Archive for the ‘Science’ Category.

## Fourier Transforms

This is as good of an explanation as I have seen of what is going on in a Fourier Transform.  I have not seen this person's videos before but I will have to seek out others of his.

## SpaceX Landing Two Falcon Heavy Boosters Side by Side -- Gorgeous

Y'all know I have a certain distaste for Elon Musk's rent-seeking, but as I have written before there is nothing much cooler than several billionaires competing at space travel.   The video below is of today's apparently succesful Falcon Heavy launch, but while the launch is as cool as always, what was really new and beautiful was the near simultaneous side by side landing of the two booster rockets.   Booster landing starts around the 36:30 minute mark.

I will say that Musk's promotional abilities do remind me sometimes of DD Harriman.

## Topology Question

Is there some sort of metric for the complexity of a boundary like this one for PA Distric 7, among those invalidated in PA (in a decision the Supreme Court today refused to review)?

I keep wondering whether there is an objective standard we can set, rather just the sort of "I know it when I see it" one that everyone seems to use.

One way I can imagine testing is to do it Monte Carlo style by drawing a series of lines from one random point in the shape to another random point in the shape and calculating which percentage of the lines cross the boundary at least once.  That metric for a circle or a rectangle would be zero, but would be very high for this shape.

## Dolphin Intelligence -- Simply Amazing

This has been shared around a lot but I was very impressed with dolphins following strategies of deferred gratification that some humans I know would be challenged by.

At the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Mississippi, Kelly the dolphin has built up quite a reputation. All the dolphins at the institute are trained to hold onto any litter that falls into their pools until they see a trainer, when they can trade the litter for fish. In this way, the dolphins help to keep their pools clean.

Kelly has taken this task one step further. When people drop paper into the water she hides it under a rock at the bottom of the pool. The next time a trainer passes, she goes down to the rock and tears off a piece of paper to give to the trainer. After a fish reward, she goes back down, tears off another piece of paper, gets another fish, and so on. This behaviour is interesting because it shows that Kelly has a sense of the future and delays gratification. She has realised that a big piece of paper gets the same reward as a small piece and so delivers only small pieces to keep the extra food coming. She has, in effect, trained the humans.

Her cunning has not stopped there. One day, when a gull flew into her pool, she grabbed it, waited for the trainers and then gave it to them. It was a large bird and so the trainers gave her lots of fish. This seemed to give Kelly a new idea. The next time she was fed, instead of eating the last fish, she took it to the bottom of the pool and hid it under the rock where she had been hiding the paper. When no trainers were present, she brought the fish to the surface and used it to lure the gulls, which she would catch to get even more fish. After mastering this lucrative strategy, she taught her calf, who taught other calves, and so gull-baiting has become a hot game among the dolphins.

## Yet Again, Forgetting the Mix

I like reading Zero Hedge, though their laudable cynicism about government and financial markets sometimes edges into conspiracy theory.

Anyway, I wanted to highlight something in a post there today about BLS data.  Various writers at the site have claimed for years that government economic data is being manipulated.  I am not sure I buy it -- I distrust government a lot but am not sure their employees could sustain such a fraud over months and years.  And besides, once you manipulate data one time to juice some metric, you have to keep doing it or the metric just reverses the next month.   Corporations that play special quarter-end inventory games to increase reported sales learn this very quickly.  Where there are apparent errors, I am much more willing to assume incompetence than conspiracy.

The example this week is from the BLS payrolls data, and I will quote from the article and show their chart:

Another way of showing the July to August data:

• Goods-Producing Weekly Earnings declined -0.8% from \$1,118.68 to \$1,109.92
• Private Service-Providing Weekly Earnings declined -0.1% from \$868.80 to \$868.18
• And yet, Total Private Hourly Earnings rose 0.2% from \$907.82 to %909.19

What the above shows is, in a word, impossible: one can not have the two subcomponents of a sum-total decline, while the total increases. The math does not work.

Certainly this is an interesting catch and if I were producing the data I would take these observations as a reason to check my work.  But the author is wrong to say that this is "impossible".  The reason is that these are not, as he says, two sub-components of a sum. They are two sub-components of a weighted average.  Total private average weekly earnings is going to be the goods producing weekly average times number of goods producing hours plus service producing weekly average times the number of service producing hours all over the total combined hours.

From this I hope you can see that even if the both sub averages go down, the total average can go up if the weights change.  Specifically, the total average can still go up if there is a mix shift from service providing to goods producing hours, since the average weekly wages of the latter are much higher than the former.  I will confess it would have to be a pretty big jump in mix.  The percent goods producing hours would have to rise from 15.6% to almost 17%, which strikes me as a very large jump for one month.  So I am not claiming this is what happened, but people miss the mix changes all the time.  I had to explain it constantly back in my corporate days.   Another example here.

## Squishy Words That Create Problems For Using Results of Scientific Studies

The IPCC AR4 summary report had this critical conclusion:

Most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic GHG concentrations.[7] It is likely that there has been significant anthropogenic warming over the past 50 years averaged over each continent (except Antarctica)

I want to come back to this in a second, but here is a story the Bryan Caplan posted on his blog.  He is quoting from Tetlock and Gardner's Superforecasting

In March 1951 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) 29-51 was published.  "Although it is impossible to determine which course of action the Kremlin is likely to adopt," the report concluded, "we believe that the extent of [Eastern European] military and propaganda preparations indicate that an attack on Yugoslavia in 1951 should be considered a serious possibility." ...But a few days later, [Sherman] Kent was chatting with a senior State Department official who casually asked, "By the way, what did you people mean by the expression 'serious possibility'?  What kind of odds did you have in mind?"  Kent said he was pessimistic.  He felt the odds were about 65 to 35 in favor of an attack.  The official was started.  He and his colleagues had taken "serious possibility" to mean much lower odds.

