Graham Kennedy (continued)

Written: 1999.07.27

I suppose it was inevitable that Graham Kennedy would post a reply to my April 25, 1999 breakdown of his numerous scientifically laughable claims. He did eventually post a reply on July 20, 1999, and if you are curious to see it in its entirety (since he insisted I quote it in its entirety if I quote it at all), click here. As we shall see, his rebuttals generally fall into three categories:

  1. "It's not really a mistake." This evasion technique involves either lying, using strawman attacks against my critique, or attempting to use a more reasonable portion of his website to somehow "cancel out" a scientifically and/or logically ludicrous statement.

  2. "OK, Mike Wong is right, but I already knew that- I figured it out on my own just after his page went up." Of course. When I first posted my page decrying Kennedy's dishonesty and scientific incompetence, I noted that his method of acknowledging my input was to quietly fix his mistakes while refusing to admit that I had anything to do with it. Apparently, he feels that old tricks are the best tricks, because his modus operandi has not changed.

  3. "Mike Wong's scientific approach and my non-scientific approach are two legitimate alternative ways of examining sci-fi." They are not two legitimate alternatives- one is based on deception and hypocrisy while the other is based on the scientific method. I make reference to the "no science" attitude on my debating page- suffice it to say that the only legitimate non-scientific discussion of sci-fi is one that is based entirely on dramatic concerns. The instant he starts doing calculations based on watts, joules, specific heat, etc., he is applying science. If he chooses to ignore it elsewhere, he is merely being a hypocrite. I have a strict policy about applying science unless the canon material leaves me no choice whatsoever- he has no such stated policy, because he would rather leave himself open to be as inconsistent as he likes.

If you wish to experience the tedium, we can examine his points one by one:


Example #1: Thermodynamics? What's that?

He responds to my criticism that his Federation warp core power discussion ignores thermodynamics principles by pointing out the following disclaimer, elsewhere in his site:

Now while this is within an order of magnitude of the previous value, it does indicate a substantially reduced output since we are comparing minimum output to maximum output. There are possible answers to this problem : Most importantly, the Enterprise-D actually achieved a speed of Warp 9.7 during Encounter at Farpoint, indicating that the warp core can pull considerably more than the designed maximum out of its warp core when needed. In addition, the technical manual was written in 1991, a date which corresponds to 2368 of Startrek. The "True Q" episode is set some three months after the beginning of season six of the show, in 2369. It is possible that the Enterprise received a hefty upgrade to its warp core in the interval. In addition, the Enterprise may have been running some kind of very energy intensive scientific experiments at the time of Amanda's visit which required the core to be running at close to the maximum limit.

He also points out that in his summary section, he said the following:

Maximum Warp Core Output : 4.77 x 10^6 TeraWatts - 12.75 x 10^6 TeraWatts

Evasion tactic #1. He tries to make it look as if he hasn't really made a mistake, by claiming that I am engaging in "selective quoting" when I pick on his grievous errors. Well, all I can say is YES! Of course I'm only quoting his grievous errors! They are errors, and should be quoted! The fact that he makes more reasonable statements elsewhere does not change the fact that his original statements, describing 1.3E19 W as the "low end" of GCS engine output, are scientifically ludicrous. He's supposedly a high school teacher- when his students make mistakes on exams, does he excuse them for their errors if they get subsequent questions right? Go back to my original critique and see what he said, and then decide for yourself what impression his text was designed to leave on the reader.


Example #2: How not to read a chart

This one may be a valid criticism- I measured the chart by hand, and didn't go through the much more accurate process of scanning the chart and drawing a line across to get a precise figure. He probably used a similarly loose technique to get his original measurement, so this dispute may be more over an issue of drawing lines than an actual piece of scientific incompetence.

I was probably overly uncharitable in assuming that since he threw science to the winds everywhere else, that this error must also have been due to scientific incompetence rather than a simple issue of how accurately he drew a line across a piece of paper.


