From the Greek meaning 'heavy with wine'
A blog devoted to science and reason
Written after a glass or two of Pinot Noir.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Wingnut Thermodynamics

Bryan Fischer, part-time nuclear physicist, now lectures on thermodynamics.*
Remember that the second law of thermodynamics - one of powerful evidences for creation - is that neither energy nor matter can be either created or destroyed.
Um… Bryan? That's the first law of thermodynamics, also known as the conservation of energy. The second law states that the entropy of a closed system never decreases.
A brief digression. Did you notice how he emphasizes the word law? That is a sure sign that the speaker doesn't understand what a scientific law is or how it differs from a basic principle and from a theory.

Now he makes a claim about the origin of the universe.
There is nothing in inside the observable universe that can explain the origin of matter or energy.
Why is it that people like Bryan Fischer make statements like this as though they are undisputed facts? The origin of energy (mass is just one form of energy) is an open scientific question. Lawrence Krauss and Brian Greene are just two physicists who have written popular accounts on the nature of matter and energy.
So what is the logical conclusion? Someone outside the universe put it there.
Logical conclusion? Fischer must never have taken a course in logic. First he assumes the truth of his premise. Then he creates a false dilemma - either there is no one or there is someone. Notice the lack of something. Of course, the someone he has in mind is his version of the christian deity.
The universe is headed toward a heat death.
Now Fischer gets the 2nd law essentially correct. The universe will according to current models keep expanding, increase in entropy, and grow very cold.
This is a scientific law predated by the psalmist back in 900 B.C.
Wait for it.
Of old you laid the foundation of earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you will remain.
Psalm 102, verses 25 and half of 26.  Then he makes a statement as though it were a fact.
Matter and energy are not eternal. It had a beginning and it's got an end. 
Earlier he calls the eventual state of the universe a heat death. I think he does this so his listeners can conjure in their minds the biological meaning of death, but in physics, this term first coined by Lord Kelvin means that the universe has cooled to such a point that the universe's entropy is maximized and the energy in the universe has been uniformly distributed.

My question about Fischer and others like him is 
Are you deliberately misleading your followers about science 
or do you really believe this crap?"

If you'd like to hear Fischer discuss geology and paleontology, chick here. You will be entertained when he claims only eyewitness accounts can be trusted.

*Thanks to Right Wing Watch for "monitoring and exposing the activities of the right-wing movement."

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Let Kids Choose!

CREDIT: Scott Sommerdorf/
Salt Lake Tribune

Utah state Senator Aaron Ormond wants to let kids to choose to go to school. I'll let him speak for himself. The statements below are from The Senate Site, a blog maintained by the Utah State Senate.
Some parents completely disengage themselves from their obligation to oversee and ensure the successful education of their children.
I agree.  In the time I spent consulting with a preschool - 8th grade school, I saw varying degrees of commitment from parents.
As a result, our teachers and schools have been forced to become surrogate parents, expected to do everything from behavioral counseling, to providing adequate nutrition, to teaching sex education, as well as ensuring full college and career readiness.
Before I began my work with children, I never appreciated the responsibility  that teachers took on. Want to see a hero in action? Visit a classroom.
Unfortunately, in this system, teachers rarely receive meaningful support or engagement from parents and occasionally face retaliation when they attempt to hold a child accountable for bad behavior or poor academic performance.
Unfortunately, I've seen this happen, too.
First, we need to restore the expectation that parents are primarily responsible for the educational success of their own children.
Can I get a witness!
That begins with restoring the parental right to decide if and when a child will go to public school. In a country founded on the principles of personal freedom and unalienable rights, no parent should be forced by the government to send their child to school under threat of fines and jail time.
That begins with restoring the parental right to decide if and when a child will go to public school. In a country founded on the principles of personal freedom and unalienable rights, no parent should be forced by the government to send their child to school under threat of fines and jail time.
Oh. Irresponsible parents can then choose not to educate the children.
Utah’s constitution requires that we provide the opportunity for a free public education to every child. But public education is not free—it costs taxpayers billions each year.
Wait until he sees the cost of an uneducated child.
We should take a close look at repealing compulsory education.
And we have a new candidate for Stupid Politician of the Year.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Bad News for Fans of "The View"

CREDIT: Kevin Winters/Getty Images

Despite just last week saying there would no one new joining the women on The View, Barbara Walters announced today that Jenny McCarthy will be joining the talk show.

Jenny is an anti-vaxxer. She willfully rejects modern science in favor of fear. Here is a comment she made in 2009.
Autism is not primarily a genetic disorder, but caused by vaccine-related toxins (including mercury, aluminum, ether, anti-freeze ,and human aborted fetal tissue) and pesticides.
As Science-Based Medicine notes:

  • Genetic changes in the DNA that codes for neuronal cell adhesion is associated with autism.
  • Mercury and aluminum has been conclusively shown to have nothing to do with autism.
  • Ether, anti-freeze, pesticides, and fetal tissues are not in vaccines.

