Sunday, June 28, 2015

Exposing PseudoAstronomy: Big Bang Denial

Stuart Robbins over at Exposing PseudoAstronomy has posted a new podcast on Big Bang Denial (BBD), a topic often covered here.

Stuart goes into a number of the more basic aspects of the problem, mostly from the types of bad reasoning involved.
  • arguments from personal incredulity
  • Dark Matter is fake.  
  • Big Bang cosmology does not describe what started the universe, only how it evolved afterwards - rather like how biological evolution takes place regardless of how life started independent of abiogenesis (wikipedia).
I have explored some additional claims in detail at the links below:

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Reading: The Creationists: From Scientific Creationism to Intelligent Design, by Ronald Numbers

I recently finished reading the expanded edition of Ronald Numbers "The Creationists: From Scientific Creationism to Intelligent Design" (Harvard University Press).

I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Numbers at the recent Perceptions Project conference and he autographed by copy.

I learned a number of new and useful things from the book.

The book traces the history of various flavors of creationism back significantly further than I had originally thought. After introduced in the late 1880s, Darwinian evolution was actually gaining some acceptance among mainstream Christian denominations until a more fundamentalist revival began to perceive it as a threat and points of resistance arose.   Prior to reading this book, I actually thought creationism was more marginalized, limited to small churches (where I first encountered it in high school) since the Scopes trial (Wikipedia).  I had thought that creationism did not achieve a higher profile until the Louisiana incident settled by the Supreme Court Edwards vs. Aguillard case (Wikipedia) in 1987.

One of the aspects I found most interesting covered in the book was the incredible range of disagreements among religious people over just what the Bible actually said about 'deep history'. There were discussions of the many attempts to form a consistent 'creation model' of the universe. Many different denominations, and even individuals within a denomination, occasionally advocated radically different positions on the age of humanity vs. the age of life vs. the age of the Earth vs. the age of the cosmos. Some creationists wanted to include geocentrism in the creation model, to the disagreement of others (pg 264). This in itself tells you that creationism has no truly objective standard for deciding on the evidence, unlike regular science.

The claim by creationists that they believe the literal truth of the Bible runs afoul of history. The geocentrists and the young-Earthers and the old-Earthers can all find biblical verses supporting their position, or a subset of the models of the other. So how do you determine which is the Truth?  The same Bible has been used to support peaceful coexistence (the Golden Rule) as well as genocide; to support slavery, as well as free slaves; to support segregation as well has inclusion. Invoking the 'literal truth of the Bible' can mean whatever agenda one wishes to impose.

The book mostly explored creationism as it applied to evolutionary biology and geology, with little discussions on cosmology. It focused more on the history of the movement and the interactions between the personalities involved, rather than particular issues of the science itself. Pages 280-281 explored Robert Gentry and his work with polonium halos, a topic which I have explored on this blog.

Chapter 13, titled "Deceptions and Discrimination", explored the persecution, both real and imagined, experienced by creationists when they tried to seek higher degrees. The creationists often hid their inclinations from the university faculty while enrolled in the degree program. However, a severe problem encountered was that many creationists seeking advanced degrees in geology would encounter the incredible level of care exercised by mainstream geologists in determining things such as radioisotope dating or defining the geologic column for a region. It would often grossly contradict all they had been taught in their creationist studies and giving them a crisis of faith. At this point, options were limited for the creationist and those who wished to continue their studies would often switch to safer topics.

One item that I was really hoping to find more about in the book was evidence of the impact of big science projects like the Manhattan Project and the Space Race on the history of the creationism movement. Sadly, I did not really finding anything addressing these issues in any detail. Pages 264-267 mention the impact of the pro-science movement at the start of the Space Race and an effort by creationists to assemble a textbook to compete with the BSCS biology textbook.   Many creationists expressed concerns about finding a publisher for such a textbook as this was shortly after the backlash from the scientific community from the Velikovsky affair (Wikipedia).

