Saturday, May 04, 2013

Science - Technology Roundup

The “High Quality Research Act,” sponsored by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), would strip the peer-review requirement from the National Science Foundation (NSF) grant process, inserting a new set of funding criteria that is significantly less transparent. Smith, sponsor of the highly controversial Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) that would expand U.S. oversight over copyrighted intellectual property on the internet, published an editorial in Roll Call describing how his vision of science funding is based not upon the impacts new research may have on the scientific community, but whether that research will “create jobs.” He went on to boast about how much of the House science committee’s $39 billion in agency budgets gets dumped onto nuclear, fracking and “clean coal” projects. Smith has no background in science.  But then, neither do any of the members of the majority party on the House Science Committee.

TEDTalksTop100Deepak Chopra weighs in upon the firestorm over whether TED, the organization that stages wildly popular international Chautauqua lectures, was right to ban from its site talks by psudo-science promoters and "alternative medicine" hucksters.  From my language, you can tell that my sentiment runs against the tide -- the tsunami -- of howls crying out "repression of free enquiry!"  A storm that Dr. Chopra joins.

But no, I won't.  As author of The Transparent Society, I am hugely in favor of openness, transparency and reciprocal accountability.  But the aim of having a wide-open civilization is not - as some would have you believe - that all opinions are equal.  It is that true Reciprocal Accountability is the way that pearls rise out of manure piles.  It is how we figure out which revolutionary or impudent ideas merit further attention and which sink into the simmer of crap, of which Ted Sturgeon called "90% of everything."TED has proved itself to be a marvelous center of entertainment, ideas and discussion.  It should be wide open to concepts that have at least some, tentative balance of evidence in their favor and demonstrably repeatable phenomena to convey.  But we do our fellow citizens, many of whom have proved stupendously gullible (e.g. vaccination panic and climate denialism) no favors when we have ZERO pre-vetting according to the scientific standards that have served our civilization so well.

Impudence?  Yes!  Tilting at paradigms?  Sure thing. Quasi-religious quackery by men who have spent fifty years evading accountable and verifiable experimental disproof of their bald-faced jabber?  Um… I think that, having proved that I am liberal minded, I don't have to drop all of the standards I was trained, as a scientist, to bring into a world that desperately needs them.

==Human Nature and the Blank Slate==

Prof. Steven Pinker, author of The Better Angels of our Nature (proving that violence has declined, steeply (per capita), worldwide since 1945), does a TED talk about Human Nature and the Blank Slate -- a topic he dealt with in his his older tome The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature. Fascinating as usual.

Our children will have so many diagnostic tools to focus on THEIR kids than we clueless parents had.  For example: new research from Bristol and Cardiff universities shows that children whose brains process information more slowly than their peers are at greater risk of psychotic experiences. These can include hearing voices, seeing things that are not present or holding unrealistic beliefs that other people don’t share. These experiences can often be distressing and frightening and interfere with their everyday life.

==Marvels of Earth and Space== 

ExoplanetNASA’s Kepler mission has discovered more than 2000 confirmed planets orbiting distant stars. Planets with a known size and orbit are shown in this animated graphic from the New York Times, including five planets orbiting Kepler 62, two of which are only 50% larger than Earth and orbit in their somewhat smaller sun's Goldilocks Zone.  These are only the confirmed exoplanets.  There are more than a thousand potential candidates. You live in a civilization that does stuff like this!

Ponder that again. You live in a civilization that does stuff like this! Did that feel good? Now, get righteously pissed off at the fools (of both right and left) who seem hell-bent on repressing anyone, at any time, from feeling the way that you just did.

== And now more ==

Sunjammer spacecraft will 'sail' toward the sun next year -- using a 13,000 square foot sail, a collaboration of the UK Space Agency and NASA.

New measurements suggest the Earth's inner core is far hotter than prior experiments suggested, putting it at 6,000C - as hot as the Sun's surface.

A major mystery of life on Earth is that organisms are exclusively made up of left-handed amino acids (Chirality). One theory is that star-forming regions sometimes exhibit circular polarization of the light from a powerful star, and this polarization may affect the molecules forming near other new stars in the region, causing most or all of the pre-biotic "soup" molecules to prefer one orientation over the other.  Hence, sibling systems born from the same nebula might tend all to be the same molecular twist… and another region will be opposite, with nothing for the first group to eat.

