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  • Archive for the 'Science' Category

    “Scientists Say”

    Posted by David Foster on 28th September 2016 (All posts by )

    Almost every day, I see a headline that starts with the words “scientists say”…everything from “Scientists say pizza is better than money for motivating employees” to “scientists say men who are good listeners are better at sex.”  Sometimes the headlines go even further and assert that “science says.”

    If you try to track down the actual headlines behinds these assertions, you will often find a study done on 40 or so undergraduates, sometimes using questionable methodologies, on which the journalists base their imprimatur of ‘science says.’  And very often, you can’t ever read the study unless you’re willing to pay $30 or more for the privilege, because it’s in an access-controlled journal.  This doesn’t stop the university PR departments from issuing breathless press releases about the study conclusions, though.

    It’s sort of sad–scientific publishing was once a way of disseminating information; now it functions largely as a means for limiting access to information.  I have a hard time understanding why publicly-funded research shouldn’t be required to be publicly available on the Internet at no or minimal cost.

    I think the ‘scientists say’ and ‘science says’ memes would not work in a society where most of the population had some degree of scientific education.  Science is not shamanism, and scientists are not oracles.

    Posted in Academia, Media, Science, USA | 25 Comments »

    Socio-Economic Modeling and Behavioral Simulations

    Posted by Michael Hiteshew on 2nd June 2016 (All posts by )

    SimulationsIn his Foundation series of books, Isaac Asimov imagined a science, which he termed psycho-history, that combined elements of psychology, history, economics, and statistics to predict the behaviors of large population over time under a given set of socio-economic conditions. It’s an intriguing idea. And I have no doubt much, much more difficult to do than it sounds, and it doesn’t sound particularly easy to begin with.

    Behavioral modeling is currently being used in many of the science and engineering disciplines. Finite element analysis (FEA), for example, is used to model electromagnetic effects, thermal effects and structural behaviors under varying conditions. The ‘elements’ in FEA are simply building blocks, maybe a tiny cube of aluminum, that are given properties like stiffness, coefficient of thermal expansion, thermal resistivity, electrical resistivity, flexural modulus, tensile strength, mass, etc. Then objects are constructed from these blocks and, under stimulus, they take on macro-scale behaviors as a function of their micro-scale properties. There are a couple of key ideas to keep in mind here, however. The first is that inanimate objects do not exercise free will. The second is that the equations used to derive effects are based on first principles, which is to say basic laws of physics, which are tested and well understood. A similar approach is used for computational fluid dynamics (CFD), which is used to model the atmosphere for weather prediction, the flow of water over a surface for dam design, or the flow of air over an aircraft model. The power of these models lies in the ability of the user to vary both the model and the input stimulus parameters and then observe the effects. That’s assuming you’ve built your model correctly. That’s the crux of it, isn’t it?

    I was listening to a lecture on the work of a Swiss team of astrophysicists the other day called the Quantum Origins of Space and Time. They made an interesting prediction based on the modeling they’ve done of the structure of spacetime. In a result sure to disappoint science fiction fans everywhere, they predict that wormholes do not exist. The reason for the prediction is simply that when they allow them to exist at the quantum level, they cannot get a large scale universe to form over time. When they are disallowed, the same models create De Sitter universes like the one we have.

    It occurred to me that it would be interesting to have the tools to run models with societies. Given the state of a society X, what is the economic effect of tax policy Y. More to the point, what is cumulative effect of birth rate A, distribution of education levels B, distribution of personal debt C, distribution of state tax rates D, federal debt D, total cost to small business types 1-100 in tax and regulations, etc.  This would allow us to test the effects of our current structure of tax, regulation, education and other policies. Setting up the model would be a gargantuan task. You would need to dedicate the resources of an institute level organization with expertise across a wide range of disciplines. Were we to succeed in building even a basic functioning model, its usefulness would be beyond estimation to the larger society.

    It’s axiomatic that anything powerful can and will be weaponized. It is also completely predictable that the politically powerful would see this as a tool for achieving their agenda. Simply imagine the software and data sets under the control of a partisan governing body. How might they bias the data to skew the output to a desired state? How might they bias the underlying code? Might an enemy state hack the system with the goal to have you adopt damaging policies, doing the work of social destruction at no expense or risk to them?

    Is this achievable? I think yes. All or most of the building blocks exist: computational tools, data, statistical mathematics and economic models. We are in the state we were in with regard to computers in the 1960s, before microprocessors. All the building blocks existed as separate entities, but they had not been integrated in a single working unit at the chip level. What’s needed is the vision, funding and expertise to put it all together. This might be a good project for DARPA.

    Posted in Book Notes, Deep Thoughts, Economics & Finance, Organizational Analysis, Science, Statistics, Systems Analysis | 46 Comments »

    The Navajo Sandstone

    Posted by Michael Hiteshew on 30th May 2016 (All posts by )

    Early Jurassic

    Early Jurassic

    200 million years ago North America sat about 20 degrees above the equator. The newly born Mid-Atlantic Ridge was breaking Pangea apart, separating Laurentia from Gondwana, and one arm of the rift feature was beginning to propagate through Gondwana, beginning the separation of South America as well.

    Western Laurentia was a sea of sand, the remnants of which are still found all across the western USA as massive cliffs of buff colored sandstone, often over 1,000 feet high. The defining features of the Navajo Sandstone, besides its color, are the the large-scale cross-bedding and its tendency to weather across its exposed top surface into domes and rounded forms. The Navajo was one the largest seas of sand dunes ever seen on the planet. The most spectacular exposures of the Navajo are to be seen at Zion National Park where it reaches more than 2,500 feet in thickness. When the Colorado Plateau was uplifted in the Laramide Orogeny in last 45 million years, that created a lot of elevation difference between the uplifted ground surface and sea level, which allowed water to cut deeply through  the rock, exposing it to erosion. If you look at the cross section of the Grand Staircase below, you’ll see that more than a mile of rock has already been eroded from the ground above the Grand Canyon, the Vermillion Cliffs, and the White Cliffs of Navajo.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Science, USA | 9 Comments »

    The Sun

    Posted by Michael Hiteshew on 9th May 2016 (All posts by )

    From NASA TV, here’s an image of Mercury transiting the sun today:

    Mercury Transit

    Mercury Transit

    That image gives a good feel for the scale of the planets versus the sun. Earth would appear a little more than twice that size. Here’s an amazing 4k time lapse video of the sun in various ultraviolet wavelengths. Based on the scale of Mercury in the image above, pick out a small feature in this video and consider the entire Earth would probably fit inside it. Then by comparison, consider the scale and the energies of the loops and streams and mass ejections in this video.

