Wednesday, October 31, 2012


Here's a quick post of relevant links I've collected over the past two months.

A very good article in Scientific American from the ScienceDebate group that includes a history of the anti-science movement in the United States.
Antiscience Beliefs Jeopardize U.S. Democracy

More updates on how science continually revises (and tests) hypotheses

Hurricane Sandy, now Storm Sandy, passed through my area Monday afternoon & Tuesday morning.  Our area experienced a few downed trees and many outages.  However, we were without power for only about 20 hours.  Others were not so fortunate.  I'll be writing at least one other check this week:
American Red Cross.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

If you believe the World is going to end on December 21…

Here's something you can do when it doesn't.

After all, you will almost certainly have a schedule that is completely clear.

Instead of throwing more money to listen to the cranks you listened to before (and now you'll be stuck listening to their excuses)...

You could take your new found free time to actually learn some science.  There's loads of online resources,  (such as  Physics, Astronomy & Other Reading Resources)

but you could also…

Visit a local planetarium or science museum...
Connect up with a local astronomy group and attend their star parties, perhaps even join...
Take a physical science class at your local community college...

Learn about critical thinking...
You suddenly have a world of opportunities that you probably never seriously considered before.

Make the most of it!


Resources on why the 2012 Doomsayers are Full of Nonsense
2012 Hoax
Stuart Robbins' podcasts (2012 and more)
David Morrison's "Ask an Astrobiologist" response to 2012
2012 @ 365 Days of Astronomy
Note: I don't expect the world to end next week, but I do expect it will become difficult for me to access this blog for some time after Hurricane Sandy passes through my area.  Any of my readers in this area please stay safe.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

G4G: Religion, Science, and the Kobayashi Maru Scenario

This weekend is part of a biennial event for skepticism and critical thinking, the Gathering 4 Gardner, sometimes called G4G (see Gathering4Gardner and G4G), a celebration of the life of Martin Gardner.

The recently deceased Martin Gardner (1914-2010) (Wikipedia) was a noted skeptic, perhaps best known for his many columns in magazines such as Scientific American.  He also authored a number of science popularizations, such as The Ambidextrous Universe (Wikipedia) which was probably one of the first physics-related books I read in junior high school.

One of the interesting things about Mr. Gardner is that he was NOT an atheist. It is a statement which I had heard over the years in passing, but had never read any of his work dealing with theology until recently. 

Per the recommendation of a coworker, I read “The Whys of a Philosophical Scrivener”, which is a collection of essays by Gardner with an emphasis on philosophical and theological issues.  Sections in the book  describe a lot of Gardner's philosophical and theological thinking and how he reconciles his religious beliefs with his skepticism and critical thinking skills. 

One of the sections I found particularly interesting was “Evil: Why We Don't Know Why”, which explores “The Problem of Evil” (Wikipedia).  This is the theological problem of understanding how evil can exist in a world with an omnipotent, benificent diety.  One of the most compelling solutions to the problem was presented on pages 263-264.  The history of this problem goes back a number of years, but the explanation in the book mirrored some of my more recent thinking on the topic.  The short answer is that how a Christian deals with evil is part of the key test of being Christian.
I find the simplest way to explain it is by an analogy from Star Trek:

The Theology of the Kobayashi Maru

The opening of the second Star Trek movie, “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” (link), presents a test for a group of StarFleet cadets, the Kobayashi Maru scenario (Wikipedia).   The scenario places cadets in a situation where all their decisions have bad consequences.  It is a test for how potential command officers, deal with a 'no-win scenario', a situation where all your available choices have significantly less than ideal outcomes.  This is a situation that anyone in a command position might eventually have to face.  It's goal is to determine the character of the cadets, especially in tough command positions.

