created all of this. Nothing can be created that wasn’t created by God (if so, again, the initial fine-tuning premise is incorrect). To believe that he did it for you and he loves you (or, as Camille mentions, speaks to you and loves you intensely), while standing by idly as all of this happens around us, is hubris. Seen from the perspective of someone who is suffering, anyone who believes there is a creator God is full of hubris.

        My question to people like Camille is this: You claim God speaks to you. You claim he loves everyone so deeply. She made many truth claims in her article. If you know these things, matter-of-factly, then you must know why that same God ignores the suffering that takes place all over. If you tell me that “God works in mysterious ways,” or that you can’t explain why these things happen, then you need to tell me how you know your initial truths, matter-of-factly. I’m not interested in the hand-waving responses to reconcile a faith (A very specific, faith, at that). I’d like to take a scientific approach to the truth statements she has made.

        There are many more deeper theological discussions here. I found more hubris than faith in this article.

        1. tom-dasilva

          Faith and hubris are quite different things, obviously. If I wrote that studying nature can either inspire faith of hubris, I was wrong. There is indifference as well. By faith, I mean a belief which cannot be proven. Can it be proven that God does not exist? It seems to me that many of today’s scientists are faithful atheists. It takes hubris to expound as certainty that which can not be proven.

          1. nateklaibernateklaiber

            Hi Tom,
            I think the issue here is the list of things “which cannot be proven” is very large. I don’t believe in garden fairies. I don’t believe in tooth fairies. I don’t believe in bigfoot. I don’t believe in the loch ness monster. There are many things I don’t believe in. I am sure you have a list as well. I (and you) cannot prove with certainty that they do not exist. Should I declare that it takes hubris for you to expound with certainty that garden fairies do not exist?

            It’s up to the person claiming the affirmative (“God exists”) to defend that position. It’s not up to non-believers to prove that he doesn’t exist. It’s up to the believers to prove he does exist. If this was the case, then I would say “it’s up to you to prove to me that garden fairies do not exist!”. You would most likely laugh and see it as a waste of time. Rightfully so.

            One thing is certain – there is no subject (God) intervening in any of these discussions. S/he exists in the minds of the believers. Had our ancestors never invented the stories to help them explain the natural world around them, we wouldn’t be having this conversation today. Saying something is true because you want it to be true does not make it so. The same is true for garden fairies – if they were never imagined in the mind of someone, they wouldn’t be a part of any vocabulary or knowledge. We humans have conjured up many things through our imaginations.

            Believers start with a conclusion (“God exists”), and then work backwards from there. Importantly, it’s not just God, but their very specific God.

  6. TonyC

    Ms. Carlisle,

    I also enjoyed your Focal Point article in the June 2017 issue of Sky and Telescope. As a person of faith (a practicing, but imperfect Catholic), you have eloquently put into words several of the thoughts I have had concerning religion and science. Thank for a great article.

  7. Jim

    Ms. Carlisle,
    I enjoyed your June 2017 Focal Point article. It is refreshing to see a positive article on the place of Faith in science. As a Music major, I remember my college Physics teacher requiring us to read and report on a book – on Physics and Anti-Physics -(which may have been the actual title) which had the same theme that you posited: there is a place for both Physics and Meta-Physics in science as they are both searching for truth. Thank you! “soli Deo Gloria”

    1. tim53

      I don’t think faith has any place in science. Please don’t get me wrong. That’s not a statement of arrogance. Just a point of clarification. Similarly, science doesn’t assume anything. Really, science is a tool – a way of investigating the physical universe as objectively as possible. As Sagan once said, in science, the only sacred truth is that there are no sacred truths. One doesn’t have to assume that there is absolute truth to do science. There are plenty of things about the universe that are either not completely understood, or that are encumbered by centuries of misunderstandings. Science is as much about falsifying hypotheses as it is about verifying them. In fact, the most fun I’ve had as a professional scientist has been formulating hypotheses to explain the observations I’ve made, then doing everything I can to prove the hypothesis wrong (and if I don’t, my colleagues and peer reviewers most certainly will).