    The video is even more amazing just left running in full screen on an HD monitor . It’s completely mesmerizing.

    NASA Ultra-HD Video Gallery

    Posted in Science, Space | 1 Comment »

    Intelligent Design

    Posted by Michael Hiteshew on 26th March 2016 (All posts by )

    Sistine_Chapel

    I believe in the evolution of life, I think there’s lots of fossil evidence for it and none for a single-point-of-time creation of mankind. I also believe in the evolution of the universe for the same reason. 14.5 billion years ago the universe came into existence as a hot plasma, from which galaxies, stars and planets condensed. How simple and straightforward is that?

    It could hardly be more complex. Starting with the universe, no one can explain from where the universe came or into what it is expanding. In other words, we can say “The following things have happened and here’s the evidence”. And that’s fine, I accept the evolutionary description. What’s missing is how a universe of material was born from a point in nowhere. No one wants to talk about that and will cry “No fair!” if you try to discuss it. It is unanswerable, apparently. How does one discuss what happened or even what existed in a time before time existed? And no one wants to think about the consequences of that violating every principle of what we call science and physics. It’s too uncomfortable to confront.

    Biologists will tell you life is easy to create. It seems to have existed on Earth within a few hundred million years of its formation. Provide a suitable habitat that’s warm and stable, wet with water or suitable liquid, add energy and a few raw materials like carbon and hydrogen, and bingo! you get life. We’ve been trying that for 50 years and can’t get that experiment to work. We get complex chemicals forming similar to the ones we see in life forms, but nothing that’s alive.

    Something fundamental bothers me about all this. Why? There’s no answer to that question. It’s the question we seem to be asking from the moment we’re born, children ask it endlessly. Why should a universe pop into existence out of nothing? Why should life exist in it? What is the purpose of either? For all of our ability to describe what happened, we cannot answer the why of it. How could something like life come into existence from inanimate matter unless it was designed to do so? Carl Sagan famously quipped, “If you want to make an apple pie, first you must create the universe.” That’s very profound in its way. The simplest things, like a pie, require the inexplicable to have occurred, and on a scale beyond human comprehension.

    In the end, it seems, I have no answers, only questions. But I reject the notion that all of this is meaningless. A universe does not exist for no reason. Life does not exist for nothing. It all exists for us to learn, to experience it. It’s where our souls grow up. It’s where our spirit evolves. That’s what I think.

     

    Posted in Deep Thoughts, Philosophy, Science | 54 Comments »

    Another step for Craig Venter.

    Posted by Michael Kennedy on 24th March 2016 (All posts by )

    cell

    I have previously posted about Venter’s work with synthetic organisms.

    While I was digesting this new material, Craig Venter was making the Gene VII book obsolete. He set up a new company to compete with the Human Genome Project The result is well described in The Genome War by James Shreeve who was given access to Venter but less to the government funded project. This year, Venter’s autobiography was published and his plans for the future are described.

    The links are at the original article which is from 2007.

    Now, his group has progressed to a synthetic bacterium.

    Using the first synthetic cell, Mycoplasma mycoides JCVI-syn1.0 (created by this same team in 2010), JCVI-syn3.0 was developed through a design, build, and test process using genes from JCVI-syn1.0. The new minimal synthetic cell contains 531,560 base pairs and just 473 genes, making it the smallest genome of any organism that can be grown in laboratory media. Of these genes 149 are of unknown biological function. By comparison the first synthetic cell, M. mycoides JCVI-syn1.0 has 1.08 million base pairs and 901 genes.

    A paper describing this research is being published in the March 25th print version of the journal Science by lead authors Clyde A. Hutchison, III, Ph.D. and Ray-Yuan Chuang, Ph.D., senior author J. Craig Venter, Ph.D., and senior team of Hamilton O. Smith, MD, Daniel G. Gibson, Ph.D., and John I. Glass, Ph.D.

    This is huge news and will take years to develop.

    The most surprising result of their work—and perhaps the most sobering one for the rest of the field: The team still doesn’t understand what 31 percent of the essential genes do in even the simplest organism, to say nothing of a human genome. It’s a development Venter called “very humbling.”

    “We are probably at the 1 percent level in understanding the human genome,” said Clyde Hutchison III, a distinguished professor at the Venter Institute.

    That lack of knowledge isn’t standing in the way of entrepreneurs. Biology has been “hot and heavy” since the development of a molecular tool that makes gene editing easy, Hutchison explained. Scientists might be able to remove disease-causing genes or even determine a baby’s eye color. This technology, known as CRISPR/Cas-9, has alarmed many inside and outside the research community, who fear it may be used on the human genome before its effects are understood, with unforeseen results.

    If he does another public seminar, I hope my friend Bradley can get me a ticket. I am now reading Lewin’s Genes XI, although he seems to be no longer the editor.

    I hope I can wade through it. Sometimes, as knowledge progresses, it becomes simpler. I hope so.

    “These cells would be a very, very useful chassis for many industrial applications, from medicine to biochemicals, biofuels, nutrition, and agriculture,” said Dan Gibson, a top scientist at both Venter’s research institute and his company, Synthetic Genomics Inc. Ultimately, the group wants to understand the tiny genetic framework well enough to use it as a biological foundation for more complex organisms that could address many of the world’s ills. Once each essential gene’s function is identified, scientists can build an effective computer model of it; from there, they can simulate how best to go about “adding pathways for the production of useful products,” they wrote.

    I will be following this story closely, if I can only understand it.

