Even more interesting than the soft consensus in favor of government intervention was a strong undercurrent that those who disagreed with it were guilty of denying basic truths. One of the questions from an audience full of Senate staffers, policy wonks, and journalists was how can we even have a rational policy discussion with all these denialist Republicans who disregarded Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s famous maxim that “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts”? Jared Bernstein couldn’t have been more pleased.
“I feel like we’re in a climate in which facts just aren’t welcome,” he said. “I think the facts of the case are that we know what we can do to nudge the unemployment rate down.…I think the consensus among economists is that this is a good time to implement fiscal stimulus that would help create jobs and make the unemployment rate go down. I consider that a fact.”
In science, you insist most loudly on a fact based on how much it has withstood independent peer review. In politics, it’s closer to the opposite—the more debatable a point is, the more it becomes necessary to insist (often in the face of contrary evidence) that the conclusion is backed by scientific consensus
Archive for the ‘Science’ Category.
EU bans claim that water can prevent dehydration...
EU officials concluded that, following a three-year investigation, there was no evidence to prove the previously undisputed fact.
Producers of bottled water are now forbidden by law from making the claim and will face a two-year jail sentence if they defy the edict, which comes into force in the UK next month.
For three years a group of government employees actually got paid to come to the conclusion that drinking water does not prevent dehydration. Congrats.
If you want an explanation, my guess is that this is part of the Left's war on bottled water. For some bizarre reason, bottled water has been singled out as one of the evils of modern technology that will drive us into a carbon dioxide-induced climate disaster. So I don't think the EU would have approved any label claim for water. Since this is such an absurdly obvious claim that most consumers would just chuckle at (yes, consumers can be trusted to parse product claims), I almost wonder if some water company didn't just float this to make the point that no claim could be approved in the EU system.
Holly Fretwell of PERC discusses the huge leap in agricultural yields since WWII
Not only does this mean that we have have billions of people on Earth and not starve, but it also has freed up labor for more productive and value-enhancing activities.
As an aside, remember this chart when global warming alarmists argue the the warming trend of the last 50 years is reducing crop yields. (If the linked article seems simply bizarre given the chart above, realize the NYT is saying that crop yields are down from what they might have been. This is the same kind of faulty logic that was used by Obama to credit his stimulus with job gains when in fact the economy was losing jobs. They posit some unproveable hypothetical, and then say reality diverged from that hypothetical because of whatever factor they are trying to push, whether it be CO2 or stimulus).
The problem with food prices is not production, its the fact that we take such a huge percentage of our food grains and, by government dictat, convert them to automotive fuel.
The European Union is overestimating the reductions in greenhouse gas emissions achieved through reliance on biofuels as a result of a “serious accounting error,” according to a draft opinion by an influential committee of 19 scientists and academics.
The European Environment Agency Scientific Committee writes that the role of energy from crops like biofuels in curbing warming gases should be measured by how much additional carbon dioxide such crops absorb beyond what would have been absorbed anyway by existing fields, forests and grasslands.
Instead, the European Union has been “double counting” some of the savings, according to the draft opinion, which was prepared by the committee in May and viewed this week by The International Herald Tribune and The New York Times.
The committee said that the error had crept into European Union regulations because of a “misapplication of the original guidance” under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
“The potential consequences of this bioenergy accounting error are immense since it assumes that all burning of biomass does not add carbon to the air,” the committee wrote.
Duh. This has been a known fact to about everyone else, as most independent studies not done by a corn-state university have found ethanol to have, at best, zero utility in reducing atmospheric CO2.
It is worth noting that the EU would likely have never made this admission had it solely been under the pressure of skeptics, for whom this is just one of a long list of fairly obvious errors in climate-related science. But several years ago, environmental groups jumped on the skeptic bandwagon opposing ethanol, both for its lack of efficacy in reducing emissions as well as the impact of increasing ethanol product on land use and food prices.
It's a wonder how, when over "97 percent to 98 percent" of scientific authorities accepted the Ptolomeic view of the solar system that we ever got past that. Though I could certainly understand why in the current economy a die-hard Keynesian might be urging an appeal to authority rather than thinking for oneself.
When, by the way, did the children of the sixties not only lose, but reverse their anti-authoritarian streak?
Postscript: I have always really hated the nose-counting approach to measuring the accuracy of a scientific hypothesis. If we want to label something as anti-science, how about using straw polls of scientists as a substitute for fact-based arguments?
