Debate #2: Lord Edam

March 6, 2002 (my first rebuttal, part 2/3):

Star Trek Shields: Plasma Weakness

While the first half of your shield page was devoted to just one (easily falsified) argument, the second half contains no argument at all. You aren't a creationist, are you? Because your debating methods mirror theirs. Nitpick, nitpick, nitpick at the supporting evidence for an idea, but don't even try to provide an alternative. And why? Because the alternative is much worse than the idea under attack, and you don't want anyone to notice.

My page (which you quote) states that "there remains a possibility that the high temperature gases and charged particles are extremely deleterious to shields." That's a pretty mild statement. I list a series of cases in which high temperature gases or charged particles weakened or disabled shields, and I conclude that there is a possibility of a vulnerability here. Frankly, I don't see how I could have been more generous!

Naturally, you nitpick the examples, using the time-honoured trick of trying to find something unusual about each example and then assuming that this completely nullifies it. But what alternative explanation do you provide for these incidents? None, and it's not surprising, because the only way to be more generous to Star Trek is to categorically deny the possibility of a vulnerability, and you don't want to admit that your position is quite that extreme. Just to be generous (since you obviously need a leg up on this debate), let's go with your strawman exaggeration and assume that my language was completely unambiguous, even though it was not. The comparison between your strawman exaggeration of my position and your competing position would become:

  1. Me: Shields have some kind of special vulnerability to high-velocity or ionic gas particles.
  2. You: Shields do not have any such vulnerability. The ships can handle megatons of EM radiation, megatons of plasma, megatons of high-velocity particles, etc.

And now, by way of review: the correct way to dethrone a theory is to propose a superior theory, and then show that it is superior by showing that it fits the facts more accurately than the current theory. The wrong way to dethrone a theory is to nitpick at its supporting evidence on a case by case basis, without even attempting to show that your alternate theory handles it more easily. Keep this in mind, Edam. I will be reminding you of this fact periodically.

In Survivors an antiproton beam fired by a superbeing easily disabled the Enterprises's shields. The energy of this beam was far lower than other shield limits would indicate (for example, a photon torpedo will generate many charged particle with an energy in the low megatonne range - yet shields can withstand these with little problem).

"Low megatonne range?" Where'd you get that figure from? The TM? IIRC, nobody's talked about "megatons" on Star Trek since Kirk destroyed an entire ship to produce the <100 megaton blast that destroyed the Doomsday Machine (which was impervious to their phasers and photon torpedoes). Besides, I thought you said the TM was not admissible for this debate! That means you're stuck with "isotons", and you're not going to get anywhere that way, because the prefix "iso" in scientific and engineering terminology (not to mention the English language in general) means "equal", or "one".

In fact, stellar plasma, atmospheric entry incidents, and other situations have shown quite clearly that in many situations, the Enterprise can not handle megaton-level energy, and that the numbers seem to fall into the kiloton range (at best) instead. We know from "Who Watches the Watchers" that you can run a small phaser bank off a 4.2GW reactor, and we know from "Night Terrors" that the yield of the E-D's entire weapons complement is inferior to the yield of a large chemical explosion. The latter example is particularly compelling because they demonstrated this to be true by igniting hydrogen with another reactant and exceeding the output of their biggest weapon (the anti-Borg deflector-dish trick) rather than just talking about it. I was hoping to find a way to rationalize the photorp inconsistency between the TM and the canon episodes someday (one possibility: extremely inefficient reaction when the torpedo is destroyed by a shield as opposed to its own trigger, which would also explain quotes about the dangers of detonating a photorp too close to the ship while being able to take multiple direct hits from same), but since the TM has been declared mere speculation by its own publishers, that is no longer necessary.

Using this as an example of shield ability is similar to using the Traveler episodes as examples of normal warp speeds, or using Q Who(where the E-d was thrown across the galaxy without the people on board falling over) as an example of what the inertial dampers can handle.