Off the coast of Sri Lanka, photographer Shawn Heinrichs captured a dramatic battle between sperm whales and orcas.  Nature is important and beautiful.  But also very tense and not sweet.

Earth warmed more in the last three decades of the 20th century than it has during any 30 year period in the last 1,400 years. Over the past 1,400 years, the Earth experienced a gradual cooling, according to the study, published in the journal Nature Geoscience. Between 1971 and 2000, all of the cooling was entirely reversed.

Investors in carbon-intensive business could see $6 trillion losses as policies limiting global warming stop them from exploiting their coal, oil and gas reserves. Excuse me while I fail to weep.  It used to be "conservative" to want efficiency and to believe in waste-not, and to dislike fouling one's own nest.

==Technology Advances==
An Eye Tracker in every smart phone? Gaze and eye tracking are becoming ever-more off-the shelf. Someday I'd like to explore whether my idea from SUNDIVER exploring the latency effects of the unconscious recognizing scenes before the conscious mind does, might lead to a lie detector and personality profiler.  A terrible curse if monopolized by some elite but the best tool to save the Enlightenment, if shared by all.

The small molecule universe, or SMU is the set of all feasible organic molecules below a certain weight. Now, Duke University and the University of Pittsburgh created a virtual library of every compound that could exist. The sections are all marked out--now chemists can get to work filling them in.  Mind you, much attention is now shifting to proteins and large molecules.  Still, the SMUniverse is ripe with opportunities and this may help researchers organize their efforts.  E.g. "the team found vast regions of emptiness, small molecule dark matter, where countless new compounds may fit in like unknown puzzle pieces."

A fascinating article about some NASA engineers meticulously disassembling an Apollo era F-1 Saturn engine and digitizing it so that a new version (modernized) might be reborn in the new Space Launch System (SLS).

MIT's solar cell turns one photon into two electrons -- via singlet exciton fission.

The end of the spacesuit? Nano suit (now only in the larval stage)  could revolutionize space travel.

OpenWorm: an Open Source Virtual Worm simulation, accurate in biology and behavior, to help researchers in biology research.

A filter based upon NASA technology is so powerful it gets rid of everything in the Coke that makes it Coke, and turns it into ... plain water.

Alan Alda is teaching new scientists on how to speak plainly and how this will benefit science.

New methods of generating large volume high density toroidal air plasmas. Just envisioning it gives me the willies!

Roundup… the most-used herbicide… is it a danger to your health? In 2007, as much as 185 million pounds of glyphosate was used by U.S. farmers. And Europe bans three commonly-used pesticides in an effort to protect honeybee colonies.

The marvelous xkcd on scientific outreach !!!!!

Final note:  I'll be talking about this later, but the implications just to science are chilling.  How our ability to deal with modern problems with traditional American agility is being dragged down by those who believe (fervently) that the End of Times are nigh.


locumranch said...

I know that few of you appreciate my semantic nit-picking, but I do it for your own good because most of you have proven yourselves to be intelligent, well-educated & extremely rational. Unfortunately, being "Rational" is not necessarily synonymous with being "Logical" and, despite all your obvious talents, some of you may be Semantically Insane.

You are NOT logical because, as Wittgenstein put it, "The propositions of logic demonstrate the logical properties of propositions", a statement that I recently paraphrased as "the saying of your meaning rather than the meaning of your saying". Furthermore, you may be Semantically Insane if you think as you speak then, as evidenced by the preponderance oxymoronic neologisms in common cultural usage, you speak (and therefore think) bass-ackwards.

Our culture natters on about "Labour-Saving Devices" even though such devices merely improve labour efficiency which then encourages us to redouble our efforts at labour. As early as the 1960's, this FACT was proven by sociological studies which showed a statistical increase in measured hours worked in households equipped with all of the modern so-called labour-saving devices like vacuums, dishwashers, washers & laundry driers. Our devices have increased our labours a hundred-fold. Our electric light bulbs have banished the night and robbed us of a good night's rest; our wireless technology allows our responsibilities to pursue us like ravenous dogs; and machine-based automaticity deprives us of even a moment of human peace.

