Sunday, March 23, 2014

Other News & Worthwhile Links

Jupiter and YECs

Stuart Robbins at Exposing PseudoAstronomy has released a new podcast on the claims of Young-Earth Creationist (YEC) Spike Psarris that the planet Jupiter is evidence for a young universe.
I encountered Mr. Psarris' claims some years ago, but had never found time to address them due to my lesser familiarity with planetary science.  Thanks to Stuart for addressing this. 

The New Cosmos

The new Cosmos series is out (wikipedia), hosted by Neil deGrasse Tyson.  You can find out about showtimes at Fox & National Geographic.   (We're still curious about why ads for the new Russell Crowe movie 'Noah' appear in the commercial breaks of the airings on Fox.  Seems a little odd...)

Naturally, creationist groups are upset:

 and whining for 'Equal Time':

More Fun with the Electric Universe

A new Electric Universe article was recently brought to my attention...
Brian Koberlein: Testing the Electric Universe
Brian examines some basic claims of Electric Universe supporters and compares them to observations, demonstrating how they fail.  As followers of this blog are well aware, these failures are just the tip of the iceberg of what can be demonstrated by competent college, or even high-school level physics students (see Challenges for Electric Universe 'Theorists').

Brian also has a slightly older post dealing with the Alfven-Klein cosmological model:
Brian Koberlein: Sing the Body Electric

Sunday, March 16, 2014

From Pseudo-Science to Real Science

It's an interesting question.  I have lots of friends involved in the sciences and it seems to be a common, though not universal, experience.  If you follow a number of science and skepticism blogs and podcasts, you sometimes hear similar stories from individuals involved in the movement.  It may be more anecdote than data, but it appears many individuals involved as adults in the science and skepticism movement had their own phase of fascination with strange claims.

I had my own phase, probably covering my years from about 7th to 10th grade.  I was a big fan of science fiction before that and followed many of the Gemini and Apollo missions.   But for a time, I was consuming everything I could on UFOs, Velikovsky's "Worlds in Collision", Erich von Daniken's ancient astronauts, psychic phenomena, pyramid power (Wikipedia), and more.

I had been involved with local churches, mostly mainstream Methodist congregations, but even there I was exposed to stories such as claims that Joshua's missing day had been found by NASA (Snopes), as well as the notorious Jack Chick publications (Wikipedia).  Occasionally I would join up with more fundamentalist congregations which introduced me to various flavors of Young-Earth Creationism.

I completed high school with no problems, but was aimless for a number of years, with no defined plans for a college degree.  But I did start taking college physics courses with no degree program.  Eventually I transitioned to degree-seeking, and studied particle physics and relativity, eventually reaching a level of study that most students would not reach until graduate school.  But eventually I dropped out when the load of 2-3 courses plus a near full-time job became too much.  I dropped out with about a year needed to complete a degree.

Yet today I have a Doctorate in Physics & Astronomy, and while not active as a researcher, still actively work with scientific data collected by NASA missions. 

And then there's THIS site, going after others making many of the same claims I once followed with enthusiasm.

So what happened?  What were the influences that shaped this transition?  Were they all external, or internal influences?

Was I from a more affluent family compared to others?  Not really.  Both of my parents were blue-collar.  Both had attended, but never completed college.

Did I have an 'inside track', or 'connections' that facilitated my entry into the scientific community?  I spent most of my life in farm towns, often traveling between towns one or more times per year because my father had a seasonal job.  There is some question that I might be related to the Nobel laureate Percy Bridgman (Wikipedia), but if such a family connection exists, its common point is prior to the 1800s.  I have been approached at various physics-related social functions and asked if I am any relation.

Was I more motivated than others?  Eventually, but it was stop-and-go a lot of times.  When I graduated high school, I had no college plans.  My first try at an undergraduate degree ended with me spending five years as a college drop-out.  I finished my undergraduate degree when I was 32 years old.

Did I receive more encouragement from teachers or other mentors than others?  Perhaps.  I recall a number of little things, but nothing really stands out.  There was one pivotal point, where a friend suggested over lunch that I ditch the 'safe' route I was taking to complete my undergraduate degree, and go full-tilt to complete it and transition to graduate school.  I do regard that event, and choice, as very transitional.

