Tuesday, May 12, 2015

NASA: no warp drive results. Cranks yelling

A week ago, I discussed the recent wave of misguided enthusiasm concerning the EM drive and warp drive crackpot memes. I have reminded everyone of the simple reasons that make us known – in the same sense as we know that the Earth is not flat – that those dreams can't be realized.

At that time, over a hundred of major news outlets brought a gospel to their readers. Fuel-free and perhaps superluminal spaceships are around the corner. Thousands of loud weirdos have self-confidently filled the comment sections of their newspapers, celebrating the "breakthrough" and punishing the laws of physics for the restrictions they have never liked.

The Gentlemen who make living out of this nonsense are carefully operating with the logo of NASA. They worked in a building of NASA. Some people have suggested that they were located there directly by NASA so that NASA may control what's going on.

But what happens when the legendary brand is being connected with a bunch of self-evident medieval pseudoscientists? Well, the NASA officials got in touch with Space.com that published the text
No Warp Drive Here: NASA Downplays 'Impossible' EM Drive Space Engine
by Elizabeth Howell. Similar stories were only printed in The Independent, Sputnik, ITV News, and Science Times. In the most straightforward counting, this detail – what NASA actually says about this "breakthrough" that has been associated with its brand – has been reported by the number of news outlets that is smaller by more than an order of magnitude than those that have celebrated the "breakthrough".

The Space.com article quotes Ethan Siegel who wrote lots of sensible things about the issue – like so many other issues. However, the NASA statement sent to Space.com only said the following:
While conceptual research into novel propulsion methods by a team at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston has created headlines, this is a small effort that has not yet shown any tangible results. NASA is not working on 'warp drive' technology.
Simple, clear – and perhaps too modest. Even under this Space.com story with the official stamp of NASA, the majority of commenters are those who believe that it must be true and the laws of physics must be totally inadequate. This is some sort of an insane postmodern religion that has replaced some pagan ones.

Amir Zaidi of Austin wrote a recent comment (the first Facebook comment in the default sorting). He has no interest once he hears that they postulate momentum conservation. He only got my helpful vote for that. However, Steven Fakley responds:
It is nice that you are sceptical but all testing so far indicates that this EM drive does produce observable thrust even if very minor and somewhat inconsistent. So if they produce a stronger consistent signal then there poses a big question with a difficult answer.

There seems to be no problem with energy conversation but there is a likely to be violation of momentum conservation. Most people I hear talk about this EM drive mention quantum effects scaled up into a real world application.

What I would add is what with DM and DE we currently understand less than 5% of the known Universe meaning a lot of new particles and physics await us. So this EM drive may have hit new physics but then again it may all be flawed test results.
Why would he believe such a self-evident pile of crap? It probably boils to "most people he hears talk about this EM drive". Well, the problem is that most people who talk about the EM drive are scientifically illiterate imbeciles simply because most people who are scientifically literate won't even waste a minute with this crap.

So you just can't trust such "majorities", Mr Fakley. Incidentally, many people including himself like to claim that the momentum conservation is "completely different" than the energy conservation. Well, they're independent but they're not "completely different". In fact, special relativity merges these conservation laws into one conservation law for the 4-momentum.

It is also a silly misunderstanding – supported by the populist buzz in many popular articles on cosmology – that we "only understand 5% of the Universe". It depends how one counts the percentages. The baryonic matter is 5% of the energy density of the Universe but that doesn't mean that it's only responsible for 5% of the phenomena, 5% of the laws, or 5% of the wisdom, knowledge, or university courses. The knowledge doesn't have the same units as the energy density. It's very likely that the dark matter is "just another particle" whose impact on the behavior of the galaxies will just add a "few lines of calculations" to our thousands of pages we would need to write down to explain how we understand the Universe.

It doesn't matter that the total mass of these particles is high. High mass doesn't mean high intellectual importance – in fact, the opposite is closer to the truth. Lighter particles are more important than the heavier ones; they govern the long-distance dynamics of the physical theories. And if one has "many copies" of a particle, it doesn't increase our lack of understanding proportionally. They're exactly the same so if we misunderstand something about one such particle, there is nothing else we misunderstand about others!

Also, the main (and perhaps only) thing we don't understand about dark energy (the cosmological constant, apparently) is that it is so small. It's 70% of the energy density in the Universe but it's still 60-120 orders of magnitude smaller than what would be expected by straightforward estimates based on some incomplete theories of the seemingly relevant phenomena. If the cosmological constant were much larger, it would be less mysterious, not more mysterious. So this whole counting of our ignorance by the mass density is completely flawed.

Joseph Magdaleno III added:
"...violate the current laws of physics." Sure it does, yet the UK did it, and the Chinese Northwestern Polytechnical University did it, I think with more tangible results. It would seem that our current laws may need some fine tuning to fit this experimental data. After all, that is science! So awesome!
This "Chinese breakthrough" was hyped in 2012. Now, why would Mr Magdaleno believe such a thing? Even if those people were really affiliated with that university, it sounds like some "not the best" university in "not one of the most high tech" countries. More importantly, if they made a breakthrough in 2012 and it were real, don't you think that the knowledge about it would have already percolated to the rest of the world – the experts who have something to do with this research or the laws of Nature that are relevant to predict the behavior of such systems?

It gets worse. Alex Hunter:
Ever hear the story of Edison destroying Teslas plan to potentially provide free energy to the planet. When I first heard this story the above first came to mind. Not saying this is the case here, but considering how any alternative superior technology that competes with any big business gets hushed or destroyed before it can be realized especially any technology that deals with energy or propulsion.
This is really the template of the conspiracy theoretical psychology that drives many other enthusiastic fans of similar nonsense. The evil Edison has destroyed Tesla's plan to make the world a better place – a perpetuum mobile, in fact.

