Friday, June 10, 2011
The Whoring of Science Continues Unabated..
In a passionate and incisive 1982 essay (The Whoring of Science) appearing in The New Scientist, physicist teacher Ralph Estling decried the ever increasing use of science by supposedly qualified Ph.D. scientists to promote rubbish, religion and ideology. He took particular aim at a whole group of "scientists" in the early 1980s who were pushing newfangled foolishness based on quantum mechanics. Chief among these was the belief that by simple macroscopic observations one could alter a system and change reality.
It was physicist Paul Dirac who noted that an observation can affect an outcome for an experiment but he specifically meant at the sub-atomic or quantum level- not the macroscopic level! In other words, the probability density distribution (UU*, with U the wave function) and the 'expectation value' (say for a position (x,y,z) is changed, or can be changed.
Since human groups, populations constitute macroscopic (not microscopic) entities, it is clear that Dirac's "altered observation on outcome" premise doesn't hold. Indeed, this has been one of the biggest complaints of quantum physicists over the past 30 years: seeing their work perverted and extended far, far beyond its proper domain, and especially to assist in promoting esoteric religious systems and beliefs.
Needless to say, whenever a theory like QM is overextended into arenas it's not applicable, the conclusions and results must be specious. Paul Davies term for this sort of misuse of science, no matter who did it - was "the whoring of science". Taking a perfectly decent system of analysis and testing and converting it into a "whore" to serve one's needs, personal ambitions or agendas.
Of course, ANY such tactics for doing so extend and amplify the claim of science -whoring and that includes going beyond using quantum mechanics for mumbo-jumbo as Davies called it. In the last blog I referenced the example of Jason Lisle's use of it (via biblical gibberish) in his new book, Taking Back Astronomy which one reviewer on the amazon site correctly noted, ".. this outlandish and hollow hermeneutic takes the science of Astronomy back in time to 1611 - the year Galileo faced the Inquisition...". Well he got the point!
People don't seem to recognize, and it's incredible Lisle doesn't if indeed he is a Ph.D. scientist, that established sciences like astronomy are not simply overturned on whims or desires. Nor on the specious, self-serving use of "evidence" which is to say, constraining its interpretation to only what a bible puncher might allow. In this way, the science become "whored".
Let's look at a couple of examples, apart from those in his goofy book. Lisle in one dvd entitled “The Young Sun” attempts to convince gullible viewers that he can show the Sun is “young” so fits in with the Genesis fairy tale that the Sun can be no more than 6,000 years old (since in Genesis the Earth was made before the Sun, an impossibility anyway as I’ve shown in a number of blogs). as opposed to 4.8 billion years old.
Lisle's claim is absolutely astounding in context, especially for a self-proclaimed "Ph.D."- given that it stands all of stellar evolution, astrophysics on its head, especially nuclear fusion: the basis for the Sun's energy! These are things EVERY budding astrophysicist is taught in his first graduate course in stellar astrophysics or stellar evolution. Thus, there are differing nuclear cross sections for differing fusion reactions and also differing time scales.
A key quantity in obtaining these time scales is the energy liberated per (nuclear fusion) chain defined as: W(rho) = rE, or W = (rE)/rho which is in ergs/gram for example. (I.e. the total ergs of stellar energy given off per gram of stellar matter available for reaction.)
E is found from specific nuclear fusion reactions, such as p + p -> D2 +e(+) +v, where two protons fuse to yield deuterium, a positron and a neutrino(v). The key quantity is r, defined as the reactions/cm^3. Obviously, the greater this value the shorter the energy generation time scale and the smaller the value the longer it will take. It is defined (see, e.g. Astrophysical Concepts, p. 331, by Martin Harwitt:
r = B (rho)^2 X1X2/ T^1.5 * exp^-3[2π^4e^4mH (Z1^2)(Z2^2)A'/ h^2kT]^1/3
where B is a proportionality constant, rho is the density, h is Planck's constant (e.g. h = 6.62 x 10^-27 erg-sec), k is Boltzmann's constant = 1.38 x 10^-16 erg/K), T is absolute temperature of the reaction, i.e. in K deg, and X1 and X2 are the concentrations associated with atomic numbers Z1, Z2 while A' is the reduced atomic mass, i.e. A' = (A1 A2)/ (A1 + A2).
