The IEEE and the Electric Universe
A podium isn’t endorsement says Victoria chapter
The IEEE’s outpost in Victoria is to play host to an airing of the fringe “Electric Universe” theory today.
If Melbourne-dwelling members have time, they can pop over to Engineering House at North Melbourne to hear one Wal Thornhill expound the theory under the title The Electric Universe – A Practical Engineer’s Cosmology (ITEE Joint Event)”.
The theory borrows the meme of scientific scepticism beloved of everybody from Heartland Institude climate sceptics to homeopathy to anti-vaccination campaigners, with the promo stating that Electric Universe theory “acknowledges the primacy of the electric force in nature and is inherently sceptical about gravity-only cosmology, standard relativity theory, and extravagant mathematical speculation”.
The theory also wraps up denial of the existence of black holes, the big bang, and universe expansion. Comets aren’t the “dirty snowballs” described by most cosmologists, but “negatively charged bodies”, and Earth received its water by once being a satellite of Saturn.
Asked by The Register whether an apparent position endorsing fringe theories was in keeping with the IEEE’s standing as one of the world’s peak engineering bodies. We received this response from Dr Greg Adamson, chair of the IEEE’s Victorian Section:
“The IEEE Victorian Section sponsors more than 50 technical presentations a year on a wide range of topics, some of them speculative. Speakers speak on our platform, but not on our behalf. We attempt to provide interesting topics for our members, who aren't shy about testing the technical credentials of these speakers.”
Engineers Australia, convener of the ITEE College which is handling registrations for the event, and a body without whose permission nobody can tag themselves “engineer”, did not respond to inquiries. ®
Is it not also appropriate that such professional bodies provide a platform for alternative viewpoints so that members can make an informed intelligent decision as to the validity of such viewpoints.
When professional bodies are only allowed to toe the line of "accepted" policies we are doing a disservice to our profession. "Silence the critics!" is not a rally cry that I want to be associated with.
Congratulations for demonstrating "the meme of scientific scepticism beloved of [assorted crackpots]" described in the article. You may now receive your Crackpot Theories merit badge.
No one can "completely disprove" any theory, because "complete disproof" is a vacant concept. You can only disprove something under an epistemological protocol, and no such protocol is perfect. For example, you cannot prove that everyone who vets the proof isn't lying, or that they aren't deluded, or under some sort of hypothetical influence over their perceptions (Descartes' "evil genius" argument). You can't prove that the universe isn't the clever trick of some supernatural entity which could at any point choose to override consistency or causality. And so forth.
So no, no one here can "completely disprove" it, which is why we have to use our intellectual faculties - such as reason, and education, and an understanding of probability and plausibility, and an ability to gauge the reliability of our interlocutors - to decide whether to give it any credence.
And I'm going to be generous and assume that my fellow professional engineers can tell the whackjobs, nutters and shills for themselves, and don't need you to decide what is acceptable thoughts. We (as a body) are not your average easily lead rent-a-crowd.
Personally I like a good shill. It's so much more fun to heckle when they themselves don't belive what they are pedling, and are just doing it because they're paid to. The nutters are fun to try and see how far into ad absurdium you can push them before they realise you are taking the mickey.