Sunday, June 29, 2014

Pseudoscience, 'Debates' & Unintended Consequences

When Bill Nye debated Ken Ham in February of this year, Nye presented the case for science far better than many expected (see debate with Bill Nye).

But did science really win out?

Early this year, it was reported that Ham's Young-Earth Creationist organization "Answers In Genesis" (AiG) was in a dire financial situation (Junk bonds raise questions about Answers in Genesis' finances). One of the most high-profile creationist organizations in the United States was facing some real financial difficulties.

It was probably no coincidence that around this same time (January 2, 2014) was when Bill Nye had agreed to a long-standing 'offer' from Ken Ham for a public debate (Wikipedia: Bill Nye-Ken Ham debate).

I can't help but wonder if Ham had been pushing for Nye to agree to a debate before the financial information about AiG reached the public.

Once Nye agreed to the debate, AiG promoted the debate heavily, growing their email list and apparently gaining some new contributors in addition to probably re-inspiring previous contributors. Answers in Genesis and affiliated organizations apparently became the sole source for DVDs of the debate (or at least I have been unable to find them from another non-creationist source).

This effort apparently refreshed AiG's cash flow (see NPR: Creation Museum: Bill Nye Debate Sparked Funding 'Miracle', Why Evolution is True: Bill Nye’s upcoming debate earns $$ for creationist organizations).

Talk about unintended consequences.

Losing money, AiG took a "hail Mary" pass to rescue its fortunes. It was a pretty obvious gamble and they had total control of the promotion of the event. They were able to sell it as an epic battle for the faithful. The results were right out of Psychology 101. No rational thought was required.

In spite of many who thought Bill Nye won the day, the event provided enough press and enthusiasm for AiG which was translated into dollars.

This example provides yet another reason why serious professional scientists, and even science popularizers, should not appear with pseudo-scientists.

It merely raises the stature of the pseudo-scientist and even if the scientists wins, the event can easily be exploited by pseudo-scientists to promote their cause.

Even when science won, it kinda lost…

Probably inspired by AiG's success, Some pseudo-scientists affiliated with the Electric Universe cranks are apparently also fishing for debates (link1, link2). However, I will not be participating in any such charade. I encourage other professional scientists to avoid these types of media 'debates' as well.
"Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me." - Lt. Cmdr Montgomery Scott (Star Trek: Friday's Child)

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Stay tuned...

My Electric Universe interview for Stuart Robbins' "Exposing PseudoAstronomy" podcast should air around the middle of July, so stay tuned.

Due to other commitments, I've got a few backlogged comments which should be posted with responses within the next week or so.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Pseudoscience and 'World-View'

"Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away."
--Philip K. Dick
One of the most common themes used by the supporters of pseudo-science is the notion of 'world-view'.  The concept is that if you look at the data with the proper 'world-view', it will support your particular (usually pre-conceived) notion.  In the case of most pseudo-scientists, they do just 'look' at the data - an image, a table of numbers, whatever.  There is little to no actual analysis done - such as testing relationships between quantities with known theories, etc., which is an important part of doing real science.

Virtually all Biblical creationists invoke 'worldview' as making a difference in the interpretation of scientific data.  In the case of young-Earth vs. Old-Earth vs. Biblical Geocentrists vs. Intelligent Design, the 'world-view' interpretation often hinges on which parts OF THE SAME BIBLE are to be taken literally.
In "The Big Bang Never Happened", Eric Lerner ties the development of Big Bang cosmology to the second law of thermodynamics and biblical creation myths (Chapter 4).  Electric Universe (EU)  supporters, merging Velikovskian catastrophism with Plasma Cosmology, continue this claim.
One of the funnier mutually-contradictory 'world-view' battles I've dealt with of on this blog is documented in "Is Big-Bang Cosmology a 'Creationist' Model?"  The two commenters referenced in the article are doing the equivalent of arguing the theological implications of 1+1=2!

