Right-wing refutations of relativity really, really wrong!

Back when I first started my blog, I spent a lot more time dealing with crazy people who are convinced that Einstein’s theories of relativity are wrong (see here, here and here).  More recently, I haven’t spent a lot of time on the crazy train, but I have been meaning to get back to my long-neglected series of posts explaining relativity.

Enter Conservapedia, the right-wing version of Wikipedia intended to combat the liberal bias in reality!  Over the past day, Twitter has been abuzz with tweets¹ on the Conservapedia page on “Counterexamples to relativity“, provides a list of 24 “points” that attempt to show the weakness of Einstein’s crazy ideas!

In my mind, perhaps the most despicable sort of denialism or crankery, however, is that which is based on some sort of political or religious ideology.  This is clearly what is going on here, and the author relies on a familiar form of rhetorical trickery known as the “Gish Gallop“: throw as many claims out there as possible, regardless of their validity, with the realization that most people will be swayed by the amount of “evidence”, and not look too closely at the details.

Looking at the “evidence”, it is clear that there isn’t a single point made that isn’t misleading, incoherent, or simply dishonest.  A person reading the Conservapedia post will be measurably more ignorant afterwards, and I get the distinct impression that this is what the author intended.

But never fear, dear reader!  I’m here to go through the list of some of the most entertaining assertions, and explain why they’re nonsense. Why bother, you ask?  For one thing, entertainment.  For another, there’s always a chance that someone may come across the Conservapedia entry and look for some sort of counterbalance… someone should write one!

One caveat: I can’t guarantee that the list I present will match the list on the Conservapedia page.  I saved the tweeted list, but after all the internet attention, it was reduced to four points.  Soon afterwards,  it reverted to the original list again.  There’s no guarantee that it will remain in its current form, though…

Let’s start with a few observations about Einstein’s relativity, which may be broken into the special theory of relativity, published in 1905, and the general theory, published in 1915.

The special theory of relativity is based on two postulates: 1) the laws of physics are the same for all observers moving at constant speed, and 2) the speed of light is the same for all observers.  The first point is the crux of “relativity”: there is no such thing as “absolute” motion of an object, and the laws of physics have the same form for any observer moving at constant velocity.  This statement goes back as far as Galileo, who realized that a person sitting within the depths of a moving ship has no local means of telling that they are in fact moving.  The second point is the one that results in all the crazy, counterintuitive notions.  In order for all observers, regardless of their motion, to agree on the value of the speed of light, traditional notions of space and time must be modified, and in fact we must consider space and time as interrelated entities.  From my point of view, a moving observers has clocks which run slow, while that observer will say that my clocks are running slow.  Built into the constancy of the speed of light is the fact that the speed of light is the “speed limit” of the universe, and nothing can be moved faster than that speed… with certain cosmological caveats.

The general theory of relativity adds gravity to the mixture.  The fundamental idea is that, locally, a gravitational force is indistinguishable from accelerated motion in the opposite direction.  The simple illustration of this is being in an elevator — when the elevator is accelerating up, you feel heavier.  When the elevator is accelerating down, you feel lighter.  From the theory of general relativity follows all sorts of weird stuff such as black holes and the possibility of wormholes.   In general relativity, matter is viewed as fundamentally distorting the shape of space and time.

With that in mind, let’s get to the list, but start with the introduction to it (I’m leaving out the hyperlinks and citations, but will refer to them when appropriate):

The theory of relativity is a mathematical system that allows no exceptions. It is heavily promoted by liberals who like its encouragement of relativism and its tendency to mislead people in how they view the world. Here is a list of 24 counterexamples: any one of them shows that the theory is incorrect.

The first sentence makes no sense!  It is not just a “mathematical system”, it is a physical theory that has been tested countless times and is used by experimental physicists on a daily basis.  I have a book in my office that is all about the analysis of the different experimental tests specifically of special relativity.  It is not clear what “allows no exceptions” means; physics is all about looking for “exceptions” to existing physical law, and relativity is not necessarily immune to this.  The basic tenets of both the special and general theories have been well established, however, and any new discoveries are expected to build upon them, not refute them.

I hate to go all Godwin early in this post, but replace “liberals” by “Jews” in the second sentence, and the sentence might as well have been written by a Nazi circa 1930s-era Germany.  Nazi scientists specifically rejected Einstein’s theory of relativity as “Jewish science”, and they founded their own theory of physics referred to as Deutsche Physik.  The result of their ideological and racist hubris was to cripple Germany as a scientific giant for decades.  For a good discussion of the poisonous effects of ideology on science, read John Grant’s awesome book, Corrupted Science.