Disturbed, Kent went back to his team.  They had all agreed to use "serious possibility" in the NIE so Kent asked each person, in turn, what he thought it meant.  One analyst said it meant odds of about 80 to 20, or four times more likely than not that there would be an invasion.  Another thought it meant odds of 20 to 80 - exactly the opposite.  Other answers were scattered between these extremes.  Kent was floored.

Let's go back to the IPCC summary conclusion, which is quoted and used all over the place  (no one in the media ever actually digs into the charts and analysis, they just stop at this quote).  A few thoughts:

1. This kind of conclusion is typical of team process and perhaps is a reason that large teams shouldn't do scientific studies.  We wouldn't have aspirin if 500 people all had to agree on a recommendation to allow it.
2. Climate alarmists often claim "consensus".  Part of the way they get consensus is by excluding anyone who disagrees with them from the IPCC process and publication.  But even within the remaining core, scientists have vast differences in how they evaluate the data.  Consensus only exists because the conclusions use weasel words with uncertain meaning like "most"  and "significant"  (rather than a percentage) and "very likely" (rather than a probability).
3. Is "most" 51% or 95%?  The difference between these two is almost a doubling of the implied temperature sensitivity to CO2  -- close to the magnitude of difference between lukewarmer and IPCC estimates.  Many skeptics (including myself) think past warming due to man might be 0.3-0.4C which is very nearly encompassed by "most".
4. It may be that this uncertainty is treated as a feature, not a bug, by activists, who can take a word scientists meant to mean 51% and portray it as meaning nearly 100%.

For an example of this sort of thing taken to an extreme, arguably corrupt level, consider the original 97% global warming consensus survey which asked 77 scientists hand-selected from a pool of over 10,000 working on climate-related topics two questions.  Answering yes to the two questions put you in the 97%.  In the context of what was written above, note the wording:

That anything-but-scientific survey asked two questions. The first: “When compared with pre-1800s levels, do you think that mean global temperatures have generally risen, fallen, or remained relatively constant?”  Few would be expected to dispute this…the planet began thawing out of the “Little Ice Age” in the middle 19th century, predating the Industrial Revolution. (That was the coldest period since the last real Ice Age ended roughly 10,000 years ago.)

The second question asked: “Do you think human activity is a significant contributing factor in changing mean global temperatures?” So what constitutes “significant”? Does “changing” include both cooling and warming… and for both “better” and “worse”? And which contributions…does this include land use changes, such as agriculture and deforestation?

Good Lord, I am a hated skeptic frequently derided as a denier and I would answer both "yes" and be in the 97% consensus.  So would most all of the prominent science-based skeptics you have ever heard of.

## Keeping Cocktails Cold Without Dilution

For many of you, this will be a blinding glimpse of the obvious, but I see so many dumb approaches to cooling cocktails being pushed that I had to try to clear a few things up.

First, a bit of physics. Â Ice cubes cool your drink in two ways. Â  First and perhaps most obviously, the ice is colder than your drink. Â Put any object that is 32 degrees in a liquid that is 72 degrees and the warmer liquid will transfer heat to the cooler object. Â The object you dropped in will warm and the liquid will cool and their temperatures will tend to equilibrate. Â The exact amount that the liquid will cool depends on their relative masses, the heat carrying capacity of each material, and the difference in their temperatures.

However, for all but the most unusual substances, this cooling effect will be minor in comparison with the second effect, the phase change of the ice. Â Phase changes in water consume and liberate a lot of heat. I probably could look up the exact amounts, but the heat absorbed by water going from 32 degree ice to 33 degree water is way more than the heat absorbed going from that now 33 degree water to room temperature.

Your drink needs to be constantly chilled, even if it starts cold, because most glasses are not very good insulators. Â Pick up the glass -- is the glass cold from the drink? Â If so, this means the glass is a bad insulator. Â If it were a good insulator, the glass would be room temperature on the outside even if the drink were cold. Â The glass will absorb some heat from the air, but air is not really a great conductor of heat unless it is moving. Â But when you hold the glass in your hand, you are making a really good contact between your drink and an organic body that is essentially circulating near-100 degree fluid around it. Â Your body is pumping heat into your cocktail.

Given this, let's analyze two common approaches to supposedly cooling cocktails without excessive dilution:

1. Cold rocks. Â  You put these things in the freezer and put them in your drink to keep it cold. Â Well, this certainly will not dilute the drink, but it also will not keep it very cold for long. Â  Remember, the equilibration of temperatures between the drink and the object in it is not the main source of heat absorption, it is the phase change and the rocks are not going to change phase in your drink. Â Perhaps if you cooled the rocks in liquid nitrogen? Â I don't know.
2. Large round ice balls. Â There is nothing that is more attractive in my cocktail than a perfect round ice ball. Â A restaurant here in town called the Gladly has a way of making these beautiful round flaw-free ice balls that look like they are Steuben glass. Â The theory is that with a smaller surface to volume ratio, the ice ball will melt slower. Â Which is probably true, but all this means is that the heat transfer is slower and the cooling is less. Â  But again, the physics should be roughly the same -- it is going to cool mostly in proportion to how much it melts. Â If it melts less, it cools less. Â I have a sneaking suspicion that bars have bought into this ice ball thing to mask tiny cocktails -- I have been to several bars which have come up with ice balls or cylinders that are maybeÂ 1 mm smaller in diameter than the glass so that a large glass holds about an ounce of cocktail.

I will not claim to be an expert but I like my bourbon drinks cold and have adopted this strategy -- perhaps you have others.

1. Keep the bottles chilled. Â  I keep Vodka in the freezer and bourbon and a few key mixers in the refrigerator. Â  It is much easier to keep something cool than to cool it the first time, and this is a good dilution-free approach to the initial cooling. Â I don't know if this sort of storage is problematic for the liquor -- I have never found any issues.
2. Keep your drinking glass in the freezer. Â Again, it will warm in your hand but an initially warm glass is going to pump heat into whatever you pour into it.
3. Use a special glass. Â  I have gone through two generations on this. Â My first generation was to use a double wall glass with an air gap. This works well and you can find many choices on Amazon. Â Then my wife found some small glasses at Tuesday Morning that were double wall but have water in the gap. Â You put them in the freezer and not only does the glass get cold but the water in the middle freezes. Â Now I can get some phase change cooling in my cocktail without dilution. Â You have to get used to holding a really cold glass but in Phoenix we have no complaints about such things.