Many of you continue to multitask even though the concept of human multitasking has been thoroughly discredited by neurologists (think texting and driving). Our communication devices like faxes, voice mail queues, cellphones, high-speed internet and computers actually HINDER communications in a statistical sense, burying us under an avalanche of nonsensical information-poor gibberish. Social Media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Internet chat groups, dating sites and television programming are actually Anti-Social modalities which isolate us as individuals in a real and non-virtual sense, leading and pushing us toward social dysfunction, mental meltdown, political schism and cultural disassociation as evidenced by epidemic rates of anxiety, depression, divorce and suicide..

Automobiles are marvelous resource-gobbling gadgets that can allow us to traverse huge distances much faster than we can run or walk, leading us to design cities and suburbs that require us to use the automobile which then defeats many of the auto's advantages while maximizing its resource-gobbling drawbacks. Over the last 50 years, the real cost of automobile travel have gone up, up, up in terms of resource money and time, leading many of us to conclude that we need to invest more and more resources in an improved automobile, so we never have to question our initial assumptions about the 'obvious benefits' of automobile travel.

The point is that backwards speaking leads to backwards thinking. Incautious word choice forces us to 'Beg Our Questions' on a regular basis. So, when you insist that an improved technology will eventually solve all our problems despite a preponderance of evidence to suggest that many of our problems are caused by our technology, then you will inevitably conclude that an improved technology will eventually solve all our problems despite a preponderance of evidence to suggest that our problems are caused by our technology in the repetitive manner of Semantic Insanity.


Tim H. said...

Simplify, simplify. Think about how you can make your point with fewer words.

Ethan Bradford said...

The XKCD shows another approach to "uplift" of other species! :^)

Robert said...

locumranch, you do not nit-pick. You troll. And now that Dr. Brin has decided you're not worth the effort to respond to, you're getting more and more long-winded in your attempts to get the attention you're craving, like a 4chan forumite aching to cause Twilight fans to go into a frothing frenzy by claiming the writing sucks (which it does). You don't speak the truth. You distort lies and claim it's the One Truth that we should all follow, knowing people will write against your comments and give you the attention you seek.

It is also why I've ignored you for a while. But I need to speak up one last time. My fellow bloggers, let us all ignore this troll. He is no different (except in longwindedness) than any of the anti-science trolls that have appeared before. We have better things we can spend our time and effort talking about. Just ignore him.

Rob H.

David Brin said...

I agree that locum badly needs to learn the rules of essay writing that make clear exactly what your main point is and deal with supporting evidence in a hierarchical way, allowing clear reading. This is especially important in this day and age, when 95% of the readers of anything you post will "skim for the gist."

Now, mind you, I break this rule all the time, in that I post many things that demand careful reading. And I can get cheesed at those who skim, then leap, howling, at a misinterpretation of what I said. Indeed, I remember more than two times that locumranch was that very person! Still, dig this well, the onus is on the COMMENTER to reade well the posting upon which he is commenting. We are less-so behooved to read a COMMENT that was unclear, unfocused or vaguely mysterious in its meaning.

Ironically, this seems to bear upon locum's core point. He decries modern inability to focus, then illustrates it time and again in his comments here.

Mind you, his grouchy plaints about moder life are worthy of weighing on the table. But I disagree with the overall thrust. He ignores that all our devices and options and well-lit evenings have empowered us to have a million pastimes and hobbies and a large minority of citizens have done this very, very well. Yes we are busy. We are busy being MORE than ouyr ancestors ever imagined.

Anonymous said...

I am reading this while my washing machine and dishwasher are running. How has my labor increased 100 fold? I agree with Mr. Brin. I woukd rather be busy doing good work or my hobbies than slave away doing tasks that can be automated

CC C said...

Well some of us are busy rushing past ancestral dreams. Others tilt at windmills to destroy Don Quixote's vision of fairness for all. It is hard for them to conceive of any reality outside their six thousand years of biblical precepts. They have confused dominion with domination and blinded themselves to science in the process.

Ian said...