Yes indeed, the number of people in the newly made-up profession of "climate science" that are allowed by the UN control the content of the IPCC reports and whose funding is dependent on global warming being scary probably is very high. The number of people in traditional scientific fields like physics, geology, chemistry, oceanography and meteorology who never-the-less study climate related topics that wholeheartedly are all-in for catastrophic man-made global warming theory would be very different
I was listening to the WSJ radio podcast while getting some dinner ready, and one of their reporters said, in the context of discussing Fukushima, that some of the engineers at the plant "knew there was a risk" in the plant's older design and could conceivably face charges for not doing something about said risk.
This kind of talk really grinds my gears. In any engineering situation there is always some risk. You can have less risk, or more risk, but risk is not something you either have or do not have.
I will go one step further. This ex post facto witch hunt aimed at folks who discussed risks (an pogrom that occurs in nearly every product liability lawsuit with fishing expeditions through company memos) is the WORST possible thing for consumers concerned about the safety of their products and environment. Engineers have to feel free to express safety concerns within organizations no matter how hypothetical these suppositions may be.
Some concerns will turn out to be unfounded. Some suggested risks will be deemed too small to economically overcome. And some will turn out to be substantial and require action. And sometimes well-intentioned people will make what is, in retrospect, the wrong trade-offs with risks. These witch hunts only tend to suppress this very valuable and necessary internal dialog within organizations. Nothing is going to turn the brains of engineers off faster than an incentive system that punishes them retroactively for well-intentioned discussions about risk.
A time lapse youtube video of locations of nuclear detonations on Earth (all but a couple, of course, being tests). There are far more than I would have guessed. Had you given me an over-under of 2000, I would have surely taken the under. And been wrong.
I can't vouch for the accuracy of this, of course. May be they are counting a test differently than I would.
The other day I was reading an article on the crash of Air France flight 447, discussing recovery of the black box (two years after the crash). It was suspected that the air speed measurement devices may have failed, thus impairing the automatic pilot, but it was not understood why the pilots were unable to fly the plane manually. Was something else going wrong? Did automatic systems, operating off bad data, override manual controls somehow?
The article said that the black box showed the plane went into a stall, and the pilots spent much of the fall pulling back on the yoke to regain altitude. This made zero sense to me. A stall occurs when the wing is angled to steeply. The wing generates lift because the air on top of the wing must follow a longer curve than the air on the bottom of the wing, and thus must move at higher velocity. This higher velocity results in lower pressures. In effect, the plane is sucked up. When the wing is too steeply angled, the air on the top of the wing breaks away from the surface, and lift is lost.
It is therefore absolutely fundamental in stall situations to drop the nose. This does two things -- it decreases the wing angle out of stall territory, and it increases speed, which also increases lift.
Apparently, the experts are just as befuddled as I was reading the data. Dropping the nose in a stall is on the first page of pilot 101. This is not some arcane fact buried on page 876 of the textbook. This is so basic I know it and I don't have a pilots license. But apparently the pilots of 447 were yanking up on the nose through the whole long fall to Earth.
XKCD is freaking awesome today, making fun of the media and food-risk scare stories. Absolutely dead-on.
Scientists studying Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease in the field are still deeply divided about whether BSE can be transmitted to humans, and about the potentially terrifying consequences for the population.
"It's too late for adults, but children should not be fed beef. It is as simple as that," said Stephen Dealler, consultant medical microbiologist at Burnley General Hospital, who has studied the epidemic nature of BSE and its human form, Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, since 1988.
He believes that the infectious agent would incubate in children and lead to an epidemic sometime in the next decade.
"Any epidemic in humans would start about 15 years after that in cattle, and about 250,000 BSE-infected cows were eaten in 1990. There could be an epidemic of this new form in the year 2005. These 10 cases were probably infected sometime before the BSE epidemic started."
His worst case scenario, assuming a high level of infection, would be 10 million people struck down by CJD by 2010. He thought it was now "too late" to assume the most optimistic scenario of only about 100 cases.
One of the great things about the Internet is that it is going to be much easier to hold alarmists accountable for wild scare-mongering predictions that prove to be absurd. Though, I suppose Paul Ehrlich still gets respect in some quarters despite being 0-for-every-prediction-he-has-ever-made, so maybe its too much to hope for accountability.
The mysteries of the brain may be virtually endless, but a team of researchers from two institutes in Göttingen, Germany now claim to have an answer for at least one question that has remained a puzzle: just how fast does the brain forget information? According to the new model of brain activity that the researchers have devised, the answer to that is one bit per active neuron per second. As Fred Wolf of the Max Planck Institute for Dynamics and Self-Organization further explains, that "extraordinarily high deletion rate came as a huge surprise," and it effectively means that information is lost in the brain as quickly as it can be delivered -- something the researchers say has "fundamental consequences for our understanding of the neural code of the cerebral cortex."
