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M. Woodman "hikeandbikemike" (Exeter, England)

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Time Reborn: From the Crisis in Physics to the Future of the Universe
Time Reborn: From the Crisis in Physics to the Future of the Universe
by Lee Smolin
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.98

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars How long have you got?, 21 Dec. 2014
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Physics has encountered a tough problem in explaining why the fundamental constants which define the masses, charges and interactions of particles have the values they do. This impasse, decades in duration, was analysed by Lee Smolin in his 2006 book, "The Trouble with Physics".

Foremost among attempts at its resolution are schemes containing a plethora of universes, possibly an infinitude, of which our local one just happens to be the way it is; if it weren't we would not be here to wonder about these things. Hardly a falsifiable proposition, and therefore not scientific, as Smolin points out.

Mind you, his preferred scenario is also replete with universes, though in his universes a selection mechanism is at work which zones in on our particular cosmic environment as a fruitful one for propagation of more universes via black holes. Cosmic "genes" (fundamental constants, initial conditions) that are good for production of black holes are good also for galaxies, stars, planets and, ultimately, us. This theory is at least capable of making predictions which are falsifiable (or not) using available data sources.

Time is implicit in his hypothetical process. But universal time is associated with the concept of simultaneity which is ruled out by relativity. Smolin and his associates are working on a resolution of this conflict which might, as a bonus, explain non-local aspects of quantum entanglement without invoking the notorious hidden variables which have themselves been pretty well ruled out by clashes with Bell's theorem.

So far, nothing has come of this approach, though the reality of time is supported by the emergence of complexity in a universe which should by rights be heading for equilibrium. The discussion of how this happens through the intervention of gravity and the effective re-setting of entropy's clock when stars light up is fascinating and rewarding to read.

But, apart from a few such illuminating insights, this book makes tedious reading. It suffers from poor style, lack of conciseness in presentation of ideas, sloppy diagrams and a great deal of repetition. The epilogue is a rambling discourse upon life, the universe and everything, including subjects as diverse as ecology, economics, moral values, the origin and nature of consciousness - even global warming. Read this section first and you might save yourself an awful lot of time.

Inertia and Gravitation: From Aristotle's Natural Motion to Geodesic Worldlines in Curved Spacetime
Inertia and Gravitation: From Aristotle's Natural Motion to Geodesic Worldlines in Curved Spacetime
by Vesselin Petkov
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.79

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Gravitational energy a fiction?, 17 Aug. 2014
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The laws of motion and of gravitation are described according to evolving perspectives, from Aristotle, through Galileo and Newton, to Einstein and Minkowski. Written by a devoted Minkowski enthusiast, the survey is always informative, though at times biased and ultimately unorthodox.

It is shown how Newton's theories worked superbly in accounting for motion in both inertial and gravitational frames, even though Newton himself was sceptical about the action-at-a-distance implied by forces of gravity. Mach's misconceived attempt to invoke an absolute basis for acceleration is also analysed.

Einstein's special relativity theory addressed the inability of Newton's laws to incorporate electromagnetic radiation. Relativity is further analysed in terms of Minkowski's spacetime geometry. The ability of this representation to distinguish definitively between inertial and accelerated motion is explained, as are the phenomena of length contraction and time dilation for observers in relative motion.

Einstein's extension of spacetime into curved coordinates to cope with gravitational phenomena is clearly illustrated, but it is concluded that gravitational attraction does not exist, whatever Einstein believed.

In an appendix, the author proceeds to use the geodesic hypothesis not only to explain the source of gravitational forces and energy, but also to explain them away. Theories of quantum gravity cannot be devised, he asserts, because there is nothing to be quantised; people working on such theories (I suppose he includes Lee Smolin here) are doomed to failure; gravitational waves do not exist (projects LIGO, LISA and its successors are a waste of effort); the decaying orbit of twin neutron stars PSR 1913+16 is better explained by tidal friction than by the mistaken belief in gravitational energy; and so on.

Scarcely mentioned is that although non-Euclidian spacetime can account for inertial motion more precisely than Newtonian theory, that is only half the story of general relativity. The way in which mass tells spacetime how to curve is the other half, but this aspect of gravitational interaction is abruptly dismissed in a couple of lines in the closing pages of the book.

