Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Conservapedia - 2

More Conservapedia gems. It's really hard to figure out which articles are real and which are satire. Not that it really matters because they're both funny. I'll actually post the relevant bits because I'm sure they won't be around in their original form for long, all bold is mine, all poor spelling is theirs.

Second Estate
The Second Estate was a social level in pre-revolutionary France. It consisted of the nobility, about 2% of the population, yet it controlled 20% of the land and paid very little taxes, much like welfare mothers in modern America.

The Battle Of Hastings
The Battle of Hastings was in AD 1066. William the Conquerer disguised himself as the Duke of Normandy and invaded England. He established himself as king, and ruled until 1086.
Er, he was the Duke of Normandy.


Delaware
What a hole.
There's not much I could add to that exhaustive description is there? And yes that is the entire entry.


Spartan Soldiers

The most famous battle involving Spartan soliders was that of Thermopylae where, in 480 BC, a force of 300 hoplites under command of King Leonidas held back a massive Persian army under command of Xerxes. With nothing but spears, shields, and sweaty loincloths these soldiers fought off the following:

Wait a minute Rhinos and Elephants, well maybe but Mutants,? grenades?, Orcs and Goat-Men? Say what now?


Homeschooling
Homeschooling is not new, and a disproportionate number of high achievers have been homeschooled throughout history. Here is a list of Christian homeschoolers:
You will notice if you check out their list of homeschooled Christian high achievers that the majority of them had one major advantage that more than explains their supposed high achieving status. They were born to rich families, generally in times when organised schools didn't really exist, so the fact that they got any education was a vast improvement on what most people at the time got. If your born to a rich family and can be educated at a time when very few others are, is it really a surprise you do well? Again a very poor example of confusing correlation with causation. But hey, we already know they aren't really up to scratch with their scientific methods right?


Possibly the saddest thing I have seen so far is in the entry for James Buchanan, it has the time and date of last editing.
This page was last modified 00:14, 1 January 2007.
I actually feel pretty sorry for the people involved now, go on, have fun, enjoy yourself, at least take New Year off. There will still be plenty of things to distort, lie about or otherwise mangle when you get back.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

South Pole Telescope

High time for some real science I think, the South Pole Telescope has just seen first light.



This telescope, located as the name suggests at the south pole is designed to look for small changes in the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) caused by the influence of clusters of galaxies. The south pole was chosen to site the telescope because the cold, dry (little moisture in the air) conditions are perfect for astronomy at the sub-millimeter wavelengths being used by this telescope.

The telescope will make use of an effect known as the Sunyaev-Zel'dovich effect to search for large clusters of galaxies. The SZ effect occurs when photons from the CMB interact with energetic electrons found in clusters of galaxies, some of the CMB photons are boosted in energy by the electrons through the Compton effect. By accurately measuring the CMB you can see regions where the CMB appears to be slightly hotter than it should be, these regions generally correlate with the position of clusters of galaxies. It should be noted that the CMB (see pic below) naturally has fluctuations in its temperature, these were the "seeds" that led to the formation of structure in the Universe after the Big Bang, so to determine which fluctuations in temperature are due to SZ and which are due to inherent fluctuations is actually slightly tricky. There are also other effects that need to be taken into account but you get the picture, its pretty hard.


By mapping the distribution of clusters it is possible to learn something about the elusive Dark Energy, particularly it may be possible to determine between the two competing explanations of Dark Energy, the Cosmological Constant and Quintessence.

Best. Conservapedia. Article. Ever.

I've just come across the best conservapedia article ever, its for the Pacific Northwest Arboreal Octopus, I guess it goes to show if you believe Dinosaurs roamed the Earth at the time of Jesus, or that unicorns were real and a type of dinosaur, you truly will believe in anything, even an octopus that lives in trees.

At least I should be pleased that its one of their few pages lacking any sign of bigotry or intolerance.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Evolution Cartoons

For this roundup of cartoons I decided to try and stick to a theme, the theme was decided when I came across the first of the cartoons below. All of today's collection relate somehow to evolution, some even date from the 1920's, showing that evolution has essentially always been under attack by fundamentalists.


This one comes from a great site called Russells Teapot, as in Bertrand Russell's famous china teapot floating between Earth and Mars.


Click here for a slide show of classic cartoons printed in the Journal Evolution between 1927 and 1938.




Friday, February 23, 2007

Conservapedia

The blogging world (well the sentient part of it) has been all over Conservapedia this week making some hilarious discoveries. For those of you that have been under a rock for the last week Conservapedia is the wingnuts attempt at making an "unbiased" version of wikipedia, by which they mean a version which is totally biased towards the right-wing creationist fundamentalist Christian demographic. For various other blogs on the subject try, here, here, here and here. Unfortunately the site is running extremely slowly, probably because so many bloggers are now causing mischief by editing the entries. Beware when reading it though, not only is it often (unintentionally) funny but its also incredibly difficult to read, the entries generally read like a 9 year old wrote them for a school project.

Some of the entries are very funny, it must be pointed out that its difficult to know how many of these articles are legit and how many were actually put up by people taking the piss. For example here is part of the entry describing a Democrat, as in a member of the Democratic Party:

According to leading conservative thinkers, no good Christian would ever be a Democrat. Catholics identify as Democrats more than Republican, but the opposite is true for Evangelicas. The major tenets of the modern Democrat platform include cowering to terrorism, cocaine presidents, corporate profits, and establishment of an aristocratic, faux-religious state. However, contempt for all the founding principles of America is not yet an official prerequisite for entry into the Democrat party.