The third sentence is also absurd: as I’ve said, the theories of relativity have been experimentally tested for decades, and have survived all tests.  Even if a discrepancy between theory and experiment is found, it does not invalidate the entire theoretical framework, but builds upon it.  Einstein’s theory of relativity built upon Newton’s earlier theory of relativity — Newton’s theory was not shown to be wrong, but rather incomplete.  Assuming that a new piece of evidence somehow invalidates a century of observations shows a complete lack of understanding of science and how it works.

Let’s get to the list:

1.  The Pioneer anomaly.

Humankind has launched a number of unmanned spacecraft that are on course to leave the solar system.  These craft, such as Pioneer 10 and 11, are continually slowing down under the influence of the Sun’s gravity, but observations in recent years suggest that they are slowing down slightly more than expected.  A number of explanations have been proposed to explain this effect, including observational errors and previously unobserved gravitational effects.  There is a small possibility of new physics — we have relatively few direct measurements of the effects of gravity over long distances and at slow speeds, and it has been suggested that the familiar Newtonian laws of gravity may be slightly different at large scales.

Notice that I didn’t mention relativity in that paragraph?  Though any new physics could potentially involve changes to relativity, the Pioneer anomaly doesn’t directly relate to relativity, and there’s no reason to say that this small effect in any way invalidates the long established theory.

2.  Anomalies in the locations of spacecraft that have flown by Earth (“flybys”).

This is really in essence a repeat of point #1!  In 1990, it was observed that the Galileo spacecraft, passing close to the Earth, experienced an unexplained change in speed as it went by.  Similar observations have been made of other spacecraft.  These anomalies are quite exciting for science, as they do offer the potential for new physics.  However, they don’t threaten to do anything to relativity other than perhaps modify it.

3.  Increasingly precise measurements of the advance of the perihelion of Mercury show a shift greater than predicted by relativity, well beyond the margin of error.

The first success of Einstein’s general relativity was providing an explanation for a previously-unexplained slow evolution in the motion of planet Mercury.  No reference is provided on Conservapedia for these so-called shifts “well beyond the margin of error”, but even if they do exist they will likely involve a correction of existing theory, and do not invalidate relativity.

4.  The discontinuity in momentum as velocity approaches “c” for infinitesimal mass, compared to the momentum of light.

Completely nonsensical.  Special relativity results in expressions for the momentum of massive particles, which approaches infinity as the speed of the particle approaches the speed of light.  The energy/momentum relation for a massless particle is perfectly well-defined, and the expression for the momentum of a massive particle as a function of speed contains a “loophole” that suggests that massless particles with momentum are possible.  The specific expression for the momentum of light comes from Maxwell’s equations, and the momentum of photons (light particles) is associated with quantum mechanics.

5.  The logical problem of a force which is applied at a right angle to the velocity of a relativistic mass – does this act on the rest mass or the relativistic mass?

I’ve never heard of this being a problem for anyone studying relativity.  In classical, pre-relativity Newtonian physics, momentum is directly proportional to velocity, while in Einstein’s relativity, the momentum of a particle approaches infinity as the speed of the particle approaches the speed of light.  There are two ways to interpret the new momentum formula: you can keep Newton’s formula and interpret mass as increasing, or you can just accept that Newton’s formula doesn’t hold for really fast objects.  The idea of relativistic mass is hardly ever taught these days, because it leads to pointless confusion as given in point 5 above.

6.  The observed lack of curvature in overall space.

Another point without external reference!  As I noted, general relativity supposes that mass creates a curvature of the fabric of space and time itself, with a greater distortion associated with greater mass.  In a footnote, the author argues that space is “almost flat”, but doesn’t say how they reach that conclusion, or how that point disproves relativity.

7.  The universe shortly after its creation, when quantum effects dominated and contradicted Relativity.

Why is this a counterexample to relativity, and why do quantum effects “contradict” relativity?  The author doesn’t say, and clearly doesn’t know.

