Saturday, July 12, 2008

Newspaper Advertises Dubious (Crackpottery?) Physics

Recall that I've always maintained that many in the public cannot tell the difference between legitimate, scientific work versus anecdotal and pseudoscience (even downright crackpottery) work. I also don't care about advertising crackpot theories on this blog. But this one is rather annoying on many level that I simply had to mention it.

The Huntsville Times (presumably published in Huntsville, Alabama, which btw, has a large NASA presence there, so they should know better) in its infinite wisdom, decided to "advertise" a talk by this retired engineer that has made rather grandiose claims (always a red flag if ever there is any).

DuVall said he became interested in the problems tackled by Einstein and other physicists, and spent a lot of time pondering them.

"Einstein worked for 17 years trying to interrelate gravitational, electric and magnetic fields," he said, but the physicist never succeeded.

DuVall said he thought he saw a way to link them mathematically, and has made some presentations, including talks at the University of Arkansas, his alma mater. Challenges by skeptics led him to do more work, and the result will be presented Sunday. "No math above high school algebra," he promised.

Maybe he was an engineer and people seem to give him a bit more "credibility", but that doesn't give him a free pass from being required to go through the same scrutiny, such as publishing his ideas in respectable peer-reviewed journals. Has he done it? Just read another of this red flag:

DuVall has self-published a number of books, including one on gravity last year, and, basically, says he has amended some of Newton's Laws so they're based more on energy than on force.


Not only that, there's just something wrong with the whole ".... amended some of Newton's Laws so they're based more on energy than on force...." claim that any physics undergraduate can spot from a light-year away. One can derive ALL of the equation of motion of a system via the Lagrangian/Hamiltonian mechanics, and obtaining the same result as Newtonian force-law equations. And Lagrangian/Hamiltonian mechanics deals with energy issues, not forces! So we already deal with mechanics "based more on energy than on force"! So what's new here?

How far down the bottom of the barrel did the Huntsville Times had to scrap to get a 'science' news? The fact that a newspaper like this also can't tell the difference between legitimate science and shoddy science, and in the process also gives credibility to it, is clear evidence that scientific accuracy often takes a back-seat in many popular reporting. The public that reads this certainly would think this guy is as legitimate as any physicist out there giving a talk on something. Do they know if this guy has actually managed to publish any of his work in a peer-reviewed journal, something that is required to be considered as legimate? Or do they even care?

This is another example of "Imagination without knowledge is Ignorance waiting to happen". Except that in this cse, it has happened.


1 comment:

Frank Noschese said...

Have you heard last week's "This American Life?"
Fast forward to Act 3:
"Bob Berenz had a good job as an electrician. But he wanted to do something bigger. He came up with an idea for an invention. But as he studied physics texts to see if his invention could work, he happened upon the biggest idea of his life: a revelation about physics that would disprove Einstein, and Newton. That is...if Bob's right. This, and other stories about the pitfalls of knowing just a little bit too little."