    Posted in Book Notes, Miscellaneous, Science | 5 Comments »

    Quote of the Day

    Posted by Jonathan on 17th March 2016 (All posts by )

    Charles Murray, quoting himself and Richard Herrnstein from The Bell Curve:

    In sum: If tomorrow you knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that all the cognitive differences between races were 100 percent genetic in origin, nothing of any significance should change. The knowledge would give you no reason to treat individuals differently than if ethnic differences were 100 percent environmental. By the same token, knowing that the differences are 100 percent environmental in origin would not suggest a single program or policy that is not already being tried. It would justify no optimism about the time it will take to narrow the existing gaps. It would not even justify confidence that genetically based differences will not be upon us within a few generations. The impulse to think that environmental sources of difference are less threatening than genetic ones is natural but illusory.
     
    In any case, you are not going to learn tomorrow that all the cognitive differences between races are 100 percent genetic in origin, because the scientific state of knowledge, unfinished as it is, already gives ample evidence that environment is part of the story. But the evidence eventually may become unequivocal that genes are also part of the story. We are worried that the elite wisdom on this issue, for years almost hysterically in denial about that possibility, will snap too far in the other direction. It is possible to face all the facts on ethnic and race differences on intelligence and not run screaming from the room. That is the essential message [pp. 314-315].

    Posted in Culture, Human Behavior, Quotations, Science, Society, Statistics | 4 Comments »

    Rough-Hewn Land: California to the Rocky Mountains

    Posted by Michael Hiteshew on 6th March 2016 (All posts by )

    RoughHewnLandKeith Meldahl, a geologist and professor of geology, has written one of the most interesting books on the history of the American West I’ve ever encountered. It’s a history of how it got the way it is, physically. He covers the creation of California – it’s only recently been pasted onto North America – how the Sierra Nevada formed and what it actually is, why Nevada looks like it does, how the Colorado Plateau got there, how the Rocky Mountains were formed, and some very interesting and odd details as well. Along the way, he provides a few vignettes of the early explorers and settlers and their often brutal encounters with these features.

    Probably the two most important players in all this are something you’ve never heard of, the Farallon Plate, and the North America continent itself. Long story short, 240 million years ago  the world’s landmasses had merged together into single massive conglomeration called Pangea (All Land). Prior to that time, North America had moved West to East, the East coast was the active margin and the West coast, which then ended in a line from Wyoming across Utah and through Nevada, trailed along. The eventual impact with Africa raised the Appalachians to Himalaya scale and merged us to it like India to Asia. By 150 million years ago, Pangea was breaking apart and a newly born mid-ocean ridge opened the Atlantic Ocean for the first time. As the ridge continued to build new seafloor, it spread apart. Everything east of that ridge began being pushed to the east, and everything west of it, including North America, began being pushed to the west. It was then that things began changing for the western states. You can page through that 100 million years at Arcadia Street for a glimpse at the plant and animal life you would have seen, had you been there.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Book Notes, Environment, History, North America, Science, USA | 8 Comments »

    Catch D’Wave

    Posted by Michael Hiteshew on 5th March 2016 (All posts by )

     

    QuantumChipDWave

     

    D-Wave Systems, located in British Columbia, is a builder of commercial quantum computers. It stores bits as magnetic directions in one of three states: clockwise, counterclockwise, and both directions simultaneously. The math and physics are far beyond me, but they claim to solve certain sets of optimization problems up to 100,000,000 times faster than classical computers. Customers for their computers, which cost $10 million apiece, include Lockheed Martin, an unnamed intelligence agency (NSA?), Google, JPL and NASA Ames Research.

    Applications appear to be computationally intensive problems with lots of variables, and the solution involves a process called quantum annealing, where an optimal approach is found by exploring millions of solutions simultaneously to find the most efficient solution path. I’m reminded of a discussion on the famous double slit experiment, a classic physics experiment that demonstrates photons displaying behaviors of both waves and particles, known as wave-particle duality. Most interesting is that quantum probabilistic behaviors are also observed, in that the experiment functions differently when the particle paths are observed and when they are not. When the photons in the experiment are observed, the probability function collapses and the photons behave like a particles. If they are not observed, the photons take many paths through the slits and create a dispersed pattern on the target. That behavior has been described as “spooky”, because the particles seem to know when they are being observed. Weird, I know. It’s been said that anyone who claims to understand quantum mechanics is lying. But that doesn’t mean we can’t describe its behavior. Richard Feynman explained that at the quantum level, every possible path a photon can take is considered, and the path chosen is a probability function, like a bell curve. As photons are emitted from a source, the most likely path is taken most often, but some photons will take slightly less probable paths, still other even less probable paths, and so on. Quantum annealing seems to be a form of that, where many paths are simultaneously considered until a most probable path emerges, then it is chosen.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Science, Tech | 5 Comments »

    The Fermi Paradox and SETI

    Posted by Michael Hiteshew on 31st January 2016 (All posts by )

    The Atacama Compact Array

    The Atacama Compact Array

    In 1950, amidst the UFO hoopla that was sweeping the world, Italian physicist Enrico Fermi posed a simple question, Where are they? By that he meant with lots of people making the argument that in a universe full of stars presumably with planets there should be lots of intelligent life out there. That seems plausible. So, he wondered, how come there isn’t a shred of evidence for it? After all, if we lived in a city full of people, wouldn’t we see them or at least see evidence of them being there? So why don’t we?

    Kepler

    In 1961 astronomer Frank Drake, interested in that very question, made an estimate of how many intelligent civilizations should exist inside our galaxy. The Drake Equation has seven terms, each a guess, from how many stars are born per year and how many of those have habitable planets through how many of those planets have developed technologies (like radio) that allow them to be detected. In 1961 there was not enough data to give reliable estimates to any of the terms. In the intervening 50 years we’ve accomplished enough basic research to apply actual values to the first few terms.

