Saturday, January 09, 2016

Our best year in space ever! Plus a tech roundup: material science to quantum computing to cyberattacks etc!

Before commencing our first tech roundup of the year... this piece of mine -- appearing on the hot new online zine "Nautilus"  (or Nautil.us) -- draws notice to 2015: our best year ever in space! How stunningly effective our hero engineers and space-robot designers have to be, in order to accomplish all these miracles. Tiny errors—on the order of one ten-thousandth of a percent—would have aimed the New Horizons cameras at empty space, instead of snapping perfect images of a dimly lit world, hurtling by far faster than a bullet. And that is just one of scores of record-shattering and cosmos illuminating accomplishments. 

 It may be out of fashion, in this era of reflexive, self-indulgent cynicism, but there’s something to be said for the can-do spirit. The notion that “we can solve things!”

Make no mistake... those (on all sides of the hoary-misleading political "spectrum") who are preaching despair and gloom are enemies of our future, our children, our planet. Every year we prove more capable of addressing the serious problems before us.

Come see one long list of stirring examples*.

== Let a great year in science begin ==

There is some very cool stuff in this roundup of tech news.  Some of these breakthroughs - many of them emerging from taxpayer-supported science - may help make it a much better world!  But first, a reminder of what's at-stake.

The Greenland Ice Sheet has lost about 9,013 gigatonnes of water ice from 1900 to 2010 – and it’s dropping mass today at an increasing rate, an international team of scientists say. From 2003 to 2010, the ice sheet lost mass at a rate more than twice the rate during the entire 20th century, a new study shows. And the last two years have each been the hottest in all of recorded human history.  And the oceans are acidifying - with human generated CO2 as the only conceivable cause.  No wonder science is so unpopular among fools.

And no wonder we should all help push for a Science Debate to be part of the U.S. 2016 political season.

== Tech advances! ==

Whoa Hawkeye, this is amazing and may save many gunshot wound victims.  XSTAT 30 is a 30 mm-diameter syringe that is filled with 92 compressed cellulose sponges covered in an absorbent coating and coagulant. Each tablet-shaped sponge unfolds 9.8 millimeters in diameter and can absorb up to 3 milliliters of blood. Whereupon the sponges expand to 10 times their original size, filling the cavity in approximately 20 seconds, forming a temporary blockage that can stabilized a wounded person till they get to an emergency operating room.

Endohedral fullerenes may be the most expensive material in existence in today’s market.  These include N@C60 and N@C70, which consist of a nitrogen atom caged within a carbon sphere made up of 60 and 70 atoms respectively. Potential uses include serving as the basis of atomic clocks even better than those using Cesium transitions.  But one fan of my Second Uplift Trilogy comments that it reminded him of: “your 'strange matter' that Transcendents used to make super-armor for the Streaker in Heaven's Reach. I'd really love to learn if caging different molecules like this indeed can produce some cool effects when it comes to EM/other radiation absorption/reflection.”

Cool?  Along similarly intriguing lines, A team of material scientists in the United States has discovered a novel allotrope of carbon, Q-carbon.  It is ferromagnetic, harder than diamond, and it glows when exposed to low levels of energy. “And the only place it may be found in the natural world would be possibly in the core of some planets.” Wow. 

This is why, when young physical engineers ask my advice, I murmur, like in The Graduate..."Materials Science." Indeed, watch as this field produces badly needed miracles in desalinization and in solar power and much more.

Another entry in the world of nano materials  Borophene: is a one atom thick sheet of boron, may be stronger than graphene. Borophene is also electrically conductive.

New transparent metal films could enable large screen displays, touch screens, solar cells and smart windows.

UCLA researchers have developed a superstrong and lightweight metal by dispersing ceramic nanoparticles in molten metal. This new metal, composed of magnesium infused with ceramic silicon carbide, exhibits a record-breaking strength to weight ratio, and could be useful in airplanes, cars and spacecraft. 

