Saturday, August 27, 2016

Science: A long, long road to… us

== Lottsa Luca ==

Luca, the Last Universal Common Ancestor, is estimated to have lived some four billion years ago, when Earth was a mere 560 million years old.  For a long time the three great domains of life -- bacteria, archaea and eukaryotes -- seemed to have no common point of origin. But now scientists have zeroed in on 355 genes that probably originated in Luca, the joint ancestor of bacteria and archaea (and hence us eurkaryotes)… and thus they stumbled onto strong indications of conditions for the origin of all Earthly life.  Because those 355 genes point very strongly at deep sea volcanic vents – “the gassy, metal-laden, intensely hot plumes caused by seawater interacting with magma erupting through the ocean floor.”

The 355 genes ascribable to Luca include some that metabolize hydrogen as a source of energy as well as a gene for an enzyme called reverse gyrase, found only in microbes that live at extremely high temperatures.  This much is spectacular!  It means that astronomers are not the only ones using amazing inferences to peer beyond all previous limitations toward early origins.

From my perspective as a planetary scientist and science fiction author, I have to say that the implications are huge for life elsewhere.  For volcanic vents are exactly the sort of thing one expects to find at the bottoms of the “roofed oceans” that we now figure exist on at least ten small worlds in just this solar system, starting with Europa and Enceledus. Such roofed worlds are not dependent upon so-called "goldilocks zones" and might exist in the vast majority of solar systems and make up the vast majority of abodes of life.

Moreover, the LUCA lead researcher has taken this a step further, in an inference that is weaker but just as startling!  The inferred, 355 gene LUCA seems to be missing so many genes necessary for life that he believes it must still have been relying on chemical components from its environment! In other words: it still relied on a surrounding “soup” of chemicals created abiotically, presumably by the basal “Miller-Urey-Orgel” processes.  Hence it was only “half alive,” Dr. William F. Martin of Heinrich Heine University in Düsseldorf writes.

The latter supposition is viewed skeptically by those who think the Soup got all used up millions of years earlier, before the Late Bombardment. And I share this skepticism. Still… it is a terrific article.  Wow.  What times we live in.  And what a loss for those waging War on Science. You folks are missing out, exactly as we are learning so much about Creation. 

== Homo economicus… make him extinct? ==

Much of modern economics is based upon a general theory of human choice behavior called Homo economicus, which posits that market participants (humans) behave in ways that reflect self-interested game theory. Only lately, study after study has shown this set of assumptions to be problematic. One quandary comes from the fact that initial research focused on the easiest test subjects for western university professors to get ahold of. Their own students.

This fascinating article by David Sloan Wilson calls it: “the WEIRD People problem.(Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich and Democratic)  Researchers often think they’re studying “Homo sapiens“, but actually they’re studying a particularly peculiar form of cultural psychology. This is because, until recently, most studies have been done with WEIRD undergraduates. But, it turns out when placed in cross-cultural perspective WEIRD undergraduates are psychologically rather unusual and a really poor model for our species psychology.

But it gets… weirder. Wilson interviews Joseph Henrich, who says, “Not only do we find that the Homo economicus predictions fail in every society (24 societies, multiple communities per society), but instructively, we find that it fails in different ways in different societies. Nevertheless, after our paper “In search of Homo economicus” in 2001 in the American Economic Review, we continued to search for him. Eventually, we did find him. He turned out to be a chimpanzee.

"The canonical predictions of the Homo economicus model have proved remarkably successful in predicting chimpanzee behavior in simple experiments. So, all theoretical work was not wasted, it was just applied to the wrong species.” 

Read more in Henrich's book, The Secret of Our Success: How Culture is Driving Human Evolution, Domesticating Our Species and Making Us Smarter.

== Send in the Clones ==

Remember Dolly, the cloned sheep? Back in Glory Season, I speculated that it would be difficult to clone mammals and that hence there might still be some (slight) need for males, even in a hyper feminist world.  Well, we’ve seen some ups and downs since. Dolly seemed to suggest that tech empowered female humans will be able to dispense with us hairy-inseminators in the future – and at times I admit, I wouldn’t blame em.

Only then Dolly died young, sickened with many diseases of aging and with shortened chromosomes, suggesting that a cloned mammal inherits some of the aging clock of the parent and does not reset its embryonic timer back to zero! Baaaah! So much for parthenogeneis and eliminating males.

Only now … another reversal!  It seems a dozen more Dolly clones are doing just fine, with no sign of premature senescence.  So maybe it just took a better process.  Sorry guys. Your services are no longer needed. (Except maybe for amusement and moving some furniture, now and then.) Try to tidy up a bit on your way out, hm?

== Bio Wonders! ==

African birds who guide humans to hidden beehives in order to share in the beeswax and honey.

Will painting “eyes” on the butts of cattle help deter lions so African herders can live side by side with them?  I guess we’ll find out.  

A potential breakthrough.  Scientists have developed an “artificial leaf” type of solar cell that uses water and sunlight to transform CO2 into CO or carbon monoxide.  Don’t let it escape! Because CO is a nasty greenhouse gas and indoors it can be poisonous.  But fed into further processes it can make methane – natural gas – which can be stored and used as fuel.  One more piece for the puzzle.  

Biology challenges us!  “The federal government announced plans Thursday to lift a moratorium on funding of certain controversial experiments that use human stem cells to create animal embryos that are partly human. Receiving special concern are experiments designed to create animals with human brain cells or human brain tissue. Scientists might want to create them to study neurological conditions such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases. But the experiments would undergo intensive scrutiny if there's any chance there might be a "substantial contribution" or "substantial functional modification" to an animal's brain. In other words… “uplift.”

Critics denounced the decision. "Science fiction writers might have imagined worlds like this — like The Island of Dr. Moreau, Brave New World, Frankenstein," says Stuart Newman, a biologist at New York Medical College.  

On the other hand... there is no more certain proof of lack of agility, than to see someone purportedly “wise” commenting on a potential scientific problem, by citing only the oldest and most simplistic clichés. Try reading something written after 1910, grampa.