A book of two halves, then; one of which is good, the other unconvincing. Special relativity and Minkowski geometry are already covered in other excellent books, including those of David Bohm and N. David Mermin.

Hidden In Plain Sight 2: The equation of the universe
Hidden In Plain Sight 2: The equation of the universe
Price: £0.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Standard Model possibly obsolete, 23 Jun. 2014
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A cosmological theory is proposed to account not only for the accelerating expansion of the universe but also for its flatness, without calling upon either primordial inflation or dark energy. Quite an undertaking, which would leave a few Nobel laureates with somewhat hollow awards, if it worked.

Drawing upon mainstream cosmology, the thesis examines some reasons why light emitted from a source may fail to reach an observer: insufficient time; intervening space expanding faster than light can travel; gravity at source so strong as to impose superluminal escape velocity. The first two define the limits of our observable universe at various times; the third concerns black holes.

The author then notes a curious coincidence between the current extent of our locally observable universe (calculated as speed of light divided by Hubble parameter) and its notional Schwarzschild radius based upon the included mass.

It is truly surprising that the two radii should be similar (to within an order of magnitude) but perhaps too much can be made of this. The author’s proposition is that we therefore effectively exist within a black hole and must expect to observe negative gravitational effects (the implications for anyone residing just over the horizon are not examined). This is a bold proposal, as also is the notion that the universe will settle down at about its current size or average density on account of its overall zero energy content.

Negative gravity, as against any primordial cosmic inflationary phase, is also taken to explain the flatness of the universe’s geometry. Little is made of the tiny temperature fluctuations in the cosmic microwave background, for which Alan Guth’s inflation theory also provides an explanation. And the recently-claimed observation of evidence for gravitational waves in the CMB will (if confirmed) provide further support for a short-lived inflationary expansion. Guth must be very relieved.

I took less from this book than from the standard primer “An introduction to Modern Cosmology” by Andrew Liddle which provides a seriously convincing account of what is known and currently explicable in a perhaps ultimately incomprehensible universe. The concept of the zero energy universe has also already been expounded in the thoroughly cogent and readable narrative “A universe from nothing” by Lawrence Krauss.

Global Warming False Alarm, 2nd Edition
Global Warming False Alarm, 2nd Edition
Price: £6.74

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A scientist speaks out, 23 Feb. 2014
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Here is the response of a scientist dismayed at the harm done to science by the AGW movement, both its core promoters and its incidental beneficiaries. Criticism of all aspects of a very wide subject are drawn together in a concise and readable style.

Here is portrayed a debasement of scientific principles, compounded by the way in which funding and the freedom to publish or criticise have been colonised. Single-tracked obsessions have occurred elsewhere within science from time to time, but never has the philosophical basis of the discovery process been compromised in this way.

Scientific malfeasance is exposed at every level: distortion of raw data, cherry-picking of results, manipulation of statistics, use of fudge factors and biased presentation as well as exclusion of conflicting views by secrecy or suppression. Motives, whether professional, financial, political or merely superstitious, are explored in some detail.

Climate science, in the true sense, is hampered by such a distorted presentation of the hypothesis that CO2 is the sole driver of change to the exclusion of natural cycles and their possible causes. Despite which, alternative well-founded explanations for climate change do continue to be explored, all capable of accommodating the recent departure from monotonic global temperature rise that leaves adherents of the IPCC's flawed models floundering for excuses.

An extensive bibliography provides entry to detailed coverage of every aspect of the climate change controversy, including original papers by truly innovative researchers.

An appendix deals with how feedback can modify any driving factor, for example a doubling of CO2 levels. It provides a lucid illustration of how the arbitrary assignment of a convenient value to this component of a computer model can guarantee any desired prediction - at least until outcomes render it inconvenient.

No Title Available

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Most of it is excellent, 5 Nov. 2013
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The title refers to the sun's neglected role in climate change as portrayed by the IPCC script writers whose sole concern is, of course, to cast CO2 as the lead villain because that is what the UN engaged them to do and that is where the money is.