Then working out 'r' for the proton-proton fusion cycle one can (after a lot of work) obtain the time scales for each chain part and the energy yielded for each, viz. (cf. Harwit, op. cit., p. 336):
p + p -> D2 +e(+) +v (1.44 MeV, Time = 14 x 10^9 yrs.)
D2 + p -> He3 + y(gamma ray) [5.49 MeV, time = 6 secs)
He3 + He3 -> He4 + 2H1 [12.85 MeV, Time - 1 million years]
Note that the last branch of the cycle already takes 6 million years, for each fusion to furnish 12.85 Mev (millions of electron volts of energy, were 1 eV = 1.6 x 10^-19 J). Thus, this cycle alone takes almost 1,000 times longer than Lisle's time of 6,000 years, as the supposed maximum age of the Sun.
The only mildly problematical time frame in the p-p cycle is for the initial fusion, which yields 14 billion years or about three times the age of the current Sun. Thus, at face value, this translates into only about one fusion every 14 billion years for the first branch of the proton-proton reaction. While that is extremely long, the Sun fortunately has a vast number of protons available in its core, so that – at a temperature of 10 million Celsius, enough can fuse to initiate helium production and energy given off. Moreover, the key "catalyst" speeding the reaction time up is the phenomenon of "quantum tunnelling" whereby a lower energy particle can surmount a higher energy barrier (what we call the "Coulomb barrier") by virtue of its wave-like properties.
To fix ideas, let us say a particle (say proton) of kinetic energy K, must overcome a barrier of energy V ("barrier potential"), via the process of "tunnelling". Consider a deBroglie wave (p = hL or L = (mv)/h where L is the de Broglie wavelength) arising from (p+) of form: U(x) ~ sin(kx) where x is the linear dimension along displacement and k, the wave number vector (k= 2π/L).
Now, though the associated energy K < V (the barrier "height"), the wavefunction is non-zero within the barrier, e.g.
So, visualizing axes for this:
! ! !
! ! !
! ! !
with the "barrier" at height V, we visualize the particle(*) on the left side "tunneling" over to the right side where it may have wave function, U(x) ~sin (kx + φ), where φ denotes a phase angle.
Note that if the barrier is not too much higher than the incident energy, and if the mass is small, then tunnelling is significant.
Note also that the penetration of the barrier is a direct result of the wave nature of matter! In effect, this wave nature - which is uniquely quantum mechanical in origin- allows a higher energy barrier to be penetrated by a lower energy particle, something totally without parallel in classical, Newtonian physics
In other words, without the benefit of quantum tunnelling, the first reaction time in the p-p cycle would be inordinately long and have to be disallowed as unphysical.
Beyond this we know the photon diffusion time (the time to make it from the edge of the solar core to the Sun's surface or photosphere) is calculated to be nearly 1 million years. This takes into account all the changed random directions the released photons undergo as a result of absorption and re-emission by particles along the way out. No core photon makes it directly through, but instead undergoes millions of interactions en route resulting in collisions. Again, 1 million years for a photon's diffusion time belies Lisle's young Sun argument!
Let's move on to other claims made in his book, not covered in the previous blog.
Lisle insists that the Big Bang theory has a problem with the uniformity of the cosmic microwave background (CMB), or the horizontal problem as it is known. But the CMB is one of the best pieces of empirical evidence for the Big Bang there is: a 2.7K "after glow" from the original high density temperature of 10^9 K. Furthermore, there's no other physical explication for this pervasive radiation, which displays a perfect blackbody spectrum.
So what is Lisle getting at? In fact the uniformity problem is no problem at all! What Lisle is referring to is the discovery of the so-called relic structures associated with the Big Bang, by astronomer George Smoot and his team at the University of California at Berkeley, in 1992. ‘Discovery’ of course, is inevitably an oversimplified reduction of a long, arduous process of investigation. In this case, the investigation made use of data obtained from NASA's Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE) satellite. These data were in the form of very small temperature differentials (dT), from which density variations (d(rho)) could be deduced. (In principle the temperature variations of the form dT/T are taken as a proxy for density fluctuations in the early universe.