And inspires…

In the last 62 years, there have been 115 interactions recorded between humpback whales and killer whales, and in a great many cases the Humpbacks have gone to great lengths fending the Orcas off from attacking other species, like Gray whales and even seals. “The most logical biological explanation for the humpbacks’ vigilante-like behavior is that the whales receive some sort of benefit from interfering with orca hunts.”  Of all the incidents the scientists investigated over the last five decades, killer whales targeted humpbacks just 11 percent of the time. The other 89 percent involved orcas hunting seals, sea lions, porpoises, and other marine mammals. 

We keep learning how nature has islands of altruism, and yes friendliness to humans, despite all we've done. (E.g. elephants and whales and dolphins who travel great distances to where some kind of "rumor" has informed them that the humans are kindly, and will remove the fishing net, hook, or snare.)  Yes!  Nature needs us to behave much much better with our power. But can we?

We are surrounded by nihilists who cynically proclaim that all is already lost, so why bother trying?... and by short-termers seeking only short range benefit for themselves... and 'reformers' who agitate for a better world but frantically denounce any offer of good news, because "it might undermine our sense of urgency!"

What can the majority of science-loving, progress-seeking, cautiously optimistic-while-worried, pragmatic reformers do, in the face of such cynicism, ferociously-repeated with the fervor of a cult?  The one personality trait that unites a mad far-left and an insane entire-right?

I have been a fighter for the Earth for all my adult life and before that. (See my novel EARTH!) Hence I know one thing very well; the short-sighted profit-grabbers and "it'll all be over soon" kooks are both the enemy. Cynics are no friends. And they are wrong.

Case in point. Go back to 1980 and find anyone who would put money down that every species of whale would still be around, in 2016.  And growing more numerous, each year. You'd have found no takers.

We have a chance, still. But only if we believe we do. 


Laurent Weppe said...

* "The canonical predictions of the Homo economicus model have proved remarkably successful in predicting chimpanzee behavior in simple experiments. So, all theoretical work was not wasted, it was just applied to the wrong species.”"

History class, McKenzee Cylinder orbiting Proxima b, year 2819
Teacher, showing a picture of a large space megastructure under construction:
"While the theoretical concept of the Dyson Cloud was known since the mid-20th century, it's only during the 22th century, after the multiple conflagrations of the Climate Wars, that the funding necessary to build such structures was made available when the US, UE, and Indian Federation all agreed to put Chimps at the head of their Central Banks"

Tony Fisk said...

Well, I can see Andy Serkis rubbing his hands with glee: there's the plot for the next ape movie sorted.

CO a nasty greenhouse gas? Without looking at the absorption spectrum I'm not so sure. I wondered for some time why CO2 was a greenhouse gas while N2 and O2 weren't.I found out on a course by ex-colleague David Jamieson that CO2s capacity comes from the bond vibration modes available to a multi-atom molecule. It can rotate, oscillate, *and* 'twerk' as well. It's instructive to look at a list of atmospheric components. The only other molecule that has wobble capacity is methane. Of course, the listing misses the joker as it is for dry air. Water vapour is responsible for a whopping 30 degrees warming, and amplifies the increasing CO2 signal six-fold.

Ben Fenwick said...

If only we could have the same success with elephants that we have with the whales! I do deeply appreciate your optimism.

Paul SB said...

The WEIRD argument has been made by many a psych professor for a long time now, but no one outside the ivory tower seems to have noticed, until now. Cultural anthropologists, though, have said since the 1940s that psychological models based entirely on Western subjects were not really universal human models, but no one listens to anthropologists (except when Margaret Meade argued for legalizing marijuana).

For your section on altruism among animals (as among humans), you could easily have cited Franz De Waal's "Good Natured" or his more recent "The Age of Empathy." Humans need to look at their animal origins a little more clearly, and pay attention to those instincts that drive us to do good things. I can see the religious origin of the notion that animals are evil beings "red in tooth and claw". If you make Thou Shalt Not Kill one of your laws, then you have a conundrum when people want a burger with their fries, or they want that fashionable beaver hat or mink stole. But if you define humans as God's special creations and all the rest of the animal kingdom is just there for humans to use - no problem. Well, until you start dealing with the ramifications about instincts. (I can imagine what Loci would say, given his previous comments about "twees and fowwests.")

It's funny you should bring up Glory Season, as my mp3 CD copy just came in the mail a couple days ago, and I am doing what Larry does - giving it a second time over to appreciate what i may have missed on the first reading. The longer-lasting clones is good news, though I am sure that once we get down how all those methylation switches work, that problem would have been solved, anyway. However, the problem with cloning is that it conserves genetic patterns rather than creating genetic diversity. A little bit of that will happen anyway through random mutation, but that's a slow and haphazard process. I can think of a couple other sic-fi possibilities, though. 1. Simulating sexual reproduction by artificially fertilizing ova with the chromosomes from other ova. This would have the same genetic shuffling effect of normal M/F fertilization, but all offspring would be X-chromosome only. 2. Create retroviruses that would randomly mutate DNA in a population, but within safety guidelines that would not cause fatal mutations (something like Greg Bears 'virus children' but intentionally created).

Are you sure you won't reconsider that sequel for Glory Season? It could be a lot of fun... :) :/ :(

Unknown said...

So, studying the behavior of college students gives us a fair model for predicting the behavior of chimpanzees.

Can't say I'm terribly surprised - major differences seem to be that chimps are less inclined to binge-drink, and few undergrads are ever actually seen throwing their own feces...


Michael C. Rush said...

>>Try reading something written after 1910, grampa.

They might...if someone labeled it "YA Fiction"...

Paul451 said...

Re: Last "Universal" Common Ancestor.

Luca's 355 ancestor genes would make an excellent toolset for a "panspermia detector" on an cometary, Europan, Martian, etc lander. If anything out there is based on DNA, then it probably shares an origin. Luca's genes would be the natural markers to look for.

It won't detect "life, but not as we know it", but it will pluck the low hanging fruit; and we'll feel pretty stupid if we don't and it turns out, after we go around the long way, that we could have. (40 years and we haven't done a single follow-up to the Vikings' life-experiment.)


Re: CO & greenhouse.

While it's not a strong GHG itself, it apparently likes eating OH-radicals, which are the primary pacifier of many strong GHGs. So higher CO-levels acts to increase the GH potential of the worst offenders like methane.


Re: Hamilton.

Your constant references finally got me to listen to it. (I really have no interest in musicals.) Damn it's well written. The constant call-backs and interacting character-signatures were lovely.

