Category Archives: Science And Society

Losing Weight And Keeping It Off

The amount of unconscious junk science in this NYT article is staggering.

Note the underlying assumption: that calorie counting is useful, that burning calories (i.e., exercise) is useful, and that the type of calories you consume is irrelevant. And it’s all about the weight (they didn’t mention BMI, but I’ll bet they were measuring it). Did any of them do strength training? Because exchanging muscle for fat will increase metabolism.

Billionaires And Grandiose Dreams

A nice piece on modern technological philanthropy at The Economist:

History is full of examples of rich men with big ideas. The merchant princes who founded enterprises such as the London Company in the 17th century wanted to build bustling empires across the seas. Howard Hughes spent the 1930s testing innovative aircraft and setting aeronautical records, almost killing himself in the process, and founded a medical clinic whose goals included discovering “the genesis of life itself”. But the closest parallel with what is happening today is the gilded age in America.

The late-19th and early-20th centuries saw gigantic concentrations of wealth in the hands of people who created their own companies. Andrew Carnegie and John Rockefeller held the majority of shares in their companies just as the founders of Facebook and Google hold controlling shares in theirs. The political system was incapable of dealing with the pace of change: in America it was paralysed by gridlock and complacency, and in Europe it was overwhelmed by animal passions. Entrepreneurs, flush with money from new technologies, felt duty-bound to step in, either to deal with problems that politicians were unable to confront or to clean up after their failures. Today’s state may be much bigger, but its shortcomings are no less glaring.

Back then, numerous industrialists, including William Lever in Britain, J.N. Tata in India and Milton Hershey in America, founded company towns that were intended, at a minimum, to combat the evils of industrial civilisation and, on occasion, to create a new kind of human being. Carnegie, a steel baron, and Alfred Nobel, a dynamite tycoon, both became obsessed by the idea of abolishing war for ever. Henry Ford launched a succession of ambitious schemes for improving the world, including eliminating cows, which he couldn’t abide. In 1915 he took a ship of leading business people and peace activists to Europe to try to end the first world war and “get those boys out of the trenches”. “Great War to end Christmas day,” read a New York Times headline; “Ford to stop it.” In 1928 he tried to recreate an American factory town in the middle of the Amazon rainforest.

Fashions change. None of today’s billionaires spends serious money on universal peace. But the psychology of the very rich seems the same. Reforming billionaires down the ages display the same bizarre mix of good and bad qualities—of grandiosity and problem-solving genius, naivety and fresh thinking, self-importance and altruism.

There is a lot of ego involved—the minted are competing with each other to produce the most eye-catching schemes, much as they vie to run the most successful businesses. That helps to explain why the billionaire space race has escalated from sending rockets into orbit to sending spaceships to Alpha Centauri. There is also a lot of misdirected effort. The gift of $100m by Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder, has not dramatically improved Newark’s schools. Ford’s Amazonian experiment crumbled into ruins as employees balked at some of his rules, which included serving only American food and compulsory square-dancing. His voyage to end the first world war descended into farce: the press re-christened his vessel “the ship of fools” and the Norwegians diagnosed him as suffering from Stormannsgalskap, or the “madness of great men”. [Emphasis added]

It’s easier to solve technological problems by throwing money at them than sociological ones.

I’d note that, for all of the space accomplishments over the past half century, it’s a tragedy to consider how much more could have been accomplished with the trillion taxpayer dollars spent on it if the primary focus had been to actually open up space, instead of white-collar welfare. That’s whey people spending their own money to do these things is so exciting, and why the future for space is now much brighter than the past.

[Update a while later]

NASA is just a jobs program. It’s nice to see more reporters noticing this, and pointing it out. And it’s always nice to see media people link to my Senate Launch System post. Also, there’s this:

“The critics are right, this isn’t a rational way to run a space program,” political science professor Harry Lambright of Syracuse University told BuzzFeed News. “But that doesn’t matter, because this is the way a space program will inevitably work in a democracy.”

Yes, that’s what the Apolloists don’t understand, and they don’t understand that the only reason we (barely) got to the moon in the sixties was that it wasn’t really about space. That is why the space billionaires are the only hope for the future.

[Update a few minutes later]

Then there’s this:

The real problem, former NASA official Scott Pace of George Washington University told BuzzFeed News, is that the Obama administration’s plans to fly astronauts to an asteroid and then Mars are not very interesting to international or commercial partners, who would rather return to the moon. Building SLS lets NASA keep its options open if the next president decides to look to lunar landings instead, something that Obama seemed to rule out in a 2010 speech.

The problem with that argument is that, as little as we need SLS to get to Mars (not at all), we need it even less to get back to the moon. There is no technical or economic justification for the program, other than as a jobs program.

Silencing Dissent On Science

George Will describes the latest attempts at censorship of those who deign to disagree with our intellectual and moral superiors (just ask them!) on the Left:

“The debate is settled,” says Obama. “Climate change is a fact.” Indeed. The epithet “climate change deniers,” obviously coined to stigmatize skeptics as akin to Holocaust deniers, is designed to obscure something obvious: Of course the climate is changing; it never is not changing — neither before nor after the Medieval Warm Period (end of the 9th century to the 13th century) and the Little Ice Age (1640s to 1690s), neither of which was caused by fossil fuels.

Today, debatable questions include: To what extent is human activity contributing to climate change? Are climate change models, many of which have generated projections refuted by events, suddenly reliable enough to predict the trajectory of change? Is change necessarily ominous because today’s climate is necessarily optimum? Are the costs, in money expended and freedom curtailed, of combating climate change less than the cost of adapting to it?

But these questions may not forever be debatable. The initial target of Democratic “scientific” silencers is ExxonMobil, which they hope to demonstrate misled investors and the public about climate change. There is, however, no limiting principle to restrain unprincipled people from punishing research entities, advocacy groups and individuals.

That’s the problem with leftist opponents to limited government; there are never any limiting principles on anything.