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Saturday, May 29, 2010
Evolutionism requires opposition to all religion
Leftist-athiest-evolutionist Jerry Coyne (Why Evolution Is True) attacks all scientists who seek accommodation with religious believers. He writes on his blog:
Yes, one can believe in both evolution and God. Evolution is a well-confirmed scientific theory. Christians and other people of faith need not see evolution as a threat to their beliefs.
This is like saying “Gazelles and other antelopes need not see lions as a threat to their lives.”
So I guess Coyne is admitting that atheism is essential to evolutionism, and the goal of all good evolutionists is to wipe out religion.

Coyne follows up with this:

There are people of faith who see the theory of evolution and scientific cosmology as contrary to the creation narrative in Genesis. But Genesis is a book of religious revelations and of religious teachings, not a treatise on astronomy or biology.

According to Augustine, the great theologian of the early Christian church, it is a blunder to mistake the Bible for an elementary textbook of astronomy, geology, or other natural sciences. As he writes in his commentary on Genesis:

“If it happens that the authority of sacred Scripture is set in opposition to clear and certain reasoning, this must mean that the person who interprets Scripture does not understand it correctly.”

But who can say what the book of Genesis was supposed to mean?  I’ll give you ten to one that, when it was written, it was a treatise on astronomy and biology, at least as far as those things were understood by denizens of the Middle East two millennia ago.

And, frankly, I’m tired of Augustine being trotted out in these kinds of discussions, as if his interpretation of the Bible was obviously the correct one. I could trot out other theologians who would say the opposite.

The significance of St. Augustine's view is that it has been the view of the Roman Catholic Church for 1500 years, and that it is the theology of most Christians today.

The Middle East had many outstanding treatises on astronomy and biology two millennia ago. The ancient Babylonians and the Greeks could predict eclipses and the retrograde motion of the planets. They had observed and catalogued thousands of species of plants and animals. No, they did not think that Genesis was a treatise on astronomy and biology. Genesis is nothing like their scientific treatises. Coyne acts as if Darwin's book was the first scientific book ever written.

A Wash. Post book review says:

Fully half of these top scientists are religious. Only five of the 275 interviewees actively oppose religion. Even among the third who are atheists, many consider themselves "spiritual." ...

Creationist attacks on evolution "have polarized the public opinion such that you're either religious or you're a scientist!" a devout physicist complains.

I don't know whether that is true about creationists or not, but it is certainly true about the leading evolutionists like Dawkins and Coyne.

Friday, May 28, 2010
Schulmann on Einstein, and how Einstein still makes money
I just watched an interview of Einstein biographer and archivist Robert Schulmann by John McLaughlin. Schulmann agreed that it is "certainly true" Einstein's big 1905 papers would be rejected today. The viewer is led to believe that such radical papers would not survive the stodgy editors and reviewers of today.

In fact much more radical physics papers get published today all the time. Eg, see this.

It probably is true that Einstein's 1905 papers would be rejected, but only because the editors would require him to give references to the work in the field. Einstein describes the work of others without giving his sources. Modern papers are nearly always required to have references. Of course Einstein's papers would not seem so radical if he did that.

Apparently there is a lot of money in maintaining Einstein's legacy. AP reports:

Albert Einstein is among the world's top-earning dead people, and an Israeli university that holds rights to his image is asking General Motors Co. to pay for putting the physics pioneer in a magazine ad.

The Detroit automaker grafted the Nobel Prize-winning German scientist's head onto the body of a buff, shirtless man in a Nov. 30 ad in People magazine.

The ad had the slogan "Ideas Are Sexy Too."

On May 19, Hebrew University of Jerusalem filed suit against GM in U.S. District Court for central California. The suit quotes Forbes magazine in 2008 as saying Einstein earned $18 million a year, fourth among deceased celebrities. He died in 1955.

GM spokeswoman Ryndee Carney tells The Detroit News that GM paid for rights to Einstein's image.

It used to be that someone had to be in the business of licensing his image while he was still alive, in order for those rights to be enforceable after death. It seems crazy for some Hebrew university to be able to control Einstein's image.

With that kind of money at stake, you can be sure that someone like Schulmann will only be allowed to say positive things about Einstein. None of the official biographers and archivists will say correctly just what Einstein did that was original.

Ardi not a hominid
The breakthru of the year last year was a missing link named, but now it seems that Ardi may have been just an ape:
The fossil skeleton known as Ardi, hailed in some quarters as the scientific “breakthrough” of 2009, has now drawn critics who dispute claims that the species lived in dense woodlands rather than grassy plains, which have been long considered the favored habitat of early prehumans and perhaps account for their transition to upright walking.