Example #3: Let's pretend we know about nuclear fusion

Evasion tactic #1. He tries to make it look as if he hasn't really made a mistake in a minor portion of this section, in which I said:

"Deuterium and tritium are invariably indicated in nuclear fusion texts by the term 2D or 3T rather than 2H or 3H as Graham uses."

His response:

"Microsoft Encarta 96 World English Edition shows the D-D reaction, with the reactants labelled as 2H. IIRC the text book I used from school used the same notation, but I don't have it to hand at the moment to check. It's perfectly possible that these are rarities, and I don't suggest that Encarta is a serious scientific resource. But the word "invariably" means *always*, and this is clearly not the case."

Frankly, I was rolling on the floor laughing when I saw this one. I explain that nuclear fusion texts always use D and T for deuterium and tritium, and he responds by making reference to Microsoft Encarta 96 and a textbook which he can't find at the moment? Microsoft Encarta is hardly a nuclear fusion text, and neither is the sort of basic textbook which is handed out to diploma students at polytechnical schools. I repeat: in nuclear fusion texts, they always use D and T for deuterium and tritium, rather than 2H and 3H. His ignorance of this fact merely proves that he has never seen a nuclear fusion book.

I repeat: my original criticism was that he shouldn't be "educating" people about nuclear fusion if he doesn't know anything about it. If his best reference source for nuclear fusion information is Microsoft Encarta, I think that proves my point admirably. Don't you?

But wait- will he admit he was wrong about the nature of the deuterium fusion reaction, irrespective of the isotope nomenclature? He has little choice, so he grudgingly says:

"The further criticisms in this example are correct, and had he posted them to me they would have been incorporated. As it happens somebody else emailed the information to me at 15:30 on Thursday 8th July. It will be included in a future update, although I can't say when for sure."

Looks like evasion tactic #2 to me. This section is good- it includes two of his three evasion techniques!


Example #4: Genesis- the fine art of wild exaggeration

Evasion tactic #1. He tries to make it look as if he hasn't really made a mistake, by noting that he put the following disclaimer in the analysis:

"NOTE - The following calculations are based on a number of unproven assumptions concerning the operating principles of the Genesis device. In formulating these figures I tried to make the simplest possible interpretation of what we actually see the the Genesis device do during "Star Trek II : The Wrath of Khan". I tried to be as fair-minded as I possibly could, and I tried to make all assumptions err on the low side while still sticking to the basic idea. Even so, these calculations should be approached somewhat cautiously - especially as the conclusion is somewhat overwhelming!"

This time, not only is he still trying to pretend that a grievous mistake isn't really a grievous mistake if you stick a disclaimer somewhere, but he isn't even telling the truth. He says he tries to be as "fair-minded" as he possibly could, and to make all the "assumptions err on the low side", yet if you look through my original breakdown of his analysis, you can see that he makes no attempt whatsoever to be conservative. In fact, every conceivable measure is taken to exaggerate the figure upward, even when it introduces internal inconsistencies.

By discarding Conservation of Energy in his Genesis Device "analysis", he has effectively discarded the entire width and breadth of physics, since there is not one physics theory anywhere which does not incorporate Conservation of Energy as a foundation assumption. If he's going to ignore Conservation of Energy, he might as well argue that in the Star Trek universe, you can make artificial gravity by rubbing two watermelons together.


Example #5: Science vs dialogue

He says:

"Mr Wong touches on something crucial here. The ethos of my site is, in general, to come up with a view of Star Trek which is consistent with what is shown in the episodes, NOT what is currently known about actual real science."

That is the strawman attack. I am not trying to say that we need to formulate analyses that are completely consistent with currently known real science, otherwise almost all canon technology would be impossible. What I am saying is that the events of the canon films and episodes should be analyzed from a scientific perspective, applying real scientific principles whenever and wherever possible. He says he wants to be consistent with what is shown in the episodes- well, how does he analyze what is shown in the episodes? By using scientific methods and principles, or by going on gut reactions and then trying to rationalize them after the fact?

