The official site of bestselling author Michael Shermer The official site of bestselling author Michael Shermer

The Electric Universe Acid Test

published October 2015
Discerning science from pseudoscience
magazine cover

Newton was wrong. Einstein was wrong. Black holes do not exist. The big bang never happened. Dark energy and dark matter are unsubstantiated conjectures. Stars are electrically charged plasma masses. Venus was once a comet. The massive Valles Marineris canyon on Mars was carved out in a few minutes by a giant electric arc sweeping across the Red Planet. The “thunderbolt” icons found in ancient art and petroglyphs are not the iconography of imagined gods but realistic representations of spectacular electrical activity in space.

These are just a few of the things I learned at the Electric Universe conference (EU2015) in June in Phoenix. The Electric Universe community is a loose confederation of people who, according to the host organization’s website, believe that “a new way of seeing the physical universe is emerging. The new vantage point emphasizes the role of electricity in space and shows the negligible contribution of gravity in cosmic events.” This includes everything from comets, moons and planets to stars, galaxies and galactic clusters.

I was invited to speak on the difference between science and pseudoscience. The most common theme I gleaned from the conference is that one should be skeptical of all things mainstream: cosmology, physics, history, psychology and even government (I was told that World Trade Center Building 7 was brought down by controlled demolition on 9/11 and that “chemtrails”—the contrails in the sky trailing jets—are evidence of a government climate-engineering experiment).

The acid test of a scientific claim, I explained, is prediction and falsification. My friends at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, for example, tell me they use both Newtonian mechanics and Einstein’s relativity theory in computing highly accurate spacecraft trajectories to the planets. If Newton and Einstein are wrong, I inquired of EU proponent Wallace Thornhill, can you generate spacecraft flight paths that are more accurate than those based on gravitational theory? No, he replied. GPS satellites in orbit around Earth are also dependent on relativity theory, so I asked the conference host David Talbott if EU theory offers anything like the practical applications that theoretical physics has given us. No. Then what does EU theory add? A deeper understanding of nature, I was told. Oh.

Conventional psychology was challenged by Gary Schwartz of the University of Arizona, who, in keeping with the electrical themes of the day, explained that the brain is like a television set and consciousness is like the signals coming into the brain. You need a brain to be conscious, but consciousness exists elsewhere. But TV studios generate and broadcast signals. Where, I inquired, is the consciousness equivalent to such production facilities? No answer.

A self-taught mathematician named Stephen Crothers riffled through dozens of PowerPoint slides chockablock full of equations related to Einstein’s general theory of relativity, which he characterized as “numerology.” Einstein’s errors, Crothers proclaimed, led to the mistaken belief in black holes and the big bang. I understood none of what he was saying, but I am confident he’s wrong by the fact that for a century thousands of physicists have challenged Einstein, and still he stands as Time’s Person of the Century. It’s not impossible that they are all wrong and that this part-time amateur scientist sleuth is right, but it is about as likely as the number of digits after the decimal place in Einstein’s equations accurately describing the relativistic effects on those GPS satellite orbits.

The EU folks I met were unfailingly polite, unquestionably smart and steadfastly unwavering in their belief that they have made one of the most important discoveries in the history of science. Have they? Probably not. The problem was articulated in a comment Thornhill made when I asked for their peer-reviewed papers: “In an interdisciplinary science like the Electric Universe, you could say we have no peers, so peer review is not available.” Without peer review or the requisite training in each discipline, how are we to know the difference between mainstream and alternative theories, of which there are many?

In his book The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, Tom Wolfe quotes Merry Prankster Ken Kesey: “You’re either on the bus or off the bus.” It’s not that EUers are wrong; they’re not even on the bus.

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14 Comments to “The Electric Universe Acid Test”

  1. Liam McDaid Says:


    Crothers kind and polite? Not my experience. Since the facts don’t support them, all they have for any scientists they interact with is abuse and insult, as Paul Davies found out with Crothers as well. Fact finding by ad hominem. It works as well for figuring things out as much as you’d expect.

  2. Russell Willmoth Says:


    You have to be courageous (or well paid) to sit through that lot, especially as they are amazingly impervious to logic.

  3. Dave Talbott Says:

    For a little balance in this exchange readers may want to consider professor Don Scott’s response to Michael’s Scientific American article:
    Dave Talbott
    Director, The Thunderbolts Project

  4. Liam McDaid Says:


    Yeah, it’s about as well balanced as your usual screeds. Leave science to the people who are actually familiar with its practices and don’t use special pleading when the universe does not conform to our desires.

  5. Leroy Ellenberger Says:

    Lest the reader be deceived by Dave Talbott’s referral to Don Scott’s rebuttal defending the “Electric Universe”, he/she should read astrophysicist Tom Bridgman’s August 30th blog post “Electric Universe: The Three Suns of Kristian Birkeland. I.” at which shows, contrary to Scott’s reference to Birkeland’s early electric solar speculations, that Birkeland presented three possible solar electric configurations, the validity of any one being beyond the capability of science 100 years ago. Bridgman’s postings debunking the “Electric Universe” are ignored by such “theorists” as Wallace Thornhill and Don Scott.

