Tag Archives: climate change

Correlation, causation – and reason for precaution

“Correlation is not the same as causation.” This is a core catechism that is drilled into most of us scientists, along with “I might be wrong,” and “build your competitive science reputation by demolishing the half-baked work of others.”

Alas, “Correlation is not the same as causation” has become an incantation parroted by Fox-Watchers, as part of the Murdochian campaign to undermine science and claim that nothing can ever be proved. In fact, sifting for correlations is how experimental science begins. A strong correlation demands: “hey, check this out!”

But it’s more than that. A strong correlation shifts the Burden of Proof. When we see a strong correlation, and the matter at-hand is something with major health or safety or security implications, then we are behooved to at least begin taking preliminary precautions, in case the correlation proves to be causative. Sometimes the correlation is later demonstrated not to be causal and a little money has been wasted. But this often proves worthwhile, given long lead times in technology.

For example, we were fortunate that work had already begun on alternative refrigerants to CFCs, when their role in ozone damage was finally proved. Indeed, valid concerns over the health and environmental effects of tobacco and leaded gasoline were dismissed for years. Two must reads: Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway, as well as the story of Clair Patterson and the obstructionism of the oil industry.

Another example: terrorism experts sift for correlations and apply intelligence resources to follow up, while giving potential targets cautious warnings. Many correlations don’t pan out. But a burden falls on those saying “ignore that.”

Parse this carefully. Strong correlation demands both closer examination and preliminary precautions.

But the underlying narrative of the crazy, anti-science right is: “Correlation is not the same as causation… and any ‘scientist’ who talks about a correlation can thus be dismissed as a fool. And since that is most of science, this incantation lets me toss out the whole ‘science’ thing. Yippee!”

Those who spout this incantation aren’t all fools, but you can tell by watching to see if they follow “Correlation is not the same as causation” with… curiosity! And acceptance of both precaution and burden of proof. Those who do that are “Skeptics” and welcome to the grand, competitive tussle known as science.

Those who use “Correlation is not the same as causation” as a magic incantation to dismiss all fact-using professions are fools holding a lit match in one hand and an open gas can in the other, screaming “one has nothing to do with the other!”

See my earlier list of examples  – including well-justified concerns over tobacco, smog and leaded gasoline – where this and other incantations delayed the proper application of science to public policy, leading to hundreds of thousands… maybe millions… of deaths worldwide.

Another central mythos: We all know that:  “Just because someone is smart and knows a lot, that doesn’t automatically make them wise.”

It’s true. But in the same way that Suspicion of Authority is wholesome, till it metastasizes, this true statement has been twisted into something cancerous:  “Any and all people who are smart and know a lot, are therefore automatically unwise.”

The first statement is true and we all know it. The second is so insanely wrong that anyone believing it is hence a stark, jibbering loony. And yet, the latter is now a core catechism of the confederacy, because they have been allowed to leave it implicit.

Of course, blatantly, the average person who has studied earnestly and tried to understand is wiser than those who deliberately chose to remain incurious and ignorant. When cornered, even the most vehement alt-righter admits that. But cornering them takes effort and – above all – careful parsing of the meme. It is a logical corner they’ve painted themselves into! But their memes are slippery.

Suspicion and distrust – of universities and smart people, as well as of people with knowledge and skill — now extends from the war on science to journalism, teaching, medicine, economics, civil servants… and lately the “deep state” conspiring villains of the FBI, the intelligence agencies and the U.S. military officer corps. This is bedlam. It is insanity that serves one purpose, to discredit any “elites” who might stand in the way of a return to feudalism by the super rich, which was the pattern of 6000 years that America rebelled against.

We need to be more proactive and tactically effective in fighting back against these agents of darkness and promoters of feudalism. There are clever shills who get rich providing incantations against science and other fact-professions.  We must show every uncle and aunt who parrots this nonsense how they have been hoodwinked. That is where phase 8 of the American Civil War will be won, in the trenches, getting one friend at a time to snap out of the hypnotics spells…

… by using evidence and logic and compassion to draw our neigjhbors back to a nation of progress and science and pragmatic accountability and hope for an ever-better future.

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The Roots…and Future… of Humanity

== Digging into the roots of humanity ==

In a study conducted by researchers at the Yale School of Medicine and the University of Cologne, it was found that the children of obese mothers who subsisted on a high-fat diet during the course of their pregnancy are at a higher risk for obesity and related metabolic disorders all their lives.

roots-humanityBut help is on the way!  The world’s first genetically modified babies have been born — with genes from three parents. This news is not quite as big as it sounds.  The third parent only contributed the mitochondria of the fertilized egg, so no meddling in the chromosomal “human DNA” parts happened.  Still, it is a milestone.

More meddlesome methods are coming! Utilizing the he CRISPR/Cas9 method, RNA can be specifically designed to cut a particular part of the genome, allowing specific genes to be targeted. Once cut, the gene can be knocked out or replaced with a slightly different copy to replace faulty ones with healthy copies. Now, in China, this method has been used to alter the first “GM monkeys.”

And in the same … vein… researchers at UC Santa Cruz (UCSC) have developed a robotic “nanobiopsy” system that can extract tiny samples from inside a living cell without killing it. The single-cell nanobiopsy technique is a powerful tool for scientists working to understand the dynamic processes that occur within living cells. While the therapeutic and scientific uses are huge, it might also affect the Singularity Movement… by determining whether or not intracellular computing  takes place to any large degree.  If it does, then the dream of replicating human cognition in-silico may be many more Moore’s Law doublings away.

And what about those human roots? As few as 300 matings could have inserted the Neanderthal heritage in the genome of the common ancestors of Europeans and East Asians. The strongest remnant of our Neanderthal heritage appears to be centered around as-yet unknown changes in skin and hair that likely proved advantageous.

Take a look at this video showing one anthropologist’s best reconstructions for the evolution of the human face over seven million years.

Sixth-extinction-kolbertWhere are we headed? The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History explores the  threats humanity faces now…and in the future. In fact, even if humanity does mark the “anthropocene” with devastation through nature, there have been five preceding MAJOR mass extinctions… bu very many more of lesser types. Frankly, I am amazed that by 2014 the worst forecasts have not (yet?) come true.  Are we in the process of wising up in time?  You gotta hope so.  You gotta work to make it so.

Of course, remamber we can be replaced! With a plummeting shrimp industry, fishermen in the US southeast are throwing nets to collect… jellyfish. Certain types that are loved by Asian countries… and by sea turtles… are being harvested by the kilotons. As the seas appear to be trending more friendly to jellies and less so for fish. (As I portray in Existence.) Let’s consider before thoughtlessly changing the Earth too much.

And finally… while we’re on the bio-news… why has the rate of abortions in the US declined so steeply?  Explanations range from interesting to flat-out absurd.

== Technology! ==

Magnetoencephalography (MEG) can be used as a potential therapeutic tool to control and train specific targeted brain regions. A new brain-imaging technique enables people to ‘watch’ their own brain activity in real time and to control or adjust function in pre-determined brain regions.  Will this finally lead to those excellent teaching-games  we were promise 20 years ago?

This animation of a mouse brain looks like driving down a highway and watching buildings on the roadside appearing, becoming larger, and then shrinking in the rearview.

From Elon Musk: Forward-looking Innovations that will change our future.

As crystalline silicon module prices crashed in recent years, developers and installers benefitted greatly from the low prices and sudden economic feasibility of solar in new markets. Now attention is paid to reducing racking and mounting cost and microinverters and high-voltage configurations stand to accelerate those reductions.

== Sustaining our world ==

SUSTAINING-WORLD Cool roofs — painted white or other light colors to reflect sunlight — as well as green (vegetation covered)  roofs have surged in popularity as cities such as New York promote their use and research shows they lower the need for air conditioning. Now comes another federally funded study that reinforces that idea — with caveats.  “Each can completely offset the warming due to urban expansion and can even offset the warming due to greenhouse gas emissions,” says the study author.  A newer Berkeley Lab study, published online last month, found white roofs are more cost-effective than black or green ones over a 50-year period when installation, maintenance and a building’s subsequent energy use are considered. But that leaves out the edible produce from green roofs!

