Thursday, September 25, 2008

Thanks PZ!

Until this Tuesday, the only people who read my blog were me, and a few close friends whom I had to twist their arms practically, and they never left comments. In fact the only comment I had gotten was from a christian ex-girlfriend who didn't like my post on Christian Natural Selection.

However, that all changed when PZ Myers was gracious enough to post a link to my blog on Pharyngula. Since then, I've tripled the the number of hits on my blog, and actually gotten some good comments as well. It looks like I just may make it in the blogging world. But I can't do it without you guys, so keep reading and posting your comments, and I'll try to keep posting interesting stuff.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

I always thought vanity and lying were sins...

William Lucas of Common Sense Science came to Virginia Tech on Friday night, thanks to the Campus Bible Fellowship, and gave a talk entitled "Expanding Earth: Scientific Evidence for Biblical Creation." I attended for the first half of his lecture, but once he started talking about god I felt a little nauseated and had to leave. Fortunately for me, he'd split his talk up in to two halves: the first half was "scientific" evidence for an expanding earth, and the second half was the jesussy stuff. So I didn't miss out on any of the fun stuff.

Lucas began with a brief history of his "scientific" career, calling himself a "scientist by backgroung," which I thought was somewhat accurate since it implies he does not contribute to science currently (which he doesn't) but I don't know if he ever really did in the first place. Anyway he claims he entered college at the junior level and that the college made him teach the undergraduate classes below that to prove that he knew the stuff. Why would they even have admitted him at that level if they needed proof? It's only 5 minutes into the talk and it already smells fishy...

He went on to mention something about his masters and PhD work, which I won't bore you with, however, he did mention that his PhD research included bombarding matter with negatively charged particles that replace the electrons, whereas on his resume he says that his PhD is in Theoretical physics. I may only have a B.S. in physics, but I'm pretty sure that theoretical physics does not involve doing experiments oneself. Hence the theoretical part...

Moving on, he began his actual slideshow with several slides illustrating the "stretch marks" resulting from an expanding earth. "evidence" for these stretch marks included the midatlantic ridge and other divergent plate boundaries, and a map of tectonic plate movement. He highlighted a few boundary points where plates were diverging and claimed that every single one was moving away each other. Now looking at that map (this isn't the exact one he used, but it's essentially the same thing), you can see that there are indeed some plates that are moving away from each other, but take for example the Eurasian and Pacific plates. They look to me like they are converging. The funny thing was that the map he used in his talk included that evidence of convergence, he simply ignored it and hoped everybody else would too. But the icing on the cake was that he claimed textbook authors deliberately laid out maps so that evidence for the expanding earth was near the edges so they'd be less conspicuous, while he was doing exactly that on his own slides.

His next few slides were even worse. He showed different iterations of the same picture over and over again, claiming they were evidence for different phenomena. These phenomena were geologic age, temperature, "Ocean Magnetic Stripes," and heat flow. Geoligic age and temperature make sense to me, except that he only talked about the mid atlantic ridge, which scientists knew was exhibiting that behavior anyway. I think he completely invented "Ocean Magnetic Stripes," because I couldn't figure out what he was even trying to say, and heat flow to me seemed like a result of temperature difference, but I didn't listen to him very well because I was trying not to laugh.

Then he talked about various geological phenomena like earthquakes and volcanoes and how they all occur on or near fault lines, and how this is due to the earth's expansion. I guess if you don't have any data of your own, you might as well steal other people's data and make it fit your crackpot ideas. Then he showed pictures of the moon with "continents" and mares (seas) as well as pictures of Venus, Mars, and Ganymede, a moon of Jupiter, and talked about how they were all expanding too. No data to support this was presented, he just threw it out there for us to swallow. One funny thing was that he called Ganymede a planet about five times before his wife corrected him that it was a moon.

Here his talk took a different turn: after a brief summary of the previous slides, he moved to a new slide entitled, somewhat ironically, "Logical Foundations in Science," with the following "rules" for science
-no false postulates allowed*
-no theories on false postulates*
-all theories must be self-consistent*
-all valid measurements of same quantity must be the same** (he said 82 methods for determining the age of the earth: 4 say old 78 say do the math)
-all entities in universe intereact in self-consistent manner

* rules he violated in this talk
**rules he couldn't violate because he didn't take any data

Using these rules, he went on to "disprove" quantum mechanics, general and special relativity:

According to Lucas, quantum mechanics is wrong for the following reasons:
-not science (no further explanation)
-postulate that observation causes wavefunction to collapse to definite state (he says this is equivalent to "the moon isn't there if nobody's looking)*
-point particle postulate (he proposes a finite-sized spinning ring of charge model for particles)
-postulate that the universe is controlled 100% by random statistical processes (he says we don't just wake up on venus do we?)**

*This illustrates a common misunderstanding of quantum mechanics. We can't just look at an electron and see where it is. We need to actually do something to it to "observe it." Thus the electron doesn't exist in any definite state until it actually interacts with something else. It has nothing to do with us as humans "seeing" it.