And now... researchers are developing self-healing protective clothing -- which will enable cuts, tears and punctures in fabric to rapidly repair themselves. Useful for soldiers or doctors in the field... or astronauts in space. 

This could be useful.... A very simple method for cracking hydrogen off CH4 producing only carbon powder and hydrogen (H2) -- without carbon dioxide.

Implantable collamar lenses appear to be effective in treating myopia.

== Do the Ai's have it? ==

Google recently announced a breakthrough in the field of quantum computing. They think they have found a quantum algorithm that solves problems 100 million times faster than conventional processes. This discovery could not only lead to artificial intelligence but could also substantially advance the US space program.

Two separate AI research teams incorporated concepts from cognitive psychology and developed novel algorithms to teach machines to learn... more like children. One instructs computers to imitate behavior; the second, to extrapolate and generalize.

Elon Musk and Sam Altman (co-founder of Y Combinator, a tech accelerator) have joined with Peter Thiel and others to found a “billion dollar” non-profit devoted to researching artificial intelligence.  "Our goal is to advance digital intelligence in the way that is most likely to benefit humanity as a whole, unconstrained by a need to generate financial return," said a post on the new organization, called OpenAI.  Yes, but speaking as the fellow who completed Isaac Asimov's exploration of the Three Laws of Robotics, I can tell you that there are levels... and more levels and layers.

== worries vs conspiracies ==

In his book Lights Out: A Cyberattack, a Nation Unprepared, Surviving the Aftermath, Ted Koppel reveals that a major cyberattack on America’s power grid is not only possible but likely, that it would be devastating, and that the United States is shockingly unprepared. Imagine a continental blackout lasting not days, but weeks or months. Koppel maintains that a well-designed attack on just one of the nation’s three electric power grids could cripple much of our infrastructure. 

 Let me add that it might not take terrorism to accomplish this. A “Carrington Event” – a massive solar flare like the one that fried telegraph systems in the 1840s – could have devastating effects upon our grid and even unlinked electronics in the home, possibly zapping rooftop solar systems, unless we learn how to buffer them well. And the 1840s event was apparently nowhere near as bad as they come. Studies of carbon isotope anomalies suggest that the Sun occasionally gives our planet truly major shocks.

On the other hand... Want to see some tasty conspiracy theory mania? This stunning concoction of utter malarkey is from a fellow who calls himself an activist against “near-term extinction through geo-engineering.” He has either crafted himself – or else credited gullibly – one of the dumbest Black Helicopter spews I have seen in years… that hundreds of skilled scientists, engineers and civil servants are filling the skies with polymer threads coated with organic compounds, to be inhaled by “all living creatures” including their fellow citizens.  All as part of an effort to create an atmospheric shield against solar radiation.

Put aside that the “interview” is written in the baldly stilted style of a villain’s monologue from a very cheap James Bond ripoff. Or that almost every technical or scientific remark is actually wrong, sometimes hilariously so.  The real response to all such Black Helicopter theories that involve the US federal government is… Edward SnowdenIf Snowden was willing to blow the whistle on programs that were – in fact – legal at the time … (his revelations caused us to revise and make some of them illegal)… and that had not tangibly harmed a single citizen (yet)… then how many other civil servants and scientists would balk over a loony, hair-brained program to fill the skies with nasty polymer threads?

Sure, I’ve drawn attention to this bozo’s spectacularly stupid site. But in so doing I hope I’ve spread a notion about how to judge whether a conspiracy theory is even remotely plausible… or just plain dumb. Do the one thing every Hollywood film has trained you not to do.

Consider the henchmen.

== ...and finally... ==

The Institute for Creation Research, which teaches there’s scientific proof that God created the earth in six days, is ready to expand in Northwest Dallas, adding a  “3D planetarium” and calling itself the Dallas Museum of Science and Earth History. Robert Heinlein predicted this when he forecast a time called “The Crazy Years.”  Let's just make sure his other prediction does not come true... a fundamentalist loony gaining the White House, then declaring himself to be "Prophet of the Lord." 

