Archive for the ‘Debunking’ Category

Truth or Dare

January 10, 2012 Leave a comment

Stephen Hawking at 70

January 7, 2012 Leave a comment

What does he think about all day? (Image: Science Museum/Sarah Lee)

When he was diagnosed with motor neurone disease aged just 21, Stephen Hawking was only expected to live a few years. He will be 70 this month, and in an exclusive interview with New Scientist he looks back on his life and work

 Read more: Hawking highlights

STEPHEN HAWKING is one of the world’s greatest physicists, famous for his work on black holes. His condition means that he can now only communicate by twitching his cheek (see “The man who saves Stephen Hawking’s voice“). His responses to the questions are followed by our own (New Science, “NS”) elaboration of the concepts he describes.

 What has been the most exciting development in physics during the course of your career?

COBE’s discovery of tiny variations in the temperature of the cosmic microwave background and the subsequent confirmation by WMAP that these are in excellent agreement with the predictions of inflation. The Planck satellite may detect the imprint of the gravitational waves predicted by inflation. This would be quantum gravity written across the sky.

New Scientist writes: The COBE and WMAP satellites measured the cosmic microwave background (CMB), the afterglow of the big bang that pervades all of space. Its temperature is almost completely uniform – a big boost to the theory of inflation, which predicts that the universe underwent a period of breakneck expansion shortly after the big bang that would have evened out its wrinkles.

If inflation did happen, it should have sent ripples through space-time – gravitational waves – that would cause variations in the CMB too subtle to have been spotted so far. The Planck satellite, the European Space Agency’s mission to study the CMB even more precisely, could well see them.

Einstein referred to the cosmological constant as his “biggest blunder”. What was yours?

I used to think that information was destroyed in black holes. But the AdS/CFT correspondence led me to change my mind. This was my biggest blunder, or at least my biggest blunder in science.

NS: Black holes consume everything, including information that strays too close. But in 1975, together with the Israeli physicist Jakob Bekenstein, Hawking showed that black holes slowly emit radiation, causing them to evaporate and eventually disappear. So what happens to the information they swallow? Hawking argued for decades that it was destroyed – a major challenge to ideas of continuity, and cause and effect. In 1997, however, theorist Juan Maldacena developed a mathematical shortcut, the “Anti-de-Sitter/conformal field theory correspondence”, or AdS/CFT. This links events within a contorted space-time geometry, such as in a black hole, with simpler physics at that space’s boundary.

In 2004, Hawking used this to show how a black hole’s information leaks back into our universe through quantum-mechanical perturbations at its boundary, or event horizon. The recantation cost Hawking a bet made with fellow theorist John Preskill a decade earlier.

What discovery would do most to revolutionize our understanding of the universe?

The discovery of supersymmetric partners for the known fundamental particles, perhaps at the Large Hadron Collider. This would be strong evidence in favour of M-theory.

NS: The search for supersymmetric particles is a major goal of the LHC at CERN. The standard model of particle physics would be completed by finding the Higgs boson, but has a number of problems that would be solved if all known elementary particles had a heavier “superpartner”. Evidence of supersymmetry would support M-theory, the 11-dimensional version of string theory that is the best stab so far at a “theory of everything“, uniting gravity with the other forces of nature.

If you were a young physicist just starting out today, what would you study?

I would have a new idea that would open up a new field.

What do you think most about during the day?

Women. They are a complete mystery.


To mark Hawking’s birthday, the Centre for Theoretical Cosmology, University of Cambridge, is hosting a symposium entitled “The State of the Universe” on 8 January (watch live at An exhibition of his life and work opens at the Science Museum, London, on 20 January

Data Shows FairTax Generates More Revenue

November 29, 2011 Leave a comment

Americans Frustrated Watching Tax Policymakers Play “Ground Hog Day”

Washington, DC – Americans for Fair Taxation (AFFT) released revenue estimates last week that showing how the FairTax, a national sales tax, would have collected far more federal revenue in 2009 and 2010 than the current income tax based system.

