Exposing PseudoAstronomy

June 9, 2012

Podcast Episode 39: Young-Earth Creationist Attempted Refutations of Radiometric Dating


A slightly delayed episode is finally up. Part 2 of the series of 2 on radiometric dating, part 2 of the series of 4 (this month’s theme) on dating techniques. I talk about four of the main categories of claims that young-Earth creationist arguments fall into in their attempts to refute radiometric dating.

It’s also the first regularly formatted episode since #35, including the main segment, new news, Q&A, feedback, puzzler, and announcements.

February 17, 2012

Is Skeptiko Host Alex Tsakiris a Willful Deceiver?


Introduction

I like to look at my stats page on WordPress to see what sites link up to me, how people get here. I thoroughly enjoy when RationalWiki links to me, using me as a source, and I recently found out that a new Alex Tsakiris page has an entire section devoted to my analysis of where Alex goes wrong in his attempts to argue scientifically.

I also saw that a blog, much much more popular than mine by Alex’s latest guest was linking to me – a blog by Dr. Jerry Coyne, an “outspoken atheist” according to how Alex bills him. In perusing the comments on that blog (which is where someone had linked to one of my previous posts), I noticed a claim that Alex’s transcripts were deliberately altered to change the guest’s meaning.

Update 2 days later: The errors referred to below have now been corrected.

On Transcripts

Now, a bit of explanation — Alex, on his Skeptiko website, provides transcripts of his interviews for every episode. In fact, I have used them before though I’ll note that in the body of every post where I talk about Alex, I have written my own transcript of the episode.

Several podcasts provide transcripts (my own, Skeptoid, Astronomy Cast, just to name a few), and I think they’re a valuable service. I understand that making transcripts of an interview is somewhat different than making one for a podcast episode that you’ve scripted out (which is why I don’t do transcripts of my own interview episodes). When I do transcripts, I simply copy-and-paste from what I wrote for the episode into the web page.

Evidence of Fraud?

However, it appears as though Alex – or whomever does his transcripts – has willfully and without notice altered his guest’s words.

Here is a screenshot that I took on Friday evening, February 17, 2012, of the episode with Dr. Coyne, #161

Alex Tsakiris' Transcript for Skeptiko Episode #161

Alex Tsakiris' Transcript for Skeptiko Episode #161

For word-searchability, here is the quote, copied-and-pasted from Alex’s site:

Alex Tsakiris: I’m just saying if they’re saying at the fundamental level of physics non-local theories are incompatible with what we observe, then I think it calls into question the things that we’re talking about in terms of Materialism, Determinism. Isn’t that the direct implication of what they’re saying?

Dr. Jerry Coyne: No! No, because they’re talking about what happens in a very, very tiny micro level. It does not mean that you can’t predict what happens when billiard balls hit each other on a billiard table for which quantum mechanics is perfectly applicable. It’s as if you’re saying we can’t play billiards and we can’t shoot rockets to the moon because of this stuff that happens on a micro level.

The fact is that assuming that these phenomena apply on most of the levels of reality that we deal with renders everything wrong is simply incorrect. For most micro-phenomenon you’re turning to quantum mechanics. It works fine. And in terms of evolution I don’t see how this quantum mechanics affects evolution at all. I mean, maybe it can affect mutation. You said that these people say that but that turned out to be something you made up. I don’t see how it can and even if it did it would not by any means render mutations non-random in the way that evolution has to mean that they’re random.

Reading that, as someone with a physics background Dr. Coyne is mistaken. Billiard balls hitting each other is obviously a Newtonian issue, otherwise if classical mechanics could not explain what goes on in a basic game of pool, then Quantum Mechanics would have been developed centuries before it was.

In the second paragraph, the statement about QM applying to micro-phenomenon is mostly correct (I’d argue nano, but whatever), though it doesn’t really lead logically into what he says next about QM not affecting evolution. It’s a totally new idea.

Tonight, I listened to the episode. At 12 minutes 58 seconds, I started to record my own transcript of what Dr. Coyne stated:

Dr. Jerry Coyne: No! No, because they’re talking about what happens in a very, very tiny micro level. It does not mean that you can’t predict what happens when billiard balls hit each other on a billiard table for which Newtonian mechanics is perfectly applicable. I mean, it’s as if you’re saying that we can’t play billiards or we can’t shoot rockets to the moon because of this stuff that happens on a micro level.

The fact is that assuming that these phenomena apply on most of the levels of reality that we deal with renders everything wrong is simply incorrect. I mean, for most macro-phenomenon, Newtonian or classical mechanics works fine. Um, and in terms of evolution I don’t see how this quantum mechanics affects evolution at all. I mean, maybe it can affect mutation. You said that these people say that but that turned out to be something you made up. Um, I don’t see how it can and even if it did it would not by any means render mutations non-random in the way that evolution has to mean that they’re random.

Notice a difference? Yeah. Whoever wrote the transcript on Alex’s site changed out “Newtonian mechanics” for “quantum mechanics” when talking about billiards, and changed “macro-phenomenon, Newtonian or classical mechanics works fine” to “micro-phenomenon you’re turning to quantum mechanics. It works fine.”

‘Cause, you know, they sound so similar.

Someone even has pointed this out to Alex on his comments for that episode:

Correcting Alex's Transcript for Skeptiko Episode #161

Correcting Alex's Transcript for Skeptiko Episode #161

There may be other examples — I chose not to listen to the entire hour-long episode with an eye on Alex’s transcript. Let me know if there are other examples. I really don’t know what to think on this one. I like to give people the benefit of the doubt. I was hoping that despite my two very extensive blog posts on Alex (here and here) that Alex just had his head down a rabbit hole, he’d drunk the Kool-Aid®, he was a true believer who sorta meant well and was blinded by his beliefs, etc. This, however — changing your own guest’s words in a transcript — changes things.

Hounding Alex on the Forum

Alex has a forum thread for this episode. On it, Alex was notified of the problems in the transcript here:

Where are Transcript Corrections

Where are Transcript Corrections

Alex acknowledged them about an hour later, and claimed he corrected them here:

Alex Acknowledging Corrections

Alex Acknowledging Corrections

So I went back to the page for the episode, reloaded it, cleared the cache and reloaded it and … the errors are still there. And as of adding this sentence, 19 hours later, the errors are still there. I’m not sure what Alex meant by “all better.”

Final Thoughts – You Make Up Your Own Mind on This One

I’m not saying these are huge issues and evidence of a conspiracy nor anything like that. It’s possible that in an hour-long program and longer spent writing a transcript, errors will happen. I’m somewhat willing to extend the benefit of the doubt on this. But when an error is pointed out and then is said to have been corrected but it hasn’t been, that brings it to a new level.

So, what do you think, folks?

And I’ll note that if the transcript ever does get updated (and someone lets me know – I’m only going to check it for another day or so), then I’ll of course update this post to let people know.

January 1, 2012

Podcast Episode 17: Gregg Braden and Data Mining


Quick post for a new Gregorian calendar year: Episode 17 of my podcast is now posted. This is a ~31-minute episode that focuses on two of the claims of Gregg Braden (which you may remember from this blog post about 45 days ago). I also use it as a case-study for the fallacious way of arguing known as “data mining.”

November 28, 2011

Mistakes in Science Apparently Means Creationism Is True


Introduction

I realize I haven’t posted in a few weeks other than for my podcast. Busy, blah blah blah. Anyway …

The post today centers around yet another Institute for Creation Research (ICR) article, this one by Christine Dao, their assistant editor. I’m not quite sure for what she is the assistant editor, but that’s her title. The article is, “Mistakes and Misconduct in Science.” Peter over at “Eye on the ICR” has already talked about some of the details of this latest piece of young-Earth creationism (YEC) propaganda and I suggest you read it if you’re interested in a detailed picking apart of the article. (He gets up crazy-early to write about these things. Or maybe it’s just ’cause he’s on the other side of the planet from me.)