We’ve all seen calculations comparing sustainables to fossil fuels… and undeniable is the trend — much faster than anyone expected — for solar and wind etc to break even with oil and coal. We should all rejoice (all except the coal and middle-eastern-petro princes)… though I think not without a tinge of gratitude for the biggest thing that fossil fuels gave us: an industrial revolution that lifted billions out of poverty, raising generations of children so comfortable that they could then start contemplating the dismal side effects of over-reliance on fossil fuels!

(If you are unable to appreciate ironies, then you are WAY too dogmatic.  Loosen up.)

But there is one calculation we never see… thermodynamic comparison of the total investment costs of fossil fuels by the Earth, weighing in the inefficiencies of the hundred million years it took to cook each utterly irreplaceable pool of liquid gold down there.  According to this study, solar is better by a ratio of 100,000:1!  All right, that Big Picture Perspective is too grand, even for me.  Still….

== physical stuff! ==

Did Google buy a “quantum computer” that’s not-so-quantum, after all?  It’s harder than you might think, to tell the difference, at least in these early days.  A month or two ago, preliminary models suggested D-Wave’s machine “did the Q.”  Now, researchers at IBM reveal it may not necessarily be so.

A-Deepness-in-the-Sky-book-coverResearchers at Georgia Tech have invented a plasmonic graphene nano-antenna that can be efficiently used at millimeter radio wavelengths, taking one more step toward smart dust. Utility fog. Programmable matter. Grey and blue goo. Cooperating swarms of micron-sized devices (motes) offer completely new solutions and capabilities that can hardly be imagined. Except… well… by Vernor Vinge and Greg Bear and at least one other science fiction author I could name…

And now some good news? At least under some sets of assumptions and parameters,  the Large Hadron Collider appears to have excluded having seen any signs of the production of micro-black holes.  So… my doom scenario in EARTH is impossible? Reassuring… a little bit.

Can we see inside super-dangerous volcanoes like Vesuvius? Hiroyuki Tanaka of the University of Tokyo reasoned that the throat of a volcano could be “x-rayed” with energetic muons produced in cosmic-ray showers. The number of muons passing through the volcano would depend on the density of intervening rock, so measuring the number of muons passing through various parts of the volcano could yield a crude, 3-D view of the interior.  One of the fellows with a NASA NIAC grant showed us even more spectacular potential uses for this method… a way to peer inside asteroids!

== Astronomy! And space! ==

The oldest star (known so far) in the universe (13.7 billion years) was found using ANU’s Skymapper, which has a “unique” ability to “find stars with low iron from their color.” This comes in handy for stars such as this one which the astronomers believe to be a “first star” originating from the earliest days of the Big Bang itself.

A new map of asteroids developed by researchers from MIT and the Paris Observatory charts the size, composition, and location of more than 100,000 asteroids throughout the solar system, and shows that “rogue” asteroids are more common than previously thought.

Looking to our future in space: In 2018, NASA hopes to put a rover on the Moon. RESOLVE will sift through the Moon’s regolith (loose surface soil) and heat them up, looking for traces of hydrogen and oxygen, which can then be combined to make water. A similar payload would be attached to Curiosity’s successor, which is currently being specced out by NASA and will hopefully launch in 2020. This second IRSU experiment will probably suck in carbon dioxide from the Martian atmosphere, filter out the dust, and then process the CO2 into oxygen.

More about NASA soon, with my report from the annual NIAC Symposium!

== Ah… the climate ==

climate-instabilityThe US government is creating seven new “climate hubs” that will help everyday people, particularly farmers, handle the effects of global warming, which have recently caused wild gyrations of drought and record temperatures alternating with severe storms and winter plunges — exactly as the models predicted. Only we should stop calling it Global Warming and use”climate instability.”  Let’s see the denialists worm their way out of that one.

Satellite observations of global sea-surface temperature have shown that a 30-year upward trend slowed in the last 15 years.  It can’t be due to successful mitigation, since outside the United States and a few countries in Europe, CO2 emissions have not dropped back to those levels.  What might it mean? Reports Science2.0: “Climate scientists have been scrambling to explain it and think they have an answer; rearrangement in the energy flow of the climate system and how the ocean stores heat. Scientists have speculated that one of the causes of this ‘plateau’ in sea-surface temperature could be a change in the exchange of ocean water between warm, surface waters and cold, deep waters below 700 m – as if the warming is ‘hiding’ underwater. Temperature measurements at this depth cover a relatively short period.

But the warm water won’t hide below the surface forever: scientists believe that it may re-emerge later or affect other climate indicators, such as sea level or ocean circulation.”

Indeed, more and more cracks appear in the Edifice of Deliberate Lobotomization.  For example… Televangelist Pat Robertson reacted Wednesday to the big debate between Bill Nye “the Science Guy” and Creation Museum founder Ken Ham over the age of the Earth and so on. Robertson actually took issue with one of the central arguments of creationism and said it’s “nonsense” to say the world’s only six thousand years old. He brought up the findings of a bishop centuries ago who came up with that figure and said, “There ain’t no way that’s possible.”

Read the rest… and use it.

== and… ==

The oldest human footprints have been found outside Africa.

Right now, with a couple of exceptions, Africa’s population density is relatively low; it’s a very big continent more sparsely populated than, say, Europe or East Asia. That’s changing very quickly. The continent’s overall population is expected to more than quadruple over just 90 years.  The United Nations Population Division, which tracks demographic data from around the world, has dramatically revised its projections for what will happen in the next nine decades. The new statistics, based on in-depth survey data from sub-Saharan Africa, tell the story of a world poised to change drastically over the next several decades.

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Steering the Future: on Earth and in the Heavens

Skype founder Jaan Tallin, in conjunction with the Gruber and Templeton Foundations, is sponsoring an essay contest: “How Should Humanity Steer the Future?”

HOW-SHOULD-HUMANITY-STEER-THE-FUTURE“Dystopic visions of the future are common in literature and film, while optimistic ones are more rare. This contest encourages us to avoid potentially self-fulfilling prophecies of gloom and doom and to think hard about how to make the world better while avoiding potential catastrophes. Our ever-deepening understanding of physics has enabled technologies and ways of thinking about our place in the world that have dramatically transformed humanity over the past several hundred years. Many of these changes have been difficult to predict or control—but not all. In this contest we ask how humanity should attempt to steer its own course in light of the radically different modes of thought and fundamentally new technologies that are becoming relevant in the coming decades.”

Ponder it!  But most of all, believe that we can steer the wheel of destiny. Cynics are of no use to anyone.

== The libelous distraction that scientists are lemmings  ==

EDGE-DENIAL-CLIMATEIn The Very, Very Thin Wedge of Denial, Phil Plait discusses one stunning disparity between the blog-claims of climate change deniers and the way that actual mode-consensus is achieved by real scientists, who can read data and understand the Navier-Stokes Equations.

Fox-centered denialists claim that the 97% of atmospheric scientists who agree that humans are altering the climate (less than 1% dissent) are doing so out of lemming-like herd mentality, chasing pathetic Al Gore inspired grants — never explaining how ditto-agreeing with a standard model will get any researcher even a penny. In fact, the top atmospheric scientists already have stable incomes (thank you) from their fantastically successful day-jobs creating (for example) the miraculous ten-day weather forecasts we now rely upon (much improved from a mere two hours, 20 years ago), or successfully modeling climate on six other planets. I know these guys and gals and lemmings they are not. Rather, top scientists are the smartest and most fearlessly competitive humans our species ever produced.

Plait offers an example of how the openly questioning competitive process works: “In 1998, two teams of researchers found evidence that the expansion of the Universe was not slowing down, as expected, but actually speeding up. This idea is as crazy as holding a ball in your hand, letting go, and having it fall up, accelerating wildly into the sky. Yet those papers got published. They inspired lively discussion (to say the least) and motivated further observations. Careful, meticulous work was done to eliminate errors and confounding factors, until it became very clear that we were seeing an overturning of the previous paradigm. It took years, but now astronomers accept that the Universal expansion is accelerating and that dark energy is the culprit.