The View is not just a talk show. It like Oprah in the past is a influential source of news.  Having Jenny McCarty on is dangerous to everyone's health. Do I exaggerate? Tell that to the parents of Dana Elizabeth McCaffery.

More on Jenny McCarthy and her anti-vaccine views.
More on vaccines in general.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Getting Crankier - Part 2

Let's deal with some of Mr. Stojanowski's comments made on Getting Crankier.
Only the latitudinal movement is relevant to angular momentum.
But again, the latitudinal movement of Pangea, and its remnants, during the past 350 myrs is what is important, not just the dispersal movement after its breakup.
No. Any change in I, a body's moment of inertia (the distribution of its mass about a rotation axis), is relevant to angular momentum.
…it was the displacement of the core elements, an action which would increase the Earth’s AM to balance the reduction of AM from Pangea’s center of mass moving closer to the spin axis as it moved to a higher latitude.
… an action which would increase the Earth’s AM to balance the reduction of AM from Pangea’s center of mass moving closer to the spin axis as it moved to a higher latitude.
CREDIT: J. Stojanowski

Let's apply Mr. Stojanowski's hypothesis to the problem. In his work, he claims that the Earth's core was displaced by 1000 km in the equatorial plane. (see his Fig. 3 to the left). He also references a paper in Geophysical Research Letters* in which he claims they show movement of Pangaea's center of mass. More on the center of mass later. Figure 3(a) in this article (shown below) does show variation in a parameter the authors label D.  The authors are attempting to quantitatively estimate the "asymmetry of continental surface." To calculate D, the authors use the first moment of the distance to the equator with respect to the surface area. This is not the center of mass.
CREDIT: Petrelis et al.

However, let's use Mr. Stojanowski's assumption that the two are the same and apply the conservation of angular momentum to his model. See the previous article for a brief introduction to this principle. 

The first term on the left hand side of the equation below represents the core 1000 km from the Earth's axis in the equatorial plane.  The second term represents the Earth minus the core and the continents, and the third term is Pangaea. The term on the right hand side is Earth today.
We need a few more numbers before we can calculate.  The mass of the core is about 1/3 of the Earth's mass. We'll use Mr. Stojanowski's number of 1000 km for rc. The last quantity required is the distance from the axis to Pangaea.  Here we'll use his assumption that D is the center of mass. From Figure 3(a) in the Geophys. Res. Lett. article, D is about 100 km south of the equator. We use a bit of elementary geometry and trigonometry to find the distance from the axis to Pangaea; rp = 6370 km.

Plug away. In the meantime, let's recap.  I've used the conservation of angular momentum and Stojanowski's model and numbers. We find that the consequence of his model is that the Earth rotates once every 16.6 hours. This contradicts what we know the length of the day; then it was about 23 hours long.
His assumptions in his calculation are:
1. Pangea’s center of mass was located on the equator 250 myr.
2. Today, the continental crust is distributed uniformly across the globe.
Based on the above assumptions, in both cases, the center of mass of continental crust is on the equator. Therefore, the moment of inertia in both cases must be the same, meaning the angular velocity must also be the same to conserve AM.
Yes, I did assume in Getting Crankier that the center of mass stays on the equatorial plane. However, as I clearly showed in my first attempt, the moment of inertia is not the same over 250 million years. There I modeled Earth 250 mya as a sphere and a object (Pangaea) located 6371 km from the axis. And my calculation clearly demonstrates that the angular velocity must change as a result of conserving momentum.

I mentioned above that I would say something about the Earth's center of mass, but I ran across another blog that has dealt with this issue quite well. Ed Brayton** blogged at Dispatches from the Creation Wars, and on Dec. 27, 2010, guest blogger W. Kevin Vicklund wrote New Explanation for Dinosaur Extinction? Revisited. He shows how bad Mr Stojanowski's figure of 1000 km is for the core offset. The short version is that if the Earth is to rotate about its axis then the Earth's center of mass must remain at the Earth's geometric center. Mr. Stojanowski's model doesn't do that. If the core moved as he claims, the Earth would have precessed like crazy.
Yes, surface gravity at the poles is less than at the equator based on difference in distance to the Earth’s center of mass. This is evident from the inverse square law (relative to distance) postulated by Newton. It’s exactly why surface gravity on Pangea changed when the Earth’s core elements moved off-center and away from Pangea, moving the Earth’s center of mass further away from Pangea.
No. The effect is due to the centrifugal term in Newton's 2nd law as I explained in the previous post. If you want to use Newton's law of universal gravitation to find the magnitude of the gravitational field near the Earth's surface, here's what you do.
The polar radius is 6357 km, and the equatorial one is 6378 km, only 0.3% larger. Use these to calculate the gravitational field, and you will quickly see that the equatorial field is only 0.6% smaller. Mr. Stojanowski may counter that his model yields a value 8% smaller for Pangaea, but as I and Mr Vicklund have shown, that core motion he postulates violates what we know about the Earth's rotation.

