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).

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Anonymous said...

Thanks for the link to The Electric Universe and Strawmen.

Chris Reeve writes "but you know what, some enterprising physics student WILL do EXACTLY THAT one day. And they will leave behind a global array of low-cost radio telescopes, from which a central command will combine all of these 2D views into a 3D view. And I would imagine that this data will feed into the EU solar models, in order to generate a solar model which actually makes accurate predictions." That was almost three years' ago now. As far as I know, not even the tiniest of tiny steps has been taken, by any EU proponent, on that path. I wonder how many more years we should have to wait?

Further down, in the same ~3 yo post, "Your audience has no idea to what extent aether theory can explain the same data." Odd, then, that Chris apparently has no idea either. He seems more concerned about 'equal time for alternatives' than what the alternatives can actually show.

Given his later self-characterization, this seems either blatantly dishonest, or a staggering ignorance of the relevant physics and history: "What is the Electric Universe? It is an adaptation of observations in laboratory plasma physics to cosmic plasmas, which constitute the very large majority (in terms of matter state) of what we see with our telescopes. The EU is based upon the work, amongst others, of Hannes Alfven — who, towards the end of his career, struggled (and ultimately failed) to convince astrophysicists to re-examine their plasma models. Astrophysicists were eager to adopt the plasma models which were consistent with a gravity-based framework, but refused to acknowledge any criticisms,"

How did he miss the Workshop on Opportunities in Plasma Astrophysics, for example?

(another comment to follow, on CR's August 2011 post)

Anonymous said...

"Even a really basic understanding of the ES model suggests that we would have to observe the inflowing electrical currents in order to make predictions about the Sun’s future activity. This clearly remains an unfinished question, as I don’t think any serious effort has yet been put into it. Clearly, this is a project which will require funding and a concerted effort by a large number of investigators and circuit designers." - Chris Reeve, August 13, 2011

For someone who is so keen on the EU as Chris says he is, the ignorance conveyed in this post is simply staggering! In the EU, "inflowing electrical currents" are composed of electrons and/or ions. Dozens, perhaps hundreds, of spacecraft have had electron and ion detectors, since the late 1950s. A great many of those have travelled through interplanetary space. The data from those detectors is freely available.

Has no EU proponent ever made a serious attempt to use that data to "observe the inflowing electrical currents" the EU insists exist? Of course they have (and they have all failed, to date, to show such a current exists).

Has no EU proponent ever made a serious attempt to spec (even at a very high level) a space-based mission that would/could detect such a current? Per Chris, no. Why not?

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

To Anonymous,

Please include a link to Mr. Reeve's August 2011 post which you describe.

I sent a short followup to Reeve's statements on the 'strawmen' comment thread, but it has not been released.

I'll be posting an expanded version of that followup, probably this weekend.

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

I've been informed that the August 2011 post discussed above is actually in the comment thread of the Dad2059 post.

So Mr. Reeve has again made claims of Electric Universe capability but EU has yet to demonstrate capabilities even simpler than he describes, much less his grandiose claims.