Or how about part of the entry on Charles Darwin.
While often regarded by the majority of modern biologists (who accept evolution) as "the father of modern biology," Darwin himself was aware that some aspects of his work were not as scientific as he wished. However, this theory is promulgated by extremely biased groups not recognized as real science, or, truly, advanced critical thought.
This part from the entry on Bill Clinton is clearly a piss take. I guess they have been too swamped to change it yet.
Bill Clinton managed to serve two terms without botching the prosecution of two wars, manipulating intelligence, engaging in a systematic program of torture, or mishandling the federal response to flooding of a major American city. Obviously, he is the devil incarnate. Clinton also attempted to use the American military to kill Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda, an action which was properly seen as a mere attempt to distract the nation from the Monica Lewisnky scandal.
Some entries are well somewhat lacking in content, take this one, which is the entire entry for France.
A country in Europe. Thrived during the middle ages. The capitol is Paris, France, which was founded in the Middle Ages.
Thrived during the Middle Ages, thats it? Or how about Germany? Again this is the whole entry complete with spelling mistakes.
A country in central Europe that was blamed for both Wolrd Wars and claimed to be the dominate race of mankind.
So there we have it the conservative view of everything you need to know about two of the most powerful countries on Earth. Kind of explains US foreign policy for the last 6 years doesn't it?

You can see how the site descended into a free for all as there we're people being banned at a rate of about 1 every ten minutes, in fact they have suspended new accounts now. Surely they could see that this was always going to be the outcome? Their ideas can only survive because they are so insular (its meant to help home schooled kids), any technology that allowed free discussion and presentation of the facts was clearly going to lead to articles that were reality based and hence not at all what they were looking for.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

The British Space Program

I finally found a video of Top Gears most outrageous stunt yet, turning a Robin Reliant car into a space shuttle. Alright it was never technically meant to make it into space but just watch the video. I'm amazed it got off the ground.



I love it, its just so totally English, a bunch of guys turn a crappy three wheeled car into a semi-working rocket. It also has the right ending for this type of story, remember Beagle 2 anyone? Click here for the full segment.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Any Room At The Trough?

Damn I'm glad I don't live in the states, my head would have exploded by now with the utter craven greed of the current political leadership. Check out this post for what set me off this time.

The short version is that Bush is attempting to make his tax cuts for the rich permanent whilst repealing the estate tax (which also only affects the rich). One set of figures to remember, amount of money this could save the Walton family over ten years (Wal Mart owners) = $32.7 Billion, amount cut from healthcare for everyone else = $28 Billion.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The Philosophy Of Science

The Philosophy of Science is not something I have really given any thought to, it always seemed so obvious what Science is that it didn't really need defining. In light of those damn Intelligent Designers/Creationists I've come to realise that this isn't the case. The people that push ID in the states are making a consistent attempt to redefine the definition of Science so that it can include supernatural explanations, which is clearly utter bullshit. Their main aim is simply to redefine Science so broadly that they can get past the requirement for separation of church and state in the US and begin to teach Creationisms bastard offspring, ID, in schools.

My own personal view on what Science is (and is not) is fairly simple. Science is the pursuit of knowledge of the natural world through purely natural explanations (no magic thank you). For a theory to be scientifically valid it has to do two things, it must make predictions about phenomena, and importantly those predictions must be falsifiable. It is on this second point that Intelligent Design falls down, this paper which is fairly short (6 pages) and can be understood by anyone (no maths at all) makes very interesting reading for anyone interested in why Intelligent Design will always remain non-science. Its also fairly good at elucidating just what Science is about. Note: As is this blog post which contains the excellently succinct definition of Science favoured by Richard Feynman: "Science is a way of trying not to fool yourself. The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool."

I would personally put the Scientific Method as one of the pinnacles of human achievement, leading to a level of knowledge and control over the natural world incomprehensible to our less enlightened ancestors. To think that people want to change that because they see it as a challenge to their faith is beyond me. Get over it, why should the Creation story in the Bible interpreted literally when other parts are interpreted allegorically? How many Creationists that believe you will go to hell if you don't believe the literal truth of Genesis, also follow all of the commandments in the Bible, including ones like:

Don't wear clothes made of more than one fabric (Leviticus 19:19) (Presumably in case you start to wear clothes that look a little bit fruity, if you know what I mean.)

If anyone curses his father or mother, he must be put to death. He has cursed his father or his mother, and his blood will be on his own head.(Leviticus 20:9) (I imagine they would die out quickly if they were putting their kids to death for a little bit of back chat.)

Say to Aaron: 'For the generations to come none of your descendants who has a defect may come near to offer the food of his God. No man who has any defect may come near: no man who is blind or lame, disfigured or deformed (Leviticus 21:17-18) (Doesn't sound very Christian does it? But there you go, the disabled are clearly not allowed to worship at the altar of God.)

Its the selectivity of their arguments that drives me nuts, some parts have to be believed without question, but the actual commandments of God, well you can pick and choose which of those you like the sound of.

Many people worry that the wingnuts are attempting redefine the things they don't agree with to gain more control and brainwash more people into their frankly ludicrous outlook, this may be true, but I always tend to look at why people are really doing this, fear. Inside every Creationist is the constant gnawing fear that they are wrong, they hope for certainty in numbers, after all if everyone believes what they do then they must be right, right? Their actions are not driven by any perceived rightness of their beliefs but by their obvious weakness in the face of real evidence. They cannot win on a level scientific playing field (hey we have the fossils) so they attempt to alter the rules to improve their chances.

Possibly The Saddest Thing I've Ever Seen

A truly horrifying video. A tip of the hat to Ben Goldacre's Bad Science.



What's so scary is that most of those kids really never had a chance, they will never be able to think for themselves, from age 0 they have been reduced to living automatons. If it is this easy to indoctrinate people to believe stuff that is clearly nonsense, just how difficult must it be to have them believe anything? This is why a rational outlook on the world is so important, it really is one very small jump from believing this kind of anti-factual rubbish to justifying absolutely any of the worst things humans are capable of because some old book tells you its ok.

Just look at some of the bullshit they are being taught, dinosaurs and men living together, the world is 6000 years old (so God has just set it up exactly so it looks older?), the good old lie that evolution says people are decended from monkeys, I don't know about you but the guy giving the talk looks a bit ape-like to me, so maybe there is something in that one.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Durham: Echoes Of Power


Rich has a post on his blog about a map of London made just after the great fire of 1666, the map itself is pretty cool as you'll find if you follow the link above, but I came across something much more interesting (for those of us with a connection to Durham) whilst wandering around the British Library archives online.