Ah, the "escape clause" mentality rears its ugly head. The 400GW blast came from a "superbeing", so this means all bets are off and the whole incident is exempt from rational analysis? Are you trying to be as unscientific as humanly possible? Science is a method and a philosophy, Edam. You can't fake it by pulling fancy terms out of reference books or quoting exotic equations. Anybody can go to a library (or sign up for a physics.org E-mail address), but the real litmus test is your approach, and so far, that approach does not appear to be scientific. Why do you assume that the presence of a very powerful being automatically leads to "cannot analyze; all instruments are useless"? A scientific approach to a creature with unknown power is to study that creature, not run away screaming that rational analysis is useless!

Your attempt to bolster this non sequitur with examples is weak at best; in "Where None Have Gone Before" (with the Traveler), their warp engine output read low because it was low; the Traveler was doing all the work! Their instruments were working fine; they were still able to determine where they were, how far they'd travelled, how fast they were going (Data said it was "off the scale"), etc. (except when he took them to that bizarre fantasy-land of his, which was obviously not in normal space). Similarly, in "Q Who", their instruments worked fine; they could tell where they were, how far they'd travelled, etc. The presence of a "superbeing" does not necessarily invalidate all instrumentation.

Don't you understand how sensor systems work in general? If they scanned what looked like a 400 GW antiproton beam to all their systems, this means that its interaction with their own systems was identical to that of a real 400 GW antiproton beam. Sensor technology works by examining the interaction of a phenomenon with its environment. A piece of metal affects magnetic fields, a physical object reflects radar, a warm object emits infrared radiation, etc. How do you think their instruments work? Magic? Electronic intuition? We may not know what the blast "truly" was, but if their systems monitored a 400 GW blast hitting their shields, this means that it must have acted just like a real 400 GW blast. In other words, it can be used to gauge the effect of a real 400 GW antiproton beam on their shields, regardless of what it "really" was or who made it.

Your attempt to ignore this incident is like some kind of Peter Pan-ish attempt to run away from grown-up rules. You see a "superbeing" and say "Aha! I’ve got an excuse! Home safe! Home safe!" That's not how it works, Edam. As I predicted, you look for excuses to throw incidents out the window rather than asking what follows logically from those incidents. This incident clearly fits my theory better than yours, but you'd rather not talk about that, would you? Let's move on to the ST2 nebula example:

In ST2 Savick explained the electrostatic discharges in the Mutara nebula would cause problems for their shields and sensors, and very soon after we saw they did. In "Best of Both Worlds", the Enterprise hid in the Paulson Nebula, in "Imaginary Friends" the Enterprise enters a nebula and Geordie specifically states "nothing the shields can't handle". In "One" the Mutara class nebula had no effect on their shields. These are just three of many examples where ships have entered nebulae and NOT been affected by their charged gasses.

So what? The point is that Trek shields have collapsed due to contact with charged particle gases in the past (ST2 is not the only example; the same thing happened to the Cardies in "Chain of Command Part 2"), and since you have taken the ill-advised position that such gases have no effect whatsoever, you have no explanation. I can explain your examples easily; some nebulae are denser and/or more active than others. How do you explain my examples?

You're so busy looking for escape clauses that you don't stop to ask whether your theory fits the facts better than mine does. If charged particles have no specal effect on Star Trek shields, then what happened in ST2 and "Chain of Command Part 2"? Do you think that "electrostatic discharges" are somehow different than "charged particles"? What do you think electrical discharges are made of, if not charged particles?

[ST:G] In this example the ship in question was a very old damaged BoP. The fact that a low-level pulse was used specifically to force the ship to cloak might indicate that Star Trek shields can operate on a threshold basis - the ionic pulse in question was certainly not enough to threaten the BoP as it caused no damage beyond forcing them to cloak. If anything, this is a better example of a weakness of old Birds of Prey than shields.

