"Now, it's time for the happy recap." - Bob Murphy
December 13, 2004
SCIENCE/POLITICS: Getting Warmer
The Mad Hibernian's post on Friday on Michael Crichton's new book questioning "global warming" and similar environmental dogmas (which followed on this powerful speech by Crichton last year denouncing global warming theories) prompted some interesting comments and links. Now, I'm no expert on the subject myself, but I did think it was worth repeating here something I said in the comments to that post. I'm very skeptical of hearing "global warming" discussed as if it is a single concept, like "the earth is round." Basically, "global warming," as I understand its popular meaning, is really three different concepts:
1. The earth has, for some period of time, been getting warmer.
2. This past warming trend is not a random or cyclical phenomenon but is a trend that will continue into the future unless interrupted by human intervention.
3. The past trend and its continuation into the future are the results of specifically identifiable human activities, i.e., carbon emissions.
It is entirely possible to believe #1 without believing #2 and #3, or even to believe #1 and #2 without believing #3. Beware of anyone who tries to use evidence supporting just one of those propositions to convince you of all three.
December 10, 2004
SCIENCE: The Skeptical Novelist
Iím intrigued by Michael Crichton coming out as a global warming skeptic in his new novel, see here and here, but probably not intrigued enough to actually buy it. Crichtonís highly intelligent and has a lot of interesting ideas, but doesnít seem to be writing very entertaining stories these days. This book in particular sounds like it would work a lot better as non-fiction, although it would almost certainly reach a much smaller readership that way.
Anyway, Iím a certified dunce when it comes to science and would hardly claim to be an authority one way or another, but am a relative skeptic on environmental matters. Thus, before reading Crichtonís book, I should probably try and tackle this one.
October 11, 2004
SCIENCE: Feathered Fiend
So, we think we know dinosaurs. But answer this: how do we know they didn't have feathers? After all, research seems to indicate that they were closer relatives to today's birds than today's lizards.
Well, scientists have now unearthed an early ancestor of Tyrannosaurus Rex who had feathers. And that could suggest that the most fearsome meat-eater of all did too.
March 12, 2004
SCIENCE: Another Illusion Shattered
China admits that the Great Wall of China can not be seen from outer space. This was apparently common knowledge to people who follow these things, but I'd always heard it cited that the Great Wall was the only man-made structure visible from space (granted, it did seem odd that something that low and narrow would be visible from space).
March 05, 2004
SCIENCE: Just Think of the Law Enforcement Applications . . .
I can foresee an Orwellian world ahead for people on probation. Microsoft unveils a prototype for a camera you can wear that automatically takes 2,000 pictures per day to show everyone you see and everywhere you go.
February 27, 2004
SCIENCE: An Ounce of . . .
I don't care how much you want to avoid getting colon cancer, I'm not recommending this as as preventative measure.
February 20, 2004
Scientists have announced what they believe to be the discovery of "a frozen object 4.4 billion miles from Earth that appears to be more than half the size of Pluto and larger than the planet's moon," the largest discovery within our solar system since Pluto itself in 1930. The "planetoid," "dubbed 2004 DW [they'll need a better name], lies at the outer fringes of the Kuiper Belt, a swarm of frozen rock and ice beyond the orbit of Neptune."
February 06, 2004
SCIENCE: For The Birds
This MSNBC report speculates that the 1918 influenza epidemic was caused by a strain of flu similar to the bird-borne virus currently erupting in Asia:
So far this year only 16 people have been killed, but there is some evidence it may have begun spreading from person to person. If that happens, experts fear the virus has the potential to be as bad as the 1918 epidemic.
Given that the 1918 epidemic killed more people than World War I, that's not a comforting thought.
January 18, 2004
SCIENCE: Gorilla Revival?
I previously noted a report painting a bleak picture of the great ape population in Central Africa, but this recent report on a census of endangered mountain gorillas suggests that this particular type of ape, at least, may actually be on the road to recovery.
December 19, 2003
SCIENCE: Apes and Ebola
This MSNBC report has a disturbingly grim analysis of the future of the great apes, noting specifically that the ape population in Africa has been decimated by ebola epidemics. I'm certainly nobody's idea of an environmentalist, but this is clearly something we need to do something about -- the great apes are our nearest relatives in the animal kingdom, and would represent a particularly egregious loss. Unfortunately, the article suggests that people working to address the issue don't even have a good idea of a solution to implement in the Magical Land of Unlimited Resources, let alone in the world we live in.
October 23, 2003
SCIENCE: Another Pompeii?
USAToday had an interesting story the other day about the large number of people in Italy living in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius, and the high likelihood of another eruption in the near future. Yet, people refuse to move even off the mountain itself.
