Sunday, July 22, 2012

"Electric Sun" on Slashdot, and taking a small hiatus

With other distractions in the Real World, I've found it difficult to keep up with posting and comment moderation on a weekly schedule, so I'll be taking a hiatus for a few weeks.  I've reached a point where I have a number of upcoming posts which are rather complex and I want to take the time to do them well. I want to include a number of supporting graphics that will make it easier for readers to understand, and harder for cranks to argue with.

In the meantime, I've also been listening to Stuart Robbin's "Exposing PseudoAstronomy" podcasts.  Dr. Robbins covers a much broader range of topics than I, including such popular items as the Moon Landing hoax and Planet X.  I'm working my way through the archive and am up through episode ten.  Readers who would enjoy a broader range of bad/crank/pseudo-astronomy topics are encouraged to check out his podcasts and site.

I don't expect to be totally out of circulation and may make small posts to this site or on a number of forums that I follow. 

In that vein, recently an interesting solar result was announced (Weak Solar Convection 100x Slower than Predicted) on Slashdot which became a target for Electric Sun supporters.   I responded in some of the comment threads with links to Challenges for Electric Universe 'Theorists' to which I received a claim from Michael Mozina who directed me to his "The Surface of the Sun" site.  There were a few easy-to-identify problems with Mozina's 'work', which I noted in the comment stream - the reliance on an uncalibrated 'first light' SDO image in JPEG format, and the questionable sunspot count 'data'.  A more detailed analysis would rival my recent EU 'peer review' exercises (Electric Universe: Peer-Review Exercise 1, Electric Universe: Peer Review Exercise 2, Electric Universe: Peer Review Exercise 3, Electric Universe: Peer Review Exercise 4, Electric Universe: Peer Review Exercies 5), and has been added to my 'to do' list.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Electric Universe: Whither the Electric Currents?

There was a recent thread on the Thunderbolts forum that raised the question which I have repeatedly asked of EU theorists or their supporters and generally received no real response.  That question is

Thunderbolts Forum: …Where does the juice come from?

That is, what drives the electric currents for powering the Electric Universe cosmology?

Even natural electric currents on the Earth, such as lightning in thunderstorms, sandstorms, and volcanic clouds, get their energy from another source.  In the case of lightning, it is a static charge transfer and buildup that can occur by collisions between liquid droplets and dust particles (see Wikipedia: Triboelectric charging), which is fundamentally driven by thermal and particle motion from other sources.  Even lightning on the Earth doesn't just magically appear.  The energy to create it comes from another source.

So I thought I would explore the thread to see if anything really interesting appeared.

We got this from 'Sparky':

- Irrevelant - there is no way to know

Yet the question of where the power comes from is definitely relevant to a physical theory.  This poster proposes a physical effect that is beyond analysis by science.  This is indistinguishable from creationists' claims of supernatural origin.

This from 'Michael V':
- an aethereal particle field

Even this description reads like a poor attempt at wrapping some mysticism with scientific terminology.  Nowhere in this description is there anything that we can use to generate measurable quantities.

From 'Jarvamundo':
- an rf produced plasma

This proposal begins to illustrate my point in dealing with EU claims - when currents are generated in space, the energy required to establish and maintain the charge separation must come from somewhere else.  In this case, the energy comes from the radio-frequency wave needed to establish a charge separation (the electric field of the wave will move electrons and positive ions in opposite directions).  This invites the question of where do the radio waves come from?

And finally from 'The Great Dog':
- "Electric currents arise from the charge separation that exists in space."

This person has some clue, but fails to grasp the full implications of their response.  Here's the rest of their description:
"Clouds of partially ionized gas dominate the Universe, and when those clouds of ions and neutral particles move, electric fields form. Electric fields, no matter how weak, generate magnetic fields which constrict the current into filaments".
(The Thunderbolts Forum moderator later in the thread claims this is the official EU answer).

They talk about ions and neutral particles moving, but fail to ask where that motion comes from. 

As I have documented, astronomers have known about these motions since before the term "plasma" was applied to ionized gases.

What drives the particle motion that makes the charge separation possible?  Particles do not move without having energy, and that energy must come from somewhere.

I've written about this many times on this blog:
To get a better sense of the actual impact of these electric fields and currents they can create, consider that the electric field created by the Pannekoek-Rosseland field is equivalent to the entire Sun having a net charge of about 100 coulombs. 

How much charge is 100 coulombs?

Consider the equation for charging of a capacitor:


where Q is the charge on the capacitor, V is the voltage difference across the capacitor, and C is the capacitance.  You can charge a 1 farad capacitor (which is small enough you could hold it) to 100 coulombs across a potential difference of 100 volts (smaller than the voltage driven by your home circuit) across the terminals.  