      1. Jim

        As a random example, could you clarify? Zero = Zero – an undefined concept?, an assumption? an unvarying truth? an unproven accident? Yet any elementary student can tell you that zero = nothing and therefore zero =zero on unreasoned faith. And does not science assume zero =zero on faith, or do you have to prove and define zero each and every time you use it?? After all it has only been an articulated concept for…..what, 1400 years plus change?? But yet zero, nothing, has to equal something or it has no reliable existence and is nothing more than a figment of our imagination, a construct. I personally believe, have faith, that zero = zero=nothing or nothing can be accomplished. To your statement “There are plenty of things about…misunderstandings” I would add – or will never be understood on a physical level.
        P.S. Language is such a versatile tool that we all have to be critical in our usage because every specialty really does have it’s own vocabulary and common words can have vastly different meanings which we use without thinking within our own fields. I hope I have been unambiguous in my thoughts and not assumed unvoiced progressions of thought beyond what I’ve written or ascribed something to you which you did not intend.

        1. nateklaibernateklaiber

          Hi Jim,
          I am confused by your response. You are correct, we use our language and concepts. I don’t have “faith” that zero = zero. I simply can’t go around claiming that zero = one hundred. Nor would any scientist engage in a discussion allowing me to refute the meaning of zero. It’s not a good use of time for anyone. It’s agreed upon across languages (mathematics) and allows us to establish it as a foundation to build upon other things. Yes, it’s still our concept. We could just as easily call it “garf” – we simply need the language to communicate. It doesn’t require faith.

          “Or will never be understood on a physical claim.” How do you know this? We’ve discovered many things our ancestors deemed would never be understandable. We need to embrace that humility that we are still evolving our understandings. Embrace there is still much to be learned and modified. This is similar to the god of the gaps argument – “We don’t know, therefore God” – only it’s “We will never understand, therefore God.” I am not saying you’re making this argument, but referring to the anecdotes shared by Camille in her article. Our lack of understanding does not prove the existing of a benevolent creator God.

          Peace,
          Nate

          1. Jim

            Hi Nate,
            I should follow my dad’s advice – K.I.S.S – keep it simple stupid. My post doesn’t make sense to me either at the moment. What I meant to convey is that every discipline works on agreed upon assumptions, or concepts. And in some cases those concepts/assumptions become proven fact or truth (i.e Laws of gravity, thermodynamics, entropy, etc.). So therefore, science assumes them as truth. They may be refined but there will always be a kernel of truth to them.
            The Truth of faith and the truth of our physical world (scientifically proven) will converge in a single, objective truth – God. I suppose I could say ‘we don’t understand, therefore God’ and I would be essentially correct through that unity of Truth. But doing so does not negate or diminish the eventuality of coming to scientific understanding. So Truth is always there.
            I hope I was clearer this time around, and I thank you for your patience.

            Jim

  8. xHarry

    Please allow me to take issue with the assertion in your June Focal Point essay that science and religion are both concerned with finding “Absolute Truth”. I have encountered the concept of absolute truth in philosophical and religions contexts, often associated with “Revealed Truth” . In science, rather, I have mostly encountered theories, concepts that often have statistical interpretations and imperfect explanatory adequacy. But as we replaced the cosmology of the ancients with the cosmology of Copernicus,Kepler, Newton and Einstein we have gotten successively better models and numerous testable implications. Nevertheless, our understanding remains incomplete.
    In choosing to defend entrenched notions of cosmology in the face empirical evidence to the contrary, the Roman Catholic Church did not act in a manner consistent with that of a seeker of truth – certainly not in Galileo’s lifetime.
    I don’t desire to challenge your religious beliefs but neither do I wish to be confronted with them in S&T.