And so we come full circle, back to the War on Science.  Do not imagine it is anything less than that -- and a war on rationality and facts and calm negotiation and everything else that has made our civilization different and hopeful? It is no less that a war upon our children, our planet, our nation and species.

Time to fight back.

======
* Oops!  I left out of my list of accomplishments in space in 2015 a great one!  Then there was India's first interplanetary mission, the Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM), also called Mangalyaan ("Mars-craft", from Sanskrit - accomplished at stunningly low cost and amazingly high competence.  Huzzah!

29 comments:

Paul SB said...

Sorry to start this thread out with something totally off topic! I love Dr. Brin's science round-ups, but I wanted to mention something that at least some here will be interested before I get back to the week-before-Finals grind. Most regular readers here are sci-fi fans (duh!) and at least some of those are fans of sci-fi sounding, electronic music. Those of us who fall into that category were dismayed to lose Edgar Froese of Tangerine Dream. The band is still making music without him. I ordered their new CD, called "Quantum Key" with some trepidation. Would the remaining members be up to it, or would it be a pale shadow of Froese's 45 year legacy? I got a slip from the post office announcing that I had a package from Austria, and I thought some people here would like to hear about it.

The album is actually quite good, though only about 35 minutes long. It consists of music that Froese had begun, but was finished by Thorstein Quaeshning & Ulrich Schnauss. I don't know how much more unfinished Froese material they to work with. Hopefully there will be more good music to come. As composers the other members are still mostly untested, though, so we will have to wait and listen. It's disappointing that they have lost their very dynamic percussionist as well as their sax player. But if you are a fan, I don't think you will be disappointed with their latest.

Jon S. said...

The autism/antidepressant study leaves out, I believe, one crucial matter - there seems to be a significant link between depression in parents and autism in children. I believe they've put the cart before the horse here - that it's not the antidepressants increasing the risk, but rather the underlying depression being treated.

I can state that my wife actually quit taking antidepressants during her first pregnancy, any our daughter was born profoundly autistic. (Then again, the spectrum touches many members of my family. We like to say that it doesn't run in the family - it strolls, taking its time, getting to know everyone personally.) Her second pregnancy, by my cohusband Jason, she did take antidepressants (it was easier than having to fight off suicide attempts every few days), and Iain was born with ADHD like his father, and a dose of autism so high-functioning that it went undetected until second grade.

Duncan Cairncross said...

Hi Jon S

The article on autism specifically mentions controlling for depression in the parents in their analysis

David Brin said...

Jon S so sorry about your troubles, which many share. It's why autism was a featured topic in EXISTENCE... and why I was proud when it was praised and blurbed by Temple Grandin.

Pau, I loved Tangerine Dream! Didn't know they were still around.

Paul SB said...

Dr. Brin,

They were making a pretty good flurry of new albums over the last several years. I think I have around 60 in my personal collection, and there are many more I don't, though much of that is concert albums I just don't have the money to blow on. They also were pretty amazing in concert. I hope they can keep it up without Froese, and I really wish their drummer & sax player would rejoin them. They also recently did a song for Jean-Michelle Jarre's new album. Every song on it is a collaboration with a different musician, and it was good, too, for the most part (I wasn't thrilled with the Pete Townshend track, but I'm sure others will disagree).

This is the first time I've seen you reference materials science here. There is some amazing work going on there and I wish more people knew about it. A few years ago I came across a book called "Transmaterials" which had me captivated. There is a web site by the same name (http://transmaterial.net/) worth spending a little time poking around at. When I read that stuff I get ideas for future cities, future societies, future stories... It's inspires forward-looking thoughts, if you apply a little imagination (but I'm still hoping for some cetacea ad astra from your quarter in the near future).