The reason I’m doing a post on it is that I want to talk more about the process of how science works, how it is conducted, the self-correcting nature, and how this is the opposite of creationism.

Crux of the Nature Report

Ms. Dao’s basic premise is a recent Nature report entitled, “Science Publishing: The Trouble with Retractions” (unlike most articles, this one seems free to the public to read, so go ahead and follow the link to read it).

The report (the point of which the ICR article misses) really talks mostly about attitudes among journals and journal editors with regards to retractions and the reasons for retractions. It also mentioned some numbers — mainly that the number of retractions these days is around 0.02% of all papers published. And that in one week alone, around 27,000 papers are published. That means, if we multiply by about 52, over 1.4 million papers are published in scientific journals each year, and 2,800 of those will eventually be retracted.

Fascinating.

Crux of the ICR Article

Ms. Dao seems to make a really big issue of this tiny number. She blows it way out of proportion – as I’ve shown YECs are wont to do – and somehow says that because there are a tiny number of retractions, with a small percentage of those due to fraud, this means that evolution is wrong. I’m serious. Go read her last two paragraphs if you don’t believe me.

Scientific Process

Something that Ms. Dao either does not know or willfully ignores is that scientists know this. We know that not 100% – or 99.98% – of papers published in journals are going to bear the test of time and further research. No scientist thinks that. In my undergraduate education, we would have a weekly seminar in the astronomy department where we read a paper and discussed it and decided whether or not we thought the results were valid.

This is something called critical thinking where you analyze things and decide whether or not they make sense in light of all the other observable evidence. Probably the reason Ms. Dao chooses to ignore this is because YEC does not hold up to critical thinking, but more on that in the next section.

In fact, far from 100% of published papers being “right,” various studies have shown that at least 30-40% of them will later be falsified based upon new data, observations, experiments, and theory. This is not a secret. It’s how science works. It is self-correcting over time because everything is subject to further testing and independent analysis.

Creationism Process

Goddidit.

Creationism Process, Expanded

I’ve used this diagram before in a lengthy post on the scientific method, but it bears repeating here:

Flow Cart Showing the Scientific Method

Flow Chart Showing Faith-Based 'Science'

The flow chart shows the basic process that most biblical literalists use to vet new information. They may get an idea, or hear of something. Let’s use a young-Earth creationist mainstay, Earth’s magnetic field (previous blog on this, podcast on this). Data shows that Earth’s field has gone through reversals in polarity at many points in the past. The data is clearly out there for anyone to examine, and it is unambiguous that crustal rocks record a flip-flopping magnetic field.

Now, does it fit in the Bible? Creationists such as Kent Hovind say that it does not. The result is that alternating magnetic fields are simply not possible. To quote him: “That’s simply baloney [that there are magnetic reversals in the rocks]. There are no ‘reversed polarity areas’ unless it’s where rocks flipped over when the fountains of the deep broke open. … This is a lie talking about magnetic ‘reversals.'” (Taken from his Creation Science Evangelism series, DVD 6:1.)

Alternatively, Russell Humphreys, of Answers in Genesis, accepts that there have been magnetic reversals, as he is able to fit it into a reading of the Bible. He explains the field reversals as rapidly taking place during the 40 24-hr days of Noah’s Flood. Hence, because they are able to fit it into the Bible, they accept it as a dogma.

Creationism Retractions?

Ms. Dao makes much ado about almost nothing in terms of retractions in scientific literature. Something she doesn’t tell you are how many retractions there have been in the creationist literature. Obviously the Bible has never been retracted, except for those books that aren’t accepted (like the recently discovered Gospel of Judas, or the Book of Ezekial). But I’m talking things like the articles the ICR, AiG, or CMI puts out that I and many others have picked to shreds over the years. Or perhaps their own journals, like the ARJ (Answers Research Journal) or the Journal of Creation. Any retractions?

The most I have ever seen is AiG’s list of “Arguments Creationists Should Avoid, which CMI copied and expanded, or when Brian Thomas of the ICR changed his article based, perhaps, on my criticisms (see the post-script in that blog post).

In fact, far from a retraction, Creation Ministries International still has its article by Andrew Snelling entitled, “Solar Neutrinos – the Critical Shortfall Still Elusive” that discusses the solar neutrino “problem.” (For information on this, see my blog post on it.) The article is still in its online index for their Journal of Creation with no indication that it was retracted. The only thing you get is in the HTML version where the editor notes that the argument was valid for the time but “that the shortfall problem seems to have been solved. Therefore creationists should no longer use this as an ‘age’ argument.” If that’s what passes for a retraction, these guys should run for Congress.

Final Thoughts

Yes, maybe half of papers published in journals now will be found later on to not be valid in the light of further study. This is true. This does not mean that evolution is not true. It means that creationists would do better to understand a topic before attempting to criticize it if they care at all about intellectual honesty. But that’s a different blog post …

November 10, 2011

Mike Bara’s New-Agey Anti-Science Beliefs, from Bad Geometry to Astrology to Exploding Planets


Introduction

In the latest episode of my podcast, I interviewed a man, “Expat,” about some of the claims of another man, Mike Bara. In setting up the interview with Expat, I agreed to limit the scope of the interview to just cover his call into the show and very closely related claims.

However, during Mike Bara’s interview on Coast to Coast AM on November 10, 2010, he made many many basic science claims, errors, and outright pseudoscience statements. On this “Baraversary” of his interview on Coast to Coast, I wanted to delve a little more in-depth into some of his other claims.

About the Man, Mike Bara

I rarely go into someone’s detailed past or give a short biography, but since this post is about him and his claims, I thought it would be informative to give a little bit of context. My background on him is that he hooked up with Richard Hoagland a few years ago and co-authored Dark Mission: The Secret History of NASA. Already by this point, you know the man is a conspiracy hypothesist, believes pareidolia-based observations are the real deal, and employs some magical thinking and numerology as he agrees with Hoagland’s mythos (which I’ve written about before and will write about again).

After listening to him talking for three hours and taking copious notes about what he says, I can also tell you that he can be classified in general as “new agey” and a general “modern science denialist.” That latter classification is not one I make lightly, but I do for him.

That’s my impression. In complete and total fairness, I’ll also give you what he says in his own words, copied and pasted on November 10, 2011, from his about page:

“A self-described “Born Again conspiracy theorist,” Mike’s first book Dark Mission-The Secret History of NASA (co-authored with the venerable Richard C. Hoagland) was a New York Times bestseller in 2007 for Feral House books. His essay “The Occult History of NASA” appears in Secret and Suppressed II, also from Feral House. Mike has made numerous public appearances lecturing on the subjects of space science, NASA, physics and the link between science and spirit, and has been a featured guest on radio programs like Coast to Coast AM with George Noory. He began his writing career after spending more than 25 years as a “Card carrying member of the Military-Industrial complex” where he worked for a wide variety of aerospace companies as an engineering consultant and designer. In 2010, Mike returns with “The Choice” a new book for New Page Books which he describes as “The unified field theory of physics and metaphysics.” He promises that “The Choice” will peel back the layers of mystery around the Mayan calendar, 2012 and the future we can expect if we don’t heed nature’s warning signs.”

So you can see that I’m not being unfair in my painting of him as a new-ager nor a conspiracist.

He also looks kinda badass in his photo, like he’d be at home on a noisy motorcycle — much cooler than I do. This is a totally irrelevant point, but since I rarely talk specifically about a person, I thought I’d bring it up in the rare case when I do.

