Debate #2: Lord Edam
Twice now, I have challenged one of my most vocal detractors to one on one debate. Twice now, my opponent has waffled, played games, made himself look ignorant and/or foolish, and then bowed out early with an excuse. Edam's undisclosed "personal reason" for bailing out early remained a secret for several days, but he eventually posted the following explanation on his website:
This debate was originally planned for five posts each, however I have had to cut it short due to a close friend suffering a serious accident. I'm dropping off the net for a few weeks to help him and his family.
To be perfectly honest, this smells very fishy to me, for three reasons:
The timing is ... "convenient". His close friend suffered a serious accident at the same time that Edam was getting his ass soundly kicked in a debate? Hmmm ...
In less than two weeks, he was already posting on spacebattles.com. I guess his friend's injury was just severe enough to make him bow out of our debate.
This is the same guy who repeatedly misrepresented facts by pulling them out of context (eg- obsessing over the "Hutt Gambit" and "forgetting" to mention that they had been explicitly ordered to lose, or that the mission timeframe was just 15 minutes), and then expecting me to run around doing all the legwork of figuring out what the original context was. When I accused him of using dishonest delay/exhaustion tactics in order to eat up my limited time, he retorted that "our workload is nothing to do with this debate. Our personal obligations are nothign to do with this debate. If you don't have the time available don't challenge people to debates." When you say something like that, you'd better have a goddamned good reason for quitting the debate early! And since he apparently wasn't man enough to admit that he was losing fair and square, he had to come up with an excuse.
Besides, even if his story is completely true, I still have trouble accepting its validity, given his dismissal of my time constraints. Let's suppose his friend was critically injured, so badly that he can't bathe or feed himself. Let's suppose his friend suffered such serious brain damage that he was reduced to the mental capacity of a toddler, thus requiring virtually constant supervision so that he didn't injure or kill himself. Let's suppose his friend had no father, so it was up to Edam and his mother to take care of him alone. Let's suppose he had to spend four hours every night taking care of him. Let's suppose that at the same time this happened, his employer suddenly cracked down on personal Internet surfing during work hours, so that he couldn't do it at work.
So where would all of this leave him? Squarely in my shoes! What the hell does he think it's like to be the father to two small children? They need help eating, they need help bathing, you have to tuck them into bed, the younger one is constantly climbing on things and threatening to injure or kill himself, and I'm one of only two caregivers. I spend an average of four hours with them every night (granted, I don't consider it a chore, but it certainly doesn't leave me a lot of free time for Internet surfing), and I don't get Edam's surfing time on work hours. By contemptuously dismissing my complaint about his dishonest delay tactics and then pretending that a friend's injury made it impossible for him to participate, he demonstrated total ignorance of what it's like to be a father to small children (of course, he's already demonstrated total ignorance of many, many other things, so why stop now?)
Edam's Debate Technique
Edam is what I like to call a "guerilla debater". Like real guerilla warfare, guerilla debating may have its uses, but it's definitely not a stand-up tactic. Just as the guerilla attacks enemy targets and then vanishes away into the landscape without presenting a target for enemy counterstrikes, the guerilla debater seeks to attack his enemy's position without revealing his own position, or even admitting that he has one at all.
The guerilla debater looks at people like Gothmog and smugly assumes that he won't suffer his fate. Gothmog, after all, was foolish enough to state his position, thus giving me a target to attack. But the guerilla debater figures that he can win by attacking my position and offering nothing but vapour for me to attack in return.
This tactic is best exemplified by the "intelligent design" anti-evolution argument in the creationism vs science debate (far more important than sci-fi debates, but unfortunately ruled by similar tactics). They attack evolution theory using a variety of tactics which can range from illogical to dishonest. But unlike their "young-Earth" brethren who are lampooned as ignorant fanatics by everyone outside the land of illiterates and kissing cousins, the "intelligent design" creationists refuse to give scientists a coherent target to attack in return. Rather than explain exactly how life began on this planet (as the young-earthers do), they vaguely suggest that some kind of intervention was necessary. Can they say exactly when this intervention was necessary? Of course not; that would give scientists a target to attack. Can they say how it occurred? Of course not; that would give scientists a target to attack. Instead, they say nothing. They have ascertained (quite rightly) that most people won't think to ask how intelligent design can possibly represent a better theory than evolution theory if it won't even define itself.
Edam uses a similar tactic. His website contains not a shred of original theory or argument. The idea, as with all guerilla debating, is to attack exaggerated versions of opponents' arguments while never providing a useful argument of one's own. At the beginning of our debate, his website contained only a handful of articles, despite being up for more than two years (some articles date back to 1999):
Neutronium hulls (attacking the idea that Imperial ship hulls are made of solid neutronium).