"Many of you continue to multitask even though the concept of human multitasking has been thoroughly discredited by neurologists (think texting and driving). Our communication devices like faxes, voice mail queues, cellphones, high-speed internet and computers actually HINDER communications in a statistical sense, burying us under an avalanche of nonsensical information-poor gibberish. Social Media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Internet chat groups, dating sites and television programming are actually Anti-Social modalities which isolate us as individuals in a real and non-virtual sense, leading and pushing us toward social dysfunction, mental meltdown, political schism and cultural disassociation as evidenced by epidemic rates of anxiety, depression, divorce and suicide.."

About that soaring suicide rate;

But fact-checking is just more of that darn rationality.

As someone who grew up without most of those mod-cons, I feel confident in saying that, as usual, Locumranch is talking nonsense - and almost definitely never had to empty an outhouse.

Ian said...

"The investigators reviewed activity logs kept by stay-at-home mothers from the American Heritage Time Use Study for the years of 1965 until now. Childcare was not included in this data.

They found that on average, the amount of time women spent on domestic household chores fell from 25.7 hours a week in 1965 to 13.3 hours a week in 2010."

Tony Fisk said...

The clincher about Locum's little monologue is that it has very little to do with the topics that Brin has posted (which are more to do with the wonder of discovery than practical application to labour saving devices, or semantic insanity. Erm... Locum seems to be doing some classic projection here: assuming his problems are ours.)

Anyway, that's as much time as I wish to dwell on that.

The MIT discussion is interesting. I did an online course last year about solar panels and what the issues are that limit their efficiency. Certainly, a lot of incident energy is missed due to photons being unable to kick charge carriers into the conduction band, or having most of a high energy boost lost to phonon relaxation (aka 'heat'). The only working solution to date involves multiple layered arrangements where junctions of differing energy band gaps are placed in series. The higher band junction is placed first so that high energy photons are absorbed and lose less energy, while letting lower energy photons through to the next layer. An expensive exercise, but the resulting conversion efficiency is ~ 40%.

I've pondered a hypothetical optical filter that converts all incoming radiation into one 'goldilocks' frequency for optimum conversion efficiency. (With no thought, as yet, to practicalities like 'how')

CJ-in-Weld said...

Ian, about that housework post:

The article doesn't say (it wasn't the point) whether the reduction in housekeeping hours comes from labor saving devices or if we just live in relative squalor compared to thirty or forty years ago!

LarryHart said...

That last link to the influence of end-timers on policy worries me more than anything else.

For over 200 years, the American experiment has relied on the concept that the gestalt wisdom of the citizenry is less corruptible than are powerful individuals. If we've reached the point where that is demonstrably untrue, it speaks ill for the future of democracy, not simply for this county, but as a concept.

Tony Fisk said...

For over 200 years, the American experiment has relied on the concept that the gestalt wisdom of the citizenry is less corruptible than are powerful individuals. If we've reached the point where that is demonstrably untrue,

I think you refer to the official forms of citizen expression? Certainly, powerful individuals are actively working to suppress and distort their expression (eg the current fad for oligarchs like Gina Rinehart and the Koch bros. to buy their own pet media outlets... not to mention Rupert and his associates) The wisdom of the citizenry finds other means to get out.

'things torezh': of subversion, and its thwarting.

Robert said...

The problem is, rich people like Murdoch are also driven by the bottom line. If their pet media ends up not making sufficient profit, they'll cut it and cut it again until like a jenga tower it collapses over its own failed foundation. Meanwhile, the Internet has helped give rise to the concept of social journalism - or what Dr. Brin would call the Rise of the Amateur.

Given people prefer free news to paid news, and dislike advertising in most forms, outlets like Fox News are in fact endangered. Eventually the rich will try to force subsidies to help their media remain viable... but they already poisoned their well with the support of slash-and-burn budget fanatics like the Tea Party, which is so competitive that all you need is the hint of largess for the voter base to turn on a candidate.

Thus subsidies will fail and the Large-scale Mass Media Empires will end up closing media outlet after media outlet. And seeing that free media has no profitability, the Oligarchs will ignore them until it's too late... and then have to compete with a thousand other voices.

Rob H.

Tim H. said...

An interesting essay on glyphosphate (roundup) here:
Perhaps Monsanto's handling of "Roundup ready" seed is of more immediate concern to society than glyphosphate toxicity.

Jonathan S. said...

"I am reading this while my washing machine and dishwasher are running. How has my labor increased 100 fold?"