    The Milky Way produces about seven new stars per year. Virtually every star forms within a disc of gas and rock/metal dust called a protoplanetary disc that eventually condenses into planets. According to research derived from data collected by the Kepler spacecraft, at least 22% of Sun-like G type stars have an Earth-like planet in the habitable zone, the habitable zone being defined as the distance at which water neither boils off or is continuously frozen. Result: the number of habitable Earth-like planets in the Milky Way is at least 50 billion.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Science, Space | 22 Comments »

    The Ice Age Floods

    Posted by Michael Hiteshew on 1st January 2016 (All posts by )

    About 18,000 years ago, the Earth began to warm substantially. That was a really big deal, because the Northern Hemisphere was in an ice age. As much as 2 mile (~ 3-4 Km) thick ice sheets blanketed the northern continent. Because so much of the global water supply was locked up in ice, sea level dropped 350 feet (~ 120 m) and beaches and coastlines would have been miles further offshore than their current locations. Coastlines on the Atlantic Seaboard, and presumably globally, contain buried river channels cut deep into the continental shelf. During the Ice Age they weren’t buried, they were river valleys to then more distant shorelines.

    Last Glacial Maximum, 20.000 years ago

    Last Glacial Maximum, 20,000 years ago

    A wide lobe of the Cordilleran Ice Sheet crept across the valley of the Clark Fork River, eventually shutting off the flow completely, while the river pooled into the vast watershed behind it, including Missoula Valley, Flathead Valley, Thompson Valley, Mission Valley and Clearwater Valley. By 15,000-17,000 years ago the lake that was created, Glacial Lake Missoula, exceeded 2,000 feet (~ 600 m) in depth, had a surface area of ~3,000 square miles (6,500 Sq Km), and held 600 cubic miles (2,500 cubic Km) of water, as much as Lake Erie and Lake Ontario combined.

    Glacial flood map, 17,000 - 15,000 years ago

    Glacial flood map, 17,000 – 15,000 years ago

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in History, North America, Science | 22 Comments »

    The crash of the XB 70 in 1966.

    Posted by Michael Kennedy on 30th December 2015 (All posts by )

    North American XB-70A Valkyrie just after collision. Note the F-104 is at the forward edge of the fireball and most of both XB-70A vertical stabilizers are gone. (U.S. Air Force photo)

    North American XB-70A Valkyrie just after collision. Note the F-104 is at the forward edge of the fireball and most of both XB-70A vertical stabilizers are gone. (U.S. Air Force photo)

    I’m getting a bit tired of politics and corruption right now. How about some aviation history? This is an interesting article on the crash of the supersonic bomber prototype.

    The two test pilots were in the cockpit of a T-38 trainer flying off the left wing of the new XB-70 Valkyrie bomber, aircraft number 62-0207. They just saw the civilian registered NASA F-104N Starfighter of pilot Joe Walker slide upside down across the top of the huge white bomber, shear off both it’s twin tails and skid sideways, then break in two, killing Walker instantly. Behind the XB-70 Walker’s F-104N tumbled end over end, a pinwheel of bright orange flame nearly six hundred feet long tracing its convulsive death spiral.

    The flight was a photo shoot for GE which made the jet engines of all the aircraft being photographed.

    The fatal error was including an F 104 star fighter which had unreliable handling characteristics in low speed flight.

    The poor safety record of the Starfighter brought the aircraft into the public eye, especially in German Air Force service. Fighter ace Erich Hartmann famously was retired from the Luftwaffe because of his protests against having to deploy the unsafe F-104s. The F-104 was also at the center of the Lockheed bribery scandals, in which Lockheed had given bribes to a considerable number of political and military figures in various nations in order to influence their judgment and secure several purchase contracts; this caused considerable political controversy in Europe and Japan.

    It was considered a “widowmaker” at low speed especially takeoff and landing.

    The F-104 series all had a very high wing loading (made even higher when carrying external stores). The high angle of attack area of flight was protected by a stick shaker system to warn the pilot of an approaching stall, and if this was ignored, a stick pusher system would pitch the aircraft’s nose down to a safer angle of attack; this was often overridden by the pilot despite flight manual warnings against this practice. At extremely high angles of attack the F-104 was known to “pitch-up” and enter a spin, which in most cases was impossible to recover from. Unlike the twin-engined McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II for example, the F-104 with its single engine lacked the safety margin in the case of an engine failure, and had a poor glide ratio without thrust.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Aviation, History, Military Affairs, Science, Tech | 21 Comments »

    Outdoor Adventures

    Posted by Michael Hiteshew on 20th December 2015 (All posts by )

    Jamal Green makes multi-day hikes across Utah and other interesting places, and then produces videos showing interesting moments along the way.

    Mesa_Arch_Canyonlands
    (Image source.)

    His website Across Utah! is a good starting point for videos, maps, and recommendations for gear.

    During several of his hikes, Jamal crosses a spectacular feature called the Water Pocket fold, the edge of a monoclinal fold that eroded away across the crest leaving the edges as upturned rocks pointing into the sky. If you’re interested in a professional geological look, visit Written In Stone and travel along with Dr. Jack Share in a regional overflight, Flight Plan: Part II – Geology of the Circle Cliffs Uplift and the Waterpocket Fold at Capitol Reef National Park.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Miscellaneous, Photos, Science | 9 Comments »

    Reclaiming the Lost Future

    Posted by Michael Hiteshew on 27th November 2015 (All posts by )

    A couple of Trifecta videos ask a really pertinent question, What happened to our once and promising future?


    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in America 3.0, Big Government, Predictions, Science, Tech, Video | 1 Comment »

    What are black college students rioting about ?

    Posted by Michael Kennedy on 16th November 2015 (All posts by )

    Ithaca

    Power line has a post today that seems to me to be right on the topic of what these students want, which is freedom from accountability. They are afraid they are overmatched against white colleagues. They can’t hack it and want a pass. It is called “Mismatch.”

    The biggest change since Grutter, though, has nothing to do with Court membership. It is the mounting empirical evidence that race preferences are doing more harm than good?—even for their supposed beneficiaries. If this evidence is correct, we now have fewer African-American physicians, scientists, and engineers than we would have had using race-neutral admissions policies. We have fewer college professors and lawyers, too. Put more bluntly, affirmative action has backfired.