Things I don't know but might work: Â I can imagine you could design encapsulated ice cubes, such as water in a glass sphere. Â Don't know if anyone makes these. Â There are similar products with gel in them that freezes, and double wall glasses with gel. Â I do not know if the phase change in the gel is better or worse for heat absorption than phase change of water. Â I have never found those cold packs made of gel as satisfactory as an ice pack, but that may be just a function of size. Â Anyone know?

Update: Â I believe this is what I have, though since we bought them at Tuesday Morning their provenance is hard to trace. Â They are small, but if you are sipping straight bourbon or scotch this is way more than enough.

Postscript: Â I was drinking old Fashions for a while but switched to a straight mix of Bourbon and Cointreau. Â Apparently there is no name for this cocktail that I can find, though its a bit like a Bourbon Sidecar without the lemon juice. Â For all your cocktails, I would seriously consider getting a jar of these, they are amazing. Â The Luxardo cherries are nothing like the crappy bright red maraschino cherries you see sold in grocery stores.

## After the "Science" March, We Will Do Some Science

Many of the folks who participated in the science march this weekend seem to have a view of science seem to have a definition of science that involves a lot of appeals to authority and creation of heretics.  Unfortunately, the video below relies on the old-fashioned cis-gendered white male definition of science, which involves using theory to establish hypotheses which are confirmed or denied through observation.  In this dated definition, there is no such thing as heresy in science.

Let me tell one of my favorite stories about scientific consensus.

Perhaps the most important experiment of the last 150 years was Michelson and Morley's interferometer study trying to measure the aether drift.  What is this?  Think of bullets fired from a moving airplane.  From the perspective of someone standing on the ground, bullets will initially travel much faster when fired forward rather than backwards, as the velocity of the plane is added (or subtracted) from the velocity with which they leave the gun.  Everyone, and I mean virtually everyone in the scientific community (WAY more than 97%) assumed the same happened with light.  M&M's hypothesis in their experiment was that light "fired" in one direction will travel at a different speed than light fired at a 90 degree angle to that, due to the Earth's movement through the universe, filled with some sort of aether (yet another of a long line of imponderable fluids proposed to explain various physical phenomena).   They found no such difference -- the speed of light was identical in every direction.   M&M has been called the most important negative result in the history of science.  Einstein and special relatively explained the result a few years later.

While we are on the topic, I want to mention something that always makes me crazy when you see popular articles about Einstein.  You will frequently see stories about Einstein being turned down for a promotion at the patent office or turned down for a teaching job or that he got bad grades.  The point of these stories is always something like, "ha, ha look how stupid these other folks were to give bad grades to the greatest mind of the 20th century."  But Einstein was never a great mathematician.  One always hears that relativity involves all this crazy math, and that is true for the later general relativity, but one can derive the basic equations for special relativity using nothing more than algebra and the Pythagorean theorem.  Seriously, I had to do it on a test when I was 17, it is not that hard.  Perhaps I will show it in a post one day if I am really bored.  Later, better mathematicians wrote papers cleaning up the math of special relativity and making it more robust, and later Einstein had to get a LOT of help with the non-Euclidean geometry involved in general relativity.

I believe (and this is a personal conclusion from reading a lot about him and not necessarily a widely held belief) that a lot of Einstein's greatness came from the fact that he had the mind of a rebel.  He was willing to consider things the science establishment simply would not consider.  It is STILL hard, even a hundred years later, for many of us laymen to accept that time is somehow non-absolute, that it changes depending on one's frame of reference -- so imagine how hard it was for someone in Einstein's time.  In the 19th century, the world of physics had become split into two worlds that folks had come to think of as incompatible and separate -- the world of physical objects governed by Newtonian physics, and the world of light and waves governed by Maxwell's equations.   Maxwell's equations implied light always had a fixed speed.  Everyone assumed this had to be fixed vs. some frame of reference.  The assumption of an aether or fixed point of reference against which light's speed was fixed was the 19th century solution for uniting these two worlds, but M&M demolished this.  It seemed that light had to be a fixed speed in every direction and every frame of reference.  Eek! Einstein asked himself how to explain this result, and thereby re-united Newtonian and wave physics, and he concluded the only way to do so was if time was variable, so he ran with that.  That is not an act of math, that is an act of a flexible, rebellious mind. And flexible rebellious minds do not do very well in schools and patent office bureaucracies.

Apparently a chunk of what looks like manufactured aluminum was dug up years ago in Romania and was dated at up to 250,000 years old. Â By this dating -- given the technology required to make aluminum -- it would be unlikely to be man-made.

So of course everyone is focusing on the question of whether it is an alien artifact. Â Which is the wrong question. Â A rational person should be asking, "what is it about this particular metallurgy or the way in which it was buried that is fooling our tests into thinking that a relatively new object is actually hundreds of thousands of years old?" Â I would need to see folks struggle unsuccessfully with this question for quite a while before I would ever use the word "alien." Â I am particularly suspicious of tests that have an error bar running between 400 years and 250,000 years. Â That kind of error range is really close to saying "we have no idea."

Postscript: Â The article hypothesizes that it looks like an axe head. Â Right. Â Aliens find some way to fly across light-years, defying much of what we understand about physics, and then walk out of their unimaginably advanced spacecraft carrying an axe to chop some wood, when the head immediately goes flying off the handle and has to be left behind as trash.

## Uncertainty Intervals and the Olympics

If I had to pick one topic or way of thinking that engineers and scientists have developed but other folks are often entirely unfamiliar with, I might pick the related ideas of error, uncertainty, and significance.  A good science or engineering education will spend a lot of time on assessing the error bars for any measurement, understanding how those errors propagate through a calculation, and determining which digits of an answer are significant and which ones are, as the British might say, just wanking.

