Sunday, July 6, 2014

Electric Universe: More Confusing Claims from the EU 'Worldview'

I submitted a shorter version of this post to dad2059's comment stream at Dad2059: The Electric Universe and Strawmen, but it has yet to appear through moderation.  So again, I'll post the expanded explanation here.  This is also a followup to Pseudoscience and 'World-View'.

From the blog operator:
The Electric Universe Theory is very intriguing to me for the simple fact that it’s elegant, easy to grasp and can explain many anomalies that occur in Nature. In fact, I consider it an equal to Einstein’s Gravitic theories that is the mainstream thought today. Do I think it’s THE theory? No, but I think […]
Unfortunately for Dad2059, Nature is under no obligation to conform to human prejudices and colloquial notions of 'logic', 'elegance' or 'simplicity'.  But time after time, mathematics has demonstrated its power not only to explain Nature, but allow us to apply those same discovered rules in building technologies (see The Cosmos In Your Pocket: Expanded & Revised).

Now to Mr. Reeve's claims...
Re: “What you’re really saying is EU ‘theorists’ STILL have no model that provides numerical values we can compare against measurements from spacecraft.” 
Reeve: Did I say that?
This sounds like an attempt to stall.  Actually, Mr. Reeve dances all around this fact, because it is a 'third rail' of Electric Universe (EU) claims (Wikipedia: The Third Rail).  It is the glaring fact, that Electric Universe advocates fear to bring to attention, to admit even to themselves.
Re: “EU ‘theories’ are useless for doing anything real.” 
Reeve: Have you considered that most people do not yet understand what the idea actually IS? How will quantifying a web of concepts which few people understand to this day add clarity?
So is Mr. Reeve going to argue on what the definition of 'IS' is? (Bill Clinton and the meaning of "IS").

Really, where do Electric Universe advocates get off claiming their 'theory' is a better description of reality, when, according to Mr. Reeve, they can't even define it in a coherent, objective, TESTABLE fashion?  Electromagnetism is pretty definite on these things - define a current and charge distribution and the electric and magnetic fields have definite values from Maxwell's equations.

So what IS so difficult about this to EU supporters?
Re: “Any claims by EU advocates that they have a theory that *works* better than the standard models are, to put it kindly, FALSE.”
Reeve: Not every debate hinges strictly on mathematics.
But scientific debates do.

Scientific debates hinge on the ability of the mathematical rules to successfully explain the operation of Nature by generating numbers that can be compared to actual measurements.  THAT is the criteria of a successful theory, particularly in the physical sciences.

Let's explore Mr. Reeve's claim about Marklund convection (wikipedia).

If Marklund convection is a better 'explanation', as he claims, then there should be a good match between the predictions of the mathematical model AND the observations.  THAT is the DEFINITION of a 'better explanation' in the standards of science.

Let's examine the issues Mr. Reeve claim raises, but which he evaded, with his 'better explanation':
  • A Marklund current requires a large scale electric field along the length of the current.  Electric fields require charge separation.  Since opposite charges always attract and cosmic plasmas are generally neutral or quasi-neutral, you need energy to separate the charges to create the electric field.  Where did this energy come from and how did it separate the charges along the length of the current in such an organized way?
  • What's the strength of the electric field?  Is it strong enough to create Stark splitting (wikipedia) of the ionic spectral lines in the plasma?  If so, then we should be able to detect this splitting with spectroscopes on Earth (visible, IR or radio wavelengths) and determine the electric field.  The values measured should be in reasonable agreement (within an order of magnitude or better) with the prediction.
  • We have pretty good methods for measuring cosmic magnetic fields, even with limitations imposed by 'line-of-sight'.  Given reasonable assumptions about the size scales of these structures, one should be able estimate the magnetic field strength along the structure and from that, determine what field would be measured from Earth-based instruments by the Zeeman effect.  Note this effect is used all the time to determine the magnetic fields of the Sun (wikipedia) and other stars.
  • With a model of the magnetic field, and electric field, around the filament, it is simple to solve for the convective velocity V = crossproduct(E, B)/B^2 and determine the spectral profile of the ions with the Doppler effect.  Note that because Doppler, Zeeman, and Stark effects have different dependencies on wavelength, they can be separated to determine velocities, magnetic fields, and electric fields.
  • Using the velocity and ionization states of various elements, compute chemical distributions.  While Marklund, Peratt and Alfven DESCRIBE this process, I have yet to see actual predictions of chemical distributions for a given plasma, field, and temperature configuration.  This will also impact the spectra of the object.
  • You've got charged particles moving in a magnetic field.  What's the synchrotron flux predicted for this configuration?  This should be detectable by radio telescopes and should exhibit some correlation structures visible at other wavelengths.
Have EU advocates done ANY of this?  Not that I can find.

If we look at the history of the original Marklund article on ADS (ADS: Plasma convection in force-free magnetic fields as a mechanism for chemical separation in cosmical plasmas) we find only seven references since 1979.  Verschuur most recently tries to use this mechanism, but doesn't address the problems around the formation and detectability of such structures, as outlined above.