The book demolishes the IPCC's simplistic premise: that because solar irradiance remains essentially constant the sun can make no other contribution to climate change. It shows that when proper account is taken of what else the sun was doing during historic cycles of climate change, over timescales from decades to millennia, our current warming phase makes more sense than when human contributions to greenhouse gases and aerosols alone are taken to be the forcing influences.

The IPCC unfortunately also gets to occupy far to great a part of the contents by way of a systematic critique of its working methods, bias, conflicts of interest and so on, all of which has already been done in many other works, among which Andrew Montford's contributions are notably readable.

The present account is at its most compelling where it sticks to recounting the sun's many contributions to naturally occurring climate cycles. These include cyclical variability in the UV spectrum, in particulate emissions, magnetic field and sunspot numbers as well as a role in the variable penetration of galactic cosmic rays. All of these phenomena have been well-documented; some remain unexplained. A regular sixty year oscillation is tentatively linked with alignments of planets, which may sound like astrology but has been reliably linked to observed changes in solar rotation rate.

Cosmic rays and sixty year cycles each have a chapter with an addendum from a notable contributor to the science. Henrik Svensmark, in his book "The Chilling Stars", gives a more comprehensive treatment of the cosmic ray story than he does here. To read more about the sixty year cycle the reader has a list of references to consult. These are two quite amazing fields of discovery.

There is nothing much about the millennial cycle which is conjectured to link the Roman and mediaeval warm periods with our present one. Nor is there any proper evaluation of the much longer Milankovitch cycles, thought to be prominent in relation to ice ages. And, despite the space devoted to criticism of the IPCC models, nor is there much of an attempt at quantitative treatment of the radiation balance of the Earth. (These last two subjects have been dealt with extremely well in John Kerr's book, "The Inconvenient Skeptic".)

Another notable lack is an index. This makes it difficult to check back on earlier material to which reference is routinely made, sometimes with wrong links to pages and diagrams.

Concluding chapters are largely devoted to predictions of the climate over the coming century using revised sensitivity of temperature to CO2 and extrapolations of various natural cycles. The authors' prognosis is reassuringly optimistic but in making such long range extrapolations they do seem to be repeating the very errors which they have devoted so much space to criticising. Some of their imaginative interpretations of cycles, coincidences and trends in graphs are as unconvincing as anything in the IPCC's Assessment Reports.

A section on the power generating industry reveals the crisis building as a result of governmental panic responses to global warming alarms. Professor Vahrenholt's combination of learning and experience in power supply management underpin his more balanced approach to devising planning strategies.

What would be very useful now is an executive summary capable of being read in ministerial circles and restoring objectivity and calm.

The Propaganda Bureau
The Propaganda Bureau
by A. W. Montford
Edition: Paperback
Price: £3.99

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Charter Betrayed, 17 Jan. 2013
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This review is from: The Propaganda Bureau (Paperback)
The BBC has modified its principles of integrity, accuracy and impartiality to accommodate circumstances.

Montford reveals here how a committee of 28 agreed that balanced presentation should be eschewed on the subject of climate change and that henceforth anthropogenic global warming be taken as established truth.

He and another blogger have gone to extraordinary trouble and financial risk to discover who were the 28 and what their qualifications, prejudices and conflicts of interest. They have done so in the face of BBC hostility, obfuscation and secrecy backed by licence-fee-funded legal resources.

Some astonishing stuff that comes out in the wash keeps interest alive even when the main investigation seems to be going nowhere. A notable cast of players includes that old hand at science trivialisation, Roger Harrabin, and the new director-general of the BBC, Lord (formerly Tony) Hall.

Without sleuths like Montford and a few bloggers with similar commitment to the truth, to whom could we turn for a balanced view? Clearly not to the Beeb and its Committee of 28.

Hiding the Decline
Hiding the Decline
by A.W. Montford
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.99

6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What a falling off was there!, 30 Dec. 2012
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This review is from: Hiding the Decline (Paperback)
The decline which needed to be hidden concerned some inconveniently-trending data at the end of an otherwise well-behaved series meant for inclusion in a tendentious IPCC report. The artifices by which the required misleading portrayal was achieved entailed an even more dreadful decline involving debasement of the scientific process itself.