I don't know why I have so much fun fact checking the "science" at green blog "the Thin Green Line," but I do. Today's exercise:
There are, right now, at least half a million pieces of junk in orbit around our cosmic Pig Pen of a planet. Space junk isn't just an aesthetic problem, either: Even tiny pieces of junk orbit at speeds above 15,000 miles per hour, so even the tiniest bit of debris can cause serious damage to anything it comes into contact with. Space junk threatens satellites, manned space missions and even the International Space Station.
While certainly space junk can be a problem in certain instances, I am constantly left helpless with laughter at the absolute urgency this type of blog approaches every problem. Here are a couple of things that might help you sleep better at night:
- The speed space junk is traveling is largely irrelevant. It could be 15,000 mph or 50,000. The important variable is the closing speed of two objects, not their absolute speed. And (thanks to our friend Newton) we know that objects in the same stable orbits have to be moving at the same speed. Now, orbits don't all have to parallel and can cross, yielding real relative velocities, but recognize that since over 95% of these half million objects are less than 4 inches in diameter, its a bit like you and your friends firing guns and having the bullets meet in mid-air.
- The drawing he shows makes the sky seem really cluttered. But let's just take a small portion of this space. Let's consider the volume of space between 100 and 500 miles above the Earth's surface. Using a bit of geometry, this space works out to be 93 trillion cubic miles of volume. Which means one object, generally less than 4 inches in diameter, in space per every 186,000 cubic miles, which for scale is the equivalent volume to a building 40 stories tall that covers the entire continental United States.
Certainly avoiding these objects is a navigation concern for powered spacecraft, which is why all these pieces of junk are watched in the first place. But the idea of a space superfund to clean this stuff up is so hilariously expensive (given current tech) and such a staggering waste of resources compared to other uses of those funds that one would only expect to find it on, well, an environmental blog.
I will tell you that no matter how confidence in one has in his own intellectual ability, it's hard not to experience an "am I crazy?" moment when one reaches a conclusion different from everybody else's. Case in point is my critique of the EPA's mpg numbers for electric vehicles. The EPA's methodology strikes me as complete BS, but everyone, even folks like Popular Mechanics, keep treating the number like it is a serious representation of the fossil fuel use of vehicles like the Volt and Leaf.
Sot it was therefore nice to see a mechanical engineering professor independently make the same points I did in this Pajamas Media article. Also, my Princeton classmate Henry Payne, who often writes on automotive issues, linked my article at the Michigan View.
I thought this was an incredibly cool image, showing the changing path of the Mississippi River (in this case where it meets the Ohio). (via Flowing Data)
When I was a kid, I was fascinated by water flow and erosion. I remember spending a whole day on a woodside hill watching the evolution of an ad hoc stream of water, playing around with damming it in some places, creating new channels, etc. When I went to the beach, I never built castles but attempted to build walls and channels to shape the way the tide flowed. Since I am free associating, I also remember visiting a huge model of the Mississippi, I think near Vicksburg, that I thought at the time was the coolest thing on Earth. Not even sure today if it still exists.
I second Alex's nomination - this is one of my favorite documentaries as well. The book by the same name is very good as well and covers more of the math history. I actually watched it just the other day in a home double feature with a A Beautiful Mind, mainly showing my kids the scenes shot at Princeton** but it turned out to be a great essay on math and the human mind.
** I suppose I could have thrown in Transformers 2 as a Princeton triple feature but it seemed somehow out of place in terms of tone. Also, seeing all the ASU girls walking around the Princeton campus was almost weirder than the hallucinations in A Beautiful Mind.
Natural seeps in the Gulf of Mexico release more oil each year than even the most recent oil spill. Somehow, nature consumes this oil with only a few tar ball showing up on beaches. Which is why this is not hugely surprising
The oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico appears to be dissolving far more rapidly than anyone expected, a piece of good news that raises tricky new questions about how fast the government should scale back its response to the Deepwater Horizon disaster.
The immense patches of surface oil that covered thousands of square miles of the gulf after the April 20 oil rig explosion are largely gone, though sightings of tar balls and emulsified oil continue here and there.
Reporters flying over the area Sunday spotted only a few patches of sheen and an occasional streak of thicker oil, and radar images taken since then suggest that these few remaining patches are quickly breaking down in the warm surface waters of the gulf.
