Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Relatively Stupid

If you're going to deny one of physics most fundamental principals and the theory that explains it, you'd better be packing some serious heat. I won't pretend to be a physicist, but since it's my second favourite of the hard sciences, I felt like this particular page was a big, fat, slow ball over home plate.

I am going to do a point-by-point refutation of Conservapedia's "Counterexamples to Relativity" page, ignoring the political screed at the top, which is nonsense on the face and requires none of my art to be discredited. I think a refutation of their "45 counterexamples; any one [of which] shows that the theory is incorrect" will suffice.

I'm paraphrasing the quotes to get the thrust of the objections, partly to parse the frequent political rhetoric out of them, and also because copy-pasting into blogger is more of a chore than you would think.
  1. The orbital eccentricity of the Moon is increasing, contrary to what Relativity predicts.
    TRUE. Orbital eccentricity of the moon is increasing relative to the mean and a portion of that increase is anomalous. However, this is not a problem with the theory of Relativity, which states that:
    1. Measurements of various quantities are relative to the velocity of the observer.
    2. Space and time should be considered in relativity to each other and as one entity, spacetime.
    3. The speed of light is non-variant and is the same for all observers - which prevents the speed of light from being a factor in the measurement accuracy of the eccentricity of the orbit.

      This means that, despite the anomaly being an interesting unsolved problem in physics (specifically, orbital mechanics), this point does not countermand relativity. It has nothing to do with it.
  2. The Pioneer Anomaly.The Pioneer Anomaly refers to an anomaly in the accelerations experienced by the Pioneer 10 and Pioneer 11 spacecraft when they left the solar system (lit. reached a distance of twenty AU from their launching point). This was broadly explained in one of two ways with no one dominating explanation winning the day and testing of any given hypotheses being prohibitively expensive, preventing a definitive answer. The deviation can be explained equally well by "mismodeled forces in the original projections" (meaning the scientists responsible failed to take something into account), or "new physics". It is an interesting question certainly, but it does not violate Relativity per-se - if you fail to take relativity into account when rangefinding against the spacecraft, you still get wrong readings.
  3. The Sun is too damn round!
    Methinks my lady doth protest too much. The sun is unusually round for its rotational force considering it is a ball of plasma. Since we know the plasma is rotating we should expect it to be wider at the "equator" than across the poles. It is not, at least not as much as is predicted. This suggests that something is wrong with our understanding of how Newtonian Mechanics affect plasmas and has nothing to do with relativity whatsoever.
  4. Neutrinos, an object with mass, travels at the speed of light. This should not happen because of the Lorenz Factor being infinite for an object with mass at c.
    Let's assume for a minute that the neutrinos observed travelling at the speed of light were doing so at the speed of light through a vacuum, and assume that the easy answer of Cherenkov Radiation doesn't apply.

    The mass of Neutrinos are, however, an unsolved problem in physics. We know that their mass cannot be zero, but we also cannot measure the mass. The problem of whether or not this violates Lorenz invariance is an open question as well. Even if it did show a Lorenz invariance violation, it would not violate relativity, as neutrinos cannot be shown to travel superluminally. It is an open question.
  5. Anomalies in the locations of objects travelling past the earth.
    See 2.
  6. Spiral Galaxies don't have enough mass, therefore Dark Matter.
    This is actually true. What's more, Dark Matter is indirectly observable. What's more, this is a problem of the Theory of Gravity, not the Theory of Relativity.
  7. The acceleration in the expanion of the universe confounds Relativity, and dark energy was invented to retrofit observations to the Theory.
    Let's take as read the usual rant about new models to explain new observations being how science works, and move on to the actual point. The universe is expanding. This is demonstrable. This expansion is not anomalous. Dark Energy is believed to be a function of the cosmological constant. More importantly, Dark Energy doesn't make sense without taking all that is known about cosmology and physics first into account. the Dark Energy hypothesis is built on Relativity's back, not shoved under it like a table with a short leg.
  8. Shifts in the perihelion of Mercury.
    See 1.
  9. Gravity waves, predicted by the theory, have yet to have been observed.
    The 1993 winners of the Nobel Prize for Physics would like to have a word for you. Okay, fine. I'll grant that gravitational waves have yet to be directly observed. A big part of that is because there's no gravity lens. Someone once described the Higgs Boson as a "gravity photon" which isn't entirely true, and even if it were, we can barely catch a glimpse of ONE, let alone image a field of them.

    Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, particularly when there are observational implications of existence. The chief complication is time. The sorts of systems that can generate these waves naturally break down only after billions of years - significant fractions of the age of the universe. The waves can only truly conclusively be said to exist if they stop after the system breaks down. The observability of gravity waves by direct experimentation is an open problem in physics, with implications for relativity.

    There is a strange association of not having an answer with being incorrect about something. That is not the case.
  10. The discontinuity of momentum at speeds approaching c for an infinitismal mass, as opposed to the momentum of light.
    Light is an interesting thing. It is a waveform particle. What's more, it has no mass. Momentum is mass times velocity. Light has a zero momentum. Of course, if you change either variable, mass or velocity, you chance the momentum. Interestingly, because light has zero mass, it always has zero momentum, at any speed, in any medium.
  11. The logical problem of a force which is applied at a right angle to the velocity of a relativitstic mass. Does this affect the real mass, or the relativistic mass?
    Relativistic mass is functionally momentum. Albert Einstein himself said it would be better to deal with moving objects as having momentum, rather than a relativistic mass.
  12. The observed lack of curvature of the universe. (Note: One would not expect the universe to be almost perfectly flat. Yet it is.)
    This is a failure to understand the difference between the overall curvature of the universe in toto. and the curvature of local space influenced by gravity of local objects. My desk, on the whole, fits into a space defined perfectly by a regular rectangular prism, but if you exist as an ant on the surface of my desk it is actually rather rugged.
  13. The universe shortly after creation, when quantum effects superceded relativity.
    Quantum Mechanics and Newtonian Mechanics violate each other. Relativity is not involved. This isn't even an unsolved problem of physics - unifying QM and CM models is, but the reasons for the dominance of QM in the early universe is simple - there were no structures large enough in the universe during that timeframe for classical mechanics to have applied.