The estimates demonstrate that FairTax-generated revenues for 2009 would have been $171 billion more than the IRS revenue and in 2010; the FairTax would have generated $267 billion more.

AFFT provided the data to the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction or Super Committee recently and is releasing it to the public today.

“ Watching Washington tax policymakers churn a few well-worn and ineffective ideas to come up with the same disappointing results is like watching the movie ‘Ground Hog Day’, except this is real life not a movie” said AFFT Chairman and Co-Founder Leo E. Linbeck, Jr.

“No wonder the American people are so frustrated! Some in Washington want to adjust and tinker with the current sclerotic system but working Americans are ready to throttle it and them and start fresh. The time for reform is over. We need to be seeking replacement.

“The FairTax is a hybrid within the range of consumption tax alternatives— more transparent, simpler and it returns the power to determine how much tax is paid to the American people.

“We believe it addresses the nearly $1.5 trillion in deficit reduction the congressional deficit committee is charged with making, and responds to the nearly $4 trillion in cuts offered by Democrats and other partisan issues.

The FairTax projections are based on a 23 percent tax inclusive rate of taxation as proscribed in the Fair Tax legislation (HR 25/S 13).

The estimates were provided by David Tuerck, Chairman of the Economics Department and Executive Director of the Beacon Hill Institute at Suffolk University in Boston.

“Because revenues from a consumption tax are always more stable over the business cycle than revenues from an income tax, it stands to reason that the FairTax would have reduced the deficit in recent years, had it been in place,” said Tuerck.

Formed in 1995, AFFT is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, grassroots organization dedicated to replacing the current tax system with a progressive national retail sales tax.

For a copy of the FairTax data go to or call 703-931-2324.

Happy Armageddon Day

October 22, 2011 Leave a comment

We Must Continue to Wonder

October 3, 2011 Leave a comment
Lisa Randall is Professor of Physics at Harvard University. She is one of today’s most influential and highly cited theoretical physicists, and has received numerous awards and honors for her contributions.

The following is excerpted from her book: Knocking on Heaven’s Door


Among the many reasons I chose to pursue physics was the desire to do something that would have a permanent impact. If I was going to invest so much time, energy, and commitment, I wanted it to be for something with a claim to longevity and truth. Like most people, I thought of scientific advances as ideas that stand the test of time.

My friend Anna Christina Büchmann studied English in college while I majored in physics. Ironically, she studied literature for the same reason that drew me to math and science. She loved the way an insightful story lasts for centuries. When discussing Henry Fielding’s novel Tom Jones with her many years later, I learned that the edition I had read and thoroughly enjoyed was the one she helped annotate when she was in graduate school.

Tom Jones was published 250 years ago, yet its themes and wit resonate to this day. During my first visit to Japan, I read the far older Tale of Genji and marveled at its characters’ immediacy too, despite the thousand years that have elapsed since Murasaki Shikibu wrote about them. Homer created the Odyssey roughly 2,000 years earlier. Yet notwithstanding its very different age and context, we continue to relish the tale of Odysseus’s journey and its timeless descriptions of human nature.

Scientists rarely read such old—let alone ancient—scientific texts. We usually leave that to historians and literary critics. We nonetheless apply the knowledge that has been acquired over time, whether from Newton in the seventeenth century or Copernicus more than 100 years earlier still. We might neglect the books themselves, but we are careful to preserve the important ideas they may contain.

Science certainly is not the static statement of universal laws we all hear about in elementary school. Nor is it a set of arbitrary rules. Science is an evolving body of knowledge. Many of the ideas we are currently investigating will prove to be wrong or incomplete. Scientific descriptions certainly change as we cross the boundaries that circumscribe what we know and venture into more remote territory where we can glimpse hints of the deeper truths beyond.

The paradox scientists have to contend with is that while aiming for permanence, we often investigate ideas that experimental data or better understanding will force us to modify or discard. The sound core of knowledge that has been tested and relied on is always surrounded by an amorphous boundary of uncertainties that are the domain of current research. The ideas and suggestions that excite us today will soon be forgotten if they are invalidated by more persuasive or comprehensive experimental work tomorrow.