Mr Stojanowski.  Should you reply once again, I ask that you back up any claims with physics, mathematics, and numbers.

*Plate tectonics may control geomagnetic reversal frequency, F. Pétrélis, J. Besse, J.-P.Valet, Geophysical Research Letters, vol. 38, issue 19, October 2011.
**I highly recommend Ed Brayton's Dispatches from the Culture Wars.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Getting Crankier

Mr. Anonymous, who may or not be John Stojanowski, left two comments on my recent post, Feeling Cranky. To recap, Mr. Stojanowski has a hypothesis that the dinosaurs became extinct because the gravitational field of the Earth increased and that increase was caused by movement of the Earth's core accompanied by the shifting of the planet's crust.

The first comment:

Notice how he slyly calls into question my credentials, but I'll let that go. I do know how angular momentum works, and I seriously question Mr. Anonymous's understanding, not just of angular momentum, but of the meaning of the word latitudinally.

Watch this animation of the spreading of Pangaea.

There seems to some movement of the underlying tectonic plates northward and southward (latitudinal motion), but the greatest change in seen longitudinally; that is eastward and westward.

Be that as it may, let's examine our understanding of angular momentum which is conventionally denoted not by AM but by
Angular momentum is conserved, that is, it stays the same, when there are no unbalanced torques acting on the object. Mathematically it can expressed thusly,
Here's an excellent example of this principle. 

Here when the figure skater starts her spin she is spinning relatively slowly.  Then as she pulls her arms and leg in, she spins much faster. The Greek letter omega in the equation above represents the spin rate. The I in the equation is called the moment of inertia and describes how the mass is distributed around the rotation axis.  When the skater pulls her arm in, she is distributing her mass closer to the spin axis, and her rotation rate increases. There's no "compensating action." 

I can show with a simple model how the spreading of Pangaea could affect the length of the day. First, let's suppose the entire supercontinent is located at the equator. Second, let me suppose that the continental crust is now uniformly distributed across the globe. [Note: those simplifications are not necessary; they just make the work relatively easy to follow and make the calculations possible to do in a minute or two.]

Now here's the data (1):
Now we can plug in all the numbers and calculate what the Earth's the rotation rate should have been 250 million years ago.

You can see that the rotation rate is less than it is today by a factor of 0.995.  We conclude then that that day should have been 1.005 times longer than now - about 7 1/2 minutes.

Oops.  We know that 350 million years ago, one day lasted less than 23 hours.(2) Mr. Stojanowski's angular momentum hypothesis disastrously gives the wrong direction of change.

By the way, Mr. Anonymous, I am not a geologist, so can you explain what effect your oscillating core would have on the convection currents in the mantle, and what effect those changing currents would have had on driving plate tectonics?

The second comment:

Again with questioning my credentials. Oh well. Rotational dynamics is usually covered in an undergraduate third year classical mechanics course. All physicists learn early in their career how to do physics in a rotating reference frame.  Here's what we derive, essentially Newton's 2nd law in a rotating reference frame.(3)
One consequence of this is that the Earth is not spherical, but it bulges outward at the equator, and we drop something it drops straight down, perpendicular to the Earth's Surface.  However, straight down is not the same as pointing to the center of the Earth.  

Mr. Anonymous is curiously unaware of the size of the Earth's rotation rate.  He appears to say that the Earth has a high spin rate. As I can show from Newton's 2nd Law, the rotation of the Earth has about a 0.05% effect. The gravitational field is about 0.05% larger at the poles than it is at the equator.

If Mr. Anonymous cares to respond again, perhaps he would be so kind as to provide some mathematical and physical details. I think I'm qualified enough to handle them.

1. The numerical data can be found in any physics, astronomy, or geology book with the exception of the continental mass.  That estimate comes from Mass and Composition of the Continental Crust Estimated Using the CRUST2.0 Model Peterson, B. T.Depaolo, D. J., American Geophysical Union, Fall Meeting 2007, abstract #V33A-1161.  Any introductory physics text will have a chapter or two on rotational dynamics at this level.
2. See for example, this article at Scientific American.
3. For those you have completed an introductory calculus-based physics sequence, as well as a differential equations course, see a standard classical mechanics textbook such as Symon's Mechanics, or Thorton and Marion's Classical Dynamics of Particles and Systems. Graduate level students can consult Goldstein's Classical Mechanics.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Cowboy Bob Strikes Out

Today I received the email below from the FaceBook authorities that access to this image is no longer being disabled.  Bob had the option to seek a federal court order restraining me from using it, but maybe the cowboy read up on Section 105 of the copyright code.
We have restored or ceased disabling access to the content you identified in your counter-notification. If you do not see the content, it is possible we were unable to restore it due to technical limitations. In this case, you may re-upload the content at your discretion.  
The above action is taken pursuant to section 512(g)(2)(C) of the DMCA. 
For more on this, see Cowboy Bob Strikes Again