by David C. Wise
On 26 May 1999, I received an email asking for more information about the mathematical errors I found in Slusher's moondust formula. On 03 Jun 1999, I responded with the following email. I received no reply to my response.
File: MOONDUST.TXT (17301 bytes)
DL Time (TCP/IP): < 1 minute
I just got your email on Wednesday, 26 May, but am in the middle of a very intense work schedule, so my response has been delayed.
>>In your article on your personal history with the "moon dust" issue you mentioned that the calculations were in error (or possibly inflated on purpose). Have you ever written up, or have access to, or can point me to, a small white paper which details exactly what is entailed in this mathematical "error". (I am an electrical engineer with some ability to read and understand these things.)<<
Certainly. I have gone through the details elsewhere over the years, but have not yet done so more formally. I hope that this response will form the kernel of that exposition.
I would have to dig through my files to piece together the actual sequence of events, but as I recall from over 12 years ago, I heard Henry Morris make the moondust claim in a debate in 1985, I believe in response to his opponent (either Frank Awbrey or Bill Thwaites) having pointed out that many creationist references are to out-dated sources, where he heavily stressed the "recent" nature of this source, "well into the space age!" I forgot to ask about it when I wrote to Morris about the Two-Model Approach, but included it in a letter to Duane Gish about some claims he had made on the Ray Briem Show (a Los Angeles talk-radio show) in 1984. In his response, Gish included a copy of the letter in which Harold Slusher had presented that claim. I converted that letter to HTML and uploaded it onto my site at http://cre-ev.dwise1.net/slusher.html. When I tried to access it on Wednesday (26 May), MS Internet Explorer v3.01b complained in a pop-up window that it could not open it. I did not get the standard AOL page that the URL does not exist, so that told me that the page was there, but was somehow unreadable. I then tried Netscape and found that a block of binary "junk" had somehow been appended to the beginning of that page. I'm sure that it had tested out right when I had uploaded it. I uploaded it again and tested it the next day and a couple more times since then; it still checks out fine.
You can read Slusher's source letter at http://cre-ev.dwise1.net/slusher.html. I had endeavored to make it an accurate representation.
In that letter, Slusher writes: "These are fiqures on dust influx onto the Earth and also the Moon. The figures I am using below for the calculations come from Hawkins, G.S. ed., 1976. Meteor Orbits and Dust, Smithsonian Contributions to Astrophysics. Volume II, Smithsonian Institution and NASA, Washington, D.C. These collected papers are based on radar, rocket and satellite data well into the 'space age'."
When I was browsing through the NASA documents in the Cal-State University, Fullerton, library for something else, I stumbled across "Meteor Orbits and Dust" and pulled it off the shelf, immediately revealing Slusher's first errors. The front cover states in unmistakable font "Volume 11" (serifs at the bottom extending in both directions and serifs at the top extending only to the left). It also states the location and the date of the symposium in bold letters 5 mm high: "Cambridge, Mass. August 9-13, 1965" The printing date of 1967 is not displayed on the cover, but rather at the bottom of the title page in letters 2 mm high. To get to the 1967 date, one would need to go past the title page's paragraph: "Results of a symposium held August 9-13, 1965, at Cambridge, Mass, and sponsored by the Smithsonian Institution and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. This Publication is Volume 11 of Smithsonian Contributions to Astrophysics." I verified that this was indeed the publication that Slusher referenced by noting that the pages he cites contain text similar enough to what he says they do.
Slusher's formula does not appear in the document, but rather he had derived it himself and plugged in factors taken from the document. You may read the formula and the descriptions of its factors on my page (http://cre-ev.dwise1.net/slusher.html).
The two factors in question are: 1. "10^2 = the measured flux average frequently showed increase by a factor of 170 for extended periods of time (so this factor is used to estimate changes in the flux) (p. 269)." 2. "10^4 = factor from observation and theory for gravitational enhancement of particles sink for the Earth (p. 222)."
On page 269, it says: "The flux of small dust particles observed in the vicinity of the earth sometimes undergoes large systematic variations with time. On one occasion, the flux rose by a factor of 170 above the average value. The measured flux also shows variations by a factor of 10 within intervals of a few hours' duration."
First, as you can see, Slusher did not accurately quote his source. One occasion hardly qualifies as "frequently". Nor, when you are talking about billions of years, would a few hours qualify as "extended periods of time". Also, his factor of 100 is an entire order of magnitude greater than the factor of increase experienced in the "extended periods of time" that he cites. But this is not the main problem I have with this factor.