When the 2008 Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee sided with religion over science—in part because scientific “beliefs” change whereas Christians take as their authority an eternal, unchanging God—he was not entirely misguided, at least in his characterization. The universe evolves and so does our scientific knowledge of it. Over time, scientists peel away layers of reality to expose what lies beneath the surface. We broaden and enrich our understanding as we probe increasingly remote scales. Knowledge advances and the unexplored region recedes when we reach these difficult-to-access distances. Scientific “beliefs” then evolve in accordance with our expanded knowledge.

Nonetheless, even when improved technology makes a broader range of observations possible, we don’t necessarily just abandon the theories that made successful predictions for the distances and energies, or speeds and densities, that were accessible in the past. Scientific theories grow and expand to absorb increased knowledge, while retaining the reliable parts of ideas that came before. Science thereby incorporates old established knowledge into the more comprehensive picture that emerges from a broader range of experimental and theoretical observations. Such changes don’t necessarily mean the old rules are wrong, but they can mean, for example, that those rules no longer apply on smaller scales where new components have been revealed. Knowledge can thereby embrace old ideas yet expand over time, even though very likely more will always remain to be explored. Just as travel can be compelling—even if you will never visit every place on the planet (never mind the cosmos)—increasing our understanding of matter and of the universe enriches our existence. The remaining unknowns serve to inspire further investigations.

My own research field of particle physics investigates increasingly smaller distances in order to study successively tinier components of matter. Current experimental and theoretical research attempt to expose what matter conceals—that which is embedded ever deeper inside. But despite the often-heard analogy, matter is not simply like a Russian matryoshka doll, with similar elements replicated at successively smaller scales. What makes investigating increasingly minuscule distances interesting is that the rules can change as we reach new domains. New forces and interactions might appear at those scales whose impact was too tiny to detect at the larger distances previously investigated.

The notion of scale, which tells physicists the range of sizes or energies that are relevant for any particular investigation, is critical to the understanding of scientific progress—as well as to many other aspects of the world around us. By partitioning the universe into different comprehensible sizes, we learn that the laws of physics that work best aren’t necessarily the same for all processes. We have to relate concepts that apply better on one scale to those more useful at another. Categorizing in this way lets us incorporate everything we know into a consistent picture while allowing for radical changes in descriptions at different lengths.

In this chapter, we’ll see how partitioning by scale—whichever scale is relevant—helps clarify our thinking—both scientific and otherwise— and why the subtle properties of the building blocks of matter are so hard to notice at the distances we encounter in our everyday lives. In doing so, this chapter also elaborates on the meaning of “right” and “wrong” in science, and why even apparently radical discoveries don’t necessarily force dramatic changes on the scales with which we are already familiar.


People too often confuse evolving scientific knowledge with no knowledge at all and mistake a situation in which we are discovering new physical laws with a total absence of reliable rules. A conversation with the screenwriter Scott Derrickson during a recent visit to California helped me to crystallize the origin of some of these misunderstandings. At the time, Scott was working on a couple of movie scripts that proposed potential connections between science and phenomena that he suspected scientists would probably dismiss as supernatural. Eager to avoid major solecisms, Scott wanted to do scientific justice to his imaginative story ideas by having them scrutinized by a physicist—namely me. So we met for lunch at an outdoor café in order to share our thoughts along with the pleasures of a sunny Los Angeles afternoon.

Knowing that screenwriters often misrepresent science, Scott wanted his particular ghost and time-travel stories to be written with a reasonable amount of scientific credibility. The particular challenge that he as a screenwriter faced was his need to present his audience not just with interesting new phenomena, but also with ones that would translate effectively to a movie screen. Although not trained in science, Scott was quick and receptive to new ideas. So I explained to him why, despite the ingenuity and entertainment value of some of his story lines, the constraints of physics made them scientifically untenable.