Some scientists claim to be able to make room temperature ice (yes, I presume at 1 atm pressure). Not sure what to make of it:
Earth's climate is strongly influenced by the presence of particles of different shapes and origins "” in the form of dust, ice and pollutants "” that find their way into the lowest portion of the atmosphere, the troposphere. There, water adsorbed on the surface of these particles can freeze at higher temperatures than pure water droplets, triggering rain and snow.Researchers at Spain's Centre d'InvestigaciÃ³ en NanociÃ¨ncia i Nanotecnologia (CIN2) have studied the underlying mechanisms of water condensation in the troposphere and found a way to make artificial materials to control water condensation and trigger ice formation at room temperature. Described in the Journal of Chemical Physics, which is published by the American Institute of Physics, their work may lead to new additives for snowmaking, improved freezer systems, or new coatings that help grow ice for skating rinks.
The next step? The researchers' goal now is to produce environmentally-friendly synthetic materials for efficiently inducing snow. "If water condenses in an ordered way, such as a hexagonal structure, on such surfaces at ambient conditions, the term "˜room temperature ice' would be fully justified," adds Verdaguer. "The solid phase, ice, would be produced by a surface effect rather than as a consequence of temperature. In the long term, we intend to prepare smart materials, "˜intelligent surfaces,' that will react to water in a predefined way."
I remember some work on how water boiling could be suppressed by polishing surfaces where bubbles form (watch a pot of water boiling, the bubbles appear on the pan surfaces). I presume this may be a related effect.
One of the geekier conversations I used to get drawn into (up there along with arguing about favorite Serenity episodes, lamenting the demise of Omni magazine, and coming to blows over D&D rules interpretations) was over the relative merits of various sorting algorithms. Flowing Data has some links to some interesting visualization approaches to sorting algorithms. This one is for quicksort (colors start out random on the left and must be sorted into Roy G Biv order).
In college I did a project on solving traveling-salesman-type problems with an algorithm called simulated annealing. Many approaches to the traveling salesman problem pick a random path and then randomly switch pairs of routings on the path, and then stick with the alternative that gives the best score (in this case the shortest path). Rinse, repeat a zillion times. The problem is this approach can get stuck in, or converge on, a local optima that are not as good as the single grand optimum for the problem.
In simulated annealing, the algorithm is allowed to sometimes jump to a worse (ie longer) path, which lets it jump out of local minima. The amount of the backwards jump that is allowed is slowly reduced over time as the algorithm runs. It is called simulated annealing because this is very similar to the annealing process in metals, where temperature is decreased slowly to, initially, allow the metal molecules to jump to higher energy states so that the whole can settle into a more homogeneous structure.
Anyway, we tried to show how the algorithm proceeded to a solution over time and the visualizations looked a little like this.
I now see at firsthand how I avoided hearing any good news when I was young. Where are the pressure groups that have an interest in telling the good news? They do not exist. By contrast, the behemoths of bad news, such as Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and WWF, spend hundreds of millions of dollars a year and doom is their best fund-raiser. Where is the news media's interest in checking out how pessimists' predictions panned out before? There is none. By my count, Lester Brown has now predicted a turning point in the rise of agricultural yields six times since 1974, and been wrong each time. Paul Ehrlich has been predicting mass starvation and mass cancer for 40 years. He still predicts that `the world is coming to a turning point'.
Ah, that phrase again. I call it turning-point-itis. It's rarely far from the lips of the prophets of doom. They are convinced that they stand on the hinge of history, the inflexion point where the roller coaster starts to go downhill. But then I began looking back to see what pessimists said in the past and found the phrase, or an equivalent, being used by in every generation. The cause of their pessimism varied - it was often tinged with eugenics in the early twentieth century, for example - but the certainty that their own generation stood upon the fulcrum of the human story was the same.
I got back to 1830 and still the sentiment was being used. In fact, the poet and historian Thomas Macaulay was already sick of it then: `We cannot absolutely prove that those are in error who tell us that society has reached a turning point, that we have seen our best days. But so said all before us, and with just as much apparent reason.' He continued: `On what principle is it that, when we see nothing but improvement behind us, we are to expect nothing but deterioration before us.'
Check out the article for more. I am currently reading his book -- good stuff so far. He quotes both my college roommate Brink Lindsey as well as yours truly in the book. How can you go wrong?
Larry Summers caught a lot of grief for a statement that has been oft-misreported:
"It does appear that on many, many different human attributes- height, weight, propensity for criminality, overall IQ, mathematical ability, scientific ability - there is relatively clear evidence that whatever the difference in means - which can be debated - there is a difference in the standard deviation, and variability of a male and a female population."
