Debate #2: Lord Edam

March 8, 2002 (Edam's second post, 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.

It makes another point, as well. The one everyone happily skips over when they comment on it. Your claims of generosity here are meaningless. You have forgotten the meaning of "upper limit" in your haste to show how nice you can be.

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.

And inefficiency that should still be considered when trying to decide how much energy the shields actually endured. If you don't include all the energy the shields actually endured you are not going to get a decent estimate for shield endurance, and certainly not a "generous upper limit"

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?

For that analogy to work we'd have to be estimating the energy the shield generators actually require to do their job, rather than simply what the shields are shown to withstand.

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.

We are not considering the theoretical requirements of the shields - we are considering what they are actually shown to do, the demonstrated energy handling abilities. Star Trek shields are shown to absorb energy over a shield area far greater than the mere hull projection. If we want to estimate how much energy the shields can handle we have to consider the entire energy the shields handle, rather than just the small part you think is important - it all draws from the same system, after all. The shields are clearly only drained when they are hit by something, so the energy handling abilities of the shield systems should be quite similar whether the energy hits in one place, or whether it is spread out over the whole shields. The shields aren't magically powerless (but still blocking things) when there is no hull projected. Is this inefficient? When dealing with energy over a wide area yes it is. The entire shields are being drained, even though they may not be directly over the hull. When dealing with a weapon striking one very small area, only if the weapons would have missed. Every system has its limitations - for your "ideal" system you have to sacrifice a few things to make it work. Thats why your average amplifier amplifies everything across a very broad range of frequencies, rather than simply the few small pieces you are interested in.

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.

No, by insisting on these figures I am giving better upper limit shield calcs. Upper limit - the figure which is not likely to be surpassed. Obviously, if we take the largest shields we can find that are still useful it is going to be a good indicator of the upper limit (the actual shields, and hence the actual energy absorbed in specific cases, would have been smaller)

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?

If you want to damage the ship you target the ship, not the shields. Otherwise most of your shots will be useless once the shields actually fall. Of course, if you can't manage to targe the ship you can hope their shields are as large as possible.

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).

No, as they said in the episode "... at that range they won't be able to take much punishment"

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?

Yes, and not one of them has ever got as small as is required for your claims to actually be generous, for your upper limits to actually be the likely highest amount of energy the shield systems can handle. Are there any examples of the E-d having shields as small as you claim they can have?

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,

It's impossible to actually check a claim that refers to almost 80 episodes. The opening scene of Star Trek: The Motion Picture where the klingon cruisers are attacked by the cloud's lightening weapons stick out as a particularly marvellous example of "those shields aren't hull hugging"

and we know from DS9 that just 3 years years after TNG, they could do it again.

We know from DS9 that they had altered their shields to counter the threat from Dominion weapons. Could they do it during TNG? If we had an example of them doing just that, yes they could (and yet, despite many request to support the claim with an actual example no one has managed it - if they can do it why do we never see it?). Otherwise we just don't know, and cannot attribute the conclusions based on the assumption of the ability the honour of "generous upper limit"

So what evidence do you present for your claim that they were incapable of doing it in TNG?

The fact we never see it happen. There is no evidence for it. Every single time we see shields they are extended beyond the ship. The smallest shield configuration we see is still larger than your "generous upper limit"

They could do it before TNG, they could do it after TNG.

They could do it after they have altered their shields, why do we never see these hull hugging shields prior to A Call To Arms?

We've even seen the same ship use both; the Defiant used both in DS9

Funny that. A ship that was heavily involved in the Dominion war had its shields modified to counter the threat of Dominion weaponry

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

"presumably" used hull huggers - but we don't know this, and infact the only time we saw its shields they weren't hull huggers, were they?

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?

Beside the fact that, in examples when it would be beneficial to use hull hugging shields ( Arsenal of Freedom, Clues, Symbiosis, Descent, Relics) they still stick with the bubble type? Beside the fact that hull-hugging shields do not re-appear (if they ever existed previously) until roughly mid DS9, in counter to a specific threat & known shield modifications?

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?

If the threat from the Dominion weapons could be countered simply by pressing a few buttons why did they wait so long? If shields could last longer in a diffuse energy environment simply by pressing a few buttons on the bridge hwy not press those buttons in the examples where hull-hugging shields would have been beneficial.

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.

If the TNG shields weren't crippled in a way TOS shields (are claimed) not to be and DS9 shields (were changed) not to be, why aren't they used in the examples above? Why does the E-d continue to use bubble shields, even though shields as "generous" as you claim would be a better choice?

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.

I go on to assume the Enterprise would use a particularly large shield bubble in calculations where we are trying to get an upper limit. If we don't know the actual shield geometry in the examples used we can either

1) - assume the largest useful shields shown. Probable over estimate
2) - assume the smallest shields shown. Not really generous, gives a possible realistic energy
3) - assume a shield geometry never shown because "they might be able to do that". Probable underestimate.

Which one gives the upper limit? If you want to be generous do you go for the probable over estimate, or the probable underestimate?

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.

Yep. It all stems from the same place - the shield systems inside the ship. What difference is there between 1MT hitting the shields over their entire surface area, and 1MT hitting the shields in one place? If it all depends on the same shield systems inside the ship it should all be dealt with similarly

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!

No, I claim if we want the generous upper limit you were originally trying to present that is what we should go for, until we know how large the shields actually were in the examples used.