“Mind you, dark energy is far, far weirder than anything climate change deniers have come up with, yet it became mainstream science in a decade or so. Deniers have been bloviating for longer than that, yet their claims are rejected overwhelmingly by climate scientists. Why? Because they’re wrong.”

twoda-brinAlas, Plait never mentions my own strongest argument against the denialist cult.  That their smug-pat jpegs and Fox-snips are all financed by the industry that will become less outrageously profitable if humanity develops more efficient energy systems. Promoting efficiency falls into the category of TWODA – or Things We Ought to be Doing Anyway.  Even if human generated climate Change were to prove 100% false, we would all be better off for taking reasonable measures toward energy efficiency… and those so vigorously preventing TWODA are enemies of our species, no matter how many twisted ways you rationalize or cut it.

== Science miscellany! ==

Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) researchers are developing an electrodynamic tether designed to generate electricity that will slow down space-based debris.  Such a system features prominently in chapter one of my novel Existence, written when this notion was a glimmer in the eye of brilliant space engineer Joseph Carroll, who almost singlehandedly kept the technological doors open for this approach to solving problems in space.  It’s good to see the problem of space debris given serious attention, perhaps inspired by the movie GRAVITY.

In my fiction I have oft portrayed “gill masks” that allow a diver to extract oxygen directly from the surrounding water.  Has this miracle already arrived?  I would bet no.  But how cool if this actually works?

Ultrasound is one of several noninvasive methods that stimulate the brain. Another is transcranial magnetic stimulation, which apparently provokes more activity in the brain with magnets. A third is transcranial direct current stimulation, which uses electrodes to deliver a weak electrical current to the brain through the scalp. The new study suggests that ultrasound may be the best of the bunch.  (Though I still think reading is a more effective way to stimulate thinking. ) Oh what a brave (or interesting) new world.

cosmos-tysonThis spring will also see the premiere of Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey. According to Deadline, the series will debut on Fox on March 9th at 9PM, with bonus footage coming to the National Geographic Channel a day later at 10PM. Tyson’s show is a reboot of Carl Sagan’s revered Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, a short series with a broad scientific focus that first aired in 1980. Tyson’s Cosmos will explore the discovery of physics, with a promise to present complicated concepts in clear ways and with a proper dose of grandeur.

==Conquering the future==

Future Perfect - CoverwebSee The Future of Transportation, by Sci Fi author William Hertling (The Last Firewall).

The Guinea worm may be the next human pathogen to be eliminated.

Fellow author Joe Haldeman (The Forever War) on  Why the future of war will be even bloodier.  Ouch. Got… to… make… Star Trek…

For a view that progress is possible, see Future Perfect: The Case for Progress in a Networked Age, by Steven Johnson.

== Looking outward…to Space! ==

Terrific footage of the new Chinese “Jade Rabbit” lunar lander, at touchdown and then letting the rover roll off, putting new human tacks onto Luna.  Congratulations!

inspiration_mars_headerDennis Tito has a backup for his plan to  take advantage of a once-per-30- years opportunity for a Free Return flyby past Mars — like Apollo 8 & 13, there would thus be no need to schlepp a landing capsule or return fuel, brining a human crewed Mars mission forward by perhaps 30 years. (Tito wants to send a “qualified, older married couple” and my wife reminded me we both have PhDs in Planetary Science and the kids are almost out of the nest!)

Alas, with less than 5 years to prepare, there seems no way Tito and his Inspiration Mars team can pull this off. Especially now that NASA has begged off Tito’s request for $700M and use of the new NASA heavy launch system. Still, all may not be lost.  “There is a backup to the proposed 2018 flyby to Mars mission which envisions a 2021 launch that would feature flybys of both Venus and Mars. That would add 88 days to the just over 500 day mission and would involve more radiation hazards to the two person crew.”  Also, since $700M is kind of chump change for such a major undertaking, Tito has begun talking to the Russians and the Chinese.

Including Venus may add some radiation hazard. But Yipe. To be first living humans to TWO planets? And I would get so much writing done, while huddled inside the water tank, hiding from cosmic rays!

nasa-funding-cutsSo…. Has there been a recent “collapse” in funding for planetary exploration? It appears to be so, at least in the United States.  Have a look at a simple chart from The Planetary Society showing how our efforts to explore outward, which had been rebuilding in the first Obama term, suddenly fell to pieces amid the battles over shutdowns and health care.  This merits your attention. (Though always look at such charts to see if the bottom was chopped-off!)

Redefining the Habitable Zone: Here is good discussion of the Sun’s “goldilocks” or Continuously Habitable Zone, where water might remain on the surface in liquid form for evolutionary time scales.  And a related article on the search for “life” exoplanets. Yet again we see that Earth might be exceptional in one way… that we skate near the inner edge of our sun’s CUZ. Which helps explain why even a little human generated greenhouse gas can make a real difference… and may help to explain the Fermi Paradox.

The European Space Agency plans to re-awaken the Rosetta Probe!  It has been dormant out at more than 4 AU, saving energy till the day its orbit could approach a comet from behind at a great distance (the only way it can be done: you listening Hollywood?)  The hope?  To “land” on the comet before it gets too active and study its physical characteristics.  Then, harpooned to the surface, attempt to ride out the violent passage by the sun that we described in HEART OF THE COMET.  Hoping to learn how much my doctoral dissertation got right!

moon-express Is Mining on the Moon’s Horizon? Moon Express, based in Mountain View, Calif., just unveiled the design for a small robot spacecraft about the size of a coffee table that it says could move about the moon’s surface powered only by solar panels and hydrogen peroxide. The company hopes to build the robot and send it to the moon by late 2015, win the $30 million Lunar X Prize from Google for the first privately funded moon rover, and eventually get around to putting on the moon an operation capable of extracting valuable minerals.  

Um what minerals are they talking about?  I know of none to be found in that wasteland that we can at-present use. Sorry, you luna-tics out there, but in the near term, asteroids are vastly the better bet… though I do approve of some continuing lunar activity!  The best possibility?  Let billionaires finance it with tourism junkets.  Call it money-recycling that will have a positive outcome.

Telescopes that unfold light weight plastic optics, these may open up a new era of astronomy or earth science — or spying — in space.

Kinda weird.  Using gravitational “microlensing” — an almost-fey capability that would have given George Ellery Hale the creeps — a team thinks they have found a candidate for a pair of bodies comprising a free-floating exoplanet-exomoon system.  Wooof!

Most common exoplanets are weird ‘mini-Neptunes.’ “Mini-Neptunes dominate the inventory of 3000-plus planets discovered by Kepler,” says lead scientist and planet-hunter Geoff Marcy.  Worlds up to twice the size of Earth are dense and probably rocky, resembling our own planet. Those between two and four times Earth’s width are lighter, so are either wetter or gassy – more like versions of Neptune, which is itself four times Earth’s width.  Several observational bias effects make it difficult to make good statistical predictions based on the Kepler discoveries.  But every month we seem to have new “huh!” stuff to ponder!

Folks ask me for examples re my prediction of a looming “Age of Amateurs” in which ever-more expertise will be found in realms outside of the licensed professions… in avocations, retirees and so on. The trends are all around us, but nowhere more vividly than in amateur science.  See this especially vivid example of a passion for astronomy.  And yes, I portray this becoming dramatically important, in some fiction.

And finally. This optical illusion is so so SO worth your time.  I mean it.  You’ll thank me.

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See-it, believe-it proof… plus smart mobs and cool science

We’ll start this time with CHASING ICE — a documentary by and about one of the world’s greatest adventurers, who spent years with his brave & hardy team designing, building and setting up some of the world’s toughest cameras to endure the planet’s harshest environments, all to track by time-lapse whether glaciers are growing or shrinking.  It’s spectacular to watch, long before you finally get to see the hard-won footage.

chasing_ice_xlgThis nature show is a game-changer. Watch it and make everyone you know watch it.  I saw an early version and it left everyone speechless in awe. Chasing Ice will next air on the National Geographic Channel,  Friday, April 26, 4 PM ET (check local listings or find it on Amazon).  And yes, your  denialist uncle will find any excuse to avoid watching, because he will know in advance where this goes, where it has to go, where undeniable, bald-faced video footage takes anyone who has the basic curiosity and honesty to watch.