The next several sections are my attempt to organize the basic statements made by him during his Nov. 10, 2010, C2C interview.

Hyperdimensional Physics

Bara is an ardent believer in Richard Hoagland’s hyperdimensional physics. Starting in hour 2 at 12 minutes 29 seconds in, he claims that hyperdimensional physics means that everything is connected to something higher, a higher spatial dimension, which is where energy comes from. At 13:16 into hour 2, he states, “I can back up all this stuff that we’ve all believed in … with some actual physics and physical experiments that pretty much prove that the so-called ‘laws of physics’ that we’re taught in school, really aren’t real, they don’t really work, and they kinda fall apart when you get into them a bit, and there’s something much richer and much more beautiful … a more elegant solution, and that’s the theory of hyperdimensional physics.”

This is a very bold claim, to be able to turn over all of modern physics. It would be nice if he presented actual evidence of this that were well documented. Unfortunately for him, he does not. Throughout the episode when asked about this, what he does seem to harp on is that during eclipses, pendulums will move backwards or change their rate of swing. Bara presents this, for example, at 11:15 into the third hour: “Free-swinging pendulums [before eclipses will] be swinging with the rotation of the earth suddenly start going very rapidly backwards against the rotation of the Earth.”

I actually assumed this was total nonsense, but I was intrigued to find, after 5 seconds on Google, that it’s only total nonsense the way he explained it. There is an actual named effect, the Allais effect (named after frenchman Maurice Allais who later won a Nobel Prize in economics). You can read more about it on everyone’s favorite website, Wikipedia. The effect is that Allais observed that during a total solar eclipse, the rate of swing of a pendulum changed very slightly.

To summarize, experiments about a decade ago on normal pendulums found that the very very very slight differences in period could be easily accounted for by changes in temperature and air currents during an eclipse. The effects on a torsion pendulum (one that twists rather than swings) have been unreplicatable after they’ve been reported. This can really be summarized (as Wikipedia nicely does) by: “No unambiguous detections [of an Allais effect] within the past 30 years when consciousness of the importance of [experimental] controls was more widespread” (original source, subscription required).

So, the evidence for this seems to be a tiny effect that can be explained conventionally or an effect that does not exist.

But perhaps I’m closed-minded about hyperdimensional physics because I don’t believe in God. Bara states at 21:47 in hour two, “[Scientists] don’t want to admit that there’s a god, and that’s another reason why hyperdimensional physics is not accepted.” Um … sure. Not.

Bara 0, Science 1.

Astrology

And auras and crystals and consciousness. He believes in all that, clearly explicitly states it, but I want to focus in this section more on the astrology (though this will be short). I’ve written quite a bit about astrology before. If interested in the short version, I recommend this post first. If interested in reading more, I recommend this post second. Or, if you’d rather listen, I can now link you to my podcast episode on astrology (ep. 6 for those who already subscribe but want to re-listen).

Anyway, there are several short quips about astrology in the C2C interview, so it’s a bit hard to pull out a true gem. I’ve chosen the one at 37:55 in hour 2:

George Noory: “I mean, you’re even a believer in astrology now, aren’t you?”

Mike Bara: “Yeah well you know again, that goes back – that goes back to the hyperdimensional physics because the idea is that the planets are generating energy, which is traveling through these higher dimensions, and it is like this wave after wave of energy affecting us here on this planet. And, uh, there’s lots of, uh, interesting cases, there’s lots of experiments that show that-that this is really the case. That the planets and their positions relative to the Earth do have an effect, not just on physical instruments here, but actually on the way we think! And our consciousness.”

As an example – “the best example” – he tells a story of John Nelson in the 1950s who tried to find out why short-wave radio signals went wonky sometimes. Bara claims that he (Nelson) found a correlation with planetary positions and activity on the sun which Bara says is evidence for this: When the astrology for the planets said good things should happen, the sun was quiet, and then the opposite was the case. If you do a Google search for this (as I just did), you will find this study reported on astrology sites and … yeah, Richard Hoagland’s site in an article written by Bara. A bit more digging and you can actually find a PDF of the article Nelson wrote which was NOT in a peer-reviewed journal, but it was in a technical memo for RCA. The abstract clearly does state that Bara is not misrepresenting the basic findings from Nelson:

“An examination of shortwave radio propagation conditions over the North Atlantic for a five-year period, and the relative position of the planets in the solar system, discloses some very interesting correlations. As a result of such correlations, certain planetary relationships are deduced to have specific effect on radio propagation through their influence upon the sun. Further investigation is required to fully explore the effect of planet positions on radio propagation in order that the highly important field of radio weather forecasting may be properly developed.”

There are several important things to note here. First, this was not peer-reviewed meaning that there was no external unbiased rigorous check of his work. Second, correlation does not equal causation. Third, this was a single study, and even if 100% true and valid, it has not been replicated by anyone else that I have been able to find (I searched for about a half hour). Fourth, it has not been used to actually make predictions, which all testable hypotheses must.

Fifth, there is overwhelming science showing that astrology does not work, that it is nothing but magical thought and cold (and sometimes hot) reading. I don’t even think I need to refer to argument from authority vs. scientific consensus here (but I did anyway …). At 12:22 in the third hour, though, Bara stated, “If the planets can affect radio signals, then they can also affect our brainwaves.”

At the absolute very least, one can conclusively state that this does not prove astrology affects our “consciousness.” And if this is the best evidence, well, that’s sad.

Bara 0, Science 2.

2012 Galactic Alignment

It’s nice when one’s research involves going back into their own blog archives. In this case, for background in why the 2012 purported galactic alignment is not worth the electrons its printed on, I’ll refer you to this post of mine.

With that out of the way, Bara stated during the second hour at 27:48 into the hour: “We do get hit by a pulse of energy from the center of the galaxy right around this December 21[, 2012] period, in fact it goes for about a month before and a month after that where we’re really in this energetic pulse from the center of the galaxy at this time.” Then he went on to say that the energy is neutral and we can choose whatever we want to come out of it and it’ll happen. (Did I mention that the tagline for his book, The Choice, is, “You’ve heard of The Secret, now you can make The Choice”?) He also states around 10 minutes into the third hour, “We are aligned with the center of the galaxy [around the winter solstice].” Again, see my post linked in the paragraph above. And he brings in astrology. See the section before this one.

I’m not even going to go into detail on this. For this claim, it’s up to him to provide the evidence for this energy blast. What it is, what it’s made of (since “energy” is not a nebulous thing that just passes through stuff like new-agers think), why we need to go through an alignment that isn’t actually happening, etc. Otherwise …

Bara 0, Science 3.

Planets: Burped at Birth, Exploded at Death

In addition to this other stuff, Bara is a fan of the idea “planets were given birth to by the sun, the sun spewed the plants out, kinda from her belly” (16:31 into hour 2). Because of this, the planets are connected, and all our woes today are because there are missing planets, “quite obviously” the missing one between Mars and Jupiter (“Planet V”), of which Mars used to be a moon. When you lose planets in the system, you have less life energy and the “system gets out of harmony.” As evidence, “What happens is the Earth is tilted off its vertical axis by about 23°, and that makes us vulnerable to different waves of energy that are created when different planetary geometries – that is, the orbits of the planets around the Earth affect what’s going on here, they affect physical instruments, things like pendulums, they swing backwards during eclipses” (starting at 18:46 into hour 2).

So yeah, back to pendulums with a really really wonky idea of solar system / planetary formation, including the completely fallacious idea that the asteroid belt was once a planet and Mars was somehow its moon (“Mars itself which was absolutely devastated by … Planet V, the signatures are all over Mars” (18:20)). I actually do plan to go into the whole “exploding planet ‘hypothesis'” in some future blog post and likely in some future podcast episode, as well. For now, I hope that most people recognize that this is very hard to make happen by any known process, and the onus is on Mike Bara to really provide VERY convincing theory and evidence for why it’s the case. Yeah, I’m punting, but this is a LONG post.