    Respectfully,
    Harry Lewin

  9. tim53

    Hi Jim:

    Sceince and religion have very different approaches to learning. So it’s confusing or frustrating when people try to conflate them unnecessarily. Uses of terms like truth, believe, and faith get conflated all the time. Is there absolute truth? When I contemplate that question, I think “yeah, probably. But what truth, and about what, are you referring to?” When faithful contemplate the same question, they tell me something like “Yes, of course there is. Here, it’s in this book. End of discussion.” I know that’s immensely satisfying to them, but it does nothing for me. Thomas was my favorite disciple. What about belief? Surely, scientists believe their theories, right? Perhaps because religion defines belief very specifically as it relates to a relationship to a deity, I think it’s important to not use the term in science. And if the objective of scientific investigation is to find truth, a good scientist will be at their best if they check any beliefs they have at the door and let the data tell them what’s real and what isn’t. Don’t believe anything going into an investigation, and you’ll be much better equipped to discover truth without bias. Faithful often will insist to me that scientists have faith that their hypotheses are true. I used to think that, sure, there might be a certain amount of faith in one’s understanding of basic scientific principles that allows one to formulate and test the hypotheses. But, like belief, faith has a very specific meaning to religious people that a scientist wouldn’t equate with what happens in science. I think we all know that zero = 0, but there could very well be situations where a scientist (a mathematician) might be required to prove what zero is. As for zero = nothing? Not necessarily. I can imagine a volume of space that has nothing in it, but that volume would have a location and dimensions, so it wouldn’t be zero.

    I used to be religious. A very long time ago. ;^) I still can admire certain religious leaders without sharing their beliefs. Pope Francis and the Dalai Lama come to mind.

    1. Jim

      Hi Tim,
      According to a professor of Ancient Greek – retired – that I trust, difficulties with translation color the Greek word for ‘Faith’/Belief and the root meaning becomes clearer if you substitute the word ‘trust’. [It works in every case that I’ve come across so far.] So the application of Faith/trust is not limited to the realm of religion but applies equally in science. We can trust scientific outcomes because they are required to meet set standards and we can build upon them. A religious person can trust in God because like Thomas, the Proof is standing in front of him even if it is only evident to a single person. The standards required, (and there are standards for discernment), for a religious person to trust may extend into the spiritual but are concrete none-the-less. Skepticism until those standards are met, both for science and faith, are required are they not?? I think the trouble comes from denying the spiritual on one hand or denying our inborn desire to know the material world on the other hand.

      As a Catholic, “The Catechism second edition ” addresses faith and science in paragraph 159: ” … there can never be any real discrepancy between faith and reason. Since the same God who reveals mysteries and infuses faith has bestowed the light of reason on the human mind, God cannot deny himself, nor can truth ever contradict truth. Consequently, methodical research in all branches of knowledge, provided it is carried out in a truly scientific manner and does not override moral laws, can never conflict with faith …” [The full text can be had online.]

      I hope the above was helpful. If the fog only got thicker because of me I’m sorry, I am only a musician.