Click for link to a mini site on Durham: Echoes Of Power, the site has a selection of pictures and manuscripts from the last thousand years of Durhams history. My favourite is a picture (which unfortunately it won't let me link directly so click here) of the New Inn pub as it was in the second half of the 18th century. For those of you not in the know, the New Inn is a pub that its practically possible to spit on from the roof of the Physics department. To me its also rather misnamed as it is now around 250 years old.

Other cool sections detail the politics of the region in the early part of the last Millennium, in particular in the powers and intrigues of the Prince Bishops that used to rule the North with powers almost equal to the King himself. There are also many pictures made throughout the last Millennium of Durhams most famous building, its spectacular Norman Cathedral (seen above).


Practical Science

In a similar vein to the experiments carried out by the excellent cmb (see here for hobowine and Hero's fountains) I feel quite a temptation to get back to some actual backyard science. I'll have to be a lot more careful then when I we're a lad though, it appears that most of the bangers and grenades I used to make as a kid could get me 20 years for terrorism offences these days. So does anyone have any suggestions for fun, simple and relatively inexpensive experiments that won't end up with me becoming some guy called Dazzas bitch?

On a similar theme I came across this brilliant site, testing how fast you can spin a standard CD before it simply disintegrates. Trust me it is funny, and somewhat educational.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Life On The Edge - Part Two

In the comments section of the previous post someone called Pete (thanks Pete) has made some good points that I think deserve response, I would insert this as a comment but I have the feeling that this post may run a bit long for that. So here are Pete's points on my previous post, my comments will follow.

Hi Mark,

Depressing indeed, especially because its a totally manmade situation.

But why is the land situation (as it was) "clearly ridiculous"? I don't doubt that white people originally got the land in, ahem, a less than sporting manner, but we have to deal with the world as we find it now. Is a land distribution that adequately fed and employed Zimbabweans really ridiculous - especially given the effects of changing it so drastically?

Further, how can land reform be "handled properly"? By necessity it requires compulsion which will lead to owners not investing in land, improvements, equipment etc because they fear it will be confiscated. Are there examples of land reform not leading to neglect, other problems etc (genuine question - not rhetorical!)?

Generally, we should be wary of seemingly "good/fair" ideas e.g. land reform that are fine in theory but have the massive caveat of "if we can actually get it to work". I'd rather be landless but have a job and cheap food than have my very own 60millionth of the UK and be starving!

I am being a bit of a devil's advocate - probably in agriculturally dominated countries more equitable land distribution could be more important, but its only a means to an end, not an end in itself.

Cheers,
Pete
My problem with the land situation in Zimbabwe, and in fact much of sub-Saharan Africa is simply one of practicality. I agree that there is no moral reason to punish farmers who most likely themselves have done nothing wrong, at least in the sense that they themselves did not steal the land, the land was most likely appropriated by their great great grandfathers. My point is simply an observation of human nature, when there are some people who are so clearly rich and privileged making up a tiny fraction of the population, and when they are so clearly "different" from those that they appear to disadvantage it is clearly going to lead to major tensions within any society. This is not to say that these tensions are fair or warranted, simply that this is just how human nature works and whilst we should aim for the best in human nature we should also acknowledge and plan for the worst. The way that the situation was in Zimbabwe simply made the current outcome almost inevitable, some unscrupulous politician was always going to be willing to exploit the situation for their own political gain, as Mugabe has done to shore up his rural support in the face of a more educated urban population rejecting his other policies.

The question of how to reform the situation more equitably is of course very difficult, there was however until 1997 a fairly good process set up to do this. Until 1997 the UK government provided money to pay for land reform in Zimbabwe, under a "willing seller, willing buyer" scheme, which of course is really the only "fair" method. This approach while obviously much slower naturally leads to a redistribution of land as farming families either die out or leave the industry. It also has the benefit of allowing time for people on a waiting list for land to be trained on all the intricacies of modern farming and because the situation is also of mutual benefit to both parties it is much easier to allow for smooth transitions between owners. This of course means that as long as the farms themselves are not broken up into small uneconomic blocks then the level of production should remain the same.

This scheme was shut in 1997 by the incoming Labour government who rightly thought that they had no obligation to pay for a scheme that was caused by the actions of their ancestors. This decision was however possibly one of the least far-sighted decisions they have made, considering the small amount of money being expended (£44 million) and the fact that the money would probably still be being paid as development aid anyway it would seem with hindsight to have been a much better idea to keep the scheme running. Of course they had other reasons for making the decision, chiefly the suspicion (later borne out) that most of the land was going to Mugabe's cronies. It is interesting to wonder what would have happened if the scheme had kept running, whether or not the land reform would have preceded in a less chaotic manner. I tend to think not, I think Mugabe was always going to abuse the situation, he needed the land issue to hold onto the less educated rural population, to counter the rise of an organised urban opposition.

The tragedy as you say is that the situation is totally man-made, you would think that Robert Mugabe who by my count holds at least 3 degrees in Economics should have realised what would happen. I guess the imperative to stay in power simply became more important than the needs of his people.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Life On The Edge

The BBC has another one of their series of stories about life in Zimbabwe. It makes really depressing reading, it really beats me how people can continue to live with inflation above 1500%, where soap costs the equivalent of $80 when bought legally or $4 on the black market.

The real shame is how in less than 10 years Zimbabwe has gone from one of the most advanced countries (literacy rates over 90%) in Africa to the country with the worlds lowest life expectancy (37 years) and highest inflation (1593% at last count). All because of botched land redistribution which anyone could have predicted would have led to this. Now before anyone jumps on me, I'm totally agree with redistribution of land from white farmers to the landless black populations of Africa (it is clearly ridiculous that 1% of the population held 70% of the agricultural land), but it has to be handled properly. Zimbabwe was a country that depended almost entirely on Agriculture for its income, the industry was modern and used all the latest machinery on efficient farms, in a stroke the farms were broken up into small sub plots and handed to people that in many cases had no experience of farming and no idea of how to use all the equipment required to do it efficiently. The farms that weren't broken up were given to cronies of the President, who had little interest or skill in farming. The result? Plummeting output, massive inflation, starving people and a country on the brink of disaster for the past 6 years. Would it really have been difficult to see this coming? Surely its a case of major mismanagement that should be enough to get any government kicked out of office.