October 03, 2003
SCIENCE: Breast Implants and Suicide
A series of studies suggest a link between breast implants and suicide, and MSNBC's writeup suggests that this could be problematic for the makers of silicone implants, who are trying to get FDA approval to get back on the market after waves of litigation based on junk science connecting silicone implants to everything but prostate cancer. Even this article concedes the obvious: this could just as easily be a case where, for many women, suicidal tendencies and the desire to get breast implants are both symptoms of the same set of problems: women who have seriously low self-esteem and/or are heavily dependent on other people (employers, husbands) who place and overemphasis on their looks.
What's frustrating is that the article is vague as to whether the studies involved only silicone implants and not other cosmetic implants.
September 19, 2003
SCIENCE: Monkey Justice
Apparently, monkey don't like unfairness any more than people do.
September 07, 2003
SCIENCE: Clone Failure
August 08, 2003
SCIENCE: Smoke and Dust
Over at the Volokh Conspiracy, David Bernstein notes that the media is jumping to conclusions about a recent study showing lower than expected birthweights by babies carried by "women who were pregnant and at or around the World Trade Center during or after the terror attack": he's right that the correlation between low birth weights and exposure to smoke and dust does not prove causation.
July 26, 2003
SCIENCE: The Origin of Life
But there's a key question the article leaves unanswered: how? Seriously, I plead ignorance on this one -- can any of the scientists in the audience here tell me if science has come up with even a halfway workable description of how non-living materials become life forms?
July 17, 2003
BUSINESS/SCIENCE: The Death of Moore's Law?
Former Intel CEO Gordon Moore thinks that we are only a few years from seeing the finite limits on how small things can be cause the death of "Moore's law," the maxim that "the number of transistors on a computer chip will double every two years."
May 02, 2003
SCIENCE: The Mentally Handicapped
According to this article, Einstein and Sir Isaac Newton were mentally handicapped, and would probably (on that basis) be covered today by the Americans With Disabilities Act. Of course, the photo with the article suggests that Newton's problems were more serious than I would have thought.
May 01, 2003
There were actually survivors from the space shuttle Columbia disaster: worms used in a science experiment on the shuttle. I wonder if the fact of the worms' survival of the crash is itself scientifically noteworthy.
April 23, 2003
SCIENCE: A Soft Landing
Although he characteristically takes forever to get to the point, this Steven Den Beste column aptly explains why it''s not the end of the world if we wait until we have clearer signs before we do anything about potential long-range economic problems.
If you were thinking about having your tongue pierced, Clayton Cramer has some news that may make you think again.
April 19, 2003
SCIENCE/POLITICS: Good News
This has to be good news: a sharp drop in pollution in the U.S. between 1995 and 2000, even without drastic remedies like the Kyoto treaty. Give some credit where it's due: this occurred on Bill Clinton's watch, and under the auspices of the Clean Air Act forced on George H.W. Bush by Congressional Democrats. On the other hand, it happened without anything more radical, much to the undoubted chagrin of the Gores and Naders of the world.
April 07, 2003
SCIENCE: Colossal Squid
February 22, 2003
POLITICS/SCIENCE: A RESPONSE TO DOUG TURNBULL
Doug Turnbull has set out, at some length, a thoughtful explanation of why he thinks that the case for a space program is just as grounded in impractical romanticism as much of modern environmentalism:
Can anyone come up with an argument for manned space flight that couldn't, with a few changed words, also be used to support a ban on ANWR drilling, or almost any pro-environmental position, for that matter? Both seem to rest on a fundamental romanticism--in the one case of space, in the other of wilderness and wildlife here on earth. Both involve large economic costs to pursue this romantic goal, with either no economic payoff, or a highly questionable economic payoff in the distant future.
So why are so many of the same people who sneer at environmentalists' arguments about preserving wilderness, who happily whip out their cost benefit analysis thinking caps when such arguments come up, perfectly willing to jettison any semblance of rational thought or cost-benefit considerations when it comes to space exploration?
* * *
I've seen others make this point, and it's a fair criticism. Certainly much of the terms in which the space program is described by its admirers is explicitly aimed at our imagination rather than any hard grip on the day-to-day world the rest of us inhabit. Charles Krauthammer's stirring call to Mars is one of the best exemplars of this phenomenon.
In the end, though, I think that a fair distinction can be made between the two. Let's count the ways (albeit with a lot of overlap between my arguments):
1. The Costs of The Space Program Are More Explicit. The space program costs money, a lot of money; Turnbull pinpoints the cost of the Space Shuttle and International Space Station at $5.5 billion/year. But we can see that cost, and publicly debate it. The big problem conservatives have with environmentalism isn't the EPA's budget, which I suspect (without checking) is a good deal larger than NASA's. The problem is with all sorts of costs imposed by regulations on businesses, which impede economic growth in ways that are hard to measure and thus far less immediately subject to public scrutiny than NASA's budget.
