Monday, February 27, 2012

The Making of a Terminal Bore: Wojciech Langer

The spherical harmonic function for problem (1) which I assigned Langer. He punted on all three cosmological questions that a first year physics student could have solved.

I wasn't remotely aware of the individual named Wojciech Langer until perusing some of the book reviews to do with cosmology on Then I beheld him cropping up like a bad penny each time five stars was awarded in a review for a book challenging the god assumption. The most recent example was Lawrence Krauss' excellent summation of recent cosmology, A Universe Out of Nothing.

In comment after comment going after 5-star reviewers of anti-creationist cosmology books, Langer's irritation - like most would-be godmongers, appeared to be that atheism was infiltrating or being infused into cosmology. Evidently the guy didn't realize or know this has been so for some time!

For example, there was the terrific book, ‘Great Ideas and Theories of Cosmology’ by Jagjit Singh (Dover, 1961).

I reference this book, because Singh’s book was among the first to boldly lay waste the idea of a “creator” being responsible for the cosmos (Chapter XVI, p. 252), and indeed he notes:

"No one… would dream of defending surrealism and cubism by an appeal to the tensor calculus or quantum theory, and it is as illogical to invoke scientific cosmology in support of God.

For the practice of rationalism is an irreversible process. If once one loses the innocence of naïve belief by venturing to stray into rational thought, there can be no honest way of recovering it. When one has cut himself off from God by a first sip of the cup of knowledge, one will not rediscover Him by drinking its dregs, no matter how hard they may be boiled

Even Stephen Hawking revived this tradition in his book, ‘A Brief History of Time’ though many readers may not have carefully parsed his words and only interpreted what they wanted to. For example, he clearly notes on p. 122 - after an audience with the pope, following a scientific conference at the Vatican:

At the end of the conference, the participants were granted an audience with the pope. He told us that it was all right to study the evolution of the universe after the Big Bang, but we should not inquire into the Big Bang itself because that was the moment of creation and therefore the work of God.

I was glad then that he did not know the subject of the talk I had just given at the conference - the possibility that space-time was finite but had no boundary - which means that it had no beginning, no moment of creation.I had no desire to share the fate of Galileo, with whom I have a strong sense of identity”.

A few pages later in the same chapter, emphasizing the consequences of the quantum, boundary free cosmos, Hawking asks: "What need then for a Creator?"

Which is precisely the point! Science and modern scientific theories - bearing predictions which can be verified - make religious or supernaturalist intrusion redundant. They add nada to the quality of predictions, nor do they afford a new variant of suggested observations based on existing ones. In other words, all they offer is some childish security blanket for the timid or mentally un-tough, but not much more.

I used all this as a basis to dismiss all Langer's comments to the effect that this mindset "has no place in a cosmology text". YES, it does!

As for Wojciech Langer - the "industrial chemist"(from his amazon profile) - I suspected he didn't know diddly squat about any cosmology so that all his criticisms were hollow. They merely needed to be exposed, as he did. So I put him to the test by giving him three simple cosmological questions, of which I'd have been satisfied to get even one back correct. They were:

1) The data obtained from balloon-borne microwave telescopes, e.g. Maxima and Boomerang (cf. Physics Today: ‘Balloon Measurements of the Cosmic Microwave Background Strongly Favor Flat Cosmos’, July 2000, p 17)enabled a power spectrum of spatial temperature fluctuations to be assembled (see graphic) using a spherical harmonic function fit.

The multi-humped graph (ibid) plotted mean square temp. fluctuation (in micro-Kelvin on vertical axis) vs. multipole order l on the abscissa. This multipole order also concides with the spherical harmonic order index l.

The temperature differences dT_i appear at angular separations of π/ l and display a non-uniformity on angular scales of about 1 deg. If the first peak occurs at l= 200 and the 2nd peak is asymmetrically spaced relative to it, predict the next 2 minima displayed (i.e. their spherical harmonic order indices) and show working.

2) If the plasma is treated as an ion acoustic plasma what is the most direct (and simplest interpretation) of the “humps” in the function? According to the article (ibid.) the propagation speed of sound in such a plasma would be expected to be v(s) = c/ [3]^ ½

The acoustic properties of the plasma therefore create “standing waves”.

Assuming v(s) to be the “ion sound speed” how would one use it estimate the temperature of the plasma?

3) Consider 3 galaxies: A, B and C, i.e. as represented below:

(0.7c) <--------(B)----(A)-----(C)-------->(0.7c)

An observer in A measures the velocities of B and C and finds they are moving in opposite directions - each with a speed of 0.7c relative to him.
What is the speed of A observed by someone in B? What is the speed of C observed by someone in B?

And what was Langer's reply? (Even after I let him know that calculus wasn't needed for any of the problems).I produce it below:

"No, I am not able and not willing ..-I read POPULAR books (in case you did not managed to verify it), and inability to deal with high level of math (I do practical work not theoretical science) does not disqualify me from reviewing and commenting on them Same relates to majority of reviewers for this and other pop-cosmo books, therefore you show disrespect towards them as well.

But of course, he had no problems showing disrespect to another commentator who also questioned his criticisms on cosmology issues, especially when his profile showed "industrial chemist". His reply to her? Her comment was "stupid". In fact, it was spot -on and she just didn't have the background to expose him for the fake he is, and why his comments - at least to do with cosmology texts, have no merit. If a profuse, relentless critic of cosmology books and reviews can't even solve one simple cosmological problem he definitely doesn't deserve to have his opinions or comments taken with more than a grain of salt!


John Grove said...

Most excellent and timely response. I have seen this guy go on rampages like a child in a candy store.

It is clear that he suffers form some sort of O.C.D.

Copernicus said...

Thanks! After several other comments -reactions I've seen from Langer, I am totally inclined to concur!

John Grove said...

Because of the heat of this blog, he has changed his name to:

Regnal "caretaker"