    Why is this ? We know that the normal distribution of IQ is a standard deviation lower for blacks than whites.

    NormalCurveSmall

    This is the over all curve with the distribution around an average of 100, by definition.

    IQ_Bladk_White

    The curve for blacks has a peak at IQ about 80. White peak at 100 to 104. Asians peak at around 106. What this means is that the average IQ is lower for blacks but this does not mean that all blacks are less intelligent than whites. At an IQ of 110 there is a large difference but the number of blacks who will do well in certain academic fields like Medicine is still significant. It would seem important to identify those blacks who will do well in fields requiring higher than average intelligence but the present system of affirmative action ignores this truth.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Civil Society, Current Events, Education, Human Behavior, Science | 41 Comments »

    What is Climate Change doing to Science ?

    Posted by Michael Kennedy on 18th October 2015 (All posts by )

    The discussion on Global Warming, has shifted to “Climate Change” as the warming has slowed or stopped, depending on your politics. Now there are a few rather timid questions being asked about this highly charged topic.

    “Doubt has been eliminated,” said Gro Harlem Brundtland, former Prime Minister of Norway and UN Special Representative on Climate Change, in a speech in 2007: “It is irresponsible, reckless and deeply immoral to question the seriousness of the situation. The time for diagnosis is over. Now it is time to act.” John Kerry says we have no time for a meeting of the flat-earth society. Barack Obama says that 97 per cent of scientists agree that climate change is “real, man-made and dangerous”.

    This is the consensus of politicians. Scientists ? Read the resumes of the people pontificating on Climate Change. How many are real scientists ?

    A Member of Parliament with a Physics degree, was ridiculed by the BBC for questioning Climate Change.

    Peter Lilley, a long standing member of the energy and climate select committee, has made a formal complaint to director general Lord Hall after discovering that mandarins had issued an apology following claims he made that the effects of climate change were being exaggerated.

    Appearing on BBC Radio 4’s ‘What’s the Point of The Met Office’, Mr Lilley stated that, while he “accepted the thesis that more CO2 in the atmosphere will marginally warm up the earth”, he questioned the assertion that global warming would be as dramatic as is being portrayed in some scientific circles.

    Mr Lilley, who graduated with a degree in natural sciences at Cambridge University, said: “I’m a ‘lukewarmist’, one who thinks that there won’t be much warming as a result of it, and that’s the scientifically proven bit of the theory. Anything going on the alarmist scale is pure speculation.”

    Sounds mild to me.

    Mr Lilley was horrified to discover that the BBC later placed “health warnings” on the programme’s website, and issued an apology for “giving voice to climate sceptics” and failing to “make clear that they are a minority, out of step with the scientific consensus.”

    The apology was written to listeners who had complained, including academic Dr Andrew Smedley, of Manchester University, and then re-stated on the BBC Rado 4’s programme Feedback.

    That sounds like “Trigger Warnings” in American university life. This sort of thing has gotten more common the past 20 years. Why ?

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Environment, Science | 11 Comments »

    Secretaries of State march on for two hundred years – but we still count it in feet

    Posted by Ginny on 23rd August 2015 (All posts by )

    I’ve been reading Daniel Walker Howe’s The Political Culture of the American Whigs(1979). It slowly gave me a better understanding, since I started in a complete fog. Like his Making the American Self, here Howe chooses representative figures to give narrative, character & understanding. Just because the book is forty doesn’t mean insights don’t remain. Howe enlivens the Whigs and reminds us our parties still have more than a bit of the Whig & the Jacksonian. But, surprisingly, an anecdote used to illuminate John Quincy Adams reminds us of a spring candidacy.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Book Notes, Religion, Science | 3 Comments »

    Why Doctors Quit.

    Posted by Michael Kennedy on 29th May 2015 (All posts by )

    Today, Charles Krauthammer has an excellent column on the electronic medical record. He has not been in practice for many years but he is obviously talking to other physicians. It is a subject much discussed in medical circles these days.

    It’s one thing to say we need to improve quality. But what does that really mean? Defining healthcare quality can be a challenging task, but there are frameworks out there that help us better understand the concept of healthcare quality. One of these was put forth by the Institute of Medicine in their landmark report, Crossing the Quality Chasm. The report describes six domains that encompass quality. According to them, high-quality care is:

    1) Safe: Avoids injuries to patients from care intended to help them
    2) Equitable: Doesn’t vary because of personal characteristics
    3) Patient-centered: Is respectful of and responsive to individual patient preferences, needs and values
    4) Timely: Reduces waits and potentially harmful delays
    5) Efficient: Avoids waste of equipment, supplies, ideas and energy
    6) Effective: Services are based on scientific knowledge to all who could benefit, and it accomplishes what it sets out to accomplish

    In 1994, I moved to New Hampshire and obtained a Master’s Degree in “Evaluative Clinical Sciences” to learn how to measure, and hopefully improve, medical quality. I had been working around this for years, serving on the Medicare Peer Review Organization for California and serving in several positions in organized medicine.

    I spent a few years trying to work with the system, with a medical school for example, and finally gave up. A friend of mine had set up a medical group for managed care called CAPPCare, which was to be a Preferred Provider Organization when California set up “managed care.” It is now a meaningless hospital adjunct. In 1995, he told me, “Mike you are two years too early. Nobody cares about quality.” Two years later, we had lunch again and he laughed and said “You are still too years too early.”

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Big Government, Health Care, Medicine, Politics, Science | 17 Comments »

    The Energy Crisis in Africa.

    Posted by Michael Kennedy on 3rd May 2015 (All posts by )

    india-solar-power-2012-640x426

    This is a powerful piece on the cost of environmental extremism to the world’s poor.

    The soaring [food] prices were actually exacerbated (as the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN confirmed) by the diversion of much of the world’s farmland into making motor fuel, in the form of ethanol and biodiesel, for the rich to salve their green consciences. Climate policies were probably a greater contributor to the Arab Spring than climate change itself.

