Category Archives: Philosophy

The Bioethics Of Mars Settlement

An interesting article over at Slate that raises similar concerns to mine:

If we send heterosexual astronauts, of different sexes and of reproductive age, on extended space missions, then the possibility of pregnancy looms. To ward that off, could it be ethical to demand sterilization for any potentially fertile astronauts in a mixed-sex crew? Radiation exposure may eventually take care of the issue by causing infertility, but some pregnancies could happen before infertility occurs. Is conception even possible in the zero-gravity of space, or in the low-gravity, high-radiation habitats on Mars? If so, would a fetus develop normally?

We don’t know, since it would seem patently unethical to even conduct these sorts of experiments today in space or anywhere else, at least with human subjects. Again, the physical and psychological dangers of procreating and living outside of Earth can seem inhumane, especially for involuntary subjects (the children). Yet many plans for space exploration already take it as a foregone conclusion that humans will reproduce in space. For some, it’s a crucial part of the business plan, as in the case of Mars One’s goal of moving toward a “permanent human settlement.”

As I noted:

What I would suggest to the Mars One people, though, is given that they’re planning to spend billions on this project, and the long-term goal is to have true human settlement of the planet, which necessarily involves offspring of the settlers, they devote a modest amount of their budget funding research that NASA has completely neglected for decades, but that others have privately proposed, to establish a variable-gravity laboratory in orbit where we can start to understand these issues. The fact that NASA (or Congress) have never given such research any priority whatsoever is eloquent testimony to how unimportant both consider the goal of spreading humanity into the solar system. But until we do, young people who want to go off to barren (at least initially) worlds will have to continue to face the prospect of remaining barren themselves.

Space really isn’t important, politically. Just “space” jobs.

[Update a few minutes later]

Meanwhile, Kate Greene says that economics would dictate that a Mars mission consist of all women.

Here’s my problem with that. While of course mass is an important consideration, it isn’t the only one. I would argue that any Mars mission would have to be based on an affordable mission concept, and that if it is, mass won’t matter that much, and if it isn’t, no one will go. Beyond that, I think there’s a flaw in the logic here, or at least insufficient information:

Week in and week out, the three female crew members expended less than half the calories of the three male crew members. Less than half! We were all exercising roughly the same amount—at least 45 minutes a day for five consecutive days a week—but our metabolic furnaces were calibrated in radically different ways.

During one week, the most metabolically active male burned an average of 3,450 calories per day, while the least metabolically active female expended 1,475 calories per day. It was rare for a woman on crew to burn 2,000 calories in a day and common for male crew members to exceed 3,000.

We were only allowed to exit the habitat if we wore mock spacesuits. So many Martian hassles, so little glory.

The data certainly fit with my other observations. At mealtime, the women took smaller portions than the men, who often went back for seconds. One crew member complained how hard it was to maintain his weight, despite all the calories he was taking in.

She doesn’t say, but is it possible that maybe the men were doing more physical work? If so, it might be that if the women had to do all of the heavy lifting, their calorie consumption would increase too. In any event, if you just want to send people to Mars for the sake of sending people to Mars, a female crew would be fine, but if you want to settle the planet, there would be a problem…

[Tuesday-morning update]

There seems to be a lot of off-topic whining in comments about what will be “allowed.” I said nothing about government involvement. I simply expressed an opinion that, given current knowledge, it would be unethical to attempt to have children on Mars (or even in weightlessness). I stand by that opinion.

Neil Tyson’s Latest

“Hey, you just have to trust me on all that stuff I made up“:

Eyewitnesses are a good thing. And if you believe Neil deGrasse Tyson is your lord and savior, his eyewitness testimony is of course sufficient for verifying, for instance, that George W. Bush quote.

But what about those of us who are not in the Tyson faith-based community? Are we “anti-intellectuals” to not trust in his unverified claims? I suppose that will be the continued approach by many in the media, some folks in the Wikipedia community (whose trust in Tyson puts the most devout religious piety to absolute shame), and the other fanboys.

I’ve never been as impressed with him as those who consider themselves my intellectual superiors have been demanding, but wow, he really is a piece of work.

[Update a while later]

Tyson finally admits that he botched the Bush quote:

Tyson claims to be a man of science who follows the evidence where it leads. The evidence here clearly shows Tyson screwed up. Whether knowingly or not, he regularly repeated a false account in order to cast aspersions on another public figure. The only proper thing to do is recant and apologize. That is what a person of integrity does.

I won’t be holding my breath.

Space Tourism

Is it being overhyped?

I fearlessly predict that, as with any other experience, some will be underwhelmed, and others will have their expectations exceeded.

In related news, tired of waiting, and fearing that they won’t get to the (arbitrary) von Karman line, some Virgin Galactic customers are demanding refunds.

[Update a few minutes later]

Richard Branson’s credibility is collapsing in the media.