2. The Costs of The Space Program Are Far Smaller. As I noted above, the cost of the space program as a whole is unlikely, in the near future, to exceed the very low 11 digits. Now, $10 billion may be a lot of money, but that's peanuts compared to the costs that would be imposed if we ever had to follow, say, the Kyoto Treaty.
3. The Space Program Places No Limits On Human Liberty. Costs aren't only measured in dollars. The space program costs us nothing but taxpayer money, and while I don't underestimate the cost of taxpayer money, environmental regulations impose other serious costs -- restrictions on businesses, impositions on communities and their livelihoods, barriers on the aspirations of working people who want to be self-sufficient.
4. We Don't Force Poor Countries To Have Space Programs. The environmental movement is forever trying to get the United States to insist on environmental restrictions on foreign countries, where people are trying to escape subsistence economies and raise standards of living to points that we take for granted in terms of our health and longetivity. The space program asks nothing of farmers in Zambia or the Amazon jungles, just the people who pay federal income taxes -- and we know who they are.
5. A Private Sector Space Program Would Be Even Better. Most conservative thinkers about space would gladly see a larger role for the private sector in the space program -- maybe not an exclusive role, but a larger one. Come to think of it, they're the same people who think that voluntary private sector efforts on the environment can be good for the economy. (Krauthammer, by the way, is quite explicit in explaining that he thinks government is just better at things like the space program that involve linear goal-driven projects rather than ham-handed attempts to screw with incentives in private conduct).
6. The Space Program Does Not Harm Our Sovereignty Or Infringe On Democratic Self-Government. Again, I get back to things like the Kyoto Treaty -- the environmental movement has made many efforts to get us to accept the dictates of international bodies our people did not elect. The space program makes no such demands, and instead proudly flies the American flag, even planting it on the moon (sorry, got a little emotional at the end there).
7. Space Has Military Applications. Now let's talk turkey -- as John Miller of the National Review noted (actually, I think he was quoting someone but I lost the article), space is "the ultimate high ground" -- by pushing our space program further, we can develop more military applications that have enormous usefulness in dangerous times. Miller's latest piece, on the use of Global Positioning Systems to improve the accuracy of our aerial bombardment and coordinate troop movements, underscores this.
8. Our Space Program Is Awe-Inspiring. I'm talking about the kind of awe that has practical uses: fear in the hearts of our enemies, respect of our friends. You can't buy the kind of propaganda, in the backward and dysfunctional societies where we must now seek to win hearts and minds and strike terror in those who wish to do so to us, than being the only nation ever to put a man on the moon. What that says to people who can't even get decent plumbing . . . it's incalculable. Mars? They can barely even see Mars.
But we can go there. And it will cost us much less than capping our smokestacks and reining in our standard of living.
SCIENCE: From the Department of DUH
This article, headlined "Coffee consumption 'can increase stillbirth risk,'" sounds like a legitimate health piece on the risks of pregnant women drinking coffee. But read the opening line:
Pregnant women who drink more than eight cups of coffee a day increase their risk of having a stillborn baby compared with non-coffee drinkers, a new study has found.
(Emphasis added). Did we really need to research this? I mean, eight cups of coffee a day is bad for anyone, let alone a developing child scarcely larger than a mug of java him or herself.
February 12, 2003
1.5 million Americans may have celiac disease. What's that? I'd never heard of it either. Click on the story to find out.
February 06, 2003
Harry Potter eat your heart out - it's a real invisibility cloak! (Jonah Goldberg had the link in the Corner).
February 03, 2003
SCIENCE: Whither The Shuttle?
I'm no expert on the subject, but Gregg Easterbrook's assault on the space shuttle program seems eminently reasonable to me, as does Rand Simberg's call to rethink NASA's mission. Thankfully, the loss of the Columbia won't deter us from continuing the space program - the thought of a manned flight to Mars is still a thrilling one, and only a fool would ignore the military possibilities -- but hopefully, it will involve a reexamination of the program, its aims, and the available technology. Just think of what cars, computers and telephones looked like when Columbia was designed and built in the late 1970s.
I was riveted last night by MSNBC's special on the Challenger disaster, which I hadn't thought about in some years -- specifically, I hadn't realized that the astronauts had apparently survived the explosion and one of them even had the presence of mind to pull a lever starting oxygen tanks they would need to survive the fall. The conclusion seemed to be that they had probably blacked out somewhere in the plunge of their compartment towards the ocean and been killed by the impact with the water at upwards of 200 mph. Wow.