It is quite usual to see examples of the media getting notions of error and significance wrong.  But yesterday I saw a story where someone actually dusted these tools off and explained why the Olympics don't time events to the millionths of a second, despite clocks that are supposedly that accurate:

Modern timing systems are capable of measuring down to the millionth of a second—so why doesn’t FINA, the world swimming governing body, increase its timing precision by adding thousandths-of-seconds?

As it turns out, FINA used to. In 1972, Sweden’s Gunnar Larsson beat American Tim McKee in the 400m individual medley by 0.002 seconds. That finish led the governing body to eliminate timing by a significant digit. But why?

In a 50 meter Olympic pool, at the current men’s world record 50m pace, a thousandth-of-a-second constitutes 2.39 millimeters of travel. FINA pool dimension regulations allow a tolerance of 3 centimeters in each lane, more than ten times that amount. Could you time swimmers to a thousandth-of-a-second? Sure, but you couldn’t guarantee the winning swimmer didn’t have a thousandth-of-a-second-shorter course to swim. (Attempting to construct a concrete pool to any tighter a tolerance is nearly impossible; the effective length of a pool can change depending on the ambient temperature, the water temperature, and even whether or not there are people in the pool itself.)

By this, even timing to the hundredth of a second is not significant.  And all this is even before talk of currents in the Olympic pool distorting times.

## Public Key Encryption

This video, linked by Tyler Cowen, is the best I have seen to simplify the basic theory of public key encryption:

This follow-up video takes this basic understanding and explains RSA encryption

## The Science is Settled!

“Scientists have solid experimental and theoretical evidence to support…the following predictions: In a decade, urban dwellers will have to wear gas masks to survive air pollution…by 1985 air pollution will have reduced the amount of sunlight reaching earth by one half….”
• Life Magazine, January 1970

Other prediction fails from the first Earth Day here.

## The New Rich -- Living the High Life Through Your Non-Profit

Several months ago, a lot of folks where shocked to find that the Clinton Foundation only spent \$9 million in direct aid out of a total budget of \$150 million, with the rest going to salaries and bonuses and luxury travel for family and friends and other members of the Clinton posse.

None of this surprised me. Â From my time at Ivy League schools, I know any number of kids from rich families that work for some sort of trust or non-profit that has nominally charitable goals, but most of whose budget seems to go to lavish parties, first-class travel, and sinecures for various wealthy family scions.

But this week comes a story from the climate world that demonstrates that making a fortune from your non-profit is not just for the old money any more -- it appears to be a great way for activists to build new fortunes.

The story starts with the abhorrent letter by 20 university professors urging President Obama to use the RICO statute (usually thought of as a tool to fight organized crime) to jail people who disagree with them in a scientific debate. Â The letter was authored byÂ Jagadish Shukla of George Mason University, and seems to take the position that all climate skeptics are part of an organized coordinated gang that are actively promoting ideas they know to be wrong solely for financial enrichment. (I will give the near-universal skeptic reply to this: Â "So where is my Exxon check?!"

Anyway, a couple of folks, including Roger Pielke, Jr. and Steve McIntyre, both folks who get accused of being oil industry funded but who in fact get little or no funding from any such source, wondered where Â Shukla's funding comes from. Â Â Shukla gets what looks like a very generous salary from George Mason University of \$314,000 a year. Â Power to him on that score. Â However, the more interesting part is where he makes the rest of his money, because it turns out his university salary is well under half his total income. Â The "non-profits" he controls pays him, his family, and his friends over \$800,000 a year in compensation, all paid out of government grants that supposedly are to support science.

A number of years ago Shukla created a couple of non-profits called the Institute for Global Environment and Security (IGES) and the Center for Ocean Land Atmosphere Interactions (COLA). Â Both were founded by Shukla and are essentially controlled by him, though both now have some sort of institutional relationship with George Mason University as well. Â Steve McIntyre has the whole story in its various details.

COLA and IGES both seem to have gotten most of their revenues from NSF, NASA, and NOAA grants. Â  Â Over the years, the IGES appearsÂ to have collected over \$75 million in grants. Â As an aside, this single set of grants to one tiny, you-never-even-heard-of-it climate non-profit is very likely way higherÂ than the cumulative sum total of all money ever paid to skeptics. Â  I have always thought that warmists freaking out over the trivial sums of money going to skeptics is a bit like a football coach who is winning 97-0 freaking out in anger over the other team finally picking up a first down.

Apparently a LOT of this non-profit grant money ends up in the Shukla family bank accounts.

In 2001, the earliest year thus far publicly available,Â in 2001, in addition to his university salary (not yet available, but presumably about \$125,000), Shukla and his wife received a further \$214,496 Â in compensation from IGES (Shukla -\$128,796; Anne Shukla â€“ \$85,700). Â Their combined compensation from IGES doubled over the next two years to approximately \$400,000 (additional to Shuklaâ€™s university salary of say \$130,000), for combined compensation of about \$530,000 by 2004.

Shuklaâ€™s university salary increased dramatically over the decade reaching \$250,866 by 2013 and \$314,000 by 2014. Â (In this latter year, Shukla was paid much more than Ed Wegman, a George Mason professor of similar seniority). Meanwhile, despite the apparent transition of IGES to George Mason,Â the income of the Shuklas from IGES continued to increase, reaching \$547,000 by 2013.

Grant records are a real mess but it looks like from George Mason University press releases that IGES and its successor recently got a \$10 million five-year grant, or \$2 million a year from the government. Â Of that money:

• approximately \$550,000 a year goes to Shukla and his wife as salaries
• some amount, perhaps \$90,000 a year, goes to Shukla's daughter as salary
• \$171,000 a year goes as salary to James Kinter, an associate of Shukla at George Mason
• An unknown amount goes for Shukla's expenses, for example travel. Â When was the last time you ever heard of a climate conference, or any NGO conference, being held at, say, the Dallas-Ft Worth Airport Marriott? Â No,Â because these conferences are really meant as paid vacation opportunities as taxpayer expense for non-profit executives.

