Archive | August 2009

Point by Point: Electric Universe Theory

Here’s a little exchange I found on an online forum between an Electric Universe advocate and a critic of same. The names have been deleted to protect the guilty. The grammar, punctuation, and text is verbatim.

[1A] Instead of gravity being the main power behind the universe, Electro-magnetism is.

[1B] This would be true if it weren’t for the existence of electric dipoles. Positive and negative charges have this quality of cancelling each other out, so the overall electric force in the universe, on large scales, is very small.

[2A] It asserts that the power that drives the sun is charges plasma…

[2B] This is almost true. The Sun is a neutral plasma. The electric universe “theory”, though, claims that the power of the sun is generated on the surface, which just isn’t possible. The densities are too low, and the temperature too, to explain the Sun’s energy output.

[3A] …and that an electric current runs from star to star, through galaxy’s, and even through the universe itself.

[3B] This would be observable. Its not observed. Therefore, it’s not true. We certainly see solar and stellar winds, but they’re always in an outward direction. Spray two water hoses at each other and see how much “current” you get.

[4A] It offers a new explanation for what we call black holes. That, they don’t exist. And what we actually see is converging lines of force.

[4B] This claim doesn’t even make any sense. Electric field lines “of force” can only converge on charges. If there are charges, they’ll feel that force, and be accelerated. Accelerated charges give off radiation and therefore are no longer “black”. We’d be able to see these things. More importantly, the electric universe doesn’t account for things like gravitational red-shifting around black holes, which we’ve observed. It fails every observational test it’s ever been subjected to. The model is bunk.

[5A] Yes, the idea that space is actually filled with billions of charged plasma particles instead of actually being a vacuum.

[5B] The problem is that space is actually filled with billions of uncharged particles. We’ve mapped the Milky Way using neutral hydrogen. If space were filled with a plasma, it would eat away at neutral objects, and we wouldn’t see any neutral Hydrogen. Again, it fails the test.

[6A] Stars are powered externally by this “Universal current”, and the tails of comets are electrical discharges… It’s pretty interesting.

[6B] Unfortunately, we already have a model for how stars work, and how comets tails come into being. These models fit the observations. The Electric Universe does not. I mean, please show us this “universal current”. It should be radiating like a mo-fo.

[7A] I am accepting this cosmological model over the Big Bang Theory (BBT). It offers easy explanations for things people had to invent (Neutron Stars, Black Holes, Dark Matter and Dark Energy, and other things ) To explain what they were witnessing in space.

[7B] Easy, but fundamentally wrong explanations. I can offer you an easier explanation of gravity than General Relativity: Everything is held together by giant invisible springs! The only problem is that I’m wrong! Neutron stars have been explained. The physics behind them is very sound. It’s called Quantum Mechanics, and it’s the same theory that engineers have used to build the computer you’re using right now. Dark Matter is a blanket term for “too much gravity”. We see too much gravity. We suggest there’s unseen (“dark”) matter. People are now looking for what this matter could possibly be. Dark Energy is another blanket term. We see too much energy. We don’t know the source (i.e. it’s “dark”). There you have dark energy. Dark Matter and Dark Energy may be uncertain things, but the fact that the Electric Universe fails is not. It doesn’t have a leg to stand on.

I would be much more impressed by this ‘theory’ if it actually had real evidence in support of it, added to our understanding of astrophysics instead of denying it, made genuine testable predictions exceeding those of conventional cosmological theory, and explained the universe better than standard astrophysical theory does, and didn’t consist only of arguments attempting to refute trivial anomalies that the proponents of electric universe theory constantly claim as being in support of their idea, as if by discrediting standard astronomy and astrophysics that their doctrine wins by default, committing the false dichotomy fallacy.

As it stands, I am not at all impressed, nor amused, since EU theory proponents lack any real knowledge of the science they try to undermine. Even the physics they claim to advocate they fail to grasp, which elicits much pathos from my bleeding heart. How sad..

The Mythical ‘Psychology of the Skeptics’

It is nothing short of amazing how many believers in the paranormal, usually without the qualifications to know what they are talking about, but sometimes even those with the training to know better, try to expound upon the ‘psychology of the skeptics™’ and get their attempts at reading our minds so completely and utterly wrong. Nothing short of amazing…and amusing.

First, we skeptics are a pretty diverse bunch personality-wise, without a common theme or reason for being the way we are, so there is simply no such thing as a single universal generalization of ‘the’ personality type applicable to skeptics.