    The use of ethanol in motor fuels is an irrational response to “green propaganda. The energy density of biofuel, as ethanol additives are called, is low resulting in the use of more and more ethanol and less and less arable land for food.

    Without abundant fuel and power, prosperity is impossible: workers cannot amplify their productivity, doctors cannot preserve vaccines, students cannot learn after dark, goods cannot get to market. Nearly 700 million Africans rely mainly on wood or dung to cook and heat with, and 600 million have no access to electric light. Britain with 60 million people has nearly as much electricity-generating capacity as the whole of sub-Saharan Africa, minus South Africa, with 800 million.

    South Africa is quickly destroying its electricity potential with idiotic racist policies.

    Just to get sub-Saharan electricity consumption up to the levels of South Africa or Bulgaria would mean adding about 1,000 gigawatts of capacity, the installation of which would cost at least £1 trillion. Yet the greens want Africans to hold back on the cheapest form of power: fossil fuels. In 2013 Ed Davey, the energy secretary, announced that British taxpayers will no longer fund coal-fired power stations in developing countries, and that he would put pressure on development banks to ensure that their funding policies rule out coal. (I declare a commercial interest in coal in Northumberland.)
    In the same year the US passed a bill prohibiting the Overseas Private Investment Corporation — a federal agency responsible for underwriting American companies that invest in developing countries — from investing in energy projects that involve fossil fuels.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Crony Capitalism, Energy & Power Generation, Environment, International Affairs, Leftism, Politics, Science | 3 Comments »

    Shawyer Space Drive…Arriving.

    Posted by Trent Telenko on 1st May 2015 (All posts by )

    A science fiction writer acquaintance of mine, John Ringo, is already going nuts about this “Shawyer Drive” on his Facebook page, because he
    is friends with one of the scientists involved.

    See power point page and the links below:

    Magnetron driven, reaction massless, "Shawyer Drive"

    Magnetron driven, reaction massless, “Shawyer Drive”

    Magnetron powered EM-drive construction expected to take two months
    http://nextbigfuture.com/2015/04/magnetron-powered-em-drive-construction.html

    Emdrive Roger Shawyer believes midterm EMdrive interstellar probe could flyby Alpha Centauri
    http://nextbigfuture.com/2015/04/emdrive-roger-shawyer-believes-midterm.html

    The drive seems to be a quantum “zero-point energy” phenomena that you put electricity into and get reaction massless thrust out of.

    _AND_ it looks to be both scalable and improvable with better magnetrons.

    This is also dovetailing nicely with a Lockheed Martin compact fusion reactor that

    1. Generates more power than it uses and
    2. Produces something on the order of 7.4 megawatts

    See:

    http://www.lockheedmartin.com/us/products/compact-fusion.html
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High_beta_fusion_reactor

    Given the reality of Space X’s and Blue Origin’s reusable rocket successes, and it seems that Mankind is about to burst out from this planet in a very big way.

    See:

    http://www.spacex.com/news
    http://www.wired.com/2015/04/jeff-bezos-blue-origin-just-launched-flagship-rocket/

    And all of the above is driving John Ringo to despair on his science fiction writing career.

    Posted in Civil Society, Current Events, Deep Thoughts, Energy & Power Generation, Entrepreneurship, Miscellaneous, Science, Society, Space | 13 Comments »

    Myopia and why it is increasing.

    Posted by Michael Kennedy on 25th April 2015 (All posts by )

    myopia

    A couple of interesting articles about the increasing incidence of myopia in children.

    Myopia isn’t an infectious disease, but it has reached nearly epidemic proportions in parts of Asia. In Taiwan, for example, the percentage of 7-year-old children suffering from nearsightedness increased from 5.8 percent in 1983 to 21 percent in 2000. An incredible 81 percent of Taiwanese 15-year-olds are myopic.

    The first thought is that this is an Asian genetic thing. It isn’t.

    In 2008 orthoptics professor Kathryn Rose found that only 3.3 percent of 6- and 7-year-olds of Chinese descent living in Sydney, Australia, suffered myopia, compared with 29.1 percent of those living in Singapore. The usual suspects, reading and time in front of an electronic screen, couldn’t account for the discrepancy. The Australian cohort read a few more books and spent slightly more time in front of the computer, but the Singaporean children watched a little more television. On the whole, the differences were small and probably canceled each other out. The most glaring difference between the groups was that the Australian kids spent 13.75 hours per week outdoors compared with a rather sad 3.05 hours for the children in Singapore.

    This week the Wall Street Journal had more. There are some attempts to deal with the natural light effect.

    Children in this small southern Chinese city sit and recite their vocabulary words in an experimental cube of a classroom built with translucent walls and ceilings. Sunlight lights up the room from all directions.

    The goal of this unusual learning space: to test whether natural, bright light can help prevent nearsightedness, a problem for growing numbers of children, especially in Asia.

    The schools have tried to get Chinese parents to send the kids outdoors more but it doesn’t seem to work.

    And it isn’t limited to Asians.

    In the U.S., the rate of nearsightedness in people 12 to 54 years old increased by nearly two-thirds between studies nearly three decades apart ending in 2004, to an estimated 41.6%, according to a National Eye Institute study.

    But Asians with their focus on education are the most effected.

    A full 80% of 4,798 Beijing teenagers tested as nearsighted in a study published in the journal PLOS One in March. Similar numbers plague teens in Singapore and Taiwan. In one 2012 survey in Seoul, nearly all of the 24,000 teenage males surveyed were nearsighted.

    So, what to do ?

    Though glasses can correct vision in most myopic children, many aren’t getting them. Sometimes this is because parents don’t know their children need glasses or don’t understand how important they are for education. Other times, cultural beliefs lead parents to discourage their children from wearing them, according to Nathan Congdon, professor at Queen’s University Belfast and senior adviser to Orbis International, a nonprofit focused on preventing blindness. Many parents believe glasses weaken the eyes—they don’t.

    Getting kids to spend even small amounts of time outdoors makes a difference.