Oh… you have never seen anything till you’ve watched a chunk of glacier the SIZE OF MANHATTAN break off of Greenland and go belly up in a spectacular roar. Watch it 95% just to know there are still adventurers in the world who can bring home to us tales of wonder, worthy of Amundsen.  

== Tracing back the clock of life… TEN billion years? ==

Has the complexity of life been increasing along a path similar to Moore’s Law?  If you trace-back the doublings of integrated circuit complexity, halving the number of transistors per chip every 18 months (Moore’s Law) you get to zero around 1970… pretty much when it all started.  A similar back extrapolation was done with Hubble’s Law, way back in the 1930s when the expansion of the universe was discovered, giving an early estimate for the Big Bang that was correct within an order of magnitude.  Now scientists have done the same thing with the expansion of the genome. And although this is only one possible measure of life-complexity, this particular trace-back yields shocking results. See: Moore’s Law and the Complexity of Life in Technology Review.

If you discount the vast tracts of “redundant” DNA in mammalian chromosomes, then the log curve plots straight back in time, past eukaryotes and prokaryotes, to suggest that life had its origins… almost ten billion years ago.  Since the Earth itself is less than five billion years old, this suggests that either:

(TimeReborn1) life began de novo on Earth (the standard model) and then had a phase of exceptionally rapid genome growth (akin to the inflationary phase of expansion that some say followed the Big Bang), or

(2)  life began elsewhere and was seeded on the early Earth, in accordance with the Panspermia Theory of Arrhenius, and later Hoyle and Wickramasinghe. (As well as Heart of the Comet.)

An altogether fascinating prospect, either way.

== Science and the Spirit of Innovation ==

See 27 sci fi things that are coming true.  Such as a robot that can navigate an obstacle course, spray on skin, invisibility cloaks, 3-D printing of houses, chimera monkeys made from several embryos, artificial leaves, new, cheaper solar cells, and  exoskeletons!

Yet, are any of these advances as epochal as breakthroughs of the past? Has the engine of our innovation broken down? The incredible stodginess of Hollywood, these days, with remakes of remakes, is only matched by the stunning “me-too” notions seen in most net-web startups.  I run into it all the time.

HowAmericansEvery decade since 1940 has seen the United states and its economy swayed by two major forces – a vast trade deficit that wound up being the great driver of world development, raising billions out of poverty around the world… and a wave of made-in-america innovative products and services that generated enough wealth to pay for it all.  From jet planes to rockets and satellites; from telecom and pharmaceuticals and fiber optics to xerography, CCDs and the internet, these breakthroughs came in rapid succession and enabled us to buy trillions of dollars worth of crap we never needed, thus uplifting the world.

That is, till the first decade of the 21st Century, when much of this engine stalled.  Is it simplistic to blame it on social matters like the culture war against science, waged especially hard during the Bush Administration? Of course that was a factor, at a time when extremes of both right and left preach cynical disbelief in the possibility of technology serving us in its traditional, problem-solving role.

That attitude is opposed by (among others) President Obama, who mentions sci-tech more often in speeches than any two other presidents, combined.  But there has to be more to it than that. A component that drives deeper than politics.

This article in the Economist, Has the ideas machine broken down? tries for perspective… and at least succeeds in offering background.

PennyNASAOne thing you can do: Sign a petition to increase NASA’s budget — and support cutting edge developments in space and technology.  But above all, think about it!  Talk to others about re-igniting the can-do spirit.

==Bio-Science Miscellany==

A thoughtful, brief article  about the prospect of uplifting animal intelligence appeared recently in the Boston Globe, By Emily Anthes.

uBiomeAn absolute must-read about  the importance of the next frontier in biology and medicine, the Micro-Biome  ecosystem of bacteria and microbes who inhabit the human gut, skin, mouth etc.  Aldous Huxley wrote about this in a great novel 80 years ago. Today, both doctors and quacks are touting both real and fantasy cures that might arise from tailoring or re-building these symbiotic networks that are often wiped out or thrown into imbalance by excessive use of antibiotics.  Reinforcing the old saw that one generation’s brilliant “solution” winds up creating new problems that the next generation must deal with.  So it goes.  (Get your own personal microbiome analyzed at uBiome.com).

Brain Scan Predicts Whether Convicts Will Re-Offend: Welcome To The Sci-Fi Future.  Activity in one very particular part of the brain shows a high correlation with recidivism. Men in the bottom half of anterior cingulate cortex activity were 2.6 times more likely to be arrested for violent crimes and 4.3 times more likely to be arrested for nonviolent crimes. Should this become a factor in parole hearings?  The future is arriving.

Graphic shows how vaccines have changed our world.  And now yet more studies provide overwhelming refutation of the loony notion that vaccines cause autism. An area where the “left” is bona fide easily as cloud cuckoo as the right.

Researchers at Stanford University have developed a way to make genetic parts that can perform logic calculations.

Laser light to the prelimbic region of the prefrontal cortex apparently zaps away cocaine addiction – or conversely turned non-addicted rats into compulsive cocaine seekers. The effects were seen in rats gene-spliced to have light-sensitive neurons that can be turned on-ff by laser, hence, a different approach must be used for human therapies. Still, knowing which neurons are active in inhibition/addiction control could be of great value and there are other (e.g. magnetic) ways to have similar effects.

==Science and Society==

SavoyOne of the latest TED talk sensations is Allan Savory, who has spent his life combatting desertification, and who now believes we’ve had it all wrong for two generations.  He claims that deserts are prevented, rather than created, by large herds of grazing animals.  His presentation is worth watching and the re-evaluation that he triggers is delicious to my contrarian mind!  On the other hand, it isn’t hard for me to do a second, ornery veer and say “yes… but!”

Oh so many buts.  Like the fact that vast deserts clearly grew as human pastoralists were able to protect their herds from predators. Overgrazing is just as much a threat as undergrazing and Savory’s technique requires the transient passage of large/dense herds of grazers, who stomp and fertilize an area without denuding it. A cavil that will require either intense supervision and daily management… or a return to predator-dense situations that keep the herds packed and moving.  Moreover the grasslands that he has restored are anything but “healthy” ecosystems in their own right.  Improved, but still denuded of trees by the very herbivore herds that Savory extolls. For true health you need at least partial coverage by trees, and that takes active management too, in order to protect them from the herbivores, like cattle, elephants and giraffes.

Finally, Savory’s method emphasizes vast herds of cattle that are burdensome in their own right.  One of the hopeful prospects on our horizon will be vat grown meat.  If it can satisfy our appetites at three pounds of grain per pound of meat, then there will be more food and hope in the world, at far lower Karmic cost.   I will not let go of that hope… though I appreciate Savory’s input of an eye-opening realization.  One that will do good!  Just let’s not get carried away.

God-Problem_resized400X266

==Miscellaneous==

Read about one man’s lifelong wrestling match with his atheism against religious heritage in the context of a scientific world. Sample an excerpt from The God Problem, by Howard Bloom, in Utne Reader.

Ever read a blog on chemistry that was hilarious? See this one about di-oxygen di-flouride… or FOOF.  Yes, it is as horrible a substance as it sounds!  And the blog is gut-busting… if your funny bone is tickled by something that makes water ice explode at minus two hundred celsius.

io9 offers you one of their great lists:  “Want to get smarter during your commute? There are a lot of fantastic podcasts that will teach you new things in a thoroughly entertaining way. Here are 13 podcasts that will expand your brain with cutting-edge science and cultural analysis.”