Duncan, good to point that out. Still, at least he's trying to make a rational criticism. There are too many others who just snark at anyone who has a specialized education they don't have. Having my own autistic children, I am guessing that he probably was interrupted several dozen times while trying to the article.

Jumper said...

I love materials so this is a treat. Q-Carbon was made at NC State, a groundbreaking place with research on everything from prosaic concrete to the weird world of heat-treating materials under electrical fields. Did I mention NC State? (Heh, the article left that part out.)
Also while looking into the molten tin as CH4 cracker, I discovered some metals refuse to form a hydride phase at any pressure or temperature. Tin is one, and I assumed that might relate to its clean functionality in this regard.

ZarPaulus said...

I'm ashamed of you for repeating bad science journalism.

Check the dates on the articles

http://globalnews.ca/news/2405797/autism-antidepressants-and-pregnancy-should-you-be-concerned/

http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/medical_examiner/2015/12/antidepressants_in_pregnancy_probably_do_not_cause_autism.html

David Brin said...

Rebuttal to the depression article is now cited on the blog. This is an iterative process. Hence, ZarPaulus I accept input and criticism... and snork at your pompous "ashamed" nonsense.

locumranch said...


Autism is a terrible illness, yet its increasing prevalence (1/2500 in 1980; 1/250 in 2001; and 1/88 in 2013) correlates most closely with changing diagnostic criteria (DSM3 published 1980; DSM4 published 2000; and DSM5 published 2013) which combines Autism, Asperger's Syndrome & Pervasive Developmental Disorders into a single 'Autism Spectrum Disorder' diagnosis, and increasingly relies on the soft behavioral criteria of social impairment, delayed motor skills & repetitive behaviors most reflective of modern western culture, so much so that the average, physically inactive, teenage videogamer meets current diagnostic criteria.

Three main physical factors appear to causative:
(1)Increased (aka 'Advanced') Maternal Age at the time of childbirth;
(2)Increased antepartum & postpartum Maternal Depression prevalence; and
(3)Socio-Emotional Neglect of the newborn.

In the case of (1), Advanced Maternal Age seems to correlate with the 'Weathering Hypothesis' (poor maternal health, problematic pregnancies, preterm delivery incidence, comorbid medical conditions & genetic degradation).

In the case of (2), the increasing use of antidepressants during pregnancy (SSRIs) appears to be a correlation (not a cause) & a confounding factor, as Maternal Depression (with or without medical therapy) seems to increase the likelihood of an Autism Spectrum Disorder diagnosis in direct & immutable fashion.

And, in the case of (3), Socio-Emotional Neglect proceeds along a spectrum, from the severe neglect experienced in Romanian Orphan Disorder to the benign neglect inherent in the omnipresent use of the television (and/or videogame) as a babysitter & companion, impediments all to socialization which is exacerbated in situations of postpartum maternal depression.

One can even argue (as I would) that the increasing incidence of Autism Spectrum Disorder reflects the West's attempts to 'outsource' parenting & socialization to technical gadgetry in a fashion analogous to aberrant Solarian acculturation (as presented in Asimov's 'Naked Sun'), suggesting that the Western 'We' have forgotten that human beings can neither be programmed through the use of artificial childrearing methods nor be expected to 'progress' as rapidly as our knowledge of 'materials science' does.


Best

David Brin said...

Closer to his area of specialized knowledge, he almost sounds cogent and knowledgeable. Yet he leaves out some other factors. e.g. that when very intelligent/educated people breed, the probabilities also rise, as if intelligence is a difficult dance along an edge.

Laurent Weppe said...

"Sorry to start this thread out with something totally off topic!"

I'm going to keep getting off topic to share my great satisfaction to see the story of the badass southern men and women who during the civil war fought ferocious guerrillas against the planter lords and their lackeys is finally getting the Hollywood treatment it should have received decades ago.

locumranch said...


