Posted by: Barry Bickmore | May 1, 2017

Don’t Let the Core Fall Out: Nitpicking Earth’s Magnetic Field

This is part of a series of articles responding to the claims made in Dean Sessions’ Universal Model.  Click the link to see the introduction to the series.

Today I am adding a new entry into my “Bickmore’s Laws” page.  Here it is:

Bickmore’s Second Law of Being Open-Minded:

A person’s open-mindedness is inversely proportional to how much they lecture everyone else about open-mindedness.

One reason pseudoscientific systems like the UM hold so much appeal for some is that they make such people feel smarter and more open-minded than others, especially those insufferable scientists.  According to Dean Sessions, for instance,

When a new idea comes backed with evidentiary support, even if such an idea runs up against accepted theory, the professional’s best ally should be an open mind.  This, unfortunately, is too often not the case and theoretical presumptions regularly supplant actual evidence because it contradicts the latest theory. The result of such confusion is that science dismisses or misplaces many pieces of Nature’s puzzle, some altogether lost. (p. 7)

He even goes so far as to incorporate this as one of the foundational principles of the UM.

Of all the principles in the Universal Model, the single most important principle is the Question Principle:

Question everything with an open mind.  (p. 9, emphasis in original)

Well, that’s super–it’s just that nearly everyone says things like this.  Almost nobody goes around patting themselves on the back for being so closed-minded, and I think we can all agree that not everyone who pats themselves on the back for being open-minded actually fits the bill.  So who are the REAL open-minded people?

Put your hands down!  Maybe it’s futile to ask such a question, because human beings are imperfect numbskulls who are probably incapable of completely separating our reasoning from our emotions, personal experiences, upbringing, and so on.  But if we can agree that trying to be open-minded is a good thing, even if nobody ever completely attains the ideal, maybe it’s worth discussing what open-mindedness should look like.

Can we all agree that true open-mindedness involves critical thinking?  As a number of people have observed, it’s good to be open-minded, “but not so open that your brains fall out.”  In other words, open-mindedness doesn’t mean accepting any hare-brained nonsense anyone puts forward as a “new idea.”  Rather, it means refusing to dismiss it without due consideration.

Can we all agree that true critical thinking is marked by fair-mindedness?  The Foundation for Critical Thinking defines  “weak sense critical thinkers” as,

Those who do not hold themselves, or those with whom they ego-identify, to the same intellectual standards to which they hold “opponents.” Those who have not learned how to reason empathically within points of view or frames of reference with which they disagree. Those who tend to think monologically. Those who do not genuinely accept, though they may verbally espouse, the values of critical thinking. Those who use the intellectual skills of critical thinking selectively and self-deceptively to foster and serve their vested interests (at the expense of truth); able to identify flaws in the reasoning of others and refute them; able to shore up their own beliefs with reasons.

I doubt that anyone completely avoids this kind of thinking, but Dean Sessions is one of the worst perpetrators of weak sense critical thinking I have ever seen.  He goes on and on about the virtues of open-mindedness, but then treats every minor flaw or gap in modern science as an existential crisis, and utterly fails to apply the same standards to the UM.  An excellent example of this is his treatment of the Earth’s magnetic field.

Clearly, the Earth has a magnetic field, which is why compasses work, and scientists have tried to figure out why that is.  Whatever explanation we come up with, it has to be at least consistent with known facts, and ideally will predict things that have not been observed before.  Here are some things we know already:

  1. The Earth’s magnetic field is at least approximately a dipole (like a bar magnet with a magnetic North and South pole).  It’s not exactly like that, however, because the Earth’s magnetic poles wander around a little over time, and once in a great while, they may experience a reversal, where the North and South magnetic poles switch places.
  2. There are several types of magnetism, but the only contenders strong enough to cause the Earth’s magnetic field have always been permanent ferromagnetism and electromagnetism.  Ferromagnetism is related to the alignment of electron spin directions, and only occurs in certain elements such as iron, nickel, and cobalt.  Electromagnetism occurs any time there is an electric current.
  3. Permanent ferromagnetism is destroyed above a certain temperature, called the Curie temperature, so if the Earth’s interior is hotter than a few hundred degrees, it can’t be a permanent magnet.  Therefore the Earth’s magnetic field must be related to electromagnetism.
  4. Electromagnetism has to do with something called electromagnetic induction.  The idea is that when an electrical current flows through a conductor, a magnetic field is generated around the conductor.  The electromagnet is then attracted to objects capable of induced ferromagnetism (like iron, nickel, and cobalt).  The reverse is also true, i.e., when a magnetic field moves relative to a conductor, an electrical current is generated in the conductor.  This is basically how generators work.  You have to have some source of energy to turn a crank attached to a coil of wire in a magnetic field, so that a current is generated in the wire.
  5. In electromagnetism an induced magnetic field always has a certain orientation with respect to the current causing it.  If you change the direction of the current, you change the direction of the associated magnetic field.

To explain how the Earth could develop a fairly stable, self-sustaining magnetic field, scientists developed the Geodynamo Theory.  (A “dynamo” is a generator.)  For this to work, we have to have the following ingredients.

  1. There has to have been an external magnetic field for the Earth to move through to get the Earth’s dynamo started.  That’s no problem, because the Sun has a magnetic field we can measure.
  2. Part of the Earth’s interior needs to be made of a conducting material.  That’s no problem, because geologists think the core of the Earth is made mainly of iron and nickel.  The inner core is solid, while the outer core is liquid.  Both solid and liquid metals are conductors.  (In fact, the overall mass of the Earth is powerful evidence that the core must be made of something dense like iron, rather than something like ice, as Dean Sessions believes.)
  3. Once a current is induced in the interior of the Earth a magnetic field is generated, but there has to be some way to keep the conducting material swirling around in essentially the same direction (like in a generator), to reinforce the induced magnetic field so a relatively stable magnetic dipole can form.  That’s no problem, because the spinning of the Earth causes Coriolis forces that govern the dominant wind patterns on the surface of the Earth, so why can’t they cause similar patterns of circulation in the liquid outer core?
  4. We also need an internal heat source, or sources, to keep the outer core from solidifying.  As I explained in another post, radioactive decay of some elements is the most likely candidate.  Japanese scientists recently demonstrated another likely mechanism:  heat released when silica separates from liquid iron at very high temperature and pressure.

When you put all this together, you get an induced electrical current in the Earth, which induces a magnetic field, which induces more current, which reinforces the already established magnetic field, etc.  All you need to keep that going is some energy source to keep the crank turning, which you can get from the Earth’s spinning motion and internal heat.

So what do we have?  We have an explanation of the Earth’s magnetic field that is consistent with everything we know about magnetism, the mass of the Earth, and the motion of the Earth.

Do we now pat ourselves on the back, congratulating ourselves for having an explanation that is plausible?  No, scientists realize that we don’t have all the facts we could want, so we have to keep finding ways to test the explanation to see whether it keeps holding water in the face of new facts.  The problem is that we have no way of doing every experiment we could possibly want, so we have to work with what we can do.

One thing we can do is try to run computer simulations of the geodynamo process using known physical laws (magnetic force laws, fluid flow laws, etc.)  And scientists have done that.  Is every aspect of these oversimplified simulations perfectly satisfying?  Of course not, but they give us more confidence that the basics of our explanation are plausible.

Another thing we can do is create scaled-down physical models.  This has been done using molten sodium to create a self-sustaining dynamo (see the Riga Dynamo Experiment).  Is this a perfect representation of the Earth?  Obviously not, because it was done at much lower temperatures and pressures than are thought to prevail in the core, and the core is thought to be made largely of iron, not sodium.  But experiments like this DO tell us that a conducting fluid spinning in an external magnetic field definitely can develop it’s own self-sustaining magnetic field.

No, we can’t dig a hole to the core to see what’s there, so any explanation we come up with has to remain somewhat tentative.  However, I hope it’s clear that scientists have been trying to do what they can to test the geodynamo theory, even if those tests aren’t conclusive in any final sense.

Enter Dean Sessions, who takes a perfectly decent theory that has some empirical support, and tries to nitpick it to death.

He begins (pp. 114-117) by quoting lots of scientists saying the geodynamo theory is not a proven fact, and that we don’t know everything about the Earth’s interior, and this or that experimental result will force us to change some of our ideas about what is down there….  Wait… for someone who likes to criticize scientists for being dogmatic, it sure seems like Sessions quotes a lot of them trying very hard to make sure they are careful about not claiming the evidence goes farther than it really does.  If we’re really trying to be open-minded, shouldn’t we always hold out the possibility of changing our minds in the face of new evidence?

No matter, because Sessions can prove the scientists wrong about the Earth’s magnetic field with a single, devastating argument!

The existence of the Earth’s magnetic field provides us simple, yet powerful evidence that the magma model is incorrect.  Why? Heat destroys magnetism. There should not be a magnetic energy field emanating from inside the Earth under the current hot-interior mode. Geologists recognize this and describe it as a “fatal defect”:

“Unfortunately, although a good description of the magnetic field can be given if we assume a permanent magnet at the center of the Earth, this model has a fatal defect. Laboratory experiments show that heat destroys magnetism, and materials lose their permanent magnetism when temperatures exceed about 500° C. Material below depths of about 20 or 30 km in the Earth, therefore, cannot be magnetized because the temperatures are too high.”

With such knowledge, one wonders why do scientists keep describing Earth’s energy field as though it were a magnet?  (p. 115)

Wait… he’s talking about the Curie temperature of magnetic materials, but that only applies to permanent ferromagnetism.  Does Sessions actually think there are any Earth scientists who think the Earth is a permanent ferromagnetic?  Because he just quoted one saying that’s impossible!  Did he, instead of checking in a Wikipedia article on the subject, or something like that, take this one quotation to mean that “heat destroys magnetism” applies to all kinds of magnetism, not just permanent ferromagnetism?

The weird thing is that I can’t figure out what Sessions is thinking.  In the very next sentence he talks about the dynamo theory, and a few paragraphs later he says,

A heated iron core does not allow for a magnetic field. Heat annihilates a magnetic field it does not facilitate one. (p. 116)

This makes it seem like Sessions does think heat destroys electromagnetism, too.  However, later on the same page he quotes a geologist saying that “Earth’s magnetic field behaves as if a small but powerful permanent bar magnet were located near the center of the Earth,” and he shows a figure (Fig. 5.12.3) from a geology textbook that illustrates the Earth’s magnetic field as a picture of the globe with a cartoon bar magnet drawn on top.  Later he argues that since the Earth’s magnetic field fluctuates a little bit, current theory must be wrong because, “a ‘permanent’ magnet’s energy field does not change or oscillate” (p. 117).  (Of course, this poses no problem for a dynamo that is based on fluid flow, so once again this argument is meaningless.)  So maybe he does think geologists believe the Earth is a permanent magnet?  Or maybe he doesn’t know that dynamos are based on electromagnetism?

In any case, he clearly states that his arguments disprove current geological theory, when in fact they do not.  I objected to this in the comments on the UM Team’s YouTube channel, and Russ Barlow, the editor for the UM, replied that they do, in fact, know that current scientific theory doesn’t claim the Earth is a permanent magnet.

The UM does not intend to imply that science claims the Earth has a static bar magnet, and my statement in the presentation is that heat destroys magnetism, not a magnetic field. If we are to accept that premise that entry level textbooks show a simple bar magnet as representative of the Earth’s magnetic field, then anyone who presents this subject to an entry level audience should also start at that same simplistic level. The UM is written to an entry college level, not to the PhD, so one can expect to start from a basic level, but there is quite a bit more detail later on, after we establish the basics .

What we want to point out is that the (generalized) theories about the Earth’s magnetic field are sufficiently riddled with unanswered questions and unsupported claims as to cause one to consider an alternative, which we offer in a later chapter.

So wait….  Just because introductory geology textbooks often say things like “Earth’s magnetic field behaves as if a small but powerful permanent bar magnet were located near the center of the Earth,” and show cartoons of bar magnets on the Earth, that means it’s ok to claim that current theory is disproven by something that only applies to permanent magnets?  I replied,

I’m glad you can at least acknowledge that current scientific theory does not describe the Earth as a permanent magnet. I don’t think that was clear in your presentation or in the book, so please take that into consideration for your next edition. I hope you can see that the idea the Earth is a permanent magnet is NOT an “unanswered question”, and NOT an “unsupported claim” (or any other kind of claim) of current scientific theory, and that should be clearly stated.

To me this seems pretty obvious, but Barlow couldn’t admit they had made a mistake here.

Barry Bickmore again you are supposing this work is only about debunking things modern scientists claim. While we do that, the purpose is to get people asking questions about things that don’t add up, especially about theories so well entrenched that no one questions them.

But isn’t it fundamentally intellectually dishonest to claim to refute your opponent’s opinions when, in fact, you are refuting an opinion they don’t actually hold?  Is this what “open-minded” people do?

Sessions goes on to complain about how computational simulations and the Riga dynamo experiment don’t definitively prove the dynamo theory (which is true), and so on.  What all this boils down to is that Sessions points out that the geodynamo theory hasn’t been fully proven, and then argues against current scientific theory using points that only apply if the Earth is a permanent magnet, which is not what scientists think.

This kind of patent intellectual dishonesty might be enough to make some readers throw down their UM tomes in disgust, never to look back, but never fear!  I shall try to be all magnanimous and open-minded and such.  Even if all the UM’s arguments against the current theory of the Earth’s magnetic field are garbage, it’s still possible that Sessions could have come up with a new explanation that is better supported than the current one.

Well, here it is.  The UM claims that an electric field is generated in the Earth’s crust through tidal forces between the Earth and the Moon, and between the Earth and the Sun.  That is, as the Earth turns every day, the solid Earth flexes (just like tides involving the ocean), which causes the quartz crystals in the crust to bend.  Since quartz crystals are piezoelectric, the stress caused can induce an electrical current, which induces a magnetic field.  (See section 9.5 of the UM vol. 1.)

Sessions claims that the slight movement of the Earth’s magnetic field poses a big problem for the standard theory, but as I mentioned above, this is not the case for a geodynamo.  It would only be the case if the Earth were thought to be a permanent magnet.  Let’s turn that around on Sessions, though.  Yes, the Earth’s magnetic field fluctuates and oscillates a little, and it isn’t a perfect dipole, but there is a reason introductory geology textbooks often use the bar magnet analogy.  That is, the Earth’s magnetic field really is very stable, and pretty close to a perfect dipole, even if it’s not exact.  So if tidal forces are generating the Earth’s magnetic field, why don’t the magnetic poles swing wildly around every day?  Why don’t people have to take the time of day into account when they use a compass?  Given that the direction of the electric field generated by strained quartz depends on the orientation of the crystal, why wouldn’t the magnetic fields generated by the individual quartz crystals cancel each other out?

Beyond simple problems like these, there is another issue that bothers me about how Sessions uses different intellectual standards to judge modern scientific and his own theories.  That is, Sessions endlessly quotes scientists being very critical about their own theories.  But if I look into what they are criticizing it often turns out that they did some math or designed some experiments to test the limits of the theory, and the results weren’t perfectly decisive.  So how has Sessions tried to test the limits of his theory about the Earth’s magnetic field?  Has he tried to calculate ballpark figures about how much of a magnetic field could be generated by tidal forces if the entire crust were made of quartz and the crystals were all aligned in one direction?  Because if even that couldn’t generate a big enough field, what hope is there for the theory?  Has he tried to model how the Earth’s magnetic field would change throughout the day as the Earth spins around?  If current is being induced in different parts of the crust all day long, then how much should the magnetic poles swing around?  It doesn’t appear that he has done any of that.

Why?  Because Dean Sessions is not as open-minded as he wants to appear (and he probably doesn’t know how to do that much math).




  1. > but not so open that your brains fall out

    And my other favourite: “If you keep your mind sufficiently open, people will throw a lot of rubbish into it” (attributed to William A. Orton)

  2. It is also an indication of how little reason they have for their claims, if they have to resort to complaining about someone “just not believing it”.

  3. ” Of all the principles in the Universal Model, the single most important principle is the Question Principle:

    Question everything with an open mind. ”

    Of course, when you questioned whether he understood the current theory or whether it actually worked better (or at all), THAT questioning was enough to make him storm out in a huff.

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