Star Wars Weapon Power (in which he tries to define the firepower of all SW weapons based solely on the firepower bar charts in the "Behind the Magic" CD, even though they are not labeled with units or scales).
Lightsabre power (attacking the idea that lightsabre power output is well above 100 MW, ie- half the power output of the USS Nimitz's entire set of nuclear reactors).
Turbolaser range (attacking the idea that effective turbolaser range is millions of kilometres rather than thousands of kilometres).
ISD asteroids and ion cannons (attacking the theory that the ship damaged by an asteroid impact in TESB was already damaged, by exaggerating it into "it was the same ship that we saw hit earlier by an ion cannon", as if that lone shot was the only one fired, and it was the only thing that could have possibly damaged any ISD during the entire battle and subsequent flight into the asteroid field)
Mike Wong's Star Trek Shielding Mistakes (discussed in this debate; notice how he actually uses my name in the title of the page)
The Pine Tree Fallacy (attacking the idea that a Galaxy class starship's hull can be breached by wooden logs; I'm not kidding)
As you can see, this is a rather modest website for over two years of development, and all but one of those pages are just swipes at exaggerated versions of Star Wars arguments (eg- "Star Wars hulls contain some neutronium" becomes "Star Wars hulls are made of solid neutronium", "Star Trek shields may have a weakness to hot or ionic gases" becomes "Star Trek shields drop instantly upon contact with any charged gases in any concentration"). The sole legitimate argument (using the BTM to determine all SW weapon yields), much like his BDZ argument in our debate, is simply not well thought out (for example, he uses the chart to conclude that an automatic weapon like an E-Web is ten thousand times more powerful than Han Solo's blaster, per shot, and that even a stormtrooper's regular blaster rifle is 10 times more powerful than Solo's gun, despite the total lack of canon evidence for such a large difference.
Worse yet, this pitiful output comes from someone who has flooded the newsgroups and discussion boards with many thousands of posts over the same period! He obviously has no shortage of ideas, but he is loathe to put them on his website. And why, pray tell? Apart from the obvious reason (that his ideas are mostly junk, as shown in this debate and by the lone original argument on his page), it's probably because, despite the bizarre spacebattles.com rhetoric about how it's "cowardly" to make one's ideas public by putting them on a website instead of a discussion board, the fact is that there's nowhere to hide when you put your ideas on a website. On that site (unlike a discussion board), your ideas stand alone. Any visitors will see nothing but your ideas, and those ideas will occupy his mind (and his criticisms) without any distractions. You can't "blend into the background noise", play politics, or appeal to popularity. There's no strength in numbers or anonymity of the crowd.
However, while the guerilla debate tactic is popular and sadly effective, it is not invincible. Of course, it's illogical and dishonest (although some people don't seem to understand that). Another vulnerability comes from the fact that it's very difficult to maintain the discipline of attacking an argument without revealing your own position in the process. He may carelessly do so without noticing, and then vehemently deny having done so despite the evidence of his own words. If you keep him talking for long enough, he'll slip up, either by revealing his opinion or revealing that he's merely saying anything that will contradict you, even if he also ends up contradicting himself in the process. And when a guerilla debater does make one of these mistakes, all you have to do is pick up on it.
There's really not much to say, that hasn't already been said.
In the shield energy limits sub-thread, he made the mistake of supplying a figure for me to attack (470,000 m²), thus making it easy to show how wildly exaggerated his figures were, and how one could accept every one of his assumptions about the nature of Trek shields and still come up with a figure close to mine. He was defeated after the first post, hence his amusing attempt to change the subject from "Mike Wong's Star Trek Shielding Mistakes" to "Mike Wong could have been more generous".
In the shield weakness sub-thread, he tried to ignore an obvious pattern of weakness in the face of hot or charged gases by explaining away individual pieces of evidence piecemeal, sometimes with mutually contradictory explanations. This is, of course, exactly the same thing that creationists do: when faced with an obvious pattern and an explanation, deny its validity by ignoring the existence of the pattern rather than trying to provide a better explanation for it. Try to explain away individual points in that pattern by saying that they could have been due to other causes (thus making the pattern itself nothing but a giant coincidence). And of course, such people hope that no one notices how irrational this is. The really sad thing is that unlike the previous sub-thread where he essentially admitted defeat by trying to change the subject, I'm not entirely sure he accepts that there's anything wrong with his approach. The most amusing part was accurately determining that he was a creationist from his approach to other subjects. I've long suspected that it may actually be possible to smell a creationist coming, and Edam helped me prove that it's true :)
In the third movie of the original Star Wars trilogy, the Rebels foolishly abandoned their guerilla tactics and gave the Empire a target to attack. They were victorious because they were both good and lucky. In the third sub-thread of this debate, Edam foolishly abandoned his guerilla tactics and gave me a target to attack. He was defeated and publicly embarrassed because he was neither good or lucky. In his attempt to explain how one could accomplish a BDZ with a stream of one megaton explosions, he demonstrated staggering ignorance of the realistic effects of a nuclear explosion. There's really nothing else to say; his theory depends upon a vast exaggeration of nuclear weapon effects, which resulted directly from his habit of misrepresenting his sources. He treated a real-life subject (nuclear weapon effects) with the same cavalier disregard for accuracy and honest representation that he normally applies to science fiction, with disastrous results. He found himself immediately on the defensive, and he could only try to evade from that point on.
Part of Edam's problem is that he doesn't know when to quit. It's obviously a matter of pride for him, and to use a military analogy, he doesn't seem to realize that it would be foolish to throw men and equiment into a hopeless battle. Perhaps I'm a little older and wiser, perhaps I'm a lot smarter, or perhaps I'm just more honest, but when I make a mistake, I simply admit it and move on. For example, he may have found an error in my use of "Starship Down", where I had previously thought that the shields failed in the atmosphere. He claimed that the shields were weakened but not brought down until the ship was hit by weapons fire, and provided screenshots for support. So what did I do? I simply conceded that I might have recalled the incident incorrectly, and kept the focus on the main subject. It was merely a minor aspect of one piece of evidence among many, and I reiterate that you don't need to win every skirmish in order to win the war. Contrast this to Edam's behaviour when confronted with the fact that he had royally fucked up his nuclear weapon effect estimates, particularly with regard to his laughable claims that a 5 psi shockwave is guaranteed to kill everyone and everything, and that the entire natural landscape of the world is flammable. Could he have gracefully conceded his error at that time and taken the severe body blow? Yes. It would have been a humiliating defeat (far worse than my minor concession on "Starship Down", but them's the breaks when you foolishly quote real-life scientific literature out of context), but he could have limited his losses by conceding the point and in so doing, cutting the BDZ sub-thread short. Was he smart enough to do this? Of course not. He obstinately tilted at windmills, painting himself farther and farther into a corner in a desperate effort to save face, until everybody with a pulse could easily see that he'd accomplished the acrobatic feat of butt-fucking himself.
Edam Debate Advice
I have the following pieces of advice for anyone who would debate Edam in future:
Do not take anything he says for granted. Check every reference. Reproduce every calculation yourself. Confirm every fact, every observation. This is necessary because he has clearly demonstrated that he is not interested in debating honestly, and is perfectly willing to lie in order to gain position in a debate (notice the number of times he shamelessly contradicted himself, changed his position without admitting it, or quoted incidents wildly out of context in our debate).
Context, context, context. Assume that any and every fact he cites is being unfairly taken out of context, and confirm the original context for yourself (remember his "Hutt Gambit" chicanery, as well as his shell game with nuclear blast effects).
Every time he cites an authoritative source, either get that source or get a comparable substitute, in order to make sure he isn't abusing it the way he did with his nuclear weapon effects sources.
Keep a copy of every message he has written in the debate, so you can watch with a look of childlike wonder on your face as he inevitably tries to change the subject or tie himself in knots with self-contradictions.
Don't be fooled by the way he pretends he's thoroughly researched everything. He skims over reference material, makes up numbers out of thin air, relies heavily on guesswork and unwarranted extrapolations, and states it all in words which suggest diligent research.
Demand that he state his position clearly, rather than playing guerilla warfare. If (or when) he claims that he doesn't need or have one, I would recommend a one-word response: "bullshit".
Yes, I know, some of these tactics are very time-consuming. But unfortunately, Edam forces this upon people through his dishonest tactics. Normally, one can take an opponent's facts more or less at face value, and deal with them on a logical basis. But with people like Edam, 99% of the time is spent wrangling over the facts themselves, not their logical or scientific ramifications. It's very much like dealing with lawyers who abuse the "discovery" requirements in a liability lawsuit: he'll try to exhaust your energy and resources by getting you to run around gathering huge piles of evidence in order to defend your position against his slipshod attacks.
I should also point out that he's famous for appealing to his imaginary scientific authority, although he toned that down with me because I can call him on it. If he does it to you, you might opt to point out that appeals to authority are fallacious, or you might opt to point out that if he really was a scientist, he probably wouldn't be answering computer tech support phone calls for a living. That whole physics.org "you must be a chartered physicist to join" line of his was a sad joke, and I would hope that he refrains from such appeals to nonexistent authority in the future (however, I suspect that he won't). Based on what I've seen in forwarded posts and Google links, he's fond of digging up arcane facts about quantum mechanics or exotic particles in order to "prove" his expertise. However, anybody can dig bits and bytes out of a science book in the library and then quote them to sound smart. The true litmus test is in the basic approach, not the ability to recite arcane science trivia.
Examples of Edam's Newsgroup Behaviour
You may have noticed the way Edam pounced on an excuse to talk about his qualifications ("fulfilled the academic requirements for Chartered Physicist status"; notice the careful use of deceptive wording; he said he fulfilled the academic requirements for Chartered Physicist status but he didn't say that he was actually a Chartered Physicist) and then later backtracked, saying "I'm not trying to prove I'm a chartered physicist (I'm not)" (obviously having taken lessons in careful use of language from Gothmog). It should come as no surprise that he's played similar games in the past on the alt.startrek.vs.starwars newsgroup. Long before I'd ever challenged him to debate, I'd heard from far and wide that people were pissed at him because he constantly bludgeoned them with his supposedly superior qualifications. Here's just a few examples:
"As per my own expert opinion as a physicist."- Edam, March 25, 2000.
"I think this is one occasion I'm going to have to defer to the knowledge I gained in my degree rather than the delusional ravings of a middle aged maths undergrad."- Edam, June 9, 2000.
"I'm a qualified physicist."- Edam, February 9, 2001.
"[being sarcastic] you aren't wrong. Everybody else is, including myself (a professional physicist), and Saxton (a professional astrophysicist). All because some tosser arts student doesn't know what he is on about."- Edam, September 7, 2001.
Isn't it funny how he brags about his supposedly expert status on the newsgroups, pounces on an excuse to do the same in this debate, claims to be a "professional physicist" (even though we know that he works in IT, so he can't possibly be a professional physicist), then suddenly turns around and accuses me of obsessing over qualifications? If this guy's actually got a physics degree (which I seriously doubt, based on his behaviour), then I weep for the universities of England, because his dishonest methods are an embarrassment. No real physicist should ever make up numbers out of thin air, particularly while bragging about his expertise or his qualifications.
In fact, an excessive eagerness to describe one's own qualifications should raise a warning flag immediately, because it somewhat trivializes those qualifications to use them in such a manner. I describe my own qualifications very rarely in this site (and not at all in this debate, as I pointed out to him). On the few occasions that I do mention it, it's always been strictly in reference to the subject of education itself (eg- the Myths page dealing with the belief that a formal education doesn't count for anything, or various Hate Mails in which somebody else brings up the subject by attacking my qualifications to speak about these matters. There's a reason that the scan of my degree is on my personal home page, and not the Empire page. In fact, it would be impossible for any reader to determine from this website whether I have my P.Eng or not (that's the professional licensing, not the degree), which is exactly the way it should be, because a P.Eng is too important to trivialize by citing it willy-nilly.
I reiterate that whereas most debaters tend to make it clear when they've researched something and when they're just guessing, Edam tends to express everything as if he's sure of it (again, the opposite of typical physicist behaviour). He is also a perfect example of the Trekkie tendency to blather on about exotic physics while demonstrating appalling ignorance of basic physics (a sure sign of a faker), routinely spouting about the latest developments in quantum mechanics, exotic states of matter, particle physics, etc. while demonstrating that he can't even perform simple inverse square law calculations. Consider the following excerpt from one of his recent newsgroup posts:
04 Jan 2002
Based on frame-by-frame analysis of ANH:SE, it is possible to determine the likely energy the DS shields had to withstand during the explosion. This is approximately 1e22J (based on the quote wayne recently supplied where they didn't want to get any closer to the explosion)
Using this as a typical planetary shielding estimate, the Hoth energy shield could withstand 1e22J. This is more than the combined firepower of five ISDs and one SSD. As such, the firepower of these ships cannot be greater than this value.
Furthermore, given that the energy derived from the ANH blast in the special edition is several magnitudes lower than that from the original edition (approximately 1e34J) any conclusions derived from the original estimates must be revised downward.
This is a good example of his habit of pulling numbers out of thin air, while pretending to have thoroughly researched them. He claims to have done "frame-by-frame analysis of ANH:SE" in order to come up with a 1E34 joule figure. A naive debater might be fooled by his claims of expertise and rigorous method, and take that claim at face value. However, that would be a mistake. See my advice above: check every calculation.
In this case, he claims that the SE version of Star Wars decreases the energy figure from 1E38 to 1E34 joules, ie- the SE version is ten thousand times less violent! Ladies and gentlemen, I invite you to compare the classic version and the SE version yourselves (Divx codec required). Could any reasonable person look at that and conclude that one is ten thousand times more violent than the other? Of course not. It's plainly obvious that despite his claims, he obviously didn't even look at the SE's, never mind performing a frame-by-frame analysis, complete with calculations!
It's obvious that he just pulled the 1E34 joule figure out of thin air, hence my warning that future debaters should check his math rather than taking any of his numbers at face value. Remember that KE=½mv². If the planet had only 1E34 J of kinetic energy added to it with 100% efficiency (assuming Earth-like mass of 6E24 kg), its average expansion velocity would be less than 60 km/s. If we assume that the edge of the visible debris field was moving twice as quickly as the average velocity, it would have taken nearly a full minute for the planet to double in size, even though it actually took less than one half-second. In other words, Edam's 1E34 joule figure requires that the explosion be one hundred times slower than what we saw onscreen!
So what about that 1E22 joule figure at the beginning? Was that pulled out of thin air too? Let's see: 1E22 is one trillionth of 1E34. Therefore, he is saying that Death Star was so far away that its projected area was only one trillionth of the spherical surface area at that radius. Since the Death Star's diameter is 160 km, its projected area pi·r² = 2E10 m². Therefore, Edam is saying that at the Death Star's distance, a sphere centred on Alderaan had a surface area 4 pi·r² = 2E22 m², which means that its radius was roughly 40 million km. In other words, Edam is saying that the Death Star was 40 million kilometres away! This is rather preposterous; the canon ANH novelization said that they were less than 80,000 km away ("6 planetary diameters"), and at 40 million kilometres, it would have taken more than two minutes for the superlaser to hit Alderaan after being fired, even if it was travelling at c (it actually took less than 2 seconds).
So where does he get this 40 million km range from? From the radio dramatization (Wayne's quote, which he is referring to), where Tarkin said "Make sure we are well out of range of the explosion". At no point does he ever explicitly list the 40 million km figure, nor does he explain how he goes from "well out of range" to "40 million km away". In fact, at that range, given his 1E34 J figure, it would take roughly one hundred and eighty five hours for the bulk of the debris to hit them! Since the bulk of the debris was already gone by the time Han Solo showed up less than five minutes later, this is obviously wrong.
Any high school student, armed only with knowledge of basic geometry and Newton's equation KE= ½mv², could rip Edam's numbers apart and show that they are purely arbitrary and worse yet, mutually inconsistent. Does this seem like the work of a "professional physicist" to you? Doesn't it seem odd that someone like this would be able to go on and on about Bose-Einstein condensates and plasma physics while being unable to do basic geometry? If he's a physicist, he's certainly not a competent one! The only question here is why people like Chris O'Farrell actually regard Gothmog and Edam to be worthy debaters. Chalk up another Trekkie bullshit artist for the trophy wall.
I've received numerous E-mails asking why I don't debate people who aren't as clueless as Gothmog and Edam, ie- people who actually know what they're talking about. Just for the record, I would like to answer that here: I would debate a well qualified person if one presented himself. However, I have yet to encounter anyone with genuine technical or scientific aptitude who doesn't agree with me. My E-mail feedback from people with a technical background is invariably positive, while my most negative E-mail invariably comes from high school kids. But by all means, if you know someone with genuine technical or scientific aptitude who buys into Trekkie pseudoscience anyway, then by all means, get him to E-mail me and strike up a debate.
I've also heard that somebody on Usenet challenged him to show the group his degree rather than simply bragging about how he's a "professional physicist" and using his IoP membership as "proof". He promptly produced a scan of ... his IoP membership, not his degree (but it's a "graduate membership", and of course, he didn't have time to find his degree). Still smells fishy to me, but it really doesn't matter either way; he doesn't act like a physicist, nor does he demonstrate any scientific competence besides repeating what he reads in science websites and magazines (and in the case of the nuclear attack literature, grossly misinterpreting it), so if he does have a degree, that says more about England's education system than it does about him. Not to be overly nationalist, but from the examples of Graham Kennedy and Mike Griffiths (Edam), I seriously wonder about Britain's technical and scientific education system. Did you know that Britain doesn't even have mandatory licensing of engineers? I'm not kidding; while all engineers must be licensed in order to legally use the title in Canada and the US, Britain has no regulations governing the use of the title. An auto mechanic can literally hang a sign on his shop calling himself an engineer in Britain.