Personally, I don't have a lot of problems with the gender hypothesis, but I am skeptical of our ability to test intelligence. I think most of us in the real world have enough experience to understand that the people we meet have a range of cognitive abilities, but I am not sure it is even possible to put a number on this, particularly since my experience is that there are many categories of intelligence and intelligence in one area is not intelligence in another. Besides, I think most IQ tests are dominated by logic problems where one's ability to solve them improves with practice and training -- but this is counter to the idea we are somehow testing some property separate from education or training.
Update: As to the idea of different intelligences, I will offer myself as an example. In my prime, I was pretty freaking good at advanced math, and later in life I got pretty good at deconstructing business problems that were pretty complex. But I can't spell my way out of a paper bag, and I have a horrendous proof-reading ability (as all my readers will know by now). I can stare at text over and over and still miss obvious errors. I have a fabulous memory for concepts and problem-solving approaches, and I can recite the entirety of Monty Python and the Holy Grail from memory, but have almost no ability to retain a name, date, or phone number.
I guess I could have predicted this, but I didn't know until this weekend that a variety of conspiracy theories were circulating about the BP oil platform fire and spill, including the incredibly absurd notion that the platform was torpedoed by a North Korean submarine.
I am not a military analyst, though my sense is that a North Korean submarine would have difficulty even sailing reliably to the Gulf of Mexico. But I do know petroleum operations. And I can say that any petroleum facility is a playground for fire, and only unwavering, intelligent management can prevent disaster (and even then sometimes shit happens).
It seems that, like the 9/11 truthers, the arguments are based on statements that sound plausible to laymen but in fact are meaningless. An example:
Many have concluded that the platform sunk due to sabotage of some nature. No oil spills happened when Hurricane Katrina hit the area in 2005, they note.
While hurricanes are dangerous to oil rigs, they are something rigs are designed for. This kind of blowout likely was due to forces at work down in the borehole, meaning that the problem was thousands of feet below the surface of the ocean, where one would not even know a hurricane was present.
This piece of evidence is funny
This conclusion has been spurred by alleged Kremlin reports that the Obama Administration has ordered a news blackout, preventing reporters from gaining access to the area or discovering information that would confirm or disprove the charges
LOL, the Obama Administration ordered a news blackout of gay protesters around the corner from the White House.
The total number of pixels [on an HDTV screen] is 1920 horizontally x 1080 vertically = 2,073,600 pixels. There are 256 possible intensities of red, green and blue for each pixel, so that's 2563 = 16,777,216 possible colors. To figure out how many possible images there are, we need to raise the second number to the power of the first, so 16,777,2162,073,600 = 1.5 * 101,4981,180 possible images. That's a pretty big number "“ it's almost a million and a half digits long. Printing it in 10 point Monaco would take over 2,700 pages of paper. Scientists estimate that there are 1080 atoms in the observable universe "“ a tiny number in comparison.However big it may be, the fact that the number is finite is a surprising thing to realize. It means that every possible image has a unique ID number. So instead of asking me, "did you see that picture of MIA performing pregnant at the Grammys", you might ask, "did you see image number 1,394,239,...,572?" Obviously that is totally impractical and it would make you a huge nerd, but it's interesting that you could.
I have written about it before, but here is Matt Parker:
I have just purchased a packet of Boots-brand 84 arnica homeopathic 30C Pills for £5.09, which Boots proudly claim is only 6.1p per pill. Their in-store advice tells me that arnica is good for treating "bruising and injuries", which gives the impression that this is a very cost-effective health-care option.
Unlike most medication, it didn't list the actual dose of the active ingredient that each pill contains, so I checked the British Homeopathic Association website. On their website it nonchalantly states that to make a homeopathic remedy, they start with the active ingredient and then proceed to dilute it to 1 per cent concentration. Then they dilute that new solution again, so there is now only 0.01 per cent of the original ingredients. For my 30C pills this diluting is repeated thirty times, which means that the arnica is one part in a million billion billion billion billion billion billion.
The arnica is diluted so much that there is only one molecule of it per 7 million billion billion billion billion pills.
It's hard to comprehend numbers that large. If you were to buy that many pills from Boots, it would cost more than the gross domestic product of the UK. It's more than the gross domestic product of the entire world. Since the dawn of civilisation. If every human being since the beginning of time had saved every last penny, denarius and sea-shell, we would still have not saved-up enough to purchase a single arnica molecule from Boots.
The amazing thing to me is that the folks lining up to be fleeced by this industry, and who will vociferously defend that they are not being fleeced, are the types of folks who are typically the first to throw up the barricades in the street when gas prices rise by 5 cents.
By the way, Arizona has a state board of homeopathic examiners to check ... what, exactly? To guarantee no active ingredient made its way into the product?
Here is a funny related video: