Category Archives: Science And Society

Congratulations To ESA

My twitter feed’s been exploding with tweets about the comet landing. Unfortunately, the harpoons apparently didn’t automatically deploy, so they don’t yet have a sure grab to the surface, which could make sampling operations difficult. The surface seems to be softer than expected. But they’re still working the problem.

This is good news for asteroid miners, though.

[Update a few minutes later]

OK, hearing that they managed to anchor with the ice screws, so maybe harpoons are redundant now.

Interstellar

Peter Suderman reviews his review.

[Update a while later]

And here‘s John Nolte’s review.

[Sunday-morning update]

Five reasons why Interstellar is a conservative film.

I think that it helps to view it as allegorical, and not try to take the science too seriously.

[Bumped]

Another Green “Stimulus” Fail

Google and others want a taxpayer bail out for their desert bird roaster.

That looks like a nice bill for the new Congress to make Obama have to sign.

More at (appropriately) Powerline:

The sheer temerity of the request is almost outweighed by the unintended humor of their explanation for the failure of their project: the Sun isn’t shining as much as they thought it would. But I think they’re barking up the wrong tree: rather than ask for your money so they don’t have to use their money, they should ask the guy who said he would make the oceans recede, to order the Sun to stop slacking — rudely continuing to shine as it has for five billion years — and brighten up for Google, NRG, and Obama’s legacy.

What fools these mortals who support this insanity be.

Interstellar

A light-on-spoilers review.

[Tuesday-morning update]

Uh-oh:

Christopher Nolan’s epic new sci-fi film Interstellar has received measured acclaim from critics, who have praised its ambitious scale and effects but were less convinced about the story.

That was the problem with Gravity, too.

[Bumped]

The New Consensus Study

on evolution:

Our search resulted in 487,629 papers that mentioned “evolution” or “natural selection” in the abstract. However 451,412 of those could not definitively be placed into one of our seven position-defining categories*, no matter how hard we tried with our group of 20 reviewers. [The consensus view among us is that these reviewers are completely independent and objective; their common participation at our web site devoted to presenting pro-selection arguments, but nothing to the contrary, is just not relevant in this case.**]

Of the remaining 36,217 papers, 35,167 (97.1%) supported the consensus position that over half of the observed evolution over the twentieth century is due to natural selection. The fact that only 126 of these 35,167 papers were actually focused on critically evaluating the topic at hand, i.e. the different possible mechanistic explanations of observed evolutionary change and/or speciation (e.g. random drift, founder and other stochastic events, mutation rate variation, instantaneous genetic barriers, etc), is an irrelevant point, a complete red herring. We can reasonably assume that in at least the majority of 50% of the time, none of these 35,167 authors would indicate agreement with a position that they themselves had not carefully investigated, without having more than half of a predominantly pretty good reason for so doing***. It’s just not really half as difficult as people make it out to be when you boil it down. As we have now done. For you.

In conclusion, there is very clearly a very strong consensus as to the influence of natural selection on evolution during the twentieth century and this consensus has been increasing as the evidence increases. It is important that policy makers realize this and take action. Please pick this up and disseminate it widely so everybody knows about it; everyone else is, so you will be part of the consensus effort if you do. Thank you.

Heh.

Financial Planning For Life Extension

An interview with Joel Garreau. Not sure I agree with this:

Boomer octogenarians in 2030 have “too many hard miles on their chassis” to fully benefit, but younger people may have trouble imagining the onetime prevalence of sickness and death.

I won’t be quite that old, but I think that there’s a good possibility that even for octo/nonoganerians there will be potential reversal of damage, and rejuvenation by then. And current government policies based on Scenario 1 (i.e., pretty much business as usual) are doomed to bankruptcy.

Peter Thiel And Global Warming

Why he’s skeptical:

“Whenever you can’t have a debate, I often think that’s evidence that there’s a problem,” Thiel said on The Glenn Beck Program. “When people use the word ‘science,’ it’s often a tell, like in poker, that you’re bluffing. It’s like we have ‘social science’ and we have ‘political science,’ [but] we don’t call it ‘physical science’ or ‘chemical science.’ We just call them physics and chemistry because we know they’re right.”

Thiel said no one will be upset if you ask questions about the periodic table, because it is actually science. But referring to man-made climate change as “science” tells you “that people are exaggerating and they’re bluffing a little bit,” Thiel said.

