Is Manned Spaceflight Obsolete?

Three commentaries over at the New York Times, from John Derbyshire, John Logsdon, and Seth Shostak. Common theme: it’s about exploration and science, not development. So, as usual, it’s orthogonal to the issues actually facing us.

[Update late morning]

Derb writes:

From the beginnings of modern science in the late 17th century, all the major European nations offered state support to societies and academies of pure research. Such support must submit to public audit, however. In a time of cratering public finances, the stupendous costs of manned spaceflight — half a billion dollars per shuttle launch — cannot be justified.

Ah. So he doesn’t believe that it’s intrinsically a function in which the government shouldn’t be involved. He just thinks it costs too much. He’s like the woman in the bar, who has established what she is, and is merely haggling over the price.

So, if we could put people into space for half a million per flight, would that be acceptable? If not, what cost would be?

The nice thing about the new policy is that, for the first time in almost forty years, or at least the first time since we decided to do Apollo on Geritol and gave up on the goal, we are not only setting a goal of reducing launch costs, but actually proposing sensible policies with which to meet it. As I noted at Pop Mechanics, Ares was going to vastly increase launch costs over Shuttle. That always was, and remains, the biggest reason to oppose it.

“Team Obama Grows Stupid”

I disagree with Michael Barone:

The same people who directed the campaign that defeated Hillary Clinton and routed John McCain, a campaign that raised far more money and attracted far more volunteers than any before it, have within a year come up with a legislative program that is crashing in ruins and that, to judge from recent polls, has left the Democratic party weaker than I have seen it in almost 50 years of closely following politics.

The 2008 campaign was an impressive achievement. So, in a negative way, is the 2009 legislative program that has left the Democrats in such woeful shape in 2010.

My disagreement is that I don’t think they were ever smart. They beat Hillary because there was a lot of antagonism toward her in her own party, and because her campaign was complacent, and “inevitable.” They beat McCain because people were angry at Republicans, he ran a lousy campaign, the economy melted down, the media were cheerleaders and refused to cover or vet him, and people wanted to feel good about voting for the black guy. And even with all that, he only got 53%. I don’t now, and never have subscribed to the notion that he “ran a brilliant campaign.” He was just the right guy in the right place at the right time. And now that the campaign is over (though you’d never know it from his rhetoric) and has to actually govern, something that he’s never had to do before, the shortcomings are apparent. Unfortunately for them, they believed too much in their own press releases, and the fawning media coverage. Fortunately for the country, he’s inoculated us against leftists for another generation.

The Failure Of Intelligent Design

Some thoughts:

…whereas the advance of science continually strengthens the broader and more traditional version of the design argument, the ID movement’s version is hostage to every advance in biological science. Science must fail for ID to succeed. In the famous “explanatory filter” of William A. Dembski, one finds “design” by eliminating “law” and “chance” as explanations. This, in effect, makes it a zero-sum game between God and nature. What nature does and science can explain is crossed off the list, and what remains is the evidence for God. This conception of design plays right into the hands of atheists, whose caricature of religion has always been that it is a substitute for the scientific understanding of nature.

The ID movement has also rubbed a very raw wound in the relation between science and religion. For decades scientists have had to fend off the attempts by Young Earth creationists to promote their ideas as a valid alternative science. The scientific world’s exasperation with creationists is understandable. Imagine yourself a serious historian in a country where half the population believed in Afrocentric history, say, or a serious political scientist in a country where half the people believed that the world is run by the Bilderberg Group or the Rockefellers. It would get to you after a while, especially if there were constant attempts to insert these alternative theories into textbooks. So, when the ID movement came along and suggested that its ideas be taught in science classrooms, it touched a nerve. This is one reason that the New Atheists attracted such a huge audience.

It is indeed frustrating to argue about science and evolution with people who understand neither. And they don’t realize how much damage they do to their cause.

What A Concept

If you’re going to do good science, release the computer code:

…if you are publishing research articles that use computer programs, if you want to claim that you are engaging in science, the programs are in your possession and you will not release them then I would not regard you as a scientist; I would also regard any papers based on the software as null and void.

So would, and do I. A large part of the gullibility of the general public and the media on this subject is that it doesn’t understand how computers, and programming works.

I also find it ironic that econometrics is much more rigorous, in terms of the need to present code for publication, about this than climate “science.”

[Update a few minutes later]

There’s a discussion at Slashdot about this. FWIW.

The Limits Of Blaming Bush

Veronique De Rugy:

In my article in The American, I suggest the following: Let’s assume that all the spending before this year is Bush’s fault. Then, using data in President Obama’s budget request for fiscal 2010 and data from the fiscal 2011 budget request, I made this chart that projects spending each year from fiscal 2010 until fiscal 2019. The purple bars represent the spending amounts the president requested in February 2009. The orange bars represent the growth in the projected spending request between February 2009 and February 2010.

In his latest budget request, President Obama added roughly $1.6 trillion in spending over the next ten years on top of what he requested last year. Can President Obama blame that extra $1.6 trillion on former President Bush? No.

He can’t stop, though. It’s all he has.

Biting Commentary about Infinity…and Beyond!