When my uncle Fred married my aunt Ok-Cha, in the early '70s, one of the bits of wealth she was looking forward to in the States was being able to use a washboard to do her laundry, rather than having to employ a flat rock by the river. Imagine her reaction to the four-cycle washing machine and automated dryer in Fred's house!

Your labor has not increased 100-fold; your efficiency may have, however.

Jonathan S. said...

Scratch that last; I missed what you were responding to in locum's rambling.

Locum, I join in the chorus of voices here urging you - if you insist on posting here, please learn how to make what you say more to the point. Your essays are far too long, directionless, and ultimately pointless to read with any degree of care.

Randy Winn said...

In re suicide:

* @Ian helpfully linked to a study indicating the rate is more-or-less stable; anyone wanna bet that even with a stable rate, we know of more cases of suicide because our information network is more efficient, the stigma of suicide has been reduced, and cases of suicide-by-cop become more dramatic thanks to advances in killing technology? This may be a case of life actually getting better (or at least not getting worse) but our perception is systematically subverted.

* There is evidence of a completely unacceptable upswing in suicide among our military and veterans, but the factors underlying that are quite likely due to factors other than labor saving devices.

Jumper said...

Funny, I never read any hypothesis that Roundup was poisoning people. Its ill effects are supposedly found elsewhere. I also never heard anyone serious claiming that genetically modified foods were bad for folks to eat. Likewise, the objections reside elsewhere as well. I supposed one could build a conspiracy theory of ones own about popularizing straw men. But what do I know; I avoid the magic health scene pretty well, nor do I ascribe that crowd with much political impact anyway.

Paul451 said...

Do not like.

matthew said...

My worries with Roundup and other GMOs lies not with direct interactions - those get caught fairly early on.
My worries lie with secondary and tertiary interactions.
As a hypothetical example using two common products, imagine that someone sprays Roundup(TM) on their lawn and the applies Justin Beiber's Someday Perfume(TM). The combination of the two, Roundup and JBSP, turns out to have some toxic effect that only manifests years after exposure.

Since both Roundup and JBSP have propitiatory ingredient lists, we have no way of even considering the effects of randomly combining these two chemical melanges.

(To reiterate, this is a hypothetical example. I have no proof of any hazards posed by either product. And Monsanto and JB are both notorious litigants.)

Now multiply this by the huge number of propitiatory chemical compounds that we interact with on a daily basis and you start to get a very strong argument for Transparency in Labeling laws. Independent review boards that need to approve the introduction of new compounds. The FDA and EPA on steroids.

Mind you, I think that GMOs are quite literally our only hope of sustainable human existence at anywhere near our current levels of technology. We will have to *invent* sustainable agricultural practices to deal with the long-term effects of human habitation on our planet.
I think that there are chemical marvels out there that will be absolutely beneficial to all life on Earth. I am not a Luddite. I am a metallurgist and material scientist. I like building new things.

But the current way that we manage GMOs and the vast chemical stew that we produce is Insane. Unsafe. Unsustainable.

matthew said...

...And we truly live in an age of wonders. I present to you, The Beer Drone.

Someone call Vernor Vinge and tell him his future is calling.

Roger Kent said...

Dr. Brin presented a link to high density toroidal air plasma in a scientific journal, which he wrote gave him the willies. Does this development mean that plasma cannon weapons in some science fiction stories could be invented in the not too distant future? Here is a link:

Tim H. said...

I remember reading something about exploding wire technology being used to create a durable lightweight coating in aluminum motor parts, looks like the spinoff is moving from industry to defense, instead of the more usual direction.

agimarc said...

The organic gardening folks are absolutely death on Roundup. One of the local guys ties chemicals to cancer in the family, so he is committed and motivated.

Problem with Roundup is that it is persistent and does not break down quickly after application, but remains in the soil, fungus, bacteria and plant life web for an extended period of time - weeks to months.

Question to be answered is can you do the same thing easier and cheaper via the organic methods? If that answer is yes - and it generally is in the smaller operations - go organic. Applying it to the larger operations is still pretty expensive, but if there is a marketplace pull, which I believe there is, I expect those lessons to be learned sooner than later and prices to fall quickly. Cheers -