While David invokes that old canard about the 'knife edge' relationship between Intelligence & Madness, my first reflex is to denounce it as an equivocation of intelligence for education, my second is offer his words up as yet another potential explanation for the Fermi Paradox, and my third is that much more syncretic & thought-provoking:

The Modern Education System is tantamount to an Autism & Asperger Factory.

Possibly driven by our competitive impulses, and starting at a younger & younger age, we choose to isolate our young from one another at 'desks', 'work-stations' & 'computer terminals', discourage (and/or 'limit') direct physical contact as animalistic 'horseplay' non-conducive to 'learning', sequester them in low stimulus environments often referred to as 'classrooms', discourage physical activity in favour of non-physical 'academic habits', and force them to engage in mostly meaningless, obsessive, rote & repetitive tasks until we deem them fit to join our increasingly techno-nerd 'society', all of which lead to the "social impairment, delayed motor skills & repetitive behaviors" most characteristic of Autism Spectrum Disorder and explaining, in part, the West's growing mental health crisis.

In pursuit of Educational Progress & Excellence, it seems that we have driven ourselves & our offspring insane.


Best

Jumper said...

I suppose easy answers are preferable to correct ones in case of not having answers at all. The TV --> autism link is elusive.

Robert said...

That doesn't work, Locu, unless you are someone who agrees that environmental factors experienced by the mother and father will genetically influence their children.

Autism is something that manifests early, often before children are being exposed to television and computers non-stop. If I am recalling the research I've read on this in my job as an abstractor, the earliest signs are often the child not being as attentive toward the mother with gaze. Additional signs are often identified after vaccination because parents are specifically on the lookout for "oddness" - especially with the bullshit anti-vaccination efforts currently out there.

Your view on technology being a causative factor would only be true if autism was something that manifested in middle to late childhood. It does not.

And if you look at pictures in the past, people isolate themselves with whatever mechanism they can. Newspapers. Books. Taperecorders with headphones. Tablet computers. Virtual Reality. Humanity has for some time worked hard to ignore those around it.

In short, this is nothing new.

Rob H.

Paul SB said...

I'm probably going to shock a lot of people by saying that I agree with at least a couple things little loci wrote. The bit he started off with about changes in the diagnostic manual is one of the first things that parents of autistic children are told about, and it's still an open question whether the category called /Autistic Spectrum Disorder/ is a good thing because it is catching children who would not have gotten services otherwise, or if it has become one of those heuristics that does more harm than good because it masks important variability that has to be revealed for both humane services and the ultimate quest for a cure(or multiple cures, given that it might actually be more than one condition).

I also share his concern about the "electronic babysitter" - but not so much as relates to autism. As Rob correctly pointed out, ASD is commonly diagnosed earlier than TV and video game exposure. There do seem to be genetic connections, though the smart money - and the smart research - is on these being epigenetic, meaning that there are environmental triggers that are switching genes off and on inappropriately. Most of the research in this area has been mainly chemical, from baby formula to airborne rubber particles due to tire wear (one correlation is with prenatal residence near heavy traffic).

As a public school teacher, and one who has read enough about neurochemistry to have a modicum of understanding what constitutes human instinct, I also agree that our school system is deeply damaging to a great many of our children. I'm pretty sure I went over this a year or so ago, and I don't have a lot of time to go into detail right now. However, there is a really enormous 'but' here. We can probably all guess where he is going next with this one - another of his misogynistic rants about the "feminization" of society and how women need to be forced back into domestic slavery.

This is one of those areas where compromise just isn't going to happen. Once people have tasted freedom, they will not go willing back into slavery, no matter how you try to convince them that their "inferiority" is "natural." He is arguing from the same hierarchical rigidity that has made most of history misery for a majority of people. That way lies the never-ending cycle of dynastic war and a system of oppression in which most men are free to take out their own oppression on their wives and children, and think that is their God-given right. Any caste system in which people are born into a status that prevents them reaching their potential is not only an enormous injustice, it is a massive waste of the kind of human potential that has made the last couple centuries dramatically better over much of the world than what it had been for about the previous 60 centuries.

