Debate #2: Lord Edam

March 6, 2002 (my first rebuttal, part 1/3):

Star Trek Shields: Energy Handling

I am rather disapppointed that you simply linked to your existing shield page for most of your first post. To be honest, I expected that you would improve it because as it is, I don't see why anyone would take its criticisms seriously. The first half of your shield page only makes one point, over and over, and I paraphrase: "the E-D should be treated as a 1 km long, 600 metre high target". That's the only point in the entire first half of that page, and it's not much of a point.

This is his first serious error on this page. Unfortunately, he applies his conclusions here to the rest of his arguments. Mike generously assume the area affected will be a box of roughly the same dimensions of the Enterprise. Obviously, this is very generous - if we are simply considering the ship itself. As the images below show, the box does have a far greater surface area than the ship. However, Mike appeared to have forgotten that he is discussing the effects of radiation on the shields of the Enterprise.

Strawman. You claim that I have "forgotten" that we're talking about the shields rather than the hull, when I have not. You claim that I was trying to account for the "shield bubble" rather than the hull, when I was not. Has it ever occurred to you that the job of a shield is to protect the ship, and that therefore, its only design requirement is to block energy that would have hit the ship? If the shield blocks any extra energy as a result of poor design, that is merely an example of inefficiency. It hardly factors into its performance, which is measured against its requirements. Tell me, do you "correct" a pure class A amplifier's power output upwards because it wastes all of that current biasing its transistors, or do you simply measure how well it does its job?

Any engineer's work is measured against design requirements, and nothing else. If an engineer makes a horrendously inefficient system and tries to use that very inefficiency as an excuse for its poor performance, he would have some serious explaining to do! The shield's job was to block solar radiation striking the ship. Its job was not to block solar radiation that would otherwise have passed harmlessly past the ship into space. If it is, in fact, true that they do this, then it's merely evidence of their poor design.

Unlike Star Wars shields these are not hull-conforming. In fact, they extend quite a distance from the ship. In the video capture image below the shields have a height of almost 600m, and extend beyond the front of the ship by over 200m. If we assume the shields extend from the rear of the ship by a similar amount, then the length of the shields will be over 1000m.

By insisting that we should use these figures, you are claiming that the E-D's shields are always 1000 metres long and 600 metres high, with no possibility of variation below that size. Are you willing to stake yourself to that claim? And tell me, do you also hunt through TNG episodes looking for really big shield bubbles when discussing the ease of targeting a Federation ship?

Although the screenshots were missing, I see no reason to doubt that the shield was that large at one time. After all, we know they can vary their shield size and shape, and in "The Defector", Geordi said they could extend the shields as much as five kilometres ahead of the ship (although they never showed this onscreen, otherwise you probably would have used it). In "Clues", Data's response to the Paxans' attack was to "vary shield strength and shape as rapidly as possible." We've seen numerous different sizes of shield bubble onscreen, remember? Moreover, we know from TOS that as of 80 years before TNG, they were able to control shield shape tightly enough to wrap it closely around the hull, and we know from DS9 that just 3 years years after TNG, they could do it again.

So what evidence do you present for your claim that they were incapable of doing it in TNG? They could do it before TNG, they could do it after TNG. We've even seen the same ship use both; the Defiant used both in DS9, and the Jenolan (a TOS-era ship which presumably used "hull huggers" when it was launched) suddenly deployed a "bubble shield" in "Relics" where it made sense to do so. In fact, we learned in "Relics" that TOS-era technologies have barely changed by the time of TNG, and they're still using regulations that Scotty wrote! Did it ever occur to you that there is actually no evidence whatsoever that wholly different shield systems are involved here? What makes you think that they had to refit the entire Federation fleet with new shield systems in order to change from "bubble shields" to "hull huggers" in the Dominion War? How do you know that the reappearance of "hull huggers" was a technological advancement, even though they already had them in Kirk's era? How do you know that it wasn't just a tactical decision, ie- Starfleet decided that a smaller target was more important than a larger radiating area? How do you know it wasn't a simple reconfiguration? A few keypresses at a bridge console?

This gives an approximate shield area of (pi)(length/2)(height/2) = 470,000m^2, or nearly six times what Mike has used above. If the ship is projecting its dorsal or ventral silhouette it will be an area of over 600,000m^2. The minimum the shield silhouette could be (from a frontal view) is 375,000m^2. As you can see, in his haste to be generous Mike has failed to consider the very technology he is discussing. This error is repeated throughout his shield estimations.

