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Norman Sperling
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Welcome to "Everything in the Universe", my blog on Science, Nature, and the Public. I often explore their intertwinings. New posts should appear
roughly weekly, so if you want to check regularly for new items, every Monday or Tuesday you ought to find something.

I don't try to be literary, but I do think before I write, and write only when I have something to say. When news spurs a reaction, mine aren't the
fastest knee-jerk comments, they're more often a considered reflection.

Some entries are full-blown essays, others are ideas that can be presented briefly. I don't yak and I don't blather. When I don't have anything to
say, I don't say it. If my message needs 2 paragraphs, you don’t have to slog through 10 paragraphs to get to it. I try to get things right.

Please also enjoy my previously-published articles posted here.

Comments and suggestions are welcome: eMail me at normsperling [at] gmail.com. I read them all, but don't always post them. To prevent descent into
harsh put-downs, political stabbings, rancor, advertising, and irrelevancy, I squelch those.

How Much Pull?

Norman Sperling, BASIS, vol. 21, no. 4, October-December 2004, p10.

Every few years, somebody makes up a claim that the arrangement of celestial bodies caused, or will cause, something big to happen. This stirs the ignorant among the public and the media, sells tons of books and tabloids, and fills airwaves with blather, all without benefit of actual factual content.

Half a century ago, the Austrian psychiatrist Immanuel Velikovsky published Worlds in Collision. This book said Venus erupted out of Jupiter, flew close to Earth, and then settled into its present orbit.
This demonstrates utter ignorance of the physical nature of Jupiter – which is so massive that the power needed for such an eruption would demand causes and effects unlike anything witnessed in nature.
It contradicts what we understand about chemistry – how could the oxidizing atmosphere of Venus arise from the reducing atmosphere of Jupiter?
It demonstrates utter ignorance of gravitational interaction – how could a close approach of Venus part the Red Sea without causing many other massive tidal disruptions?
It demonstrates utter ignorance of celestial mechanics – changing to Venus's present orbit requires transferring huge amounts of energy to a very nearby object which, however, does not exist.
It claims Venus and Mars collided a few thousand years ago, which is absolutely contradicted by spacecraft observations of their surfaces, which show every sign that those surfaces are hundreds of millions of years old.

Worlds in Collision went through many printings, making a lot of money for its author. It inspired supporters who still claim that it is merely scientists, not Nature itself, who are against Velikovsky. Velikovsky's tale could only appeal to people who have very little knowledge of how those aspects of Nature really work, especially of the amounts of energy involved.

In 1974, John Gribbin and Stephen Plagemann published The Jupiter Effect, claiming that an alignment of planets in 1982 would cause gravitational havoc, triggering, among other things, massive earthquakes in California. Though Gribbin earned a PhD in astronomy, he showed greater interest in earning money from a public who knew less than he did. Again, the amounts don't work out. The alignment was weak. The gravitational difference was trivial. Such alignments have occurred repeatedly in the past, and didn't trigger massive earthquakes or any other noticeable effect.

Real scientists debunked the claims immediately. Planetaria produced shows explaining why the book was bunk. Amateur astronomers held star parties around alignment time to show the planets to the public. As scientists predicted, contrary to Gribbin and Plagemann, none of the Jupiter Effects actually occurred. However, Gribbin and Plagemann earned quite a lot of money from book sales, media appearances, and so on.

Richard Noone pulled a similar stunt in his 1982 book 5/5/2000. Yet again, he claimed that planet alignments would gang up to pull on Earth, this time triggering rampant glaciation. Yet again, book buyers were fleeced (by the poor writing quality as well as the contents). Yet again, the public was deceived by gullible media, especially websites. Yet again, the date came and went and nothing they predicted happened.

In 1987, Jose Arguelles concocted a tale of "Harmonic Convergence" and published it as The Mayan Factor. Arguelles made up a "Mayan" calendar cycle that doesn't come from any archaeological record. He claimed that in 2012 a "galactic wave" would culminate in a new age, allowing Earth to join the Galactic Federation and its Council. This was a total fabrication from science fiction and New Age themes, not anything real.