The only 'worldview' in science is that the Universe is consistent, and comprehensible, and that its operation can be described through the rigors of mathematics.  This defines rules so that others can use theories and repeat the analyses - a feature important for reproducibility in science and the development of working technologies.

Many different relationships can be defined by mathematics.  The goal of science is to find the subset of these relationships that accurately describe the relationships between physical quantities which we can measure.  Consider Newton's law:

F = m a

From the purely mathematical perspective, the relationship could have been F = m/a or F  = a/m, or even F = m*v.  These other expressions are perfectly valid mathematics, but tell us nothing about the force necessary to accelerate a massive object.  For whatever underlying reason, in Nature,

force = mass * acceleration 

This standard for science has helped define all the major theories and equations of modern science: Newton's gravitation and eventually Einstein's General Relativity, Maxwell's electrodynamics on macroscopic scales, quantum theory on atomic scales, and others, AND made possible the technologies derived from them. 

Consider bizarre statement of Chris Reeve (who seems to be the 'resident philosopher' for the Electric Universe) under comments at The Electric Universe and Strawmen.  To my question of why trained engineers are not supporting Electric Universe 'theories', Mr. Reeve responds:
"It’s not complicated, Tom: Because they’ve yet to be trained in it. But, what Tom leaves out of his argument here is the inconvenient fact that IEEE — which represents the world’s electrical and computer engineers — knows better than to *reject* papers which support plasma-based cosmologies. Apparently, they believe that the arguments should at least be published, so that engineers can come to their own conclusions on these issues. After all, the engineers have not invested their careers into any of the frameworks, and so this is not such a controversial issue for them."
But wait a minute.

If I define a current and charge configuration, then I can determine the electric and magnetic fields created through the application of Maxwell's equations.  ANYONE who understands the mathematics of these equations can solve this.  This was the process I used in analyses of some claimed Electric Sun models (see Challenges for Electric Universe 'Theorists'...).

So Mr. Reeve's statement begs the question:

How would the mathematical predictions of these equations be different for someone with 'training' in EU 'theory'? 

If Mr. Reeve is claiming such mathematical results of the same equations would be different, then he and Electric Universe advocates needs to explain:
  • how would they be different?
  • why haven't we seen these differences is the thousands (millions?) of experiments done with electromagnetism?
  • why haven't we seen these differences in any of the developments of technologies based on Maxwell's equations?  (antenna design, klystron design, etc.?)
  • why haven't we seen problems with the many different plasma modeling packages that are used for doing everything from space weather forecasting to spacecraft design to design of various plasma tools used in industry? (see Electric Universe: Plasma Modeling vs. 'Mystic Plasma')
And if Mr. Reeve wants to claim these results WOULD be different, then he's saying that our current (sic) understanding of electromagnetism is completely wrong.  This creates an additional problem since EU supporters often invoke the Peratt galaxy model, designed using the same mathematical models of particles and electromagnetism in mainstream science, as  a valid model for galaxy formation.  

But if Mr. Reeve wants to claim our understanding of electricity and magnetism is wrong, how can Peratt's model be even close to correct? 

Note that using the results of those the plasma modeling equations, Peratt expected to see 'spaghetti-like' filaments of microwave emission (due to synchrotron radiation from the electric currents) connecting the galaxies, something that has not been observed and should be readily visible in microwave wavelengths, especially with the nearer galaxies.  We have also yet to see that the filamentary-like structures in the arrangement of galaxies, such as those seen in the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, match up with the all-sky microwave maps generated from instruments such as WMAP and PLANCK (see Electric Universe: More data refuting the EU galaxy model,   Electric Universe: These are not the filaments you're looking for...).

How is the electromagnetic theory that builds our technologies AND demonstrates that the EU claims for galaxies and stars are incorrect be the same electromagnetic theory advocated by EU acolytes?