Of course that's not what has happened, a series of power grabs by the Presidents party, a few murders to keep the opposition cowed and a total lack of any independent media means that Zimbabwe's President Mugabe is looking forward to his 30th year in power in 2010. What still seems crazy is that some people still support the government after this disaster, see this story for a truly sad tale of faith over reason. Robert Mugabe is a perfect example of why no-one should be allowed to stay in power for too long, the retention of power becomes the prime concern, turning a man once lauded as a freedom fighter into a caricature of a tin-pot African dictator who has destroyed everything he ever worked for.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Internet Destroying The Planet?

A mildly interesting report has just come out which looks at the power consumption of computer servers in the US, the report by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory finds that severs and all the paraphernalia required to keep them working, (refrigeration etc) uses up 1.2% of the energy used in the US. The figure outside the US was 0.8%. This is actually a lower limit it as it doesn't include custom built servers like the ones Google has thousands of.

I can well believe that kind of number having visited the room where they store the supercomputers used by the Astronomy group, most of the power actually seems to be spent trying to keep the damn things cool, there must be some way to use this energy more usefully. Perhaps using the waste heat from the supercomputers to heat the buildings or something. Does anyone have any bright ideas for how we could profitably use kilowatts of waste heat? I promise not to steal and patent the idea. (Unless its really good.)

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Best Paying Jobs!

CNN has an interesting article on the best paying professions in the US, well its interesting if you're in my line of work, here is the rundown:

1. Surgeons: $177,690
2. Anesthesiologist: $174,240
3. Obstetricians and Gynecologists: $171,810
4. Orthodontists: $163,410
5. Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons: $160,660
6. Internists, General: $156,550
7. Psychiatrists: $146,150
8. Prosthodontists: $146,080
9. Family and General Practitioners: $140,370
10. Chief Executives: $139,810
11. Pediatricians, General: $139,230
12. Airline Pilots, Copilots, and Flight Engineers: $135,040
13. Dentists, General: $133,680
14. Podiatrists: $111,250
15. Lawyers: $110,520
16. Air Traffic Controllers: $105,820
17. Engineering Managers: $105,470
18. Computer and Information Systems Managers: $102,360
19. Marketing Managers: $101,990
20. Astronomers: $101,360
21 Natural Sciences Managers: $99,140
22. Sales Managers: $98,510
23. Petroleum Engineers: $97,350
24. Financial Managers: $96,620
25. Law Teachers, Postsecondary: $95,570
26. Optometrists: $95,500
27. General and Operations Managers: $95,470
28. Computer and Information Scientists, Research: $94,030
29. Judges, Magistrate Judges, and Magistrates: $91,500
30. Physicists: $91,480
31. Actuaries: $90,760
32. Nuclear Engineers: $90,690
33. Industrial-Organizational Psychologists: $89,980
34. Human Resources Managers: $89,950
35. Pharmacist: $88,650
36. Securities, Commodities, and Financial Services Sales Agents: $87,990
37. Health Diagnosing and Treating Practitioners: $87,630
38. Computer Hardware Engineers: $87,170
39. Public Relations Managers: $85,820
40. Aerospace Engineers: $85,450
41. Political Scientists: $84,820
42. Physical Scientists: $84,380
43. Computer Software Engineers, Systems Software: $84,310
44. Personal Financial Advisors: $82,970
45. Health Specialties Teachers, Postsecondary: $82,450
46. Chiropractors: $82,060
47. Industrial Production Managers: $81,960
48. Construction Managers: $81,760
49. Purchasing Managers: $81,440
50. Advertising and Promotions Managers: $81,250

All I can say is yes! Boo to all the snooty "proper" physicists, you can keep your hard work and real science, I'm buying a Ferrari. No doubt things are not as rosy this side of the pond, however I am prepared to travel.

Bloody Greenpeace

Sometimes I get really frustrated at people that most of the time I tend to think do a pretty useful job. This is just one such case, Greenpeace has managed to get a Judge to rule that the British Government has to rethink its plans for a new generation of nuclear power plants. The reasons for Greenpeace's objection are the usual, nuclear is bad, mountains of waste, cost etc. The BBC has a story about it here. Now before everybody jumps on me, I am not particularly pro-nuclear, I am however very much anti-turning-the-world-into-a-giant-f*£$ing-desert-through-global-warming.

Greenpeace's attitude in this is particularly irksome, its just so black and white, the world isn't black and white its shades of grey. Yes it would be great if we could cut our green house gas emissions through renewables and energy savings but this just isn't practical, especially in Britain where about 20% of our electricity is currently generated from nuclear power. This fraction is going to decrease over the next 20 years to zero as the old plants are decommissioned, leading to the building of even more coal and gas fired power stations. All of the cuts that could have been made by using renewables and energy savings will be offset by the need to replace the carbon-neutral nuclear plants with fossil fuel burning ones. Nuclear is costly, it is a pain to have to deal with the waste, but it is much easier to deal with the waste from a nuclear plant than it is to try and contain all the C02 from a fossil fuel fired plants.

Get a clue Greenpeace, yes nuclear is not ideal, but it is the least worst option, at least until ITER manages to demonstrate that fusion is a practical method of energy generation on Earth. Oh I've just noticed that Greenpeace objects to fusion power as well apparently, a project that could cut out all greenhouse gas emissions is not worth the effort, what a bunch of short sighted fools.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Bumper Stickers

I've just come across a huge bunch of great bumper stickers. Check them out here. My favourites are below. Now all I need is a car, dammit.





Intelligent Life?