Again, you use the "escape clause" mentality. So what if the BOP was 20 years old? Does that automatically mean its shields work on a completely different principle than other Trek shields? I remind you that this BOP, whose shields you seem eager to denigrate, easily withstood several shots from the E-D's main weaponry, yet those same shields were easily pierced by this ionic beam. What's your explanation? You mumble that it caused no obvious structural damage, but neither did the radiation in "Booby Trap", which would have eventually killed the crew! The point is that their shields could not stop ions which interact with matter and affected the ship's systems, eventually causing its destruction.

Again, you're so busy looking for escape clauses that you never stop to ask whether your theory fits this evidence better than mine does. If shields do not have any special vulnerability to charged particles, then how do you explain this incident? Was the shield set up to deliberately allow the ions through because they didn't know they were harmful? That's nonsensical; ions interact strongly with matter, and they would be dangerous to living tissue with or without this design flaw. Moreover, this was a known design flaw, and if they had a way of blocking it, they would have. Instead, the Klingon Empire had to take them out of service because they had no other way of dealing with it!

Here, again, Mike is misrepresenting the episode. Initially the probe is emitting a nucleonic beam which probes the shields, then it emits an "unusual particle beam" which penetrates the shields.

Ooooohhh, big difference. It's still a low-powered particle beam that punches right through their shields. It was unusual because it seized control of Picard's brain, not because it punched through their shields. Getting through their shields was the easy part.

You will also notice Mike assumes that, because the society has not demonstrated space travel beyond the probe the Enterprise encountered, all their technology must be primitive. This assumes that the influences that drive technological development are the same for all races, when they obviously are not. This race chose to concentrate on prolonging their living memory rather than transporting the people off the planet.

Strawman. Their aerospace/military technology was obviously primitive, while their mind control technology was obviously not. Nowhere did I claim that all of their technology was primitive; that is your inference, designed to distract viewers from the fact that a low-powered particle beam from a society with no aerospace/military program to speak of managed to punch right through their shields ... again. Yet more evidence for my argument that shields have some special vulnerability to high-velocity or charged gas particles. Yet another case where you don't even try to explain how this incident fits better with your theory, because you can't. You just look for something ... anything to criticize, evade the point, and then mumble "OK, move along, move along, nothing to see here ..."

[Your attempt to provide contradictory examples] Voyager's Fair Haven also showed shields were susceptible to the effects of nucleonic particles - but those were high-energy chargeless neutrons. In Voyager's Unforgettable Harry Kim was able to counteract an very focused proton-based particle beam that was designed to "penetrate any shield, even if the modulations are changed"

Assuming you're describing these incidents accurately, they actually weaken your theory, not mine! "Fair Haven" shows that the Trek shield vulnerability may be to neutron radiation as well as plasma, thus making the vulnerability even worse than I suggested (not to mention handing a nice big fat bonus to the B5ers; I'm sure they'll contact you soon to thank you for proving that a Minbari neutron cannon can punch through Federation shields). "Unforgettable" reinforces my argument again; the incident you describe indicates that someone actually designed a special proton beam to take advantage of this weakness (which is nonexistent according to you). The fact that Harry Kim worked out some kind of countermeasure hardly means that the weakness in question doesn't exist!

In Starship Down the Defiant entered a gas giant's atmosphere, but their shields did not fail because of the charged particles in the atmosphere. In fact, the charged particles were never stated to be a problem. The major worry was the 10,000km/h plus wind speeds. When the shields of the Defiant did eventually fail it was due to attacks from the two Jem Hadar ships that followed them in. These images clearly demonstrate the shields were still up some time after the ship had entered the atmosphere.