I'm trying to be generous, but there's charity and then there's highway robbery, and you're trying to commit the latter. Like a creationist who believes that macroevolution and microevolution involve completely different mechanisms, you seem to believe that TOS, TNG, and DS9 shields are all completely different, probably because it's convenient to do so. Without a shred of evidence, you've assumed that TNG shield systems were crippled in a way that TOS and DS9 shields were not. You go on to assume that the Enterprise would use a particularly large shield bubble in a situation where the smallest possible shield would make the most sense. You assume that a piece of technology should be evaluated not on its ability to do its job, but on its ability to waste energy doing unnecessary work on top of that job. You can't even stop with your claim that "hull huggers" have passed beyond the Federation's grasp, and you actually claim (with a perfectly straight face, no less) that the E-D is incapable of reducing its shield geometry below a 1km long, 600 metre high ellipsoid!

Naturally, you conclude that my failure to share all of these assumptions is somehow dishonest manipulation of evidence on my part. Did it even occur to you that I could have performed a calculation using the exact profile area of the ship regardless of the size of the shield bubble, since that is what the shields are supposed to protect, and anything beyond that is inefficiency? Did it occur to you that I could have mentioned that any helmsman with half a brain would rotate his ship to point away from the star, thus cutting its target profile by half? Starfleet types may be tactically moronic, but even they aren't that moronic; Picard ordered precisely that kind of action in the battle simulation of "Peak Performance". You seem to enjoy pretending that I'm pushing every possibility to denigrate Treknology, but nothing could be further from the truth.

Having decided the area of the E-d, Mike then goes on to interpret episodes where we are shown the limits of what the ship can handle. Once we apply the correct surface area, we find the energy the shields would have encountered over 5 minutes in Descent pt II was over 30TW, for a total energy over 9,000TJ from an already damaged ship using an experimental technology.

That would be the "correct" surface area ... if we share your assumptions that the E-D is incapable of reducing its shield bubble below 1000 metres length and 600 metres width, rotating 90 degrees, or controlling its shields as well as DS9 or TOS-era ships. It would be the "correct" energy estimate if we share your assumption that the performance of a technological device should be measured based on its inefficiencies rather than its ability to do its job. Then again, maybe we don't have to tie ourselves to those assumptions, eh?

Again, Mike applies his earlier error and comes to the wrong conclusion. In this case, the shield was likely to be experiencing a power intensity of over 15TW, at a shield efficiency of 23%, roughly corresponding to 60TW or higher for full shields.

Repetition of earlier assumptions.

Mike is correct that they could withstand their bombardment for three hours before shields were expected to fail. What he fails to point out is that the main threat is not the incident energy from the star itself, but the numerous stellar flares that they were enduring at the same time. It was these that prompted Riker to check whether the shields were up, and it was the fact that the flares would continue to grow that caused Data to say the shields would fail within three hours.

Whoops! You "forgot" to mention that just one of those flares barely scraped their shields and instantly dropped them by 15% (another example of the huge difference between plasma contact and EM radiation which you deny later). Obviously, the 23% over 3 hour figure did not include direct hits from solar flares (and flares which miss the ship are irrelevant). Moreover, you are ignoring the fact that Data gave Riker two pieces of information about the star: it was entering a "period of increased activity" and the "solar flares will continue to grow." Obviously, the shield figure was based on the star's general level of activity, not on unpredictable flares which were demonstrably much more lethal than you admit. Moreover, while the star's activity level was increasing (relative to what?), its output was hardly remarkable. Remember that the ship was not suffering the kind of transporter and bridge console failures it suffered in "Symbiosis", and the star in Symbiosis was surrounded by at least two habitable planets.

Once we apply the correction to his shield area, we discover the shields were expected to withstand over 160,000TJ BEFORE taking into account the effects of the growing solar flares. These figures are not upper limits as Mike claims - they are LOWER LIMITS, as these are figures we know for a fact the ship can withstand, despite being low on power and beginning with already weakened shields.

It is often said that people tend to assume that others will act like themselves. Honest people trust others until they have a reason not to, while dishonest people instinctively mistrust everyone. In this case, without bothering to conduct a serious inquiry into the question or identify the multiple areas in which I could have pushed the figures lower, you leapt to the assumption (among many others) that I'd taken every possible opportunity to twist and distort the evidence in order to reduce the figures. What does this say about your own methods?

(update: 20/6/01 Wayne Poe has had a go at refuting my claims. I'd like to take this opportunity to thank Wayne for providing four further examples where the shields of the Enterprise are, very clearly, BEYOND the "very generous" box Mr Wong attributes to them. If you want to be generous, you use numbers that are likely to be higher than the ones really applicable to that case. Each one of MW's examples are likely UNDERestimates.

