Category Archives: Technology and Society

The “Skeptical Seven” Witch Hunt

Roy Spencer says it’s just beginning. Yes, unless we inflict severe pain on the new Cotton Mathers.

[Update a while later]

More from John Hayward:

I must admit I find myself in strong disagreement with Dr. Pielke about the wisdom of these measures, being an out-and-proud unreconstructed climate skeptic myself, but it would never occur to me to hound him off the public stage or target him with intimidating government investigations. I’ve got some very old-fashioned ideas about how “science” and “debate” are supposed to work.

As Pielke goes on to observe, the “crime” that brought this “investigation” to bear was saying something true – “it is incorrect to associate the increasing costs of disasters with the emission of greenhouse gases” – and being a prominent scientist while doing it. It’s great that congressional Democrats have time for this sort of thing, isn’t it? They’re worse than useless when it comes to the IRS abusing its power against American citizens, the Department of Veterans Affairs turning into a horror show, the Administration lying about a deadly attack on a U.S. consulate, or the Justice Department running guns into Mexico, but they’ve got plenty of time and resources to crack down on uppity climate scientists.

The media’s all over this abuse of government power, right? Not so much, says Pielke: “So far, I have been contacted by only 2 reporters at relatively small media outlets. I’d say that the lack of interest in a politician coming after academics is surprising, but to be honest, pretty much nothing surprises me in the climate debate anymore. Even so, there is simply no excuse for any reporter to repeat incorrect claims made about me, given how easy I am to find and just ask.”

There might not be any excuse for it, Dr. Pielke, but there certainly are reasons. Come have a few sustainable, renewable drinks with the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy sometime, and we’ll compare notes on how modern “journalism” works.

Or doesn’t.

[Update a few minutes later]

If you’ve ever called someone a “denier,” read this. It’s about you.

The Oxnard Train Derailment

That’s kind of an amazing scene. I’d expect a lot of injuries from being tossed around in those cars.

While this is the same line as the collision in Chatsworth a few years ago that killed so many, and that was also Metrolink, it’s just a coincidence — there’s no relationship between the two events. That one was caused by a driver who was texting and missed a traffic signal, resulting in a collision with a freight train.

Rice Avenue is actually a pretty major thoroughfare. If you’re coming down 101 from Santa Barbara, and want to take the coast highway through Malibu into LA, it’s the most direct route to cut over to the coast (you can’t hug the coast through Ventura and Oxnard, because Point Mugu Naval Air Station is in the way). So this will probably disrupt traffic somewhat. Also, it looks as though the track itself separate, so until they can repair it (and probably replace what looks like old, outdated ties with new ones), it will disrupt all rail traffic (it’s a line shared by both freight, and passenger traffic, with both Amtrac and the Metrolink commuter trains).

A High-Pitched Whistle In My Office

It’s driving me crazy. Not a smoke alarm, not the computer. I can’t echo-locate it. Cant really hear it much outside the room, but very distracting within it. Any ideas?

[Update a few minutes later]

Turned out to be the UPS. Off to Frys to replace it.

[Update a while later]

Spent about $60 for 425 VA. It’s charging now, meanwhile, I’m just operating without one. Peace and quiet.

Generally, my need for them isn’t that great. My machine can survive a sudden power loss, and most of the stuff I do backs up automatically periodically. The main reason to have one these days, for me, is to keep my internet alive. The main fiber router in the garage has its own UPS, but I need to keep my wireless routers up if I want to use a laptop with power out.

Risk Aversion

costs more than fast failure.

This is about defense, but it applies to space as well. NASA in particular suffers from paralysis by analysis, as demonstrated by how long and how much money it took to do that stupid Orion test flight last year (and how long and how much more money it will be until the next one). But it doesn’t matter, because Congress doesn’t really care if anything is accomplished as long as the jobs don’t go away. I may expand on this in the next edition of the book.


Yes, it really does seem to be good for you. I don’t consider myself an “addict,” though. I can take it or leave it. I don’t like it that much, and it has no discernible effect on me. I drink it only for health reasons.

But this isn’t really true:

The bad news? Frappuccinos and lattes are not included. You have to drink it black, because added sugar, cream, and milk can pack on the calories.

The experts aren’t very “expert” if they continue to push the calorie myth. The sugar is bad because, well, sugar is bad. Cream and milk are fine though (though I do drink mine black). I do add some sea salt in the filter to take the bite out of the bitterness.

Freeman Dyson

on climate:

When I was in high-school in England in the 1930s, we learned that continents had been drifting according to the evidence collected by Wegener. It was a great mystery to understand how this happened, but not much doubt that it happened. So it came as a surprise to me later to learn that there had been a consensus against Wegener. If there was a consensus, it was among a small group of experts rather than among the broader public. I think that the situation today with global warming is similar. Among my friends, I do not find much of a consensus. Most of us are sceptical and do not pretend to be experts. My impression is that the experts are deluded because they have been studying the details of climate models for 30 years and they come to believe the models are real. After 30 years they lose the ability to think outside the models. And it is normal for experts in a narrow area to think alike and develop a settled dogma. The dogma is sometimes right and sometimes wrong. In astronomy this happens all the time, and it is great fun to see new observations that prove the old dogmas wrong.

Unfortunately things are different in climate science because the arguments have become heavily politicised. To say that the dogmas are wrong has become politically incorrect. As a result, the media generally exaggerate the degree of consensus and also exaggerate the importance of the questions.