SCIENCE: Bad Ideas
New research confirms that driving while talking on a cell phone -- even a handsfree model -- is a bad combination. DUH!
February 01, 2003
SCIENCE: Where I Was
You'll see below that I had posted a batch of links stored up from the week early this morning. Then I closed the blog to head out to a nephew's birthday party, and clicked quickly over to Instapundit.
I found this post, still fresh. It's been updated repeatedly, with some wondrous stuff, including a moving speech written by William Safire for Nixon to give in the event that the Appollo 11 astronauts couldn't get back from the moon. Also, don't fail to check out Rand Simberg, the leading spaceblogger and an often insightful all-around commentator. He and Reynolds are the guys to read on this story.
January 27, 2003
Another old wives' tale proven: boys are more trouble in labor.
This story from some months back still gives me the creeps.
January 16, 2003
SCIENCE: Bad Weather We're Having
Tim Blair had a link the other day to this piece noting that the Mayan Empire may have been done in by climate change. So much for Native Americans' vaunted harmony with nature. As Blair put it, "IF ONLY those ancient Mayans had listened to the global warming scaremongers and stopped driving SUVs Ö"
December 04, 2002
SCIENCE/POLITICS: NOW WE KNOW WHO REALLY CREATED THE INTERNET
December 03, 2002
SCIENCE: Biker Beware
Now I know why I never learned to ride a bicycle.
November 25, 2002
SCIENCE: GREAT MOMENTS IN BUSINESS MEETINGS
November 21, 2002
POLITICS/SCIENCE: Axis of Smog
Remember stories like this next time you hear the Western world blamed for pollution.
October 18, 2002
SCIENCE: The Birds
I think what really cracks me up about this report is the illustrations of gigantic birds.
October 16, 2002
SCIENCE: Black Holes
Are black holes at the center of all galaxies? This MSNBC article suggests that the all-but-certain confirmation of one at the center of the Milky Way may well confirm this theory. The numbers in this article just defy the imagination, suggesting at once both the incredible reach of man's powers of observation and the vast, overwhelming size of our universe.
October 03, 2002
SCIENCE: From The Department of DUH!
The World Health Organization has released the results of a "comprehensive global report about the relationship between violence and health." Conclusion: it's bad for you.
POLITICS/SCIENCE: The Blue Party
And you thought politicians who talk until they are blue in the face was just a figure of speech.
September 26, 2002
HOW'S THIS HEADLINE for 'unilateralism'?
BUSINESS/SCIENCE: Spam Spam Spam
A study tries to estimate the cost of spam to businesses, but I think it overestimates - I can spot and delete spam (which has started to spill over my law firm's firewall in droves lately; we used to get it from legal publishers and the like but now it's the really nasty stuff too) at a rate of probably one every 5-7 seconds, not 30 seconds as estimated in this article.
September 19, 2002
Scientists are studying what is sure to be a controversial, and as yet unproven, thesis: that multiple sclerosis may be sexually transmitted.
September 16, 2002
POLITICS/SCIENCE: Further Inquiry May Be Required
A column on Tech Central Station says the pro-life movement's latest grasp at scientific support, a study purporting to show a link between women having abortions and suffering death from various causes (homicide, suicide) within the following year has too many holes to prove much. The point is well-taken, but two caveats here: (1) like most findings favorable to the pro-life movement, this one was barely reported in the mainstream press, so it didn't do the kind of damage we see from left-wing junk science, which often results in blaring headlines, new government regulations, and waves of litigation driving substantial companies into bankruptcy; and (2) the author doesn't show that the study is wrong, just that it's inconclusive. Further inquiry may be required, which is basically the conclusion of most stories about science anyway (in fact, that could be a good motto for science generally).
WAR/SCIENCE: Anthrax Survivors
For all its many faults, the NY Times still has the depth and resources to do stories of real importance. In this one, the Times asks what happened to the people who got anthrax and lived to tell about it.
September 10, 2002
SCIENCE: Gould and His Critics
The American Prospect has an interesting article on the brilliant and controversial (and recently departed) evolutionary biologist Steven Jay Gould and his critics in the sciences. Stuff like this helps fill out a quality magazine, although the nature of TAP's political content makes it an improbable candidate to carry quality writing on a consistent basis.
SCIENCE: Fuel Cell Caveats
The history books are littered with people who said "can't be done" or, oh, say, "there will never be a market for personal computers." But this report on fuel cell technology as an alternative to the Nectar of the Sauds suggests that, until a big breakthrough no one can presently envision comes down the pike, we're stuck living in the present.