Amateur scientists vs. cranks

Actually, what you’re doing here is following a script that generally goes like this:

(1) Person A mentions the Electric Universe online as a possible means of explaining an observation which is obviously enigmatic to conventional theory.

(2) Person B has previously observed some other person mention that the Electric Universe has already been rebutted by Tom Bridgman, so they pass on Bridgman’s URL. Note that neither person A nor person B has sufficient familiarity with the EU’s claims to judge the effectiveness of Bridgman’s rebuttal.

(3) Person B goes to Bridgman’s site, and sees that this is a complex debate. They quickly realize that a large time commitment is required to get to the bottom of it, and they make a snap judgment that Bridgman is probably right in order to avoid investing that time.

(4) At some future time, person B sees yet another person mention this “obviously false” theory called the Electric Universe. Person B then sends Bridgman’s URL to this new person, as proof that the issue has already been settled. Now, repeat.

The back-and-forth details of the actual claims, concepts and argumentation tends to get lost in this script.

Let’s look at what might actually be the most important example of Bridgman’s critique. This is not as complicated as people think.

There is a very specific claim being made by Don Scott and Wal Thornhill that has been very clearly stated: The mathematical models which are being used to model cosmic plasmas tend to treat those plasmas as though they have no electrical resistance, with the side effect being that those plasmas cannot sustain electric fields. This is one of the most important claims being made by the EU, so it’s very much worth the effort to correct the Internet mythology of scientific experts taking time out of their otherwise busy schedules to correct these obviously wrong notions.

This is, in truth, high school physics here, but in the guise of this plasma concept. An electric field is what one gets when electric charge of a particular sign finds itself bunched together. As everybody generally realizes, like charges repel one another, and this repelling force is called the electric field (or E-field).

A plasma is really just a gas that has some percentage of unbound charged particles. In the laboratory, it only takes a very small percentage (in some cases, less than 1%!) of unbound charged particles within a gas for the gas to begin to behave more as a plasma (subject to electromagnetic forces), than a gas or fluid (which would be principally subject to mechanical forces). But, there exists a continuum here when we are talking about “dusty plasmas”: Smaller particles and grains will tend to respond more to the electromagnetic forces, whereas the larger bodies (centimeter or more) will generally react more to gravity and viscosity.

So, what is the controversy here? The controversy is that astrophysicists tend to use approximations when modeling the cosmic plasmas which suggest that the plasma has no electrical resistance (as if it’s a superconductor). This necessitates that if the charge finds itself bunched up, there is no electrical resistance to slow its dispersion. In other words, it implies that any charge which happens to build up also, instantly disperses itself. Thus, no E-field ever has a chance to form in this scenario.

Bridgman initially appears to rebut this claim at Dealing with Creationism in Astronomy: The REAL Electric Universe

Many EU advocates try to claim that astrophysics ignores the effects
of electric fields and currents as possible drivers of astrophysical
phenomena. Once they do this, EU advocates try to hijack the
discoveries of legitimate researchers, claiming success for their
theories with any mention of currents in mainstream astrophysics.

Fair enough. It looks like we’re about to get an actual response here. Then, he changes the topic on the third sentence …

Yet electric currents and fields are discussed throughout the
professional astrophysical literature, predating much of the Electric

Suddenly, Bridgman is no longer talking about modeling plasmas as though they lack electrical resistance. He clarifies this towards the bottom of his “rebuttal”:

All these mechanisms create the charge separations and currents using
energy from other processes, usually gravity.
The charge-separation
itself is not the original energy process but can create non-thermal
distributions of charged particles.

What Bridgman has failed to tell his audience is that, if he were in a laboratory and needed to accelerate a charged particle, there’s a fantastic chance that he’d use the bunching up of electric charge (an E-field) on a plate of metal to do the job. An E-field is by far the easiest way to accelerate a charged particle. Bridgman doesn’t mention this important detail for his audience. In fact, he prefers that his audience focus upon other means of accelerating charged particles in space – which stem from gravity – even though these other means could not even be used to explain the aurora:

“Only electric fields can accelerate charged particles. Gravity is too
weak by several orders of magnitude, and collisions are much too rare”

(from Block, L. P., “Acceleration of auroral particles by magnetic-field aligned electric fields” (1988) Astrophysics and Space Science, vol. 144, no. 1-2, May 1988, p. 135-147)

An anonymous poster takes the entire “rebuttal” down in just one sentence:

Electric Universe people do not dispute that there are other theories
concerning electric fields and currents in space.

So, has Tom Bridgman actually done people a service here? He seems to have avoided directly responding to the claim being made about the approximation within the cosmic plasma models. Instead, he has presented his particular worldview – that gravity is the fundamental force which leads to secondary electromagnetic side effects – as though it’s the only explanation worth paying attention to.

And yet, we need only look at the aurora to see that his worldview does not help us to understand it. If we go just a bit further out into the Sun’s environment, we see that the “solar wind” (a stream of charged particles) fails to appreciably decelerate even as it passes the Earth’s orbit (!). So, we should rightly ask: What is creating this acceleration at these enormous distances from the surface of the Sun? Is it possibly the bunching of charged particles – an electric field at the Sun?

Bridgman’s worldview would seem to simply preclude even asking the question. There are, of course, additional complexities to the debate which people should discuss. And it takes some time to map out all of the details. The point here is to show that Bridgman is not “the man who took the Electric Universe down”. He presents some arguments which we should look at and consider, but so does the other side.

That’s because it’s a controversy that demands more than just a dismissal.