Consider the parallel of Christianity in a Naturalistic Universe...
  • There is no physical evidence of the existence of an afterlife
  • There is no physical evidence for the existence of the soul
  • If you take the most basic interpretation of naturalistic evolution of the selfish gene, the 'best strategy' in this situation would be an eye-for-an-eye approach to life.  I'll call this Strategy 1.
It certainly looks like a 'no win' scenario, because no one can ALWAYS be the biggest and strongest in their 'ecosystem'.  It might work for short-term survival, but it's not very good in longer-term  situations.

But consider a wiser interpretation...

More altruistic strategies in life are much more long-term best strategies.  It opens the door to cooperative, rather than winner-take-all competitive enterprises.  I'll call this Strategy 2.

The first commandment of Christianity is the Golden Rule, to do unto others as they do unto you.  This is a cooperative strategy.  The Golden Rule is NOT exclusive to Christianity and even predates Christianity (Wikipedia).

Altruistic strategies, and the Golden Rule, are the opposite of Strategy 1,  but it is not an obvious strategy.  It depends on a 'leap of faith', that the other side will not exploit what could be interpreted as weakness, to their advantage.  From game theory, we know that these types of cooperative strategies have evolutionary value.  This may be why the Golden Rule appears in a number of non-Christian and pre-Christian cultures as well.

The true test of Christianity, the First Commandment, asks believers to adopt Strategy 2. (Matthew 5:38-39)

We live in a Universe that is set up as a No-Win scenario. 

All the physical evidence says that when you die, that is it.  Even while we are alive, no invisible being will rescue us if we do something stupid.  While flukes may rescue us from bad decisions, no divine entity will. 

On top of that, we see a first-order evolutionary strategy that is dog-eat-dog.

So how does one deal with this apparently hopeless situation?

Christians are asked, in spite of all the physical evidence to the contrary, to adopt Strategy 2.  Yet if we look at many of the high profile 'christians', many adopt the militant view of Strategy 1.

Which demonstrates the stronger faith, the Christians who live by Strategy 1, or those who live by Strategy 2?

Which choice is a better test of character?

Creationism, and other theologies that rely on a Diety that will actively intervene in the physical world, like Captain Kirk, tries to change the conditions of the test.  You can only get away with that so far...

Creationists try to fool you into thinking there is an easy way out instead of Strategy 2.  They try to sell you that their pseudo-science is part of the package - you can't believe any of it if you don't believe their claims as well.

This isn't to say that someone can't be a Creationist AND live according to Strategy 2.  It just distorts one's priorities.

Something to think about, when Gathering for Gardner...

Related Posts

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Whines of the Electric Universe. II.

"I don't understand why people would ask anyone to waste their time answering pseudo-skeptics" -- David Smith on the forums
Poor Dave Smith of Thunderbolts just doesn't seem to get it...again (see Whines of the Electric Universe...).

This whine was part of the thread titled "Multi-point EU critique: can these points be addressed?" 
which contained nothing of substance.  I thought for a while something of interest might appear in this thread, but in the over two months since it was posted, it is more a collection of excuses of how real scientific standards do not apply to Electric Universe (EU) 'science'.

Maybe some EUers are willing to 'waste their time' because if EU is so much better a theory of the space environment, as Dave and other EU 'theorists' claim, it should be used in planning and developing active missions into interplanetary space.  After all, Electric Sun models predict a radically different environment for interplanetary space than the standard solar models. 

Perhaps Dave is afraid that someone might start to wonder about that...

Flunking Peer Review
To summarize, here's the articles in question in the original Thunderbolts thread, a review of the five papers published in a Special Issue of the peer-reviewed (?) Bentham Open Astronomy Journal.  These reviews were assembled by Nereid and myself.
These reviews pointed out many of the problems with EU 'theories', many which go back many years, which EU 'theorists' have evaded answering.

Legitimate scientists are expected to respond to peer-review reports if they want to be published.  Peer review is intended to catch the really blatant mistakes.  It is not perfect, but it catches a lot of problems (see Why Don't Rebuttals Appear in the Scientific Literature?).  As is easy to see in these EU review exercises, there are major errors in the EU papers that would have been identified by almost anyone competent in astronomy.  But EU 'theorists' and supporters repeatedly ignore these facts.