More likely the problems we are having today relate to our overemphasis on economic competition, which drive a feedback loop that takes ever more time from families for decreasing benefits, in the absence of sufficient and effective brakes. yes, children would be much better off if they had a parent home with them more often, but our economy virtually demands that both parents work their anatomies off just to stay in debt (cue: I Owe My Soul to the Company Store...). But it doesn't absolutely have to be the mother who stays home with the children, fathers can do this, too, and there are some who prefer to. Better still, parents could take turns, working on different days, but the vast majority of businesses, trying to suck as much labor out of us as possible, would scoff at such a suggestion. Why should they care if Baby Johnny grows up maladjusted, so long as they rake in enormous profits for their CEO and managerial castes?

However, there is an enormous "but" here

locumranch said...


In regard to "environmental factors experienced by the mother and father (...) genetically influenc(ing) their children", I made no such assertion. I merely pointed out out that 'Autism Spectrum Disorder' is a newish, politically-motivated & indiscriminate DSM5-based diagnosis that creates a false 'epidemic' and conflates genetic, environmental & behavioral causality, the genetic component being attributable (at least in part) to advanced parental age (weathering), the environmental component being attributable to Maternal Depression resulting in inadvertent infantile sensory deprivation (neglect) & the behavioral component being attributable to techno-cultural modalities that result in further sensory deprivation disguised as educational discipline.

The genetic causes not withstanding, the effects of infantile & early childhood sensory deprivation are virtually indistinguishable from Severe Autism. The severely neglected infant becomes inert, unemotional, inconsolable, fails to make eye contact, becomes indifferent to environmental stimuli, does not cry out, feed or meet developmental milestones; the sensory neglected child becomes incapable of empathy, pair bonding, basic human courtesies & intellectual effort; and the adult subject to severe sensory deprivation may become inappropriately aggressive, withdrawn, anxious, depressed, paranoid, delusional & self-destructive.

I have personally witnessed the extremely unpleasant consequences of sensory deprivation on infants, children, adolescents, adults & the elderly, all of which exist on a continuum from failure-to-thrive to psychosis, neurosis & sociopathy, and I have watched multiple genius IQ friends self-destruct (alcohol, drugs, suicide) from the unremitting tedium of the secondary school educational standard, the society-wide implications of which are staggeringly tragicomic, and increase the likelihood of imminent global collapse.

With up to 50% of our population affected by varying degrees Sensory Deprivation Syndrome, and our 'best & brightest' doubling down on failed educational policies that serve to stifle human intellectual & emotional potential, I fear that the time of the self-preventing prophecy has passed:

We must hurt ourselves to see if we still feel.


Best

Catfish N. Cod said...

Err, back to topic?

O gracious host: there's a counterexample to your Snowden argument that proves the rule. It is, in fact, Star Wars! There was a vast conspiracy amongst the vast minions of the House of Mouse and its various fiefdoms to keep all but the most meager details of the most anticipated film of the year hidden. And it worked! For all intents and purposes, nobody spilled nuttin'. I was astounded at how well spoiler protection worked even weeks after release.

Why did this work, as opposed to the Snowden Scenario? Three reasons:
(1) Known time limit. I know this has been a theme of yours in the past. Everyone knew that after a certain date, the secrets would be out; anyone willing to plunk down the outrageous cost of a matinee could learn the tru7h.
(2) Purpose. Everyone enforcing the secrecy knew it was for a cause worth believing in -- and that cause was simply fun. No moral ambiguity or weighing rights against responsibility: people just didn't want to spoil a terrific set of surprises!
(3) Public Consent. Everyone knew the general nature of what was being kept secret, and why, and not only agreed that the secrecy was warranted but agreed to participate in the secrecy? A social compact existed and understood to be for the benefit of all (except, of course, trolls and disruptive persons.)

