OPINION: Charged with relativity

WHILE I promise to return to Earth – and possibly even to matters pertaining directly to the Hunter – tomorrow, an email from reader Eric Aitchison compels me to spend a final day on Saturn’s polar hexagon.

“I know you cannot keep this going indefinitely,” Aitchison wrote to me on Tuesday morning.

“But the phenomenon is electrical, as diagnosed by Australian physicist Wal Thornhill, of Canberra.”

My initial response was to think this sounded more sensible than winds running in straight lines for 14,000 kilometres and before turning 60 degrees and running for another 14,000 kilometres, and so on, until they joined up again, but Thornhill’s theories, as I soon learnt, are not exactly mainstream.

His material is set out on two websites – holoscience苏州美甲美睫培训学校 and thunderbolts.info – and his main thesis is the “electric universe”, which astronomers and others are “unable to see that stars are simply electric lights strung along invisible cosmic power lines that are detectable by their magnetic fields and radio noise”.

Thornhill says the Big Bang – the idea that the universe appeared instantaneously – is dead, and that his model of an electrically charged universe explains spiral galaxies and other repetitive patterns of star clusters far better than “theoretical inventions” including “dark matter” and “dark energy”.

Pointing out – correctly as far as I know – that science has no real explanation for the generation of lightning in our weather, Thornhill says that craters on the moon and other planets are the result of “electrical arc scarring” rather than impact craters from meteors and that stars are “electrical transformers not thermonuclear devices”.

Now I don’t know how much of this stands up to rigorous analysis. Most scientifically trained people will probably say very little.

But it’s our propensity, as conscious beings, to question what goes on around us, and the history of science is littered with once certain theories that have turned out to be wildly wrong.

I am stating the obvious but the internet is full of websites like Thornhill’s, postulating all sorts of different belief systems across the full spectrum of human belief.

Indeed – in another snippet I learnt from Radio National’s Science Show – the United States-based Australian science writer Margaret Wertheim, a University of Sydney-trained physicist, wrote about them at length in her recent book Physics On The Fringe.

As it happens, Newcastle house painter Norman Vallejo – who painted the inside of our place and did a sensational job, by the way – has published his own book, Trans-dimensional Evolution, which he says contains formal disproofs of both Darwin’s theory of evolution and Einstein’s theory of relativity.

Since 2010, he has offered a $10,000 cash prize – details at normanchristophervallejo苏州美甲美睫培训学校.au – to anyone who can disprove what he says.

It is easy to dismiss things like this but it is hard to deny a group-think when it comes to science and the various enthusiasms that grab academia, and the funding bodies, from time to time.

While the data should always rule, so much of science is experimental and theoretical that the data may not be found – or found missing – until a lot of time and money has been allocated.

In The Perfect Theory: A Century of Geniuses and the Battle Over General Relativity (Hachette, $32.99), physicist Pedro G. Ferreira traces the rise and fall of various specialities as they raced each other both for recognition – all those Nobel prizes – and funding, including battles between warring camps of academics insisting that their way was right, and everyone else was wrong.

As Ferreira observes in the closing chapters of the book, the conventional wisdom at the moment is that 96 per cent of the universe is made of “dark matter” that we haven’t found yet because that’s what the maths tells us must be there.

But if the science is so obtuse, and so contested that even paragons of academia don’t accept – or perhaps even understand – the implications of each other’s work, who’s to say that science outsiders like Thornhill and Vallejo aren’t right, or even right enough to merit consideration?