While the book did not cover much of my particular areas interest, I found it a very useful history of the movement that I may reference occasionally. I regard it on-par with Robert Schadewald's "Worlds of Their Own".

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Electric Comets: More Failures of the Electric Comet Model

Electric Universe (EU) 'theorists', like creationists and other pseudo-scientists, like to latch onto the anomalies, or things they can try to sell to fans as anomalies, while ignoring the far larger body of agreement with the standard model.  This is much like using the existence of mountains as disproof that Earth is round.

Electric Comet supporters continue this tactic, most recently trying to exploit discoveries of the Rosetta spacecraft currently station-keeping with comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko (Wikipedia).  I consolidate more responses to some of these claims here.  Some of this content has been distilled from the long-running Electric Comet thread at the International Skeptics Forum.  Thanks to many of the individuals who participated in this thread and provided some additional information that has been incorporated into this post.

More Short-Circuited 'Electric Comets'

What about those solar system scale electric currents so important for the Electric Comet model?   Spacecraft measurements have demonstrated that the solar wind is largely neutral.  Small scale electric fields are possible due to inhomogeneities and these amount to a few tens of volts.  High-speed solar wind streams can generate voltages up to a couple thousand when interacting with a solid body, such as a asteroid or spacecraft.  These are known in the standard model and are important in the design of spacecraft.

It takes less than 1000 volts to accelerate protons to the speed of the average solar wind.  It takes even less voltage to accelerate electrons to the same speed.  Yet, if the solar wind acceleration were done predominantly by a large scale electric field, electrons and ions would accelerate in opposite directions!  This is NOT observed!  This qualifies as a Major Electric Comet FAIL.

The Electric Comet Theory of Water Production

Rosetta has detected water coming off comet 67P.  In the standard comet model, this water is due to the sublimation of water-ice which is part of the comet composition.

Some Electric Universe 'theorists' claim the comet is negatively charged, forming water from positive H ions in solar wind combining with negative OH- ions repelled from nucleus.  So we should see OH- and water only ahead of comet, between comet and Sun where it is largely formed, at least according to their model.

Yet the OH ion observed is not OH-, but OH+!  Not only that, but the OH+ and water are observed in the TAIL of comet, always moving away from the nucleus and away from the Sun!  Virtually all ions observed in comet tails are positive ions moving away from the comet!  It positive ions are supposed to be attracted to the negative comet nucleus, according to the Electric comet model, then this too is a Major Electric Comet FAIL.

This is not a problem for the standard comet model as the neutral atoms from the comet are predominantly photo-ionized by solar radiation, which tends to liberate electrons, producing positive ions.

Electric Comet Not So Hot

Electric Universe 'theorists' like to claim the comet nucleus is hot, while measurements clearly show it to presently be quite cold.  As I demonstrated in the original post (Electric Comets II. Of Water & Ice), the temperature about what is expected for a dark body at the present distance from the sun, heated by solar radiation, NOT electrical energy.  This temperature will change as the comet gets closer to the Sun and some of the darker surface material is evaporated away.

WHERE are the explicit predictions of temperature, electric and magnetic fields, water production rates, etc. from Electric Universe theorists which we can compare to actual measurements?  

I and others have repeatedly insisted that Electric Universe supporters provide them.  THOSE are real predictions that can meet scientific standards.  Yet EU 'theorists' persistently make excuses evading these specific predictions, instead producing ambiguous, "it looks like 'x'", and similar weak 'predictions' more like those of a tabloid-psychic, and then claiming success.

So having failed so totally on things we can actually measure, as evidence of the Electric Comet model, such as the motion of charges and ions in the comet vicinity, the Electric Comet supporters retreat to any little thing they can claim is 'anomalous'...