Did I have more opportunities than others?  Perhaps, but many would not been available without self-motivation which put me in the right place at the right time.  Luck is where opportunity meets preparation.

Was I genetically pre-disposed to having a more scientific mindset and the previous activities were just youthful dalliances?  I don't know.

Is my experience unusual?  Or typical?

How this transition occurred is not an idle question.  It goes to the heart of whether efforts such as my web site and others are even worthwhile, or is it fighting an ultimately losing battle against a rising tide of arrogant ignorance?

But for me, it also raises another interesting personal question.  Had it not been for that decision to complete my degree, would I be on the other side of this issue?

Comments describing similar experiences, with or without the transition, welcome.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Some (Probably Not) Final Words on the Nye-Ham Debate

With the current bout of winter storms, snow shoveling, illness and other disruptions hopefully out of the way, I hope I can catch up on some pending posts and comment responses…

As I noted in the first post after the debate (Quick Notes on the Nye-Ham Debate), Bill Nye did very well.  Numerous other sites thought so as well. 
Perhaps a biased sample, to be sure, but even polls at some Christian sites felt Nye had won.
Christian Today Poll Says Bill Nye Won Debate With Ken Ham 
as well as
Salon: Pat Robertson begs Ken Ham to shut up 

Ars Technica had an article about Ham's claims of the 'two' sciences, 'experimental' and 'historical':

One of the major successes of the debate is that traditionally we see media-savvy creationists take on media-unsavvy scientists.  In those cases, the scientist, always aware of the nuances and uncertainties in real science, is often made to look the buffoon by the creationist.  When this happens, even science supporters recognize that the science side did poorly. 

But Bill Nye is much more media savvy and aware of the limitations of the television medium and he kept on message.  I was impressed that at in the third cycle of the debate (the responses to rebuttals), Ken Ham's voice was quivering, suggesting he was genuinely nervous.

Of course, this does not mean that Bill Nye persuaded anyone who was already firmly committed to creationism.   Phil Plait wrote responses to examples provided by some of the people who were clearly not convinced.
Bad Astronomy: Answers for Creationists
Do these people holding their cards of questions that they think these are 'clever' scientific questions?  While they might be competent to sell or repair cars, or jobs where the knowledge base is limited, they'll have real problems with any job that requires knowledge and experience in more leading-edge applications.  It is no surprise that the leading-edge technical jobs are slowly moving to nations that are NOT trying to teach creationism as science while many technical jobs in the U.S. remain unfilled.

Now let's go over a few of the whoppers that Ken Ham tried to pass off as 'Creation Science'.  I  originally expected Ham would spring a bunch of new claims from 'creation science', but was rather surprised that he repeated much of the same old garbage that has been floating around for some years.

Ham's Discordant Radioisotope Dates example

One of the old staples of creationist pseudo-science is an attempt to discredit radioisotope dating.  The particular example Ham used, and the errors behind it, is well documented.  The original claim is presented at How Old Is the Earth?
"in Australia, some wood was buried by a basalt lava flow, as can be seen from the charring. The wood was ‘dated’ by radiocarbon (14C) analysis at about 45,000 years old, but the basalt was ‘dated’ by the K-Ar method at c. 45 million years old!"
But Carbon-14 dating accuracy has a limit of about 45,000 years due to the very short half-life of carbon-14 of 5730 years.  Is it any coincidence that the Young-Earth Creationists (YECs) chose this age?  It's not as if this is an UNKNOWN limitation to this dating method.

Wikipedia: Radiocarbon Dating:
"The limit of measurability is approximately eight half-lives, or about 45,000 years.".  1/2^8 = 1/256 ~0.4%
To use carbon dating incorrectly and then advertise the results as evidence of failing of dating methods is dishonest to the point of lying.

Odds are the actual dating reported the wood sample age was at least 45,000 years.
Bill Nye did not catch the distinction of the two different dating methods, and I am unclear if Ham even specified the two radically different tests used.