Since I haven't seen that episode in years, I don't recall it all that well, and I'm months (perhaps years) away from starting my DS9 canon database, I can't really contradict you on this one. It's possible that I incorrectly recalled sensor failure as shield failure. However, it doesn't matter; even if you're completely right on this one, it was just one of many examples, and the underlying point still stands. This incident may not falsify your claim as clearly as the other examples do, but it doesn't falsify mine either, and it still raises serious questions about your theory. The atmospheric gas velocity of 10,000 km/h is less than 3 km/s, which is extremely low in terms of astronomical phenomena (solar wind particles move far more quickly, as do starships and sci-fi directed-energy weapons). Why would a 3 km/s wind be a threat to a shielded warship which can supposedly shrug off megaton-yield weaponry, particularly when it has a relatively small aerodynamic cross-section? Let's do the math, shall we? If we use your method and assume a 150 metre long, 50 metre tall ellipse, a 3 km/s wind would hit the ship with less than 0.05 megatons of kinetic energy per hour (and that's a huge overestimate for its actual energy handling, since it wouldn't have to deal with 100% of this energy unless it makes the wind stop dead rather than simply diverting it around the ship; the real figure would be at least an order of magnitude lower). Again, not a problem for my theory, but it's still a problem for yours.

Mike is spot on with this one - in Interface the E-d was unable to enter the atmosphere of an unusual gas giant due to the very high turbulence within. However, the problems had absolutely nothing to do with the shields. In fact, a shuttle was sent into the atmosphere BECAUSE its shields would protect it. This quote has no place in a page about shields, and certainly not in a list of examples of shields being susceptible to charged particles.

"The problems had absolutely nothing to do with the shields"? No one stated this onscreen. Are you inventing dialogue now? It was a threat. They didn't explain precisely why. And the bit about the shuttle conflicts with the scripts, which say they sent a tiny probe down there rather than a shuttle, and that at most, they toyed with the idea of putting a shuttle in the upper atmosphere so it could get closer without going all the way to the USS Raman's position. The whole point of the episode was that they wouldn't risk a manned flight that deep into the atmosphere, so Geordi had to use his remote interface with the probe!

And hey, here's a cute bit of dialogue for you: "GEORDI: Total shield failure in eight seconds ...". The Raman's shields failed from being in an atmosphere which was turbulent, but not so much that the damaged ship couldn't maintain position. Yet again, you nitpick but you ignore the question of which theory is better. Let's review the two theories' performance:

  1. My theory handles it fairly easily; the turbulent atmosphere was a threat to the big ship's shields, so they couldn't go in. They sent in the tiny probe which would absorb a lot less punishment and they considered sending shuttles into the upper atmosphere in order to get closer, but Geordi took the Raman down remotely, and its shields failed when it got too deep into the atmosphere so the Raman was destroyed.
  2. Your theory, on the other hand, chokes and sputters; supposedly, the turbulent atmosphere was dangerous but not to their shields. So what was it dangerous to, if not the shields? How could it damage the ship without taking out the shields first? Isn't that the whole point of shields? To protect the ship? You don't even try to explain. Was it fear that they would lose helm control? If so, then why was the damaged, derelict USS Raman able to hold station? Why couldn't they send in a manned shuttle to the Raman's altitude? Why did they have to use an unmanned probe? And what happened to the Raman when it went deeper? That's right: shield failure.

Hmmm ... looks like your theory is falling apart, Edam.

In "Arsenal of Freedom" the Enterprise entered the atmosphere of the planet at high speed. It glowed brightly, but its surface temperature only approached 4000K. In Descent the hull temperature reached 12000K before nearing critical, and 7000K was declared a safe temperature. Mike's assumption that the E-d was almost destroyed is based entirely on the fact it glowed brightly. Does this mean the space shuttle is nearly destroyed every time it enters the earth's atmosphere? Certainly not - if it was they wouldn't use it. It is merely operating within it's designed safe parameters, where the ablative covering ont eh surface is doing its job.

Nice strawman, Edam! So you think that it's an "assumption" that the E-D was nearly destroyed, and that this assumption is based "entirely on the fact that it glowed brightly?" Gee, what about the Worf reporting that their deflector shields were "nearing overload" and that one of them had already failed? Couldn't that have contributed just a little teeny bit to my conclusion that the E-D was in trouble? Or would you prefer to keep hugging that strawman of yours? Yes, it's true that the Space Shuttle can survive re-entry while the E-D is nearly destroyed by the same thing; do you think it actually helps you to remind our readers of this embarrassing fact?