I don't think it would be too much of a stretch, if one includes travel and personal expenses paid, that half the government grants to this non-profit are going to support the lifestyle of Shukla and his friends and family. Â Note this is not money for Shukla's research or lab, this is money paid to him personally.

Progressives always like to point out examples of corruption in for-profit companies, and certainly those exist. Â But there are numerous market and legal checks that bring accountability for such corruption. Â But nothing of the sort exists in the non-profit world. Â Not only are there few accountability mechanisms, but most of these non-profits are very good at using their stated good intentions as a shield from scrutiny -- "How can you accuse us of corruption, we are doing such important work!"

Postscript: Â Oddly, another form of this non-profit scam exists in my industry. Â As a reminder, my company privately operates public recreation areas. Â Several folks have tried to set up what I call for-profit non-profits. Â An individual will create a non-profit, and then pay themselves some salary that is equal to or even greater than the profits they would get as an owner. Â They are not avoiding taxes -- they still have to pay taxes on that salary just like I have to pay taxes (at the same individual tax rates) on my pass-through profits.

What they are seeking are two advantages:

• They are hoping to avoid some expensive labor law. Â In most cases, these folks over-estimate how much a non-profit shell shelters them from labor law, but there are certain regulations (like the new regulations by the Obama Administration that force junior managers to be paid by the hour rather than be salaried) that do apply differently or not at all to a non-profit.
• They are seeking to take advantage of a bias among many government employees, specifically that these government employees are skeptical of, or even despise, for-profit private enterprise. Â As a result, when seeking to outsource certain operations on public lands, some individual decision-makers in government will have a preference for giving the contract to a nominal non-profit. Â  In California, there is even legislation that gives this bias a force of law, opening certain government contracting opportunities only to non-profits and not for-profits.

The latter can have hilarious results. Â There is one non-profit I know of that is a total dodge, but the "owner" is really good at piously talking about his organization being "cleaner" because it is a non-profit, while all the while paying himself a salary higher than my last year's profits.

## The Problem with Elon Musk

When first presented with the idea of the Hyperloop (a train running in vaccuum in an underground tube), I was extremely skeptical it made any sense.   Sure it might work (after all the London tube started out as a pneumatic system much like those that older ones of us remember sending receipts around department stores).   But did it make any economic sense.  Was it really likely that, if we can't afford rail lines above ground easily, we could afford to build thousands of miles of air-tight large-diameter tubes?  Honestly, it looked to me like any other silly idea on the cover of Popular Mechanics, right next to the titanium zeppelin the size of Connecticut that would someday be doing construction work.

So enter Elon Musk, who is very passionate about the idea, claims to be convinced it will work, and appears to be putting some money behind it.   With his support, the idea must immediately be treated as more credible, and it does indeed get a lot of press.  But here is the problem for me with Musk:  With him, the idea must also be treated as very probably another attempt by him to drain money out of the taxpayers' pockets into his.  Because that is what he does in so many of his enterprises.

## Just the Moon Orbiting the Earth...

... but the images are pretty awesome.  via here.  Taken from the DSCOVR satellite orbiting a million miles away from Earth (my guess is that it sits at the Earth-Sun L1 Lagrange point, where the side of Earth it could see would always be in full sun and the back side of the moon would be fully illuminated as it passes Earth)

## Excellent Slate Article on GMO Safety

It is a long article, covering a lot of ground, and is full of links to literature on both sides of the debate.  But its conclusions are pretty definite

I’ve spent much of the past year digging into the evidence. Here’s what I’ve learned. First, it’s true that the issue is complicated. But the deeper you dig, the more fraud you find in the case against GMOs. It’s full of errors, fallacies, misconceptions, misrepresentations, and lies. The people who tell you that Monsanto is hiding the truth are themselves hiding evidence that their own allegations about GMOs are false. They’re counting on you to feel overwhelmed by the science and to accept, as a gut presumption, their message of distrust.

Second, the central argument of the anti-GMO movement—that prudence and caution are reasons to avoid genetically engineered, or GE, food—is a sham. Activists who tell you to play it safe around GMOs take no such care in evaluating the alternatives. They denounce proteins in GE crops as toxic, even as they defend drugs, pesticides, and non-GMO crops that are loaded with the same proteins. They portray genetic engineering as chaotic and unpredictable, even when studies indicate that other crop improvement methods, including those favored by the same activists, are more disruptive to plant genomes.

Third, there are valid concerns about some aspects of GE agriculture, such as herbicides, monocultures, and patents. But none of these concerns is fundamentally about genetic engineering. Genetic engineering isn’t a thing. It’s a process that can be used in different ways to create different things. To think clearly about GMOs, you have to distinguish among the applications and focus on the substance of each case. If you’re concerned about pesticides and transparency, you need to know about the toxins to which your food has been exposed. A GMO label won’t tell you that. And it can lull you into buying a non-GMO product even when the GE alternative is safer.

This is just the management summary, the article goes into great depth on all of these.

## Inability to Evaluate Risk in A Mature and Reasoned Fashion

A while back I wrote a long post on topics like climate change, vaccinations, and GMO foods where I discussed the systematic problems many in the political-media complex have in evaluating risks in a reasoned manner.

I didn't have any idea who the "Food Babe" was but from this article she sure seems to be yet another example. Â If you want to see an absolute classic of food babe "thinking", check out this article on flying. Â  Seriously, I seldom insist you go read something but it is relatively short and you will find yourself laughing, I guarantee it.