(Even the frickin' youtube comments were lovely. On Eliza's finale,
Comment: Me: Standing in the hallway, holding a ten dollar bill, crying.
Reply 1: Cashier: Why is this note soggy?
You: (singing) The orphanage...
Reply 2: Cashier starts crying.

Paul451 said...

From the last thread...

"what's the problem with using "@" to signify whom you're addressing?
# strikes me as too twittery"

Both # and @ are Twitter conventions. Hashtag is to mark a topic keyword, at-tag is to mark an account-name. If you put a hashtag, your tweet is searchable under that topic. If you put @name in your tweet, your tweet will appear in Name's feed. The latter is how Twitter allows replies and conversations. @Jumper is #annoyed because it's completely worthless on any forum that doesn't include a mechanism to recognise and use the at-tag. It's just a #twitter_affectation_bleeding_into_non-twitter_space.

"Sigh. I simply don't understand depletion deductions, the concern being the oil industry. I sure wish someone could explain it to me."

What is it you don't understand? You have to account for changes in the value of your business. Whether you are using up stock, depreciating an asset, or depleting a resource for which you own the rights. It's all the same principle.

Likewise if the value of my stock-on-hand, or machinery, or real estate, or any form of asset, changes in its market value, the value of my business has increased or decreased. That's a form of income or expense and needs to be accounted for.

The value of my assets (or liabilities) have changed and I need to show that.


Michael C. Rush said...

Both # and @ are Twitter conventions.

Of course @ was used in online forums to direct a reply long before Twitter was a twinkle in its creator's eye...

JParker said...

I know they are hard to study what is the state of cognitive research for the larger whales? My impression was they were significantly below orcas but maybe not. Tell the orca to start eating a little lower on the chain. There are populations of orcas that eat mainly fish. Sometimes living closely with mammal eating pods. An example of the cultural diversity in orcas.

I am not sure our host would be as giddy about a future where stem cell derived ovaries are the source material for the artifical wombs. Considering where the existing engineering capital is it seems more likely to have a society without women before there is one without men. We need to consider carefully technology that would change the "balance of terror" between the genders.

Jumper said...

CO soon becomes CO2, anyway. If I wasn't too lazy to look it up I'd guess the reaction also creates a bit of NOx.

I was a bit over-the-top on my screed against @, but I enjoyed doing it, because I'm right. Not to mention I wrote that immediately after I brought up a belief or not in biological evolution, and Alfred "@"-ed me but started in on "evolution of markets" without a hiccup, or misstep of the one-trick-pony which surely evolved from something but which remains a mystery to science.

Jumper said...

Paul451, to understand depletion, it seems I must assume that the tax authority demands that oil (let's use that) be considered income or value added before it's even produced or sold. If that's the case, so be it. That just seems strange to me.

Deuxglass said...

I read that article about chimpanzees and current economic theory when it came out. So we are using chimpanzee methods to regulate our economies and to decide our future. Somehow I am not surprised. For 25 years in my work I consulted with economists almost daily, some who are very well known. As individuals they for the part are fine people but I learned early that they had no predictive ability but made up for it by an amazing talent to BS with a straight face. I admired them for that.

Kal Kallevig said...

Duncan Cairncross
From the last thread: "What a lot of bollocks! - Solar Energy ROI is 2.45 - in Spain!"

It is great that your solar system is doing so well, those we have installed do not do that well but they are still good investments. What I do not understand is why you have ignored the main points and focused on a nit.

The point of the paper is that renewable energy coupled with smart design can sustain civilization. It is also possible we can continue our wasteful ways and destroy the ecology that sustains us.

Kal Kallevig said...

"When the costs associated to natural resource extraction have been capitalized, the expenses are systematically allocated across different time periods based upon the resources extracted. The costs are held on the balance sheet until expense recognition occurs."
TAken from:
Read more: Depletion Definition | Investopedia

That is the accounting side. The tax side is not necessarily so rational. It is the result of efforts by interested parties to minimize their tax bill

donzelion said...

@Alfred - (from previous post re the cost/benefits of falling oil prices) The NPR article, and Dr. Arora's own essay, strike me more as "raising questions" than asserting the positive case that "falling oil prices hurt the economy." It's obvious that falling gas prices could HELP the economy, it's less obvious what other prices and harms might attach, and those are worth taking into account. Or, as you put it -

"I prefer to look at these things not in terms of GDP if we are trying to figure out what is good for the average person."
Emphasis added. You LOOK. Many simply accept. And that, my friend, is a preference well-served, and the difference between science today and Aristotlian logic of old.

Jumper/Duncan re nomenclature for addressing people - Since I haven't actually heard your actual voices, the expression 'hi' or 'hello' seems friendly, but the context for me is shaped by too many messages starting something like 'Hi Mr. Donzelion, we need your help to save $20 million that the Prince of Nigeria won in the Microsoft lottery..." Similarly, the straight use of a name to issue a response - "Mr. Donzelion," often fits with an imperative, rather than friendly discourse. Since "@" is stripped of any such context (no, I wouldn't call my mother with an "@") - it works for me, avoiding the one context (of too many requests) and also avoiding the implied assertion of authority (which I prefer to avoid). But I'll try to follow whatever convention is generally adopted by this group, as that strikes me as the best netiquette.

donzelion said...

Greg - (re previous post on high-frequency trading)
I'm not concerned about demonizing any person if they really are a parasite, and a parasite serves no other function. To my mind, a parasite is one who shifts costs onto other people against their will; I can see how HF traders might cross that line, but don't see that they always do.

From a buy-side investor's perspective, anyone who buys and holds for a shorter time horizon than the long-term investor will be trying to take advantage of that investor's interests by arbitraging short-term gains and stripping away the investors rewards. An investor who buys for a year will look askance at one who buys for a week, and frown at a trader who holds for a day. An investor who buys for a few hours in a day will similarly look askance at someone who holds for a few milliseconds. I have no objective basis to declare that "X" period of time for an investment is "healthy" while "Y" period of time is "parasitic," so I prefer to avoid such labels entirely.

In terms of Tobin taxes (currently quite the rage, esp. by Hillary's crew), I'd like some objective standards in place before trying to stop an activity that is potentially harmful, esp. to verify that (a) the harm will be stopped, and (b) other harms produced will not outweigh the benefit. Instead of fighting against "day-traders" (or their HFT counterparts, or "millisecond traders"), I'd want to focus efforts toward stopping fraudsters, inside traders, and the like.

donzelion said...