== Smart Mobs and the Boston Bombings ==

Just one quick comment amid the mid-April terror crisis that has become all-too familiar in recent years. Evidently the FBI gets it and has called out a “smart mob”… or at least asked for public help identifying potential culprits in the Boston bombing from street video footage.  All may change, by the time this blog is posted, so I am putting off making my own appraisal.  But this could be a seminal moment, when all of society came to realize… we’ll be better off when all citizens share in the power to see.

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The Navy, Russians, Shipping & Insurance companies… and Climate Change

I regularly consult with various branches of our “protector caste”… from the military services and homeland security to several unnamed “agencies.” Naturally, I am encouraged by the fact that some of the most serious-minded men and women on the planet are very interested in well-grounded projections of diverse possible futures – not only mine, but those of several other “science & sci-fi guys.”

I can’t tell you about some of these “future studies.”  But I am free to share this one observation:

Absolutely all of the top-elite officers of these services appear to be convinced, without a shadow of a doubt, about Human Generated Climate Change (HGCC). All of those I have met consider it to be both real and one of the greatest challenges of our time.

Ponder this: the US Navy is striving with great intensity to prepare for an Arctic Ocean that is nearly ice-free for large parts of the year. Canada is shifting most of its military budget northward.  The Russians have moved an entire division to the Siberian northern coast.  And dig this.  The Russian Navy’s top priority? Their pride-and-joy?  SIX brand new, double-hulled, nuclear powered icebreakers they recently put in service. (The U.S. has one single-hulled, obsolete oil-powered breaker, soon to be retired)

A year or so ago, the Northwest passage opened so wide that a flood of cargo vessels raced through it from China to Europe. And prospectors are sifting for treasures on the sea floor, where Peary once spent a summer dragging sledges over ice-continents in search of the Pole.

What do all of these groups share in common? They cannot afford to let their view of reality be warped by willful delusion, just-so stories, Beckian rants and dogma, They don’t have the time for denialism. Want another example?

==  Insurers Confirm Growing Risks, Costs ==

Stakeholders from the insurance industry met with members of the U.S. Senate to acknowledge the role global warming plays in extreme weather-related losses, and to issue a call for action.  “At a Capital Hill a press conference on the cost of climate change, debate was not on the agenda. Pointing to a year of history-making, $1 billion-plus natural disasters, representatives of Tier 1 insurance companies took a definitive stance with members of the U.S. Senate to confirm that costs to taxpayers and businesses from extreme weather will continue to soar because of climate change.

“From our industry’s perspective, the footprints of climate change are around us and the trend of increasing damage to property and threat to lives is clear,” said Franklin Nutter, president of the Reinsurance Association of America. “We need a national policy related to climate and weather.” Perhaps no industry better understands the impact of global warming than the insurance industry whose job it is to analyze risk. See the video of the March 1st press conference. Marsh & McLennan, one of the world’s largest insurance brokers, called climate change “one of the most significant emerging risks facing the world today.” As Jules Boykoff put it in The Guardian, “Let’s be clear: insurance firms aren’t altruists; they’re capitalists. A rise in extreme weather means a fall in their profits. This is hardball economics based on risk analysis, not save-the-polar-bears stuff.”

So, if all the men and women who must combine brains, education and professionalism with harsh practicality can see the desperate need to prepare, how do 40% of the citizens of a great nation enter denial so severe they’ll demean and ignore not only scientists and the insurance industry… but even the U.S. Navy?

Are all of these groups (and a myriad more) absolutely convinced that absolutely every single aspect of current climate theory is absolutely proved in all levels, in all ways?  Of course not. There is always room for sincere skepticism that aims at finding flaws and improving our models of the world.

What they can’t afford is prim dogmatism. They have to pragmatically prepare for the world that appears 95% likely (by preponderance of evidence and expert calculations) to be coming.

On the other hand, there is a word for people who refuse to take reasonable precautions, or even negotiate in good faith the cheapest and most efficient just-in-case precautions, demanding instead (at the behest of a couple of coal-billionaire brothers)  that climate theory be absolutely proved in all levels, in all ways, before we take prudent, moderate measures to protect ourselves.

That word is imbeciles.

== Consistency: A Litmus of Madness ==

Here is a distilled essence showing just how bad it’s gotten.  How thoroughly Murdoch-Limbaugh-Norquist-Waleed, the four horsemen of America’s collapse, control the Republican Party. Two years ago, 100% of the GOP Senators voted the party line 100% of the time, all votes, for every issue, all year long.

Hell, a single dumb light switch could have done that job. What’s the point in being a “statesman” or delegate of the people to the world’s greatest deliberative body? As Mark Anderson put it: “This is the opposite of informed, rational decision-making. If that’s all they are going to do, why not save a few billion dollars and just put hats in their empty seats, and let them stay home? In other words, Newt’s party discipline has poisoned American politics.

 == Moral Decline? ==

All right, I am almost done with this political blog-trilogy. So let me just add a couple more thoughts.

Many – even most – “red” voters proclaim they are motivated in large part by anger over America’s “moral decline.” Rick Santorum says it is Satan’s work, undermining the moral foundations of the nation that is his biggest obstacle on Earth.  But is this assertion subject to any kind of test or comparison with facts?

In a fascinating article, The Economist explores measurable things like divorce rates, abortion, violent crime, high school dropout rates and teen pregnancy… all of which have declined… most of them steeply… in the last couple of decades. (Unmentioned by the article: rates for these things, as well as domestic violence, STDs and teen sex, have all declined much less in purportedly “more moral” Red America than they have in Blue states and cities.)

Teen pregnancy is at its lowest level in 40 years.  Shouldn’t that indicate something?

There is one contrary statistic, so read the original article. But this would seem to be yet another case of looking for a mythical reason to rationalize a fuming, volcanic anger that has other, much more psychological causes.  The truth is often bitterly inconvenient to dogmatists

(And you lefties… you have some of your own!)

== Political Miscellany ==

Here is a quickie interview on my local NPR station in which I did some rapid blather about taxes and pyramids and diamonds and oligarchy and historical perspective.  Stuff you’ve all heard from me before, but redolent and relevant this year.

An interesting piece of film-polemic. Biased but very telling. Asking anti-abortion demonstrators if making it illegal should then send women to jail.

A fascinating story about re-shoring or in-sourcing of manufacturing jobs back to the U.S.  – claimed to be a growing and significant trend.

Courts ruled that GPS trackers on cars require a warrant. FBI turned off 3000 GPS trackers currently in use, and now has to apply for permission to turn them back on, in order to find them, in order to remove them.

AND FINALLY: More on high frequency trading (HFT). In recent postings I gave five different reasons why they infernal mutation of capitalism threatens to destroy the very same capital markets that brought it into being. Now here’s another: “Sometimes high-frequency traders don’t even profit from the trade itself. They buy and sell shares at the same price and make money by sending large orders through the exchanges. NYSE, Nasdaq and others want to attract the most traders. So they offer rebates of 20 to 32 cents per 100 shares to traders who send in large orders. On the electronic exchange NYSE Arca, traders who can move 35 million shares pocket a quick $112,000“.

Yeesh. If there were one tax we desperately need, it is this one.

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Santa frets about melting North Pole! Call N. Korea “Chinese”! Plus who is anti-science?

* All right, it’s a simple though not-so-cheery meme. But it mixes warm and fuzzy mythology with deep-important truth. Poor Santa Claus is in trouble!  Tell every child you know that the U.S. Navy is in full tilt preparation for an “ice-free arctic.” Our admirals don’t think there’s the slightest “controversy” over human generated climate change. The Navy’s Arctic Roadmap states, “the current scientific consensus indicates the Arctic may experience nearly ice-free summers sometime in the 2030s.” Yes Virginia, that includes the North Pole. The Navy knows what’s coming and they are hard at work getting ready… as are the Russians.

So, why tell children? Especially around Yuletide? Because maybe fear for Santa Claus might help them get through to knucklehead parents, who clutch beliefs that are far, far more mythological than jolly old gift-giving elves.