"In other words, if a character makes a statement, then I regard it as being a 'true' one unless it is contradicted by some other episode, is said by somebody who is clearly insane/stupid/joking, etc. If this means bending the science, then so be it - the science gets bent. I rationalize this by assuming that by the 24th century they will have an understanding of science which differs as radically from our own as ours does from a 16th century persons."

At this point he dredges up evasion tactic #3, and defends his fundamentally unscientific over-use of dialogue. Even if an onscreen character is telling the truth as he sees it, who's to say he's right? This is a sci-fi universe where people don't even seem to know what the correct units for power and energy are.

In real life, not one paper in the history of modern hard-science research has ever included human dialogue (or worse yet, semantics) as justification for a theory. Real papers do use pictures, and they do use calculations, but they never rely upon ridiculous justifications like "so-and-so said this, and he used these specific words". Any use of dialogue should be considered an unfortunate but necessary evil in the absence of more substantive evidence, and not as reliable evidence that can stand on its own as proof of a theory.

He concludes by saying:

"Mr Wongs approach differs, and this is fine by me. But while I am perfectly willing to accept his interpretations and assumptions for what they are, he seems to have considerable difficulty in doing the same."

This is where he tries to seize the moral high ground by claiming that he is more open-minded than I am (or more polite, or more fair, etc). I am not in the business of playing public-relations games in newsgroups. I am merely pointing out Mr. Kennedy's intellectual hypocrisy and outright deceptions for all to see, and neither his public-relations efforts or his triumvirate of evasion techniques can erase those deceptions.


Example #6: The warp power chart in the TM is a fundamental law, right? Isn't it?

He didn't bother using one of his trusty three excuses this time- he simply tried to lie about what was said. He quoted my statement:

"He sometimes makes assumptions without even bothering to mention them, and treats the resulting conclusions as reliable,"

He claimed that it was refuted in his text by:

"we do not know how the mass of an object affects the power required to maintain a given speed, but to make a guestimate I will assume it is a linear relationship."

Yes, he did state one of his assumptions. But if you look at my original criticism, you will see that there were two unfounded assumptions in his analysis, and I was criticizing the other assumption- the one he chose not to mention. Go look at my original criticism for youself- you be the judge of who is being more deceptive- Mr. Kennedy or myself. He finishes by saying:

"how this translates as not bothering to mention assumptions is something of a mystery to me."

Nice try, but his original statement did include two assumptions, only one of which was stated. I made this very clear in the original text of my criticism, and the point still stands. In fact, it stands doubly now, because he chose not to mention the assumption both in his original statements, and in his rebuttal to my criticisms.


Example #7: When starships explode

Evasion tactic #1 again. He complains that I quoted this:

E = Mass x specific heat x Temperature increase
    = 1.002 x 109 x 900 x 2435
    = 2.195883 x 1015
    = 2,195,883,000,000,000 joules

without quoting this:

or about 2,195 terajoules

He complains that this isn't fair because he did round the final answer, and he says:

"When using numbers like this, I was taught that you always use as many decimal places as possible in the inputs to an equation. The *only* place you round is in the final answer. To round every input in an equation to 3 dp would lead to ever greater inaccuracies, most especially if the answers generated are to be plugged into further equations, and so on."

That would be a fair rebuttal if his input data were anywhere near as accurate as the figures he used, but they are not. It's like taking a number which is known to be between 100 and 300, pegging it at 200, and then using assuming that any in-process rounding would compromise the accuracy of the calculations. It isn't accurate to round it to 2195 TJ or 2,195,883,000,000,000 joules- assigning the final value any more accuracy than 2E15 J is unreasonable.


Example #8: Pegasus- putting a molten peg in a round hole

Evasion tactic #1. Even when he appears to concede a point, he quietly sneaks in a deception. He says:

"I would point out that the Warbird could have melted the entire volume of rock and used a tractor beam to control it, so explaining its anomalous behaviour. But both interpretations are reasonable enough alternatives. Fair comment."

That sounds good until you look at my original criticism and see that I already discussed and discounted this theory. He is playing his usual public-relations games- this time, he tries to look reasonable while snidely attempting to make it look as if there's an obvious point which I missed.