Note that this total charge would be spread out over the entire surface of the Sun, over 10,000 times the area of the Earth!  And it takes the ENTIRE MASS OF THE SUN TO GENERATE THIS VERY WEAK ELECTRIC FIELD in a sustainable fashion.  Not only do you get  a sense of how WEAK the electric fields must be, but you also find out that you could cancel that entire field (at least temporarily) by dropping your charged capacitor to the solar surface.

Of course, the Sun is not a static system, as it radiates photons and particles which would quickly try to re-establish some type of quasi-steady state.  This can generate larger fields.  For example, kinetic models of the solar wind indicate that the slight difference in the outflow of electrons and ions generates a potential difference between the solar photosphere and the orbit of the Earth of about 500-1500 volts.  Even then, electric field is rather small.

The big question is then, with these KNOWN processes that can create electric fields in space due to moving charges, what is creating these potential differences large enough to set up currents to power stars or even galaxies required for the EU cosmology?

In spite of this, a surprising number of posters to the Thunderbolt thread dismiss any ability to test their theory as doomed to failure.  This is funny considering how often EUers cite how Peratt and Lerner used radio emission from these hypothesized plasma currents to make predictions for the CMB and cosmic background (predictions which failed, see Challenges for Electric Universe 'Theorists').

The Thunderbolts Forum thread quickly degenerates to everyone pushing their pet theories, none of which have demonstrated the ability to predict any relevant measurement, but are couched in lots of 'science' sounding words.

Oh Yeah?  Well Where Does the Big Bang Get It's Energy?

With this type of discussion, invariably someone will ask: where does the energy come for the Big Bang?

The simple answer appears to be that when we add the mass and kinetic energy in the galaxies with the potential energy of the cosmological gravitational field, they seem to add to zero

This turns out to be a very convenient result, as we have laboratory experiments which demonstrate that even the vacuum is teaming with activity of particles popping in and out of existence.  A number of modern researchers have written about these interesting results and their implications for cosmology:
The earlier question becomes, where did these physical laws come from, but regardless of that answer, it does not change the fact that these physical laws exist.

The difference between the EU 'first cause' problem and Big Bang cosmology is that in EU, their current generation processes must be actively operating TODAY.

The REAL Source for Electromagnetic Energy?

I suspect the only truly electromagnetic means of storing energy is CHEMICAL.  Batteries create usable energy by trading electrons between energy states of ions, atoms and molecules.  But as we know from experience, and the difficulty of creating really long-lasting, high-power batteries, is that this requires chemicals that can be placed in contact with each other at high densities.  Even the best chemical combinations generate a voltage of only about 3-6 volts (Wikipedia: Electrochemical Cell).  These small cells are combined in series & parallel to increase voltage and current. 

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Why Don't Rebuttals Appear in Scientific Literature?

In dealing with crank science, one often encounters the challenge by cranks and their supporters demanding that rebuttals to their claims be published in the peer-reviewed scientific literature.  This challenge invites the question:

Why don't professionals post rebuttals to crank science in the professional literature?

The answer, as always, is more complex than acknowledged or recognized by the advocates of pseudo-science. 

There is a lot of science, viewed as crank or pseudo-science today, which was at one time, the best we knew.  Medicine is probably the best known field where former standards of practice are today viewed as ineffective to outright dangerous (Wikipedia). 

The physical sciences have a similar history - there are ideas which at one time were viewed as viable hypotheses, where there was ongoing research to determine if it was correct.  Quantized redshifts in the 1970s, Tony Peratt's galaxy model in the 1980s, were both explored when first proposed.  However, eventually the quality of observational data increased to the point that these models could not match the data and were ruled out (see Quantized Redshifts XI. My Designer Universe Meets Some Data and What's Next... , Scott Rebuttal. II. The Peratt Galaxy Model vs. the Cosmic Microwave Background).  

Today, many of the more prestigious journals do not publish papers on these topics at all, any more than they would publish papers proposing the Earth is flat.  These ideas are now so totally ruled out by the data that it is a waste of space to publish papers for or against such theories.  Such analyses must be published in other, less formal venues.  There are other reasons as well, and I'll explore more of these below.

Peer Review
In the best cases of quality peer-review, reviewers actually examine the paper under review in some detail.  Through this process, it is hoped that one can identify papers that have blatant errors and send them back to the author.  In most cases, where the authors of the paper are making a real effort to do legitimate science, a reviewer may think of some follow-up questions which it might be good for the author to answer, and maybe some additional work that was missed in the analysis.  Probably most reviewed papers fall in this category.

Occasionally a paper can make it through the peer-review process even with some unusual or questionable results, because the reviewer(s) might suspect there is a significant error in the conclusions, but can't put their finger on the problem.  In some cases, the reviewer will recommend the paper for publication so the scientific community at large can examine the work.