Second, a little look through any up-to-date psychology textbook or journal–yes, even those written by us ‘damned fundamentalist reactionary skeptics’–will reveal a wealth of data pertaining to the psychology of belief, from total incredulity to complete acceptance, without a need for a special psychological profile for skeptics. In most psychology studies on the causes and mechanisms of belief, skeptics are already entered into the equation–otherwise there would be nothing to compare with believers.

Most attempts by believers so far to ‘understand’ skeptics involve the use of logical fallacies, usually ad hominems (It’s comical that believers should be the ones to scream “ad hominem!” as loudly and often as they do, but so given to their liberal usage as well, but I digress…), straw man arguments, well-poisoning, the hasty generalization (using a few non-representative samples of skeptics and applying their motivations and personalities to all of us) and to support this generalization, the use of selective and often misrepresented quoting to validate their foregone conclusion.

These sloppy, unprofessional and ad hoc attempts at psychoanalysis of those who criticize their claims are simply rationalizations made by believers to justify their dislike of those of us who offend or shock their ‘delicate sensitivities.’ Pity pooh.

Lack of belief and refusal to believe are not the same. This is no arcane mystery, just basic psychology 101. When one confuses a lack of belief with a refusal to accept, and goes by the logic that as a skeptic, I must be deeply afraid of the paranormal because I don’t believe in it, one must also argue that I am deeply frightened of dragons, unicorns, faeries and flying pigs, because I don’t believe in them either. Please. That’s just silly. Do believers just not ‘get’ why we skeptics don’t take them seriously when they make claims like this?

For the record, I, a dogmatic cynical debunker™, am fascinated, not frightened, by the paranormal, like a moth to a flame, though I look at it with a more critical eye than I once did. Ever want to find out why and how any particular skeptic thinks the way they do? Just ask one. Really, how hard can that be, rather than just taking the lazy route and holding some wannabe pop psychologist’s word as gospel truth?

Astrology: Claudius Ptolemy’s Dubious Legacy

The geocentric Ptolemaic system of the univers...

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Astrology began as a form of divination, originally not so distinct from Astronomy as it is today, and is historically thought to have been invented by the Assyrians and Chaldeans about three millennia ago, culminating in the contributions of the “father of astrology,” Claudius Ptolemy in 150 C.E. in the reference work used by today’s Western astrologers, the Tetrabiblos.

Astrology’s central claim is that the relative positions of celestial bodies in the sky at the time of one’s birth have a real and measurable effect on one’s psychological makeup and destiny, a claim that has not stood up well to evidential scrutiny. Despite the fact that millions of people around the world believe in it, and have for thousands of years, there is no plausible, empirically testable mechanism by which it would work, and most of the evidence to date shows that it has no causative correlation to how we understand ourselves and our role or position in the universe at large.

Physics currently knows of only four fundamental forces: electromagnetism, gravity, and the strong and weak nuclear forces. Of these four, the last two have zero effect outside of an atomic nucleus, and the first two fall off in strength with the square of the distance from the source.

Of these, electromagnetism can be blocked or interfered with by various sorts of matter, which leaves gravity the most often cited as the source of astrological influences.

Let’s look closer at this: the Moon’s gravity causes tides, and humans being about 70% water, astrologers try to argue that these tidal forces also affect the water bound up in human bodies. I’m sure this is true, but the real question is whether it significantly affects humans, and whether this involves any effect on one’s personality from the moment of birth.

First, lunar tidal forces only notably affect fairly large bodies of water, such as really big lakes and up, and taking the law of universal gravitation into account, the obstetrician delivering a newborn has a much greater gravitational effect on the infant than does the moon or any other body in the solar system save the Earth itself.

As well, if gravity is the force of astrological influence as some claim, why don’t black holes, quasars and neutron stars, some of the most massive, gravitationally powerful objects in the universe exert their influence on our personalities and lives as well? Why do astrologers ignore them?

The planet Neptune was discovered by way of predictions made concerning its gravitational effect on Uranus’ orbit, and observations made using those predictions enabled us to find it.

If astrology is a science, why has it never discovered any previously unknown celestial objects by way of their astrological effects alone? What about a new force, unknown to science? It is certainly possible that some currently undiscovered force exists, but until it is actually detected, it’s existence is nothing more than an untested postulate, and is not acceptable as a viable mechanism for astrology.

There are a number of flaws in the original stellar observations and knowledge of those who wrote the manuals used by astrologers, errors which modern astrology has not seen fit to correct: Contrary to the beliefs of Ptolemy’s day, the Earth is not at the center of the Universe, nor are the motions of the planets overlapping circles, nor the sky a crystal dome and the Universe comprised of concentric crystal spheres in which the planets, moon or sun are imbedded.