It's not just government conspiracies that these factors would apply to, either. Can anyone think of other factors that lead to secrets being more or less likely to spread?

sociotard said...

Remember Brin's frequent observation that the Confederacy featured the poor dying to protect the interests of the wealthy plantation owners? Listen to the arguments in this upcoming war movie:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y_38WdArR20

Paul SB said...

Sociotard, that's the same one Laurent linked to. I'm not a big fan of war movies, but this one looks different enough I might be willing to check it out. We had "Glory" which talked about the racial side, but nothing that talks about the aspect of the rich exploiting the rest. It's about time.

On another subject, there is some good evidence that environmental factors affect gene expression. There is a National Geographic video i have recommended here before that brings up the Dutch Hunger Winter in WW 2, showing that people who were born or conceived during that time were many times more likely to suffer from genetic disorders than the background population. The video is called "Stress: Portrait of a Killer" though I am sure with a little bit of googling we could dig up more.

Jumper said...

The autism mystery seems hard. "Cold mother" rebutted long ago, almost certainly correctly. I will assume increased age of mother has been corrected for; easy enough to do that. Environmental, meaning either chemical gradient in utero or early nutrition/poisoning remains, as does the story of diagnostic changes. The last is what is tantalizing.
What did autism look like a few generations ago? Seen as a broad class of feeble-mindedness likely. Obscured by poor treatment including beatings, confusion with Williams Syndrome or Downs (that would be very poor diagnostics indeed after the last 100 years or so.) As would uncorrected eyesight. Stupidity and brutality seem to be lessening institutionally although anyone might note "not fast enough" and have a point.
What about good outcomes from a few generations back? Which niche environments existed several hundred years ago wherein an autistic person might actually thrive? Cow milker, animal husbandry? Baker?

Jon S. said...

Okay, under the influence of later comments I scanned a bit of what loco posted first.

Autism is not a "disease". It is a disorder, to be sure, but it lacks attributes of disease - it has no simple causes, it is not even remotely communicable, and it is not "curable" short of nanosurgery on the brain itself. (Brains of autistics examined postmortem tend to have a greater concentration of white matter than normal, a lesser concentration of grey matter, and certain other structural differences in the frontal lobes.)

And it is most certainly not a psychological disorder caused by exposure to anything. Are you arguing that my great-uncle Robert, a classic case of infantile autism, was somehow exposed to too much television and computer time - in the 1930s?

I suspect two factors for the increase of autism diagnoses - the increased number of diagnoses, and the spread of technological society giving more high-functioning autistics greater societal success, thus increasing their chances for reproduction. (I doubt it's mere accident that the highest concentrations of autistic children in the US tend to be in tech centers like Silicon Valley and Redmond, WA.) Unless someone does a good survey of the incidence of autism under current diagnostic criteria among adults, however, this will have to remain a suspicion - and it's hard enough getting psychologists and neurologists to admit that autism even exists among adults.

As to past eras, Jumper, it's interesting to note the similarities between the description of autistic regression and the "changelings" of European legend. At least we've moved beyond leaving the child in a forest clearing in the hopes Autism would return the real baby...

Anonymous said...

What is it with the heated wartime rhetoric? "fight back", "war on ____" (noun), "enemies of ____" (list). How about some peace for a change: we pledge to design our cities for people, and not for cars. Nope! There's no money in that. Instead, pleas for a miracle, so humanity can go about the strictly necessary business of Carbon-intensive plane-sitting, the excessive application of posteriors to cars (also Carbon intensive), and, for a few, space-sitting (yep, Carbon intensive, though blissfully limited by the rocket equation). And somehow, and in spite of all those willing reductions in Carbon-intensive lifestyles, especially by Americans, atmospheric CO2 concentrations continue to accelerate.

Didn't Carter say wear a sweater and turn the thermostat down? Let me guess--like, nanobots, or something, will, you know, like, somehow, obviate the need for such practical and simple advice. Right?

