Sunday, April 27, 2014

U.S. Science & Engineering Festival - 2014

The big event in STEM (Wikipedia) this weekend was the U.S. Science & Engineering Festival, a gathering of scientific and engineering organizations from around the U.S. (and a few from overseas).  The festival is a multi-day celebration of science and technology with hands-on explorations of science and loads of technology demonstrations.  The previous event was in 2012.

This year (and this is the third in the D.C. area) the event was significantly larger than the previous one.  The event was very crowded, particularly late in the day, and it even occupied TWO large showroom floors in the convention center.

With all the time I spend dealing with the cranks and pseudo-scientists, it is encouraging to see so many people enthusiastic about REAL science.  Visiting these types of events restores my hope in the future of the human race.  Even though I grew up in the era of Mercury, Gemini and Apollo, when the U.S. was strongly encouraging students to go into science, I don't recall any event(s) of this nature or size, but then I often lived in rather out-of-the way places.

Just a short, and definitely incomplete, description of some of the activities, etc.
  • Robots and drones of all types and utility (a popular item from past years)
  • 3-d printers (a surprising number of booths had them)
  • Electric cars and sustainable technologies: wind/solar power systems in containers, generating electric power from rain runoff through your gutter system (a bit more than you might think!), other tools being developed to find just where your home is consuming power.
  • Lockheed-Martin, probably the largest sponsor of the event, had fighter jet simulators for a variety of aircraft, though there was not an actual fighter jet on the showroom floor this time.
  • Danica McKellar on encouraging women in science and promoting her "Math Doesn't Suck" books.
  • Bill Nye, CEO of the Planetary Society and recent participant in the Nye-Ham Creationism debate (Nye-Ham Debate) was joined on stage by Emily Lakdawalla (blog) and Danica McKellar for some entertaining science demonstrations.  Nye also presented a host of problems needing solutions for future scientists and engineers: protecting the Earth from asteroid impacts (wikipedia), better batteries, climate change (AIP: The Discovery of Global Warming).  Prior to the Nye-Ham debate, I had sent an email to Nye with some notes about Ken Ham's claims and tactics.  Nye even responded.  I tried to get autograph on a printout of the e-mail, but the autograph line closed before I got there.  
  • Kevin Hussey of JPL demonstrated the next iteration of their excellent "Eyes on the Solar System" program which is freely available for download (  Below are some sample screenshots from the program, available for PC and Mac.
  • Lots of hands on demonstrations, for kids and adults, a "Meet the Scientist" booth where visitors could ask questions of real scientists.
  • The National Security section had a surprising number of interesting displays.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Creationism and "Observational Astronomy"

"There is nothing in observational astronomy that contradicts a recent creation."          --D. Faulkner (on video during Nye-Ham debate)
And with that one quote, Danny Faulkner declared 'Creationist Astronomy', and by implication, all astronomy, as a 'useless' science.

There are so many ways that we could explore the gross errors demonstrated in this statement.

More recently, Dr. Faulkner has been whining about the new "Cosmos" series insisting that 'Creation scientists' should get 'equal time'.

Well, someone DID do a 'Creationist Cosmos' video:   Funny Or Die: Creationist Cosmos

What more than this would YECs say in their version?  The YEC version has the advantage of being much shorter (less than four minutes), and doesn't require any thinking…

The Universe according to 'Observational Astronomy'

Perhaps the first question to ask is, what does one mean by 'observational astronomy'? 

It is generally taken to mean that you are recording data: the motion of an object across the sky, the variation in brightness, etc. strictly OBSERVATIONAL characteristics which depend on NO PHYSICAL INTERPRETATION OF THE UNDERLYING CAUSES. 

Observational astronomy assumes the cosmos contains no reliable additional information about physical conditions elsewhere in space - densities, temperatures, masses, etc. All of these types of measurements must make assumptions about the distances of objects, as well as their size and temporal scales.

Isaac Newton was the first astrophysicist, turning observations of motions in the sky into hypothesizing the underlying causes.  Specifically Newton hypothesize that the force that keeps the planets on regular trajectories around the sky was the same force that makes objects fall to the surface of the Earth.  It placed the idea of heliocentrism on a firmer physical basis, contrary to the Biblical notion of geocentrism which is still advocated by some today based on THEIR Biblical interpretation (Geocentrism Debunked, DwCiA: Biblical Geocentrism). 

