legacy page  
     homeaboutessential guidepicture of the daythunderblogsnewsmultimediapredictionsproductsget involvedcontact



davesmith_au - the lighter side of eu


Dealing with Pseudoskepticism in Astronomy

by Dave Smith

October 22, 2010
Whilst a degree of well-informed skepticism is essential in the assessment of any scientific theory, pseudoskepticism has become rife on the internet, and in the popular media. It is practiced by many who pass themselves off as the voice of authority on a given topic, when in fact they are self-appointed 'debunkers' of anything which challenges their own, often limited, views.

The recent explosion of blogs on the internet now gives a voice to many who would otherwise be 'nobodys'. A superficially impressive website can be built almost overnight and populated with some self-published papers and a few choice quotes, which can then be used in an attempt to gain notoriety or attention whilst attacking the views of others with whom the author, posing as a well-informed skeptic, disagrees.

One of the many signs of a pseudoskeptic is that they will often attack the person(s) holding a particular view (ad hominem), rather than the view itself. Another tactic frequently employed is to misrepresent the views of their opponents, known as building a 'strawman', and then to tear those views down, thus 'burning the strawman'.

One site of note to this author is the blog of one W. T. (Tom) Bridgman, titled "Dealing With Creationism in Astronomy". Whilst the title seems self-evident, one has to ask why it is that Bridgman has taken it upon himself to attack Electric Universe (EU) theory with such gusto as has recently been displayed on his blog, when his stated "mission" is to debunk creationism.

EU theory has nothing at all to say about Creationism, Intelligent Design, Atheism or Calethumpianism! Bridgman's most common response to the question is that some "creationists" cite some EU materials in support of their position even though 'Big Bang' theory, to which Bridgman subscribes, has more to offer creationists than the EU does.

Essentially, the big bang has it that everything currently in the universe once occupied a point in space of zero volume and incredible density, and then suddenly it exploded and expanded into what we see today. The parallel with creationism is obvious.

The EU states that the universe is of unknown age and size and that a big bang event is unnecessary and not supported by empirical evidence.

The EU position that the Earth's surface is relatively new (due to electrical scarring, which has nothing to do with the age of the planet) is used by some Young-Earth Creationists to support their own theory that the Earth is only x years old. So what? No one in the sciences can veto the right to cite their research in support of some other position on some other topic.

Bridgman's other common assertion is that EU theorists use the same tactics as creationists, an assertion which is an attempt at "guilt by association". A look over his site will reveal numerous accounts of him likening EU theorists to creationists. Serious researchers would do well to assess EU claims on their merits rather than dismissing them due to some alleged yet non-existent association.

Getting back to the topic of pseudoskepticism, allow me to respond to one of Bridgman's attacks on EU theory, to see how it stacks up. The original post bears the headline "Electric Universe: Real Plasma Physicists Use Mathematical Models!" The all too simple response to that would surely be “yes, we do!”

The pertinent points to which this author offered a response are repeated and addressed below. Here I have added the abbreviations [S] (for strawman) and [A] (for ad hominem) to indicate which tactic is used in his quoted phrases.

Tom Bridgman:
One of the problems with Electric Universe (EU) claims is they seem incapable of producing mathematical models that can be used by other researchers to compare the predictions of their theories to other observations and experiments. ...
Not true. The mathematics is all there, in the appropriate books and papers to which EU theorists frequently refer. Physics of a Plasma Universe by Anthony L. Peratt, Cosmical Electrodynamics and Cosmic Plasma by Hannes Alfvén, Gaseous Conductors by J.D. Cobine and many more besides. Bridgman conveniently ignores this fact.

The predictable response to such references is frequently that they are "too old" or irrelevant to today's physics, and this from those who seem to have an unshakeable faith in the work of Einstein. The irony is palpable.

Tom Bridgman:
... The common EU excuse is that plasma behavior is too complex to be modeled mathematically. ...
Not true. EU theorists have never said this. Such modeling is difficult, but certainly not impossible. EU theorists are not alone in this opinion:

Hannes Alfvén:
Most theoretical physicists looked down on this field [electrical discharges in gases] which was complicated and awkward. The plasma exhibited striations, double layers, and an assortment of oscillations and instabilities. The electron temperature was often found to be one or two orders of magnitude larger than the gas temperature, with the ion temperature intermediate. In short, it was a field which was not well suited for mathematically elegant theories.