@LarryHart (from previous post) - "When I'm responding to someone else's particular line, I'll usually quote the line as I just did here. When I'm just responding in general to an individual, I've gone to using "@" because that seems to be the accepted thing to do."

As have I. What's your pref? Mine is just to be consistent and avoid triggers that offend, (ir)regardless of anything else. ;-)

I'll try addressing the other in the same form they've addressed me; reciprocity can be a form of respect as well, and that is ultimately my intent.

donzelion said...

History class, McKenzee Cylinder orbiting Proxima b, year 2819...the funding necessary to build [Dyson clouds] was made available when the US, UE, and Indian Federation all agreed to put Chimps at the head of their Central Banks" - though the great "Interspecies War" between Dolphins and Chimps delayed the launch of modern Dyson clouds by two centuries, as the two separated into competing factions over "crescent-shaped" (the Bananazis) v. "torpedo-shaped" (the "Icthyesians")...

donzelion said...

Ben - "If only we could have the same success with elephants that we have with the whales!"

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home came out the same year that the International Whaling Commission successfully implemented (and enforced) a ban on (all/most) whaling, stopping the declines and perhaps saving several species. I would expect we science fiction fans would approach the problem of elephant hunting similarly: what sort of a Trek plot line might save the elephants and other threatened ivory bearers? ;-)

"Star Trek: the Heart of Darkness" Kirk & Friends confront "Commander Kurtz" - a rogue ivory trader who is...drat, that's been done to death.

That said, "Wrath of Khan" was very much "Moby Dick in Space" - a book that changed human concepts of cetaceans much as Jaws had changed our concept of sharks - so it made sense to make IV about whales to 'balance the scales' - and really, it's fun to mix metaphors and play with context...who remembers "Wagon Train" rather than what was once "Wagon Train to the stars"?

LarryHart said...

Paul SB:

It's funny you should bring up Glory Season, as my mp3 CD copy just came in the mail a couple days ago, and I am doing what Larry does - giving it a second time over to appreciate what i may have missed on the first reading. T

If you don't mind, please post when you've finished. I read it a few years back, and there are some impressions I'd like to bounce off another reader--things that would be spoilers even for a second reading.

FamHam said...

So have you read the Social Conquest of Earth by Edward Wilson? He really digs into the idea of altruism and focuses on what we have in common with ants, termites and bees - the ability to be something beyond a chimpanzee/homo economicus. I can just imagine what our science denying friends on the right would think about that!

He ultimately argues that while a selfish individual may beat out an altruistic one, an altruistic society always beats out a selfish one... Yet there is value in the individual self-interest as it can result in the creation of great ideas that benefit society ultimately. It's that balance between an altruistic culture and creative individuals that pushes us forward.

Anyway, seemed relevant to your post.

duncan cairncross said...

Hi Kal

That paper said that renewable's were "Not enough" and that we would also need to massively change our patterns of use

Which is a quantitative assessment
As such getting one side of the equation wrong by a factor of thirty is not a "nit" it's more like an elephant

Kal Kallevig said...


"That paper said that renewable's were "Not enough" and that we would also need to massively change our patterns of use"

Which part of that is wrong? Populations are still growing, around the world there is demand for standards of living similar to ours in the west, and we waste massive amounts of energy needlessly.

Regarding your specific point, the "EROI=2.45" was given as being way to low and immediately refuted in the article, so the author partly agreed with you. But the other critical point is that EROI has very little to do with your monetary return on investment. You may have gotten a great deal, we have seen some below cost prices on panels recently. But to be viable long term an energy technology has to be able to return at a minimum all of the embodied energy invested in manufacture and delivery, which may or may not be related to financial cost of an end product.

LarryHart said...


Re: Hamilton.

Your constant references finally got me to listen to it. (I really have no interest in musicals.) Damn it's well written. The constant call-backs and interacting character-signatures were lovely.

That's what my daughter did to me. I had no interest in rap, but the word-play in this play is priceless. How many different ways can the vowel sounds from the word "satisfied" be used in the same stanza? The world may never know.

I also get caught up in the excitement surrounding the Revolution in the first half. I could listen to everything from "Guns and Ships" through "The Battle of Yorktown" forever, and often do.

It's also been a source of family harmony. For at least ten years, if my daughter were a sitcom character, her catch phrase would be "Daddy, don't sing!" But she lets me sing Hamilton with her. The excitement is contagious.

donzelion said...

On Whaling -

The topic of whaling has come up recently a couple of times. I try not to take anything on faith, at least until I can see a mechanism that works logically to account for the claim I'm seeing. Here are some thoughts for anyone who cares to look at the story of "saving the whales" as a basis for hopes that may apply in other categories:

The problem: The risks of 'exorbitant' whaling sufficiently evident by 1931 that international efforts launched to rein in hunting. After WWII, an International Whaling Commission (IWC) was formed to 'safeguard whale stocks for future generations' - which included a scientific component, among others, to try to set quotas for whaling. The IWC failed - spectacularly - for decades. Then, in 1981, a moratorium was agreed (which took effect in 1986 - incidentally, the same year Star Trek IV was released).

Why'd it take so long?

One biologist's view is informative (and offered in a true contrarian spirit - that is, likely to offend animal rights activists, the whaling industry, and especially, the commission itself). He attributes the moratorium to the work of a number of states with no whaling industry per se, who joined the IWC entirely to try to turn it from a rubber stamp board that enabled whalers into something that could constrain it. By 1981, 33 members had joined the body from the original 14, and thence came the 3/4 majority needed to impose the ban.

I read that and think about the TPP, and other multinational arrangements, and what that can mean. Some observations:

(1) Absent the IWC, no authority existed which could announce a ban. Absent some such entity to announce the rules, whales would have been hunted into extinction.

(2) Scientists played a major role in undoing the harmful view of whales as vicious sea monsters (Moby Dick and earlier), and perceiving them as beautiful, communicative creatures. That function is certainly an important ingredient, but not a sufficient ingredient (scientists had found beauty in many other animals that ultimately went extinct).

