Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Spliced feed for The Science Network

Spliced feed for The Science Network

Thirteen Planets Orbit the Sun [SciScoop Science Blog]


Mark Sykes says that if a non-stellar object is massive enough to be almost spherical and it orbits a star, then it ought to be called a planet. With this definition the solar system will become a 13-planet system.

The End of Oil? Not Yet! [SciScoop Science Blog]


There are some things most people today know about oil.     * Global oil output is going to plummet     * Prices are going to rise forever     * The transition to alternative energy will be long and painful     * There will be more `oil wars' and industrial civilization may collapse     * Oil and gas will cause catastrophic climate change The problem is that these ideas are wrong.

How to Discover Our Universe [Sciencebase Science Blog]

Posted: 20 Aug 2008 07:00 AM CDT

Our Undiscovered UniverseApparently, scientific thought needs rekindling, seemingly it has run out of kindle and needs a new flame if it is to burn brighter. In steps owner and CEO of a biomedical company Terence Witt with the concept of null physics. Witt has now self-published a hefty tome by the name of Our Undiscovered Universe.

According to the press blurb that came with my review copy of the book, he’s a visiting scientist at Florida Institute of Technology. Now, I can find FIT on the web, but I cannot find Witt at FIT. Anyway, he puts forward an intriguing, if not entirely original, idea that modern physics requires a paradigm shift back to common sense thinking and a logical reconnection between observation and theory.

There is, Witt says, a disconnect between the two in our current Big Bang theory of the origins of the universe. In Our Undiscovered Universe, Witt puts forward the hypothesis that the universe is static and not expanding, and rouses various equations to explain away the red shift of distant cosmic objects and concepts such as dark matter and dark energy. Likewise there is a disconnect between the purportedly irrational quantum world and the reality we observe.

Perhaps there are almost as many loopholes in modern physics as there are wormholes and maybe it is possible to tangle up any scientific model with enough string to fill a universe. But, Witt’s is too comfortable a conclusion, that the universe does not rely on any unknowable precursors in the untestable past and will not grow old, collapse or die, but is an unimaginably large cosmic engine. Moreover, his null hypothesis suggests that “our universe actually is, the only thing it could possibly be: the internal structure of nothingness.”

So, you might ask, what is Witt’s evidence for this concept? He explains that evidence of the Null Axiom is everywhere:

  • Matter and antimatter are always created in equal, yet opposite amounts whose electrical sum is zero
  • Positive and negative electric fields sum to a neutral universe with zero net electrical charge
  • Energy is conserved in all interactions; the magnitude of the universe’s energy has zero change
  • Space is a collection of points, little bits of nothingness itself, which embodies a geometric zero - Null
  • Charge must be conserved in particle interactions; the sum of the difference between charges is zero
  • Momentum is conserved, so the universe’s net momentum remains constant at zero

I put a few questions to Witt on behalf of Sciencebase readers. First off, I asked him to describe null physics briefly.

Null physics is a bottom-up theory built upon the solution to the ontological dilemma: why does the universe exist [instead of nothing]? The solution - that our universe is composed of nothing - leads directly to the four-dimensional geometry of which energy and space are composed. Null physics is the study and quantification of this geometry and its larger ramifications. In contrast to modern physics’ top-down, heuristic approach, which uses measurements and mathematical symmetries to build models that conform to empirical reality, null physics derives empirical reality, such as the magnitude of unit elementary charge and the range and strength of the strong force, through calculations applied to the topology of a fully known underlying geometry.

I put it to Witt that his because his theory is a blend of philosophy and science, that might be a double-edged sword?

Not at all. What we currently call physics originally began as natural philosophy. Physics replaced natural philosophy because it provided an accurate mathematical description of the macroscopic scale of the physical world. This set the stage for untold advances in engineering and technology, but many of the foundational questions that natural philosophy confronted, such as why the universe exists and why matter is composed of discrete particles, were lost in this transition, leaving us with empty mathematical models. Null physics is the best of both worlds, fusing a deep understanding of physical reality (as geometry) with empirical validation. The geometry used in Null physics is derived using logic and reasoning similar to that employed by natural philosophy, but has no philosophical component in its final geometric formulation.

Of course, there are other theories around that suggest the universe did not begin with the Big Bang, I asked Witt, what makes his stand out among them?

Sweeping unification and empirical validation. Unlike other non-Big Bang theories, null cosmology is falsifiable, provides testable predictions, and gives a full accounting of the many nuanced properties of the intergalactic redshift and CMB. It also, unlike any cosmology before it (including the Big Bang), provides a logical reason for the universe's existence and a clear framework that unifies a wide variety of known galactic properties with the large-scale universe. And in keeping with true scientific progress, the unification provided by null cosmology illuminates a number of currently unknown galactic properties, such as the vortical motion of a galaxy’s disk material.