The [kinetic theories of ordinary gases] were mathematically elegant and claimed to derive all of the properties of a plasma from first principles. In reality, this was not true. Because of the complexity of the problem, a number of approximations were necessary which were not always appropriate. The theories had very little contact with experimental plasma physics; all awkward and complicated phenomena which had been observed in the study of discharges in gases were simply neglected.


The development of the theories [as opposed to laboratory experimentation] continued because they largely dealt with phenomena in regions of space where no real check was possible. The fact that the basis of several of the theories had been proved to be false in the laboratory had very little effect. One said that this did not necessarily prove that they must also be false in the cosmos! Much work was done in developing these theories, leading to a gigantic structure of speculative theories which had no empirical support.


... The plasma in space turned out to be just as complicated as laboratory plasmas and to follow the same basic laws. ..."

- Hannes Alfvén, Cosmic Plasma (1981).

Tom Bridgman:
But that excuse [above] reveals an almost schizophrenic mindset of the EU community.
Such statements are totally out of place within scientific discourse, a fact of which any scientist should already be aware.

Tom Bridgman:
One of the heroes of the EU supporters is Hannes Alfven ...
Again, this is not appropriate in scientific discourse. Supporters are just that, supporters. Bridgman uses the term "supporters" frequently without making clear that he is usually referring to lay people on the thunderbolts forum or other fora, rather than the published EU materials.

If EU proponents were to use the same tactics, we could highlight the many inane comments posted by anonymous users on the BAUT forum and in the Universe Today comment threads, or indeed on many of the news outlet comments threads. We could then offer them up as “Supporters of x say y and z”. However, integrity demands a more mature and accurate approach to the material we discuss, and misrepresentation of opposing views is a classic pseudoskeptic tactic avoided by serious researchers.

Tom Bridgman:
... They rarely mention Alfven without mentioning that he was a winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1970 and that this gives him more credibility than other researchers. ...
Acknowledging a Nobel prize is a matter of professional courtesy and respect when citing the contributions of a Laureate in support of your work. No EU theorist I know of has EVER stated that that (alone) gives him more credibility than other researchers. The fixation of pseudoskeptics on credentials is highly selective and largely irrelevant in a pioneering field where everyone is, in a sense, a 'beginner.' The arrogance of the peudoskeptic in judging Alfvén's contribution knows no bounds.

Alfvén's credibility is firmly established;
Professor of Theoretical Electrodynamics at the Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm (1940 - 1945); Professor of Electronics (1945 - 1964); Professor of Plasma Physics (1964 - 1973); Professor at the University of California, San Diego, since 1967.

Author of Cosmical Electrodynamics (Oxford, 1950); Cosmical Electrodynamics (2nd ed.) (with C.-G. Fälthammar, oxford, 1963; Evolution of the Solar System (with G. Arrhenius; NASA, 1976); Cosmic Plasma (Riedel, 1981) and several popular science books.

Member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, the Akademia NAUK (USSR), the Yugoslavian Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the National Academy of Sciences, the Royal Society and Life Fellow of the Institute of Electronic and Electrical Engineers (IEEE).

Awarded the Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society (1967), the Nobel Prize in Physics (1970), the Gold Medal of the Franklin Institute (1971), the Lomonosov Medal of the USSR Academy of Sciences (1971), and the Bowie Medal of the American Geophysical Union (1988).

- Editorial note (paraphrased) from:
Hannes Alfvén, Cosmology in the Plasma Universe: An Introductory Exposition.
IEEE Transactions on Plasma Science, Vol. 18, No. 1, February 1990.
- and his hundreds of peer-reviewed papers.

One of his books, Cosmic Plasma, was also essentially peer-reviewed. It was published in the Astrophysics and Space Science Library Volume 82. “A series of books on the recent developments of space science and of general geophysics and astrophysics published in connection to the journal Space Science Reviews (with an editorial board of 11 scientists from 10 world-wide institutions) and was supported by NASA and the NSF, among others.

Tom Bridgman:
... So what makes Alfven's claims about plasma cosmology more valid when he was given the award for the development of magnetohydrodynamics (MHD), NOT his work on plasma cosmology?
Apart from the many accolades already mentioned above, MHD IS plasma physics (in part), usually relating to the dense plasma of the Sun (in addition to the laboratory) etc. Our solar system being part of the cosmos, MHD IS involved in plasma cosmology. The distinction between MHD and the intergalactic currents which Alfvén also wrote about, is mostly a matter of DENSITY of the plasma concerned. Sparse (or less-dense) plasma requires different equations than does dense plasma. Considering that MHD IS about space plasmas (in part), Bridgman's misunderstanding invalidates his comment. has this to say:
A plasma is a gaseous state of matter in which the atoms or molecules are strongly ionized. Mutual electromagnetic forces, both between the positive ions themselves and between the ions and the free electrons, are then playing dominant roles, which adds to the complexity as compared to the situation in neutral atomic or molecular gases. Hannes Alfvén demonstrated in the 1940s that a new type of collective motion, called "magneto-hydrodynamical waves" can arise in such systems. These waves play a crucial role for the behavior of plasmas, in the laboratory as well as in the earth's atmosphere and in [the] cosmos.
[Emphasis added]
Helpful hint:

Some Wikipedia editors (Bridgman links to Wikipedia a lot, something I've not seen from other scientists) seem to have a certain level of contempt for plasma cosmology. Wikipedia is not considered a scholarly source in any educational institution of which I am aware, and researchers and students would do well to procure their science knowledge from more reliable sources.

Tom Bridgman:
The chronic EU claim that Alfven was ignored by the astrophysical community doesn't hold up to the facts. ...
Yet another display of a lack of understanding (or perhaps a deliberate misrepresentation?) of what EU theorists actually claim. Alfvén was not ignored outright by the astrophysical community. However, his Nobel lecture was essentially a plea for astrophysicists not to allow theoretical physics to override empirical evidence, which in part equates to not using MHD calculations with regard to the less-dense plasmas of the broader cosmos. It is this plea that has fallen on deaf ears.

Hannes Alfvén:
The cosmical plasma physics of today [1970] is far less advanced than the thermonuclear research physics. It is to some extent the playground of theoreticians who have never seen a plasma in a laboratory. Many of them still believe in formulae which we know from laboratory experiments to be wrong. The astrophysical correspondence to the thermonuclear crisis has not yet come. I think it is evident now that in certain respects the first approach to the physics of cosmical plasmas has been a failure. It turns out that in several important cases this approach has not given even a first approximation to truth but led into dead-end streets from which we now have to turn back.

The reason for this is that several of the basic concepts on which the theories are founded, are not applicable to the condition prevailing in cosmos. They are «generally accepted» by most theoreticians, they are developed with the most sophisticated mathematical methods and it is only the plasma itself which does not «understand», how beautiful the theories are and absolutely refuses to obey them. It is now obvious that we have to start a second approach from widely different starting points.

- Plasma physics, space research and the origin of the solar system.
Nobel Lecture (1970)
Table 1 in that paper, includes the following observations:
Frozen-in picture [of magnetic field lines in plasma] often completely misleading.

It is equally important to draw the current lines [in addition to magnetic field lines] and discuss the electric circuit.

Electrostatic double layers are of decisive importance in low density plasmas.

Tom Bridgman:
... Like all scientists, Alfven had ideas that worked and ideas that didn't.  His ideas that actually worked were clearly adopted and appreciated by the astrophysical community.

Most of the negative things about Alfven seem to focus around a tendency to cling too much to ideas such as Plasma cosmology that were clearly failures. ...
Considering the plethora of work mentioned above, much of which is peer-reviewed and involved plasma in the cosmos, this personal opinion of Alfvén's "failures" is clearly at odds with the evidence and a baseless argument.

Tom Bridgman:
... One of the greatest problems I've had with Alfven's papers was his focus on quantities such as the total current in a system.  While this quantity is useful for exploring constraints such as the energy budget (matching of energy inflows to outflows), it is otherwise a quantity very difficult to tie back to what an observation or instrument might actually measure such as a flux density, etc.
I thought quantification was the demand of the mathematician by which all 'legitimate research' should be judged. The quantification given by Alfvén is exactly the same quantification which pseudoskeptics, and Bridgman, allege doesn't exist within EU theory. It is interesting to note that after Bridgman alleges EU theorists incapable of quantification, he himself finds this aspect of Alfvén's work "very difficult" and thus dismisses it.

Bridgman offered no references to where Alfvén's papers were focused on the total current in a system. In fact, he offered no references at all in support of this comment nor for any other of his hand-waving dismissals of the often complicated and groundbreaking work of plasma pioneers. An objective reading of Alfvén's work indicates that he had no such narrow focus, but rather had both a broad and exemplary understanding of the behavior of plasmas both in the laboratory and in the cosmos.

Tom Bridgman:
... Anthony Peratt's galaxy model, received some examination because it was presented in a form that facilitated mathematical analysis.  The problem is that all the evidence is that Nature didn't see fit to actually build galaxies that way ...
"All the evidence" in this case, consists of dark matter, dark energy, dark flow, black holes ... none of these invocations has been observed nor replicated in any form in laboratory experiments. There is NO empirical evidence that these things have anything to do with reality, hence nature.