**According to quantum mechanics, it is theoretically possible that a full person could be on earth one second and on Venus the next, but this is so astronomically improbable that it wouldn't happen in a span of time trillions of times longer than the age of the universe. The only things we see this kind of quantum behavior with reasonable probability, are particles on the quantum scale (so named for that exact reason) This can be seen in quantum tunneling, for example.

Lucas says the general and special theories of relativity are wrong for the following reasons:
-c is the upper limit on velocity (he says "that just doesn't make sense, and quantum tunnelling shows an example of faster-than light travel by an electron...see above)
-also requires point particles
-claims velocity of light is independent of source*
-claims space is isotropic- (he pronounced it isotopic, without the r)

*to disprove this, he showed some mumbo-jumbo about the Michaelson-Morly experiment, which actually worked to prove this aspect of STR.

He also claimed that the only paper for which Einstein got a Nobel Prize (on the Photoelectric Effect) was written by his wife and not him. He told the whole story, but of course provided no evidence to support it.

At this point he introduced his "Universal Force Law," which, coincidentally, happens to explain every one of QM's, GR's and STR's downfalls. He said something about trying to solve a problem on electromagnetism and he just stumbled across this second term, which nobody else had ever seen, and which, incidentally, also happens to explain absolutely everything in the universe. Here is a synopsis.

-Gravity is an electromagnetic phenomenon resulting from vibrations of electrons in atoms.
-magnetic force from spinning ring of charge that is the electron is strong enough to counteract electic attration from the proton.
-Revised law of gravity such that the fundamental gravitational constant G and mass don't exist (he actually said "no such thing as G or mass)
-Predicts every fundamental particle, including the graviton (didn't show any predictions)

Then he gave a bunch of evidence supporting his law, which, like before is simply other people's data that he claims supports his theory, but he never actually shows how they are connected. Here's what he said:

-2.7 K background radiation from the universe is predicted by his law, and it fits the data.*
-Earth and all the planets follow a corkscrew motion in their orbits. (he showed some diagrams, but no actual observation of this kind of motion or any kind of data for that matter)

*He actually showed this exact graph, with the fit of data from COBE to the theoretical curve, which actually comes from quantum mechanics. He didn't say anything about how he predicted that curve, or even why it should look like that, as opposed to something different.

That's the end of the first part of the talk. As I said before I didn't stay for the second half, but he did allow questions during the break between the two halves, so I'll summarize some of the questions and their answers (if you can call them answers)

Q. In your model of gravity being a result of oscillating electrons in atoms, are the electrons oscillating on just one side of the proton, or do they switch sides?

A. Well you see electrons are finite-sized rings, and the magnetic force is stronger than the electrical force so it keeps the electron from crashing into the proton

Q. So if the magnetic force is what is keeping the electron and the proton apart, and it's caused by spining charge in a ring, what's to keep the rings from flipping, thereby reversing the direction of the force and pulling the two together?

A. Well since they're both finite-sized rings, the edges can actually interact, and if you look at, for example the Bohr model, the electron must continuously emit radiation. That doesn't happen, so it's not true.

Q. So if gravity is caused by oscillating electrons in atoms, and oscillating charges emit radiation, shouldn't the electrons continuously emit radiation? Won't they eventually run out of energy?

A. Yes and they do, that's why all mass is decaying.

Whoo boy, this guy could skirt questions like it's his job. Actually, I think it is his job... Anyway, that's all I stayed for, but what I did see was, needless to say, quite entertaining. At the same time, though it's scary that people like this are out there. This guy had no data to support some crackpot idea he has, so he stole everybody else's data and pretended that it supported his idea.

And the christians out there want some proof so badly they'll swallow anything from anybody, which makes Lucas' job so much easier. It'd be nice if we could get everybody to be just a teensy bit more skeptical, but we are talking about Christians here...

By the way, if anybody is interested in any of the topic covered in this post, below are several links on reliable information on the topics.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Survey Reveals 55% of Americans are Meatheads

TIME is reporting on a survey that reveals that 55% of Americans believe they have been watched over by a guardian angel at least once in their life. The article clarifies that this is not the fraction of the population that merely believes in guardian angels, rather they believe to have experienced the protection of one.

The survey also included questions about being spoken to directly by god and miraculous healing, but these received far less support than guardian angels. So what causes people to draw the line between guardian angels and miraculous healing? Both seem equally ridiculous and impossible to me.

It's funny how these people are so ready to believe something like protective fairies for which no physical evidence would exist even if they were real, but as soon as you up the ante to something like divine healing for which you would have hard proof (and there is none) they don't believe.

