In the last few months, I’ve been struck by how many articles have been published in the popular media and science news about black holes and the Big Bang. Mainstream physics and science communications (like phys.org, quantamagazine.org, etc) lately seem to be discussing more and more “mind blowing” geometries of the universe (or multiverse, eh).
Of course, the topic of black holes always has been glamorous, a darling of the media and a touchstone of physics . Lots more articles on the massive black hole at the center of our very own galaxy. Lots more speculation about interactions near black holes. Merging of black holes , wandering black holes, white holes, etc. The reality and fiction of singularities.
The discovery of gravity waves by LIGO (as well as marketing of big science) may have broadened the appeal of massive cosmological events. Newsworthiness.
As for the Big Bang, there’s been more speculation about the character (and language) of spacetime before and after that event. Mirror positive and negative universes arising from such an event . Multiverses of big bangs. The rise and end of the universe.
There is the challenge of what makes for good stories, whether to popularize science or serve some pseudoscientific agenda. The film and TV industry has long loosely used glamorous aspects of science as dramatic plot elements. Stereotypes and tropes abound, as noted in this Scientific American blog post: “Hollywood’s Portrayals of Science and Scientists Are Ridiculous“ (January 15, 2019). 
But for scientists and science communicators there’s also the challenge of what the physics really says versus the hype, speculation, and claims of both story tellers and scientists (physicists). The science versus commentary about the science. Consensus versus open topics of active research. What makes for an interesting interview may stretch theory or become more about personality than the facts.
Quantum physics is indeed weird, but epistemic and ontic interpretations of quantum physics spawned bewildering tropes on the topic. The so-called Copenhagen interpretation and wave function multiverses, in particular, made for much artful fiction and pseudoscience. 
This distinction between ontic and epistemic viewpoints is the Big Divide for interpretations of quantum mechanics. It’s where you must reveal your true colours. Does the wavefunction express a limitation on what can be known about reality, or is it the only meaningful definition of reality at all? — Ball, Philip. Beyond Weird (p. 55). University of Chicago Press. Kindle Edition.
The same may be said for cosmology. In particular, for stories about the origin of the universe. Or whether terms like “origin” or “creation” even apply. And the limits of language to even discuss the topic. The entangled ‘verse … 10^n and 10^-n. So, where does that leave us regarding the big picture?
Well, that’s why Sean Carroll’s latest blog post caught my attention: “True Facts About Cosmology (or, Misconceptions Skewered)” (January 12, 2019). While I’m still unsure about his position on the multiverse, I admire his ongoing effort to clarify cosmological fact versus fiction, state of knowledge versus conjecture — defend against the “zone” being flooded with nonsense (to speak politely).
In his post, Carroll lists 19 talking points (below). (Bolding and ’s are mine.) Comments on his post are interesting also.
- The Big Bang model is simply the idea that our universe expanded and cooled from a hot, dense, earlier state. We have overwhelming evidence that it is true. [See Wiki …]
- The Big Bang event is not a point in space, but a moment in time: a singularity of infinite density and curvature. It is completely hypothetical, and probably not even strictly true. (It’s a classical prediction, ignoring quantum mechanics.)
- People sometimes also use “the Big Bang” as shorthand for “the hot, dense state approximately 14 billion years ago.” I do that all the time. That’s fine, as long as it’s clear what you’re referring to.
- The Big Bang might have been the beginning of the universe. Or it might not have been; there could have been space and time before the Big Bang. We don’t really know.
- Even if the BB was the beginning, the universe didn’t “pop into existence.” You can’t “pop” before time itself exists. It’s better to simply say “the Big Bang was the first moment of time.” (If it was, which we don’t know for sure.)
- The Borde-Guth-Vilenkin theorem says that, under some assumptions, spacetime had a singularity in the past. But it only refers to classical spacetime, so says nothing definitive about the real world.
- The universe did not come into existence “because the quantum vacuum is unstable.” It’s not clear that this particular “Why?” question has any answer, but that’s not it.
- If the universe did have an earliest moment, it doesn’t violate conservation of energy. When you take gravity into account, the total energy of any closed universe is exactly zero.
- The energy of non-gravitational “stuff” (particles, fields, etc.) is not conserved as the universe expands. You can try to balance the books by including gravity, but it’s not straightforward.
- The universe isn’t expanding “into” anything, as far as we know. General relativity describes the intrinsic geometry of spacetime, which can get bigger without anything outside.
- Inflation, the idea that the universe underwent super-accelerated expansion at early times, may or may not be correct; we don’t know. I’d give it a 50% chance, lower than many cosmologists but higher than some.
- The early universe had a low entropy. It looks like a thermal gas, but that’s only high-entropy if we ignore gravity. A truly high-entropy Big Bang would have been extremely lumpy, not smooth.
- Dark matter exists. Anisotropies in the cosmic microwave background establish beyond reasonable doubt the existence of a gravitational pull in a direction other than where ordinary matter is located.
- We haven’t directly detected dark matter yet, but most of our efforts have been focused on Weakly Interacting Massive Particles. There are many other candidates we don’t yet have the technology to look for. Patience.