IbaDaiRon has come up with this great graph that shows the level of interest in the Autodynamics discussion board, its just the number of posts per month for the past year. In case your wondering the "Wow" signal is the signal of intelligent life that occurred when myself, jps and a few other rational people joined to ask a few questions. As opposed to the usual situation where DdH, Travis and Lucy sit around and feel victimised, or momentarily excited when some experiment is done which they don't understand but hope might provide some evidence to bolster their beliefs. I think we will see next month that the number of posts returns to a normal level of about 4-5 a month, seeing as anyone who agrees with DdH is not banned.
In case anyone cares I am still working on the monster post disproving AD, but it is going slowly due to the incredible amount of things to say, and its quite fiddly to make up the equations so that they are readable. It should be ready in a few days.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Order of the Science Scouts of Exemplary Repute and Above Average Physique


Check out this site and see how many badges you qualify for. Mine are below, with reasons why I deserve them. As for the above average physique, well that may be a bit of a stretch, though my bmi is a pretty good 21.6, so no visits from the Awful Poo Lady Gillian McKeith, I hope.

Yes I admit it my research has absolutely no practical applications.
I have been known to freeze many objects in liquid Nitrogen, including, but not limited to: a Cadburys cream egg, banana, a pen, paper and a 3 1/2 in floppy disk.
I can get fairly annoyed and offensive towards the odd crank, see any of my posts on Autodynamics for details.
I think its our duty to fight all quakery and crankery we find.
Clearly I have a blog.

I have been known to shout about science.

Monday, February 12, 2007

More Cartoons

More great cartoons from Joy Of Tech.


Doctor of Perjury?

Over at Pharyngula there is a story that caught my eye. See the post here for more details but in brief the important points are the following: That a young Earth creationist has been award a PhD in Geosciences from the University of Rhode Island, his dissertation apparently deals with fossil sea creatures that died out 65 million years ago, this despite his avowed belief that the world is only 10,000 years old at most. So he has spent 4 years writing a thesis which he has then defended to a group of his peers, despite not believing a word of it. Wow the world is nuts.

I mention this story because I remember a similar situation when I was an undergraduate, we had one YEC on our Physics course, he sat through the lectures on Astronomy/Cosmology with a smirk that signified that he knew something the rest of us didn't, no doubt satisfied that all of the observational evidence that the Earth and Universe are vastly older than 6,000 (or whatever he believed) years was made up as some sort of prank by God. I really can't get my head round the type of person that would spend 4 years studying a degree that they believe to be totally wrong, someone that would go into a area of research already certain that anything they discovered that disagreed with their own worldview must be wrong. Its a total anathema to what science is meant to stand for.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Cranks Emails - 3 - Or William C. Mitchell Knows Nothing About Cosmology/Astronomy

Yesterday I asked for some more examples of crank emails, this morning I found about 15 in my inbox, a big shout out to CMB for sending his collection. In particular one stood out, it is an author attempting to hawk his Anti Big Bang book called - Bye Bye Big Bang - Hello Reality, or as I would have called it Bye Bye Scholarly Study - Hello Page After Page Of Embarrasingly Poor Arguments. NOTE: I haven't changed anything except to tidy up the lines a bit, all those strange symbols were in the original email. Oh and I removed the links to the book at Amazon because they don't fit on the page, the spelling mistakes are all the original authors. If this is a Google search then welcome, let's just have a quick look at how little William C. Mitchell knows about Cosmology, and research, and writing legibly.

Subject: COSMOLOGY

If you aren't interested in cosmology, please don't read any further. I
don't want to annoy anyone.

BIG BANG FRAUD © 2004 William C. Mitchell
The following is a review of some of the many items that are part of an
elaborate fraud that is perpetrated by the Big Bang cosmology establishment.

Some Necessary Background Information.
The solutions to Einstein's Special Relativity equations, as solved by Alexander Friedmann, provided for three possible cosmological ”cases” on which Big Bang Theory (BBT) is based. Those cases are: a “closed✠universe having positively curved space that would eventually collapse; a “flat” universe having uncurved Euclidean space that would expand forever; or an “open” universe having negatively curved space that also would expand forever, but at a slowly increasing rate. (Before Friedmann's work, I don’t believe that Einstein had ever given any consideration to negatively curved space.)

The Velocity of Matter in Space.
The velocity of matter departing from us in space, that is calculated by an equation [V/c = (Z+1)2 -1)/(Z+1)2 +1)], that is derived from the Einstein-Lorentz transformations, results in a rate of expansion that reaches c for large redshifts. However, that is incompatible with the Friedmann closed, flat or open universe cases mentioned above; and it is also incompatible with a universe of relatively slowly increasing expansion that has recently gained considerable acceptance. Regardless of those incompatibilities, that equation continues to be used to determine the velocity of matter in space as a function of redshift.

Lets look at this claim, that cosmologists use the above equation to "determine the velocity of matter in space as a function of redshift", this is of course rubbish, we don't need to know the velocities of objects, we can measure it using spectroscopy. We use the measured velocities to determine the physical distance to the object, using Hubble's Law.

The second claim appears to be claiming that it is impossible for objects to appear to recede at greater than the speed of light, this is down to Mitchell's utter lack of understanding of the expansion of the Universe. It is entirely possible for space to appear to expand faster than the speed of light, individual regions of space expand at a fixed rate, so that if you look over a long enough distance the individual expansions add up to produce an expansion that is faster than light. There is absolutely no problem with reconciling faster than light expansion of space with General Relativity.

The third claim is either a misstatement or a flat out lie, he is essentially claiming that when working out distances to objects in the distant Universe cosmologists neglect the effect of the extra expansion due to Dark Energy. This very easily disproven, many people use Ned Wrights handy Cosmology calculator to convert between things like redshift, physical distance, comoving distance etc, this program can be found here. Try it out, you input the value of the Hubble Constant, the fraction of the energy of the Universe that is in matter (both luminous and dark), the redshift to the object you want to know the distance to, and, drum roll, the fraction of the energy of the Universe that is due to Dark Energy. Try changing the value of the DE while leaving everything else the same, what happens? that's right all of the calculated numbers change. So there you have it cosmologists do include the effect of Dark Energy.