Most of the rest of this post will deal with these types of claims presented by commenter Matt Wood (MW).
MW: The extremely odd double-lobed configuration, the extensive rock and boulder fields in evidence all over the comet seem inexplicable on such a low gravity object. The jagged cliffs and overall decimated and rocky features of the comet also seem to stand in sharp contrast to the theory that these bodies were assembled through accretion. 67P looks exactly like it was ripped from larger body.
How could a double-lobed configuration hold together of it were 'ripped' from a larger body?  After all, structures are usually weaker at their thinnest point.  How did the two lobes manage to hold together through a violent event?

However, if two roughly spherical accreted objects collided at low speed, they might generate just enough heat from their impact to melt a little of the water-ice at sufficient pressure it could liquify and anchor the two components together.  Such an event would be consistent with enhanced water emission from the neck area, where water-ice had an opportunity to melt, differentiate, collect and then refreeze. 

As for the probability of collisions in the Oort cloud or Kuiper Belt, we've already witnessed comets ripped apart by gravitational tides such as comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 (Wikipedia).  If the parts did not separate too much after broken apart, some could drift back together, and re-merge from the impact.

Why are there boulders?  Why would there NOT be boulder-shaped material?  Boulders can form from larger objects due to cracking from repeated heating and cooling cycles, much as they can on Earth.  There are probably a few additional processes under the conditions on a comet that go beyond the known Earth processes.
MW: Why does gentle warming on a cometary body produce such huge effects at such great distances and from the coldest regions of the object?
One wonders if Mr. Wood is deliberately ignoring that comets contain significant frozen CO2 in addition to water-ice.   CO2 ice sublimates at significantly lower temperatures than water ice (Wikipedia: Carbon Dioxide).
MW: Would a similar experiment with a dirty chunk of ice placed in a vacuum here on Earth produce the same extreme effects if it was gently warmed?
Again, Mr. Wood ignores the contribution of CO2 in the behavior of comets.  There is a popular classroom demonstration of 'comet making' using dry ice.
MW: And why do we not find visual evidence of these vents that are suppose to be blowing out all over the comet body? They should be visible all over the body but they are never imaged.
A body formed from accretion at low temperatures, with no opportunity for major compositional differentiation throughout, would have water and frozen CO2 well-mixed since they are accreting from a collection of small particles.  'Vents' would probably be so small and well distributed that you would not see them as discrete locations.  Some may erupt in direct sunlight while some on the dark side could erupt via heat conduction through the comet. 
MW: I lean toward the EU explanations. Maybe that makes me uninformed - but the experts who arrived at a bone dry comet with a lander equipped with "ice" harpoons don't look a whole lot smarter or informed that I would be.
How 'dry' is water-ice at T = -68C = -91F?  At these temperatures and pressures, water cannot exist in liquid form (note phase diagram at Electric Comets II. Of Water & Ice).   Precisely what is meant by 'dry'?  Does 'dry' only mean that liquid water doesn't exist, or can't exist? 

Are Electric Universe 'theorists' actually trying to claim that the mainstream model expects puddles of liquid water?
MW: Does 67P look like a product of accretion to you?
What do Electric Universe 'theorists' expect an accreted body, assembled from dust and gas at extremely cold temperatures, to look like?

Take a body formed by accretion in the outer solar system, then take that body and send it towards the inner solar system subject to repeated cycles of heating and cooling where materials will outgas at different rates at different temperatures.  What does that object look like after a few cycles like this?  

Electric Universe 'theorists' want to claim that it would look nothing like what we observe on 67P.  Based on WHAT,  their INTUITION? 

Comets are not just a product of accretion, but billions of years of orbital evolution.  For at least the past century, 67P has been a Jupiter-family comet subject to repeated heating and cooling from solar radiation, repeated cycles of sublimation and freezing.  Why is there more emission at the neck?  Perhaps, as I suggested in the original post above, this was where collision of two bodies generated enough heat to let water become liquid, collect, and refreeze.