Clearly, it's not just Edison who is behaving this badly, those people think. It's all of "big business" that does such things. But does it? If you're a bit rational, it would make absolutely no sense. If some immoral "big business" – and yes, "big business" may be immoral, but it doesn't have to be – knew about some groundbreaking new technology, it would deal with it very differently. It would simply steal it. Or, which is much easier and more "reactionless", it would buy it for a limited amount of money. The reinvestment would be quickly repaid.

Why would someone believe that the "big business" has the intrinsic interest to make progress impossible? A business X denying the progress in its field is clearly shooting into its own foot because the competitors may get the know-how and beat X in the markets. Do you really misunderstand these elementary things about the markets? A technological company has to embrace relevant technological advances as quickly as possible.

You see that folks like Alex Hunter combine the anti-scientific hysteria with the anti-capitalist one. Only some of these folks explicitly write similar things but this combination is really widespread. Despite the left-wing demagogues' attempts to link left-wing myths with science, the reality is that the anti-market warriors are some of the most fanatical haters of science, too.

And it goes on and on and on. William-Robert Kent Cousert wrote:
The EmDrive would be one of the biggest breakthroughs in the history of the planet. Does anyone really expect them to be honest here? They're going to test it and patent it before they release any real details.
So they haven't tested it "yet"? If they haven't, what was the hype all about and why would you believe that the tests will be successful? Also, the "patents" are wildly overestimated here. It's a popular thing that many crackpots like to collect but most of them are worthless. People who make a real scientific or technological progress just don't think about "patents" most of the time. And even when it comes to more mundane engineering progress, "patents" don't help much.

You see that Mr Cousert believes that no tangible tests have actually been made and no details have been released. If that's so, why would he believe that there's something to talk about at all?

Michael Walker from the Air Force:
Seems like we are missing something. It's amazing how close past scientists were to solving something without even knowing it and indeed the person who discovered it many times "stumbled" on to it. Good luck to the future, if we know anything about the future it's that it's unknown and full of surprises.

Maybe no faster than light travel in our times but we can't speak for the future. It will speak for itself.
This is ludicrous, too. The contemporary scientists and engineers are faster and more efficient when they solve a problem of the same complexity – well, at least in most "classes" of the problems – than their distant predecessors. Many other people got stupider and less skillful but the cutting edge of science and technology has made a huge progress in the last 50 or 100 or 200 or 400 years. Can't you see it? The ability of the likes of Mr Walker to "contribute" to discussions about physics and space research is one of the (unwanted) side effects of this huge progress we have witnessed.

Maybe Mr Walker can't speak for the future but the future world will still obey the same laws of physics as the present world and we know quite something about these laws. By the way, it's ironic for Walker to say that "we shouldn't speak on behalf of the future" because that's exactly what folks like him do. They already assume a particular future, one in which we are surrounded by superluminal perpetuum mobile machines, and they use this (fictitious) future to attack the present.

Well, I really think it is irrational – or dishonest – to deal with the future in this (Michael Walker's) way. I speak for the present. The only science-based method to estimate whether a scientific claim is right or wrong, whether a technological proposal is feasible or not, is to use the present (understanding of the) laws of physics. Our knowledge of the laws of physics isn't perfect at present. But this knowledge is still the most reliable basis to understand and control Nature that we may have now. People building on the future form of the laws of physics are clearly religious loons because the actual future laws are not known now and they're building on nothing else than a wishful thinking and fantasies.

John Dubose wrote:
Probably just some earthy effect that was not properly taken into account. But still worth a couple of million to put one in a little satellite and see what happens. The potential payoff is astronomical. (PUN)
This guy says that even if he knew that any claimed anomalies are probably due to some earthy effect, he would still send a satellite worth several million dollars to see what happens. This is just totally incredible. Does this Gentleman have a clue what is "several million dollars"?

His description totally disagrees with the character of work of the rocket scientists. They are not sending satellites in space that behave in ill-understood, unpredictable, mysterious ways. When NASA sends something to space, it's planning every nanosecond and sometimes every inch in the motion of these devices.

Why would NASA spend several million dollars by throwing a device whose function it doesn't understand into space? Of course, NASA has to test and perfectly understand the "pieces" of technologies terrestrially before it sends them to space. The probability that something "almost completely misunderstood" does something "great" when we throw it into outer space is more or less zero. Even if it were positive in some special case, rocket scientists are simply not acting by "not knowing what they are doing".

Johnny Moon:
If they admit the drive works, they have to admit much of their sacred dogma about physics is wrong, much like the Large Hadron Collider is ripping apart the Standard Model. And that there's more to the Biefeld Brown effect than they want to accept.
To the disappointment of most particle physicists, the LHC hasn't found a single statistically significant deviation from the Standard Model yet, despite hundreds or thousands of graphs that have been extracted from the collision data. Mr Moon's idea that the LHC is "ripping apart the Standard Model" is a sign of a drug overdose. You must have lost your mind completely, Mr Moon.

Despite tons of experiments, there are no clearcut statistically significant indications of imperfection of the Standard Model – combined with General Relativity in a semi-consistent way.

The sociological part of Mr Moon's claim is absurd, too. Scientists don't derive their pride from stagnation in science. Someone's successful "change of the status quo" is what a real scientist really wants and what he derives his or her prestige from.

You would need to triple the quotes above to get a more complete picture of the stunning stupidity that visitors of similar websites boast. So many children have been left behind!

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