Some More Background Information.
Hubble time, which is the time that the BB would have occurred if the universe had a fixed rate of expansion at the Hubble rate (the Hubble constant) ever since the BB. The consensus of working astronomers seems to be that rate should be about 65 km/sec/MPc, but, because it appears to make the BB universe older, BBers prefer a value of about 50 km/sec/MPc (equal to about 15 km/sec/MLYs) putting the Hubble Time at about 20 billion years,
This book is now quite out of date so I will forgive most of this, even though it is all wrong now, the currently accepted value of the Hubble Constant is around 72 km/s /Mpc, on its own this would infer an age of the Universe that was too short, when compared to the ages of stars. Clearly you can't have stars older than the Universe. However when you include the effects of Dark Energy and Dark Matter, and do the full calculation you get and age of the Universe that is between 13 and 14 Billion Years (Gyr), more than old enough to accommodate even the oldest objects in the Universe.

The Age of the Universe.
The age of the BB universe is based on the “flat” universe case that became important as a result of Inflation Theory. According to that theory, the age of that flat universe is equal to 2/3 of the Hubble time, or about 13.3 billion years. Lately, that approximate age is most often presented as the true BB universe age.
A very much “open” universe of accelerating expansion, has recently become the favored new theory of many BBer. However, the age of the universe that is presented in the media is still based on the flat universe case of inflation theory; that is, at 2/3 of the 20 billion year Hubble time.
As my two previous points have explained this is simply wrong, use the cosmology calculator you will see that changing the value of any of the parameters, including the Dark Energy gives a different age for the Universe, (its the part that says: "It is now XXX Gyr since the Big Bang.").

The Size of the Universe.
Using the above erroneously derived age of the universe, and based on no factual data, BBers have also erroneously assumed that the expansion of the outer edge of the universe has expanded at the speed of light. That allows them to determine its radius, in billions of light years, to be equal to its age in billions of years, or about 13.3 BLYs.
(A plot of the Friedmann's solutions to Einstein’s SR equations would show that, although the rate of expansion of a fixed rate universe would ever be at c, the initial rate of expansion of a flat rate BB universe would be higher, perhaps at about 2c; and the initial rate of expansion of a closed BB universe would be even higher, perhaps at about 3c or more; and the initial rate of expansion of the newly popular BB universe of accelerating expansion might be as low as 1/2c, or even lower.)
This whole statement is garbage, even the wikipedia article gets the facts right on this. The fact that space/time is curved and that the Universe is expanding means that the radius of the observable Universe is not simply just the speed of light divided by the age of the Universe. The actual observable Universe calculated using all of the parameters in the cosmology calculator is about 46 Billion Light years in radius, you can see this in the cosmology calculator if you put a very high redshift, say 2000, this corresponds to a time only 65 thousand years after the Big Bang, now look at the Comoving radial distance, this is how far light can have travelled from 65 thousand years after the Big Bang till now. Again Mitchell reveals he understands nothing about Cosmology, certainly not anything to do with the implications of an expanding Universe in General Relativity.

The Distance to Matter in Space.
Based on that erroneously derived present size of the universe, BBers have concluded that the distance to remote matter in space is proportional to its erroneously derived departing velocity.
Although many BBers still believe that, in accordance with inflation theory, the radius of the universe is many times larger than 13.3 BRYs, they continue to report the distance to high redshift matter in space in accordance with the above; and although many of them have recently accepted the very open universe of accelerating expansion, they continue to report the distance to matter in the same manner.
Thus the distance of matter in space and its velocity as determined by BBers are, not only erroneous, but inconsistent with any currently accepted variety of BB.
I'm not really sure what he means here, but as it is entirely based on his erroneous premises, it can clearly be seen to be nonsense.
Resulting Media Reports.
By the use of such fallacious logic, the distances and departing speeds of matter in the space of the universe, as determined and disseminated by the comological establishment, all that is read, seen or heard in the media, and accepted by all the world regarding those figures, is based on those compounded errors.
The only errors we have seen so far have been yours, to paraphrase a favourite film of mine, "you are a poor scientist Mr Mitchell".
More Background Information.
The so-called “Age Paradox” has plagued BBT since day one. Some stars are known by astronomers to be considerably older than the reputed age of the BB universe; and far worse than that, a number of astronomers have estimated that it might have taken more than 100 billion years for the formation of the giant galactic structures that are observed in space.
That is not a “paradox,” but a disastrous problem that BBers have struggled for decades to overcome, meanwhile attempting to hide it, or dismiss it as a trivial, soon to be solved problem.
There is no age paradox its all a load of bullshit, mostly spread by Creationists who think that if they can disprove BBT then more people will believe the world is 6000 years old. I will state this clearly so it can be understood by anyone, including hopefully the incompetent like Mr Mitchell. There are no known objects in the Universe that have measured ages greater than the age of the Universe within the errors of the measurement. I work on the study of Globular Cluster systems, cranks often claim that the ages of GCs are older than the Universe, they are wrong, correctly determining the ages of these systems is difficult and requires a lot of telescope time, usually you don't get enough to do it very accurately, so what you do is try to measure many at once, when you do this equal numbers appear to be younger or older than their actual ages, this makes some of the objects which are actually 10-12Gyr old appear to be 15 Gyr old. This is simply to do with signal-to-noise, statistics and fitting of templates to determine ages. Similarly with objects like white dwarfs, or certain low mass stars which we know could continue to shine for 100 Billion years, yet we never see any of them that are older than 13 Gyr, why is this? Because there are none older than 13Gyr.

The point he makes about galaxy structures would actually appear to be true if you don't actually think about the issues for a moment. Lets face it what crank actually wants to do some thinking and then some difficult maths? For one, the early Universe was much more dense than it is now, as gravity acts as an inverse square of the distance between mass this means that if the Universe was half the size the average force of gravity between clumps of matter would be 4 times larger. Clearly earlier in the Universe it was much easier for gravity to pull matter together to from stars/galaxies/clusters of galaxies. A second point is that the simulations he talks about do not include the effects of dark matter, which contains many times as much mass as luminous matter, adding this in means you can easily form large structures in as little as a few Gyr. If you don't believe me here is a picture of a simulation showing exactly that. Every dot in the image is a huge clump of dark matter (and stars).