I’ll forgo scoring this one for now. Someone remind me when I do that future post to add a link here.

Scientists Don’t Know Not’in’

This is very common in many new-ager claims or those of pseudoscientists or “amateur scientists:” Professional scientists are too entrenched in their thinking to really “get it.” Bara talks about this quite a bit starting around 22.5 minutes into hour two of the program. Among other gems are that evolution is wrong and Lloyd Pye is the guy to believe on this. (Lloyd Pye is the infamous “caretaker” of the “Starchild Skull” as well as the author of Everything You Know is Wrong (where “You” refers to him if you even get a page or two into the book), and he believes that ancient ETs were what created or at least modified us to be as we are today. Yes, that’s the person whom Bara would like us to believe about human origins and evolution.)

One particular gem was spoken starting at 24:03 in hour 2:

“There was only about 30% of the matter necessary to be holding the universe together. What does the physicist and the astronomer do? Do they say, ‘Oh, well gee, maybe our ideas are wrong.’ Um, no, they say, ‘Well the matter must actually be out there, it’s just invisible, we can’t see it, we can’t measure it, we’ll call it “dark matter” and we’ll start to look for it.’ [laughs] It’s just ridiculous ’cause what’s holding everything together is what’s literally the hand of god through a force that I talk about a lot in The Choice which is called ‘torsion.'”

Yeah, that’s right, instead of an extra term in Newtonian gravity or there being material out there that does not interact with light but does interact with other matter (that is the definition of dark matter), it’s God. It’s really difficult to know where to start here. So I won’t bother. I’ll refer you to wiki to get an overview of dark matter, and then for laughs I’ll refer you to my post on how Conservapedia calls dark matter a liberal pseudoscience.

As I noted with the galactic alignment, at the very least, Bara needs to provide evidence at least as convincing as the conventional explanation for his ideas to be even considered. Though I guess you can always claim “God can do anything” (by definition, right?), but that’s not science.

Bara 0, Science 4.

Ellipses in Planetary Orbits

It seems fitting that the section after I talk about Bara’s claim that is summarized as “scientists don’t know anything,” that I should come to this last one about ellipses that shows Bara knows less than the average middle school geometry student. I discussed this with Expat in the podcast, but it really bears repeating here, with diagrams.

On page 34 of The Choice, Bara states: “Many of the planet’s orbits, which … should be perfectly circular by now, are highly elliptical. In fact, Mars’s orbit is so eccentric that its distance from Earth goes from 34 million miles at its closest to 249 million miles at its greatest.”

It’s really simply incredibly stupid of Mike to claim that Mars’ orbit is highly eccentric because it comes as close as about 0.38 A.U. (“astronomical unit” is the distance between the sun and Earth) but goes as far as 2.67 A.U. (Actually, in fairness, the numbers that he gives equate to 0.37 A.U. and 2.68 A.U.; he and I rounded slightly differently.) Therefore it’s an eccentric orbit that’s evidence for his fission model of solar system formation.

The problem here, for those who didn’t listen to the podcast or don’t remember their middle school geometry is that you measure the long and short axis of an ellipse from the center of the ellipse. Not some crackpot arbitrary point inside or outside of it. In this case, the sun is one of the foci of the ellipse that is Mars’ orbit. The sun is one of the foci of ALL solar system objects that are in orbit. Earth is not. Measuring your axes from Earth is just stupid. It’s made up. It makes no sense. It has to be one of the stupidest things I’ve ever talked about on this blog, and that’s saying a lot.

It’s as though Bara missed math classes after 5th grade, missed the Copernican Revolution that started over 500 years ago, heliocentrism in third grade, and then he simply lies about it that he didn’t claim he said what he did, and then he makes the original claim again.

Bara 0, Science 5. Though I’d like to count this last point more as ∞ because of its shear stupidity, so … we’ll just wrap it up with Bara 0, Science ∞.

Final Thoughts

This was a long post and took me over two hours to write. There’s a lot in here. I return, though to what I wrote in the background on the man. I think he is anti-science and is so clouded by his sense of new-ageyness that he clearly refuses to admit that he may be wrong about something or that the conventional explanation is real.

His many claims that are related to astronomy are, well, many. I’ve gone over six in this post in some detail. Every single one is wrong. But when challenged, as was clear in my interview with Expat, Bara goes on the attack and defense, lashing out at the accuser, calling them a stalker, crazy, obsessed, etc., that nothing he said is wrong, and then refuses to address it in any way. From a psychology standpoint, it’s quite interesting. From an intellectual standpoint, well, there simply is none. There is no sense of intellect there that can be addressed.

October 24, 2011

What Does It Mean to Be “Anti-Science?”


Introduction

In my and other skeptically minded blogs, you will often read us either explicitly or by implication state that something we’re arguing against is unscientific, or it is anti-science. In the current political climate, you will often hear the Republican party being referred to as the “Anti-Science Party” by its detractors. Phil Plait has been a good example of that over the past several months with his numerous posts about climate change denial within the crop of Republican presidential candidates.

But what does “anti-science” actually mean? In the latest episode of the ID The Future podcast, the new host David Boze rants discusses for about 16 minutes that “anti-science” is actually a political term meant to stymie detractors of “Darwinian Evolution.”

The Claim

The entire podcast can really be summarized by what David states starting at 15 minutes 28 seconds into the episode: “The anti-science label is clearly a political tool designed to eliminate debate between proponents of intelligent design and proponents of Darwinian evolution. And, since we’ve demonstrated the common use of this label is false, when you hear it being hurled at those who disagree with Darwinian evolution, you can point out it’s unscientific to use the term.”

The Evidence

David spends the 15 minutes before this in a very scripted argument for his case. As his evidence, he focuses on pretty much the single – at least the most outspoken – candidate for the Republican presidential nomination who has called his fellow candidates out as being “anti-science.” This man would be John Huntsman, President Obama’s former ambassador to China, and a man whom Conservapedia refers to as a “RINO” (Republican in name only).

Huntsman has very publicly stated that he accepts the evidence for evolution and trusts climate scientists that climate change is real, that overall it is warming, and humans are very likely a major contributor to it currently. This is as opposed to the rest of the candidates who, as a whole, deny climate change at all and are mostly biblical creationists (at least the most outspoken ones are).

In his main statements, and especially in the ones that David Boze used for this podcast episode, Huntsman has clearly focused on climate change and evolution. David even states that in the middle of the podcast before saying that, for brevity, he’s going to cut out the comments on global warming.

He then focuses entirely on the evolution parts. And uses that to say that clearly all Huntsman is talking about as “anti-science” is people who don’t fully accept an “atheistic Darwinian evolution.”

David goes into some of the US’s founding fathers, including Benjamin Franklin (since Huntsman did), and laughingly says that Franklin was not an evolutionist (obviously not since Darwin’s theory was not published until 1859). He talks about Abraham Lincoln (since Huntsman brought him up as an example of a non-anti-science Republican), and says that evolution was not high on Lincoln’s domestic policy. Again, obviously not since the theory was published only two years before the civil war. Brings of Nixon, Reagan, and Bush (again, since Huntsman did) and points out that clearly a scientific dark age did not happen when any of these men were in the White House (though this is an arguable point with the later Bush), the implication being that they were not strict atheistic evolutionists therefore under Huntsman’s alleged position, they should have brought down Western society.

All this is evidence, according to David Boze, that the term “anti-science” means “doubts Darwin” and is a political label and doesn’t mean anything else.