8.  The action-at-a-distance of quantum entanglement.

“Quantum entanglement” refers to the idea that two quantum mechanical particles can in principle have a “connection” even after being separated by great distances.  A measurement of one entangled particle supposedly must “instantaneously” influence the behavior of the second particle, seemingly at odds with special relativity.  In fact, Einstein himself used this to argue against the idea of quantum mechanics, referring to this effect as “spooky action at a distance“.  A more sophisticated analysis, and experimental tests, however, have shown that it is impossible to use this “spooky action” to convey information at a speed faster than that of light.  Entanglement has in fact broadened our understanding of quantum mechanics and relativity, and not discounted either.  There is still some subtlety to the story of entanglement, and investigations are still underway, but the author of this post clearly understands none of it.

9.  The action-at-a-distance by Jesus, described in John 4:46-54.

Seriously?  You’re kidding, right?  Okay, let me explain something about science to this sad Conservapedia author: Bible quotes are not scientific evidence.  Now let me explain some theology to this author: pretty much by definition, a miracle is an act that goes against the laws of nature.  If you think that Jesus’ acts disprove relativity, you’re saying that Jesus wasn’t performing miracles at all.  Idiot.

10.  The failure to discover gravitons, despite wasting hundreds of millions in taxpayer money in searching.

Luv the conservative whine about taxes, dude!  The problem is: the graviton isn’t a part of relativity.  A graviton is a hypothetical elementary particle that is the origin of the gravitational force, just as the photon is the origin of the electromagnetic forces.  It is not a part of special or general relativity, however, and was introduced as a way to try and explain gravity in a similar manner to other fundamental forces such as the strong and weak nuclear forces.  The validity of general relativity does not depend on the graviton’s existence.

11.  The inability of the theory to lead to other insights, contrary to every verified theory of physics.

If you neglect all of cosmology and astronomy, I guess you could say that relativity provides no insights.  That would be a pretty big neglect, however.

12.  The change in mass over time of standard kilograms preserved under ideal conditions.

Finally — an external link!  Unfortunately, said link demonstrates that the point in question is irrelevant.   Unlike all other fundamental metric units, the kilogram is not defined by some sort of physical phenomena but by a block of platinum and iridium kept in Paris.  In recent years, it has been found that this lump of metal is losing mass, or that copies are gaining mass.  What does this have to do with relativity?  Nothing.

14.  “The snag is that in quantum mechanics, time retains its Newtonian aloofness, providing the stage against which matter dances but never being affected by its presence. These two [QM and Relativity] conceptions of time don’t gel.”

Ah, now we have an out of context quote from Scientific American!  It has been a long-standing problem in physics to try and combine quantum mechanics and relativity.  The Scientific American article describes one hypothesis for modifying gravity to incorporate quantum effects.  The quotation in question describes a problem that physicists are trying to overcome, not an experimental problem with relativity.  Quote fail.

15. The theory predicts wormholes just as it predicts black holes, but wormholes violate causality and permit absurd time travel.

Scott Adams of Dilbert fame once compiled a really killer list of logical fallacies relating to science, including the fallacy, “Incompleteness as proof of defect.”  That is, pretend a theory is wrong because it can’t explain every problem anyone has ever proposed!  Nobody pretends that general relativity is complete; it does, however, explain cosmological observations really well.

18. The lack of a single useful device developed based on any insights provided by the theory; no lives have been saved or helped, and the theory has not led to other useful theories and may have interfered with scientific progress. This stands in stark contrast with every verified theory of science. The only device based on relativity is the atom bomb, but that has destroyed far more lives than it’s saved so it can hardly be considered useful.

The second part of this point is just a repeat of point 11!  The first part is somehow an argument conflating the “accuracy” of a scientific theory with its “usefulness”, though the two are not equivalent.  A theory must be accurate to be useful, but an accurate theory does not necessarily have direct uses.  Reality is reality, regardless of its usefulness.  However, it should be noted that all of high-energy physics, including the operation of particle accelerators, depends on the results of special relativity to function — particles are accelerated to speeds that are within a fraction of a percent of the speed of light.  The third part of this statement is again a statement of usefulness, which is utterly irrelevant to the accuracy of the theory.

19.  Relativity requires different values for the inertia of a moving object: in its direction of motion, and perpendicular to that direction. This contradicts the logical principle that the laws of physics are the same in all directions.

Nonsense.  The term “inertia” itself is usually described as an object’s “resistance to a change in motion”; in Newtonian physics, this is typically equated with mass.  In special relativity, however, the effect of forces on an object are typically described in terms of the object’s momentum, and there is no problem of “different values”.  This is, in fact, an undergraduate-level calculation.

20.  Relativity requires that anything traveling at the speed of light must have mass zero, so it must have momentum zero. But the laws of electrodynamics require that light have nonzero momentum.

*BUZZZZ!!!!*  Wrong answer!  The problem is the statement, “so it must have momentum zero.”  As noted in point 4, special relativity actually suggests the opposite. If one looks at the equation for the momentum of a massive particle in special relativity as a function of speed, it turns out that the expression has an undefined form in the limit of zero mass and light speed. This provides a “loophole” that allows a massless particle to have nonzero momentum. (Update: As noted by a commenter below, the relation between energy and momentum in relativity is perfectly well-defined for a massless particle.)

23.  The Twin Paradox: Consider twins who are separated with one traveling at a very high speed such that his “clock” (age) slows down, so that when he returns he has a younger age than the twin; this violates Relativity because both twins should expect the other to be younger, if motion is relative. Einstein himself admitted that this contradicts Relativity.

*BUZZZZ!!!!* Wrong answer, again!  The “twin paradox” hasn’t been a paradox of relativity theory for pretty much 100 years.  The statement of the problem is roughly correct, if oversimplified — as noted in the introduction, observers in uniform motion relative to one another both, correctly, observe each other’s clocks as running slow.  The key, though, is the word “uniform”: in the twin paradox, in order for the two twins to end at the same place, one of them must have accelerated — undergone non-uniform motion — in order to return home.  Counter to footnote 13, this acceleration can never be “neglected” — a weaker acceleration must be applied over a longer period of time in order to send the twin home.  The calculation and resolution of the twin paradox is not that difficult to do, actually, and I will return to it in my future relativity posts.

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So, where do we stand?  Other than a few points I got too tired to explain (the power of the Gish Gallop), everything we’ve seen has been deceptive, incorrect — or just plain crazy.

Really, to assume that relativity is a liberal conspiracy requires one to believe that physicists for over one hundred years have been conspiring to hide the “truth” from the people, and that none of them have ever stepped forward to reveal said conspiracy!  If you believe that, you’re probably hiding in your mother’s basement, wearing a tinfoil hat and living on a diet of grade school paste.

Update: Tom at Swans on Tea tackles the Conservapedia claim that GPS doesn’t use relativity, and convincingly shows the stupidity of that claim.

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¹ I have to credit Sarah at The Language of Bad Physics for pointing me to the link.

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53 Responses to Right-wing refutations of relativity really, really wrong!

  1. Blake Stacey says:

    One caveat: I can’t guarantee that the list I present will match the list on the Conservapedia page. I saved the tweeted list, but after all the internet attention, it was reduced to four points. Soon afterwards, it reverted to the original list again. There’s no guarantee that it will remain in its current form, though…

    Under-appreciated fact: one can link to a specific version of a MediaWiki article. “Page history” feature FTW!

    Random rejoinder to point #18: ever been to a hospital and gotten a PET scan? You’ve just met special relativity! The P in PET stands for positron, which is another word for antielectron, that is to say, the antimatter counterpart of the electron. Paul Dirac predicted the existence of the antielectron, based on his discovery of an equation for the relativistic motion of electrons. (The details of the history are quite interesting, but peripheral to the point here.) The basic mechanism by which PET scans work would make no sense without relativity theory.

    • drskyskull says:

      Thanks for the comment! Most relativity denialists focus entirely on the kinematics of relativity (motion of objects) and conveniently forget about the dynamics (forces, momentum, energy). The stupidity of this is that the energy and momentum laws of relativity are the things that are used on a daily basis in things like PET, and can’t be derived by any other means than Einstein’s theory.

  2. Blake Stacey says:

    And yes, Andy Schlafly’s “understanding” of relativity has been an item of amusement for some time now.

  3. Dave H says:

    So the NeoCons have their very own one stop shopping site to combat those pesky liberal “facts.”

    It would have been nice if they had some citations listed so readers can check on the veracity if the information they presented. But I suppose that is the point, isn’t it? I am not well educated in the sciences (MA History) but it seems to me the same basic research and writing rules apply. If you cannot back it up with reliable sources, you cannot claim it.

    On a positive note: Conservapedia seems to be a great place to learn the anti-science folks’ latest talking points. It will make ‘them easier to recognize.

    • drskyskull says:

      If you cannot back it up with reliable sources, you cannot claim it.

      If folks were intellectually honest, that would be the way it would work. It is unfortunate that most people are more swayed by the number of claims one makes rather than the backing of those claims. I recently got an email from a conservative friend about social security along those lines: it was filled with over a dozen “facts” about how Democrats had screwed up Social Security, and ended with a statement along the lines of, “These are all true!” It didn’t take me long to do a search to find that pretty much all of them were false or misleading.

  4. Blake Stacey says:

    However, it should be noted that all of high-energy physics, including the operation of particle accelerators, depends on the results of special relativity to function — particles are accelerated to speeds that are within a fraction of a percent of the speed of light.

    Special relativity is a humdrum engineering fact for particle accelerators.

    Proton beams from particle accelerators are used to treat cancer in children.

    • drskyskull says:

      Stupid children — what have they ever done for me? :P

      By the way, thanks for giving me a shout-out again at Pharyngula — I’m going to have to start paying you as my press person at some point…

  5. BarMonger says:

    In regards to point #18, whenever someone claims that relativity hasn’t brought us anything useful, I always mention the GPS system. Without understanding of the effects of relativity we wouldn’t be able to make accurate positioning possible as we currently have.
    The GPS system would be useless if we didn’t correct for both GR (faster clocks on the satellites) and SR (slower clocks on the satellites), which doesn’t cancel each other out at the orbital distances of the GPS satellites.

    As an added bonus the clock on the GPS satellites can be used to verify the existence and strength of relativistic effects, by simply calculating an offset and changing the GPS clock before launch. By monitoring whether the offset is cancelled out by the relativistic changes in clock speeds on board the GPS we can verify the theories of relativity (and we have).

  6. Thony C. says:

    6. The observed lack of curvature in overall space.

    Another point without external reference! As I noted, general relativity supposes that mass creates a curvature of the fabric of space and time itself, with a greater distortion associated with greater mass. In a footnote, the author argues that space is “almost flat”, but doesn’t say how they reach that conclusion, or how that point disproves relativity.

    The author is obviously refering to the WMAP measurements of the geometry of the Universe. These measurements have shown that the general structure of the Universe is Euclidean and not non-Euclidean and is therefore ‘flat’ and not ‘curved’. In terms of general relativity this is not very surprising as the Universe is mostly empty and has almost no mass. However in local areas where there is a concentration of mass, for example in the locality of a galaxy, space is of course curved.

  7. ColonelFazackerley says:

    BarMonger beat me to the classic GPS point…

    I was wondering why they attack physics? I can see that biology contradicts many religious worldviews, but why go for Einstein? Your first quote might explain it. They see “relativity” and read “moral relativism”. Or perhaps the author was just using the word relativism to produce visceral disgust in his target audience.

    @Blake Stacey. You don’t need to go to something as rare as Proton therapy to get relativity in radiotherapy. 6-15MV x-ray beams (produced by electrons travelling with 6-15MeV) are very widely to treat cancer. These electrons are within 1% of c.

    • drskyskull says:

      I was wondering why they attack physics?

      From a religious point of view, I get the impression that a lot of religious folks are freaked out by the fact that the Earth is not the center of the universe, and that, cosmologically speaking, we’re no different than any other world. The conflation of “relativity” and “moral relativism” probably also plays a role. The irony is that relativity doesn’t say that “everything is relative”; it simply shows that the “absolutes” in the world are not the ones we originally thought they were.

      Though I can’t prove it, I really do wonder if there is a dollop of anti-Semitism in the criticisms as well.

      • Physicalist says:

        Another motivation is that young-Earth creationists want to cook up a way to condense our 13.7 billion-year-old universe into a measly 6,000 years. Obviously this sort of “Advanced Creation Science” is going to have to chuck relativity.

    • Blake Stacey says:

      Though I can’t prove it, I really do wonder if there is a dollop of anti-Semitism in the criticisms as well.

      That was definitely the case for some of the anti-Einstein cranks we had to deal with at Wikipedia, back when I was an active editor over there (2005-6).

      I recently saw coined a wonderful term for this kind of science denial: Douche Physik.

  8. Mary says:

    The recent anniversaries of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings kindled debates on several websites I frequent about how many lives those bombings cost versus how many they may have saved by forestalling invasion and further traditional bombing. I don’t want to re-start that debate here, but I will note that it seems most conservatives actually don’t agree with this statement: The lack of a single useful device developed based on any insights provided by the theory; no lives have been saved or helped… The only device based on relativity is the atom bomb, but that has destroyed far more lives than it’s saved so it can hardly be considered useful.

    Not useful? Is he suggesting unilateral disarmament? However I interpret it, this statement seems very “liberal” to me!

    It’s a also a bizarre argument — he admits that atomic bombs wouldn’t work if relativity weren’t true, but doesn’t consider the fact that they do work to be evidence in favor of relativity… Because he doesn’t like what they do?

    (And that is, as others have pointed out, leaving aside GPS, and PET scans, and particle accelerators / thereputic radiation sources — and to the list I’ll add laser gyroscopes because that’s my field — which depend on relativity.)

    • drskyskull says:

      It’s a also a bizarre argument — he admits that atomic bombs wouldn’t work if relativity weren’t true, but doesn’t consider the fact that they do work to be evidence in favor of relativity… Because he doesn’t like what they do?

      That’s what I was trying to get at in the post! The author is clearly conflating the validity of a theory and the usefulness of said theory. Though we can point to lots of examples of how relativity is used in everyday experiments, it is perhaps more important to point out that the usefulness is irrelevant to the “truth” of said theory. I’m totally reminded of this awesome video clip

  9. Mary says:

    One more omission from the list of technologies which we owe to relativity — nuclear power. Pretty funny that he mentions “useless” bombs but not the peaceful application of the same principles. Can anti-nuclear activists quote this article as proof that conservatives agree with them on the uselessness of nuclear power?

    You’d really think, given their close ties with the military industrial complex and the reliance of that sector of society on the technologies we’ve mentioned here, that (neo)conservatives would be big fans of relativity.

  10. Physicalist says:

    Funny; I happened to glance at those three-year-old posts just a few days ago, and was pleased to figure out that old gg is now on Scientopia.

    Above you say, “Expressions for the momentum of massive particles . . . [approach] infinity as the speed of light approaches infinity.”

    Shouldn’t that instead say that the momentum approaches infinity as the speed of the particle approaches c? If we let c go to infinity we recover Newtonian mechanics (so to speak). Am I missing something?

    • drskyskull says:

      Whoops! You’re right, and I’ve revised the wording appropriately. The only thing you’re missing is that I was working on this post way past my bedtime! :)

      • Physicalist says:

        I understand all too well the consequences of writing too late (or too early) in the day. So I sympathize and empathize (and jazzercize).

        But it doesn’t look like your revision showed up. You reply to Point 4 still reads, “Special relativity results in expressions for the momentum of massive particles, which approaches infinity as the speed of light approaches infinity.”

        I think you want it to say, “In special relativity, the momentum of massive particles approaches infinity as the speed of that particle approaches the speed of light.”

      • drskyskull says:

        Hmm… I just tried to update it several times, and the changes didn’t take. Looks like I’ve got to put in a tech support request — hopefully I’ll be able to change it soon!

  11. Physicalist says:

    On point 11 (“The inability of the theory to lead to other insights, contrary to every verified theory of physics.”):

    I’d mention the success of QFT here, which is fully relativistic, and which has led to numerous well-confirmed insights. Take out the relativistic aspect of QFT and your going to lose tons of “insights” (and the theory won’t fit the actual world, either).

  12. ColonelFazackerley says:

    @Dr
    I also meant to say thanks for fixing the feed. Now a whole article appears in a reader.

    Also, See Tom’s take on this:

    http://blogs.scienceforums.net/swansont/archives/6225

    • drskyskull says:

      You can thank MarkCC for fixing the feed problems; evidently it was giving a lot of people headaches!

      Thanks for the link to Tom’s piece; I hadn’t seen it yet!

  13. rknop says:

    Conservapedia is embarrassing. I have some friends who are politically conservative and find it so. I suspect that it manages to suck in a lot of people who ought to know better because of claiming political brotherhood, but it shouldn’t be taken as “the” voice of political conservatism any more than new-age harmonic convergence types should be taken as “the” voice of political liberalism. Read the Wikipedia entry on Conservapedia, the “reception” section, and there are prominent conservatives (and Christians) who find fault with Schafley.

    I do mourn for those who get sucked into the site thinking that it’s more than complete crap.

    • drskyskull says:

      Conservapedia is embarrassing. I have some friends who are politically conservative and find it so.

      I hope I didn’t imply that this is representative of all conservatives everywhere, which wasn’t my intention. There does seem to be a strong anti-intellectual current running through the leadership of the Republican party these days, which has definitely had an impact on many of the rank-and-file.

      Really, though, science should be the one thing that all of us, liberal and conservative alike, should be able to agree upon! Hopefully science-minded conservatives out there will step up as often as they can to call out B.S. like Conservapedia.