It seems that Mr. Reeve's arguments leave us with two options:
  1. Our current (sic) understanding of Electricity & Magnetism (Maxwell's equations and related particle physics) is wrong.  In which case, EU advocates have yet to clearly specify the replacement, which generates the same predictions where we've developed technology and other experiments, while apparently generating different predictions in these alternate regimes where their cosmology needs it.
  2. Electricity & Magnetism is correct.  This is implied in many EU claims that the Peratt model (already failed as noted above) can replace the need for Dark Matter in our present models with KNOWN physics of electromagnetism.  If this is the case, then just what is meant by 'training' in EU?  How would the results of such training be different from the current techniques of Maxwell's equations and mathematics?  A simpler question might be: "What distinguishes such EU 'training' from 'indoctrination'?"
Or there is an even weirder third option.  Is Mr. Reeve claiming that 1+1 does not necessarily equal 2, depending on your 'worldview'?

The bottom line is that Mr. Reeve is really saying that, in spite of EU supporters claims to the contrary, there is NO Electric Universe theory of galaxies or 'electric stars' useful for doing anything in the real world  (see The Sad State of the Electric Sun(s) - Not So Bright).  The fact that there are at least four electric sun models, all radically different and none which generate a broad range of predictions about the solar environment even close to what we measure, provides an excellent demonstration of the uselessness of science based on 'worldviews'. 

On the creationist side, particularly the Young-Earth flavor, the arguments go something like the number of atoms of given isotopes between the Creation and modern day is somehow altered.  Answers In Genesis (AiG) just claims some alteration which makes the isochron-dating method unreliable, while the Institute for Creation Research (ICR) admits isochron dating has none of these flaws and tries to claim acceleration of radioative decay rates.

'Worldview' science is based on an ego-centric universe.  

There are generally as many 'theories' in such 'sciences' as there are dominant organizations, or in some cases, domineering egomaniacs.  When something depends on a 'worldview', it is usually in an attempt to sell you something, whether it be a product or a political ideology.  'Worldview science' is merely a buzzword to subvert science for other agendas, as it was for Lysenko biology (Wikipedia) in the USSR and 'German Physics' (Wikipedia) in Nazi Germany. 

Technologies that work are independent of worldview.  Science works, even when you don't believe in it.  Cell phones, automobiles, rockets, etc. all work regardless of your belief system (though your belief system might impact whether you get to participate in constructing those technologies).

Is there a world-view dependent technology?   I guess the wizardly powers in Harry Potter would qualify (Wikipedia) and perhaps Voodoo, as it only works if you believe in it.

IEEE and the Electric Universe

Oh, and Mr. Reeve's claim about the IEEE?  As I noted in an earlier post, you might want to take a look at the main page for IEEE Transactions on Plasma Science, taking particular note of the disclaimer on the page:
"The Plasma Universe and Plasma Cosmology have no ties to the anti-science blogsites of the holoscience 'electric universe'.
Apparently IEEE's dalliance with EU (specifically the Special Edition in 2007) has proven to be something of an embarrassment.  This is not too much of a surprise since many of the Electric Universe papers which made it into the "Plasma Cosmology Special Edition" of their journal definitely flunked basic electromagnetism (such as noted in Scott Rebuttal. IV. 'Open' magnetic field lines).   This was much like the creationist trick of conning their papers into peer-reviewed journals by subverting the peer-review process, so they can say they have peer-reviewed papers (NCSE: Creationism Slips Into a Peer-Reviewed Journal).

Related Posts:

Monday, June 2, 2014

Electric Universe: Questions Request for Podcast Interview

I've posted links to a number of Stuart Robbins' excellent "Exposing PseudoAstronomy" podcasts.

After collaborating on a poster for last winter's 223rd Meeting of the American Astronomical Society, we'll be collaborating again as he interviews me about the Electric Universe.  The quick reference on my existing rebuttals of Electric Universe claims is available at Challenges for Electric Universe 'Theorists'...   I've got a lot of additional content that has been challenging to organize into actual posts for this blog, and will hopefully get to discuss some of that.

Stuart is currently soliciting questions over on his blog:

The current plans for the podcast are to focus on Electric Sun claims, but that may change depending on the questions.