earth is growing, proclaims amateur geologist
Ok, I just know that has to be a joke we can make about middle aged planets and their equators but it’s really not coming together right now. Why do we need to make one? Well, according to geologist Neil Adams, Earth isn’t actually going through tectonic shift in the sense we imagine, but its continents are moving because it’s growing through nuclear reactions in its core and accretion of matter from outer space. Oh wait, did I say that Adams was a geologist? My bad. I meant comic book artist with a penchant for pseudo-geology, and one who happens to be very vocal about his belief, even getting Steven Novella into a debate on the subject.
It seems a little odd to me that a doctor has to defend geology from a comic book artist because one would think that a person with an alternative idea of how plate tectonics work would talk to geologists, but I certainly understand that those scientists have more important work to do than debunk the odd claims of a comic book artist with a website and some videos on YouTube, claims utterly divorced from even rudimentary physics and math…
As usual with homespun, recursive pseudoscience, it’s hard to know where to begin here because you can’t swing the metaphorical dead cat without hitting something meriting a debunking. Just for the hell of it, I’ll start with his claim that in order for dinosaurs to run, fly, and generally move around the way they did, we needed to have significantly weaker surface gravity when they lived. They were just too big, too heavy, and moved around too much to have done it all at the current gravitational pull at sea level. Assuming he’s right just for a moment here, why did the dinosaurs grow from small lizard-like creatures to giants the size of SUVs and buses as the planet grew and put more and more strain on their muscles and bones over their 135 million year reign?
We don’t even have to go as far as to point to the light weight of pterosaurs or the fact that over millions of years, a dinosaur would evolve to either develop the musculature to support tremendous weight or remained tiny. This argument makes little logic sense any way you slice it. If the Earth grew at a steady rate, it would’ve put much more stress at the biggest dinosaurs of them all then it would for their tiny predecessors. Conversely, we can argue that over 135 million years, evolution could’ve certainly selected for the species that can grow and cope with the gravity so the entire concept actually cancels itself out when viewed in the proper context.
But hold on, why and how would the Earth expand? Well, according to Adams’ menagerie of factoids strung to resemble a theory, the core produces nuclear reactions which result in atoms that take up more volume, and thus push the core and all the other layers outwards while cosmic rays and debris accrete on the surface. I’m sure those of you who passed sixth grade science probably remember that Earth’s inner core is a very dense iron-nickel sphere about the size of the Moon at a toasty 9,800 °F, spinning in molten metal. We know that not only by reading data from seismographs for many decades, but also because we have a magnetic field and a lot of simulations of what we think is happening at the core produce very similar magnetic fields in the lab.
So, since we’re pretty sure that we know enough about the core’s composition, let me ask where exactly one can find materials for a nuclear reaction there? Both iron and nickel are not radioactive and there are no source of high energy rays capable of triggering spontaneous nuclear fission. Even if a few atoms of a trace radioactive material like uranium or plutonium did undergo sustained, spontaneous fission — as they actually have done several billion years ago in Africa when uranium was far more fissile — pressures in excess of 52 million psi and superheated crystallized iron would quickly suppress the reaction like a dragon swallowing a candle.
And this brings us to the most baffling claim by Adams, that atoms which underwent fission would have more volume and expand the core. Considering that atoms undergoing fission are smaller and lose electrons and neutrons in the process, and the core around them is probably dense enough to turn molten metal into huge crystals with extremely stable atomic structures, having smaller, less dense atoms govern the core seems to violate the laws of nature. In fact, no nuclear reaction would make the Earth grow, even if the core was capable of an honest to goodness fusion.
Granted, it would have to be more than 3 million times heavier to even have a shot at trying to fuse iron, which would cause it to collapse under its own weight many times over, since it’ll crack open were it more than 7 times its current mass, and even if we overlook that, there’s no net energy gain from fusing iron as many a supernova can attest, and the reaction would very quickly burn itself out. And as for accretion from space debris, remember that cosmic rays are subatomic particles moving at 99% of the speed of light and able to pass right through the planet. Even if they did accrete, they would take eons to add a gram or two to our mass. Space debris? It’s also usually quite small and even the biggest rocks just can’t compare to our world’s sheer heft. So what does Adams have to say in his defense when confronted with the facts?
Of course I’m going to be dismissed by most educated scientists. I’m not quite as impressed by formal education. I can read and there aren’t any books forbidden to me in the end. I can think, and I use many aspects of science in my work. I regularly speak to physicists, geologists, engineers, and paleontologists. A small group so far, but growing rapidly lately. All science that we know now will be overthrown eventually. I also study history. This will take a very big bite. The growth led to a methodology. I rejected many. The simplest seemed to fit the bill. Question is, can this be clearly reproducible reality be shown to fulfill all the requirements for all forms of matter? Yes, it can. Can it be wrong? It’s possible that I didn’t think of something, sure. I doubt it. Too much is right.
Here we have a comic book artist who thinks he’s being bold and original stringing together a theory held by a lot of self-taught junk science and feels confident enough to post them to the world. Even sadder, there is an inordinate amount of people who actually think he’s on to something, especially because he’s not following a mainstream scientific consensus. And that’s why skeptics need to debunk such otherwise obvious nonsense and communicate that being non-mainstream is great in the humanities like literature and the arts, but when science is involved, being out of the mainstream does not make one the next Galileo or somehow add weight to pseudoscience. Being self-taught only goes so far, especially nowadays.
Unless you have someone who’s got the expertise to see if your research is on the right track and nudge you in the right direction, you can easily end up with complete rubbish instead of an education. Mainstream science is not always right, true, but peer review exists for a reason and no, you shouldn’t be made to feel like a snob if your first impulse is to treat an amateur scientist on YouTube with extreme skepticism and consider him wrong until proven otherwise. Hell, scientists often do that with each other and they’re usually actual, certified expert in their fields.