This book is as much to do with how the latter falling-off came to be hidden as it is about the original subterfuges exposed in the Climategate email hack. It takes the form of a tragedy in which there always seems to be some hope that good will triumph, right up to the final two despairing paragraphs. It is a compelling account, meticulously detailed with a comprehensive bibliography and masses of cross-references to facilitate the tying together of related streams of narrative.

There have been other occasions when science and commerce have formed ill-matched relationships to the extent that data presentation became the servant of the message. But in the case of anthropogenic global warming, science has also thrown in its lot with politics, a grimier business altogether.

At no stage did any conjunction of objectives among the scientists become a conspiracy, of course: there was only ever a close alliance of partners with shared interests; a tendency to exclude others of unlike opinion (using serious pressure, if necessary); a guarding of data and knowhow from prying outsiders; the building, in short, of a bandwagon which - when boarded by people with political and financial clout - morphed into a gravy train; a rallying together and closing of ranks when pressure of ensuing investigations dictated; a reliance on influential associates to apply bucketfuls of whitewash all the way up to parliamentary enquiries into enquiries.

The author has fashioned a fascinating and readable tale out of an ultimately depressing saga in which that malign mix of climate change hysteria with its leechlike renewables-subsidy bonanza has embroiled government and scientific bodies alike in lies and yet more lies. His fearless exposure of incompetence in the face of duplicity has succeeded where both national media and scientific press have dismally failed.

The Inconvenient Skeptic: The Comprehensive Guide to the Earth's Climate
The Inconvenient Skeptic: The Comprehensive Guide to the Earth's Climate
by John H. Kehr
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.36

5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Global cooling is on its way, 1 Dec. 2012
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One good thing to come out of all the recent carbon alarmism is the way attention has been directed to rather more objective portrayals of climate change, including its essential timescale. This book, a dissertation drawing upon published sources, makes a notable contribution. It examines the well-documented cycle of ice ages and interglacials during 2.6 million years, particularly the two most recent major oscillations in temperature of the past 136,000 years.

Whatever other factors may affect the warming of our planet, variations in the amount of incoming solar radiation are potentially of prime importance, and a good first place to look for these is in the regular changes in Earth's orbit, the so-called Milankovic cycle, for which a remarkably good synchrony has been shown between peaks of insolation and interglacials.

The author presents a cogent argument that this observed temporal correlation amounts to a causal relationship. He does an excellent job, too, by using energy accountancy - in exactly the way that a chemical engineer would - to analyse the heat transfer processes of reflection, absorption and re-emission of radiation combined with mass transfer processes of convection, evaporation and condensation, all of which affect the eventual dynamic equilibrium temperature. The numbers he arrives at make sense.

He does an even more remarkable job of explaining all of this clearly and succinctly without getting bogged down in complicated equations. His graphical and diagrammatic presentations are models of clarity; details superfluous to basic conceptual understanding are hived off to appendices for each chapter; explanations employ clear, direct language.

The irrelevance of changes in atmospheric CO2 concentration to the global thermal processes is dealt with, almost as an aside, in two distinct ways, one theoretical the other observational: increased CO2 can have no more than a marginal effect in absorbing long-wave radiation once levels exceed about 100 ppm; markedly elevated CO2 levels have consistently followed, not preceded, temperature rise at the onset of interglacials and have never managed to arrest declining temperatures during ice age onsets (such as the current one). As the author puts it, winter is on its way and CO2 is unlikely to postpone its arrival.

Where the Milankovic cycle thesis runs into difficulty is that although peaks and troughs of northern hemisphere solar radiation accord quite precisely with interglacials and ice-ages in regard to timing, there is nowhere near as good a quantitative correspondence: the last but one insolation peak conspicuously failed to do more than temporarily hinder a long-term temperature decline into a protracted ice age. Also, the highly correlated regression between insolation and temperature portrayed in a graph in this book does reveal that some points are well off the line in terms of temperature or watts/sq metre of input.

The author's attempts to explain this away are not convincing, mainly because of his commendable insistence on sticking to the pure cause-and-effect argument. It would certainly be inexcusable to introduce a fudge factor, such as arbitrary global albedo fluctuations (leave that to the warmists) but some other factors do seem to be at work.