The hard reality is that he has no good rebuttal, otherwise he would have produced it. All he can do is present a theory which I already discussed and discounted, and act as if I haven't already discussed it.


Example #9: Consistency? Do we really need that?

He responds to my criticism of his deliberate inconsistency (using Newtonian physics when convenient and subspace technobabble when convenient) by saying "The torpedo errors were pointed out by a gentleman named Chris Wagner, and removed in the 28th April update. Mr Wongs comment was perfectly justified, of course. Once again somebody got in before him." Can anyone say "evasion tactic #2"? Of course you can. He has shown that he can occasionally admit he's wrong but even then, he will pretend that he figured it out on his own, without any help from me. God forbid he would ever admit that I had ever generated a worthwhile thought!

The best part is, he's demonstrably lying through his teeth. I sent this same criticism to him repeatedly, in 1998 (as anyone can verify with Dejanews). He ignored it, and continued to ignore it after several repetitions, until he started getting feedback on my recent deconstruction of his site.


Example #10: Maybe the word "altitude" means something different in Britain

Evasion tactic #1. He responded to my criticism of his use of the word "altitude" by saying:

"the page gives *both* interpretations. I understand - but could not find out for certain - that many people use orbital altitudes as measured from the centre of mass of the body you are orbiting, since this is the figure you must put into equations concerning orbits. It would be perfectly reasonable to criticize, had I only shown one side of the argument. But that's not what I did."

I invite you, the reader, to go back to my original criticism and see what I said (that's actually my suggestion for all of his criticisms, since most intelligent readers should easily be able to see through his weak attempts at deception by looking at my original criticism compared to his rebuttal). I said:

"Eventually, he grudgingly acknowledges the possibility that the word "altitude" might mean the same thing in Star Trek that it does in real life. However, he makes this concession only to deflect criticism. It is the former, unrealistic estimate that he references throughout the rest of his website, and which he obviously considers the better estimate in spite of the fact that it requires a ridiculously small star which has nine times the surface radiance of our own Sun."

Odd that he seemed not to notice this entire paragraph when composing his rebuttal ...

As for his point about orbital altitudes often being measured from the centre of mass, he is wrong (again). He is talking about orbital radii. Altitude is always defined from the surface- radius is defined from the centre of mass.


Example #11: Melting, boiling ... how does that work again?

What's his excuse for his incredible omission of latent heats in his analyses of vapourization? He says:

"this page has been updated thanks to a posting from James Fox, who found numbers for latent heat of fusion/vapourisation that I was not able to. Some of Mr Wongs comments concerning the variation in specific heat capacity, etc., are fair enough and I have no problem with them. A further update will shortly incorporate new numbers sent to me by Jasper (Asmaul) McChesney, who told me he had some more accurate numbers for Aluminium."

Doesn't he have his own sources for this information? He relies entirely on information from strangers via E-mail? I exclusively use figures that I have verified myself, in textbooks which are in my possession. One would think that someone who claims to have a scientific education would be able to locate mundane thermal properties of aluminum.

But all of that is immaterial: this is clearly another example of evasion tactic #2. Furthermore, it is yet another attempt to deceive the reader into not noticing the sheer depths of his ignorance. He tries to make it look as if he didn't know the latent heats of fusion and evapouration, but it goes further than that- by not mentioning them at all, he demonstrated that he didn't even realize that they existed! There is no excuse whatsoever for anyone, much less a science teacher, to produce a vapourization estimate that ignores latent heat of evapouration or melting. Ignorance of the exact figures is no excuse- if he knew that those concepts existed at all, he would know that they generally overwhelm the temperature-increase energy value, so a vapourization energy estimate is utterly useless without incorporating the latent heats.


Example #12: Officer, I didn't see a speed limit sign yet, so the speed limit must be infinity. Can I go now?