== Taxes? My Oncle lives in Dollars, Taxes! ==

* My in-depth exploration of reasons to enact a “transaction tax” on hyper-fast Wall street predatory computerized trading is now permanently posted online.  See why a teensy 0.1% fee might save us from Terminator!

From The Rolling Stone Nov. 9, 2011

* As for the current hoo-row over taxes, in general? Who’d have thunk that the best investigative journalism in America would be at Rolling Stone and Vanity Fair? Seriously, read this cogent and informative article. Sure, the author has a political axe to grind.  But most of the people he quotes are conservatives and republicans, many of whom served Ronald Reagan! And the facts speak for themselves.

Aw, heck. Ask your uncle who is steamed about taxes whether he thinks they are at a historical high, since 1935… or low?  Ask whether he thinks the federal share of our nation’s GDP is low?  Or high?  And if rates are their lowest in 80 years, then why is his top priority to shrink them even further – only for the rich?

== What to do about the “Hermit Kingdom”? ==

The Los Angeles Times 12/09

* All right, speaking of elves… or rather, nasty dwarves… the passing of leadership in North Korea to the latest Amazing Kim is provoking endless ruminations amid the pundit caste and blogosphere.  But seriously, what’s your solution? The Hermit Kingdom tipped over, long ago, into jibbering kakocracy. Nuclear armed, with tens of thousands of hidden artillery tubes aimed at Seoul, its ruling caste lives by extortion, telling its people that the bags of rice they get, with American flags on them, are “tribute from Yankees who are terrified of the Dear Leader.

Compare North Korea, as viewed from space, to any other nation on Earth. (It’s dark as a cave.) Visitors to North Korea attest that the average young person, who is not a member of the officer caste, is two to five inches shorter than their southern cousins.  What to do about this intractable horror story?  I have a suggestion… it is obvious and yet no one but this opinionated, undiplomatic contrarian will ever mention it… for reasons that are also obvious.

 Declare that we consider North Korea to be the 23rd province of China.

Look, I’ve said before that I respect the neo-Confucian approach taken by the mercantilist Chinese leadership caste.  I don’t agree with it – in some ways vigorously – but I can grasp what they are trying to accomplish and overall they have been managing a miracle… financed by Americans via Walmart. (It helps that their leaders arise out of engineering, unlike our parasitical business school grads.) Look, if the Western Enlightenment fails – and I will die fighting to defend it – then Eastern-Confucian noblesse oblige seems the least-bad of all the alternatives.

But seriously, when we’re talking about North Korea, can there be any question? That brutal mini-state is entirely a creature-creation of China.  It was fostered and guarded by Mao’s armies in the 1950s. It is defended in the UN by Chinese Security Council vetoes. Its economy is kept running by Chinese-subsidized energy, coal, iron and grain. China sells the sole-core North Korean institution – its army – nearly all the weapons and equipment they use. “Special zones” are completely run by Chinese companies and ministries. Above all, the Hermit Kingdom continues to exist and maintain its wretched rule by Chinese sufferance.

Is there any rational way to perceive the People’s Republic of China as anything other than the true operator of North Korea?  Were they firmly to inform the top North Korean generals that it was time for change, those generals would obey.

One can envision why the Chinese leadership might want to maintain a Potemkin ruse of sovereignty, propping up the insupportable.  Some reasons seem plausible… like preventing the appearance of a strong and united Korea on their doorstep.  Other hypotheses erupt out of fevered imagination and paranoid-Hollywood scenario-building.  For example, what better place to engage in experiments that go far beyond the limits of decency, anywhere except in the Kim family’s psychotic realm?

Currently, by accepting the fiction of North Korean autonomy, we allow the Chinese top leadership to shrug aside responsibility for this festering canker on the world’s lip. But why accept this convenience, from which we derive zero benefit?  No question that the “23rd province” assertion would be a bold and aggressive diplomatic move!  For several reasons.  First, because China claims that Taiwan is province number 23!  All right, we’d have to linguistically finesse around that. Perhaps by calling NK an “autonomous region, like Tibet.”

Also, of course, we’d have to assert that such a situation isn’t right!  Proclaiming the north to be sovereign Korean territory, occupied as a satrapy by puppets of a neighboring regime. While demanding long term that Korea be unified, we might also insist at least that the occupying power govern well.  Moreover, if people are starving in this satrapy, the onus falls in one place. On one doorstep.

No question, this is dicey territory.  Moreover — and let’s be clear — I am not even asserting that this proposal is wise.  I am open to all alternatives. Still, this should be on the table. Mentioning the un-mentioned possibility… that’s my job.  Moreover, even leaking that the US is thinking about this might send a useful message.

One thing is clear; the status quo cannot stand. Such a declaration would serve notice to the Chinese Leadership caste that – despite their other accomplishments – this is a problem they can evade no longer. Whatever is done in-and-by North Korea is their responsibility.  From misuse of nuclear weapons… all the way to future lawsuits that might be filed by millions of very short Koreans… there are many disincentives against allowing this nightmare to continue.  But only if the persons who are truly responsible, and have the power, are told that this is their responsibility.

== Political Miscellany ==

* The Skeptoid offers a list of the Top Ten Anti-Science Web Sites.  It is informative and surprisingly apolitical… well, in the sense that it assails jibbering nonsense generated by lefty-idiots in equal numbers to right-wing idiots.  I’ve always avowed that the degree of insanity seems equal at both extremes. The big difference is between the mere tens of thousands who attend to one end’s nonsense, vs tens of millions who march to the opposite drum. Indeed, and illustrating this point, what’s missing from the list of virulently anti-science web locales? The site that attacks science more intensely and effectively than any other?

Fox.

* Want science and scientific issues to be debated in 2012? About time for candidates to show if they know (or care) about actual facts? Half of US economic growth since 1945 came from scientific and tech advances, yet that’s languishing. Make it an issue. Donate to Science Debate 2012.   And see how bad (and good) it’s become. 

* Think Warren Buffett is an aberration?  Read about Charles Feeney, a multi billionaire who wears a $15 watch, who is giving it all away – in ways that make a big difference.  He recently gave $350 million to Cornell.

* I’ll keep saying it. Though I find him 50% crazy, I also think Newt Gingrich is by far the most interesting and entertaining Republican candidate, displaying moments of brainy and insightful cogency.  Take this:  “Newt has been warning of the danger of an electromagnetic pulse (EMP)—a burst of radiation created by a high-altitude nuclear explosion… that could take down electrical systems over hundreds or thousands of miles… knocking us back to the 19th Century. ‘In theory, a small device over Omaha would knock out about half the electricity generated in the United States,’ he was quoted as saying.”

Alas, we then move back into crazy territory. “In Gingrich’s view, the threat of an EMP attack justifies actions such as preemptive strikes on the missile installations of nations such as Iran and North Korea.”  Well, Barry Goldwater was 50:50 in much the same way.  But gosh do I miss him now!

In fact, as Scientific American points out, the primary target of an EMP wouldn’t be ground-based power systems. It would be satellites. Moreover, the best defense would be a small, $50 million a year program to foster the moving of EMP resistant technologies out of the military and into civilian electronics.  This should have been started decades ago.  By now, we’d see this worry as quaint… instead of deeply worrisome.

* Drones and robots are increasingly replacing humans on the battlefield: intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, even “targeted killing”. They’re particularly good at the 4 D’s: dull, dirty, and dangerous jobs, as well as “dispassion”, the ability to react without emotion. Here’s an extensive look at some future scenarios, worthy of discussion regarding the ethical consequences. Allow this only if they carry a “reporter bug” that tells society everything they do!

* In the Stanford Law Review, Ryan Calo discusses how domestic surveillance drones will challenge our notions of privacy, calling them “the visceral jolt society needs to drag privacy law into the twenty-first century.” As small as an insect, public and private camera-carrying drones will be available to police, journalists, paparazzi, and hobbyists. Would that these scholars had the courage and breadth and class to study and acknowledge the vast literature of cogent science fiction prethinking that’s already gone into these issues.