    Why myopia rates have soared isn’t entirely clear, but one factor that keeps cropping up in research is how much time children spend outdoors. The longer they’re outside, the less likely they are to become nearsighted, according to more than a dozen studies in various countries world-wide.

    One preliminary study of 2,000 children under review for publication showed a 23% reduction in myopia in the group of Chinese children who spent an additional 40 minutes more outside each day, according to Ian Morgan, one of the researchers involved in the study and a retired professor at Australian National University in Canberra. (He still conducts research with Sun Yat-sen University in the Chinese city of Guangzhou.)

    That is a very significant effect of small changes in behavior. Now the researchers are trying something new.

    Dr. Morgan, Dr. Congdon and a team from Sun Yat-sen are now testing, as reported recently in the science magazine Nature, a so-called bright-light classroom made of translucent plastic walls in Yangjiang to see if the children can focus and sit comfortably in the classroom. So far it appears the answer is yes.

    In 2007, Donald Mutti and his colleagues at the Ohio State University College of Optometry in Columbus reported the results of a study that tracked more than 500 eight- and nine-year-olds in California who started out with healthy vision6. The team examined how the children spent their days, and “sort of as an afterthought at the time, we asked about sports and outdoorsy stuff”, says Mutti.

    It was a good thing they did. After five years, one in five of the children had developed myopia, and the only environmental factor that was strongly associated with risk was time spent outdoors6. “We thought it was an odd finding,” recalls Mutti, “but it just kept coming up as we did the analyses.” A year later, Rose and her colleagues arrived at much the same conclusion in Australia7. After studying more than 4,000 children at Sydney primary and secondary schools for three years, they found that children who spent less time outside were at greater risk of developing myopia.

    What is the mechanism ? Maybe it is this.

    The leading hypothesis is that light stimulates the release of dopamine in the retina, and this neurotransmitter in turn blocks the elongation of the eye during development. The best evidence for the ‘light–dopamine’ hypothesis comes — again — from chicks. In 2010, Ashby and Schaeffel showed that injecting a dopamine-inhibiting drug called spiperone into chicks’ eyes could abolish the protective effect of bright light11.

    Retinal dopamine is normally produced on a diurnal cycle — ramping up during the day — and it tells the eye to switch from rod-based, nighttime vision to cone-based, daytime vision. Researchers now suspect that under dim (typically indoor) lighting, the cycle is disrupted, with consequences for eye growth. “If our system does not get a strong enough diurnal rhythm, things go out of control,” says Ashby, who is now at the University of Canberra. “The system starts to get a bit noisy and noisy means that it just grows in its own irregular fashion.”

    Another possible treatment is the use of atropine drops in the eye.

    Atropine, a drug used for decades to dilate the pupils, appears to slow the progression of myopia once it has started, according to several randomized, controlled trials. But used daily at the typical concentration of 1%, there are side effects, most notably sensitivity to light, as well as difficulty focusing on up-close images.

    In recent years, studies in Singapore and Taiwan found that a lower dose of atropine reduces myopia progression by 50% to 60% in children without those side effects, says Donald Tan, professor of ophthalmology at the Singapore National Eye Centre. He has spearheaded many of the studies. Large-scale trials on low-dose atropine are expected to start soon in Japan and in Europe, he says.

    More than a century ago, Henry Edward Juler, a renowned British eye surgeon, offered similar advice. In 1904, he wrote in A Handbook of Ophthalmic Science and Practice that when “the myopia had become stationary, change of air — a sea voyage if possible — should be prescribed”.

    Posted in China, Education, Health Care, Medicine, Science | 5 Comments »

    Entropy is taking over.

    Posted by Michael Kennedy on 27th February 2015 (All posts by )

    Another excellent post from The Belmont Club, Which I read every day.

    The barbarians of ISIS destroy ancient artifacts, in an outrage like those committed by the Taliban in Afghanistan.

    The Taliban’s rejection this month of international appeals to halt the destruction of much of Afghanistan’s pre-Islamic heritage — their leader Mullah Mohammed Omar termed them idols — indicates that those most determined to impose their vision of a perfect Islamic state are firmly in control.

    That article was from the period before the US invasion. Many artifacts were repaired but that will stop and the destruction will resume after we leave.

    The Mosul destruction is to be expected everywhere the Takfiri tide rises enough to control an entity.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Civil Society, Energy & Power Generation, History, Islam, Leftism, Middle East, National Security, Politics, Science | 19 Comments »

    Lovescanning

    Posted by David Foster on 14th February 2015 (All posts by )

    Especially for Valentines Day,  GE posts a video about Stanford University’s MRI-based “love contest.”

    It’s not quite a cold and clinical as it sounds, on account of the individual stories told by the participants.

    Posted in Human Behavior, Medicine, Science, Tech | 2 Comments »

    Global Warming Again.

    Posted by Michael Kennedy on 8th February 2015 (All posts by )

    land only

    As the global warming matter chugs along, more more evidence of the manipulation of data is coming to light.

    Although it has been emerging for seven years or more, one of the most extraordinary scandals of our time has never hit the headlines. Yet another little example of it lately caught my eye when, in the wake of those excited claims that 2014 was “the hottest year on record”, I saw the headline on a climate blog: “Massive tampering with temperatures in South America”. The evidence on Notalotofpeopleknowthat, uncovered by Paul Homewood, was indeed striking.
    Puzzled by those “2014 hottest ever” claims, which were led by the most quoted of all the five official global temperature records – Nasa’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (Giss) – Homewood examined a place in the world where Giss was showing temperatures to have risen faster than almost anywhere else: a large chunk of South America stretching from Brazil to Paraguay.
    Noting that weather stations there were thin on the ground, he decided to focus on three rural stations covering a huge area of Paraguay. Giss showed it as having recorded, between 1950 and 2014, a particularly steep temperature rise of more than 1.5C: twice the accepted global increase for the whole of the 20th century.
    But when Homewood was then able to check Giss’s figures against the original data from which they were derived, he found that they had been altered.

    Some interesting graphics here.

    I follow this story on a skeptic blog and Steve McIntyre’s blog.