Postscript: Â I had someone tell me the other day that I was inconsistent. Â I was on the side of science (being pro-vaccination) but against science (being pro-fossil fuel use). Â  I have heard this or something like it come up in the vaccination debate a number of times, so a few thoughts:

1. The commenter is assuming their conclusion. Â Most people don't actually look at the science, so saying you are for or against science is their way of saying you are right or wrong.
2. The Luddites are indeed taking a consistent position here, and both "Food babe" and RFK Jr. represent that position -- they ascribe large, unproveable risks to mundane manmade items and totally discount the benefits of these items. Â This includes vaccines, fossil fuels, GMO foods, cell phones, etc.
3. I am actually with the science on global warming, it is just what the science says is not well-portrayed in the media. Â The famous 97% of scientists actually agreed with two propositions: Â That the world has warmed over the last century and that man has contributed to that warming. Â The science is pretty clear on these propositions and I agree with them. Â What I disagree with is that temperature sensitivity to a doubling of CO2 concentrations is catastrophic, on the order of 4 or 5C or higher, as many alarmist believe, driven by absurdly high assumptions of positive feedback in the climate system. Â  But the science is very much in dispute about these feedback assumptions and thus on the amount of warming we should expect in the future -- in fact the estimates in scientific papers and the IPCC keep declining each year heading steadily for my position of 1.5C. Â Also, I dispute that things like recent hurricanes and the California drought can be tied to manmade CO2, and in fact the NOAA and many others have denied that these can be linked. Â In being skeptical ofÂ all these crazy links to global warming (e.g. Obama claims global warming caused his daughter's asthma attack), I am totally with science. Â Scientists are not linking these things, talking heads in the media are.

## What's Going on Here

Anyone want to explain this?  It was sent in one of those emails that sort of go around.

 Water straight from the tap becomes cloudy when frozen.
 To make ice cubes crystal clear, allow a kettle of boiled water to cool slightly
 and use this to fill your ice cube trays.

I know that crystal growth is path dependent.  Is this just the water equivalent of annealing in metal and glass?

Update:  Long-time reader Travis says that boiling the water drives all the trapped air out, making the cubes clear.  Jeez, I so wanted this to be some wonky crystal formation answer

## Naomi Oreskes and Post-Modern Science

Post-modernism is many things and its exact meaning is subject to argument, but I think most would agree that it explicitly rejects things like formalism and realism in favor of socially constructed narratives.  In that sense, what I mean by "post-modern science" is not necessarily a rejection of scientific evidence, but a prioritization where support for the favored narrative is more important than the details of scientific evidence.  We have seen this for quite a while in climate science, where alarmists, when they talk among themselves, discuss how it is more important for them to support the narrative (catastrophic global warming and, tied with this, an increasing strain of anti-capitalism ala Naomi Klein) than to be true to the facts all the time.  As a result, many climate scientists would argue (and have) that accurately expressing the uncertainties in their analysis or documenting counter-veiling evidence is wrong, because it dilutes the narrative.

I think this is the context in which Naomi Oreskes' recent NY Times article should be read.  It is telling she uses the issue of secondhand tobacco smoke as an example, because that is one of the best examples I can think of when we let the narrative and our preferred social policy (e.g. banning smoking) to trump the actual scientific evidence.  The work used to justify second hand smoke bans is some of the worst science I can think of, and this is what she is holding up as the example she wants to emulate in climate.  I have had arguments on second hand smoke where I point out the weakness and in some cases the absurdity of the evidence.  When cornered, defenders of bans will say, "well, its something we should do anyway."  That is post-modern science -- narrative over rigid adherence to facts.

I have written before on post-modern science here and here.

If you want post-modern science in a nutshell, think of the term "fake but accurate".  It is one of the most post-modern phrases I can imagine.  It means that certain data, or an analysis, or experiment was somehow wrong or corrupted or failed typical standards of scientific rigor, but was none-the-less "accurate".  How can that be?  Because accuracy is not defined as logical conformance to observations.  It has been redefined as "consistent with the narrative."  She actually argues that our standard of evidence should be reduced for things we already "know".  But know do we "know" it if we have not checked the evidence?  Because for Oreskes, and probably for an unfortunately large portion of modern academia, we "know" things because they are part of the narrative constructed by these self-same academic elites.

## Am I Reading This Right?

This seems to claim to be able to take photos fast enough to capture the movement of light.  Is that really possible?  Reminds me of watching sunrise on Discworld.

## HydroInfra: Scam! Investment Honeypot for Those Who Also Wanted To Ban DiHydrogen Monoxide

I got an email today from some random Gmail account asking me to write about HyrdoInfra. Â OK. Â The email begins: "HydroInfra Technologies (HIT) is a Stockholm based clean tech company that has developed an innovative approach to neutralizing carbon fuel emissions from power plants and other polluting industries that burn fossil fuels."

Does it eliminate CO2? Â NOx? Â Particulates? Â SOx? Â I actually was at the bottom of my inbox for once so I went to the site. Â I went to this applications page. Â Apparently, it eliminates the "toxic cocktail" of pollutants that include all the ones I mentioned plus mercury and heavy metals. Â Wow! Â That is some stuff.

Their key product is a process for making something they call "HyrdroAtomic Nano Gas" or HNG. Â It sounds like their PR guys got Michael Crichton and JJ Abrams drunk in a brainstorming session for pseudo-scientific names.

But hold on, this is the best part. Â :

Splitting water (H20) is a known science. But the energy costs to perform splitting outweigh the energy created from hydrogen when the Hydrogen is split from the water molecule H2O.

This is where mainstream science usually closes the book on the subject.

We took a different approach by postulating that we could split water in an energy efficient way to extract a high yield of Hydrogen at very low cost.

A specific low energy pulse is put into water. The water molecules line up in a certain structure and are split from the Hydrogen molecules.

The result is HNG.

HNG is packed with â€˜Exotic Hydrogenâ€™

Exotic Hydrogen is a recent scientific discovery.

HNG carries an abundance of Exotic Hydrogen and Oxygen.

On a Molecular level, HNG is a specific ratio mix of Hydrogen and Oxygen.

The unique qualities of HNG show that the placement of itsâ€™ charged electrons turns HNG into an abundant source of exotic Hydrogen.

HNG displays some very different properties from normal hydrogen.