* And finally, coming full circle: Current climate models underestimate the potential impact of permafrost. Warming temperatures are melting permafrost, frozen ground that underlies nearly one-fourth of the Northern Hemisphere. One recent estimate indicates that this permafrost contains twice as much carbon as the entire atmosphere. Released as carbon dioxide or methane, this could exacerbate global warming…a runaway cycle. We can’t afford anymore to coddle fools.

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Arguing With Your Crazy Uncle About Climate Change

Forget “left-versus-right.” Or even arguments over taxes. The centerpiece of our current Phase Three of the American Civil War is the all-out campaign to discredit science.

P3Elsewhere I show that the War on Science is part of a much wider effort to destroy public trust in every “smartypants caste” — from school teachers, journalists, medical doctors and attorneys to professors, civil servants and skilled labor. (Name a center of intellect that’s exempt!) But nowhere is it more relentless than by savaging the one group in society that’s unarguably among the smartest and best educated.

It’s having the intended effects. Chew on this. Thirty years ago, in the era of Barry Goldwater and William F. Buckley, 40% of U.S. scientists were Republicans. Today that fraction has plummeted to around 6%.  Can you blame them?

Why is this happening? I go into it elsewhere — the underlying motive for a campaign that will leave only one elite standing. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that everybody has this thing backward.  Scientists are not being undermined in order to argue against Human Generated Climate Change (HGCC). Rather, the whole HGCC imbroglio serves as a central rallying point in the campaign against science.

== The latest salvo  ==

Who Speaks for the ClimateTrust the once-credible — now murdochian — mouthpiece called the Wall Street Journal to publish a sophistry-drenched festival of talking points. Five Truths about Climate Change by Robert Bryce.

Yep, call it “truth.”  The Far Left spent years devaluing that once-proud word on a hundred university campuses, in their own version of a War on Science. Now the Entire Right — not just the far-fringe — completes the devaluation of “truth” down to Orwellian levels.  Take this sampler from Bryce.

“The science is not settled, not by a long shot. Last month, scientists at CERN, the prestigious high-energy physics lab in Switzerland, reported that neutrinos might—repeat, might—travel faster than the speed of light. If serious scientists can question Einstein’s theory of relativity, then there must be room for debate about the workings and complexities of the Earth’s atmosphere.”

Urk!  Gurggle (*strangling sounds*) — I must let someone else answer this.  This cartoon from Sci- ənce! will make you both laugh and sob for your civilization.

==  How can you help win this phase? ==

Trapped between the Far Left’s own distaste for science and the Entire Right’s lemming charge, lured by Rupert Murdoch over the cliffs of insanity, what are  all the pragmatic-moderate liberals … plus those rare but admirable and deeply appreciated awakened paleo-conservatives and Smithian libertarians to do?

Why, what he have to do is fight this phase of the American Civil War, of course!  The “blue” forces were slow to rouse in the other phases, too, but finally got it together to rescue the Great American Experiment. Are we made of lesser stuff?

This fight won’t be with muskets or civil rights marches, but by patiently prying open the skulls of our crazy uncles and neighbors out there who swallowed the anti-future, anti-progress, anti-science hype recreating the Know Nothing movement of the 1830s.  It is going to take all of us — working on the smartest and most salvageable of these fever-racked neighbors, one by one. Getting them to calm down and re-join civilization.

It won’t be easy! Rupert’s fox-machinery supplies endless talking-point incantations to stoke trog fury. Go prepared.  Here’s a pair of sites to arm you.

==  How to answer your crazy uncle re: Climate Change ==

1) I offer my own  handy guide to engage intelligent people who only half swallowed koolaid.  Smart guys who proclaim they aren’t climate science “deniers”…  but “skeptics” instead.

In fact, this distinction is very real! Moreover, science benefits from critical questioning by genuine Skeptics!

Still, given the pervasive villainy of fox-propelled denialism, a burden of proof falls on those who claim to be above the fray and not Rupert’s hand puppets.  My article reveals half a dozen essential (if a bit intellectual) ways to test the claim. And if they pass? Then prove your own adaptability and lack of dogma! Engage and argue with such people, like adults.

2) Alas, most of those marching in Rupert’s Lemming Army don’t make such fine distinctions.  They’re fine with anti-science denialism and my intellectual points will be meaningless.  But if you think your crazy uncle has a — somewhere buried deep inside — the remnant of an honest “paleocon” conservative, then your role — your duty! — is to gather stamina and wear him down, for the sake of civilization.

Each ostrich conservative who lifts his head is a victory for America. Worth hosannas and paeans of joy. When enough of them get angry at the real villians – the monsters who hijacked conservatism – we’ll get back a conservatism folks can sanely argue with. Negotiate with. You can help, one crazy uncle at a time.

This site offers: simple rebuttals to denier talking points — with links to the full climate science. It’s extended, exhausting and somewhat repetitious. Print it before your next crazy-uncle encounter.

But of course… I found some gaps!  So I went ahead and wrote a few more. Add these to the printout.

== Some additional rebuttals to Denialist talking points: ==

1. Practical minded people don’t listen to Climate  Change chicken-littles:

The US Navy is spending a lot of time, money and effort planning for an ice-free Arctic.  The Russians are too, setting up sub-oceanic mining claims and outposts and reassigning a whole division of special forces.  Are the Russians and the US Navy and the Canadians and Norwegians all doing this for nothing? Because they are fools and chicken-littles?

2.  Climate scientists are clueless:

The supposedly stupid climate scientists are in many cases the very same people who improved the Weather Forecast from a 4 hour joke (remember those days?) to a ten day projection so useful that you plan vacations around it.  Sure, climate is more difficult, but it uses the same equations and same modeling systems. If they proved titanically competent in one area, don’t they deserve some benefit of the doubt in a closely related field?  Perhaps more than TV shills who work for coal czars and Saudi princes?

But of course Glenn Beck knows more than they do.

3. Scientists just follow the herd:

Top scientists are the most competitive human beings of all time.  Put three in a room and there’s blood on the floor. Below them, “young guns” are constantly looking for some giant to topple or “wrong corner” of  current theory to shine light into and make a reputation.  If you believe the meek, herd-following nerd image, enjoy!  It clearly makes you feel better to express superiority over people who are smarter and know a lot more than you do.  But… it… is… a… lie.

4. Scientists are pushing climate change for grant money:

Really? They’d lie for a $50,000 grant? All of them? Even the vast majority who have no such grants and work in other (related) fields?  Or who have grants that are secure forever due to their wondrously successful work in weather forecasting? Vastly more is spent on weather than climate: these tenured guys have no “skin” in Climate Change… yet they all believe it.

Oh, but Beck says they are all sucking up to the money gushers in Big Environmentalism. (Do you ever actually listen to your own words?)

How about the major prizes and grants offered by coal companies and petro moguls, for anti-Climate Change “research”?  Huge offers, often much bigger than those petty little grants from EPA, NASA, NOAA or private foundations.  Why don’t those coal-co offers draw serious, top-rank climate scholars, if they are all such money grubbers?

And how does it feel parroting the exact same lines as the Tobacco Industry pushed, when they cried “the jury is still out” about the health effects of smoking, and Tobacco shills claimed that anti-smoking scientists were all in it to become millionaires off grants from the Heart Association? Have you no memory? No shame?

More to the point, if you are so sure about this slander – that all the scientists backing Climate Change are grubbing for grants – HOW ABOUT OFFERING IT AS A BET?  Wagers are on the table.  Free money, if you’re sure! Follow the money, prove this and collect the bets. Only a coward would refuse. (Hint: when offered wagers, these folks always, always run away. Try it and watch them scurry for cover!)

5. Accepting the advice of 97% of the people who know about the climate would ruin the economy.

Wrong.  Accepting HGCC would only open us to finally arguing over the BEST methods to ease greenhouse warming.

Admitting that something needs to be done would not pre-judge the argument over what to do. It will just start that argument!  Many tools would be on the table and economic repercussions would certainly be a factor in negotiations and tradeoffs. We all want to keep the lights on. Given a choice, we’d all prefer the solutions that kept a vibrant economy.