Another scientist has stepped forward to challenge Ardi’s classification as a member of the human lineage after the divergence from African apes. Its primitive anatomy, he contends, suggests a species predating the common ancestor of the human and chimpanzee family trees.

I was suspicious when I found out that they kept Ardi secret for 17 years. I am also suspicious that they never seem to find any ape fossils. Every time they find an ape-like fossil, they claim that it is a human ancestor and get lot of publicity. No one cares about ape fossils. The researchers have too much incentive to classify the fossils as hominids.

Update: John Hawks has a discussion of some of the Ardi problems.

Thursday, May 27, 2010
Martínez on Einstein
Alberto A. Martínez writes:
Throughout the decades, Einstein made many comments and declarations concerning the origins of relativity theory. He was interviewed by biographers, psychologists, historians, physicists, journalists, and others. He voiced many details to friends, family members, and even to the public at large. We also have letters and recollections by his colleagues and contemporaries. Thus, we know of so many clear-cut influences that it would take us too far afield to review them here. To mention just a few as examples, some of the major influences, among many others, were: Lorentz’s work on electrodynamics, the ether-drift experiments, a key experiment by Fizeau, the admittedly crucial writings of Hume and Mach, and to some extent, those of Poincaré.
And Einstein denied that he read Lorentz's later works, that he ever read any of Poincare, and that he was influenced by Michelson-Morley.

Einstein did not just misrepresent his work in 1905, by not citing the previous work. He spent his whole life lying about it. The discovery of relativity is carefully documented as one of the great breakthrus of mankind, and yet everyone accepts Einstein's phony story about it.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010
Censorship is not the answer to health scares
A UK essay says:
‘How could this have happened?’ asks a splenetic editorial reflection on the MMR-autism controversy in the current issue of Vaccine, the leading scientific journal in the field of immunisation. The authors - Gregory Poland of the Mayo Clinic and Ray Spier from the University of Surrey – proceed to blame everybody but the scientific authorities for the scare that was launched in a notorious (and now withdrawn) Lancet paper by the former Royal Free gastroenterology researcher Andrew Wakefield who was finally struck off the medical register this week on charges of serious professional misconduct. ...

After a brief standoff with Elsevier, when Charlton refused to back down on his editorial independence, he was sacked this month as editor of Medical Hypotheses. Now that those who call for a clampdown on scientists who express sceptical views about global warming or the scaremongering about AIDS seek to extend the label of ‘denialism’ to include those, like Wakefield, who ‘deny’ the consensus that childhood vaccines are safe and effective, the editors of Vaccine seem to want to restrict the expression of such views in the media.

I think that the preoccupation with silencing Wakefield by the medical establishment is bizarre. Isn't it enough just to prove him wrong?

No, dissenting views on vaccines, AIDS, global warming, evolution, and a few other subjects are not tolerated. The more that certain views are censored, the more that people will legitimately complain that they are not getting the full story.

Monday, May 24, 2010
Astronomer Copernicus reburied as hero in Poland
AP reports:
FROMBORK, Poland — Nicolaus Copernicus, the 16th-century astronomer whose findings were condemned by the Roman Catholic Church as heretical, was reburied by Polish priests as a hero on Saturday, nearly 500 years after he was laid to rest in an unmarked grave.

His burial in a tomb in the cathedral where he once served as a church canon and doctor indicates how far the church has come in making peace with the scientist whose revolutionary theory that the Earth revolves around the Sun helped usher in the modern scientific age.

Copernicus, who lived from 1473 to 1543, died as a little-known astronomer working in a remote part of northern Poland, far from Europe's centers of learning. He had spent years laboring in his free time developing his theory, which was later condemned as heretical by the church because it removed Earth and humanity from their central position in the universe.

No, his findings were never condemned as heretical. His book was published with the endorsement of the Catholic Church. About 75 years later, it said that nine sentences had to be corrected. That's all. Catholics were always free to study his book and use its model.

The corrections were not because of a "central position" argument. The Earth was not at the center in the Ptolemaic model either. There was a medieval belief that the Earth was stationary, but not that it was at the center of the universe.

Sunday, May 23, 2010
Another quantum crypto break
Any proof that quantum cryptography is perfect relies on idealized assumptions that don't always hold true in the real world. One such assumption is related to the types of errors that creep into quantum messages. ... The physicists say they have successfully used their hack on a commercial quantum cryptography system from the Geneva-based startup ID Quantique.
I have noted previous breaks here.

I point this out repeatedly because the promoters of quantum crypto are always claiming that it is superior to conventional crypto because we can be more sure about the correctness of the physics of quantum mechanics, or something like that. In my opinion, just the opposite is true, and dependence on physical principles quantum crypto much more difficult to do securely. The physical dependence also makes it impractical for most applications.

Thursday, May 20, 2010
Holton on Einstein
The book Thematic origins of scientific thought: Kepler to Einstein By Gerald James Holton has a long argument for Einstein's originality:

Continuity or Revolution?

EINSTEIN’S work in relativity is both typical and special. The rise of relativity theory shares many features with the rise of other important scientific theories in our time. But it is of course very much more. To find another work that illuminates as richly the relationship among physics, mathematics, and epistemology or between experi- ment and theory, or a work with the same range of scientific, philo- sophical, and general intellectual implications, one would have to go back to Newton's Principia. The theory of relativity was a key develop- ment both in physical science itself and in the philosophy of science. The reason for its dual significance is that Einstein’s work provided not only a new principle of physics, but, as A. N. Whitehead said, “a principle, a procedure, and an explanation." Accordingly, the com- mentaries on the historical origins of the theory of relativity have tended to fall into two classes, each having distinguished proponents: the one views it as a mutant, a sharp break with respect to the work of Einstein's immediate predecessors; the other regards it as an elabora- tion of then current work, for example, by H. A. Lorentz and Henri Poincaré.

Holton is an Einstein biographer who is credited with debunking Whittaker and others who describe a continuity in the history of relativity.

No, Einstein’s work did not provide a new principle of physics, or any of those other things.

Even if you don't know anything about relativity, this must strike you as hard to believe. Some people say that Einstein's 1905 relativity paper was the most important scientific paper in two centuries, and others say that it was just a rehash of previous work

Newton's Principia was not entirely original, as the inverse square law for gravity had been published by Hooke and others previously. Leibniz discovered aspects of mathematical calculus before Newton published, but Newton claims that his books has ideas that he invented 20 years earlier, and Newton and Leibniz could have influenced each other.

Einstein claims that he wrote his whole paper in a 6-week flash of brilliance, and immediately sent it to the publisher. So the priority issues are much more clear-cut for Einstein than for Newton. So how could there be any dispute? It should be a simple matter to look and see whether the formulas were published before Einstein. If Einstein had some new and different formula, then his supporters would just point to that.

But they cannot do that. Every single formula and concept was published before Einstein. Holton cannot deny that. Instead he babbles for pages about how Lorentz and Poincare did not really understand their own formulas.

Holton's argument is that Lorentz-Poincare and Einstein separately created the greatest theory in centuries, but Einstein should get all the credit because Lorentz and Poincare did not understand what they did.

Why would anyone believe anything so ridiculous? It is as if supporters of Leibniz or Hooke argued that Newton did not really understand what he wrote in his Principia. If Newton were able to produce such a great work without understanding it, then I would think that he must be even more brilliant.

If Lorentz and Poincare really didn't understand it, then they would have some wrong formulas mixed in with the correct ones. And the criticism would be based on those errors, not guessing about what they understood. In fact Lorentz did make a couple of errors that showed limits to his understanding. So did Einstein. But nobody cares about that. Because if Lorentz gets credit for everything but his mistakes, then there is not enough credit left for Einstein. And Poincare didn't make any major mistakes.

Reading these Einstein biographers is like reading some Catholic Church scholar claiming that some other scholar made a doctrinal error. It is just not something you can understand or verify on your own. You are supposed to believe these guys that Lorentz and Poincare had figured out all the physical principles, derived all the correct formulas, and explained all the experiments properly. But somehow they just weren't as good as Einstein.

Thursday, May 13, 2010
Katzir on Poincare
Katzir writes:
Since Poincaré's new relativistic theory therefore depends upon the validity of Maxwell's equa- tions, it is not as general as Einstein's special theory of relativity, which assumes only the prin- ciple of relativity and the constancy of the speed of light.
No, this is backwards. Here is how Einstein described his own assumptions, in his 1905 mass-energy paper:
The results of the previous investigation lead to a very interesting conclusion, which is here to be deduced.

I based that investigation on the Maxwell-Hertz equations for empty space, together with the Maxwellian expression for the electromagnetic energy of space, and in addition the principle that:--

The laws by which the states of physical systems alter are independent of the alternative, to which of two systems of coordinates, in uniform motion of parallel translation relatively to each other, these alterations of state are referred (principle of relativity).

With these principles* as my basis I deduced inter alia the ...

*    The principle of the constancy of the velocity of light is of course contained in Maxwell's equations.

As you can see, Einstein's theory depended on Maxwell's equations, and Einstein admitted it.

Katzir gives a very good account of what Poincare did, so it is odd that he would get this wrong. Poincare applied his relativity theory in 1905 to gravity, and that did not depend on electromagnetism at all. Poincare himself later said that electromagnetism cannot account for gravity. So Poincare's relativity was more general.

Katzir knows this; he even wrote an essay on Poincaré's Relativistic Theory of Gravitation. (Behind paywall here.)

Tuesday, May 11, 2010
Defining a siphon
A physicist complains:
"An extensive check of online and offline dictionaries did not reveal a single dictionary that correctly referred to gravity being the operative force in a siphon," Dr Hughes said.

The most up-to-date version of the OED defines a siphon as:

"A pipe or tube of glass, metal or other material, bent so that one leg is longer than the other, and used for drawing off liquids by means of atmospheric pressure, which forces the liquid up the shorter leg and over the bend in the pipe."
I think that it is just as misleading to say that gravity is the operative force. Yes, both gravity and atmospheric pressure are needed to work a siphon. But the surprising part of the siphon is the liquid going up, and that is driven by the atmospheric at the bottom of the short leg and the lesser pressure at the top of the tube. Yes, the lesser pressure is caused by gravity, but I think that the OED definition is literally correct, and appropriately emphasizes the more subtle aspect of the siphon.

The scientific paper says:

It would be useful if someone could perform a demonstration of a siphon working in a vacuum. ...

It is hoped that this paper may assist in correcting the common misconception that the operation of a siphon is dependent on atmospheric pressure. ...

For example, the online edition (2009) of the Oxford English Dictionary quoted in the introduction could be modified to read: “A pipe or tube of glass, metal, or other material, bent so that one leg is longer than the other, and used for drawing off liquids by means of gravity, which pulls the liquid up the shorter leg and over the bend in the pipe.”

Huhh? It should not be hard to do that vacuum siphon demonstration, if he were correct.

Sunday, May 09, 2010
Science of ignorance
Science is not just about an accumulation of knowledge about the natural world. It is also about knowing the limits to that knowledge.

The best scientist is not the one who jumps to some conclusion on some issue like global warming, and is later proved correct. The best scientist is the one who correctly explains what is deducible from the available data, and correctly understands the limitations of the available knowledge.

The ancient Greeks understood that they could predict their view of the sky without knowing whether or not the Earth moves. Probably the Babylonians, Egyptians, and others also. Some of them, anyway.

The physics of motion was not really understood until around 1900. Until then, there were unexplained puzzles about whether the Earth moved or not. The best scientists realized this.

Here are some ignorance quotes:

Daniel J. Boorstin:
The greatest obstacle to discovery is not ignorance -- it is the illusion of knowledge.
Education is learning what you didn't even know you didn't know.

Thomas Jefferson:
Ignorance is preferable to error, and he is less remote from the truth who believes nothing than he who believes what is wrong.

Joe Theisman:
The word "genius" isn't applicable in football. A genius is a guy like Norman Einstein.

Ludwig Wittgenstein:
Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent. (Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, daruber muss man schweigen.)

Friday, May 07, 2010
Top 10 science and technology writers
He is a magazine's list:
1. Stephen Hawking 2. Richard Dawkins 3. Isaac Newton 4. Charles Darwin 5. Albert Einstein 6. Bruce Schneier 7. Guy Kewney 8. Isaac Asimov 9. Robert X. Cringely 10. John C Dvorak
They admit that they did not understand Hawking. Not sure about the others. The list is absurd.

Thursday, May 06, 2010
Europeans have Neanderthal genes
The NY Times reports:
Neanderthals mated with some modern humans after all and left their imprint in the human genome, a team of biologists has reported in the first detailed analysis of the Neanderthal genetic sequence.

The biologists, led by Svante Paabo of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, have been slowly reconstructing the genome of Neanderthals, the stocky hunters that dominated Europe until 30,000 years ago, by extracting the fragments of DNA that still exist in their fossil bones. Just last year, when the biologists first announced that they had decoded the Neanderthal genome, they reported no significant evidence of interbreeding.

Scientists say they have recovered 60 percent of the genome so far and hope to complete it. By comparing that genome with those of various present day humans, the team concluded that about 1 percent to 4 percent of the genome of non-Africans today is derived from Neanderthals. But the Neanderthal DNA does not seem to have played a great role in human evolution, they said.

Experts believe that the Neanderthal genome sequence will be of extraordinary importance in understanding human evolutionary history since the two species split some 600,000 years ago.

This is contrary to what evolutionists have been telling us for years. They have said that Neanderthals were not human, that all human have the same out-of-Africa lineage, and that there has been no significance human evolution since. I don't know how convincing this evidence is, but we shall soon see.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010
Paty on covariance
The French professor Michel Paty writes in a 1992 essay, Physcial Geometry and Special relativity: Einstein and Poincaré:
Poincaré's and Einstein's respective conceptions about space (properties of distances), time (relativity of simultaneity), and on velocity (relativistic addition of velocities, the speed of light as a limiting velocity), concerning the mathematical formulation and the physical interpretation of these concepts as well as their relation to dynamics, were at the same time very close and very different.

Very close, because both of them came to exactly the same formulae of transformation, with an identical interpretation as to the truely physical character of the concepts considered in any (inertial) reference frame (i.e., in the usual case of two frames in relative motion, the one taken as at rest, and the one in 30 Title of his 1905 paper simultaneous to Einstein's one (Poincaré 1905 b and c, Einstein 1905).

But their views were very different concerning the theoretical meaning of these results, and only Einstein can be credited of having developped a theory of relativity, where the idea of covariance is basic and founding. Although the word was coined afterwards, it summarizes indeed the essential of Einstein's 1905 theory (and, so to speak, the ‘object’ of this theory) : covariance, as the condition put on physical quantities so that the principle of relativity is obeyed, entails the Lorentz formulae of transformation through a redefinition of space and time, and the covariant form of (electro-)dynamical laws. Poincaré also considered covariance, but not as the founding concept. It was entailed from Lorentz formulae of transformation, and these were a consequence of electrodynamical properties as evidenced experimentally (with a particular emphasis on Michelson-Morley experiment, at variance with Einstein)34. [p.16-17]

No, that is backwards. Poincare proved covariance in 1905, and Einstein did not. Covariance means transforming spacetime vectors and tensors as a consequence of spacetime coordinate transformations. This fundamentally important concept is absent from Einstein's famous 1905 paper. Einstein does not even have the concept of spacetime, and he certainly does not have the concept of a convariant vector or tensor field on spacetime. He deduces the transformation of electric and magnetic fields by assuming that Maxwell's equations hold in different inertial frames, just as Lorentz did ten years earlier. The main difference between Einstein and Lorentz on this point was that Einstein said that he was using the equations for empty space, while Lorentz said that he was using the equations for the aether.

Poincare invented 4-vectors on 4-dimensional spacetime in 1905, gave a covariant spacetime formulation of Maxwell's equations , and proved that the equations hold in different inertial frames by applying those spacetime coordinate transformations.

It is baffling how someone can write a scholarly essay on relativity, and get this difference so wrong. It is only possible because physicists have been getting it wrong for decades.

Saturday, May 01, 2010
Nobel prizewinner studies the paranormal
Via Woit comes this controversy:
An extraordinary spat has broken out after a Nobel prizewinning physicist was "uninvited" from a forthcoming conference because of his interest in the paranormal.

Details of the conference in August for experts in quantum mechanics sounded idyllic. Participants were due to discuss "de Broglie-Bohm theory and beyond" in the Towler Institute, which is housed in a 16th-century monastery in the Tuscan Alps owned by Mike Towler, Royal Society research fellow at Cambridge University's Cavendish Laboratory.

The prizewinner once wrote this paper:
A model consistent with string theory is proposed for so-called paranormal phenomena such as extra-sensory perception (ESP). Our mathematical skills are assumed to derive from a special 'mental vacuum state', whose origin is explained on the basis of anthropic and biological arguments, taking into account the need for the informational processes associated with such a state to be of a life-supporting character. ESP is then explained in terms of shared 'thought bubbles' generated by the participants out of the mental vacuum state. The paper concludes with a critique of arguments sometimes made claiming to 'rule out' the possible existence of paranormal phenomena.
It sounds wacky to me, but I am not sure why it is any wackier than a lot of other string theory and other fringe physics.

Here is a current argument over some untestable ideas in modern physics:

Gross called Guth's concept of eternal inflation somewhat speculative, noting that if other universes do exist, they are causally disconnected from ours — "every goddamn one of them." As such, Gross added, talk of other universes "does bear some resemblance to talking about angels."
Guth is sometimes mentioned as a Nobel Prize candidate for his discovery of cosmic inflation theory in the 1980s. But there is still no hard evidence for inflation, and no good estimates for when it started, how big it was, or how long it lasted. It is just another goofy idea with no substantiation.