I guess that means they're partway there. They're applying a very low level of skepticism, which hopefully can be cultivated and grown until they're actually reasonable.

Monday, September 15, 2008


Ok I use Facebook. I wouldn't say that I'm addicted to it. I don't feel the urge to check it many times daily. Once a week is closer to how often I actually check it. But it doesn't bother me when other people check Facebook religiously, every couple of hours or so, or spend several hours at a time browsing through friends' profiles. They can waste their time however they want and it's no skin off my nose.

But I must say that I don't understand the zeal with which some of these Facebookites defend their beloved website. I just got an invitation to join a Facebook group that is serving as a petition to get them to keep the website from changing it's profile from having everything on one page, to having multiple tabs for each page. There are at least a half dozen groups that exist now entitled "I Hate the New Facebook" or some variation thereof, and there's even one called "1,000,000 against the new facebook."

There seems to be a whole lot of energy going into protesting a minor change to the layout of A FUCKING SOCIAL NETWORKING WEBSITE. I mean come on people, it's not like the government is taking away our civil liberties here. Put your efforts towards a more meaningful cause, and stop bitching and moaning about how you have to click twice to see your friend's pictures instead of only once like back in the good ol' days.

Monday, September 8, 2008

It's a Right-Handed World

For those of you who are southpaws out there, you understand what I mean when I say that the world we live in is dominated by right-handers. Just because they make up 90-93% percent of the population, they think they have the right to make life as hard as possible for us lefties.

Now I know there are bunch of you right-handers out there who are saying, "What? we've done no such thing." Well it's time to wake up and face your ruthless bigotry. Here is a list of items and tools designed for use with the right hand, with no regard to the idea that some of us preferentially use our left hands:

computer mouses (mice?)
spiral notebooks
pencil sharpeners
schoolroom desks
scissors (and don't give me that bullshit about left-handed scissors they used to have in kindergarten. they were vastly inferior: I could have cut a cleaner line with my teeth)
hockey sticks
rotary cheese graters

The list goes on and on.

But this post is not about complaining about our plight. I've long since come to terms with that, only getting on my soapbox about it when I absolutely have to. No what this post is about is that the bigotry and prejudice, it seems, is not restricted to people. It appears that the laws of physics and molecular biology share the same right-handed skew. Check it out:

DNA, the molecule that carries the genetic for every living thing on the planet, forms a right-handed helix. Likewise, proteins form a type of secondary structure called an alpha-helix, which, you guessed it, also happens to be right-handed. Shameful...

Now take a look at physics. You'd think that the science at the root of it all would be a little bit more objective, but no. Many physical phenomena, such as torque and magnetic force on a moving charge obey what is called the Right-Hand Rule. This means that the direction of the torque or force can be determined by curling the fingers in the direction of rotation (as is the case for torque) or from the direction of the charges velocity to the direction of the magnetic field.

Last, and perhaps the most insulting, is that the weak force only interacts with one kind of fermion. And what kind of fermion is that? The left-handed kind of course.

The universe hates us.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Scientific Whiplash

It just occurred to me, that as one goes through secondary and undergraduate education in science, The pace at which new ideas are uncovered is absolutely breakneck. Now I'm not complaining about moving too quickly in lectures; in fact, sometimes I wish they'd speed up and I didn't have to hear about 'how DNA is an anti-parallel double-stranded helix' for the umpteenth time at the beginning of every single class.

No, what I mean is it's breakneck compared to graduate education. Again, I need to include a disclaimer: I don't think that graduate school is easier or involves less learning than undergraduate. It's just that in graduate school, new ideas (to the student) are revealed less and less frequently. This is because graduate school in science is the shift from a focus on learning theory to learning research techniques. After two years or so, you stop taking classes altogether.

So the halt in discovery of new ideas is because you start running out of new ideas that have already been discovered by somebody else, and instead have to start making these new discoveries yourself. And anybody who has worked in a laboratory or in the field knows that making these discoveries takes a considerable amount of time: months, even years. In contrast, as an undergrad, you are exposed to an entire biosynthetic pathway--something that probably took decades to work out--in a matter of minutes.

I suppose what I am trying to say is that I am truly grateful for all those scientists who came before me and spent so much time and made those discoveries so that I can learn them in a much shorter period of time. And in return, or perhaps I'm paying it forward, I will eventually get a PhD and contribute some real original research.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Cows or Compasses?

I just heard about this study that went on at the University of Duisburg-Essen in Germany, where they used Google-Earth satellite images to observe cows and wild deer, which align their bodies a with Magnetic North.

I think the weirdest thing about this is not that they can sense north--there are many animals that can do that--but that we have had domesticated livestock for 10,000 years and nobody has ever noticed this before.

C'mon cowfarmers, get with it.