As for your quoting of temperature figures, they're a red herring because the shields were near or at the point of failure. The ship was in danger, hence Worf's alarm. Your attempt to contradict Worf's report with temperature figures from another episode is a waste of time. The apparent inconsistency in temperature measurement does not erase the fact that the shields were about to fail in "Arsenal of Failure"; perhaps they were measuring temperature differently in "Descent Part 2". After all, we're obviously talking about a thermodynamic temperature based on active emissions in both cases, since those temperatures are much too high for natural radiative emissions from atoms trapped in a solid matrix. It's entirely possible that their method of measurement was inaccurate and had to be changed before "Descent Part 2", or that they had installed more powerful active radiators.

Again, this quote has zero to do with the effect of charged plasma on shields, as the shields protected the ship against the ionized atmospheric gas. This would better serve as indication of some form of minimal ablative covering (not as much as the ablative armour later included on ships such as the Defiant)

I love it when an opponent's argument contradicts itself. First you claim that "Arsenal of Freedom" has nothing to do with plasma on shields (even though the ship was hitting a plasma bow wave, Worf said one of the deflectors had already failed, and the rest were about to go), and then you turn around and claim that it's some kind of ablative covering. News flash: an ablative covering is a covering that vapourizes in order to carry away heat! If the surface of the hull is vapourizing, it's obviously not being protected by the shield, is it?

Another possible rationalization [for the Enterprise's short survival time in Descent Part 2] is that the ship was damaged, or that the experimental and unreliable metaphasic shield program draws so much energy that is can only be used for a short period of time (this second rationalization is actually supported by one of the few admissable Star Trek novels - Mosaic)

The "escape clause" mentality again. Yet again, you look for an escape clause rather than asking which theory fits this incident better. Let's review the two theories' performance here:

  1. My theory handles it fairly easily. The Enterprise couldn't handle the diffuse inner corona (photosphere?) gas for very long, even with its improved "metaphasic" shields. That's why it had to leave, and that's why the Borg cube was destroyed by brief contact with stellar plasma (unless you'd prefer to believe that it couldn't handle the EM radiation for that long, which would contradict "Relics").
  2. Your theory, on the other hand, stumbles and falls. If the "experimental and unreliable" metaphasic shields couldn't run for very long, then why didn't they simply use regular shields? According to your theory, regular shields have no special vulnerability to plasma and they can handle many hours of EM radiation at 150,000 km altitude from a typical star, so they should have been able to sit in there for a few hours using regular shields! Why bother using "experimental and unreliable" power-draining supposedly short-term metaphasic shields if the regular ones can do the job? Could it be that the regular shields can't do the job?

Yet another strike against your theory. Undaunted, you try again:

[Re: "Descent Part 2" solar prominence] In "Descent Part 2", the Enterprise induced a solar prominence to destroy a Borg vessel. The largest solar prominences are known as "coronal mass ejections", or CME's, and in such a prominence, the mass and velocity of ejecta are typically around 1E12 kg and 400 km/s. Anomalously large CME's have involved masses and speeds of as much as 1E13 kg and 2000 km/s in the past. However, the prominence in "Descent Part 2" was nowhere near this size

It may have been nowhere near this size - it was also nowhere near this speed. The Borg ship took up position outside the corona of the star, and the matter from the induced flare reached the ship in a few seconds. This is several orders of magnitude faster than the fastest CMEs ever seen.