Can We Say “Cherry Pick” and “Persecution Complex?”

If you’ve read this far, you’ve probably figured out from my tone that David has committed some HUGE leaps in logic that betray his ideology and doom his position. Two very obvious ones are cherry picking and at least a persecution complex if not an outright argument from persecution.

Mr. Boze has chosen ONE example of ONE person using the term “anti-science.” He has cherry-picked that ONE person’s use to focus on ONE topic, despite clearly stating just a few minutes earlier that he had used it in reference to TWO topics. That in and of itself should lead an objective, curious, and interested person to doubt his conclusions.

What Does “Anti-Science” Actually Mean?

The reality of the term is that we use it to mean anyone who disagrees with basic, objective, scientific data and disagrees with established scientific theories (where I use the term “theory” as a scientist). In politics these days, yes, it is mainly used in reference to climate change and evolution. Less frequently in politics, it is also used in regards to health care (especially vaccinations), abortion, energy policy, education policy, the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), and even basic mathematics.

I tend to use it – again either explicitly or implied – to refer to some people or ideas I discuss on my blog. I do try not to over-use it or paint with too broad a brushstroke. I don’t think that someone like Richard Hoagland, for example, is anti-science; I think he’s just deluded. Same with Andrew Basiago.

I wouldn’t even label most astrologers nor UFOlogists as anti-science except for maybe when they pull the special pleading argument of, “Oh, well you can’t test this because it’s untestable within the current scientific paradigm.” Right. It works until there’s a skeptic in the room and then it magically fails. Have you met my pet invisible dragon?

However, I talk about young-Earth creationism quite a bit here, and I would consider most creationists to be anti-science. They use science only when it can bolster their position, and misinterpret or plain ol’ deny it when it disagrees with their position and beliefs. That’s anti-science.

And yet, I label them as anti-science not because of their position on evolution, but because of their stances on comets, magnetic field data, the moon’s recession rate, basic physics of spiral galaxies, cosmology, and a slew of other topics. I have never actually directly addressed evolution in a post on this blog. I may have talked about it peripherally, such as in this post, but it’s never been the focus.

Surely my use of the term “anti-science” is just as valid as John Huntsman’s, which is surely more valid than the quote-mined version that David used.

Final Thoughts

Anti-science means, in my book, that you refuse to accept basic fundamental scientific methodology and/or results. It can be on a specific, sacred cow topic of yours such as whether or not Earth is hollow. It can be on broad topics based on your framework of biblical literal-ness. Being “anti-science” does not mean that you have to reject everything discovered in the last ~400 years.

And that’s where David Boze’s foray into the topic, I think, fails. He has an ideological persecution complex, sees it used in one way by a politician, focuses on half of that person’s argument, and then claims that anti-science means that you don’t accept atheistic evolution.

Sorry, David, my faith is not strong enough for those leaps.

October 14, 2011

The New-Age Conspiratorial World of Gregg Braden


Introduction

I started listening to Coast to Coast AM somewhat regularly when I started to “get into” modern science-based skepticism. I wanted to know what the “true-believers” thought and to learn about all sorts of ideas that are out there. Often, the ideas are anti-“establishment,” which is why they are a supporter of Ron Paul or “alternative medicine.” Often they’re “new-agey.” Sometimes they’re both.

Sometimes they’re so over the top that you have a difficult time believing people actually think that. Sometimes the people on the show (often, actually) will distort the actual facts to support their claims. Sometimes they will make them up.

This long rambling introduction is to point out all of the things that various C2C guests bring. The one I’m going to discuss here brings in all of them. This is a somewhat long post, but there is a lot to say about Gregg Braden. If you’re wondering who this person is, I’m not going to give a short bio section, rather I’m going to illustrate his views through time throughout this post, like dipping a candle in successive colors.

Through Time

I first got curious about this person last weekend when I was looking at the C2C schedule for the week ahead and saw he was on. I did a search through the ~135 gigabytes of episodes I have of C2C for the past two decades. His name popped up not infrequently, so I started to listen to him starting with his 1999 interview conducted by Art Bell. (Note that he had been on earlier shows, at least dating back to 1992, but I do not have those.)

I listened to about 16 hours of interview, and then I re-listened to about half of them to pull out the quotes and points I wanted to use for this (and maybe an eventual podcast).

The “Early” Years – Pre-2001

Okay, technically I only had one episode from February 5, 1999, and then the next was in 2006. But based on later material, things changed for Braden in the few years after Sept. 11, 2001. I’ll talk about that later.

During this earlier time, Braden comes off as your standard new-agey anti-establishment person: Darwinism is evil, consciousness rules. There really wasn’t much unique about his message.

He was an avid advocate of “free energy” devices, claimed there was copious evidence that our DNA was currently evolving rapidly even though he doesn’t “believe” in evolution, that through consciousness we can “activate junk DNA” and do kewl stuff, and generally ranted for four whole hours on how scientists won’t let the “real” knowledge out to the general public. Fairly run-of-the mill, really.

May 6, 2006 Interview

In this interview, I noticed something of a shift in Braden’s attitude. While he was still hawking his books and advocating his ideas, he seemed to have shifted more towards alleged evidence for his claims and “research” he was doing. This was much more evident in the later interviews (next section).

January 6, 2008 Interview

Now we really got into the idea of “let’s throw out some sciencey stuff that sounds more real than what I peddled a decade ago” (no, he didn’t actually say that, that was my impression).

He makes a few interesting claims. The first I noted down is during hour 2 of the program at 17 minutes into the hour, he states that Nature (one of the top science journals in the world) published a study by Silvertooth in volume 322, August 26, 1986, page 590. It’s actually August 14, but I’ll forgive that. (Here’s the “study,” subscription required.) Problem is that this was not an article Nature “published,” it’s a letter that they included that spans less than 1/3 of a page. In it, Ernest W. Silvertooth claims to have conducted an experiment that proved there is an “ether” through which light propagates, disproving General Relativity, and the famous Michelson-Morley Experiment (conducted where I got my undergraduate degree … a century earlier).

Interesting. It’s a letter to the editor. Not peer-reviewed. Silvertooth’s name shows up on Anti-Relativity.com. And the only way he got a paper out is by publishing it himself. And yet Braden claims this is undeniable proof that scientists won’t let the secrets of the universe out and that this guy irrefutably showed that the standard ideas are not real.

However, he takes this a step further to say that the “ether” is not just a medium through which light travels, rather it’s the general consciousness field in which we all exist.

Later in the interview, in hour 3, starting at 8:25 in, he states:

“What our own science has found is that our heart is the strongest electrical field generator in the body, and it is the strongest magnetic field generator in the body, and the reason that’s important is our physical world hinges largely on electric and magnetic fields. … [In atoms,] if we change EITHER the electric or magnetic field, we can change and influence the way that atom behaves, and our heart creates BOTH, not just one or the other. …

“(9:37) And this is why feelings in our heart are so much more powerful than thoughts in our mind, because our own science now is telling us that our heart creates electrical fields that are 60-100x stronger than the fields of our brain. … And magnetic fields 5000x stronger from our heart than those of the brain, and that explains to us why thoughts aren’t as powerful … and it’s much easier to heal and create peace and alter our physical reality from our hearts than it is through our thoughts, and our hearts are where we have the feelings, and the beliefs, that communicate with this field and connects everything.”

Got all that? I warned you he’s a new-ager. But he made some specific statements. The easy first one to check on is the field strength of the heart and brain. According to this source, the brain’s value is on the order of 0.1-1.0 pT, or picoTesla (10-12 = 1 pico). And according to this source, the strength of the heart is around 10 pT. So he’s sorta right in his first statement that at the extremes, the heart’s magnetic field at the surface of the body is 100x stronger than the brain’s. But not 5000x as he states a few sentences later. And it bears mentioning that Earth’s field is on the order of 10-4 T at Earth’s surface, or 107 times stronger than the human heart’s as measured from the surface of the body.