    By the way, I'm interpreting this line rather creatively - I assume that by "shortly after creation", the authors of the page actually mean "shortly after the Big Bang" or, more precisely "shortly after the end of the singularity state".
  14. The action-at-distance of Quantum Entanglement.
    Gravity is thought to function effectively instantaneously - much faster than the speed of light, and in fact in ways like QE. We do not say that gravity is a violation of Relativity.
  15. The action of a distance of (various miracles performed by Jesus).
    Miracles are supernatural and not bounded to natural laws - in point of fact, they have to contradict physical laws to be miraculous.
  16. Scientists have never found a graviton.
    A detector with the mass of Jupitor, in orbit around a neutron star, would be expected to detect a graviton only once every ten years. - source. Also, this is this is quantum gravity we're talking about, not relativity. Are we lumping all fundamental physics questions into relativity now, in the same way we lump multiple fields into Evolutionary Theory?
  17. New data shows that the fine structure constant (α) is variable.
    Webb (their source for this assertion) has been shown by two different scientists to be probably wrong (Orzel and Carrol). Even if it was, the observed changes are observed partly by calculating redshift which is an implication of relativity rather than existing in spite of the Theory. Observed changes in alpha are impossible to have comprehended without relativity being factored into the measurements.
  18. The double-star W13 weighs 40 times as much as the sun - enough to form a black hole, so why isn't it?
    There is enough uranium in the Canadian Shield to build a sizeable nuclear weapons array, but it isn't one yet. Does this violate the the Standard Model of Matter? What's more, W13 is purportedly a double-star, which, in absence of evidence contrary, I am assuming to mean some form of binary star system, which would imply it is two different objects. This is difficult to check, because W13 isn't a proper name for anything in astronomy and I cannot find the system you are looking for.
Lost a planet, Master Obi-Wan has.
How embarassing.
  •  The inability of the theory to lead to other insights, contrary to every other theory of science.
    No other insights? Accounting for relatavistic time dilitation has allowed for any technology we currently have that relies on an orbiting network of some kind. GPS, cellular telephones, long-distance telecommunications used by marine and wilderness rescue crews, and so forth. Do we discard string theory because nobody has yet found the application or the next step? Let us therefore discard the Holy Bible, since I have yet to find its application for anything other than reminding me that my God works in mysterious ways.
  • The change in mass over time of standard kilograms preserved under ideal conditions.This could not have less to do with relativity if it was a philosophical problem as opposed to a problem of physics. As it happens, I have a passing interest in the study of measurements and that is why I know that the international standard kilogram suffers attrition over time even under ideal conditions precisely because it is the only standardized measurement represented by a physical object rather than a phenomena. Every other measurement in the SI units is based on an observation of a phenomenon, as opposed to an object, precisely because every object that has ever existed anywhere  changes over time! As a matter of fact, finding a non-physical definition of the kilogram has been a working problem in metrology for a number of years, though a number of new standards have been proposed. Even if the change wasn't expected, it still has less than nothing to do with Relativity.
  • The universe's temperature is too uniform.
    This supposedly challenges the assumption that the speed of light through a vacuum is a constant, which is a key part of relativity. If it were true, it would be problematic. It refers, supposedly, to the uniformity of temperature in the microwave background. This shouldn't happen, should it? The universe was supposed to be incredibly hot in the early universe. So hot, even electrons and photons had a hard time sticking together... since the Cosmic Microwave Background is made up entirely of photons, I'll let you puzzle the end of this paragraph out on your own.
  • The universe should be smooth, but it experiences "static" at the lowest levels.
    The absence of an explanation for an observation does not invalidate the observation. If the universe is fuzzy, it's fuzzy. Einstein may have expected a smooth universe, but Relativity isn't Einstein. Einstein also believed in Newtonian Determinism which was pretty much put to bed by the Heisenburg Uncertainty Principal.
  • Time provides the stage against which matter dances, but otherwise does not interact with it.
    If time did not interact with matter, there could be no time. Time can best be visualized as a fourth dimensional vector upon which the three directions of length, width, and height are travelling at precisely the rates they are predicted to travel along it. If you do not believe time interacts with matter, explain how it is possible for you to be in motion.
  • The theory predicts wormholes just as it predicts black holes, but these violate causality.
    Causality is an assumed function of the universe. It has not been conclusively demonstrated. What is more, theorists have predicted that no chronology has a protective mechanism to prevent causality violations. This involves models of the universe with greater than 4 dimensions, which have been shown to be mathematically sound.
  • Black Holes violate the second law because they are highly ordered.
    Does a quartz crystal violate the second law? No, it does not. They do not constitute closed systems. The Second Law of Thermodynamics forces an increase in entropy only in closed systems. Black Holes are open systems. The universe is becoming entropic - local regions may not be.
  • Observations of pulsar  PSR B1913+16 don't follow what Relativity predicts despite a Nobel Prize having been awarded on the subject.
    The orbit has decayed since the binary system was initially discovered, in precise agreement with the loss of energy due to gravitational wavespredicted by Einstein's general theory of relativity. - Wikipedia.