David Brin said...

Sociotard thanks. The Jones flick is important and I will blog.

Catfish yes, there are conditions under which Snowden-style T Cells are mollified and secrecy becomes permissibly innocuous. Elucidating these tradeoffs has been harder than I ever expected possible.

David Brin said...

Anon I am not sure of your point. But if the right is starting to whine over Blue America using "war" rhetoric, welcome to reaping what you have sown. The blue union is always slow to rile up, but ponderously determined, when roused. And many of us have roused to the fact that outright traitors have been sabotaging our Great Experiment.

Catfish N. Cod said...

Laurent, Sociotard: I grew up hearing the story of the Free State of Jones as oral history, plus its sister secessions in Unionist East Tennessee. (I have relatives in both locales.) West Virginia was merely the largest, best supported and supplied, and ultimately permanent of the counterrevolutions. Nice to hear the tale be told to the rest of the world.

Jon S., good point. This is akin to trying to do historical epidemiology when people once thought "feebleminded", "king's evil", and "planet" were valid diagnostic classifications. And I do suspect autistic children were once euthanized. Interesting idea connecting it to the changeling myth!

An anomy-mouse asks for someone to "pledge to design our cities for people, and not for cars". Evidently he hasn't heard of the New Urbanist movement, nor of the Viridians. Nor has he noticed that the USA's per-capita carbon usage is dropping and has been for a couple of decades now. Getting us off fossil fuels (esp. coal) will be good, but climate change is now driven by the developing world and getting them off coal is the key to saving the planet.

A thought of good cheer: Roy Moore, Chief Justice of Alabama, attempted to kulturkampf with a blustery pronouncement to once again defy the Supreme Court. Not a single fellow justice of his court joined him and over 80% of the marriage offices ignored him... and the ones that didn't were in protest anyway. Could that have been predicted decades ago?

Robert said...

It will be easier to get the developing world off of coal than you'd think.

The benefits of solar and wind power is they are far more mobile and capable of remote deployment than fossil fuel power plants. You can set up a solar panel station (or even put panels on huts and the like) or set up a turbine near or in a village... and let people use LED lights and the like which utilize less power than the industrialized world uses.

In addition, you don't need to set up long series of power transmission lines, roads to help maintain those lines, and payment systems to turn off power to customers who don't (or can't because they're poor) pay.

These islands of electricity also have the added benefit that they don't need to be in a centralized grid and thus are protected from cyberterrorists or the like. And if something happened to civilization (war or the like) these islands would allow mankind a more advanced area from which to restart, especially if those people are taught how to maintain or even build these localized power generators.

Rob H.

Jerry Emanuelson said...

One minor correction to the main post: The geomagnetic storm known as the Carrington Event occurred in late August and early September of 1859 -- not in the 1840s. The telegraph infrastructure, especially the longer lines, were built out very extensively in the 1850s. Consequently, the 1859 geomagnetic storm caused quite a lot more damage that it would have if the event had occurred in the 1840s.

The United States is about to get a federal commission to address the geomagnetic storm threat. The U.S. Electromagnetic Pulse Commission has been re-established and the geomagnetic storm threat has explicitly been added to its area of responsibilities.

During its last incarnation, the EMP Commission did a lot of studies, but its findings were almost completely ignored. This time it is starting with a lot more public awareness; but too many people still get their EMP awareness from misleading movies.

The law re-creating the EMP Commission and adding the geomagnetic storm responsibilities was just signed into law on Nov. 25, so there is no one actually serving on the commission yet. Right now, it exists as a legal entity only.

Jon S. said...

Auuughh! I should know better than to try to type while Iain's trying to get me to play Halo with him! (It's his area of perseveration, at least for now.)

"I suspect two factors for the increase of autism diagnoses - the increased number of diagnoses, and..." should read: "I suspect two factors for the increase of autism diagnoses - the broadened criteria for diagnosis, and..."

David Brin said...

onward


onward