Except that we saw this CME onscreen, and it was nowhere near that fast. It was moving at a dozen km/s, maybe. Deliberately ignoring the visuals again? Funny how they're good enough to base an entire argument (your energy handling argument) on just one screenshot, but now, you throw them right out the window. Your dialogue nitpicks are pointless; they might have said "corona", but from the visuals, it looked a lot more like "chromosphere". The corona extends many hundreds of thousands of kilometres away from the surface; if they meant "corona" in the same sense that we use it today, they would have already been inside the corona in "Relics"! Got any explanations for that inconsistency? Corona gas is so diffuse that you could pump a few cubic metres of the stuff into a room and nobody would even notice. I reiterate that they may have said "corona", but the visual effects (not to mention the logic) says that they were actually talking about the chromosphere. The Borg was sitting outside the chromosphere, where it got nailed by a small, slow-moving CME. Moreover, you still insist on ignoring the question of whose theory handles this situation better.

  1. My theory holds that Trek shields have a special vulnerability to the type of gas in the chromosphere and photosphere. Even though the EM radiation intensity continues to follow the inverse square law regardless of whether they're inside or outside, their vulnerability suddenly jumps when they're inside because of gas contact, which is why the Borg cube wouldn't go inside, and why the E-D needed special shields to survive for even a brief period of time.
  2. Your theory holds that Trek shields have no special vulnerability to the gas. Unfortunately, given this theory, there is no explanation whatsoever for their inability to venture inside. The EM radiation intensity does not suddenly skyrocket when you move into the corona, the chromosphere, or the photosphere, so what could cause the sudden jump in danger level if not for the gas? What would scare away a Borg ship, if not for the gas? Why would they need special "metaphasic shields" if the gas poses no danger to them, and they can handle hours of high-intensity stellar EM? I don't see any explanations forthcoming from your side.

Instead of dealing with this huge problem with your theory, you try to distract readers from the entire subject by focusing on the energy yield of the CME. You pretend that the CME was moving at relativistic velocities by ignoring the visuals and the logic and seizing upon a single word of dialogue, all the while hoping that people will forget to ask "but why couldn't the Borg cube go into the chromosphere?" Your argument shoots itself in the foot in some ways; if the Borg cube was afraid to go into the corona rather than the chromosphere, this would mean its shield strength is even weaker than we thought! It would mean that they're afraid of gas which is so diffuse that it would be unnoticeable when mixed into your living room, and that they can't handle even a few minutes within half a million kilometres of the Sun. Is that what you're trying to prove?

It was also not a natural flare, but one induced by the Enterprise. As such, we cannot determine it's density, magnetic intensity, or even the thermal energy of the material involved.

Your unscientific "escape clause" mentality again. It was artificially induced, so none of the laws of physics apply to it any more, right? None of the equations governing electromagnetism are applicable because it's an artificial situation? News flash: even an artificially induced phenomenon must still follow natural laws, and a CME will not magically confine itself to increase its density regardless of whether it was artificially induced or not. As for its temperature, the photosphere gas will still have the same temperature regardless of whether it was ejected by a normal flare or induced to eject by a fancy particle beam. You can't run away from facts forever, Edam, and your escape clauses are just delay/distraction tactics.

Finally, this example was for an unshielded Borg BOMB (the ship was exactly the same as the schematics for the Multi Kinetic Neutronic Mine of Scorpion). hardly a shining example of the ability of Star Trek shields to withstand a certain level of energy or type of material.

ROTFLMAO!! The Borg designed a "bomb" to fit into a scout ship chassis, so you conclude that all scout ships must be bombs? Here's a little hint for you: look up "fallacy of composition" sometime. You might find it illuminating. You might also want to re-check your assumption that the "multi-kinetic neutronic mine" is an explosive device rather than a special delivery system (I can't believe you're actually echoing the lame arguments of John Riehle).

Out of the NINE examples Mike has offered of shields being susceptible to charged particles only TWO are directly applicable to modern Trek shields. Due to the serious errors presented above the conclusions of the page, based largely on the erroneous assumptions, are thrown into doubt.

This is exactly like standard creationist debate methodology: nitpick the supporting evidence for a theory and use your nitpicks to claim that the theory is imperfect and therefore wrong. Do this while conspicuously ignoring the fact that even if the nitpicks are correct, your theory is still far, far worse.

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