Further, Ptolemaic astronomers knew of far fewer celestial objects than we know of today. They did not know about the planets Uranus, Neptune and the minor planets Pluto and Eris as well as a grunchload of planetary moons, their influence disregarded by all but the most workaholic astrologers.

It has been claimed that a horoscope must be cast for the year, month, day and time of day, as well as an individual’s geographic location of birth, but the data used in astrological charts for casting horoscopes today are flawed, as accurate methods of telling time have only been developed in the last few centuries, and the data derive from when the original charts were made and such means of telling time did not exist.

Also, since the writing of the Tetrabiblos, the axis of our planet has deviated so that the zodiacal constellations have shifted to the West about thirty degrees from their original locations given in Ptolemy’s book, and modern astrologers have not attempted to compensate for this. The ancient constellations of the zodiac no longer match up to their original locations in the sky, and in the modern zodiac, not officially recognized by astrologers, Ophiuchus, the Serpent-bearer, is the thirteenth sign, from November 30 to December 17, taking up a good chunk of Scorpio’s time, now November 23-29.

Farnsworth (1937) was unable to find any correspondence between artistic talent and either the ascendant sign or the sun in the sign of Libra for the dates of birth of 2,000 famous musicians and painters.

In 1941, Bok and Mayall were unable to find any predominance of any single sign of the zodiac among scientists listed in the American Men of Science directory.

In 1973, Barth and Bennett attempted a statistical study as to whether more men who had chosen a military career had been born under the influence of the planet Mars than those who had chosen non-military careers. No such correlation was found.

McGervey (1977) used a huge number of birth dates of politicians and scientists (6,475 & 16,634 respectively…) born on each day of the year and could find no relationship between their careers and astrological signs.

Further, in 1978, Bastedo did a statistical analysis to find out if those with such characteristics as leadership ability, political leanings, intelligence and 30 other variables often attributed to astrological influence would cluster on certain birth dates under signs that are said to govern those traits, and in a 1,000 person, cross sectional, stratified sample taken from the San Francisco Bay area, the results were completely negative.

The late Carl Sagan once commented, “Nothing will ever put astrologers out of business,” and considering that former president Ronald Reagan consulted an astrologer during his two terms in office, often on matters of state, it appears to me that maybe, just maybe, it’s astrologers, not the stars, who wield the real influence.

(Last Updated: 2011/09/18 – Image Updated/Links Added/Tags Added/No Other Changes)

If You Believe…Part II

The following is an installment based on last Thursday’s post If You Believe… which in turn was inspired by a post by Skepdude on the Skepfeeds blog

If you believe that those who are not members of your religion will be consigned to unpleasantness in the hereafter, whether in Hell, stuck in an infinite loop on the Karmic wheel, or in Cthulhu’s stomach, you’re wrong.

If you believe that the Piri Re’is Map of 1513 really shows Pleistocene Antarctica, and is an uncannily accurate depiction of the Earth as seen from space, you haven’t actually seen it, and you’re wrong.

If you believe that the Universe, the Earth, and all life were magically poofed into being in their current form by the spoken command of a God less than 10,000 years ago, you’re wrong.

If you believe that modern science is just a myth or narrative no more valid than any other in factual worth, you’re wrong.

If you believe that the evidence for paranormal phenomena is scientifically compelling, but rejected by a hidebound mainstream scientific establishment™, you’re wrong.

If you believe that having an open mind means credulously accepting at face value any wacky idea that ‘feels good’ to you, you’re wrong.

If you believe that the fantasy prone personality type is a myth because it provides a probable reason for having beliefs that you just happen to have, you’re wrong.

If you believe that cratering on planetary bodies is caused by scarring from giant electrical arcs and not asteroids, meteorites, or comets, you’re wrong.

If you believe that the Sun is powered by giant invisible electrical currents on its surface, and not by thermonuclear reactions in its core, you’re wrong.

If you believe that science can tell us nothing for not explaining absolutely everything, you’re wrong.

If you believe that Occam’s razor logically justifies belief in the paranormal and supernatural as the simplest explanations for what you think is unexplainable, you’re ignorant and you’re wrong.

If you believe that being an expert in one field instantly qualifies you as an expert in another, you’re wrong.

If you believe that you can argue logically and coherently against reason without merely affirming it in the process, you’re wrong.

If you believe that the Clever Hans effect is a myth because it is used to invalidate much animal and human ESP research, you’re wrong.

If you believe that personal experience is always an accurate guide to what is true or works, you’re wrong.

If I believe with absolute certitude that all of the above statements are infallibly true, well, dogmatic certainty is for fools, and I might be wrong.