Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Electric Universe Interview @ Exposing Pseudo-Astronomy, Part 2

Stuart Robbins has posted part two of his interview with me on the Electric Universe.  Check it out at:

Podcast Episode 116: The Electric Universe, Part 2, with Dr. Tom Bridgman

We were getting into the second hour of the interview, and it's beginning to show for me.  I was starting to tire so I had a lot of 'you knows' and tended to diverge from topic.  However, I'm generally pleased with the result.

Thanks Stuart!

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Falsifying Scientific Models

This post covers a set of general issues about falsification of scientific models and is also meant to be a follow-up to the claims by Bruno Suric in this comment.

I've written on the lame claim about the original Eddington observations of gravitational deflection (see Relativity Denial: The 1919 Solar Eclipse).  Supporters of this claim seem oblivious to the fact that this was far from the only time in history these observations could be done.  The observations have been repeated, and improved upon, in the 90+ years since.  The Hipparcos data has measured the deflection to an accuracy of 0.3%, far more than enough to exclude the Newtonian model of light deflection.  The fact that there were some possible conflicts in the observations suggests future tests must improve the experimental controls to remove the ambiguity.

The history of science is filled with examples where Mr. Suric's interpretation of falsification of a scientific model would lead one down an erroneous path.

Consider another example.  In late-1700s It was found that the orbit of Uranus did not match that expected from Newtonian gravitation when including the perturbations due to the other known planets.  Did that falsify Newtonian gravitation?


While the possibility that Newtonian gravitation did not apply in the outer reaches of the solar system was certainly a possibility, it was not the only possible solution of the problem.

Because one of the other assumptions in the calculation was the motion was the other (known) planets in the solar system.  What if THAT assumption were incorrect?

It turned out to be the case, and the discovery of the planet Neptune was the result of testing that hypothesis  (see Wikipedia: Discovery of Neptune).

This happens quite often in science as many complex models are built with many underlying assumptions.  When the model undergoes rigorous testing, those assumptions are also being tested.

Falsifying the Standard Solar Model With the Solar Neutrino Problem?

Few modern models are the result of only one assumption.  They are usually the result of  a combination of many assumptions, all tested to some finite level of precision.  You might make the assumption that a component of the model is still valid beyond the tested range of precision, and that is often not an unreasonable assumption.  Nature is surprisingly consistent in many of these cases, but Nature is under no obligation to agree with extreme extensions of empirically-tested natural 'laws'.

Mr. Suric claims that the solar neutrino problem should have falsified the entire model of the Sun.  But this demonstrates a lack of understanding of how complex scientific models are made and tested.

What we call the Standard Solar Model has evolved over time as our understanding of the underlying fundamental physics and computational techniques improved (Wikipedia).  The first solar models were computed with pencil-and-paper math and slide rules, integrating the structure equations with large distance steps which had the chance of computation as well as transcription errors.

The ability of computers to do many of the computations repeatedly and tirelessly with smaller distance steps and more accuracy enabled more accurate physics to be included.  Today, some researchers write their own stellar structure codes or run one of the publicly available versions (see references below) that can run on modern personal computers.  I've run some of these models on my laptop.

In the 1960s, at the time the first solar neutrino flux estimates were made, there were a number of other assumptions that went into the standard solar model (see Helium Content and Neutrino Fluxes in Solar Models).  These assumptions were ALSO being tested.
ALL of these assumptions, and more, were being tested in the Standard Solar Model.  After the first solar neutrino measurements revealed a neutrino count significantly less than expected (about 1/3 of the expected value), the other assumptions in the Standard Solar Model were re-examined (see Search for Neutrinos from the Sun).

Other less conventional ideas were also explored.  Could there be a black hole at the center of the sun, accreting and applying the missing energy and reducing the neutrino count?  (see Solar models of low neutrino-counting rate - The central black hole).