  • The lack of useful devices developed as a result of the implication of the theory, through which lives have been saved, in contrast to every verified theory of science.
    Challenge 1: Read the point directly below Yoda.
    Challenge 2: Find a life saved by another accepted Theory, the Theory of Quantum Electromechanics.
    Challenge 3: Explain how a theory could ever possibly be verified.
  • Relativity requires different values of inertia for the same object: in the direction of travel, and perpendicular to that direction.
    Of course it does: inertia is a function of acceleration, itself a function of velocity. At a right angle to your direction of motion, you have a very different velocity. Think back to doing vector mathematics. Imagine an x-y grid. If you are travelling at 45 degrees to the grid, your velocity is going to be one-half in the y axis and one-half in the x axis. This observation is like saying that computers have colours wrong, because for a given colour pixel, it sees three colour values.
  • Relativity requires anything travelling at the speed of light to have zero mass; but the laws of electrodynamics require that light has a nonzero momentum, which is a function of mass.
    The problem with THIS point is that it's unsubstantiated. There's nothing to suggest that photons would be massless, which would allow it to have a nonzero momentum. Even if it was massless, photons have a special momentum calculation applied to them: p=E/c. Mass is not a factor: wavelength is.
  • Unlike most well-tested fundamental physical theories, the theory of relativity violates conditions of a conservative field. Path independence, for example, is lacking under the theory of relativity, as in the "twin paradox" whereby the age of each twin under the theory is dependent on the path he traveled(sic).
    The conservative field only holds true in three-dimensional, Euclidian space. As spacetime is neither three dimensional nor necessarily Euclidian, violating a conservative field is a simple matter of moving in the fourth dimension - time.
  • The Ehrenfest Paradox: a rotating disk should have a smaller radius than its radius.
    This paradox was resolved as early as 1937. It involves four-dimensional mathematics that I'm not educated in, and I won't attempt to butcher an explanation here.
  • Gravitational Time Dilitation precisely offsets Velocity-Based Time Dilitation: all clocks on Earth at Sea Level travel along vector t at the same rate.
    The improbability of a coincidence has no effect on its truth. Because the earth (and the oceans) are not perfect spheres and are in fact compressed about the poles, it so happens that the gravitational effect accounts for the difference in rotational velocity of the various clocks. This holds water mathematically and is consistent with experimentation using synchronized atomic clocks travelling at different altitudes relative to the core of the planet.
  • The Twin Paradox
    This discontinuity is caused by the frame switch when the twin performs a U-Turn, and has nothing to do with acceleration per se. This was resolved as early as 1911.
  • Relativity denies the luminiferous Aether, but subatomic physics does not function properly without a Higgs Field, which is equivalent.
    That's fine. For one thing, the aether and the Higgs Field are not the same thing. For another, subatomic physics is a problem of quantum mechanics, not relativity.
  • Minkowzki Space is a four-dimensional vector space, one vector of which is time. This is not possible because a vector must move in two directions.
    There is a past, is there not? Because our observational frame of reference only moves in one direction, doesn't mean that time itself necessarily must.
  • Genesis details the creation of a firmament in the heavens, which is likely the luminferous Aether.
    How do you know it is not the Higgs Field?
  • It is impossible to perform an experiment to determine whether Einstein's theory of relativity is correct, or the older Lorentz aether theory is correct. Believing one over the other is a matter of faith.
    I'm not sure I accept your premise. Even if such an experimentation was impossible, there must be a reason why the Standard Model includes Relativity and not Lorentz's aether theory.
  • Despite a century of wasting billions of dollars in work on the theory, "No one knows how to solve completely the equations of general relativity that describe gravity; they are simply beyond current understanding."
    As Dara O'Briain said, "If science had all the answers, it'd stop."
  • 39 and 40 both have to do with electric induction at relativistic speeds. Since all elements of the inductive circuit would be travelling in the same frame of reference, the question of relativity is null.
  • East Coast US Tides were higher than expected in spite of relativistic calculations.
    We work to insure that the predictions are as accurate as possible. However, we can only predict the astronomical tides; we cannot predict the effect that wind, rain, freshwater runoff, and other short-term meteorological events will have on the tides." - NOAA
  • During the gravity assists from Earth, both the Galileo spacecraft and the Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous (NEAR) spacecraft experienced a change in velocity different than that predicted by General Relativity.
    See 2
  • The supermassive black hole within the Andromeda galaxy puzzled researchers by increasing in brightness by a factor of 100 in 2006.
    Fantastic! This is an astrophysics problem, not a Relativity problem.
  • Scientists are unable to explain a June 2012 cluster of earthquakes in Ireland.
    Fantastic! This is a geology problem, not a Relativity problem.
  • Apparently, the equations of General Relativity do not apply to the motions of extra-solar planets. Scientists are studying Gamma Cephei, a system of two stars and one known planet. When data from the Hubble Space telescope was analyzed, it was found that the observed orbital arrangement should not be stable.
    Astrophysics would expect this to be unstable! The instability of a system doesn't mean it can't exist. See Copernicium.

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