(3) The U.S. called for a moratorium since '71, Australia for longer, and neither got anywhere on their own. Whales needed help - from Kiwis, Swedes, and many others. It was the collaboration of many different countries that put the moratorium in place.

(4) Activists needed an OPTIMISTIC faith to redeem the IWC, which until 1981, had essentially rubberstamped whale slaughter - to acknowledge that they could, with some effort, convert it into a shield for whales, rather than a harpoon. To collaborate effectively, they had to learn what it was, how it works/how to work it.

Tony Fisk said...

@Paul451, thanks for clarifying CO's role in greenhouse emissions. As the man once said: it's complicated, but it's a relief that the reason doesn't invalidate my understanding of the process.

Paul451 said...

"to understand depletion, it seems I must assume that the tax authority demands that oil (let's use that) be considered income or value added before it's even produced or sold. If that's the case, so be it. That just seems strange to me."

No, the oil is property. Gaining or losing property is income or expense respectively.

Forget taxes for a moment. This is just basic accounting.

If you have the right to an asset, that right has value. For a resource company, that value is a major part of the value of your business. If you use up the asset, you are reducing the value of your business. Hence using-up-an-asset is treated as a cost, which is deducted from income.

This isn't just for working out tax liability. If I discover a new resource, I need to be able to calculate the value of my rights to that resource in order to sell some of my business to investors (or use it as security for a loan), to raise money to pay for the extraction. But obviously, once I've extracted and sold the resource, I can't continue to claim I own the same value of resource and the value of income. Instead, I have to reduce the value of the resource, deducting it from the value of the income, in order to work out the net difference (my "gross margin"). That reduction is the depletion deduction.

Tax only comes in later, and is meant to only ever be levied on that change in value of the business.

All changes in value are functionally the same as income or expenses. But resources are hard to work out, because you have to calculate the value of something you haven't realised yet, and for which the amount may only be an estimate. So the trick is to treat the capital gains on the sale of the business itself as one form of change in value, and the profits from the extraction of the resource as another form. That way, you allow the market to "calculate" the value of the unextracted resource, separately from ordinary income. The owners pay tax on the cap-gains (which includes the value of the resource) when they sell their share of the business to new owners, and the business then pays income tax on the sales margin of the resource (income minus the prior value of the resource) in the normal way. That way, tax is paid on the acquisition of the rights to the unextracted resource (as cap gains), and on the value added by the extraction of the resource (gross margin). So the whole value of the resource is accounted for but you aren't paying tax on the resource as both a capital gain when in the ground and then again on the whole amount as ordinary income when its sold.

I land on a new world and discover a rich source of dilithium ore, an estimated quantity of at least 100 microdectars. I announce the discovery back on my home planet, and the sellable value of my business increases by one million quatloos. If I choose to sell my business for that new higher amount, I must pay Imperial taxes on that increase in value, the capital gains, the extra one million quatloos.

Then I (or the new owner) actually extract the resource, and sell it for 3 million quatloos. But I no longer have the resource. So the gross change in value of my business is 3m - 1m = 2m quatloos. That "minus 1m" is the depletion deduction. It makes no sense to treat the entire 3m quatloos as ordinary income, because tax has already been paid on it (or will be paid) as cap-gains on the sale of the business itself.

(When I talk about "paying tax on the gross margin", obviously I'm ignoring operating expenses along with all the other income/expense calculations. But you get the idea.)

Paul451 said...

Speaking of new worlds...

New reports that there was a supposed strong SETI signal last year.

It's a single pulse, like the WOW! signal in 1977 and the 2010 signal.

duncan cairncross said...

Hi Kal
"That paper said that renewable's were "Not enough" and that we would also need to massively change our patterns of use"

Which is both wrong and misleading - and worse feeds straight into the "its too late and nothing we do will help" meme that has too much power in our civilization and has become a self fulfilling prophecy far too often

As donzelion said it was when the whaling issue was attacked with a sense of optimism that the required actions were taken

That paper effectively said "we are doomed and you will have to give up your car"
NOT a message that would drive the best behavior even if it was correct
BUT it wasn't even correct! - for the first part that I looked at and had a good idea of the numbers it was out - and not by a little bit! a factor of 20!!! 2,000% out

As far as EROI having very little to do with monetary ROI -
The energy cost can only be LESS than the total cost so EROI must always be BETTER than financial ROI

Tim H. said...

Renewable energy doesn't have to supplant all carbon energy to be counted a success, if it only slows the increase in carbon, it's a good thing. Not meaning to sound complacent, but the change is happening, transition will take time, longer than you may be comfortable with, but a slow process should have fewer bugs and greater acceptance.

Anonymous said...

Pronoucements of faith are of course to be expected from a priest of the religion of progress though whether the Western man on his death path is really reformed is an open question—the Earth will be just fine, for it cares not one whit whether the sky screams with Carbon shitters or the night sky burns with sleep-disrupting light or that stroad deaths in America are up and up. Happy motor much, car sitter? Indeed, the modern Western man can very much be modeled as a Prometheus tweeting some success (say, that the whales are now not so much on fire) whilst his brand sets some new portion, or in truth many new portions of the biosphere ablaze.

Tim H. said...

Your glass is always half empty, isn't it?

Unknown said...

Anonymous doesn't have a glass - that technology is too advanced for him/her to grasp.

occam's comic said...

Well I am not very hopeful on the climate front, because the window of opportunity for effectively constraining global warming is closed. Our emissions of carbon dioxide are still increasing and even the most ambitious plans to combat global warming still have us burning fossil fuels for several decades. And we have already kick started several natural positive feedback loops. That means the climate change we started has slipped out of our control and will run its course.
The change in albedo near the arctic combined with massive fires in the tundra, and decomposition of the permafrost and an increasingly stormy arctic sea and weakening jet stream all guarantee that climate change will be giving us massive problems as far as the eye can see.

Jumper said...

I wouldn't say the window is closed, because action now will still stop very bad effects later. Unfortunately, much bad effect has already been baked into the circumstances. There is no clear point where stopping CO2 is useless.

Paul451, lets say I have an oil well I just drilled, paying $1 million for the drilling. I hit oil, but can only estimate that I have 50,000 barrels down there. My accountant says to wait and not produce it until the price increases. Can I wait until I sell some oil, or must I declare that I made 50,000 x the current price per barrel on that well? Or, if it's to my advantage to declare that I just made 50,000 barrels of profit, exactly why would it be to my advantage?