Evasion tactic #1. How does he respond to my criticism of his single most ludicrous claim? Of course, he will pretend that a scientifically ludicrous statement isn't really a scientifically ludicrous statement, with his usual over-analysis of dialogue and acceptance of pure supposition as reliable evidence. He says:

"this one came up again recently on rast, with Wayne Poe arguing a viewpoint similar to Mr Wongs. Suffice to say that while it has still not been established positively, what little evidence there is continues to classify this entire type of weapon as obsolete in the Trek universe. Naturally we will continue to differ on this one, and as with many of his comments that is fair enough."

Wayne Poe is the only one who argued this with him? He would apparently rather not mention another opponent: Ryan McReynolds, a prominent Star Trek fan. I like the way he chooses to make it look as if only the pro-SW "vs" debaters would ever think of questioning the scientifically ludicrous "infinite invulnerability to lasers" idea. But this is the weakest justification I have ever seen- the fact that a weapon has been obsoleted does not mean that we have achieved infinite immunity to it, regardless of energy level!

For example, catapults have been completely obsoleted in our universe, but if one were to build a catapult that could hurl a 50km wide asteroid at 20 km/s, one would have a weapon that completely overwhelms the firepower of any weapon ever constructed by mankind, and that would wipe all human life off the face of the Earth. We should be worrying about sheer energy, not the type of weapon.

PS. The rail-gun, currently under research, promises to return a high-tech version of the catapult to the arsenals of the world. The fact that a weapon has been obsoleted doesn't mean the entire concept has become impotent against modern defensive technologies.


Conclusion

He finishes with his usual flourish of public-relations efforts, in which he tries to remind everyone of what a nice, polite guy he is, and what an inflammatory lout I am:

"I hope to see Mr Wongs pages altered to give a more accurate reflection of my site and its perceived shortcomings. Given the tone of many of his criticisms, my personal view is that a retraction and/or apology is in order, rather than a simple change."

He wants an apology for the tone of my critique? How hypocritical; he has never apologized to me for calling me "a person of your limited intelligence", or saying "you were simply too stupid to realize you were doing this", or blurting out "you will cloud the issue as much as possible, ignore some very basic and simple physics which has been around for decades and generally act like a half-wit." among other insults during our old flamewars. Why should I apologize to him for criticizing his arguments now? I've engaged in flamewars with Kennedy in the past. I make no apologies for it, and expect none in return- it takes two to tangle. If he wants to play public-relations games now and pretend that he's Mother Theresa, that's his problem.

As for me, I don't play the PR game. I only hope to entertain readers and convince them to use their brains and apply scientific principles while analyzing science fiction. My deconstruction of Mr. Kennedy's mixture of deception and incompetence is merely a tool toward that end, and of all his rebuttals, the only valid one is the one about chart-reading, which was actually due to laziness on both our parts. I have no problem admitting when I make a genuine mistake, and I believe that argument was a genuine mistake, so I will amend that particular section. As for the rest of his criticisms, they all revolve around the following evasion techniques:

  1. Pretending he didn't really make a mistake

  2. Pretending he already knew about it (coincidentally, he figured it out after my page went up)

  3. Pretending that ignorance of science is a legitimate alternate viewpoint.

I stand by all of my remaining criticisms. Furthermore, I note with interest that in his rebuttal, he never acknowledged the one deception which annoyed me the most: his deliberate lies about the degree-equivalence of his education. That was the key motivating factor behind my decision to put up the critique- once I discovered he had been lying about his education, I decided it was time to forego my previous policy of ignoring him in favour of a policy of publicizing his deception and hypocrisy.

Kennedy lied about his education and (worse yet) pretended that it somehow bolstered his credibility even though he publicly admitted that he deliberately avoided applying his paltry knowledge to his website discussions whenever it got in the way of his theories. He later says:

"I imagine that he will be reluctant to do the first and *highly* reluctant to do the second, but that may be my own bias talking. I await any reply with interest."

Frankly, I doubt he is awaiting any response from me with anything but his usual attitude of "I can't possibly be wrong, and even if I am wrong, I'll just pretend that I caught it on my own, without any help from that horrible man." I also doubt that he will respond to any rebuttal with anything but his usual array of evasions and public-relations efforts. I'm starting to wonder if he plans to run for office somewhere.


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