Solutions to the Big Bang Age Problem.
A recent new scheme to help BBers solve their age-old age paradox is the invention of “dark energy” or “quintessence.” They have decided that those imaginary entities cause the rate of expansion of the universe to be accelerating. The universe would therefore have expanded more slowly in the past. It would therefore be older than previously thought, thus helping to solve their age problem. (Incidentally, some Bbers of long ago had proposed a universe of accelerating expansion, but their schemes failed to survive.)
Not much to say here, he provides no proof that the cosmological constant or quintessence is impossible, mostly because it is far beyond his intellect to grapple with the maths I'm sure.

The Two Biggest Frauds of All:
The Big Bang creation of the universe was “out of nothing.” Until Inflation theory came along in the early 1980s, BBers believed that, before the Big Bang, there was no matter, no energy, no time, no space.
An equally ridiculous solution to that fraud was the ”inflation” resulting from a “vacuum fluctuation” of the energy of empty space as the source of the Big Bang. Somehow the space and energy, that hadn’t perviously existed, was now said to have been there all the time, and it contained unimaginable amounts of energy.
This is a vacuous and also incorrect statement. The BBT makes no real claims about what happens before the BB in fact it makes no real claims at present about what happened in the very smallest fraction of a second after the BB, why? Because when the matter reaches the incredibly high energies found just after the BB the laws of physics break down, we cannot use the laws we have now to explain all the way back. We know that the laws of physics break down because gravity is not yet reconciled with quantum mechanics and until we have a quantum theory of gravity we can't know what happens earlier with any certainty. Does this matter? Not really, the theory as a whole does not depend on the mechanism, as long as some process can produce the initial expansion and then the inflationary phase everything is fine.

The above are just a few of the items of fraud that continue to be disseminated. However, leading BB cosmologists are well aware of those; and many more problems and inconsistencies of BBT. While attempting to appear unconcerned, minimize their importance, or avoid mention of them, they struggle to invent new schemes to circumvent them; while making big money as professors, lecturers, TV personalities, and authors of articles and books with intriguing new titles. However, most of the innovations they produce (like inflation and acceleration), that are intended to solve BBT problems, produce only new problems.
Meanwhile, those intelligent and educated establishment folks choose to ignore the problems of BBT, and to perpetrate the fraud that continues to be disseminated in the media.
I'd love to know who makes big money from being an astronomer, I certainly don't know of any rich astronomers. If I wanted to be rich the easiest way would be to take up televangelism, or to write a really poor book about how scientists are frauds and the BBT is wrong and then try and sell it to the wingnut creationists. I mean you wouldn't even need to do any hard work then right? No need to check facts, or test theories, you know those people will believe anything as long as it makes BBT or evolution look bad.

If you would like to gain a thorough understanding of Big Bang Theory and its many flaws; and then learn the truth about cosmology based, not on wild ideas and fantasies, but on vast amounts of astronomical data, true science, logic and common sense, you must read my book, BYE BYE BIG BANG - Hello Reality.
This inexpensive, 446 page, paperback - that includes a bibliography, 5 appendixes, and name and subject indexes - can be found in most large US city and large US university libraries; or order it from your book dealer (at $19.95 - available to them from THE DISTRIBUTORS*), or click on:

Best wishes,
William C. (Bill) Mitchell
Carson City, Nevada, USA

*Conact Patty Walsh at THE DISTRIBUTORS, 702 S. Michigan, South Bend, Indiana
46601, USA. Email: pwalsh01@ameritech.net, Telephone: 574-232-8500


In conclusion I can't help but feel terribly embarrassed for the poor guy, it really is that bad, he hasn't even checked the simplest of his arguments, I would expect better from a high school essay. There are plenty of problems with the BBT, none of which are major, if there weren't there wouldn't be anything left for Astronomers to do, but he has decided to attack problems that don't exist. Very sad. I think we can see from the short email that reading the book is probably going to be pointless. If he can fit that many distortions, lies, out of date data into just that few lines how many will the book have?

Thursday, February 08, 2007

All For Naught

I note that i_am_nil has posted a particularly short-but-sweet rational critique of the whole Astronaut stalker story. Check it out here.

Crank Emails - 2

Further to my previous post. I was wondering if anyone else has any examples of crank emails, or even actual letters, most science departments seem to have a collection somewhere. I'm specifically interested in ones propounding new scientific theories (I'm not that interested in quack medicines). If you do could you please send me a copy, or a scan, I'm thinking of building an archive, and also of perhaps causing a bit of mayhem. You can find an email that will work in my profile. Thanks.

Crank Emails

As a member of a recognised Astronomy department I occasionally get emails directly from cranks, I'm not sure what they're after really, presumably they just want someone with some modicum of credibility to agree with their theory. One such example hit my inbox today, here is the entire contents of the email.

Attachment contains:

Page 1 Initial Mass Displacements

Page 2 Universal Mass

Page 3 Solar System Plane Distances

Page 4 Galactic Mass



Frank Hatch

P.O. Box 50355

Eugene, Oregon 97405

U.S.A.
I've included his address because he so obviously wants people to get in touch regarding his theory, so go ahead knock yourselves out, be polite though, he's probably nuts. He lives in Oregon and thinks about the Bible and the end of the world, which probably means he lives in the middle of a forest in a bunker packed with automatic weapons, worrying about the UN invading.

What goes through my mind when reading an email like that one above is something along these lines, "hmm new mail", "the words look like their scientific but they don't seem to mean anything when put together", "hmm", "do any professional scientists send unsolicited emails extolling their new theories?", "Er no", "CRANK ALERT, CRANK ALERT, CODE RED, CODE RED".