ALL astronomy was 'observational' prior to the 1950s, as there were no ways to actually go to a remote planet or star to do real experiments to test our ideas about conditions there.  Newtonian gravity, such as the "Newton's Cannon" (Wikipedia) demonstration was never tested on a engineering-scale until 1957 with the launch of Sputnik.

In 'observational astronomy', the universe is indistinguishable from a spherical surface at some fixed distance around the Earth.    Parallax effects are not evidence of actual three-dimensional structure as methods can be contrived to fool observers that the parallaxes are real.  Young-Earth creationists must invoke similar trickery for the Light Travel Time problem (RationalWiki: Starlight Problem).  Even though, by their own admission, they have no working solution to the light-travel time problem (DailyKos: Cutting-Edge Creation Science Research Finding From AiG Just Released!) some young-Earth Creationists want to claim everything else is valid.  Yet ALL of astronomy is dependent on the light-travel issue.  It is how we know the motions and scales of distant objects from which other properties are inferred.

In the "Observational Astronomy" model, the observations are of little value beyond basic terrestrial timekeeping, much the way ancients used the constellations to identify the time of year for planting crops, etc.  This means that many other types of observations, such as the spectroscopic binary stars, which is Dr. Faulkner's field of study, have no practical implications, or applications.

Discoveries that Could Not be Made by Creationist Astronomers

I've written a lot on the influence astronomy has had on our understanding of physics on the Earth (DwCiA: Cosmos in your Pocket) and how these discoveries subsequently feed back into our understanding of the space environment.

I've already written on some of the failed predictions of creationist astronomy which creationists themselves admit are failures.  This list of failures varies substantially from one creationist organization to another, apparently dependent on the material which the organization is trying to sell gullible believers.  And this is just the list they're willing to acknowledge, out of the many more that have quietly disappeared as new discoveries rendered them moot.

There are a number of physics discoveries that could not have been discovered by 'creationist astronomers' as the problems which these discoveries solved would not be problems if the universe were young as YECs want to claim.

Nuclear reactions as the energy source for the Sun and stars

William Thomson (Lord Kelvin) lived in the 1800s (Wikipedia) was a scientist and creationist. This is not too unusual as the distinction didn't really become an issue of actual scientific testing until the early 1800s. Thomson used what is today called the Kelvin-Helmholtz timescale that estimated that stars could be powered by gravitational contraction for at most a few tens of millions of years. As a creationist, Lord Kelvin used this as evidence that the cosmos was indeed younger than needed for biological evolution and geological change. But by the 1920s, the distance scale of the universe alone was providing more evidence that the Universe was much older than creationists could handle. By the 1930s, many physicists explored the stellar energy problem in parallel with discoveries about the atomic nucleus. They eventually solved many of the fundamental problems with the idea, in the process discovering much about the components of atoms and how they worked. Much of this knowledge base was applied to the development of nuclear energy as well as nuclear weapons in the 1930s and 40s.

Carbon-12 resonance 

Early studies in the 1950s of how a universe that started out as hydrogen (and perhaps some helium) could produce the distribution of chemical elements we see today by fusing the elements in stars ran into bottlenecks at the production of carbon.  Such a shortage could be used as evidence that key aspects of cosmology, particularly the timescale, could be incorrect, and evidence that the universe could be much younger than billions of years and the carbon in our bodies and other living organisms had another (possibly Divine) origin.  Fred Hoyle hypothesized that a resonance energy level in the carbon-12 nucleus could enhance the production of carbon in the triple-alpha reaction (Wikipedia), explaining the discrepancy.  Hoyle's technique allowed him to determine the energy of the nuclear level needed to explain the current relative amount of carbon-12.