Peratt's PIC simulations reproduced galaxy formation accurately using the principles learned in the laboratory of plasma physics. Interacting Birkeland currents, combined with the gravitational force of only the particles within the simulation, worked admirably without the need for dark matter or any of it's cousins.

Tom Bridgman:
Irving Langmuir, who coined the term 'plasma' ... on the plasma flow.
Langmuir is also acknowledged by EU theorists in the context of the history of the theory. I don't see the relevance of this paragraph in Bridgman's post, except perhaps to display his efficiency in researching via Wikipedia.

Tom Bridgman:
Considering the number of 'heroes' of the EU supporters were pioneers and strong advocates of mathematical modeling of plasma, EU's denial of plasma modeling could best be described as hypocritical or schizophrenic.
Yet again, this statement indicates a complete lack of knowledge of EU theory. Such plasma modeling as done by Peratt and Alfvén mentioned above, is exactly the material we refer people to when they ask for mathematical support for the theory.

One of the paramount requirements of assessing any theory which challenges another, is to learn as much as you can about both theories. Before people launch a criticism of Electric Universe theory, it would be wise for them to first acquaint themselves with what the actual theorists write, and with the behavior of plasmas both in the laboratory and in the cosmos, rather than what they may find on forums, in comment threads, or in Wikipedia.

The discerning reader will notice that Bridgman begins with the strawmen and the ad hominems. After having set the scene that his opponents are incapable schizophrenics who make outlandish claims, he then intersperses his comments with seemingly relevant statements, most commonly referenced to Wikipedia. These statements normally address the strawman he has erected in the first place, thus not addressing the actual claims of his opponents.

This is typical of pseudoskeptics, and is the same tactic employed by many of those who seem to spend most of their waking hours editing Wikipedia, ensuring that nothing which challenges established theory sees the light of day.

Dave Smith.

Permalink to this article.

Email this article to a friend

Public comment may be made on this article on the
Thunderbolts Forum/Thunderblogs (free membership required).

For a comprehensive central repository of links to study Plasma Cosmology/Electric Universe please visit:


"The Cosmic Thunderbolt"

YouTube video, first glimpses of Episode Two in the "Symbols of an Alien Sky" series.


And don't forget: "The Universe Electric"

Three ebooks in the Universe Electric series are now available. Consistently praised for easily understandable text and exquisite graphics.

  This free site search script provided by JavaScript Kit  
  FREE update -

Weekly digest of Picture of the Day, Thunderblog, Forum, Multimedia and more.
*** NEW DVD ***
  Symbols of an Alien Sky
Selections Playlist

An e-book series
for teachers, general readers and specialists alike.
(FREE viewing)
  Thunderbolts of the Gods

  Follow the stunning success of the Electric Universe in predicting the 'surprises' of the space age.  
  Our multimedia page explores many diverse topics, including a few not covered by the Thunderbolts Project.  

Dave Smith (davesmith_au) is an independent researcher and Managing Editor of the Thunderblog.

My Archives

Chronological Archives

Archives by Author

Archives by Subject

Thunderblogs home


Authors David Talbott and Wallace Thornhill introduce the reader to an age of planetary instability and earthshaking electrical events in ancient times. If their hypothesis is correct, it could not fail to alter many paths of scientific investigation.
More info
Professor of engineering Donald Scott systematically unravels the myths of the "Big Bang" cosmology, and he does so without resorting to black holes, dark matter, dark energy, neutron stars, magnetic "reconnection", or any other fictions needed to prop up a failed theory.
More info
In language designed for scientists and non-scientists alike, authors Wallace Thornhill and David Talbott show that even the greatest surprises of the space age are predictable patterns in an electric universe.
More info

EXECUTIVE EDITORS: David Talbott, Wallace Thornhill
SENIOR EDITORS: Donald Scott, Annis Pepion Scott
CONTRIBUTING EDITORS: Michael Goodspeed, Michael Gmirkin,
'Solar', The Soupdragon,
Guest's Contributions
WEBMASTER: Brian Talbott
© Copyright 2010:

Disclaimer - The opinions expressed in the Thunderblog are those of the authors of
the material, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Thunderbolts Project.
The linking to material off-site in no way endorses such material and the Thunderbolts
Project has no control of nor takes any responsibility for any content on linked sites.
top ]

home   •   picture of the day   •   thunderblogs   •   multimedia   •   resources   •   forum   •   updates   •   contact us   •   support us