In the old days of letter writing, people would often address different people in the same letter. In fact, I just read a book full of them. It was letters from a man in prison, to his wife, but included paragraphs to his kids. He had no problem using standard English without a "@" symbol; he simply began whatever personalized paragraph with the name of his child: "John, remember to say "thank you" to your Mom when she makes pancakes for you..." etc. This is all similar to writing to a crowd on the internet. It's also similar to speaking in a meeting.

David Brin said...

Anonymous’s finger wagging preaching would be more redolent if he had any credibility. If he openly avowed his ID and what HE has done to help to solve errors and ease our burden on the planet and to save the world.

But he won’t and the reason is plain from every cue he (unwittingly) reveals about his personality. That he is a pathetic whiner, who across his entire lifespan will not do the world as much good as I do in any week.

Whimper on, pathetic.


David Brin said...

In sharp contrast... Occam & Jumper, there is one thing we do not know. Are there NON-LINEAR effects that we can still avoid? If global climate change remains relatively linear then so will the damage and we may (you may) live to see today’s efforts pay off in a tapering off. But if we hit a tipping point causing a “blurp” of methane from sub-sea ices or tundra, then all my can-do spirit, rah-rah efforts to push optimism will be for naught.

donzelion said...

@Anonymous (the "Western man" setting portions of the biosphere ablaze) - The irony in the statement is the fact that there is one part that is actually literally 'true' - yes, man setting the biosphere ablaze certainly contributes to greenhouse gases - but the problem includes NON-WESTERN man practicing slash'n'burn agriculture in Africa, releasing vast quantities of carbon monoxide into the air.

@Occam - "...the climate change we started has slipped out of our control and will run its course."

We never had "control" over climate change - merely influence, the ability to make things better or worse. As with cancer: the fact that a patient already has it does NOT mean they should keep smoking because there's "nothing to be done."

Alfred Differ said...


Regarding my monomania, you have a good point. The reason I keep connecting biological evolution and economical evolution, though, is because I was taught the biological version first as if it was an idea out of the blue. That Darwin guy was such a genius! I learned years alter the concept had a pedigree. It’s not just that it applies in Economics; it’s that it started there before moving to biology. Not many people know that. When I learned it, it utterly changed the way I looked at economists.

Regarding the @ symbol, I’m not trying to do a Twitter thing. I use it because I’ve read David’s Holocene work. I use it for attention management. If I start a post with @jumper, I am signaling others that I am looking at you and not expecting them to listen in. They can if they want, but I have no expectations. You can argue that it isn’t necessary (you would be correct), but I won’t care. What matters with attention management is decision speed. A reader’s eye is drawn to the @ where they can quickly determine whether the nearby content is intended for them. Without the @, they have to search for names and decide every time whether I’m talking to that person or about them. Speed matters in a high bandwidth world clamoring for our attention.

There is a point to @ and # and >> whether you like them or not.

I won’t use irregardless, though. My mother will come back from the dead to strike me down. 8)

Jumper said...

Even if all the ice melts, more CO2 will mean more damned heat, so I just don't see that there is a "too late" point for it. I suppose that could be misunderstood, but I've known about global warming and treated it as a fact since 1965 and wanted slowdown soonest since then. I remember making an 'A' on a science project about that in 1971 or '72. "Thermal pollution." Half of it was about the greenhouse effect.
Two meters of sea level rise is not as bad as eight meters.

Alfred Differ said...

Apparently there are a number of researchers pointing out the failure of prediction when it comes to applying game theory to human decision making. One of McCloskey’s points is that Homo Economicus is a poor model of humans in general and of WEIRD humans too. She’s a convert, though, having given up a belief in the applicability of the model, so readers should be careful.

My suspicion is that it is not a failure of game theory. It is a failure to recognize the payoffs received by the players. Offer a game of ‘snatch’ to humans and they don’t play by the rules for long. We prefer the game of ‘exchange’ once we are more than about 8 years of age. Offer ‘snatch’ to chimps and they play it well. I suspect we play a more complex game difficult to quantify in monetary terms because the payout space is multi-dimensional. I’m theorizing, though, and have no clue how to write a falsifiable version.

McCloskey refers to us as Homo Loquens and argues we’ve been working in our more complex markets since we developed full languages. I suspect there is a bit of biology at work here. I doubt our kind of market game can be played without big languages.

What I find neatest about this work, though, is that we might be able to work backward from observations of human behaviors to the games we are playing to the dimensionality of the payout space and its topology. A Randian individualist is not a member of Homo Loquens and we might be able to measure this. We might also have a measure for what we mean by Uplift.

Acacia H. said...

When you said that each new century really starts 15 or so years after the turn of the century (thus 1915, 1815, and so forth), Dr. Brin, did you mean that the century wipes out the literary and cultural icons so we're forced to start fresh?

Rest in piece, Mr. Wilder. And chalk up another one for 2016's Death Note.

Rob H.

Alfred Differ said...

@Paul451: Thank you for the depletion deduction explanation. That gives me new insight on why some of my friends want property rights for space bodies they intend to mine. I could see their bond arguments, but this explains their equity arguments.

greg byshenk said...

Actually, there is an 'objective standard' in my argument. That is, if there is an already-existing bid and ask, then the HFTer is not actually "speculating", but merely parasitising on an effectively already-existing trade. One could argue that what is happening is arbitrage, instead, but I would argue the contrary, as (at least traditionally) 'arbitrage' is something that occurs between different markets, and thus (at least arguably) produces value by enabling trade that would not otherwise occur.

At least one philosophical argument for a Tobin variant is that, while trading does provide social value, that value (or more specifically, the value per trade) diminishes as trading becomes sufficiently[1] large -- and may, at the limit,[2] actually be negative. Thus, while trading should be encouraged, 'excessive' trading should be discouraged. One, admittedly arbitrary,[4] limit is to suggest that, if your trade is not profitable at a tax rate of %0.1, then it is not sufficiently worthwhile to be encouraged.

[1] Not going to try to place a specific limit on this.
[2] For example, the limit case I describe above.
[3] Again, not going to try to be specific here.
[4] See 'heap' above.

greg byshenk said...