Scott responded that scientists have often thought certain phenomena impossible that later turned out to be true. “Didn’t scientists formerly disbelieve what relativity now tells us?” “Who would have thought randomness played any role in fundamental physical laws?” Despite his great respect for science, Scott still wondered if—given its evolving nature—scientists aren’t sometimes wrong about the implications and limitations of their discoveries.

Some critics go even further, asserting that although scientists can predict a great deal, the reliability of those predictions is invariably suspect. Skeptics insist, notwithstanding scientific evidence, that there could always be a catch or a loophole. Perhaps people could come back from the dead or at the very least enter a portal into the Middle Ages or into Middle-earth. These doubters simply don’t trust the claims of science that a thing is definitively impossible.

However, despite the wisdom of keeping an open mind and recognizing that new discoveries await, a deep fallacy is buried in this logic. The problem becomes clear when we dissect the meaning of such statements as those above and, in particular, apply the notion of scale. These questions ignore the fact that although there will always exist unexplored distance or energy ranges where the laws of physics might change, we know the laws of physics on human scales extremely well. We have had ample opportunity to test these laws over the centuries.

When I met the choreographer Elizabeth Streb at the Whitney Museum, where we both spoke on a panel on the topic of creativity, she too underestimated the robustness of scientific knowledge on human scales. Elizabeth posed a similar question to those Scott had asked: “Could the tiny dimensions proposed by physicists and curled up to an unimaginably small size nonetheless affect the motion of our bodies?”

Her work is wonderful, and her inquiries into the basic assumptions about dance and movement are fascinating. But the reason we cannot determine whether new dimensions exist, or what their role would be even if they did, is that they are too small or too warped for us to be able to detect. By that I mean that we haven’t yet identified their influence on any quantity that we have so far observed, even with extremely detailed measurements. Only if the consequences of extra dimensions for physical phenomena were vastly bigger could they discernibly influence anyone’s motion. And if they did have such a significant impact, we would already have observed their effects. We therefore know that the fundamentals of choreography won’t change even when our understanding of quantum gravity improves. Its effects are far too suppressed relative to anything perceptible on a human scale.

When scientists have turned out to be wrong in the past, it was often because they hadn’t yet explored very tiny or very large distances or extremely high energies or speeds. That didn’t mean that, like Luddites, they had closed their minds to the possibility of progress. It meant only that they trusted their most up-to-date mathematical descriptions of the world and their successful predictions of then-observable objects and behaviors. Phenomena they thought were impossible could and sometimes did occur at distances or speeds these scientists had never before experienced—or tested. But of course they couldn’t yet have known about new ideas and theories that would ultimately prevail in the regimes of those tiny distances or enormous energies with which they were not yet familiar.

When scientists say we know something, we mean only that we have certain ideas and theories whose predictions have been well tested over a certain range of distances or energies. These ideas and theories are not necessarily the eternal laws for the ages or the most fundamental of physical laws. They are rules that apply as well as any experiment could possibly test, over the range of parameters available to current technology. This doesn’t mean that these laws will never be overtaken by new ones. Newton’s laws are instrumental and correct, but they cease to apply at or near the speed of light where Einstein’s theory applies. Newton’s laws are at the same time both correct and incomplete. They apply over a limited domain.

The more advanced knowledge that we gain through better measurements really is an improvement that illuminates new and different underlying concepts. We now know about many phenomena that the ancients could not have derived or discovered with their more limited observational techniques. So Scott was right that sometimes scientists have been wrong—thinking phenomena impossible that in the end turned out to be perfectly true. But this doesn’t mean there are no rules. Ghosts and time-travelers won’t appear in our houses, and alien creatures won’t suddenly emerge from our walls. Extra dimensions of space might exist, but they would have to be tiny or warped or otherwise currently hidden from view in order for us to explain why they have not yet yielded any noticeable evidence of their existence.

Exotic phenomena might indeed occur. But such phenomena will happen only at difficult-to-observe scales that are increasingly far from our intuitive understanding and our usual perceptions. If they will always remain inaccessible, they are not so interesting to scientists. And they are less interesting to fiction writers too if they won’t have any observable impact.