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?

You could, if you wanted. But if you are trying to estimate the energy handling abilities of the shields you take the entire area they are absorbing energy over, they don't magically stop absorbing energy just because the hull isn't underneath them. You are (whether you realise it or not), judging the shield systems inside the ship, the shield systems that do as much work whether the shields are at 5km or 1cm from the hull, rather than the shield perimeter itself. The shield perimiter is just an arbitrary surface - all the work is done by the shield systems on the ship. The same systems that generate bubble shields right by the ship or some distance away

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.

You certainly aren't taking any measures to ensure your "generous" assumptions result in actual upper limits for the systems you are considering.

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.

It should be measured by what it is shown to do rather than what you think it should do. the shield is shown to block energy over a wider area than just the hull, so if you want a "generous upper limit" for energy handling you take the energy the shields actually handled - over their entire surface area - not just the part directly over the hull.

It is still not known whether the metaphasic shields failed because of the energy handling abilities (hence the 30TW/9PJ), or because the experimental technology was simply incapable of being used for longer, so this could be an upper limit or a lower limit or no limit at all, and the actual shields themselves were shown to be significantly larger than the "generous box" you assume

this image shows the tactical display as the metaphasic shields activiated - the outer (orange) circle is the one that formed when the shields were activated.


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).

15% of 23% isn't a lot of the total shield power (plus, we don't see this happening on screen, so we don't know if this is just one flare or a combination of all those that have struck before. Actually, it's quite nice you should mention this specific scene. It's the same one that shows us the shields. you know, the shields you claim should be hull hugging but aren't. It also indicates the ship was flying "side-on" to the star, rather than rotated to show the minimal aspect.

Obviously, the 23% over 3 hour figure did not include direct hits from solar flares (and flares which miss the ship are irrelevant).

Oviously (from Data's statement) it primarily included hits from flares - that's what was doing the most of the damage to the shields

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.

"the star has entered a period of increased activity. Our sensors show the flares will continue to grow. In three hours our shields will not be able to protect us" - the threat there is the flares, not the increased activity.

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.

further reason to believe it is the increasing energy of the flares vs the already severly weakened shields that are the problem. How strong would the flares be after three hours? We just don't know.

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?

you use shield areas that are far lower then the shields are demonstrated to operate over, and you ignore the increasing energy of the solar flares, and then you declare you conclusions a "generous upper limit" - you certainly haven't taken any steps required to ensure the figures cannot possibly be higher than you claim. As the examples I have given show, there is plenty of room for the figures to move upwards

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,

I never claimed the E-d cannot bring its shields closer than 200m from the hull. I claimed if we want the generous upper limit you claimed we should use high shield areas, rather than ignoring large parts of the shields.

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.

and still more than your "generous upper limit"

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 opposed to ignoring large parts of the energy the shields are shown to deal with, you mean? So generous of you to actually let me take everything the shields are shown to do.

as well as your assumptions about DS9, TNG, and TOS shield technologies being incompatible.

if TNG shields can get as low as you claim (or any shields from Encounter at Farpoint up to A Call To Arms) it should be easy for you to provide an example, rather than continuing to insist it's obvious.

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?

whose the one claiming a "generous upper limit" here when his numbers are clearly too low?

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?

how often do you see shields blocking energy over an area wider than the hull is? Well, there's Clues. And Symbiosis. And Relics.

Does that ever happen?

It happened for a couple of the Defiant shots against the Lakota in Paradise Lost, it happened when the S-8472 ship shot Voyager in Scorpion.

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?

Or have they chosen the simplicity of design over increased complexity (which generally means increased chance of failure)? "Dear Mr & Mrs NoName, we're sorry your son died when the shields failed, but it was just so much more efficient to go for a needlesly complex design"

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?

After TNG they had the ability because it was the only way to counter the dominion weaponry. Why didn't they have this ability in any of the TOS films?

More repetition of your unfounded assumption that wholly different shield systems are required for the two "configurations", despite the example of the USS Jenolan.

The USS Jenolan that was never shown to have hull hugging shields?

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?

Only when you misrepresent it.

TNG(up to A Call To Arms) - no examples of hull-hugging shields, even in examples where such a thing would conserve shield energy
A Call To Arms - shield changes to counter Dominion thread.
Post A Call to Arms - shields that are both bubble and hull hugging, depending on the example.

Clearly, hull hugging shields were not available to ships buring TNG, but post A Call To Arms the shields were changed, and the ability to re-configure the shields was included (or re-included)

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.

Even though there are multiple occasions where hull hugging shields would have let the ships in question survive longer, or use less energy for their shields - but they don't exist

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.

but don't

Yours, on the other hand, is a Rube Goldbergian contraption: TOS, TNG, and DS9 shield technologies are all incompatible

That's assuming you can find TOS examples to support your case. How does your theory fit with the fact that hull-hugging shields are not used when they are clearly beneficial?

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).

Misrepresentation. We know they can change the size of the shield bubble. I have never claimed such a thing was impossible. What I do claim is that they cannot reduce the bubble below a certain lower limit, probably due to technological limitations of the shield projection systems

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.

Why must it be re-fit back and forth? When they changed the shields in DS9 they changed them so that the shields could be switched as needed - agaisnt "normal" weapons where stand-off shields still work use stand-off shields. Against Dominion where the stand-off shields don't protect against the dominion weaponry use hull hugging shields.

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