Also, a comment on 'homo economicus'.

I recall reading this argument on an econ blog (it might be fellow blogspot'er Noah Smith), so it is not original to me, but...

Economists all understand that human beings are not the pure 'rational agents' commonly used in econ models. But models require simplifying assumptions, and at least until now, there is no way to make useful economic models without making simplifying assumptions about human motivations and actions. So the question would be: if one wishes not to model economic actors as rational agents, what should one do instead? It is not clear that there is any useful answer, which means that, at least until one appears, homo economicus is the best thing we've got.

Paul SB said...


I would not say that H. economicus is the best thing we've got. Rather, it's the best thing economists have got. Other social sciences have used the idea of "minimal rationality" since at least the late 1970s. If they would care to step outside of their economic bubbles and see what other sciences are up to, they would be modeling with distribution curves in mind. The idea is that you look at things in probabilistic rather than absolute terms. This is pretty much what quantum mechanics was getting at way back when, what Ernst Mayr and the rest of the "Modern Synthesis" folks were doing in the first decades of the 20th C. and I am sure the probabilistic nature of reality has its influences elsewhere. My suspicion is that economics suffers from being too closely tied to politics, which tends to grossly oversimplify conceptual models and turn them into campaign slogans.

Kal Kallevig said...


"As far as EROI having very little to do with monetary ROI -
The energy cost can only be LESS than the total cost so EROI must always be BETTER than financial ROI"

That seems like an extreme statement. The units of measurement are different: EROI is also known as EROEI so the units both in and out are energy. ROI is all about how much you paid for something and how much you receive from that investment denominated in your currency.

There is something unusual about your return of: "my panels will have returned the embedded energy (including transport) in about 6 months out of a 30+ year lifetime". If that ROI fit the general case almost everyone would already have solar photovoltaics installed. But as I said, great that yours are doing so well.

Here is a quote from a website I just googled:
"More generically, in 49 states, investing in solar is projected to earn the average homeowner at least some money over the course of 20 years (which is really the minimum number of years a solar panel system should last for — many of the first solar power systems are going strong well after 30 years)."
And shows a ROI range of 24% for Hawaii to -0.1% for Mississippi all over 25 years.

Anyway, please reread the paper. I think you skimmed it too fast.

occam's comic said...

I don't sea how we can avoid the non-linear effects / positive feed back loops in the climate, especially in the northern hemisphere.

It is my understanding that there are two major two major types of positive feedback loops.

The first type is albedo change. Ice and snow reflect sunlight and bare ground, vegetation and sea water all absorb sunlight. The change from sea ice to seawater plays a huge role because the sea ice not only absorbs most of the sunlight it stores and transports the heat enabling more sea ice to melt. This feedback loop is already having a significant effect on the temperature increases we see in the arctic during the summer months. The albedo effect has already kicked in and it is only going to get worse.

The second major type of positive feedback loop comes from increased temperatures causing the land or sea to release stored greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. The arctic again is place that is most at risk. The arctic tundra and methane hydrides in the arctic ocean contain far more carbon than is currently in the atmosphere. A small amount of the carbon stored in the arctic is starting to go into the atmosphere but it is currently not a significant source of green house gasses.

If this second positive feedback loop has not yet really kicked in why do i think that the window to prevent dangerous climate change has passed?
1) social inertia - it will take at least 30 years to get off fossil fuels. So we will keep adding to the problem for at least 30 years.
2) climate inertia - it takes at least few decades for the carbon dioxide released today to have most of its effects on the climate. (some climate time lags are really long)

If you add it up we have baked in at least 50 ( and more likely 100) years more warming. And each and every year it warms we increase the odds that the thawing permafrost / methane hydride positive feedback loop takes off and becomes self sustaining.

Now that being said that I am all for getting off fossil fuels ASAP, its just that i think that dangerous climate change is now unavoidable it is baked into the system already.

duncan cairncross said...

Hi Kal
I’m glad you asked me
Writing a reply to you crystallized my thoughts
The main issue is that the “price” of solar power equipment is massively higher than the “cost”

Example - the invertor - a 5Kw solar invertor costs over $2000
BUT the 75Kw invertor that drives my car cost me $600 !!!
The parts for my 5Kw solar invertor would add up to less than $100 (plus $200 for a really nice case)
And that would be buying them as individual parts for a one off – in mass production I would expect a total cost of about $20
Not bad for a $2000 selling price

Two years ago I was quoted $0.40 a watt for a pallet of solar panels delivered here so the actual "cost" must be less (a lot less) than that

So the “cost” is only a fraction – probably less than 10% of the “price”

The energy cost of solar panels is only a fraction of the total cost - even if you go backwards and include the energy costs of the raw materials
That is a fraction of the COST – not the PRICE

I said that my panels had returned the "embedded energy" in six months
That is NOT the cost – here in NZ the return on the “Price” will take about 10 years

It's my own fault I could have bought a pallet load of panels from China and halved my costs - which would have resulted in a 5 year payback but I decided that was too difficult

Solar systems are one of those things where there is a LOT of profit taking - most people pay far far too much

I did do a lot of checking and analysis before I got my panels – most people here pay about twice as much – which makes their financial return even worse but which does not change the energy return

Anybody writing a serious paper on that should understand the differences and have a handle of the actual costs involved
The guy who wrote that paper had no idea at all of what he was talking about
Something I find incredibly common in papers about that subject

Alfred Differ said...

Homo Economicus isn't even as good as the proverbial spherical cow. It assumes so much simplification that all human virtues are reduced to prudence. That's more like a line cow or a point cow.

People don't trade that way en masse and probably never have.

Planets don't revolve around the Earth either. Okay, okay... the Moon does, but that match is as close as Homo Economicus comes too.

As for politics being involved, I think there is a bit of theology backlash too. Many of the Enlightenment crowd were anti-clerical, so they often had a dim view of Ethics theory as taught my religious types in a philosophy department. Adam Smith was essentially the last economist to teach a virtue ethics perspective to what traders do. In the next century, it appears many liberals subtracted ethics from the field in order to avoid the priests. If so, it was a mistake. One can be anti-clerical in matters of temporal power, but that doesn't mean humans don't use rich and complex codes of ethics when trading.