    Both are currently tearing apart an absurd recent paper that has serious statistical errors. Steve is a statistician.

    A new paper in Nature by Jochem Marotzke and Piers Forster: ‘Forcing, feedback and internal variability in global temperature trends’[i] investigates the causes of the mismatch between climate models that simulate a strong increase in global temperature since 1998 and observations that show little increase, and the influence of various factors on model-simulated warming over longer historical periods. I was slightly taken aback by the paper, as I would have expected either one of the authors or a peer reviewer to have spotted the major flaws in its methodology. I have a high regard for Piers Forster, who is a very honest and open climate scientist, so I am sorry to see him associated with a paper that I think is very poor, even as co-author (a position that perhaps arose through him supplying model forcing data to Marotzke) and therefore not bearing primary responsibility for the paper’s shortcomings.

    This is embarrassing as many are attacking the methods with what sound like valid arguments.

    Even Nature has begun to recognize trouble in the alarmist world.

    Despite the continued increase in atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations, the annual-mean global temperature has not risen in the twenty-first century 1, 2, challenging the prevailing view that anthropogenic forcing causes climate warming. Various mechanisms have been proposed for this hiatus in global warming3, 4, 5, 6, but their relative importance has not been quantified, hampering observational estimates of climate sensitivity. Here we show that accounting for recent cooling in the eastern equatorial Pacific reconciles climate simulations and observations. We present a novel method of uncovering mechanisms for global temperature change by prescribing, in addition to radiative forcing, the observed history of sea surface temperature over the central to eastern tropical Pacific in a climate model.

    The story is getting harder to defend but, grant money being what it is, there is still a strong motive to try to keep the ball rolling, even uphill.

    The Michael Mann lawsuit against Mark Steyn and National Review is still chugging along as Mann seems to have nine lives in this matter.

    Steyn comes to Washington Tuesday for a hearing at the D.C. Court of Appeals. Michael Mann, a climate scientist at Penn State, filed the lawsuit against Steyn, National Review, space policy and tech analyst Rand Simberg and the Libertarian-bent Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) in 2012.

    All parties have lawyered up. They all have different legal representation with the exception of Simberg, who is clumped in with CEI.

    It is hard for me to take this seriously but there are enough scientifically illiterate judges to keep Mann’s suit alive.

    Steyn insists Mann is waiting out the clock so that everyone he’s suing will be good and broke if they ever get remotely near the prospect of a trial. The journalist, however, is plowing ahead, raising money and prepping himself for a trial he’s dying to see happen.

    The case is already on its second judge — the first one applied for “senior status” (meaning she’ll work part time and get full pay) and was accepted. The second, says Steyn, seems to be more on top of things, but has been unable to restore a timely process.

    Mann appears to be following a “law fare” strategy.

    ”If this guy Dr. Mann feels he’s being defamed then he should, like Oscar Wilde, get in court and have the manner settled. There is no right to a speedy trial…but you know, defamation is serious and more injurious to one’s reputation than bouncing a check for $30 at the general store. It’s more injurious than a parking ticket, than doing 45 in a 30 mile speed limit. [There’s the right to a speedy trial], but not for defamation. Nuts to that.”

    Last summer, a “lukewarmer” scientist named Roger Peilke had the misfortune to encounter the angry left when he accepted a job at the left wing site called five thirty eight.

    Roger Pielke Jr. said Monday that he left FiveThirtyEight, ending a short-lived but turbulent stint with the site launched by Nate Silver earlier this year.

    Pielke, a professor of environmental studies at the University of Colorado, told Discover Magazine that after editors at the site “showed some reluctance” in publishing his work, he told FiveThirtyEight managing editor Mike Wilson that “it was probably best that we part ways.”

    Reluctance was not exactly the proper term. Hysteria was more like it.

    “Disinformer!” the Daily Kos screamed. “One of the country’s leading tricksters on climate change,” charged the Huffington Post. “Inaccurate and misleading,” was ThinkProgress’s measured verdict. Even that doyen of professionalism and sworn enemy of hyperbole, Michael Mann, weighed in, knocking his foe for his “pattern of sloppiness.” The pile-on was as predictable as it was unjust. At root, Pielke’s biggest crimes are to have walked at slightly different pace than his peers and to have refused to bow to the president. Pielke accepts the IPCC’s view of the climate-change question but suggests in parallel that man’s response is unlikely to have a “perceptible impact on the climate for many decades” and that civilization should thus adapt to, rather than attempt to prevent, change.

    Pielke quickly left. He now has begun a new blog called The Climate Fix.

    The alarmist hysteria grows more acute as the evidence piles up that they are wrong and, perhaps, even lying.

    Posted in Blogging, Politics, Science, Statistics | 11 Comments »

    Nature and Nurture.

    Posted by Michael Kennedy on 21st January 2015 (All posts by )

    I have long been a fan of Steven Pinker’s books.

    I have read many of them, beginning probably with his books on speech as he is a linguist first. This was probably the first as I was intrigued by his theories about irregular verbs and how children learn language.

    He points out, for example, how normal construction in archaic forms such as “Wend, went and wended” have become “Go, went, gone.”

    The child makes an error he or she may not understand that “Goed” is not a used form for past tense, whereas “Wend” is an archaic form whose past tense has been substituted. The child is using language rules but they don’t account for irregular verbs. He continues with this thought in The Language Instinct, which came later. Here he makes explicit that this is how the mind works. One review on Amazon makes the point:

    For the educated layperson, this book is the most fascinating and engaging introduction to linguistics I have come across. I know some college students who had received xeroxed handouts of one chapter from this book, and these were students who were just bored of reading handouts week after week… but after reading just a few paragraphs from The Language Instinct, they were hooked, fascinated, and really wanted to read the whole book (and did). I wish I had come across such a book years ago…

    Now, this is interesting but Pinker has gotten into politics inadvertently by emphasizing the role of genetics in language and behavior. I read The Blank Slate when it came out ten years ago and loved it.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Architecture, Book Notes, Civil Society, Education, Human Behavior, Leftism, Philosophy, Science | 11 Comments »