He also was talking about how magnetic and electric fields are different, which I really don’t want to get into in this post, but basically he’s stretching the truth.

The kicker comes about 14 minutes 55 seconds into the episode where he states:

“This is how science is kinda backing into the fact that we are connected with our world. They’re seeing that the human heart – literally – can change the physical stuff our physical world is made of through this electric and magnetic fields. And they’re also finding that we’re literally tuned to layers of the atmosphere of the Earth through these fields.”

Yeah. Please show your work.

March 17, 2009 Interview

At this point, he is invested more fully in the idea of his Institute of HeartMath and Global Coherence project and he starts to bring in alleged evidence for his claims. This was where I really got interested, and frankly it’s about the only part that really gets into the topics I discuss on this blog (astronomy, physics, geology).

Its within these that he adopts the standard “amateur science” motif that we ridicule in skepticism: He misinterprets basic data and misrepresents other data (one could call it lying, but that implies I actually know that he knew he was doing these things, and I don’t — at the very least, he is sorely mistaken and data-mines).

I already addressed the whole atom an magnetic field and electric field and heart-brain fields with the 2006 interview. And evolution with the 1999 interview. He also talks about 2012 in this one, but there’s really nothing new he contributes to the mythos so I don’t want to go into it here.

He also makes a specific reference to another Nature paper about the Milky Way’s black hole and energy shooting towards us, saying it’s by “Rhode and Miller” in volume 434, October 2004. Problem is that volume 434 is for March-April 2005, and October 2004 is in volume 431. I searched all and could not find it. So much for that.

He even carries on again with a basic rant 15 minutes in about how the ancients knew everything and we know nothing. But I’m not going to go into that, either

Nay, the one I want to talk about here comes from this rather lengthy quote from the March 17, 2009 interview:

“2001, scientists were measuring the geomagnetic field of the Earth, from two satellites, one int he Northern Hemisphere, one in the Southern Hemisphere, called GOES … . Every 30 minutes they send back a signal that tells the strength of the magnetic field … and it fluctuates, but it’s always within this range. And in 2001, all of a sudden, there was a big spike in this field, and scientists said, ‘Well, you know, what happened to the magnetic field of the Earth to create this change?’ They overlaid the data onto the calendar, and it’s probably no surprise to our listeners, that the date was Sept. 11, 2001. And it was 15 minutes after the first plane struck the first tower in the World Trade Center that the magnetic fields of the Earth showed this big spike. …

“That led to a series of studies that showed that it was the collective emotions of humans on this planet that had such a profound effect on the magnetic field of the Earth that our satellites, 22,000 miles above the surface, detected this change, and these scientists said, ‘Woah! That means that we are literally … part of the field that sustains the life on Earth.’ That led to a series of experiments that showed that when many people learn to create this quality of emotion inside of their hearts that the magnetic fields of the Earth convey this change to all life on Earth, and that is what I think the opportunity of our time in history is all about.”

In fact, he has this in print, in his book Fractal Time a short excerpt I found on scribd.com:

“September 2001, two geostationary operational environmental satellites (GOES) orbiting the earth detected a rise in global magnetism that forever changed the way scientists view our world and us. The GOES-8 and GOES-10 each showed a powerful spike of Earth’s magnetic-field strength in the readings they broadcast every 30 minutes. It was the magnitude of the spikes and the time they occurred that first called them to the scientists’ attention.

“From a location of about 22,300 miles above the equator, GOES-8 detected the first surge, followed by an upward trend in the readings that topped out at nearly 50 units (nanoteslas) higher than any that had been typical for the same time previously. The time was 9a.m. eastern standard time, 15 minutes after the first plane hit the World Trade Center and about 15 minutes before the second impact.”

Yes, those were long. The bottom-line claim here is that Earth’s magnetic field was altered by human emotion during the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York City. This is similar to claims by the Global Consciousness Project, but different. The nice thing is that this is highly objective data that’s easy to find and check. Which I did. I even contacted the institution that runs the GOES to get a bit of help and information (thanks to Dan Wilkinson and Ted Haberman).

For brief background, GOES are and have been many different satellites, and they are periodically launched and decommissioned as one wears out and technology advances. We’re now on GOES 11 and 13 as the main two, though GOES 12, 14, and 15 are in orbit. In September 2001, GOES 8 and 10 were in operation (it looks like there were some issues with GOES 11 at that time).

These satellites orbit at about 6.6 Earth radii from the planet, and our magnetic field extends to about 10 Earth radii, so it is correct that they can measure the magnetic field, and they do contain instruments to measure magnetic fields at their location. Though they send back data that’s binned in 5-minute intervals, not 30-minute intervals.

The data that Braden and others present at their Global Coherence Institute is the exact image below (I’m directing to their web site so you know I’m not making it up).

Global Coherence Image for GOES Data on Sept. 11, 2001

Global Coherence Image for GOES Data on Sept. 11, 2001

Looks kinda interesting. The field is varying between about 50 and 125 nT (nanoTeslas) in the four days leading up to Sept. 11, 2001, and then it spikes to 173 nT as seen from one satellite and 153 nT as seen from another. Then it seems to vary slightly more than it had in the few days after. Do we have something here? Are they making these data up?

Actually, they’re not. The data do show that spike. You can view it for yourself here for GOES 8 or here for GOES 10.

So now the logical question in evaluating this claim is, “They’re showing a week-long window. What does the field look like at other times? What’s the normal variability?” And let’s avoid any idea they might claim of contamination from the craziness of that month.

To answer that, I chose a random month and I skipped back to June 2001. The data I show below (all data is on that site, specifically downloaded from here) show that the normal variations for the magnetic field are about 60-125 nT (so that agrees with the Sept. 2001 baseline), but in this random month of June, there were spikes all the way up to 186 nT (higher than Sept. 11, 2001 by about 15 nT). Hmm.

GOES Magnetic Data, June 2001

GOES Magnetic Data, June 2001

In fact, since I have the data in my grubby little hands, I can actually do some basic statistics. The average from GOES 8 during June 2001 was 113 nT, and from GOES 10 it was 97 nT. The standard deviations were ±10.6 and ±14.6 nT, respectively. In September 2001, the averages and standard deviations were 109±14.2 nT and 95±20 nT. So they agree with each other. September 2001 was not an odd month at all.

I then chose a different random month and year, January 1998 (the Global Consciousness Project people would probably say they’d expect at least two significant events during this month, one for the new US Congress taking office and one for New Year’s Day). Or November 2007. Both of those months’ data are displayed below. The maxima were 173 for GOES 9 in January 1998 (but a minimum of only 22 nT!) and 188 nT in November 2007 with GOES 11 (there was some data drop-out in the last week of the month from GOES 10).

GOES Magnetic Data, January 1998

GOES Magnetic Data, January 1998

GOES Magnetic Data, November 2007

GOES Magnetic Data, November 2007

The inescapable conclusion at this point is – as I said before – at best it’s “window-shopping” or data-mining. At worst it’s willful deceit of their audience. As is clearly shown by these data, the September 11, 2001, “spike” in Earth’s magnetic field is not an abnormal “spike,” but rather we see fluctuations even larger than that several times a month.

Final Thoughts

This actually brings me back a bit to what I consider “fair game” in terms of skepticism and this blog. I’m okay if you want to be a creationist, a UFO believer, a new-ager, or whatever (so long as you don’t try to force your beliefs on me). But when you actually start to point towards observable, checkable evidence for your claims, it’s totally fair game. And as I’ve shown here, Braden would be much better off sticking to his random new-agey claims than trying to use science to back them up.

June 29, 2011

Are Creationists Winning Some Parts of the “Culture War?”


This is a quick post so I’m going to forego my normal subject headings.

Last year, I wrote a post entitled, “Do Scientists Believe?” where I discussed the use of the two words “believe” and “think” as they are used in our American English language (I would also assume British/Canadian/Australian/etc. English, but I don’t know for sure).

Feedback seemed somewhat mixed as to whether the terms are interchangeable or whether people should be more precise in using “believe” when there is something you are taking without evidence versus “think” where you have evidence to back it up. Personally, I agree it’s a bit of semantics and didn’t really have much sway.

That is, until I read the latest Institute for Creation Research article entitled, “Miss USA ‘Believes’ in Evolution. I figured it would be a standard ICR pice about how she should be more God-fearing and whatnot. Instead, the article discusses the very issue I brought up last September in my post: “Oftentimes the respondents, including Ms. Campanella, spoke of evolution as a belief system. More often than not, the women supported presenting students with as much information as possible so that they could decide for themselves what would be best to ‘believe.'”

In other words, the ICR is using the innocent imprecision with which people use English to claim that evolution requires belief, therefore faith, to be considered valid by people.

Obviously I have not interviewed the new Miss USA. I don’t know if she really “thinks” or “believes” in evolution, but the very fact that the ICR is using this as a “win” in my opinion requires we ask the question: Are creationists winning some parts of this supposed culture war? The fact that, in everyday language, we are using terms like “believe” when referring to scientific theories seems to indicate they may be.

I’m reminded of something Steve Novella (Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe podcast host) stated several months ago. He was talking about his and other doctors’ push to use the term “evidence-based medicine” or “science-based medicine” when referring to standard treatments. He added that after several years of doing this, that even the “alternative” medicine people were beginning to use the term. He saw this as winning part of the battle, part of the culture war, when your opponents use your terminology.

Is that what’s happening here?

Edit (Update on July 30, 2011): I saw this comic posted on another blog and thought that it summarized my point fairly well:

June 23, 2011

Creationists Complain on Censorship Because Math Apparently Shows GodDidIt


Introduction

“It’s said that, according to the law of aeronautics and the wingspan and circumference of the bumblebee, it is aeronautically impossible for the bumblebee to fly. However, the bumblebee, being unaware of these scientific facts, goes ahead and flies anyway.” — Mike Huckabee, 2008

That quote is a fitting opening to this blog post, where after my hiatus I return to my bread-and-butter, batting at the low-hanging fruit offered up by young-Earth creationists (YEC). This post in particular response to the latest Institute for Creation Research (ICR) article by Brian Thomas, “Journal Censors ‘Second Law’ Paper Refuting Evolution”.

In reading up for writing this blog post, the Discovery Institute (the Intelligent Design think-tank) has also posted an article about it.

Crux of the ICR Article

The bulk and point of the article is, as usual from the ICR, to complain that evilutionists are so insecure that they can’t stand dissent and that the Truth is in the Bible. That said, let’s look at what’s different in this one.

The crux of this particular article is that a “math professor Granville Sewell of the University of Texas, El Paso showed that notions of nature alone building the complex structures of DNA are as unlikely as nature building a computer [and] either event would violate the second law [of thermodynamics].”

In other words, he’s claiming that, just as Huckabee claimed that Science says bumblebees can’t fly therefore GodDidIt, that Science says DNA can’t arise naturally therefore GodDidIt.

The Second Law of Thermodynamics

The second law of thermodynamics is “the entropy one.” It can be interpreted to verbally state, “The entropy of an isolated thermodynamic system cannot decrease.” In thermodynamics, entropy is the inability of energy to do work. Unscientifically, “entropy” can be thought of as the chaos in a system.

For example, an unlit match has a fair amount of stored chemical energy. Light the match, and it will produce heat that can do work, but smoke will rise – parts of the match that have burned – and that material will no longer be able to perform any useful work. Thus, entropy has increased.

Entropy should NOT be confused with the opposite of “order.” In fact, the order in a system can increase while entropy also increases. An example I like to use is to say you have a bunch of different sized marbles or rocks that are all mixed together. As they settle, they will sort by size. As they settle and sort by size, potential energy in the material is lost, the overall entropy has increased, but the overall order has also increased (because they are now sorted by size).

The Second Law of Thermodynamics and Evolution

This has been addressed SO MANY TIMES that I’m not going to do it here. People much smarter than I have shown the absolute rubbish of this claim before, so I will simply refer you to TalkOrigins.org (link 1, link 2).

If you really want a short version of the several ways this is a non sequitur, one is simply that Earth is not a closed thermodynamic system — we are open to space, receive energy from the sun, and radiate energy to space.

A quick-and-dirty second reason is that pockets within a thermodynamic system CAN DECREASE in entropy so long as the system as a whole increases or stays the same.

Going a Bit Deeper Into This Case

The story the articles I linked to in the Introduction tell about are of the math professor in question submitting a paper to a math journal, having it accepted, but then at the last minute having it withdrawn. Hence the “silencing,” “censoring,” and other various claims.

I obviously cannot speak for the journal editor. I don’t know what backdoor dastardly deeds may have gone on. Or may not have gone on. I can, however, look at some of the facts about this professor and what the Intelligent Design people state. Two in particular came up.

First, Prof. Sewell has written intelligent design literature before where “he concludes that there is nothing in the history of life to support Charles Darwin’s idea that natural selection of random variations can explain major evolutionary advances.” An earlier work can be found here. Obviously then, this is a person who has a particular framework in mind from which he operates. That is not a crime, nor is it a bad thing. But it does provide some context.

Second, Prof. Sewell hired a laywer. That in itself says something. An academic hiring a lawyer because his paper was rejected from a journal? I may be new to this whole being a Ph.D. thing, but I’ve been around academia my entire life. I have never heard of someone hiring a lawyer and paying them $10,000 to fight because their paper was rejected from a journal (Andrew Wakefield may be an exception but that’s a different issue – the lawyer came when the paper was retracted over a decade later).

To me, this screams Discovery Institute test case all over it. The DI seems to have more lawyers on staff than “scientists,” and they very frequently try to use the legal system (judicial and legislative branches) to get what they want because they can’t through normal academic channels. Now, this is supposition on my part – I admit that. And then I looked into the law firm, which is decidedly conservative (based on the people and cases) and religious (considering they have references to Genesis 12:3 and Psalm 122 very visibly on their website).

Now, again, being a conservative Christian law firm isn’t bad for purposes here. But what it does is add to this story, strongly indicating there is more to it than just a poor math professor who is upset that his innocent paper was rejected.

Final Thoughts

I have actually skimmed Prof. Sewell’s paper. You can, too. It’s actually an easy read. A lot of it is quotes. It’s four pages long. And it reads a lot like ID and YEC articles I’ve read over the years and it repeats many of the tired, debunked ID/YEC claims.

But, there is a bigger picture here beyond the simple case in point, publishing, and alleged “viewpoint discrimination” (an ID buzzword). That’s why I opened with the Huckabee quote (which also, by the way, is wrong). If we observe something repeatedly, objectively, and clearly (such as a bumblebee flying), but our current scientific understanding of the process cannot account for it, then our science is incomplete. It does not mean GodDidIt. That’s the whole point of science: To figure out how the world works.

We don’t know how the DNA molecule arose. And that’s why scientists are trying to figure it out. Scientists don’t use the God of the Gaps argument, as Brian Thomas, the ICR article author does, and look to the Bible to find out that GodDidit.

July 17, 2010

Should the Public Be Able to Choose What Science to Believe?


Introduction

This blog post is about a statement made by Dr. Caroline Crocker on the ID The Future podcast episode from July 12, 2010, entitled, “Setting the Record Straight with Caroline Crocker.”

Got that straight? This is NOT about the Intelligent Design movement, it is NOT about evolution versus creationism versus ID, it is NOT about the movie Expelled, nor is it about Caroline Crocker.

Setting Up the Question

In the podcast episode, Dr. Crocker made an off-hand remark (starting about 7 min 15 sec into the episode):

“I also believe that freedom, which is foundational in our society, requires people to have choices. And if people are not given options – that is they’re not told the whole scientific truth in as much as they can understand it and most people I find can understand if you just explain – then they don’t have any choice! And I think it’s very important that people are given complete explanations, and that’s actually one reason I set up the American Institute for Technology and Science Education, so that people would have an opportunity to hear scientific options and to have a choice.”

That’s a long paragraph, about 30 seconds of speech, but what it really boils down to is this: Dr. Crocker thinks (based upon my understanding of what she stated) that people should be told the entire body of science behind something (i.e., she obviously is talking about evolution, but it would extend to any science). Once they are told this, which she believes they can understand, then they should be allowed to make their own choice about what they want to believe.

Hence the title of this blog post: Should the public be able to choose what science to believe?

An Example

I have perhaps written the title in a confrontational manner, more-so than need-be. I’m not trying to set up a post where I say that scientists from on high should pass down edicts of what is Truth and those must be followed without question. What I am asking, rather, is if the lay, non-scientifically trained public are in a position where they can make an educated opinion on a technical subject after being explained the basics for a few minutes.

Let’s have an example, and since this is an astronomy blog, we’ll take an example from astronomy. Let’s take Earth’s moon and how it may have formed.

Decades ago, the original theory (yes, I’m using that word correctly) was Earth’s moon formed the same way Earth did, in Earth’s orbit, from the solar nebula. But that had problems with it (like it couldn’t explain the composition differences). The second theory was it got captured, as we think Mars’ moons were captured and many of the giant planets’ moons were captured asteroids. But that has problems because there’s no good way to get rid of the extra velocity. The third one, this time I’d classify as a hypothesis, was the “fission” idea where Earth was spinning really quickly and it basically spun off the moon out of the Pacific ocean. This, however, required a ridiculously high spin rate and didn’t take into account plate tectonics.

Finally now we have the fourth theory that is pretty well established and has been nick-named, “The Big Splash.” This is where a Mars-sized impactor hit Earth early on, nearly destroying Earth, but throwing up a debris cloud that formed the moon in Earth orbit. This explains almost all the characteristics we observe of the moon.

But last year another hypothesis was proposed, one that some people have termed, “The Big Burp” (yeah, astronomers are real creative … everything is the “Big” something). The idea here is that, deep inside Earth’s mantle, a buildup of radioactive material suddenly went critical and there was a spontaneous nuclear reaction, blowing out a chunk of Earth that formed the moon. Kinda similar to the fission idea, but a different mechanism for the moon’s ejection.

As anyone who reads my blog semi-regularly knows, I just finished teaching an introductory astronomy class for non-majors. This was a solar system class, and we discussed the formation of Earth’s moon in about a third of a class period. I briefly went through the historic ideas and the problems with them in order to show why we think the “Big Splash” is the best model. I didn’t go into the “Big Burp” at all because (a) it is a very new proposal, and (b) it was published in a low-review journal after being rejected from mainstream ones.

When discussing all these different formation models, I didn’t go very deep into them. I explained them in about as much detail as I did above, with basically a one-sentence description. Then I went over some of the pros and cons for each. And when we got to the Big Splash, I said that this is the one that happened, this is THE way the moon formed, and they all scribbled it down, stared blankly, were dozing on their desks, or trying to hide that they were txting on their cell phones.

If Dr. Crocker’s position is to be carried to this, and I believe whole-heartedly this is what she is arguing, then I did my students a disservice. I should have gone into equal detail for each proposal. I should have explained thoroughly the pros and cons for each. I should definitely have included the Big Burp. And when all was said and done, after spending 45 minutes going through these, I should have said, “Now you have the information, it is up to you to make up your own minds as to what happened and how the moon formed.”

That’s right. Without any of the theoretical backing, without an understanding for three-body dynamical systems (problem with Theory #2), without an understanding of chemistry and mineralogy (problem with #1, #3), without an understanding of basic Newtonian mechanics and material strength (problem with #3), or nuclear forces and the structure of Earth (problem with #5), after explaining to the students the basics of each I am supposed to let them make up their own minds.

My Thoughts

I think if you have much perceptive ability you can tell what I think the answer should be to my rhetorical question based upon my last two paragraphs. Scientists in any given field of study will reach conclusions about their field based upon an thorough understanding of the data, an understanding that pretty much can ONLY come with studying it for years and years. No research field exists in a vacuum (despite what some “amateur scientists” will claim), and you have to have a lot of background information from a broad base before you can actually understand a problem.

As a planetary scientist, I have a broad, 10-year background in physics, geology, and astronomy, and that background allows me to make an informed conclusion about the state of the science and which lunar formation proposal is the most likely to represent what really happened. If it were almost any other field, I wouldn’t even go into the historical ideas, I would just jump in and say, “The ‘Big Splash’ is how the moon formed” and then explain what that means (teaching astronomy is rather unique in the sciences because we do A LOT of history of the field). But, if we were to extend Dr. Crocker’s thoughts to a field other than evolution (which is obviously what she is talking about), then I would be infringing upon my students’ right to make up their own mind without my influencing their decision.

Okay, a Teensy Bit of Ridicule

I was trying to be fairly objective and ignore evolution etc. in this, but I think I really should at least mention the whole larger context for this and the obvious case to what Dr. Crocker wants this to apply. Dr. Crocker appears to be an avid advocate for the whole “Teach the Controversy” when it comes to teaching evolution. She thinks that students should be presented with evolutionary theory at the basic level that they already are, but then also taught the problems with it that are normally not talked about until you get to a graduate level of study. The reason for the normal delay in teaching the problems is that they are minor problems on the more fine layers of evolutionary theory. For example, we know that the large cake of evolution is perfectly fine and holds its own, it’s a question then of if there are ripples in the icing on top that can’t be smoothed away yet. Anyway … besides teaching evolution and its problems, the whole other side to “Teach the Controversy” is that there should also be an equivalent amount of time devoted to intelligent design and creationism since they also have something to say about how different species came about. And then the students should be able to decide themselves what to believe.

It would be the same as with my moon example: I explain each hypothesis and also throw in that on the third day God created the moon by magic (Genesis 1:16). And then let them decide, and on the test when I ask them, not count any response wrong.

I gotta say, I think that’s silly. And it’s irresponsible. And it does the students a disservice because it makes them think that all ideas are equal, when in fact they’re not. The reason the majority of scientists who study this think that the moon formed in the “Big Splash” is because it best explains the observational evidence without resorting to something supernatural/alien/whatever.

Final Thoughts

So, does it make sense that the public should have all sides explained to them equally, assumed they understand them and all the background, and then allowed to make up their own mind and have it be just as valid a conclusion as anyone else’s? I think when you actually look at the issue in this way, fully exploring the consequences of the proposal, then the answer is reasonably obvious, and it is a resounding, “No.”

But when simply phrased in a, “let’s give people options because that’s what a free society does,” it seems so deceptively simple. Until you follow through with what it actually would mean.

I think I’ll close with a statement my former officemate made that I have repeated several times on this blog: Science is not a democracy, it is a meritocracy. Only the best ideas survive because they become the most widely accepted because they convince people who know how to understand the idea through their ability to explain the observational evidence.

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