“The weather has not been getting warmer for the last 15 years. The hockey stick that Al Gore predicted in the early 2000s on the climate has not happened,” he remarked. “And I think as this monolithic culture breaks down, you can have more debates.”

Yes.

A Medical Breakthrough

An informational one:

…new recommendations regarding dietary fat from “what’s new Family Medicine” section.

Fat intake and coronary risk (April 2014)

Although it is known that there is a continuous graded relationship between serum cholesterol concentration and coronary heart disease (CHD), and that dietary intake of saturated fat raises total serum cholesterol, a 2014 meta-analysis of prospective observational studies found no association between intake of saturated fat and risk for CHD [7]. The meta-analysis also found no relationship between monounsaturated fat intake and CHD, but suggested a reduction in CHD with higher intake of omega-3 polyunsaturated fats; a benefit with omega-6 polyunsaturated fats remains uncertain. Given these results, we no longer suggest avoiding saturated fats per se, although many foods high in saturated fats are less healthy than foods containing lower levels. In particular, we no longer feel there is substantial evidence for choosing dairy products based on low fat content (such as choosing skim milk in preference to higher fat milk). We continue to advise reducing intake of trans fatty acids. (See “Dietary fat”, section on ‘Saturated fatty acids’.)

Better late than never.

Why The CDC Is Failing

It’s forgotten and diffused its mission:

…as the impact of communicable diseases has lessened, public-health medicine—which concerns itself with community-wide solutions to health problems—began to look more intensely at treating and preventing conditions that don’t originate with germs. The focus of researchers and doctors turned especially to conditions thought to underlie cardiovascular disease. But unlike battles against germs, isolating the key cause of such problems has proved elusive, because multiple factors—from genetics to diet to personal habits, like smoking—are all potentially contribute.

Advocates like Frieden have plunged ahead anyway, sometimes proposing simplistic solutions to complex problems, often without much data to back up their claims. As New York City’s health commissioner, Frieden engineered a law requiring food chains to post calorie counts on menus, though there was no evidence that the availability of such information has any effect on eating habits. Frieden also led a campaign to cut salt consumption despite studies that had shown, in fact, that some individuals fared poorly on a salt-restricted diet. Frieden’s campaign led one world-renown hypertension expert to proclaim that New York was attempting to engineer a giant uncontrolled experiment. As time passed, Frieden’s practice of recommending sometimes outrageous solutions to health problems based on few facts grew more disconcerting. In 2007, he even proposed a campaign to persuade uncircumcised adult men in New York to get circumcised to reduce their risk to HIV; a study in Africa had concluded that the practice helped lower infections there. But Frieden’s proposal was widely derided and quickly dismissed because of the vast differences between the two populations and the preliminary nature of the research.

Read the whole thing. This is a microcosm of the more general problem of government getting involved with things that it both has no business doing, and at which it is monumentally incompetent. A small step to fix it would be to can Frieden, and explain why, and refocus the CDC on germs, but that’s far beyond this president’s ideology or ken.

[Update a while later]

Will ebola be good for the CDC?

Public health experts were, in a way, too successful; they beat back our infectious disease load to the point where most of us have never had anything more serious than Human papillomavirus or a bad case of the flu. This left them without that much to do. So they reinvented themselves as the overseers of everything that might make us unhealthy, from French Fries to work stress.

As with the steel mills, these problems are not necessarily amenable to the organizational tools used to tackle tuberculosis. The more the public and private health system are focused on these problems, the less optimized they will be for fighting the war against infectious disease. It is less surprising to find that they didn’t know how to respond to a novel infectious disease than it would have been to discover that they botched a new campaign against texting and driving.

Don’t get me wrong: Fighting infection is still one of the things that the public health infrastructure does, and though I hope it doesn’t come to that, I expect that our system will do a much better job next time. But the CDC did not botch the job because there’s something wrong with Barack Obama, or government, or the state of Texas, or private hospitals. They dropped the ball because the public health system no longer needs to work so many miracles, and consequently hasn’t had much practice. We shouldn’t have let public health give us such an inflated belief in the power of government. But we also shouldn’t forget that with the right task and the right tools, government is still capable of doing some wondrous things.

Only if it is focused on what it does well, and the right incentives are in place. That is not the case for much of the current federal government.