Some basic facts:

• HNG instantly neutralizes carbon fuel pollution emissions
• HNG can be pressurized up to 2 bars.
• HNG combusts at a rate of 9000 meters per second while normal Hydrogen combusts at a rate 600 meters per second.
• Oxygen values actually increase when HNG is inserted into a diesel flame.
• HNG acts like a vortex on fossil fuel emissions causing the flame to be pulled into the center thus concentrating the heat and combustion properties.
• HNG is stored in canisters, arrayed around the emission outlet channels. HNG is injected into the outlets to safely & effectively clean up the burning of fossil fuels.
• The pollution emissions are neutralized instantly & safely with no residual toxic cocktail or chemicals to manage after the HNG burning process is initiated.

Exotic Hyrdrogen! Â I love it. Â This is probably a component of the "red matter" in the Abrams Star Trek reboot. Â Honestly, someone please tell me this a joke, a honeypot for mindless environmental activist drones. Â  Â What are the chemical reactions going on here? Â If CO2 is captured, what form does it take? Â How does a mixture of Hydrogen and Oxygen molecules in whatever state they are in do anything with heavy metals? Â None of this is on the website. Â Â On their "validation" page, they have big labels like "Horiba" that look like organizations thave somehow put their impremature on the study. Â In fact, they are just names of analytical equipment makers. Â It's like putting "IBM" in big print on your climate study because you ran your model on an IBM computer.

SCAM! Â Honestly, when you see an article written to attract investment that sounds sort of impressive to laymen but makes absolutely no sense to anyone who knows the smallest about of Chemistry or Physics, it is an investment scam.

But they seem to get a lot of positive press. Â In my search of Google, everything in the first ten pages or so are just uncritical republication of their press releases in environmental and business blogs. Â  You actually have to go into the comments sections of these articles to find anyone willing to observe this is all total BS. Â  If you want to totally understand why the global warming debate gets nowhere, watch commenter Michael at this link desperately try to hold onto his faith in HydroInfra while people who actually know things try to explain why this makes no sense.

Update: Â If you want an actual nano-material that absorbs various pollutants, this may be one.

## Fake but Accurate: How I Know Nobody Believes that 1 in 5 Women Are Raped on Campus

How do I know that average people do not believe the one in five women raped on campus meme?  Because parents still are sending their daughters to college, that's why.  In increasing numbers that threaten to overwhelm males on campus.   What is more, I sat recently through new parent orientations at a famous college and parents asked zillions of stupid, trivial questions and not one of them inquired into the safety of their daughters on campus or the protections afforded them.  Everyone knows that some women are raped and badly taken advantage of on campus, but everyone also knows the one in five number is overblown BS.

Imagine that there is a country with a one in 20 chance of an American woman visiting getting raped.  How many parents would yank their daughters from any school trip headed for that country -- a lot of them, I would imagine.  If there were a one in five chance?  No one would allow their little girls to go.  I promise.   I am a dad, I know.

Even if the average person can't articulate their source of skepticism, most people understand in their gut that we live in a post-modern world when it comes to media "data".  Political discourse, and much of the media, is ruled by the "fake but accurate" fact.  That is, the number everyone knows has no valid source or basis in fact or that everyone knows fails every smell test, but they use anyway because it is in a good cause.  They will say, "well one in five is probably high but it's an important issue anyway".

The first time I ever encountered this effect was on an NPR radio show years ago.  The hosts were discussing a well-accepted media statistic at the time that there were a million homeless people (these homeless people only seem to exist, at least in the media, during Republican presidencies so I suppose this dates all the way back to the Reagan or Bush years).  Someone actually tracked down this million person stat and traced it back to a leading homeless advocate, who admitted he just made it up for an interview, and was kind of amazed everyone just accepted it.  But the interesting part was a discussion with several people in the media who still used the statistic even after they knew it to be outsourced BS, made up out of thin air.  Their logic:  homelessness was a critical issue and the stat may be wrong, but it was OK to essentially lie (they did not use the word "lie") about the facts in a good cause.  The statistic was fake, but accurately reflected a real problem.  Later, the actual phrase "fake but accurate" would be coined in association with the George W. Bush faked air force national guard papers.  Opponents of Bush argued after the forgery became clear to everyone but Dan Rather that the letters may have been fake but they accurately reflected character flaws in the President.

And for those on the Left who want to get bent out of shape that this is just aimed at them, militarists love these post-modern non-facts to stir up fear in the war on terror, the war on crime, the war on drugs, and the war on just about everyone in the middle east.

PS-  Neil deGrasse Tyson has been criticized of late for the same failing, the use of fake quotes that supposedly accurately reflect the mind of the quoted person.  It is one thing for politicians to play this game.  It is worse for scientists.  It is the absolute worst for a scientist to play this anti-science game in the name of defending science.

## Computer Modeling as "Evidence"

The BBC has decided not to every talk to climate skeptics again, in part based on the "evidence" of computer modelling

Climate change skeptics are being banned from BBC News, according to a new report, for fear of misinforming people and to create more of a "balance" when discussing man-made climate change.

The latest casualty is Nigel Lawson, former London chancellor and climate change skeptic, who has just recently been barred from appearing on BBC. Lord Lawson, who has written about climate change, said the corporation is silencing the debate on global warming since he discussed the topic on its Radio 4 Today program in February.

This skeptic accuses "Stalinist" BBC of succumbing to pressure from those with renewable energy interests, like the Green Party, in an editorial for the Daily Mail.

He appeared on February 13 debating with scientist Sir Brian Hoskins, chairman of the Grantham Institute for Climate Change at Imperial College, London, to discuss recent flooding that supposedly was linked to man-made climate change.

Despite the fact that the two intellectuals had a "thoroughly civilized discussion," BBC was "overwhelmed by a well-organized deluge of complaints" following the program. Naysayers harped on the fact that Lawson was not a scientist and said he had no business voicing his opinion on the subject.

...

Among the objections, including one from Green Party politician Chit Chong, were that Lawson's views were not supported by evidence from computer modeling.

I see this all the time.  A lot of things astound me in the climate debate, but perhaps the most astounding has been to be accused of being "anti-science" by people who have such a poor grasp of the scientific process.