To make a long story short, these variations were found consistent with the postulated characteristics of an inflationary cosmos, as opposed to an always uniformly expanding cosmos. Indeed, an inflationary phase would feature an exponential rate of expansion by way of doublings over very small time periods. Most models with inflation posit 85-90 doublings over periods ranging from 10^-43 to 10^-35 s. The COBE findings accomplished two things: 1- they provided further empirical support for the Big Bang; 2- they refined our understanding of the type of aftermath (i.e. exponential expansion) that ensued in its wake. They did something else: they showed indirectly that as much as 90% of the cosmos is in the form of dark matter! Dark matter is something Lisle can't account for either in his "creation" scheme, mainly because it fits within no presumptive expectations of cosmic order. (But it can be fully explained using Einstein's general relativity by inroducing a repulsion term arising from a negative energy density).
Lisle also claims that spiral galaxies can't be billions of years old as they would now be too tightly wound up due to differential orbital rotation of their stars. (In the 1970's Vera Rubin and Kent Ford using newly developed image intensifier techniques found that the stars, even in a galaxy's far periphery, orbited at nearly the same angular velocity. This finding has lead to the postulation of dark matter. Certainly an astrophysicist should be aware of this finding.)
In fact, here I dealt with Lisle's problem in a previous blog (though it was not specifically directed at him, though it addressed the issue of the spiral windings in terms of density waves, see e.g.
as well as other factors.
Lisle's complaint of the spiral arms being "too tightly wound" for the spirals to be billions of years old vanishes once one asks: How tightly are the arms wound? As I noted in the above referenced blog, one must recognize that an orbit in a spiral galaxythat appears closed (e.g. elliptic) in one reference frame may not be so in another. As an example, assume the (polar) coordinates for a galactic rotating frame are given as (r, φ) with:
dφ/dt = dΘ/dt - OMEGA_p
where OMEGA_p is the angular velocity of the rotating frame. Then orbits are described by a Hamiltonian (recall the Hamiltonian adds kinetic and potential energies of the system):
H = ½(p_r^2 + p_φ^2/r^2) + V(r) - p_φ OMEGA_p
where the p_r, p_φ are the particle momenta referred to the associated coordinates, and V(r) is the gravitational potential. The point is that H can change depending on the coordinates, and what is presented for the previous frame as H = E - J OMEGA_p (with simplification, p_φ = J) may well be different for another frame.
In other words, Lisle's generalization of a generic "more tightly wound" spiral falls through because he doesn't factor in coordinate perspective differences based on the above considerations. As is the case with his fault finding with the dipole fields of the gas giant planets, he fabricates a pseudo-problem to confer status on his religious bunkum. Again, a whoring of science.
At the end of the day, one must ask the question that the same reviewer (earlier referenced) did:
How could a Ph.D. in Astrophysics devolve into a pre-scientific shaman?
This is a question I've also always asked myself, including my own experience with a Ph.D. post graduate advisor who was similar to Lisle in being a creationist fundie (though I never took any of the guy's religious opinions seriously). Anyway this reviewer answers the question in terms of Lisle:
It all comes down to misplaced faith and who signs the paycheck. The author, Jason Lisle, is an employee of Answers in Genesis (AiG), a credulous Young Earth Creationism disinformation clearinghouse. As such he has signed the following "Statement of Faith:"
BASICS ARTICLE 3: "The account of origins presented in Genesis is a simple but factual presentation of actual events and therefore provides a reliable framework for scientific research into the question of the origin and history of life, mankind, the Earth and the universe."
GENERAL ARTICLE 6: "No apparent, perceived or claimed evidence in any field, including history and chronology, can be valid if it contradicts the Scriptural record."
This conceptual straightjacket routinely produces results that range from the mildly amusing to utterly ridiculous
Thus, we see how the Lisle paradox is resolved. By hitching his "star" (no pun intended) to AiG, Lisle has been able to sidestep all the usual painful and tortuous processes to which 99.999% of newly minted Ph.D.s are subject, including struggling years as a postdoc, then having to crank out peer-reviewed published paper after paper for YEARS to even attain tenure consideration at a respectable university.
This way, with AiG, Lisle gets an immediate "in" and a steady paycheck to boot. No worries on having to please a tenure committee! All he has to do for it is to sell all bone fide scientific principles and processes down the proverbial river.
Or to put it the way Paul Davies would: happily engage in the whoring of astrophysics for his own ends.