Second, Slusher's formula applies the AVERAGE flux over an extended period of time, 4.5 billion years. Certainly we could expect the flux to increase at times, but we would also expect a proportionate DECREASE balancing out the increase, otherwise the average would be higher. When one uses an average rate over an extended period of time to obtain an overall value, one does not normally use excursions from the average. Excursions would be of more interest in statistical analysis and in constructing best-case and worst-case studies, none of which Slusher was attempting to do. Therefore, I consider this additional factor of 100 not to be applicable and to have inflated his results by that amount.
Slusher's own source states that the second factor, the "10^4 = factor from observation and theory for gravitational enhancement of particles sink for the Earth", is not applicable. Bear in mind here that Slusher's formula is for an average particle mass of 1.3x10^(-6).
The top of the cited page, page 222, mentions Slusher's factor's value only in passing: "An enhancement of the flux by a factor ~10^4 therefore requires v = ~0.1 km/sec." However, further down the page it states: "The available direct measurements apply for dust particles with masses m<~10^(-7)g, with the maximum enhancement of the flux occurring for dust particles with masses in the neighborhood of m~10(-11) g." Furthermore, on an earlier page (214), it says: "The geocentric enhancement of the flux of small dust particles, as shown in figure 1, begins to appear at a particle mass between 10^(-6) and 10^(-7) g and reaches a maximum (~10^4 enhancement) for dust particles with masses in the neighborhood of m~10^(-11) g." And on pages 267 and 268, it states: "The flux of meteoroids is essentially the same near the earth as in interplanetary space near the orbit of the earth, but the flux of small dust particles having masses m < 10^(-6) g shows a geocentric enhancement of the flux." and "The degree of enhancement of the flux depends on the particle mass and appears to reach a maximum of about 10^4 for a particle mass m ~ 10^(-11) g." Five lines below that last quote, Slusher obtained his "average" rate of 10^(-12) particles /cm^2/sec/(2pi steradians): "... a flux of 10^(-8) particles/m^2/sec/(2pi ster) for meteroroids having masses m~1.3x10^(-6)."
As Slusher's source clearly states, the flux enhancement that Slusher cites is only applicable for particles of less mass than the particle mass that Slusher uses in his calculations; it only begins to appear below this mass. Therefore, the proper value of this factor in Slusher's calculations should be unity (1). By including the maximum enhancement factor of 10^4 (which is only applicable for masses 10^(-5) of what Slusher is using), Slusher inflates his results by that factor (10^4 for the earth and 10^3 for the moon).
In summary, inclusion of these two factors inflates Slusher's results by a factor of 1,000,000 for the earth and 100,000 for the moon. Taking his calculation for the mass of dust accumulated on the moon in 4.5 Gyr and assuming an average density of 0.07 lb/in^3, Slusher derived a dust-layer thickness of 284.8 feet. Correcting his inflated results by the lunar factor of 100,000 gives us a layer thickness of 0.0342 inches, which is far less than we actually found. QED
>>As far as the date issue I can give them the benefit of the doubt: 1967 vs 1976 COULD have been a simple switch of the two digits 7 and 6. (Of course their behavior once this simple transposition was pointed out leaves something to be desired).<<
I most certainly agree that one cannot not make too much of a case out of switched digits. Most definitely, it is an error that can be immediately and universally identified as such (ie, nobody capable of reading numbers could honestly claim that no error exists) and that should be acknowledged and corrected as quickly as possible. Furthermore, it can be corrected without loss of face, since there should be no reason to disbelieve claims of lack of malfeasance.
I also definitely agree that their handling of the error left a lot to be desired. By attempting to cover up the error and to ignore it, they have revealed their intent to deceive, even if that intent were not present in the original claim. Personally, I feel that they knew what they were doing and that their attempts to cover up the error and to ignore it belie any subsequent claims they may attempt to make of their own innocence in the matter.
A few points:
Wheeler and Lovell did not realize that Harold Slusher was the source of both cases of inverted digits, since they apparently did not receive a copy of Slusher's letter. Now, the question is whether Slusher's apparent dyslexia only manifests itself in writing dates and whether it always just happens to work out in his favor.
- When you pick up a copy of "Meteor Orbits and Dust", you need to dig down to the bottom of the title page, where the printing date of 1967 is given inobtrusively in normal-sized font (normal, 2 mm high). Rather, featured very prominently (bold font, 5 mm high) on the front cover is the date of the symposium where these papers were presented: August 9-13, 1965. I find it difficult to imagine how Slusher could have missed that.
- For those using this claim, the most important thing about it is the post-Apollo "1976" date, "well into the space age" (I have heard that phrase intoned every time a creationist uses this claim).
