Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Planet cupcake

(One of a series of reposts, for your enjoyment while I'm on vacation.  First posted in June 2011.)


We've had a good bit of geological activity lately, here on the Earth.  Most scientists attribute this to plate tectonics, the shifting of Earth's geological plates relative to one another.  Their attitude is that these processes have been going on throughout Earth's history, and that any apparent clustering of tectonic events is simple coincidence, insignificant in the bigger picture.

Neal Adams disagrees.

Adams calls our attention to recent phenomena such as the following:
  • The formation of a three-kilometer-long crack in the ground in Huakullani Chukuito, Peru, following an earthquake
  • The opening of a wedge-shaped, 500-meter-long, 60-meter-deep rift in Ethiopia, along the Great Rift Valley
  • The sudden creation of a crack in the ground in Iceland, and the subsequent draining of Lake Kleifarvatn into the fissure
  • The presence of a deep hydrothermal vent in the Mid-Cayman Rise, a spreading center in the middle of the Caribbean Sea
  • Increasing tension along the San Andreas Fault, causing cracks and fissures to form
Adams takes these stories, and many others like them, and has decided that the conventional explanation -- that all of these places are on plate margins, so cracks in the ground are to be expected -- is wrong.  And in a classic case of adding two plus two and getting 113, he has deduced the following:

The Earth is expanding.

Yes, just like a cupcake in the oven, the Earth is getting bigger, and as it does, its surface cracks and splits.  The tectonic plates are a mere side-effect of this phenomenon, and are basically the broken up surface of the cupcake, pulled apart as the inside swelled.  Now, a cupcake, of course, is only increasing in volume, as the air bubbles in the batter get bigger; its mass remains the same.  Is that what's happening here?  Some kind of planetary dough rising?

No, says Adams -- the Earth is actually gaining mass.

Wait, you might be saying; what about the Law of Conservation of Mass, which is strictly enforced in most jurisdictions?  Simple, Adams says.  No problemo.  Physicists have demonstrated that empty space can give rise to electron/positron pairs without any violation of physical law, because of the presence of "vacuum energy."  "Empty space" is actually, they say, a roiling foam of particles and antiparticles, most of which annihilate each other immediately.

So, Adams says, this sort of pair-production is happening inside the Earth.  So it's gaining mass.  And expanding.

Of course, Adams conveniently ignores the fact that half of the mass thus produced would be antimatter; if the Earth's middle was producing matter and antimatter fast enough to pop open cracks on the surface, the antimatter would follow the E = mcrule (also strictly enforced) and blow us to smithereens.  After all, you may recall from scientific documentaries such as Star Trek what happens when antimatter containment is lost -- Captain Kirk strikes a dramatic pose, usually with his shirt ripped open, and they break to a commercial.  And heaven knows we don't want that to happen.

So there are some problems with Adams' theory.  But this hasn't stopped websites from popping up supporting the Cupcake Earth Hypothesis, and in fact Adams himself has made a video to illustrate the idea.  The video, which you should only watch if you are willing to risk your IQ dropping significantly, must be true because (1) it has cool animation of the Earth shrinking and the continents fitting together as you go back in time, and (2) uses dramatic music from 2001: A Space Odyssey.  Notwithstanding those points in its favor, it raises a few key questions:
  • What happened to all of the oceans?
  • If the Earth really was (let's say) a quarter as massive, 100 million years ago, it would have had a quarter of the gravitational pull.  Which would have resulted in a good bit of our atmosphere leaking out into space, not to mention herds of enormous dinosaurs bouncing about the landscape in the fashion of Neil Armstrong on the surface of the moon.  So where did our atmosphere come from?
  • Why am I spending so much time and effort addressing this moronic theory?
As far as the last question, I recognize that I can't debunk every goofy idea in the world, and in fact originally intended to write about marginally more reasonable claims, such as sightings of Sea Serpents off the coast of England.  But then I saw that the Expanding Earth theory actually had a Wikipedia page, and I thought, "I guess I'd better investigate."  So I did, at the cost of thousands of valuable brain cells.  It's a sacrifice, and one most of my friends would say I can ill afford, but I'm all about selfless acts for the benefit of my loyal readers.


  1. Found an old atlas in our books that promoted the Expanding Earth theory, that it was Plate Tectonics that was conjecture and unproven. I think the expansion idea was not unlike a baking cupcake, that as it grows the Earth becomes less dense, like the way bread gets holes in it, even as its mass doesn't change.
    Not saying I agree, but that sometimes even established science does change, after a second and third look at the evidence. Then again, those changes are based on things that can be tested and understood. The Cupcake Earth isn't half as crazy as some things.

  2. Okay, to clarify, it was our old Reader's Digest Atlas of 1963, and did not dwell on the Expanding Earth idea much, only saying that (at the time) the scientific evidence for plate tectonics was sketchy, but didn't rule it out either.
    It's the idea that scientists are in some Grand Conspiracy against this week's brilliant new claptrap that gives the real agenda away.