I like the way you ignored his criticisms. You claimed that the E-D can't bring its shields closer than 200 metres away from the hull, hence your 1 km by 600 metre figure. Wayne produced a screenshot from "Clues" showing quite clearly that they could bring it within thirty metres of the hull, which is a lot less than 200. Your only rebuttal was to claim that the resulting ellipse (610+60 metres long, 130+60 metres high) is still a little bit bigger than my figure, without acknowledging that it's a tiny fraction of yours! Let's suppose I generously grant you your practice of incorporating inefficiencies into performance figures as well as your assumptions about DS9, TNG, and TOS shield technologies being incompatible. How do those numbers shape up, Edam?

Hull area
(viewed from behind)
     ~20,000 m²
Hull area
(viewed from side)
         ~40,000 m²
"Clues" ellipse
(viewed from behind)
           50,000 m²
My figure
(viewed from side)
                 78,000 m²
"Clues" ellipse
(viewed from side)
                     100,000 m²
Your "correct" figure
(viewed from side)
                                                                                                                   470,000 m²

Who's the one using unreasonable figures here, Edam?

And hey, just for fun, here's a neat question for you: how often do we see shields blocking a shot which would have otherwise missed the ship? Does that ever happen? If not, then what makes you think it would? If it does happen, would you chalk that up to bad technology or incompetence at the tactical station? How is it that they can make forcefields of any arbitrary size and shape in their medical bays, but not to protect their finest starship? How is it that they have this capability before and after TNG, but not during TNG? Because nobody led you by the nose and showed you? Don't worry, I don't really expect you to answer (as if any of this even matters, considering I can grant you every one of your assumptions and still be only 20% off based on the "Clues" screenshot, and 60% too high if the ship rotated, while your number is 470% off).

As for the DS9 examples, anyone who has seen Call To Arms should know a new shield configuration was developed to counter the dominion threat - a shield configuration that was far more hull-hugging than those of TNG and early DS9 era (infact, Voyager retains the bubble shields, having left the alpha quadrant prior to their adoption).

More repetition of your unfounded assumption that wholly different shield systems are required for the two "configurations", despite the example of the USS Jenolan. And what about STFC? It took place (stardate 50893.5) many months after "Call to Arms", and just barely before "Rocks and Shoals" (stardate 51107.2). However, the ships (including the Enterprise-E; "the most advanced ship in the fleet") had "bubble shields". Tell me; was the Defiant refit before "Call to Arms" to switch from "bubble shields" to "hull huggers" and then hurriedly refit again after "Call to Arms" to switch from "hull huggers" back to "bubble shields" for STFC, and then hurriedly refit again, to switch from "bubble shields" to "hull huggers" again? Do you have any idea how implausible your theory is?

We have two competing theories here. Mine is simple, and requires nothing beyond what we've seen onscreen: ST shield technology has been shown to be capable of hull-hugging shields as well as various sizes and shapes of elliptical "bubble" shields. The choice of shield geometry is probably made based on tactical considerations. In a situation where it would obviously be much wiser to use the smallest possible shield, they would do so. Yours, on the other hand, is a Rube Goldbergian contraption: TOS, TNG, and DS9 shield technologies are all incompatible (no evidence for that, but that hasn't stopped you before). They must refit the ship in order to change from one to the other; they can't just push a button on a bridge console (again, no evidence for that). They can't even change the size of the shield bubble (despite direct evidence to the contrary). And when we see examples of a ship which used both, it must have been quietly refit, off screen, back and forth repeatedly if necessary, and nobody bothered mentioning it.

Even so, not one of the DS9 images shows a ship being hit by weaponry, so we cannot say whether the shields support MW's claims of a generous box or not. The third DS9 image, which shows a ship busy destroying itself after being attacked, is totally redundant, as the shields must be down for the ship to be receiving the damage it is. Wayne has failed to prove MW was being "very generous" in assuming the shields had the exact dimensions of the E-d, and has not even attempted to refute the other half of the critique dealing with the charged particle weakness. If Mike Wong's assumption is generous it should be easy to find an example prior to Call To Arms to support his case )

All of TOS. Clues. Oh, wait. I forgot ... you believe that the Federation's engineers suddenly developed crippling amnesia about how to design a shield system that can have any shape other than "1 km long watermelon" despite direct visual evidence to the contrary, and you think that inefficiency counts toward performance.

Go to part 2/3


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