Weird things are possible, but the ones non-physicists are understandably most interested in are the ones we can observe. As Steven Spielberg pointed out in a discussion about a science fiction movie he was considering, a strange world that can’t be presented on a movie screen—and which the characters in a film would never experience—is not so interesting to a viewer. Only a new world that we can access and be aware of could be. Even though both require imagination, abstract ideas and fiction are different and have different goals. Scientific ideas might apply to regimes that are too remote to be of interest to a film, or to our daily observations, but they are nonetheless essential to our description of the physical world.

To Be or Not To Be: Answers for the Fair Tax

September 20, 2011 Leave a comment

A person with the facts is never at the mercy of someone with just an opinion.” – Unknown

Feature Article: Winning the Debate

Americans have a lot of questions about how the FairTax will transformation our nation.

Objections vary from person to person but here are some short answers with links to more detailed research.

Also, here is a link for a very thorough paper, “The FairTax: Fundamentals and Facts” with answers to more technical questions.

“My FairTax rate would be too high.”

Under the FairTax you can control your tax rate! The prebate makes basic necessities tax free and used good never are taxed. You only pay taxes when you choose to purchase new goods and services. If you spend double the poverty line, your FairTax rate is only half of 23%! See more examples here.

Most Americans are in a 15% tax bracket and pay another 7.65% in payroll taxes which is about 23% already. But we spend about $400 billion dollars more every year just figuring out how much to send to Washington!

Compare your rate at

“The IRS still has to exist under the FairTax”

Under the FairTax, unlike a flat income tax, the IRS is eliminated both symbolically and literally. The FairTax defunds the IRS and orders records to be destroyed.

The states, most of which have had more than 60 years of experience in the administration of the sales tax, will collect and enforce the FairTax. Today, 98% of the population is covered by state or local sales taxes.

Details in Title III, Section 301 of the FairTax, HR 25

“The FairTax can’t fully fund our government”

The FairTax has been very thoroughly researched to provide all the revenues collected by the taxes it eliminates. It also funds the prebate, collection fees for retailers and state sales tax organizations.

Other reports are largely based on the 2005 Panel on Tax Reform and subsequent misanalysis which declared the rate would have to be much higher. The catch is, they quietly devised their own national consumption tax which they loaded with the exemptions and deductions they felt were politically realistic.

Finally, it’s important to note that the FairTax is “revenue neutral.” Like our current tax code, it’s not calculated to be ‘spending neutral.’

See published, detailed research at

“The FairTax is not politically possible”

It’s true that great public policy changes do not happen easily. We believe, however, in the promise of the Founding Fathers that this is a nation, “of, by and for the people”. But we have seen Congressional co-sponsors come on board faster than ever before; as more and more Americans have come to understand the powerful benefits the FairTax offers the nation. We’re closer to victory every time Americans from the left, right and center force another Congressman to co-sponsor the FairTax legislation.

As our ranks grow, such pressure will increase on members of Congress and at some point, the voice of the people will eclipse the voices of the relatively small number of Washingtonians who profit from the income tax system at great cost to our nation.

“Low and middle income people will pay more”

The FairTax actually eliminates and reimburses all federal taxes up to the poverty line for all Americans. This is accomplished through the prebate and by eliminating the highly regressive FICA payroll tax. Today, low and moderate income Americans pay far more in payroll taxes than income taxes. Those spending at twice the poverty level pay a FairTax of only 11.5 percent – a rate much lower than the income and payroll tax burden they bear today.

Also, under the federal income tax, slow economic growth and recessions have a disproportionately adverse impact on lower-income families. Breadwinners in these families are more likely to lose their jobs, are less likely to have the resources to weather bad economic times, and are more in need of the initial employment opportunities that a dynamic, growing economy provides.

In a nutshell, research thoroughly documents that the rich who spend the most will pay more but low, moderate and middle income taxpayers will benefit from the greatest gains in reduced tax liabilities.