An examination of all the alternatives eventually narrowed the problem down to the possibility that the neutrino oscillated between the different 'flavors' requiring the neutrino to have a mass, albeit very small.  We still cannot measure the mass of the neutrino directly, but there are experiments that can put limits on the mass.

In my early undergraduate days, in the late 1970s, this idea as a solution to the SN problem was under discussion.  i worked with a professor who did weak interaction theory (which often involves neutrinos), who, at the time, regarded the neutrino essentially massless.  This is a fundamental assumption in the Standard Model of Particle Physics.

What a difference twenty+ years of technology improvements makes...

Eventually, neutrino detectors were built with sufficient sensitivity that they could detect the other 'flavors' of neutrinos, the mu and tau neutrinos.  With these, we successfully detected these extra neutrinos from the Sun.  Experiments were also conducted using nuclear reactors with known neutrino productions rates, sending neutrinos through the Earth, to be received by a remote detector.  This experiment provided an earth-based test of neutrino oscillations where we had a controlled source (T2K Experiment).   Neutrinos with mass are not part of the Standard Model of Particle Physics (Wikipedia, Neutrinos in the Standard Model).

So the Nobel prize awarded for this work (NobelPrize: Bahcall).  This is ridiculed by Mr. Suric, but have we seen a prediction of the neutrino flux, as well as the stellar structure, from the model HE advocates.  If so, where?  How well does his model hold up under examination with the newer experimental techniques like helioseismology (Wikipedia)?

With these new experiments, a number of cranks have had to resort to handwaving attempts to discredit the experiments (see Tim Thompson's Rebuttal to Donald Scott on the topic).  Yet legitimate researchers continue to use the results of these experiments to build even more refined experiments that not only verify but improve on the precision and extend the results.

That is what REAL science does, and results of previous experiments are subject to repeated testing and retesting. 

Meanwhile pseudoscience is still making excuses.  After all, where is THEIR computation of the predicted neutrino flux of the Sun computed from first principles in THEIR model?  We've seen NO publication of THEIR predictions with how they were obtained, yet they continue to scream their model is more successful!

As I note above, the problem with the Standard Solar Model was solved requiring a revision in the Standard Model of particle physics.  But does that mean all physicists must stop using the Standard Model for nuclear and particle physics calculations?


Because for many other areas in computing reaction rates, etc. the Standard Model works just fine.  It only becomes an issue near the limits of applicability of the model, which we now know is when the neutrino mass may be a factor.

Galileo said that the acceleration of gravity was constant.

When Newton suggested that it varied with distance as 1/r^2, did we stop using a constant for the acceleration of gravity? 


Because even Newton's theory demonstrated that gravity deviated from a constant at the surface of the Earth by an amount so small as to be irrelevant for most practical applications near the surface of the Earth.

Similarly, we still use the Newtonian model of gravitation for planning rocket launches and travel through most of the solar system, because even Einstein's theory gives the same predictions as the Newtonian theory to a precision smaller than the errors produced by aerodynamic and other engineering uncertainties.

Will the Standard Model of Particle Physics eventually be replaced?

Almost certainly!

But you can bet that whatever theory replaces it will generate predictions close, or identical to the current Standard Model in the areas where the Standard Model works well today.

Ad Absurdum
"The theory of the round Earth cannot explain the existence of mountains.  Therefore the model must be discarded.  This is evidence that the Earth is flat."
Most people would regard this statement as ridiculous (except perhaps the late Charles Johnson and his supporters).

Yet this is exactly the pattern of 'logic' invoked by many pseudo-scientists.

Charles K. Johnson & the International Flat-Earth Society
Stellar Structure & Evolution Codes

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Electric Universe Interview @ Exposing Pseudo-Astronomy

Stuart Robbins has posted part one of his interview with me on the Electric Universe.  Check it out at:

Podcast Episode 115: The Electric Universe, Part 1, with Dr. Tom Bridgman

It turned out better than I expected, in no small part to Stuart keeping me on-topic and limiting some of my wandering off on tangents, as well as some good editing.