Computer models and their output are not evidence of anything.  Computer models are extremely useful when we have hypotheses about complex, multi-variable systems.  It may not be immediately obvious how to test these hypotheses, so computer models can take these hypothesized formulas and generate predicted values of measurable variables that can then be used to compare to actual physical observations.

This is no different (except in speed and scale) from a person in the 18th century sitting down with Newton's gravitational equations and grinding out five years of predicted positions for Venus (in fact, the original meaning of the word "computer" was a human being who ground out numbers in just his way).  That person and his calculations are the exact equivalent of today's computer models.  We wouldn't say that those lists of predictions for Venus were "evidence" that Newton was correct.  We would use these predictions and compare them to actual measurements of Venus's position over the next five years.  If they matched, we would consider that match to be the real evidence that Newton may be correct.

So it is not the existence of the models or their output that are evidence that catastrophic man-made global warming theory is correct.  It would be evidence that the output of these predictive models actually match what plays out in reality.  Which is why skeptics think the fact that the divergence between climate model temperature forecasts and actual temperatures is important, but we will leave that topic for other days.

The other problem with models

The other problem with computer models, besides the fact that they are not and cannot constitute evidence in and of themselves, is that their results are often sensitive to small changes in tuning or setting of variables, and that these decisions about tuning are often totally opaque to outsiders.

I did computer modelling for years, though of markets and economics rather than climate.  But the techniques are substantially the same.  And the pitfalls.

Confession time.  In my very early days as a consultant, I did something I am not proud of.  I was responsible for a complex market model based on a lot of market research and customer service data.  Less than a day before the big presentation, and with all the charts and conclusions made, I found a mistake that skewed the results.  In later years I would have the moral courage and confidence to cry foul and halt the process, but at the time I ended up tweaking a few key variables to make the model continue to spit out results consistent with our conclusion.  It is embarrassing enough I have trouble writing this for public consumption 25 years later.

But it was so easy.  A few tweaks to assumptions and I could get the answer I wanted.  And no one would ever know.  Someone could stare at the model for an hour and not recognize the tuning.

Robert Caprara has similar thoughts in the WSJ (probably behind a paywall)  Hat tip to a reader

The computer model was huge—it analyzed every river, sewer treatment plant and drinking-water intake (the places in rivers where municipalities draw their water) in the country. I'll spare you the details, but the model showed huge gains from the program as water quality improved dramatically. By the late 1980s, however, any gains from upgrading sewer treatments would be offset by the additional pollution load coming from people who moved from on-site septic tanks to public sewers, which dump the waste into rivers. Basically the model said we had hit the point of diminishing returns.

When I presented the results to the EPA official in charge, he said that I should go back and "sharpen my pencil." I did. I reviewed assumptions, tweaked coefficients and recalibrated data. But when I reran everything the numbers didn't change much. At our next meeting he told me to run the numbers again.

After three iterations I finally blurted out, "What number are you looking for?" He didn't miss a beat: He told me that he needed to show \$2 billion of benefits to get the program renewed. I finally turned enough knobs to get the answer he wanted, and everyone was happy...

I realized that my work for the EPA wasn't that of a scientist, at least in the popular imagination of what a scientist does. It was more like that of a lawyer. My job, as a modeler, was to build the best case for my client's position. The opposition will build its best case for the counter argument and ultimately the truth should prevail.

If opponents don't like what I did with the coefficients, then they should challenge them. And during my decade as an environmental consultant, I was often hired to do just that to someone else's model. But there is no denying that anyone who makes a living building computer models likely does so for the cause of advocacy, not the search for truth.

## Settled Science

I mostly ignore, and tend to be skeptical of, most pronouncements on foods that supposedly kill us and foods that are supposedly superfoods.  I have a solid love of meat and have never let the fear of saturated fat stop me from enjoying a good steak from time to time.

Our distrust of saturated fat can be traced back to the 1950s, to a man named Ancel Benjamin Keys, a scientist at the University of Minnesota. Dr. Keys was formidably persuasive and, through sheer force of will, rose to the top of the nutrition world...

As the director of the largest nutrition study to date, Dr. Keys was in an excellent position to promote his idea. The "Seven Countries" study that he conducted on nearly 13,000 men in the U.S., Japan and Europe ostensibly demonstrated that heart disease wasn't the inevitable result of aging but could be linked to poor nutrition.

Critics have pointed out that Dr. Keys violated several basic scientific norms in his study. For one, he didn't choose countries randomly but instead selected only those likely to prove his beliefs, including Yugoslavia, Finland and Italy. Excluded were France, land of the famously healthy omelet eater, as well as other countries where people consumed a lot of fat yet didn't suffer from high rates of heart disease, such as Switzerland, Sweden and West Germany. The study's star subjects—upon whom much of our current understanding of the Mediterranean diet is based—were peasants from Crete, islanders who tilled their fields well into old age and who appeared to eat very little meat or cheese.

As it turns out, Dr. Keys visited Crete during an unrepresentative period of extreme hardship after World War II. Furthermore, he made the mistake of measuring the islanders' diet partly during Lent, when they were forgoing meat and cheese. Dr. Keys therefore undercounted their consumption of saturated fat. Also, due to problems with the surveys, he ended up relying on data from just a few dozen men—far from the representative sample of 655 that he had initially selected. These flaws weren't revealed until much later, in a 2002 paper by scientists investigating the work on Crete—but by then, the misimpression left by his erroneous data had become international dogma.

In 1961, Dr. Keys sealed saturated fat's fate by landing a position on the nutrition committee of the American Heart Association, whose dietary guidelines are considered the gold standard. Although the committee had originally been skeptical of his hypothesis, it issued, in that year, the country's first-ever guidelines targeting saturated fats. The U.S. Department of Agriculture followed in 1980.

Don't these guys know this is settled science?  These saturated fat skeptics must be in the pay of big cattle.

The cherry-picking and small sample sizes are unfortunately a staple of science, but I particularly laughed at the practice of assessing meat consumption during Lent.