Critiques and Responses Regarding Atomic Constants, Light and Time
Dear Mr. Setterfield, Today I came across the variable speed of light on the internet. I decided to investigate it. In that investigation I found your original paper on the variable speed of light and read it. I realized from the assumptions that the paper was flawed so I am motivated to point out that mistake in the paper with this email.
Setterfield: Thank you for your important letter. Your time and effort are appreciated.
However, I think that if you had read my 1987 Report in more detail, it might have become apparent that I had indeed treated each measurement method individually and had drawn the correct conclusions as a result. The Report was built up one Table at a time where all the measured values by a particular method were listed. In that process, it was shown statistically that each measurement method registered a decline in the value of c over time. For example, Table 3 (scroll down a bit) lists only the aberration method results. In fact, I go further. The first Figure in the Report is a graph of the aberration measurements exclusively from the Pulkova Observatory where the same equipment had been used for over a century. The result was a clear decline in the value of c so obtained.
I could go further still. For example, I point out in the Report, that on a number of occasions, apart from Pulkova, the same equipment was used by experimenters at a later date. In each case a lower value for c was recorded on the second occasion. Finally, when all methods are put together, there is still a resultant decline in c.
In this matter, I am intrigued by the fanfare with which it was announced recently that astronomical observations might have indicated a change by one part in 100,000 in the fine-structure constant. However, the more obvious measured changes in c seem to be treated rather dismissively by comparison. I might be rather perverse, but the situation does appeal to my sense of humour!
Under these circumstances, I suggest that a closer reading of the Report would nullify much of your well-intentioned criticism. I trust this answers your concerns.
One other comment. You wrote, "Good science is like good theology, it is what lasts over time, it is what people find usable, it is what gets written into history." I would like to respectfully disagree with you. Good science and good theology are both centered on the truth, not on how long people believe in something and not how usable it might be. History is constantly being rewritten to satisfy political ideologies. Let's go for the truth.
Question: Would please comment on this scientists review of your paper, “The Atomic Constants, Light and Time”.
Setterfield: Thank you for the review. It covers old ground. Let me comment briefly about it.
In the first place a much more rigorous statistical analysis was done on all the data by Canadian statistician A. Montgomery and L. Dolphin and published in a peer-reviewed journal. That data analysis has withstood all criticism. The conclusion those authors came to was the same as in our 1987 Report, namely that the speed of light has dropped with time and that the associated constants were trending as our 1987 Report indicated. That paper by the Canadian statistician is “Is the Velocity of Light Constant in Time?”
Your critic here states that “The data they show is typical of a number that is actually constant. Early measurements have large errors and fluctuate either high or low (usually in only one direction) from later high precision measurements.” What I find interesting here is the insertion of the parenthesis statement (usually in only one direction). It is true that early measurements of a quantity may have large errors, but one thing that was noticed in the case where a constant quantity was involved was that the spread of data points was random around the fixed value. It rarely showed a one-sided departure. In the case of lightspeed, sixteen different methods were employed to measure c. In each case, without exception, the values obtained were always above the currently accepted value. This is not a normal distribution about a fixed point. If, as the critic claims, the data should show a one-sided departure, that would at the very most only pertain to one type of measurement method, and that would be different for the other methods. In short, a one-sided departure from a normal distribution is NOT considered to be the statistical norm for measurement errors.
The second point that needs to be addressed is that the measured drop in c was greater than the experimental error. There are 17 examples in the data set where the same equipment was used at a later date (sometimes by the same observer), and in each case the value of c was lower at the later date than for the earlier one. This is particularly important in the case of the data from Pulkova Observatory. There the data were collected by the aberration method for over 100 years. The data showed a decline in c. Interestingly, the Pulkova environment allowed a systematic error that shifted the value of c into a lower range than by other experiments. Nevertheless, the decline in c values was very apparent, and the early values for c were well above those currently accepted. In each case the decay was non-linear and tapering. At the same time another circumstance must be commented on. In the early 1880’s three different determination of c were made by distinctly different methods. The experimenters were unaware of each other’s activity. All 3 methods gave the same value of c to within 5 km/s, yet the value obtained was nearly 100 km/s greater than now.
This introduces the third point that needs to be made. Physicists of the 19th and 20th centuries admitted that the measured value of c was declining. In 1886, Newcomb commented in Nature for May 13th that the values of c obtained around 1740 were consistent among themselves, but placed c about 1% higher than in the 1880’s. In 1941 Birge made a similar comment about the data obtained in the 1880’s (some of it by Newcomb)) and commented that “These older results are entirely consistent among themselves, but their average is nearly 100 km/s greater than that given by the eight more recent results.” About that same time, Dorsey stated “As is well known to those acquainted with the several determinations of the velocity of light, the definitive values successively reported… have, in general, decreased monotonously…”
As far as the supernovae data are concerned, the quantity being measured was the fine-structure constant. That combines the quantities hc with the electronic charge and the permittivity of free space. It was shown in the paper under review by your critic that Planck’s constant, h, is inversely proportional to c, so that the quantity hc is invariant for all values of h and c. [Note that in 1965 J. H. Sanders commented in “The Fundamental Atomic Constants, p. 13, Oxford, that “Increasing values of h can only partly be accounted for by improvements in instrumental resolution and changes in accepted values of other constants.” A reviewer also commented that instrumental resolution “may in part explain the trend in the figures, but I admit that such an explanation does not appear to be quantitatively adequate.”] With the product hc being invariant, the variations in the value of the fine structure constant do NOT reflect a change in the speed of light, but rather a possible variation in the ratio of the electronic charge (squared) divided by the permittivity of free space in a gravitational field. Therefore, it is inappropriate to use this quantity as evidence for changes in the speed of light. The quantity hc has been measured as constant over astronomical distances by other methods. One cannot deduce any information about the behaviour of either h or c separately from such data.
I trust that gives some balance to the whole discussion.
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