There is certainly some doubt about the peer-review quality at the Bentham journals, which I am not the first to point:

EU's Blatant Disregard for the Integrity of Space Assets and the Lives of Astronauts

But it's bad enough that EU science does not match the observations.  EU ignorance in the solar system environment places billions of dollars in satellite assets and the lives of astronauts at risk as I have documented in my recent "Death by Electric Unverse" series.
If Electric Sun models cannot provide a reasonable estimate of the radiation exposure at any distance from the Sun, then what good is it?  

EU supporters generate nothing but excuses when it comes to determining the important quantities that satellite engineers need so they can build satellites that can survive the environment.  Gee, mainstream solar theory does a pretty good job with this (see NOAA: Space Weather Forecasting).

What is EU's excuse?

I have asked many TECHNICAL QUESTIONS of EU theorists which they repeatedly refuse to answer.

Is the preservation of EU theorists' egos more important than the safety and integrity of billions of dollars in space assets, or the lives of astronauts?  

The actions of EU theorists suggests that they think so!

Time for EU to Put Up or Shut Up

The underlying theme of many sites like and others is that the propagators of pseudo-science know more about the space environment than those who must design, build, and operate satellites in the space.

So if the EU 'theorists' are so clever, and repeatedly lecture everyone about how they are engineers and they BUILD things, then why aren't they building and operating satellites?

There was a time when access to space was difficult, and expensive, such that pretty much only governments could afford to provide that access.   Claims like the Electric Sun and similar nonsense could be propagated with claims of government coverups, etc.

But times have changed…

Private access to space is now available, and not that expensive.  The EU excuses are starting to wear a little thin…
Why aren't these 'brilliant' EU theorists building an instrument or even a satellite to take advantage of this?  What's the latest excuse?

But Which Way Will It Tip?

In an attempt to raise their appearance of legitimacy, EU supporters often try to get more mainstream researchers to speak at their conferences or write blurbs for their book covers.  This has often proven more embarrassing for the mainstream researcher as EU supporters try to stretch the endorsement beyond what the endorser intended or expected.

Recent attempts by EU advocates at a higher profile, such as Don Scott's visit to GSFC, are showing signs of backfiring.  The space community has begun to recognize that EU's alleged mission of increasing the understanding of electric fields in space is really a cover for a more destructive pseudo-science.  While I've heard rumors (see comments in Electric Universe Fantasies & Heliopause Electrons) about what James Ryder, former VP of LMSAL, said at the 2012 EU conference (see speakers list), the abstract and all other evidence points to a perfectly legitimate talk about mainstream science from IBEX and the new questions raised by some of the results.  I've found nothing to indicate that Ryder said anything about the IBEX results that actually supported EU claims such as the Sun being powered by external electric currents (see The IBEX Challenge for the Electric Sun).

Consider the bold title of their 2013 conference: Electric Universe: The Tipping Point

I suspect the tipping will be against EU theorists as their claims become more widely recognized as a threat to the integrity of space flight.

Dave and EU 'theorists' never address the facts that I have documented (see 365 Days of Astronomy: The Electric Universe) of many the cosmic environments where astronomers have found, or have considered, actions of electric fields.  Acknowledging this fact would expose a major part of their thesis, their claim that astronomers ignore electric fields, is a lie.  Yet they continually note modern astronomy references about electric fields claiming success  while ignoring the fact that many references in the papers EU promotes reference much of the older work which I have noted.

EU's 'theorists' still treat Maxwell's equations as mystic writing rather than tools.  Notice they present Maxwells equations in their "The Essential Guide to the Electric Universe", but not ONCE do they actually apply them to a single one of their proposed models where they connect a measurement of one physical quantity (say current), to the field strength (electric or magnetic).  At best, they only illustrate connections in more mainstream models.