Sometimes, a blatantly bad paper can make it through peer-review to publication.  In many cases, this is often a sign that the peer-review process itself has been corrupted (Wikipedia).

In scientific circles, even making it successfully through peer-review does not guarantee the correctness of a paper.  The writing and publication of a peer-reviewed  paper is just the start of the process.

But let's say your paper has successfully made it through the peer-review process to publication.  What happens next?

The Scientific Publication “Market”
When exploring how peer-review works, and the incentives and disincentives in the system, it helps to use a market analogy.  The product being 'sold' in this market is good science. 

The real measure of the value of your paper is the number of times that other researchers find your work of value, by citing your work in their papers.

If other researchers see your work and think it might help solve some problems in their research, they will try to use the results of your work to further their research.  If they had success using your results, they will cite your paper in their publication list.  The fact that the product of your research helped solve another problem is a point in favor of your paper possibly being correct.  However, if your result was not helpful, other researchers might only cite your work to make a record of the fact that they explored your idea but it was unsuccessful. 

So if other researchers don't find your work useful, after some initial interest, they will stop using your work, and will stop citing it.  Over time, work with more citations is more likely to be correct.

Citation is the 'currency' of scientific publication

Like a market system, researchers whose work is very useful to others will receive many citations of their work.  Those researchers whose work is less useful will receive fewer citations.  This provides a simple measure of the impact of the one's research.  This measure is often used in hiring and promotional decisions, for academic and similar technical jobs, where publication record is important.

Rebuttal Publications Inadvertently Promote Bad Science

With the ranking system based on number of citations, this provides a reason not to publish rebuttals in professional journals.  The usual assumption is that if a paper is cited by others, that others found it's results useful

But in the case of a rebuttal publication, the crank paper would be cited and this citation would probably still be counted as a positive result.  In this case, doing bad science that generates a large number of peer-reviewed rebuttals inadvertently helps promote the bad science.  This could be considered the scientific analogy of the celebrity claim “There is no such thing as bad press.”

In cases of academic hiring, when published papers are reviewed by hiring committee, publications in proceedings are often excluded, as these publications are often available to anyone who pays the conference fee and are often not peer-reviewed. 

There are a growing number of 'Vanity Journals' in scientific publications, with questionable peer-review practices.  For some of these journals, it is clear that paying the publication charge is all that is required to get the stamp of 'peer-reviewed'.  These journals are the scientific publication equivalent of 'diploma mills' (Wikipedia).  Such publications are hotbeds of crank science.  Crank publications are usually identifiable by large number of self-citations, where the researcher often cites their own work.

To avoid the side-effect of lending apparent credibility to bad science through the professional publication system, most badly done science floats round the community by word-of-mouth or non-peer reviewed literature.

Frankly, I wish there was a reliable mechanism where rebuttals could be provided in a way that enabled detailed review and updating.

Attempts by crank science supporters to get their material mentioned in peer-review science literature should really be thought of as a con, an attempt to fool legitimate researchers into giving undeserved credit to cranks.  This is similar to the issue that debating creationists give more status to the creationist than they would otherwise be able to earn on their own (NCSE: Confronting Creationism).
  • Publishing a rebuttal in a respected peer-reviewed journal raises the status of the bad science.
  • Publishing a rebuttal to a crank claim opens the door to the crank claiming discrimination if they are not allowed to respond in the journal.  For this reason, reputable journals rarely support such rebuttals.
  • Publishing a rebuttal to a crank gives the crank a citation.  As noted above, many academic promotions are based on the number of citations of a researchers work, so a published rebuttal raises the status of the crank.
  • Most peer-reviewed journals have a publication charge.   Most professional would not want to use their limited publication funds to publish a rebuttal paper which will receive very few citations in the professional literature (except perhaps by the crank trying to defend themselves).

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Another success for the Standard Model?

CERN reports that the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) has detected what appears to be the Higgs Boson (Wikipedia).
They report the detection at five sigma (SLAC), which means that the probability that random noise could have generated this signal is 1 in 1 million.

While the results await more tests and confirmation, until there is a retraction, or conflicting results from another group, I will ignore blog comments and emails from EU supporters and others who rant that the 'failure' to detect the Higgs boson is evidence for their claims.

Update, 7/5/2012: minor typo fixed.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

No post today...major power outage

Due to the recent east coast storms, I'm currently without power (or rather limited power from a home generator), and similarly limited Internet access. Estimates say this condition may exist for another several days. On the positive side, between forages for food and gas, I'm getting lots of hard copy reading done. Welcome to the wonderful world of climate change... Stay safe friends...

Update, July 4, 7:10PM: Power is back, but Internet access is flakey.  I'm trying to catch up on the backlog, but there is another heavy thunderstorm heading to my general area.