In fact, the disparities might point the way to where further progress will be made. We know, for example, about notable swings between warmer and cooler spells during the current gradual decline from an interglacial peak some 4,000 years ago, including the present day blip that has occasioned such panic. And various clues have come up in other studies on quite separate aspects of climate change: short term ones like sunspot cycles, including the correlation between Maunder minimum and Little Ice Age; and long term ones like the cosmic ray cycles currently being investigated by Henrik Svensmark (book "The Chilling Stars").

FOOTNOTE: Because this is a self-published book, the graphics are all in black and white and not always easily understood. But they are all presented in a section of the author's website and are freely accessible. There are other places, too, where an editor could have improved the presentation; but I'm not going to quibble or mark the book down on that account: John Kehr deserves abundant credit for his huge labours on this project. If only some publisher would take up this book.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 22, 2014 5:01 PM GMT

A Universe from Nothing
A Universe from Nothing
by Lawrence M. Krauss
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.19

12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The ultimate balance sheet fix, 14 Oct. 2012
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Ask why there is something rather than nothing and the answer seems to depend upon what is meant by "nothing". To address that question, start, as the author does, by dismissing any tendentious definition of nothing put about by theologians who see this as their preserve, also consider whether nothingness should exclude concepts like laws of physics as well as those of space or time. The answer is far from clear, perhaps unknowable, and getting it wrong could mean falling into the error of those theologians and skewing any ensuing theory.

Leave that part of the question, then, and turn to the "something" aspect, where our breadth of knowledge and understanding of the visible universe, its history and future, are by contrast detailed and precise, at least insofar as we ignore the 98% of its components about which we know next to nothing (dark energy, dark matter...) but which are, in principle at least, capable of being addressed. The mutual consistency of cosmological theories covering inflation, CMB, galaxy formation, primeval quantum fluctuations, light element abundance and so on is astonishing.

The task of explaining what happened between nothing and something is relatively straightforward, once the first 10^ -30 seconds or so are out of the way. It is that first instant (as well as the "nothing" which came "before") which remains illusive and pretty much in the realms of philosophy. Krauss is determined to avoid any appeal to special conditions which might look suspiciously God-orientated but also acknowledges that multiple universes and other anthropocentric interpretations are equally unproductive when it comes to making falsifiable predictions. His treatment is by turns ontological, epistemological and pragmatic with even some speculative digressions.

An underlying question as to whether the entire universe may, on balance contain precisely zero energy is discussed, though not convincingly answered. That a flat space-time does accord with a net zero gravitational energy for the entire universe is certainly made clear, but not whether the author also regards its total rest mass energy as correspondingly balanced by the work done by negative pressure or rather as a perfectly reasonable quantum loan from the vacuum which somehow got inflated away (by a factor of at least 10^26 possibly 10^78 in some accounts).

All of it is thoroughly readable and thought-provoking. Given that the author describes how his own thoughts on this, his speciality subject, evolved even as he was writing the book, that is not so surprising.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 5, 2013 4:21 PM GMT

Quantum Man: Richard Feynman's Life in Science (Great Discoveries)
Quantum Man: Richard Feynman's Life in Science (Great Discoveries)
by Lawrence M. Krauss
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.68

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars More than yet another biography, 8 Oct. 2012
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This is an evaluation of a great scientist and of his contributions to physics, written by someone who knew him and understood the insights and unique approach he brought to every field of enquiry. Remarkably, the science is brought alive here in a way that mirrors Feynman's own forte.

It is, of course, also biographical - personal and anecdotal - but makes no attempt to duplicate other accounts such as James Gleick's "Genius" or Michelle Feynman's "Perfectly Reasonable Deviations from the beaten track". By no means a hagiography, it nevertheless displays a personal admiration which accords well with those of other authors, notably Freeman Dyson: "this side idolatry" characterised his regard for Feynman.

The writing is exceptionally good. I have read only the paperback edition which comes with "corrections" by novelist Cormac McCarthy, by which is apparently meant stylistic amendments to the hardback version, including excision of all semi-colons and exclamation marks (one alone survived ... on page 290 it appears, just like this!). Some of the most beautiful passages, though, have a simple elegance which surely could never have survived rewriting. The single paragraph description on p77 of Richard's wedding to Arline is one such masterpiece.

An excellent work in many different ways, it is highly recommended to scientist and lay reader alike.

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