- When I wrote to Gish informing him of this error, I included photocopies of the cover and of pertinent pages of the document, with the pertinent passages highlighted. Even with the hard evidence right in front of him, he insisted in writing that the "1976" date was completely correct and the NASA document was indeed written "well into the space age." When I redirected his attention to the photocopies (which I enclosed a second time), his response was dead silence. A few years later, I attended a presentation by Gish that had been announced in Acts & Facts, after which I again asked him about the meteor dust claim, though without identifying myself nor reminding him of our earlier correspondence. He feigned total ignorance of the subject and asked for my name and address so that he could look it up for me and mail me the answer. Instead, he immediately cancelled my subscription to Acts & Facts without any notification.
- When Tom Wheeler and Frank Lovell researched the same claim, they "were party to another strange, creationist tale of reversed digits!" (http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/hovind/howgood.html -- pertinent portion of that page attached to this email). Another source of other meteoric dust data from "well into the space age" was cited: Nazarove, I.N. Rocket and Satellite Investigations of Meteors presented at the fifth meeting of the COMITE Speciale De L'annee Geophysique International, Moscow, August 1985. But having already discovered the truth about the "1976" date and remembering that the International Geophysical Year was 1957-1958, they dug around and found in Nature [182:294 (1958)] that the fifth meeting of the Special Committee was held in Moscow in July-August 1958, and that it included a symposium on the rocket and satellite program, so this obviously was the source of the reference. The intermediate source of that claim was Richard Bliss of the ICR and he said that he had gotten it from Harold Slusher.
By the way, I did write to Slusher asking him about this claim, but he never responded. Wheeler and Lovell also got no response from him and were later informed by another party that Slusher is notorious for ignoring his mail. "Dr." Slusher is currently on the staff of the Physics Department at the University of Texas at El Paso, as he was when he wrote his letter in 1985 (the letter was on UTEP letterhead). While other professors post their email addresses and some kind of a bio, his is locked up tight. I'm sure that is a necessary precaution, since there must be a lot of people out there who want to ask him a lot of questions.
BTW, I placed quotation marks around Slusher's title of "Dr", because there is some concern about the legitimacy of that title. A number of creationists "PhD"s, including Slusher's, have been checked up on and found to be questionable; see http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/credentials.html. I noticed that the UTEP site does not divulge what degrees Slusher claims to hold, nor from where. Normally, a college or university likes to brag about the academic background of its instructors.
[2005 Jul 09 -- Upon checking the UTEP Physics Department site recently, I found that Slusher's email address is now posted.]
I haven't gotten around yet to writing the epilogue on this affair. A few years later, a fundamentalist friend became curious about all this, so he wrote to the ICR asking about meteor dust on the moon. A graduate student answered the letter, saying that the ICR had long since dropped that claim, because there are too many unknowns to come up with anything definite, and quoted out of H. Morris' book/attack on Davis Young, "Science, Scripture, and the Young Earth" (1989, 95 pp.), that the moon-dust claims are unreliable and are no longer used because of the difficulty in getting a consistent value for the rate of meteoric dust infall. Okay, it looks like the ICR does occasionally correct itself, after all.
But now, a decade after the ICR said that they had washed their hands of the moon-dust claim, their books still propagage it. Morris' "Scientific Creationism" is still sold in bookstores and directly from the ICR with the admittedly bogus moon-dust claims still in it, as are several other creationist books (eg, Ackermann's "It's a Young Earth After All", which bases an entire chapter solely on Slusher's bogus NASA claim). You can walk into just about any Christian bookstore that sells ICR books, pick one up, and read in their ubiquitous age-of-the-earth "evidences" list that the accumulation of moon dust shows the earth to be about 10,000 years old and references Morris' "Scientific Creationism."
I can't really say whether the ICR is deliberately continuing to make claims that it has admitted to be false, or it is just being sloppy. Either way, the effect is the same.
The moon-dust argument is still very popular among creationists. Even though the ICR has gone through the motions of trying to distance themselves from it after Slusher's claim blew up in their faces, their publications still carry that claim and I wouldn't be surprised to learn that they continue to use it in their debates. A search through web-space shows that the moon dust claim continues to circulate widely among creationists and the literature presents it to newly arrived creationists as if it were still the current doctrine.
This illustrates the principal strength of creation science: even though its claims have been refuted, every few years there comes along a new generation of creationists who are not aware of what had gone before them and who accept without question the same old false claims that have already been refuted many times before -- verily, a sucker is born every minute.
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First uploaded on 2001 October 19.
Last updated on 2011 July 28.