This is as dishonest as using an invalid medical test.  If a doctor was testing whether you had a specific disease and ran a medical test on you incapable of detecting the disease, and then stated that the test didn't show the presence of the disease, you would/could/should sue that doctor for malpractice.

In first rebuttal cycle, Ham invokes the old claim about 'assumptions about initial composition' being required in radioisotope dating.  Are YECs STILL repeating that old lie?  Isochron dating uses multiple measurements and can find the age independent of knowing the initial composition.   
Wikipedia: Isochron Dating Isochron Dating
The TalkOrigins article shows examples of how this method works in spite of not knowing the initial composition.  The exercise also shows how changes such as diffusion of parent or daughter isotopes show up as error bars on the resulting age, and the uncertainties are still much smaller than what YECs need.

Ham at a couple of points seemed to say that natural laws don't change.  But the reason why the Universe appears old is that certain natural laws appear to be unchanged, no matter how far back we look in the cosmos.  Nye could have nailed him with the point that they would HAVE to change to make a big universe appear young.  Yet observational astronomy suggests decay rates, atomic and nuclear spectra, gravitational constant, etc. have stayed pretty constant (beta decay can be slightly altered by chemical means) even in distant parts of the cosmos.  The 'assumption' that a number of natural laws are constant is a large part of 'observational' science.

Creationist Dogs
Ken Ham tried to sell the Biblical notion of 'kinds' with an example using dog ancestry.  He conveniently fails to mention the active human intervention in dog breeding.  Nor does he mention the genetic connection of dogs to wolves going even further back.  But even more interesting is that Ham did not mention the timescale for these events.  Fortunately, another blogger managed to catch some of the details of the canine genealogy which Ken Ham chose not to tell his viewers, namely, the time-scale of of Ham's own graphic which shows substantially longer than 6000 years. Ken Ham's Dog Slide

And the Creationist Starlight Problem
Ken Ham tries to defend the starlight problem in creation science by invoking the horizon problem in cosmology.  But the cosmological horizon problem becomes an issue BILLIONS of light years out, while creationist models have a problem right in our own Milky Way galaxy!

On Salvation
Ham concedes that Christian salvation is based on a belief in Christ, NOT belief in a young universe.   Funny, as one of the popular chants of the YEC crowd is that to believe Christ really lived requires literal interpretation of the Bible, and to believe ANY of it to be true, for logical consistency, requires that one believe ALL of it to be true.  By stating this, Ham begins to sound like he is one of the 'wolves' Christ warned his followers about, using a claimed belief in Christ to support other agendas (for more details of the biblical basis for this, see Creationist Junk Debunked). 

So we can make a summary of Ken Ham's tricks in this debate:
  1. Use tests in regimes where they cannot give valid results (discordant dates).  Would you want your doctor doing this for your medical tests?
  2. He mis-describes the limitations of the tests (isochron dating), bearing false witness.
  3. He leaves out many bit of information from his own evidence that is contrary to his position.

Who's Ph.Ds are We to Believe?
Ham states that his claims are backed up by a number of Ph.D. scientists.  Funny, but a number of Ph.D. scientists also DISAGREE with these interpretations based on their interpretation of the SAME Bible! 
  • The Ph.D. scientists at the Institute for Creation research make different claims about radioisotope ages than Ham's Ph.Ds at Answers in Genesis, quietly concluding that the dating methods are reliable, but for the assumption of constant decay rates (Gondwana Research: RATE).
  • There are Ph.D. scientists claiming the Earth is the center of the Universe dynamically using the same Bible (Geocentrism Debunked: The New Geocentrists).  
  • There are Ph.D. scientists saying the universe is old, based on their interpretation of the same Bible (old earth creationism, Biologos, ReasonsToBelieve).
What's up with that?  Why are we to believe the work of Ken Ham's Ph.D. scientists over the others, even those who are using the same Bible?  Of course, many of these organizations has different material that they want you to buy.

Even in these cases, no one has actually made a discovery of some physical principle from astronomy, physics, or chemistry based on these interpretations, they all 'retrofit' the scientific discoveries to fit their interpretation.