Stop portraying scientists – and those who respect science – as unreasonable people.  Stop portraying them as people like yourself.

TWODA6. Solving Climate Change would veer us in directions we shouldn’t go.

Exactly the opposite of true. Most of the methods for reducing greenhouse gas emissions involve increasing our energy efficiency and stimulating new forms of energy.  In other words, exactly the same things we ought to be doing anyway!

Even if HGCC proved to be an utter myth, it would still be worthwhile to bend major efforts toward efficiency and new energy, if only to wean ourselves off dependence upon foreign oil and filthy coal.  An accomplishment that George W. Bush swore would be his top priority… and that he sabotaged at every turn. (Hmm… look at his family friends and guess why.)

Indeed, follow the money behind climate change denialism.  It leads directly to… foreign oil princes and big, filthy coal. Congrats. You are in good company.

7. The Earth isn’t that delicate:

In many ways the planet is resilient. But here’s a fact that you will hear nowhere else, though as an astronomer I’ll vouch for it:

Our planet skates along the very inner edge of the sun’s “Goldilocks Zone” (GZ).  The sun has been getting warmer gradually for 4 billion years. (This has NOTHING to do with the rate of warming re climate change. A separate, slow but inexorable shift over hundreds of millions of years.)  Now the inner edge of the GZ is right upon us.  That means we must expel almost all of the heat we get from the sun as infrared rays and cannot afford even the trace amounts of greenhouse gas increase that humans have caused.  It sounds unfair, and maybe it is, but them’s the facts.

7. In the 1970s scientists were predicting an Ice Age.

An outright lie. There were a couple of very tentative papers, that’s it.  But this lie is dealt with in the big list of rebuttals that I cite above. So why do I bring it up now?

Because of a big, popular movie that illustrates just how widely people were already talking about HGCC, even in the 1970s. Proving that science never swerved. Go watch Soylent Green.

8. I don’t care, I hate science:

Yep, that is the fall-back refrain. Hatred of  people who know stuff.  Not just science, but also teachers, diplomats, journalists, lawyers, professors, medical doctors, civil servants, skilled union labor… you name a caste of knowledge and professional intellect — of knowing stuff – and it’s under attack.  Most vigorously by the foxed right (making Barry Goldwater and William F. Buckley spin in their graves) but also by the loony far-left.

Pragmatic-moderate problem solving and negotiation were great American virtues. Culture War is betrayal.  Treason. And the chief purpose of denialism.

ClimateSkepticsAgain. Scientists aren’t being dissed in order to detract from the theory of climate change.  Climate change denialism is being pushed in order to help know-nothing-ism win the War on Science.  If our generation fails this test – if you refuse to do your part by rescuing some salvageable conservative, luring him or her back to the version of conservatism professed by real men like Buckley – then welcome to the Dark Ages.

See also: Distinguishing Climate Skeptics from Climate Deniers

David Brin

http://www.davidbrin.com

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Geoengineering the Earth: Should we take aggressive action?

A bipartisan group of scientists and national security experts has recommended further research and testing of extreme geoengineering projects, or climate remediation, to assertively lessen the effects of global warming before it “reaches a tipping point.”

However, the General Accounting Office recently issued a report on varied proposals for geoengineering the Earth — to reduce carbon dioxide, adapt to climate change, and develop strategies for climate intervention. They reviewed current scientific research, and considered such technologies at the present time to be “immature”. The report cautioned that major uncertainties remain on the possible consequences, stating: “Climate engineering technologies do not now offer a viable response to climate change. Experts advocating research to develop and evaluate the technologies believe research might provide an insurance policy against worst case scenarios — but caution that the misuse could bring new risks.” See the abstract from the GAO report.

I don’t disagree with the GAO’s overall conclusion… No proposed geoengineering endeavor scored higher than a 3 out of 9. Research must continue, but zealots should not be empowered when potential side effects are huge.  One experiment that clearly should proceed on an intermediate scale is to create “white cities”… by whitening rooftops in a few warm climate metropolitan areas and see if the effects are positive. The data would be useful, and it’s an inexpensive measure with few conceivable downsides.

And yet, a majority of climate scientists agree that humans are already modifying earth’s climate. Jane Long, director of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, stated that “We are doing it accidentally….Going forward in ignorance is not an option.”

My biggest complaint? There is one proposed geoengineering project that gets short-shrift in every single appraisal I have seen, and this GAO report is no different. It is the only method that would directly imitate a natural process that is already known to remove megatons of carbon from the air, every year. A natural process that has no negative side effects but dozens of positive ones — like helping to feed the world.  That process is Ocean Fertilization.

Ocean fertilization involves adding micronutrients to the oceans to stimulate biological productivity, which removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, sequestering it as sediment in the deep ocean. This could also reverse a widespread decline in phytoplankton, the basis of oceanic food chains. Preliminary trials were highly localized, but indicated that the potential for iron-induced carbon sequestration may be lower than originally hoped – but this has not been systematically pursued.

And yet — can anyone explain to me why the only ocean fertilization experiments were crude, blunt dumping of powdered IRON? How does that emulate nature? Sure it’s a critical bottleneck nutrient. Still, I’ve seen other proposals, such as wave powered, one-way siphons to raise cool, nutrient rich bottom water above the thermocline. Or using wave power to drive bottom-stirrers, sending mud plumes rising — just like what happens off the great fisheries of Peru. (I described such processes in my novel, EARTH, published 1989). The energy profiles may or may not be efficient… we’ll see… but no one can argue that those two don’t emulate precisely the most healthy, wholesome and natural way that the Earth already pulls down megatons of CO2.

Of course, we must beware of unintended consequences of such large scale engineering. Ken Caldera, a climate expert at Stanford University, cautions, “The real question is what are the unknown unknowns: Are you creating more risk than you are alleviating?” We need to be collecting the data that will allow us to make informed decisions.

==Powering the Earth==

One futuristic solution to our energy crisis? Shimizu, a Japanese company, proposes the LUNA RING, a belt of photovoltaic panels placed on the moon’s surface. To avoid launch costs, the solar panels would be constructed on moon, by remote-controlled robots, directly out of lunar soil (which is 23% silicon). Power would be beamed to receiving stations on Earth (220 terawatts annually).

By treaty, any such project on the moon would belong to all nations. I know Dave Criswell who first offered this idea, years ago. If completed, the LUNA RING would represent the most grandiose engineering project in humanity’s history. Not yet feasible, it requires some major breakthroughs. And, frankly, the math may not add up. But it’s the kind of forward-looking thinking that at least stimulates the mind. It reminds us we’re a bold race. A competing concept is Space Based Solar Power — with panels placed in orbit around the earth.

==Technology Updates==

SpaceX has a bold new plan for reusing their Falcon rockets. After upper stages (and cargo) separate, the first stage will re-ignite engines & return to the launch site, slow & land vertically. A process pioneered by the lamented DCX a decade back. This will also let them do test flights – verifying equipment before launch with critical payloads. Even better if you have an island recovery site down-range! Ingenious.

A bacterium that transforms ammonium, an ingredient in urine, into hydrazine, rocket fuel. Apparently NASA lost interest when they realized it would be difficult to generate large quantities of hydrazine.

A new version of Moore’s Law? Koomey’s Law states it’s energy efficiency of computers, not just processing power that doubles every 18 months. Particularly relevant as portable battery-powered portable devices fill our lives. (Brin’s Corollary? CAMERAS get smaller/cheaper/faster/more numerous and mobile even faster than Moore’s Law!)  What’s not keeping up?  Software.  Never has.  Maybe never will.

Exploiting a novel technique called phase discontinuity – etching gold nano-antennas onto silicon – researchers at Harvard have induced light rays to behave in a way that defies the centuries-old laws of reflection and refraction.  Read the sci fi of Wil McCarthy about “programmable matter”…. this is a subset.

You can now hold your brain in the palm of your hand, with this portable brain scanner. For the first time, a scanner powered by a smartphone will let you monitor your neural signals on the go.  Quoth one bright commentator: “And, in the category of things that belong in the novel “Earth”…”

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