It’s not a new interview, but if anything, it’s even more true now than then. The “consensus” has broken down considerably in the interim.

Space Safety Magazine

The book has been out for over a year now, so it’s nice to see them finally acknowledge its existence with a review. It’s not really new, though. It’s the same thing from Fodroci that AAS and The Space Review published a few months ago.

[Update a couple minutes later]

Actually, in reading, it looks like it may be an updated version. Here’s one area with which I disagree, and it’s key to some of his critique:

Individuals flying on private carriers are, of course, free to accept whatever risks they mutually deem acceptable, something which Mr. Simberg spends considerable time on, but which I believe to be a red herring: The exploration of the solar system will almost certainly be carried out by international partnerships, not by daredevils, and they will insist on a methodical approach to risk identification and mitigation.

I don’t believe that is true. The “international partnerships,” I mean. I think that private individuals are much more likely to venture into the solar system.

[Update a few minutes later]

I’d also note that he completely avoids discussion of my point of the value of the activity at ISS. And then, there’s this:

Mr. Simberg seems to think that “Safety First” is a bad notion somehow. I’d be interested in an example of a successful program where this was not held to be the ideal.

He must have missed the example that I gave in the book itself. If “safety first” had been the motto in Apollo, we wouldn’t have flown Apollo 8.

[Afternoon update]

I suppose I should address this, too:

Mr. Simberg also questions the need for a lifeboat for each crewmember on the ISS – here it’s impossible not to imagine the fun headline writers would have comparing the ISS to the Titanic – and suggests as an alternative that we could use a co-orbiting platform of some sort as a temporary safe haven. How this would benefit someone suffering from a heart attack, a ruptured appendix, or the bends, he doesn’t say. Nor does he address the cost of such a venture.

I’ve often noted (though I admit, I didn’t really address it that much in the book, except to say that we accept the need not to have it at places like Amundsen-Scott in the winter) that the ambulance requirement set is so different from that of a lifeboat as to pretty much demand a completely different vehicle. NASA’s CRV plan was always to have one vehicle do both, but a lifeboat must evacuate the whole station, whereas an ambulance only has to get a subset down (if the whole crew requires hospitalization, things are already pretty disastrous). And it would be crazy to have to evacuate the entire station (which you’d have to do, unless there was a spare lifeboat aboard) in order to return an injured crewperson. Also, an ambulance has to provide a more gentle ride entry and recovery, for someone suffering from broken bones or burns. So if it were to be developed, it would probably be much smaller (one or two passenger) and of a different design. In fact, an X-37 might be a reasonable basis for such a vehicle.

Lessons From Shuttle

…are being incorporated into Commercial Crew:

There is no way the Columbia crew could have survived the breakup of their orbiter after it lost its left wing to a crack in the thermal protection system caused by falling foam debris on ascent two weeks earlier. But forensic analysis after the catastrophe revealed “survival gaps” in cabin and crew-equipment designs that could give space travelers a better chance in accidents if they are fixed, according to Dr. Michael Barratt, a flight surgeon/astronaut in the NASA Human Research Program Office.

“This is really the only source of high-altitude hypersonic breakup information we have with regard to human response to it,” Barratt says. “It’s incredibly valuable, and it’s obviously information that came to us at a very high price, and something we are obligated to process.”

The data show all but one of the crewmembers died of blunt force trauma, and the nature of their injuries indicated their shoulder harnesses did not lock as the failing shuttle spun slowly in the thin upper atmosphere. That, and head injuries suffered inside the non-conformal helmets all but one of the crew were wearing during reentry, suggested redesigns of both the crew safety constraints and helmets.

None of the crew was able to close a helmet visor. The cabin decompression killed one of them outright, and the rest lost consciousness, which led to a requirement that crews on the remaining shuttle flights practice sealing their suits, Barratt told the annual FAA Commercial Space Transportation Conference in Washington Feb. 5.

It was a very interesting talk, and first time I’d seen those forensic details. I’ll probably incorporate them into a new edition of the book, along with the NTSB report on SpaceShipTwo, when it becomes available. I gave Barratt a copy.

Climate Skeptics

How and when did you become one?

A lot of interesting responses.

As some note there, to me the biggest deal with the release of the CRU data five years ago wasn’t (just) the duplicity and unscientific behavior revealed in the emails, but the utter crap that was the source code of the computer models. It was clear that it was not done by anyone familiar with computer science, numerical methods, or modeling, and the notion that we should have any confidence whatsoever in their output was societally insane. In terms of Matthews’ paper, I’d put myself somewhere between “lukewarmer” and “moderate skeptic.”

[Update a couple minutes later]

Starting to read through the comments. Here’s just one horror story:

Most of the claims being made by climate change advocates appear to run contrary to basic meteorology. As I’ve been attacked personally and professionally for offering contrary views, I decided to leave the field. I will defend my Atmospheric Science PhD thesis and walk away. It’s become clear to me that it is not possible to undertake independent research in any area that touches upon climate change if you have to make your living as a professional scientist on government grant money or have to rely on getting tenure at a university. The massive group think that I have encountered on this topic has cost me my career, many colleagues and has damaged my reputation among the few people I know in the field. I’m leaving to work in the financial industry. It’s a sad day when you feel that you have to leave a field that you are passionately interested in because you fear that you won’t be able to find a job once your views become widely known. Until free thought is allowed in the climate sciences, I will consider myself a skeptic of catastrophic human induced global warming.

Yup. Totally, totally politicized. It’s not a science any more. Unless you think that Lysenko was a scientist.