What Is Science?

A useful essay:

…for all our bleating about “science” we live in an astonishingly unscientific and anti-scientific society. We have plenty of anti-science people, but most of our “pro-science” people are really pro-magic (and therefore anti-science).

This bizarre misunderstanding of science yields the paradox that even as we expect the impossible from science (“Please, Mr Economist, peer into your crystal ball and tell us what will happen if Obama raises/cuts taxes”), we also have a very anti-scientific mindset in many areas.

For example, our approach to education is positively obscurantist. Nobody uses rigorous experimentation to determine better methods of education, and someone who would dare to do so would be laughed out of the room. The first and most momentous scientist of education, Maria Montessori, produced an experimentally based, scientific education method that has been largely ignored by our supposedly science-enamored society. We have departments of education at very prestigious universities, and absolutely no science happens at any of them.

Our approach to public policy is also astonishingly pre-scientific. There have been almost no large-scale truly scientific experiments on public policy since the welfare randomized field trials of the 1990s, and nobody seems to realize how barbaric this is. We have people at Brookings who can run spreadsheets, and Ezra Klein can write about it and say it proves things, we have all the science we need, thank you very much. But that is not science.

Modern science is one of the most important inventions of human civilization. But the reason it took us so long to invent it and the reason we still haven’t quite understood what it is 500 years later is it is very hard to be scientific. Not because science is “expensive” but because it requires a fundamental epistemic humility, and humility is the hardest thing to wring out of the bombastic animals we are.

A useful thought as well see tens of thousands of anti-science, anti-market marching morons in New York today.

Don’t Go To Mars

David Attenborough takes a novel and courageous stand. Let’s “sort out life on earth, first.” [Paywall]

I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone make that argument before, except a lot of people, for decades.

“America? Let’s sort out life in Europe first.”

“Europe and Asia? Let’s sort out life in Africa, first.”

It’s obviously a mindless prescription for never settling new territory.

The Headchopper Next Door

Some uncomfortable truths about Islam:

Mohammed was quite clear about what he wanted. For all the abrogations, the Koran is reasonably clear on what it expects its followers to do. Mohammed’s history was that of a man who tried to convince the Arabs that he had seen an angel by telling them and failed, and who succeeded only when he killed enough of them, not to mention the Jews and any other infidels hanging around the place.

That is the history of Islam.

Germany was not a nation of monsters. It was a nation that behaved monstrously. The average German would not stick his neighbor in an oven in his basement or chain him up as a slave. He would however do these things in Poland because he was contextually contaminated by a monstrous ideology.

As an individual he was a nice man who loved his children, petted his dog and enjoyed street fairs. As a loyal member of a system run by the Nazi Party, he would do monstrous things. And then when the Nazi machine was switched off, he would go home to his wife and children without ever killing anyone else.

He was not a good man. Good men don’t do the things he did. But he wasn’t a budding serial killer. He was just doing what a death cult told him to do.

As I noted over the weekend…

Also, Barack Obama and John Kerry lecturing Muslims on what is and is not the nature of Islam is a theater of the absurd.

The “97%” Nonsensus

As I noted on Twitter:

Judith Curry explains:

I think we need to declare the idea of a 97% consensus among climate scientists on the issue of climate change attribution to be dead. Verheggen’s 82-90% number is more defensible, but I’ve argued that this analysis needs to be refined.

Climate science needs to be evaluated by people outside the climate community, and this is one reason why I found Kahan’s analysis to be interesting of people who scored high on the science intelligence test. And why the perspectives of scientists and engineers from other fields are important.

As I’ve argued in my paper No consensus on consensus, a manufactured consensus serves no scientific purpose and can in fact torque the science in unfortunate ways.

And José Duarte is appropriately brutal:

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In Which I Disagree With @Instapundit

I agree that neurosuspension is better than nothing, but I disagree that whole body is for suckers. This is a topic that’s been going on for years in cryonics discussions.

We simply don’t know how much of our identity is in our body, as opposed to simply our brains. For instance, I suspect that there is a lot of distributed motor intelligence in athletes and musicians — when I play an instrument (or for that matter, simply type on a keyboard) I have a sense that my hands aren’t being directly controlled by the brain, but are rather receiving higher-level commands issued by the brain that are implemented at a lower level, based on local memory. I don’t know that to be the case, but if you can afford to keep the whole body, it might end up being worth not having to reacquire old skills.

Everything That Can Be Customized

must be.

This is where I differ with Lileks (and Virginia Postrel). I have no desire to customize anything. To me it’s pointless work. Perhaps because I have absolutely no artistic talent (at least visually) or even that much aesthetic sensibility. My computer screen has the same background that was installed with the OS. I did put an effect on my phone when I first got it, because I was playing around with it to see how it all worked, but I’ve never downloaded, let alone paid for, a ring tone. Or a fancy case. I really just don’t care.