Finally, I was still curious about the philosophical implications and asked about what this theory can tell us of our place in the universe.

It tells us everything about our place in the universe. It tells us why and how we exist on a finite scale that, because of space's intrinsic symmetry, must exist precisely midway between infinite largeness and smallness. It tells us that the universe is, through causality and sheer size, large enough to contain its own history. In fact the universe must contain its own history, because each and every moment of our lives is integral to ultra-large-scale structure. Perhaps most importantly, null physics demonstrates that our existence is neither accident nor design - it is inevitable.


His theory has an additional redeeming feature for people hoping to eradicate the ultimate irrational explanation in that it closes the door on a designer. If the universe has always existed and always will exist, then how could a creator have any role to play at all? My cynical brain suspects that this could be one of the motives for the resurrection of the static universe theories that are springing up at regular intervals. Witt is not the first to try to defuse the Big Bang. In the final, and I use the word lightly, given that apparently there is no final, Witt’s conclusion could be summed up with the naive parent’s riposte to the childish question: Why are we here? Because we’re here!


How to Discover Our Universe

Compare and Compare Alike [Sciencebase Science Blog]

Posted: 19 Aug 2008 02:30 PM CDT

Back in June 2001, I reviewed an intriguing site that allows you to compare “stuff”. At the time, the review focused on how the site could be used to find out in how many research papers archived by PubMed two words or phrases coincided. I spent hours entering various terms hoping to turn up some revelationary insights about the nature of biomedical research, but to no avail.

I assumed the site would have become a WWW cobweb by now, but no! compare-stuff is alive and kicking and has just been relaunched with a much funkier interface and a whole new attitude. And as of fairly recently, the site now has a great blog associated with it in which site creator Bob compares some bizarre stuff such as pollution levels versus torture and human rights abuses in various capital cities. Check out the correlation that emerges when these various parameters are locked on to the current Olympic city. It makes for very interesting reading.

Since the dawn of the search engine age people have been playing around with the page total data they return. Comparing the totals for “Company X sucks” and “Company Y sucks”, for example, is an obvious thing to try. Two surviving examples of websites which make this easy for you are SpellWeb and Google Fight, in case you missed them the first time around.

compare-stuff took this a stage further with a highly effective enhancement: normalisation. This means that a comparison of “Goliath Inc” with “David and Associates” is not biased in favour of David or Goliath.

Compare-stuff with its new, cleaner interface now takes this normalisation factor to the logical extreme and allows you to carry out a trend analysis and so follow the relative importance of any word or phrase. For example, “washed my hair”, with respect to a series of related words or phrases, for example “Monday”, “Tuesday”, “Wednesday”…”Sunday”. The site retrieves all the search totals (via Yahoo’s web services), does the calculations and presents you with a pretty graph of the result (the example below also includes “washed my car” for comparison).

Both peak at the weekend but hair washing’s peak is broader and includes Friday, as you might expect. It’s a bit like doing some expensive market research for free, and the cool thing is that you can follow the trends of things that might be difficult to ask in an official survey, for example:

You can analyse trends on other timescales (months, years, time of day, public holidays), or across selected non-time concepts (countries, cities, actors). Here are a few more examples:

Which day of the week do people tidy their desk/garage?

At what age are men most likely to get promoted/fired?

Which popular holiday island is best for yoga or line dancing?:

Which 2008 US presidential candidate is most confident?

Which day is best for Science and Nature?

As you can see, compare-stuff provides some fascinating sociological insights into how the world works. It’s not perfect though. Its creator, Bob MacCallum, is at pains to point out that it can easily produce unexpected results. The algorithm doesn’t know when words have multiple meanings or when their meaning depends on context. A trivial example would be comparing the trends of “ruby” and “diamond” vs. day of the week.

The result shows a big peak for “ruby” on “Tuesday”, not because people like to wear, buy or write about rubies on Tuesday, but because of the numerous references to the song “Ruby Tuesday” of course.

However, since accurate computer algorithms for natural language processing are still a long way off, MacCallum feels that a crude approach like this is better than nothing, particularly when used with caution. Help is at hand though, the pink and purple links below the plot take you to the web search results, where you can check that your search terms are found in the desired context; in the top 10 or 20 hits that is. On the whole it does seem to work, and promises to be an interesting, fast and cheap preliminary research tool for a wide range of interest areas.

With summer well under way, Independence Day well passed, and thoughts of Thanksgiving and Christmas coming to the fore already (at least in US shops), I did a comparison on the site of E coli versus salmonella for various US holidays. You can view the results live here, as well as tweaking the parameters to compare your own terms.

Originally posted June 4, 2007, updated August 19, 2008


Compare and Compare Alike

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