      Jim

  10. Pobrien

    Dear Camille,
    I found your piece “Two Routes to the Truth” in Focal Point to be unexpected, refreshing and imprecise. Unexpected in that you really… Wow, tossed yourself out there, though I suspect you understood that from the first. From what I recall the word “God” is let out only to describe certain subatomic thingies. OK, sometimes the little “g” god gets work as the designer/scapegoat when it all doesn’t entirely add up. But to go ahead and attach a 3rd person, subject pronoun! I had to flip to the cover, make sure I hadn’t picked up the NRA magazine.
    Refreshing in the fact that by doing so, by addressing the 3.2×10^54 Kg gorilla in the room, your also banging against the observatory of our socially enlightened stare. As a non religious person I can say this without fear of reproach: your viewpoint is under heavy attack but I lament with you, not as a Christian but as a strong admirer of viewpoints.
    Imprecise, not flawed. Why not search for God. Teleological application might not work on the small scale but neither does Newtonian physics. if we can agree on the semantics of “nail” we can perhaps hammer out objectively and with an expectation of results*, a methodical way of seeking God. . Anselm defined God as ” That which nothing greater can be conceived” . And from that base we are already, all of us, in lose agreement, we simply need benchmarks to proceed. Everybody is a seeker here in the incomprehensible, not to dwell on the ultimate is counter to being. And here is the crux; our socially engineered enlightened view is myopic both objectively and subjectively on this particular issue. Awe is gone from the collective sight in much the same way as the milky way has disappeared from urban skies, washed away from the byproduct of the modern world. I have no data to back this up but I believe that today, in the first world anyways, we are more spiritually void than any other time in human history. Is that a bad thing? I don’t know but it’s a thing and it demotes the concept of Meaning to one of materialism. If more people such as yourself were to talk openly this way perhaps less would be inclined to label themselves atheists for fear of looking like Linus in the pumpkin patch. Not that long ago a scientist who looked for extra terrestrials was quickly shown the door and Cosmology was metaphysics until we had the tools necessary to test assumptions and confirm observation. Unfathomable wonder and palpable awe that boarders terror, isn’t that what comes from and draws the gaze to the night sky? Shouldn’t that be the dialog? It’s seeking that which nothing greater can be.
    Pete
    *Results being noumenon , if you know what I mean

  11. Sebastien

    Ms Carlisle,
    I enjoyed the reading of “Two Routes to the Truth”. I have never read before a so clear and beautiful text about this issue. Thank you very much!
    Sébastien Garant, Québec City

  12. cveejer

    Reading “Two Routes to the Truth” in Sky and Telescope is surprising but not wholly unexpected. I’m of two minds on the matter. Although it seems preferable to avoid things like this, it’s interesting to note that more comments and discussion have been generated here than for most articles, a little excitement, maybe a bump in sales are always welcome. Yet, questions of faith and reason are very much a part of who we are. However, for some of us raised traditionally, that sense of being part of something greater once found in worship, has been replaced by a sense of awe about the natural world as revealed by science. Saying there is or isn’t a God implies ultimate knowledge that none of us possesses. In addressing the matter, a healthy agnosticism seems best. We just don’t know. For balance, perhaps in a future issue, including commentary from someone with an alternative position would be acceptable? In any case, I am reminded of a quote from Carl Sagan:

    “My deeply held belief is that if a god of anything like the traditional sort exists, our curiosity and intelligence are provided by such a god. We would be unappreciative of those gifts (as well as unable to take such a course of action) if we suppressed our passion to explore the universe and ourselves. On the other hand, if such a traditional god does not exist, our curiosity and our intelligence are the essential tools for managing our survival. In either case, the enterprise of knowledge is consistent with both science and religion, and is essential for the welfare of the human species.”

    Not to be outdone, Christopher Hitchens had this to say about faith and reason. View in entirety or follow quote from 3:13:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JXEiKPxCSdA

    “The big difference between this side of the house, mine, and the other is this. I am absolutely certain that I do not know, but that it might be possible to find out, and that doubt and skepticism, and innovation and inquiry are the only means by which wonder and beauty and awe and symmetry will be discovered. And beyond those peaks, we can yet see, new more wonderful peaks will arise.

    Whereas on the Wilson side of the house it is said we already have the certainty, we know that God created us and we even claim to know His mind and what He wants for us. And I just invite you to open your minds to the possibility that the skeptical and the inquiring and the doubtful will be better than anything that calls itself faith. Anything that calls itself faith, calls itself certainty and for certainty, I think there is no place in an institute of intellectual meditation and higher education. I am very grateful to you all for giving me the chance to say so. Thank you.”

    Best to everyone.

    C. Clifford, Dayton, Ohio

  13. Bob-PatrickBob-Patrick

    Camille, thank you for your Focal Point article Two Routes to the Truth. I agree that reason, prayer, scripture, liturgy, and personal experience are some of the tools we use to grasp the reality of God.

    Bob Patrick
    Kentucky

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