Adherents claim earth's resonant frequency is changing from "8 Hertz per second" (a garbled term) to 13; I know of no geophysical measurement supporting this. They claim that this energy boost (is it?) accompanies the decrease of Earth's magnetic field to zero. That's also a mixture of garble and garbage.

The "Harmonic Convergence" played on the same ignorance of the same public – who don't know the Earth's structure, let alone the Galaxy's. It, too, enjoyed big, profitable sales. It, too, resulted in no geophysical effects. The public was deceived again, fleeced of its money and attention. Again, the media – ignorant of the realities of nature, and more eager to share circulation gains from spreading claims than to verify them with experts – fostered the public ignorance, thereby compounding it.

It's been a few years. Someone is going to concoct another fiction, and sell it.

But there's also another trend at work. The earlier books made much more stir than the later ones. They went through more printings, and probably made more money, than the later ones. While the media certainly still aren't science-literate, they've shown progressively less gullibility in this sequence; the 5/5/2000 event created only a minor stir, largely in the uncontrolled claims rampant on the WWW.

One contributing factor is the rising percentage of the public that has passed college science survey courses. A quarter of a million US college students take intro-astro courses every year. Throughout the developed world, education is providing the public with a better basis to judge claims with. Science hasn't won yet, but we're blunting the bunk a bit.
Astronomy Pseudoscience Public Policy Human Behavior

Mix Rube Goldberg's inventiveness with current culture

The Big Bento Box of Unuseless Japanese Inventions: The Art of Chindogu. By Kenji Kawakami. Translated and additional text by Dan Papia: WW Norton, 2005. 0-393-32676-4.

reviewed by Norman Sperling, JIR v49 #6, November 2005, p29.

Rube Goldberg founded the modern era of humorous inventions in the US, and Heath Robinson did the same in the UK, in the first half of the 1900s. Even now, "Rube Goldberg contraptions" call to mind not only his cartooning style but his inventive wit.

Songs With Good Chemistry

Parodies and Commentaries, by David Kritchevsky. AOCS Press, Champaign, Illinois, 2003. ISBN 1-893997-46-4. 46 pages. $5.00. Order through www.aocs.org/catalog/product.asp?ID=wdk&dept=90

reviewed by Norman Sperling, JIR v49 #6, November 2005, p28.

Tucked away under a host of worthy technical volumes like Healthful Lipids and The Biodiesel Handbook, The American Oil Chemists' Society also publishes this songbook by a major scholar at Philadelphia's Wistar Institute.

Take a Nebula, Condense and Stir

Space age research shows that the Solar System’s members are all cousins. They started with the same ingredients in the same nebula, and underwent related processes.

Their mass, and how hot they got inside, govern which processes each object underwent, making them the way they are today. So my graph plots mass versus how hot they got, arraying characteristics that are all talking about the same things.

Some of the old categories are distinguishable, and some are not. Comets (retaining original ices) all plot left of “the water’s edge”. Meteorites are all the small things at the bottom. Stars shine at top right.

But “planets” includes some objects that are physically like brown-dwarf almost-stars, other objects that are like the 7 big moons, and one object scarcely distinguishable from comets. “Asteroids” now have known borderline-cases with comets, meteoroids, and moons; planetologists have long suspected that small moons are captured asteroids and comets, and not original equipment.

Tectonics, subduction, and volcanism only occur on a few differentiated objects. These processes require a rigid (solid, cooled) surface, overlying a warm, fluid interior. On my graph, these conditions occupy a small zone: the smaller planets, and larger moons and asteroids.
Everything above that zone (more massive) has stayed fluid through the present, so they have no crust on which to show tectonics, subduction, or volcanism.
Everything below that zone (less massive) is so small it lost heat almost as fast as it gained heat, and probably never melted, differentiated, and formed a solid crust over a liquid mantle.
Everything left of that zone (colder) never melted and differentiated, so there was no warm fluid to drive tectonics, subduction, or volcanism.
And no object lies right of that zone because anything that hot is so massive that it plots higher on the graph.

excerpt from What Your Astronomy Textbook Won't Tell You, pp 68-70.

The Journal of Irreproducible Results
This Book Warps Space and Time
What Your Astronomy Textbook Won't Tell You

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