EU Has Much to Whine About…

I can understand Dave's frustration.  He's picked a really bad position, considering that none of those EU 'theorists' have done anything in space, and it's coming back to bite them.  He sees no way to save face against people who really DO space for a living and have to KNOW about it.  It begins to look like EU's entire business model is built around selling books and 'conferences' by wrapping their own fairy tails around public domain NASA images.

With all the REAL FAILURES of EU claims I've documented, Dave has no choice but to harp on the creationism  aspect of my blog because dealing with the real space science aspects are a guaranteed loser for him and EU.  The expansion of topics I want to cover is why I renamed the main site 'Crank Astronomy', so he won't have that excuse much longer. 

Dave's whine about me comparing them to creationists does not grant EU a 'free pass' when it comes to dealing with their claims that risk billions of dollars in space assets and the lives of astronauts.

Speaking of connections between EU and creationism, wasn't creationist Barry Setterfield a participant at EUs big 2012 shindig in Las Vegas? (see presenters list)

I have many times outlined what EU 'theorists' must do to stop my complaints - present their theories in forms that can generate actual numbers to compare against real measurements.  Yet they continue to evade, make excuses, and repeat the same claims that have been proven wrong many times over.  Is it that they are not competent to do this (in which case their claims are made up) or do they know their claims are garbage and are desperately trying to keep their own supporters from asking them the hard questions?  They did evade the original purpose of the thread on their own forum - to address the points made by myself and others.

So EU theorists have no resort but to fall back on the cult-like strategy of discouraging their supporters from interacting with others who might know about space flight from professional experience.

My predictions for EU's Future 
What will EU 'theorists' change in the future, in an attempt to keep themselves feeling relevant and evade the real world implications of their claims?  Here's my speculations:
  • They will adopt a more creationist-like solution to their problems by moving their predictions further out in space and further back in time.  This will mean dropping the externally-powered Electric Sun claims and moving more towards Plasma Cosmology - which has already failed.
  • Continuing the move 'back to the past', they will place more emphasis on interpretations of ancient writings and drawings.
  • They will probably continue to scream 'success' whenever a mission reports anything about electric currents or electric fields in space, despite the long history and knowledge of the topic ( see 365 Days of Astronomy: The Electric Universe).
  • They will concentrate on more bizarre 'reinterpretations' of existing models, such as "Electric Gravity" and similar strangeness.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

American Idiocracy

I just heard about this.  It has apparently been floating around about a week.

US House Science Committee Member: Evolution Is a Lie From Hell

With more links and comments:
This kind of butt-ignorant garbage from a person in political office makes me really concerned for the future of the U.S.  It's bad enough that he's a national-level politician.  It's even worse he's on the House Science Committee.

Perhaps the Honorable Mr. Broun doesn't know that the U.S. space flight capability works because the Earth is not at a fixed position, contrary to some interpretations of the same Bible he claims be believe literally (see Biblical Geocentrism).  If U.S. leaders were screaming his crap in the late 1950s, space would have been dominated by the Soviets.

Perhaps the Honorable Mr. Broun doesn't know that the U.S. nuclear weapon capability succeeded because the U.S. had a number of scientists who had, prior to WWII, been exploring nuclear reactions in stars and cosmology and used many of the techniques they developed for understanding stars in building nuclear weapons.  The irony is many of the scientists in the U.S. program were immigrants, who fled Europe in the 1930s due to growing anti-Semitism and a related pseudo-science, Deutsche Physik (Wikipedia).

Much of the economic prosperity the U.S. has enjoyed in the latter half of the 20th Century was driven by U.S. science and the nation having a critical mass of talented scientists and engineers who could explore many leading-edge problems. 

I suspect Mr. Broun has very little understanding of how the science behind technologies he uses every day actually came about.  If he were making these types of statements in the 1940s-1960s, it might be viewed that he was trying to undermine U.S. efforts against the Nazis or the Soviets.  As it is, he is simply aiding U.S. economic competitors today.