    The interested reader should also know that the “Electric Sun” model featured in the “Electric Universe” was concocted by Ralph Juergens, then Velikovsky’s right-hand theoretician, in 1967 in a paper rejected by Nature, that was intended to “reconcile celestial mechanics and Velikovskian catastrophism”, a fact Scott chose to suppress in his 2007 book “The Electric Sky.” The paper was printed in the British Velikovsky journal in the 1970s.

  6. Robert Sheaffer Says:

    Exactly. Just as “Creationism” is now called “Intelligent Design,” “Velikovskian theory” is now called “the Electric Universe”. They don’t want people to associate them with the V-word.

  7. Dave Talbott Says:

    A lot of dismissive rhetoric above and no facts. Since the Shermer article sites Stephen Crothers talk, it might be helpful to consult the actual presentation:

    Then, look into the experimental work now underway, directed by highly capable researchers, to test the “electric Sun” hypothesis. The future of scientific discovery will be determined by those eager to test new possibilities under the rigors of experimental design. The shameful rhetoric above, pretending that the issues raised are already settled, can only embarrass real scientists who want to know.

  8. Ray Sutera Says:

    “Then, look into the experimental work now underway, directed by highly capable researchers…”

    Having said this, with the addition of a degree from a diploma mill, you could become a bona fide creationist!

  9. JP.Baquiast Says:

    It would be interesting to have a scientific explanation about why all these people are delirious collectively

  10. Liam McDaid Says:


    Easy. It’s called cognitive dissonance for some, and sunk cost fallacy for the more cynical – which are those who know better but feel they have no choice besides doubling down on a bad bet:

    Much research has already been done on this and the reason science exists is to avoid this problem. Dave’s (et al.) belief system claims to be science (because even the densest creationist sees its power), but they don’t understand how it works.

  11. Leroy Ellenberger Says:

    Dave Talbott’s comments above can be given no credence because he, as with all the other Electric Universe enthusiasts and theorists, lives inside the proverbial “reality distortion field” made famous by Steve Jobs whereby they ignore astrophysicist Tom Bridgman’s many postings on his blog explaining the many failings of “electric universe theory,” such as the one included in his 16 January 2013 letter to the editor of New Scientist: “And if stars were powered by external electric currents rather than fusion then the accompanying particle fluxes and fields would damage satellites and kill astronauts, which of course is not something we see happening.” I am not aware of any Electric Universe theorist disproving this criticism. See Bridgman’s 9 & 16 September 2012 postings at for detailed presentation. At the time “Nereid” was preparing for a debate with Talbott on the Thunderbolts Forum, Bridgman’s March 3, 2011, email to her noted: “In many cases it seems that the mentality is not only that they don’t know something, but they extrapolate their lack of knowledge to claim that no one else could possibly know more about the topic.” Thus, inside their reality distortion field Talbott and his followers believe stars are isothermal and isodense, powered by a flux of relativistic galactic electrons and there is no convection in the Sun’s photosphere.

  12. David Talbott Says:

    It seems that Leroy Ellenberger has not kept up with any of the enigmas that have so troubled solar physicists in recent years. Well qualified specialists have now been searching for overturning convention on the Sun for years.

    See L.R. Bellot Rubio, et al, “Searching for overturning convection in penumbral filaments” (2010): “Either no downflows exist, or we have been unable to observe them”

    See New York University press release (2012): “Researchers Create ‘MRI’ of the Sun’s Interior Motions. “…Convective motions are currently believed to prop up large-scale circulations in the outer third of the Sun that generate magnetic fields. However, our results suggest that convective motions in the Sun are nearly 100 times smaller than these current theoretical expectations.”

    Two completely different investigations of the theorized convection absolutely and unequivocally REQUIRED by the standard model find nothing of the sort.

    Then again this is just one of hundreds of reasons to doubt the theoretical assumptions that have so long dominated the space sciences. Well qualified scientists are in fact examining the behavior of the Sun from a radically new, explicitly electrical vantage point. Look for news on the SAFIRE Project in the months ahead.

    In the meantime question every assertion by today’s Inquisitors, who simply do not want to know.

  13. Liam McDaid Says:


    So the last refuge of all pseudoscience is reached. When all else fails, claim a conspiracy. It’s unfalsifiable so no one can ever definitively lay it to rest with the added benefit of keeping the people who believe in you (and know nothing about science) your loyal subjects.

  14. David Talbott Says:

    Liam, what in the world are you talking about? Who suggested anything about a “conspiracy”? As far as I can tell, accusing people of being conspiracy theorists is the last refuge of someone wanting to change the subject before being laughed off the stage.

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