- Dark energy may not exist; it’s conceivable that the acceleration of the universe is caused by modified gravity instead. But the dark-energy idea is simpler and a more natural fit to the data.
- Dark energy is not a new force; it’s a new substance. The force causing the universe to accelerate is gravity. 
- We have a perfectly good, and likely correct, idea of what dark energy might be: vacuum energy, a.k.a. the cosmological constant. An energy inherent in space itself. But we’re not sure.
- We don’t know why the vacuum energy is much smaller than naive estimates would predict. That’s a real puzzle.
- Neither dark matter nor dark energy are anything like the nineteenth-century idea of the aether.
Update April 3, 2020: YouTube > Fermilab > Don Lincoln > “What happened before the Big Bang?” (Mar 31, 2020)
 Ushma S. Neill, PhD, is vice president, Office of Scientific Education and Training, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.
“Hello, I’m a scientist in a movie I know everything about theoretical physics, geology, astronomy, cosmology, history, biology, linguistics, oh yeah, also I’m a hacker.”
“Hello, I’m a scientist in a movie. You need the cure to a strange disease in 24 hours. I just so happen to be the best in my field. Everything works the first time I do it, and my knowledge spans through three different fields. Without extensive testing first, here’s your cure.”
Why are our noble professions thus portrayed when reality is more nuanced and varied? Is it so convenient to rely on old fashioned narratives and tropes that rarely coincide with the actual work done in labs and clinics …
Because attributing depth to scientists and giving full freight to the scientific process is not as handy, the way the public sees science is skewed.
 Much as the relationship between astronomy and astrology.
Astronomy has, as its most prominent pseudoscience, astrology—the discipline out of which it emerged. The pseudosciences sometimes intersect, compounding the confusion … — Sagan, Carl. The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark. Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. Loc 799.
There’s a great deal of pseudoscience for the gullible on TV, a fair amount of, medicine and technology, but hardly any science—especially on the big commercial networks, whose executives tend to think that science programming means ratings declines and lost profits, and nothing else matters. There are network employees with the title “Science Correspondent,” and an occasional news feature said to be devoted to science. But we almost never hear any science from them, just medicine and technology.
When is the last time you heard an intelligent comment on science by a President of the United States? Why in all America is there no TV drama that has as its hero someone devoted to figuring out how the Universe works? — Ibid. Loc 5863.
Modern Roman Catholicism has no quarrel with the Big Bang, with a Universe 15 billion or so years old, with the first living things arising from prebiological molecules, or with humans evolving from apelike ancestors—although it has special opinions on “ensoulment.” Most mainstream Protestant and Jewish faiths take the same sturdy position. — Ibid. Loc 4442.
 Carroll clarified item #16:
Gravity causes the universe to accelerate because gravity is not always attractive. Roughly speaking, the “source of gravity” is the energy density of a fluid plus three times the pressure of that fluid. Ordinary substances have positive energy and pressure, so gravity attracts. But vacuum energy has negative pressure, equal in size but opposite in sign to its energy. So the net effect is to push things apart.
In the special case of vacuum energy, general relativity stipulates that the gravitational field is proportional to ρ + 3p (where ρ is the mass–energy density, and p is the pressure). Quantum theory of the vacuum further stipulates that the pressure of the zero-state vacuum energy is always negative and equal in magnitude to ρ. Thus, the total is ρ + 3p = ρ − 3ρ = −2ρ, a negative value. If indeed the vacuum ground state has non-zero energy, the calculation implies a repulsive gravitational field, giving rise to acceleration of the expansion of the universe, … However, the vacuum energy is mathematically infinite without renormalization, which is based on the assumption that we can only measure energy in a relative sense, which is not true if we can observe it indirectly via the cosmological constant.
 For example, this Space.com article, “A Mirror Image of Our Universe May Have Existed Before the Big Bang” (January 22, 2019):
Researchers Latham Boyle, Kieran Finn and Neil Turok at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Ontario, have turned this idea on its head by assuming the universe has always been fundamentally symmetrical and simple, then mathematically extrapolating into that first moment after the Big Bang.
“If someone can find a simpler version of the history of the universe than the existing one, then that’s a step forward. It doesn’t mean it’s right, but it means it’s worth looking at,” said Sean Carroll, a cosmologist at the California Institute of Technology who was cited in the paper but was not involved in the research. He pointed out that the current favorite candidate for dark matter — weakly interacting massive particles, or WIMPs — haven’t been found and it might be time to consider other options, including possibly the right-handed neutrinos Boyle mentioned. But, he said, he’s a long way from being persuaded and calls the paper “speculative.”
 Here’s an interesting visualization of the merger of 2 black holes on the Caltech YouTube channel: “Colliding and Wobbling Black Holes” (January 24, 2019).
 Here’s an excellent summary of the history of research regarding black holes on the Caltech YouTube channel (March 30, 2016) — a lecture by Kip Thorne from the General Relativity at One Hundred: The Sixth Biennial Francis Bacon Conference in March 2016. Wonderful visualizations. Background on the physics of the film Interstellar.
Note: Black hole solution with no matter …