  14. andy.s says:

    You might tell Mr. Schlafly about how relativity was viewed by Marxists.
    It would probably make his head explode.

    For reference, see: http://bit.ly/b3mycE

  15. Dave H says:

    “It would probably make his head explode.”

    I’m sure there would be a downside . . .

  16. onymous says:

    You make some weird claims here, which maybe should be rephrased for clarity. For instance:

    “As noted in point 4, special relativity actually suggests the opposite — a massless particle traveling at the speed of light has a momentum undefined by relativity, providing a “loophole” that allows the particle to have nonzero momentum.”

    I’m not sure what “undefined” means here. Special relativity says that the momentum of a massless particle is equal to its energy divided by c. And there’s really no discontinuity between massive and massless cases; with mass, E = sqrt(p^2 c^2 + m^2 c^4).

    You also say:

    “It has been a long-standing problem in physics to try and combine quantum mechanics and relativity.”

    But here the site seems to be talking about combining quantum mechanics with special relativity, which is not a problem at all; it was solved with the development of quantum field theory, which began in the 20s and was thoroughly understood by the 50s. The only long-standing problem is to combine quantum mechanics and general relativity.

    • drskyskull says:

      Thanks for the comment. I use the word “undefined” in the sense that relativity doesn’t tell us how the momentum of a massless particle relates to its other directly observable properties, like frequency — we need E=hv for that. The “loophole” I refer to is the observation that the expression for the momentum of a massive particle reduces to the “undefined” form of 0/0 if one takes mass =0 and v=c. You’re absolutely right, though, that SR happily includes both massless and massive particles without trouble.

      The only long-standing problem is to combine quantum mechanics and general relativity.

      Indeed! Most of the Conservapedia article seems to be referring to issues in general relativity (though I wonder if the author knows the difference), and that was what I was referring to in my post..

    • drskyskull says:

      On further reflection, I revised the text to make my point a bit more clear!

  17. bidibulle says:

    Hello!

    Another point against the assertion 12: special relativity is needed to explain the color of gold and the oxydo reduction potentiel of this metal and others metals like it.

    Indeed, you need to solve (by computer ) the Dirac’s equation to determinate energy levels in atoms like this.

    It’s totally a relativist effect.

    And it’s the same to explain the liquid state of mercury

    See this article:

    http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/anie.200300624/abstract

    and this:

    http://www.fourmilab.ch/documents/golden_glow/

    In France, we said that we had the stupidest Right of the world, but, as i can see, in the USA, our dear French UMP (the Sarkozy’s party) has a very bright competitor…

  18. bidibulle says:

    I find a scann of a very good review about relativist effects in chemistry:

    http://www.chem.ubc.ca/courseware/320/cr00085a006.pdf

  19. cmgvideo says:

    It’s interesting that conservapedia doesn’t find the invention of the Atomic bomb “useful” since many historians credit it with forcing the Japanese into an unconditional surrender and making the invasion of Japan unnecessary.
    It’s usually the liberal argument that we could have had a negotiated peace if we were just more patient. What kind of lefties are running conservapedia anyway?

  20. Blake Stacey says:

    From the Conservapædia main page:

    University professors pile on against a non-professor’s claim to have solved one of the millennium problems. MIT Assistant Professor Scott Aaronson declares, “Vinay Deolalikar still hasn’t retracted his P≠NP claim, but a clear consensus has emerged that the proof, as it stands, is fatally flawed.” He absurdly adds, with a cite to Richard Dawkins, “the only miracle in life is that there are no miracles, neither in mathematics nor in anything else.” [28]

    But the best of the public, aided by the internet, will inevitably solve more problems than liberal colleges will – just as Grigori Perelman solved another millennium problem. The future belongs to the conservative public.

    I think we have a new entry in the Conservapædian-to-English dictionary: “the best of the public” means Fields-Medalist mathematics professors at UCLA.

    (Oh, incidentally, Perelman hails from a Jewish family and was educated in the Soviet Union, earning his doctorate at Leningrad State University. He worked at the USSR Academy of Sciences and, worse yet, at UC Berkeley. I wonder: does Leningrad State University count as a “liberal college”? Will Perelman’s Communist ties force Schlafly to refudiate his support?)

    • drskyskull says:

      Wow — they really don’t even bother to hide their propagandistic tendencies, do they? It’s such an odd way of thinking — I certainly don’t finish a paper and say to myself, “Aha — another blow struck for the cause of liberal-socialistic academia!”

      University professors pile on against a non-professor’s claim to have solved one of the millennium problems.

      That’s pretty hilarious. Conservapædians don’t seem to realize that scientists and mathematicians “pile on” against anyone who claims to have resolved a long-standing, unsolved and important problem. Andrew Wiles certainly wasn’t given uncritical support when he first claimed to have proven Fermat’s Last Theorem — and he was at Princeton.

    • Blake Stacey says:

      I guess when one doesn’t actually know any mathematics, all one can do is make it a political issue. Math is hard — let’s go propagandizing! Heck, Schlafly almost makes it out to be a class war — like he went so far to the right he wrapped around and became some kind of cocktail-party Marxist.

      (New motto: “Conservapædia. We put the lump in lumpenproletariat.” )

      I followed the P!=NP story pretty closely last week (doing some text-maintenance work on the wiki page), and as you might expect, the truth was pretty much the antipodal opposite of the Conservapædian version. None of the big names involved — like Tao, Lipton, Regan, Gowers and Aaronson — really appeared to care that Deolalikar works for HP Research. The take-home message of the whole incident was, “If you have an idea for solving an important problem, and your idea isn’t obviously bad, and you can explain it somewhat clearly, smart people will pay attention to you, even if you’re not already famous for working on that important problem.” Sounds good to me!

      Some people got a little torqued that Deolalikar hadn’t written his paper in the properly corseted lemma-theorem-proof-corollary style, so it was harder to see what was essential and what was peripheral. That’s a legitimate complaint, I think; on the flipside, I certainly appreciated the “unnecessary” stuff, because when I was reading through one of those sections, I thought, “Hey, this bit here just might provide a construction with the properties I needed for that other idea I was playing with a few months ago . . . must read more . . . Quick, to the Bat-arXiv!” But such questions of expository style have nothing to do with employment in academia or industry.

      • drskyskull says:

        Heck, Schlafly almost makes it out to be a class war — like he went so far to the right he wrapped around and became some kind of cocktail-party Marxist.

        A friend of mine once suggested that all extremism goes towards the same place (totalitarianism), regardless of whether you get there from the left or right. All it really takes is a belief that one’s views take precedent over all moral considerations, such as honesty. Schlafly seems to be a perfect case study.

        None of the big names involved — like Tao, Lipton, Regan, Gowers and Aaronson — really appeared to care that Deolalikar works for HP Research.

        Certainly some academics can get a little snooty at times when a perceived “upstart” lays claim to a great achievement, though it doesn’t seem to have happened in this case. The beauty of sci/math, however, is that the truth eventually prevails — a good idea will win out, no matter how cranky the establishment is.

  21. SPECIAL RELATIVITY
    — James Ph. Kotsybar

    No longer absolute, we now know time
    is slowed down by travel’s velocity
    and even speeds up, the higher we climb —
    a relational curiosity
    of gravity and acceleration
    called the equivalency principle.
    Though some would view this as aberration,
    since it implies Newton’s famous apple,
    in its free-fall, maintains the true notion
    that Newton’s noggin, resisting Earth’s pull,
    was the object exhibiting motion.
    Thus, common sense is just ostensible.
    While, relative to us, its time will race,
    the fruit that falls is really fixed in space.

  22. M Khan says:

    The problem with people who oppose relativity is that they deny time dilation and space curvature. Relativity is an excellent theory however it does not mean it may not be superseded in future. Motion results in time dilation which is then precisely calculated using velocity only and not acceleration. This is also shown to be true in circular particle accelerators where time dilation of particles can is calculated purely on their velocity and not based on acceleration. Doing so and thus invoking general relativity is sheer intellectual dishonesty.. More over acceleration of twin does not have to be uniform and smooth it can be sharp and brief . In modified twin paradox both twins accelerate together similarly for brief periods to high velocity. Stay home twin decelerates and accelerates immediately and then decelerates to return home. By design the twins differ only in the travelling twins long travel at high velocity and their acceleration deceleration is brief and exactly the same. Now the travelling twin will be time dilated. The acceleration deceleration part being equal the paradox remains unless we agree motion and rest are different. This is further supported by the fact that rotational motion can be differentiated from no rotating body. Most people do not realize that twin paradox and centrifugal force are indicators that rest and motion are different.
    The above thought experiment with similarly accelerated twins points towards a problem with general relativity. If acceleration is not cause of time dilation then it is also not cause of time dilation in gravity. Then what is the cause of time dilation in gravity. That begs the question: What is time? Check: Timephysics.com

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