General Relativity on Trial: Gravitational Waves and the Parameterized Post-Einstenian Framework

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With the imminent detection of gravitational waves by ground-based interferometers, such as LIGO, VIRGO and TAMA, pulsar timing observations, and proposed space-borne detectors, such as LISA, we must ask ourselves: how much do we trust general relativity? The confirmation of general relativity through Solar System experiments and binary pulsar observations has proved its validity in the weak-field, where velocities are small and gravity is weak, but no such tests exist in the strong, dynamical regime, precisely the regime of most interest to gravitational wave observations. Unfortunately, because of their inherent feebleness, the extraction of gravitational waves from detector noise relies heavily on the technique of matched filtering, where one constructs waveform filters or templates to clean the data. Currently, all such waveforms are constructed with the implicit assumption that general relativity is correct both in the weak and strong, dynamical regimes. Such an assumption constitutes a fundamental bias that will introduce a systematic error in the detection and parameter estimation of signals, and in turn can lead to a mischaracterization of the universe through incorrect inferences about source event rates and populations. In this talk, I will define this bias, explain its possible consequences and propose a remedy through a new scheme: the parameterized post-Einsteinian framework. In this framework one enhances waveforms via the inclusion of post-Einsteinian parameters that both interpolate between general relativity and well-motivated alternative theories, but also extrapolate to unknown theories, following sound theoretical principles, such as consistency with conservation laws and symmetries. The parametrized post-Einsteinian framework should allow matched filtered data to select a specific set of post-Einsteinian parameters without {\emph{a priori}} assuming the validity of the former, thus allowing the data to either verify general relativity or point to possible dynamical strong-field deviations.