I'm sure most (all?) Electric Universe supporters will not approve.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Electric Universe: More Confusing Claims from the EU 'Worldview'

I submitted a shorter version of this post to dad2059's comment stream at Dad2059: The Electric Universe and Strawmen, but it has yet to appear through moderation.  So again, I'll post the expanded explanation here.  This is also a followup to Pseudoscience and 'World-View'.

From the blog operator:
The Electric Universe Theory is very intriguing to me for the simple fact that it’s elegant, easy to grasp and can explain many anomalies that occur in Nature. In fact, I consider it an equal to Einstein’s Gravitic theories that is the mainstream thought today. Do I think it’s THE theory? No, but I think […]
Unfortunately for Dad2059, Nature is under no obligation to conform to human prejudices and colloquial notions of 'logic', 'elegance' or 'simplicity'.  But time after time, mathematics has demonstrated its power not only to explain Nature, but allow us to apply those same discovered rules in building technologies (see The Cosmos In Your Pocket: Expanded & Revised).

Now to Mr. Reeve's claims...
Re: “What you’re really saying is EU ‘theorists’ STILL have no model that provides numerical values we can compare against measurements from spacecraft.” 
Reeve: Did I say that?
This sounds like an attempt to stall.  Actually, Mr. Reeve dances all around this fact, because it is a 'third rail' of Electric Universe (EU) claims (Wikipedia: The Third Rail).  It is the glaring fact, that Electric Universe advocates fear to bring to attention, to admit even to themselves.
Re: “EU ‘theories’ are useless for doing anything real.” 
Reeve: Have you considered that most people do not yet understand what the idea actually IS? How will quantifying a web of concepts which few people understand to this day add clarity?
So is Mr. Reeve going to argue on what the definition of 'IS' is? (Bill Clinton and the meaning of "IS").

Really, where do Electric Universe advocates get off claiming their 'theory' is a better description of reality, when, according to Mr. Reeve, they can't even define it in a coherent, objective, TESTABLE fashion?  Electromagnetism is pretty definite on these things - define a current and charge distribution and the electric and magnetic fields have definite values from Maxwell's equations.

So what IS so difficult about this to EU supporters?
Re: “Any claims by EU advocates that they have a theory that *works* better than the standard models are, to put it kindly, FALSE.”
Reeve: Not every debate hinges strictly on mathematics.
But scientific debates do.

Scientific debates hinge on the ability of the mathematical rules to successfully explain the operation of Nature by generating numbers that can be compared to actual measurements.  THAT is the criteria of a successful theory, particularly in the physical sciences.

Let's explore Mr. Reeve's claim about Marklund convection (wikipedia).

If Marklund convection is a better 'explanation', as he claims, then there should be a good match between the predictions of the mathematical model AND the observations.  THAT is the DEFINITION of a 'better explanation' in the standards of science.

Let's examine the issues Mr. Reeve claim raises, but which he evaded, with his 'better explanation':
  • A Marklund current requires a large scale electric field along the length of the current.  Electric fields require charge separation.  Since opposite charges always attract and cosmic plasmas are generally neutral or quasi-neutral, you need energy to separate the charges to create the electric field.  Where did this energy come from and how did it separate the charges along the length of the current in such an organized way?
  • What's the strength of the electric field?  Is it strong enough to create Stark splitting (wikipedia) of the ionic spectral lines in the plasma?  If so, then we should be able to detect this splitting with spectroscopes on Earth (visible, IR or radio wavelengths) and determine the electric field.  The values measured should be in reasonable agreement (within an order of magnitude or better) with the prediction.
  • We have pretty good methods for measuring cosmic magnetic fields, even with limitations imposed by 'line-of-sight'.  Given reasonable assumptions about the size scales of these structures, one should be able estimate the magnetic field strength along the structure and from that, determine what field would be measured from Earth-based instruments by the Zeeman effect.  Note this effect is used all the time to determine the magnetic fields of the Sun (wikipedia) and other stars.
  • With a model of the magnetic field, and electric field, around the filament, it is simple to solve for the convective velocity V = crossproduct(E, B)/B^2 and determine the spectral profile of the ions with the Doppler effect.  Note that because Doppler, Zeeman, and Stark effects have different dependencies on wavelength, they can be separated to determine velocities, magnetic fields, and electric fields.
  • Using the velocity and ionization states of various elements, compute chemical distributions.  While Marklund, Peratt and Alfven DESCRIBE this process, I have yet to see actual predictions of chemical distributions for a given plasma, field, and temperature configuration.  This will also impact the spectra of the object.
  • You've got charged particles moving in a magnetic field.  What's the synchrotron flux predicted for this configuration?  This should be detectable by radio telescopes and should exhibit some correlation structures visible at other wavelengths.
Have EU advocates done ANY of this?  Not that I can find.

