Sunday, September 28, 2014

Big Bangs & Black Holes - What's in a Name?

On occasion, when pseudo-scientists are hard-up for REAL evidence for their claims, they start to attack the terminology.

In science, this can be especially tricky as the names are usually just convenient labels for underlying concepts, like the word RED representing the color. No one would argue about that, WOULD THEY?

In many cases, the name is just a term used to label a phenomena until a better understanding is developed, like Dark Matter, and neutrinos and other topics. I've written a little on this before in regards to some Electric Universe claims (see On Magnetic Reconnection and "Discharges", On Dark Matter. II: An Exotic Hack?).

Sometimes the shorter name is adopted just to avoid long-winded descriptions when discussing a topic! It generally only causes a problem if one is metaphorically-impaired.
Rocket Racoon: "Metaphors go over his head."
Drax the Destroyer: "NOTHING goes over my head!... My reflexes are too fast, I would catch it."
-- "Guardians of the Galaxy" (2014) (IMDB
In the pre-1950s literature, the model of the universe based on the expanding FLRW metric (Wikipedia) was often referred to as the 'expanding universe' model.  Fred Hoyle, who was an advocate of the competing "Steady State" cosmology (Wikipedia: Steady State Theory), used the term "Big Bang" in a 1949 BBC radio broadcast. It is suggested that Hoyle used it as a term of derision (Fred Hoyle, Wikipedia: Big Bang Etymology), but the name was so catchy that it was adopted in general use. 

So, contrary to a claim I've received, the use of the term "Big Bang" does not require the process to be considered as an explosion.

It is not unusual that names initially meant as a term of derision ends up becoming the name adopted by supporters (Wikipedia: Reappropriation).

Back in the early 1990s, there was actually an attempt to rename the Big Bang. In the process, the comic strip "Calvin and Hobbes" had Calvin making an entertaining suggestion of renaming "Big Bang" to "Horrendous Space Kablooie" or HSK for short (Wikipedia: Calvin & Hobbes, Art & Academia, Horrendous Space Kablooie).  It actually caught on at some level and I occasionally use it myself.

"Black Hole" is another term that gets bandied about, but it is certainly easier than saying "gravitationally completely collapsed object". It could also be considered analogous to a 'black box' where you don't actually find out what's inside. (Science News: 50 years later, it's hard to say who named black holes).

Oh, and why would anyone argue about the color red?

There is a psychology behind color perception and for various reasons, reds, oranges and yellows are regarded as 'warm' colors while violets, blues, and greens are regarded as 'cool' colors (Wikispaces: Color Wheel).

Yet from a spectral and energy perspective (Wikipedia), blue colors correspond to hotter temperatures than red colors. This disparity between perceptual and spectral concepts rears its head in scientific visualization, where there is occasionally a discussion/debate/argument over color choices when representing multi-wavelength astronomical data. Is it better to represent the data which corresponds to higher energy photons as red (a 'hot' color) or blue (a higher energy wavelength)?

I've not (yet?) encountered a crank advocating that our understanding of photons physics is wrong because red means hot, not blue, but it would not surprise me if someone was out there claiming it.


Anonymous said...

I think you should look at your naming and labelling of people you call "cranks".

Those of us who believe we are neutral, independent, and agnostic on scientific matters, consider such pejorative terms to be insulting, biased, and falling short of the standards of the scientific method.

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

To Anonymous,

Well, science is not neutral, independent, or even agnostic. It works whether you believe it or not. Science does not choose sides - but sides can choose science - or choose to ignore it, often putting them at a disadvantage to those who do not ignore it.

Science is not an 'idea' that comes and goes like a fashion (as Bob Schadewald described). We may gain deeper understandings of physical laws with time, but often the older ideas stay acceptable in their domain of applicability - Galilean gravity for building buildings, Newtonian gravity for launching satellites, and Einsteinian gravity for higher precision problems.

While there are problems that are still subject to debate, there is also a large body of well-established science. The cranks often ignore this and attack well-established science - mechanics, electromagnetism, relativity.

Those whom I actually label as 'cranks' have already fallen far short of the standards of the scientific method and have moved their arrogant ignorance into the realm where, if they had the opportunity to control the technology, they would do real damage. Those whom I label as cranks:

- Have yet to provide an actual demonstration that their claims work better. I have documented many of these failures on this site.
- Actively harass those who have *real* accomplishments in space research (and if you want to see abuse, you should read some of the rants the cranks have made at scientists who've designed, built, launched and operated real space missions and done real data analysis). My site is tame compared to those cranks.
- Ignored or dismissed the implications of their claims for the safety of satellites and astronauts and other technologies (see Death by Electric Universe, geocentrists, relativity deniers).

Most of the cranks I've dealt with have certainly demonstrated the capability, but so far just lacked the opportunity to do real damage that others have accomplished peddling their pseudo-science (WhatsTheHarm?).