The Limitations of 'Creation Science'
Note that all of Ham's examples used 'creation science' to EXPLAIN things, but not one of his examples, even the creation scientists he interviewed, used 'creation science' to actually DO things.  Theories of gravity, originally used to EXPLAIN the motions of distant planets and stars, are today USED to actually travel in space.  Heliocentrism and relativity are just two of the discoveries that have already flown in the face of these types of biblical 'interpretations' and both have real-world implications (space flight and GPS). 

Creation science requires the 'creation scientist' to limit their knowledge in ways that can dramatically impact their ability to make leading-edge discoveries, or even to use them if discovered by others, impacting applied science.  Galileo recognized that his observations contradicted the accepted religious model.  Did anyone prior to Galileo see the same evidence, but refused to report it because it conflicted with their religious beliefs?

What future technical and economic opportunities will future 'Creation Scientists' miss? 

The bottom line is that creation science can only survive by invoking magic for old events, or events that we don't (currently) understand.  Nye's CSI analogy, presented early in the debate, becomes even more apparent, since as little as 400 years ago in the Americas, various mysterious events in human affairs, such as a person's death, or even farm animals with severe birth defects were 'explained' by invoking witchcraft and burning people at the stake using justifications not that different from Ken Ham's 'explanations'.

Even more important, what opportunities have we already missed because of this infection of pseudo-science into our technical communities?

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Quiet here, but Recent Electric Universe and Creationism activity…

Loads of distractions over the past month.  Weather in the northeast U.S. has been pretty wild this year, and numerous activities have been disrupted by snow and illness.  As I write this, the next forecast is calling for 6-8 inches on Monday morning.  This is at least the third time since January where I've moved the backup generator from storage to an operating location.  We still have snow on the ground from the previous storms.  Then again, I'd rather have this than the California drought.

After getting out a quick response on the Nye-Ham debate (see Quick Notes on the Nye-Ham Debate) I've been accumulating a followup which has grown into at least two posts.  I'm still working through a backlog of comments to old posts (such as for Electric Universe: Measurement of the Electric Current in a Kpc-Scale Jet) and emails.  A few emails deal with projects and posts that are almost complete, but on which I am doing additional checking.

There has been a rather high-profile defection from the Electric Universe:
Hossein Turner: Critical Issues for Electric Universe Proponents
Probably as a fallout from this, I've been receiving lots of Electric Universe emails which require a little research which I'm still working through.  There is also an uptick in hostile, borderline threatening, emails and posts, possibly related to the EU defection.

It has been brought to my attention that 'Creationist astronomer', Danny Faulkner, had recently written a review of Don Scott's "The Electric Sky": Answers In Genesis: Plasma Astronomy

Faulkner recognized the interest in Plasma Cosmology and Electric Universe among creationists, which I had noted some years ago.  Dr. Faulkner notes many of the same issues with Don Scott's "The Electric Sky" as I have (see The Electric Sky: Short-Circuited.) and documents a few more, but not going into the level of detail of some of the topics in my analysis.  Faulkner derides Scott for his different standards of explanations, insisting on standards of evidence for mainstream astronomy while not providing the same standards to his Electric Universe 'solution'.

Dr. Faulkner invokes much of the knowledge base of mainstream astronomy, but actively avoids dealing with issues of time-scales of events but for a mention of the Kelvin-Helmholtz timescale.  Faulkner uses much evidence against Electric Universe claims that require our interpretation of the physical laws in the distant cosmos to be essentially correct.  Some of his arguments are particularly strange considering his claim in Ken Ham's debate with Bill Nye (more on this later).  He also invokes the 'operational' vs. 'historical' science claims which I have dealt with a great deal on this blog:

Another item brought to my attention recently, and I'm not sure how long it's been there, but there is a disclaimer against the Electric Universe posted at Anthony Peratt's,
"The Plasma Universe and Plasma Cosmology have no ties to the anti-science blogsites of the holoscience 'electric universe'."

"And so it goes…"
-- Lloyd Dobyns