When you read the attached pdf (which can be found here) you'll see it contains some of the most incomprehensible numerology you will ever come across, something about this being a FINAL WARNING that the Earth/Hell is about to fall into null space, whatever the hell that is. It is mixed liberally with the usual quotes from the Bible, making it seem even more ridiculous. Oh and this is the second final warning I have got from Frank Hatch, I think traditionally this one is meant to have red paper or something. Next time I guess he'll send the bailiffs round.

Note: Its not all bad, Jim2 regards receiving his copy of this, his first crank email as something of a rite of passage for a young astronomer. Well done Jim2, today you are a man.

Vista vs Mac OSX, In Cartoon Form

Click For Big.

Its funny because its true. I know that plenty of people have it in for Macs and I'll probably get a snide comment or two for this, but to hell with it. Everyone in Astronomy uses Macs so at least I won't get any grief at work.

Oh then there's this:

If you're after a bit of balance how about this:


See them all, and more over at joy of tech. Damn I wish I could draw, and also was funny.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Hubble Heritage

Click for VERY Big.


Thanks to the BadAstronomer I have found out about a cool new HST image from the Hubble Heritage site, what's even better is that two of the people that worked on the project to get the data work along the corridor, hence I am actually better informed than the BadAstronomer for the first time. The picture released by Hubble Heritage shows a cluster of Galaxies called Abell S0740. There are two versions of the image one without annotations and one showing zoomed regions of interest. See them both here.

This data is of particular interest because of what was found in the inner regions of the large elliptical galaxy at the centre of the cluster, when examined carefully it was discovered (by Russell Smith, here's the paper to prove it) that there were 3 gravitational arcs within the galaxy, you can see them in the inset in the top right of the image above. These arcs are the result of the light from a background galaxy being bent by the gravity of the large foreground elliptical galaxy, this has the effect of making several images of the same galaxy which are brighter and larger than they would usually be, making it possible to see galaxies further away. The gravitational arcs in this galaxy are the closest known example of strong lensing by an individual galaxy, as opposed to lensing by a cluster of galaxies.

The reason these lenses are so interesting is that when the position and brightness of the lenses are combined with the distance to the actual background galaxy (which can be worked out from its redshift) it becomes possible to measure precisely the amount of mass in the lensing galaxy within the radius of the arcs, with little or no assumptions. By looking at the way brightness of the lensing galaxy it is then possible (assuming that brightness is related to the amount of stars) to work out fraction of the mass in the lensing galaxy that is from normal matter and the fraction from dark matter. But wait that's not all.

By using the mass determined with the observed brightness of the lensing galaxy and the measured motion of stars in the galaxy (measured from spectroscopy) it becomes possible to work out exactly how the stars in the galaxy move as well, allowing a determination of parameters that can be used to constrain models of how galaxies form. Essentially these lenses could allow determinations of all the physical parameters of the lensing galaxy at accuracies previously unheard of.

Great you say, lets do it, but this is where things get difficult, it turns out that the arcs are so narrow that with current technology is actually impossible to get enough signal from them to determine a redshift, bugger. Basically they are so narrow that you add much more lensing galaxy light then you do lensed galaxy light. If STIS on the HST is ever repaired it may be possible, but if not it could be 10 years before its feasible. Note: if you happen to be someone sitting on a TAC (telescope allocation committee) and I, R. Smith or J. Lucey have a proposal to do what I've just claimed is impossible, I was wrong, we can do it, please give us the time.

Another thing I like about this work is shown in the other inset, a whole bunch of globular clusters. I study globulars, and when observing them from the ground it becomes very difficult to observe them at distances probably around 30-50Mpc away, these ones are located at 142Mpc, makes me even more annoyed that ACS has broken down, there will be no more new data like this for at least two years.

Planet Earth Calling Dr Walt Brown

As I am presently working up a "final" refutation of Autodynamics I thought it would be a good idea to look around for similar examples of woolly thinking, poor science or downright fabrications. It turns out the web is full of such nuts, who knew?

One in particular stands out for having many of the best qualities a crank should have, including (but not limited to) a preconceived opinion of what the answer should be based on some non-scientific reasoning, in this case a religious belief. Second a whole roster of pretty impressive qualifications, non of which have anything to do with the topic under study, here the guy is an engineer (aren't they always?) but somehow thinks that this qualifies him to discuss the intricacies of stellar evolution or even biological evolution. Dur, well stars are just like big light bulbs right?

Step forward Dr Walt Brown of the Center for Scientific Creation, successful engineer, lousy astronomer/geologist/biologist/thermodynamicist. His website which can be found here, is so painfully wrong, twists facts so badly, uses data so out of date, that it nearly makes my eyes bleed, that and the crap colour scheme. I'm sorry but all those qualifications and income from a bunch of wingnut funds should have got something prettier to look at. If you hadn't guessed from the name, its mainly aimed at "proving" that the Earth and the Universe is 6000 years old, eurgh, I mean for Gods sake, we have archaeological evidence of cities from further back than this, even before getting onto the f*%£ing dinosaurs. To be fair I don't think this site is designed to convince anyone, merely to quiet the questions raised by the already brainwashed, no one with any kind of ability for rational thought could really be taken in. It does however seem a frighteningly small step between this and a demand that this crap be taught in science lessons for "balance".

The only thing that niggles me and prevents me from going into full ass kicking mode is that someone else has done it, probably better than I could. Sigh. Check out the story over here at the angry astronomer. Oh and also at pharyngula. I leave a full dissection of all the Dr Walts rubbish as an exercise for the reader, its not really difficult to see where the problems are, but should anyone have any questions feel free to ask away.

La Lune


I've recently come across another cool website, this one is a click-able map of the moon. You can find it at inconstantmoon.com what makes this site better than say, Google moon, is simply the huge amount of data at your finger tips. As well as the usual, click-able and zoom-able maps, with overlays of craters and Apollo landing sites there are things like the map above, which shows the amount of TiO2 in the moons surface, others show the thickness of the crust or the gravitational anomalies. Unfortunately no magnetic data yet, so its not possible to search for any magnetic anomalies, especially in the Tycho region (note for non sci-fi buffs read 2001).

To have a play around click on atlas, then just press buttons on the side bar to the right.