Solar neutrino problem and neutrino oscillations 

We can't produce all of the nuclear reactions we think occur in stars in the laboratory.  The fundamental reaction of fusing two hydrogen nuclei to form deuterium, the first stage of the proton-proton chain (Wikipedia), is controlled by the weak nuclear interaction (Wikipedia) and so occurs too slowly to be detectible at pressures, densities and temperatures currently obtainable in Earth laboratories.  But one of the key products of this reaction, electron neutrinos, are detectable, and could be used to test the reaction rates from the core of the Sun.  Initial attempts to detect these neutrinos found about 1/3 the predicted amount.  Creationists jumped on this as evidence that the Sun cannot be billions of years old.  Numerous attempts were made to explain the discrepancy, involving issues of the structure of stars to the nature of nuclear reactions and properties of the neutrino.  Eventually, additional evidence arose that neutrinos have a small mass that allows them to oscillate between the three types of neutrinos.  This oscillation could explain the discrepancy as neutrinos created as electron neutrinos in the core of the Sun would oscillate to the different types as they propagated through the solar material.  Eventually, detectors were developed that could detect these other types of neutrinos and the discrepancy was resolved (Wikipedia: The Solar Neutrino Problem).

If the Universe were as young as Creationists want to claim, NONE of the items above need to be true.  The last item on solar neutrinos, is sufficiently recent that creationists who once used the solar neutrino problem as evidence FOR a young universe are now dis-owing it.  We have descriptions of some of the FAILED creationist predictions, which were not just wrong, but WAY wrong... (see Ken Ham and the Failures of Creation Science).

Note that the discoveries described above were not out of the blue.  They happened in large part because researchers had evidence from astronomy that these were among the possible solutions to the problem at hand.  This evidence helped drive the research.

Would 'Creationist astronomers' have supported funding these researches if it imperiled their belief system?  Would a 'Creationist Astronomer' have pursued ANY line of research that would risked their beliefs?

Thirty years ago, creationists were claiming that the Kuiper Belt had not been detected as a source of short-period comets and that was evidence that the Earth was very young, specifically less than 10,000 years.  Then objects were detected (Wikipedia: Kuiper Belt).  Having failed again, the Creationists moved their line further out, and claimed that comets can't come from the Oort cloud because it is a convenient 'fiction' hypothesized to make the universe old (see Answers in Genesis: The 10 Best Evidences from Science that Confirm a Young Earth). 

How long will it be before instrument sensitivity improves to the point we start detecting objects there?  It may not be that far away as researchers are already finding the limits of current instruments are almost there (see ArXiv: Detectability of Oort cloud objects using Kepler).  It may not be long before that list gets reduced to '9 Best Evidences'...

I doubt it will be a creationist astronomer who makes that discovery.

The Perverse God of 'Creationist Astronomy'...

...slowly gets smaller and smaller as more discoveries are made which contradict young-universe claims.  The 'god' of young-Earth creationists had repeatedly placed evidence in physics and astronomy contrary to young-Earth creationist beliefs.

Does the god of the YECs delight in making his followers look foolish?

The YECs can't prove their interpretation of the Bible is any more accurate about the physical world than those of the Geocentrists, the Flat Earthers, or even the Old Earth creationists, all of whom claim THEIR interpretation is the correct one. 

Heliocentrism, Newtonian gravity, the nuclear energy source of stars, the speed of light and distances to stars, all defied various biblical interpretations (see Ken Ham and the Failures of Creation Science).

Creationists are just the latest in a long line of individuals striving to keep God in one small book over which they can attempt to control the interpretations by others.  They are the modern version of the corruption that plagued many religious denominations over the centuries.

Of course, some creationists will go so far as to argue that God is actively tricking us, perhaps as a test of our faith.   Frankly, by Occam's Razor, it's far simpler to believe that it is the creationists who are being deceptive.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

New Geocentrist Propaganda Film

The past week or so, there's been a little noise around the scientific community about how some prominent names in the physics community such as Lawrence Krauss & Michio Kaku have appeared in the trailer of a 'documentary' film promoting Biblical Geocentrism.  It's been written about on several science blogs:
Laurence Krauss responded at Future Tense: I Have No Idea How I Ended Up in That Stupid Geocentrism Documentary.  Actress Kate Mulgrew who was the narrator,  reports that she felt the agreement misrepresented the motives of the producers (GeekOSystem: OH THANK GOD: Kate Mulgrew Is Mad About the Geocentric Documentary, Too).