If we look at the history of the original Marklund article on ADS (ADS: Plasma convection in force-free magnetic fields as a mechanism for chemical separation in cosmical plasmas) we find only seven references since 1979.  Verschuur most recently tries to use this mechanism, but doesn't address the problems around the formation and detectability of such structures, as outlined above.

Until you can show a direct match between between the mathematically-determined predictions of the model, AND ACTUAL OBSERVATIONS, these claims are, at BEST, a hypothesis. 
By that criteria alone, the Marklund convection idea is in a weaker position than Dark Matter (wikipedia) since we can at least add the hypothesized particles to simulations and obtain better agreement with observations, which can be used to constrain the various searches for what Dark Matter actually IS.  See recent cosmological simulations (The Millennium Simulation Project & Illustris (Phys.org)) and compare to skymaps from SDSS.  In addition to just comparing the 'look' of the models to the data, researchers also compare other parameters such as the size and mass in the galaxy distribution of the models to the data.  Are they a perfect match?  No.  But then, they still have better agreement than anything presented by Electric Universe supporters.
Reeve: "This is not a commentary on the legitimacy of the idea itself; it’s an attempt to get people to skip over the process of actually learning the idea, in order to interfere with the process of building awareness sufficient to match the quantitative appeal of the conventional theories."
So again, Mr. Reeve wants to evade the fact that EU theories are useless for doing anything in the real world, like estimating radiation fluxes in space needed to protect astronauts and satellites in space.  

So how do we protect our astronauts and other space assets with 'awareness' of Electric Universe claims?  I mean beyond the obvious benefits obtained by recognizing that Electric Universe claims give no useful information on the radiation environment and are therefore ignorable?  I assume that is NOT what Mr. Reeve means.

As for Peratt's supercomputer access, did Peratt actually have a grant authorizing his time on the resource for that use?  I've had access to a few supercomputers for various parts of my job, but I can't just run any project I desire on them.  Loads of other people compete for time on those machines.  Besides, today you can build supercomputers with off-the-shelf hardware quite cheaply (Wikipedia: Beowulf Cluster) and the TRISTAN plasma code which Peratt used is publicly available (TRISTAN).  With modern hardware, a smaller machine would still probably be faster than the system Peratt had available in the 1980s (see Electric Universe: Real Plasma Physicists BUILD Mathematical Models Note the comments:  Whatever happened to that simulation on modern hardware that Siggy_G was going to do?)

Yet EU supporters, instead of rolling up their sleeves and actually doing the work, choose a position, apparently encouraged by Mr. Reeve, of regarding their 'wishful thinking' as having the same value as actual scientific evidence.

We did not go to the Moon, or send spacecraft to distant planets, by 'wishful thinking.'  We did it by doing the math, which verified the physics, which guided the engineering.  Wishful thinking might have provided inspiration, but, as Thomas Edison has noted (Wikiquote), it takes much more perspiration to actually get the job done.

More and more, Electric Universe 'theorists' look like posers or wannabes, who want recognition for work they have not actually done.