Until you can show a direct match between between the mathematically-determined predictions of the model, AND ACTUAL OBSERVATIONS, these claims are, at BEST, a hypothesis. 
By that criteria alone, the Marklund convection idea is in a weaker position than Dark Matter (wikipedia) since we can at least add the hypothesized particles to simulations and obtain better agreement with observations, which can be used to constrain the various searches for what Dark Matter actually IS.  See recent cosmological simulations (The Millennium Simulation Project & Illustris ( and compare to skymaps from SDSS.  In addition to just comparing the 'look' of the models to the data, researchers also compare other parameters such as the size and mass in the galaxy distribution of the models to the data.  Are they a perfect match?  No.  But then, they still have better agreement than anything presented by Electric Universe supporters.
Reeve: "This is not a commentary on the legitimacy of the idea itself; it’s an attempt to get people to skip over the process of actually learning the idea, in order to interfere with the process of building awareness sufficient to match the quantitative appeal of the conventional theories."
So again, Mr. Reeve wants to evade the fact that EU theories are useless for doing anything in the real world, like estimating radiation fluxes in space needed to protect astronauts and satellites in space.  

So how do we protect our astronauts and other space assets with 'awareness' of Electric Universe claims?  I mean beyond the obvious benefits obtained by recognizing that Electric Universe claims give no useful information on the radiation environment and are therefore ignorable?  I assume that is NOT what Mr. Reeve means.

As for Peratt's supercomputer access, did Peratt actually have a grant authorizing his time on the resource for that use?  I've had access to a few supercomputers for various parts of my job, but I can't just run any project I desire on them.  Loads of other people compete for time on those machines.  Besides, today you can build supercomputers with off-the-shelf hardware quite cheaply (Wikipedia: Beowulf Cluster) and the TRISTAN plasma code which Peratt used is publicly available (TRISTAN).  With modern hardware, a smaller machine would still probably be faster than the system Peratt had available in the 1980s (see Electric Universe: Real Plasma Physicists BUILD Mathematical Models Note the comments:  Whatever happened to that simulation on modern hardware that Siggy_G was going to do?)

Yet EU supporters, instead of rolling up their sleeves and actually doing the work, choose a position, apparently encouraged by Mr. Reeve, of regarding their 'wishful thinking' as having the same value as actual scientific evidence.

We did not go to the Moon, or send spacecraft to distant planets, by 'wishful thinking.'  We did it by doing the math, which verified the physics, which guided the engineering.  Wishful thinking might have provided inspiration, but, as Thomas Edison has noted (Wikiquote), it takes much more perspiration to actually get the job done.

More and more, Electric Universe 'theorists' look like posers or wannabes, who want recognition for work they have not actually done. 


ND said...

"This is not a commentary on the legitimacy of the idea itself; it’s an attempt to get people to ove skipr the process of actually learning the idea, in order to interfere with the process of building awareness sufficient to match the quantitative appeal of the conventional theories."

I'm impressed that you actually understand what this mean. Because I could not.

"attempt to get people to ove skipr the process of actually learning the idea,"

Huh? Is this the EU equivalent of
"We don't need no stinkin' badges!"?

W.T."Tom" Bridgman said...

Mr. Reeve is basically describing a process of indoctrination. It is a common theme behind the post-modernist view of science as a 'social construction' and dependent on 'worldview' which are independent of experiment and mathematical models.

Your smart phone works not because of all the science which made the technology possible, but because you believe it will work.

Kind of like Harry Potter and other fantasy worlds...

Unknown said...

The EU 2014 conference speaker list ( is an interesting revelation of who the EU proponents think are competent - mostly cranks.
However there is James Sorensen who is trying to recreate Anthony Peratt’s computer simulation. The point he misses is that no one seriously thinks that there are errors in the simulation. It is more a GIGO (Garbage In, Garbage Out) problem followed by misinterpreting the output!
Spiral galaxies do not have zero matter between their arms as in the simulation.
Double-lobed radio galaxies are elliptical galaxies, not double-lobed galaxies as in the simulation.
Galaxies are not 35 kiloparsecs thick (the length of the plasma filaments in the simulation).

Matthew Cline said...

To be fair to Reeve, I think he meant something like: "all of the EU stuff, not yet being at the 'hypothesis' state, are merely ideas, and for the ideas to mature into hypotheses the ideas need to spread".

W.T."Tom" Bridgman said...

To Matthew Cline,

In science, particularly physical sciences, saying a model works means you have a mathematical model that allows you to predict the outcome of some experiment, which we can compare to actual measurements to some degree of accuracy. EU 'theorists' have been claiming since the 1950s (if you go back to the Velikovsky origins) that their models 'work better' than the standard models. By claiming their model works better, they are stating that this mathematical testing has been performed successfully. But they have not.

While EU theorists give lip service to mathematics, decorating their publications with the occasional equation, we have yet to see examples from EU 'theorists' of these claimed working 'theories' suitable for planning, say, the particle environment in the solar system so we can properly shield spacecraft, or the magnetic field of a star powered by one of the claimed star-powering Birkeland currents. Don Scott doesn't even provide a complete solution in his "Birkeland Currents: A Force-Free Field-Aligned Model".

The standard models, which don't include electrically-powered stars, etc. claimed by EU 'theorists', do quite well in allowing us to predict the ranges of particles and radiation that spacecraft and astronauts must deal with throughout the solar system. We solve mathematical problems in electromagnetism, and more recently plasma physics, quite routinely now. These models are sufficient that commercial businesses are built around the ability to solve these equations (Plasma physics for fun and profit).

Mr. Reeve's 'they're just ideas' is just the latest in the marketing racket used by EU supporters to expand their 'believers' by evading the fact that their 'ideas' have already failed miserably in rigorous physical testing. Much of these 'ideas' can be demonstrated as unworkable by anyone who has had a reasonable high-school physics class.

Challenges for Electric Universe 'theorists'.

After all these demonstrated failures for EU, Reeve's defense is more a characteristic of a religion, or even a cult, than science.