I don't regard the scientists statements of not remembering being interviewed as a surprise.  Some of these people spend a large fraction of their time doing narrations and interviews like this and after awhile they start to look alike.  In addition, I strongly suspect that after agreeing to narrate a production, even if they realized later that the party had misrepresented their motives, changing their mind at that point might be a breach of contract inviting all kinds of legal grief.  Even a script in advance does not always tell the complete story, and can be subjected to revisions after the original agreement.

There is a response from the production company at The Raw Story: ‘I can tell you how Lawrence Krauss ended up in our film. He signed a release form and cashed a check’

The funniest part about this for me is that the two Geocentists mentioned, Robert Sungenis & Rick DeLano, had mentioned in this blog in November of 2010 that Krauss had made statements 'supportive' of their claims (link).  I had actually spoken to Krauss after a talk he gave in December 2010 and mentioned this (link). 

I mentioned it again when Krauss spoke at NCAS promoting "A Universe from Nothing" in January 2012, I pointed out to him that the Geocentrists were planning to invite him to one of their conferences (Reading: A Universe from Nothing by Lawrence Krauss).

Dr. Krauss' response suggests he might have granted an interview even if the Geocentrists had explicitly stated their agenda.  Dr. Krauss has willingly presented to groups that were somewhat pre-disposed to opposing what he had to say.  I was in attendance at Krauss' presentation at the American Enterprise Institute (February 11, 2008) which was a somewhat hostile audience (C-SPAN: Scientific Literacy and Public Policy).  Krauss was also interviewed on Bob Enyart's "Real Science Friday" (a blatantly Young-Earth Creationist radio show) in an episode broadcast September 21 & 29, 2012.

The quotes from Krauss and Kaku in the trailer are so incredibly general that they can be used in support of ANYTHING an editor of the video wanted to claim.  Quote-mining (Wikipedia) is the easy and popular tactic of pseudo-scientists.

Now it's not like these types of things have never happened before.  Richard Dawkins and Michael Shermer were duped into interviews for Ben Stein's ID propaganda film "Expelled"(Wikipedia).

I'm no longer surprised about reports of the deceitful tactics used by groups that are also claiming their religious faith makes them morally superior to others!  This type of bearing false witness is just more evidence that these types of groups are the 'wolves' that Jesus warned his followers about (Creationist Junk Debunked) and so their so-called 'faith' is false.  These groups are not about religion, but about political power.

I've still found no response from Sungenis, DeLano et al on my Lagrange point challenge, to demonstrate that their claimed 'favored' motionless position for the Earth can generate these locations which have actually been used for spaceflight.  I've already presented an example using an N-body code.  Perhaps the report that 'The Principle' focuses on the cosmological-scale 'copernican principle' is a convenient way to evade these practical implications of their claims?  After all, the Geocentrists' alternative is to claim all spaceflight (or at least anything beyond low-Earth orbit) is a hoax. 

I've also demonstrated how the apparent 'geocentric' view of catalogs like the Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) and others is an artifact of our measurement limitations (see Quantized Redshifts. IX. Testing the Null Hypothesis, Quantized Redshifts. X. Testing Our "Designer Universe", Quantized Redshifts XI. My Designer Universe Meets Some Data and What's Next... ).  After all, if you stand atop the tallest mountain and look as far as you can see, then YOU appear to be the 'Center of the Universe'!  I suspect such thinking really appeals to delusional egomanics!

More Related Posts:
NCSE: The Sun Revolves Around You? Narcissism on a Cosmic Scale

Update April 19, 2014: Fixed broken link.  Added another article of interest

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Gaining momentum...

The post I'm preparing seems to be getting longer and longer, so eventually it will appear as multiple posts, but even the individual parts continue to change...

In the meantime,

RealClearScience: Time to Bring Pseudoscience into Science Class!

Also available (with some comments) here:

Nice to see more are catching on to what myself and others have been advocating for years...

CrankAstro: Why We Should Teach About Creationism in Science Classes (2005)

and others such as Stuart Robbins (Exposing PseudoAstronomy), David Dixon (Dr. David Dixon: Pathological Physics: Tales from "The Box" ) and others linked off my blog list.