See specifics at

“Politicians can raise the FairTax rate”

Yes, Congress can raise the FairTax rate just as it can and does raise the income tax rate. However, the FairTax is highly visible. And because there is only one tax rate, it will be very hard for Congress to adopt the typical divide-and-conquer, hide-and-disguise strategy employed today to manipulate the income tax code.

“The 23% rate is misleading. It’s actually 30%”

We choose to compare the FairTax to income and payroll taxes, quoting the rate the same way, because the FairTax replaces such taxes. That rate is 23 percent.

Sales taxes, on the other hand, are generally quoted tax exclusive: “I bought a $77 shirt and had to pay that same $23 in sales tax.” This is a 30% sales tax. Or, “I spent a dollar, 77¢ for the product and 23¢ in tax.” This rate, when programmed into a point-of-purchase terminal, is 30%.

Note that no matter which way it is quoted, the amount of tax is the same. Under an income tax rate of 23 percent, you have to earn $130 to spend $100.

Read more: A 23% tomato or a 30% tomato?

“It’s not enforceable and there will be evasion”

There always will be evasion and today’s incomprehensible system does nurture our underground economy. But the FairTax minimizes confusion and reduces compliance points by eliminating over 80% of tax returns – every individual filing today.

Also, 80% of all retail sales now occur at large retail chains that won’t aid tax cheats. This leaves state sales tax organizations – with decades of experience – an even smaller area to focus on.

See detailed research at

FairTax In the News

Republican 2012 Hopefuls Roll Out Economic Proposals From Taxes to TradeBloomberg

…Perry also favors sweeping tax changes. He said in his book that one option would be to replace the current code in favor of a flat tax on income. Another option would be to put in place “an alternative model such as a national sales tax or the Fair Tax.”

Cain and Texas Congressman Ron Paul, 76, have also spoken approvingly of the Fair Tax — a retail sales tax that would shield Americans below the poverty line from its impact.

Romney was more guarded when asked about the proposal in a Sept. 12 candidates’ debate. The tax “lowers the burden on the very highest income folks and the very lowest income folks, and raises it on middle-income people,” he said…

Everyone Should Hire Apple’s Lawyers

August 11, 2011 Leave a comment
At one time this brand of tomfoolery would be roundly ridiculed!
It appears that Steve Jobs can get away with these shenanigans, anyone else would be found in contempt and run out of town for Restriction of Trade.

By Adrian Kingsley-Hughes

Summary: Apple gets an injunction against the Galaxy Tab in Europe based on some very generic line drawings.

A German court on Tuesday sided with Apple and granted the company a preliminary injunction which blocks the sale of the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 in the European Union, excluding the Netherlands. But according to Nicole Scott of Netbook News, the patent could essential block ALL tablets, irrespective of operating system or maker.

Here’s are images from the Community Design patent (#000181607) filed by Apple:

Here’s what Scott has to say:

Take a look at the above design and tell me that doesn’t look like EVERY TABLET on the market. Apple has just chosen the most competitive Android tablet on the market and taken it down. This Community Design patent by Apple has only been around since 2010 so clearly Apple didn’t invent the tablet, Bert Keely, in 2000 at Comdex in Las Vegas the showed off Microsoft’s vision for the Tablet PC. Look familiar? Kind of looks like the images above, how can Apple patent an entire product category? At any moment Apple could decide that any tablet is too much competition and file a suit!

I’m used to seeing pretty generic designs submitted in patent documents, but you’ve got to admit that those line drawings are very, very generic. But remember that it is on the basis of this that Samsung can no longer sell the Galaxy Tab 10.1 in Europe.

But if Apple can get an injunction against the Galaxy Tab, what’s to stop it getting similar injunctions against other Android tablets from other maker? Heck, what’s to stop it going after Windows 8 tablets once they are available?

Apple seems to have a deadly weapon against tablets in the European Union, and it’s not afraid to use it.

[Reprinted from ZdNet, August 10, 2011]