How much experience do EU theorists have of these materials at low temperatures, low densities, and against the near vacuum of space?  None that I can find evidence of.   EU 'theorists' routinely exhibit ignorance about the behavior of snow, especially snow mixed with common dirt, subject to repeated heating and cooling of day and night on earth (Electric Comets: Failures of the Electric Comet Model).  Why should anyone believe their comprehension of materials behavior beyond the range of regular human experience?

It's dangerous to apply ones personal experience of materials in the temperatures, pressures of daily experience to radically different materials and environments.  There are people who are seriously injured, or even dead, from making these errors of judgement with materials on Earth under unusual conditions.  I've had a few close-calls myself back in the days when I did more experimental work.
MW: Do you find that odd, or do you think that standard comet theory has successfully predicted what is currently being seen on 67P?

I think the coverage by the EU modelers are making a lot of really excellent observations that standard theory scientists seem to ignore.
Where are those successful predictions again?  Because they were certainly not provided by Mr. Wood.  All of these claimed 'successes' are constructed from blatantly false arguments about what the standard comet model actually says, and/or ambiguous explanations of their own 'Electric comet' model.

Note that all the claims which would provide more direct evidence of the existence of claimed charges and currents, such as claims about the solar wind and comet water production noted above, fail miserably.  

So when that doesn't stick, Electric Universe supporters then fall back on claims about behavior of materials under extreme cold and vacuum where they appear to have even less expertise.  It is becoming something of a running joke among those who've been dealing with Electric Comet claims for some time that Electric Comet supporters seem to have no real experience with even regular SNOW and ICE in the Earth environment, much less dry-ice in space.
MW: I'm no scientist - but these seem like enormous blanks that were not predicted, expected or very easily explainable by current comet theory.
'I'm no scientist' has become the new popular disclaimer from cranks when they say something demonstrating their ignorance.  Many who use this phrase get their information, not from those who do the REAL work, but from posers and wannabes who seek the status without doing the work.

Why would a rational person believe information about the space environment from people (EU 'theorists') who have no experience or training designing and building spacecraft to travel through that environment?

What is even more shameful is that the facts they have chosen to ignore are, for the most part, freely available for anyone examine and explore, should they bother to expend the effort.  Scientific literacy is not just for scientists, it is vital to the economic success and future of any free society.

The success and future of any society (and more most individuals and corporations) depends on their ability to solve problems faster than the problems (and their consequences) accumulate.  Successful solutions require facts, and good science, not arrogant ignorance.
“Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”
John Adams
We need science education to produce scientists, but we need it equally to create literacy in the public. Man has a fundamental urge to comprehend the world about him, and science gives today the only world picture which we can consider as valid. It gives an understanding of the inside of the atom and of the whole universe, or the peculiar properties of the chemical substances and of the manner in which genes duplicate in biology. An educated layman can, of course, not contribute to science, but can enjoy and participate in many scientific discoveries which as constantly made. Such participation was quite common in the 19th century, but has unhappily declined. Literacy in science will enrich a person’s life.
Hans Albrecht Bethe (1961)
Not enough of our society is trained how to understand and interpret quantitative information. This activity is a centerpiece of science literacy to which we should all strive—the future health, wealth, and security of our democracy depend on it. Until that is achieved, we are at risk of making under-informed decisions that affect ourselves, our communities, our country, and even the world.
Neil DeGrasse Tyson
The point is that we are all capable of believing things which we know to be untrue, and then, when we are finally proved wrong, impudently twisting the facts so as to show that we were right. Intellectually, it is possible to carry on this process for an indefinite time: the only check on it is that sooner or later a false belief bumps up against solid reality, usually on a battlefield.
-- George Orwell
Update: June 7, 2015.  Minor grammatical fixes.
Per my comments above about formation mechanisms of the double-lobed structure of the comet nucleus, a recent result has been published on simulations for these structures.  See Phys.org: How comets were assembled