As for probabilistic theories, I suspect they are the only ones that will work, but I don't think it will be as simple as swapping deterministic theories for indeterministic ones. Game theory has a way of coping with indeterminism in strategic choices, so the Homo Economicus model can be adapted. It still fails, though. Quantum theories tend to rely upon the possible states of a system being known. Game simulations do too. Model the system incorrectly (prudence only for example) and you fail as soon as you notice evidence doesn't match hypothesis. There is no recovery.

duncan cairncross said...

Hi Occam

I am an optimistic pessimist in regard to climate change,
I worry that we have started the avalanche

BUT I remember what we did in WW2 -
Just how much can be done if we have to go onto a "war footing" - and I believe that while it could cost an absolute fortune we will be able to geo-engineer our way out of the worst effects

It will cost orders of magnitude more than just preventing it - but we do have a plan B

Alfred Differ said...

@occam's comic: If you add it up we have baked in at least 50 ( and more likely 100) years more warming. And each and every year it warms we increase the odds that the thawing permafrost / methane hydride positive feedback loop takes off and becomes self sustaining.

I used to believe that, but I’ve softened my position over the years. The feedback loops are definitely a risk, but there is another feedback loop I think people are underestimating or not even seeing. Rich nations often manage a GDP growth rate of about 2% while some do better near 3%. That means the income of their citizens is (on average) doubling somewhere between 36 and 24 years. Nations containing people who are catching up to the West often manage rates closer to 7% (China if you believe their numbers) which means an average doubling closer to 10 years. The exact numbers don’t matter for my argument, though. The world is rapidly becoming richer, which means certain climate solutions we currently consider to be out-of-bounds due to costs might not be.

Someone living near $3/day today could in 15 years (assumed growth rate of about 5%) be living near $6/day. In another 15 years they will be near $12/day. In another 15 years, $24/day. It’s not that their wages/incomes have to improve that much. If prices for what they need drop instead, the effect is about the same. For example, higher earnings or cheaper PV’s means more PV’s if suppliers can deliver. This non-linear feedback loop is ALSO in play along with the climate ones, so I’m not convinced we can justify pessimism just yet.

David speaks of TWODA persuasively. I’d add to it by arguing for those of us in the West to find betterments that reduce prices for climate related technology. It is unethical for us to ask the rising billions to abstain from our riches and pointless to ask ourselves to return to the stone age, but quite reasonable to ask everyone to partake of the betterments we all find that make is possible for the rest to rise without killing us all.

donzelion said...

@Greg -
"If there is an already-existing bid and ask, then the HFTer is not actually "speculating", but merely parasitising on an effectively already-existing trade."

Except the bid/ask spread is determined in part by the effect of the HFTers: take them out, and predictably, spreads widen (and opportunity for large players to game the system, to the detriment of the traders, widens along with it). For some buyers (e.g., pension funds), extremely large spreads may result in their avoiding otherwise interesting market sectors (e.g., small caps with low liquidity), or only entering them through a trading vehicle (an ETF or other fund, which will itself have to negotiate the spreads to take positions).

In currency markets, unlike securities, we've had players performing the role of HFTs (taking millisecond positions) for quite some time; the general effect has been narrowing bid/ask equivalents in forex (and limiting their total gains, absent market collusion). Why should securities be any different?

I'm the wrong person to defend HFTs as a net "positive." My position is more, "focus limited resources for enforcement on incontrovertible threats (insiders, frauds, etc.), monitor potential new ones, and bear in mind that not everything that looks obnoxious is actually evil (e.g., short-selling, another frequent target).

"while trading should be encouraged, 'excessive' trading should be discouraged."
There are still transaction costs from trading; they're just minimal. Should they be higher or lower? That's an argument worth exploring.

Alfred Differ said...

I'm skeptical that LUCA is half-alive. Seems to me that argument has the same kind of hole in it as the one saying Y-chromosomal Adam was the first human male. Luca's other genes might not have survived to be found in the examined samples.

So... build the critter and put it in the soup and see what happens. Should be fun. 8)

If I was betting on this, I'd place money on the vent-origins theory for life on Earth.

Dennis M Davidson said...

Regarding the @ symbol. I agree. It functions well for decision speed and first-order legibility largely because it is so different graphically from the rest of the text in these comments. It works well for me.

Jumper said...

Thanks again, Paul451. The reason I used oil is that you don't really know how much oil is down there until you attempt to optimize production and find out, over several years or even decades. But let me see if I have the basics: Year one, I use half my money and half I borrow. I drill, find oil, estimate the productive recoverable, and my accountant tells me to cap it this year (produce zero oil) as prices are low. I end up with a big loss on the books up to this point. It is not the case that the IRS sends me a check because I lose money! Therefore, it's in my interest to treat the oil I possess underground as property; as income. I write the drilling cost off of this, and the loan interest.
Is this right so far?
If so, do I have a choice over how much of the reserve I declare as income? Do I have to declare the whole amount of estimate as income, and only deduct the drilling and loan costs, and pay tax on the rest? I assume not. I would rather build my portfolio (corporate) now and worry about taxes later.
Is that correct? I see the advantage of deducting as much of my real costs as I am allowed; all of it seems fair. And in ensuing years I need to deduct transport and maintenance costs, sure. Is there some other advantage I'm not seeing? What exactly are the "huge tax breaks" I hear bandied about that oil companies supposedly get but can't seem to get a finger on?

Hyperion said...

OT, but pretty cool - things are getting better:

LarryHart said...


When you said that each new century really starts 15 or so years after the turn of the century (thus 1915, 1815, and so forth), Dr. Brin, did you mean that the century wipes out the literary and cultural icons so we're forced to start fresh?

I don't see that Dr Brin has responded yet, but what I thought he meant was that the character of the century doesn't change right at 00, but somewhere about 15 years in. So 1906 (for example) still has more of a nineteenth century quality to it, but somewhere around 1915, the twentieth century makes itself known.

1914, of course, was the start of WWI. 1815 was the defeat of Napoleon. So those two years make convenient markers. I'm not sure 2015 changed anything so profoundly, but 2016 might, as either Trump or Hillary's election will be historic for different reasons.

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LarryHart said...

with the length of that post, maybe "Johann Gamblepudding deVon..." is the more appropriate Monty Python reference.

greg byshenk said...

Is there good reason to think that the "reduced" spreads are anything other than artifact? That is, HFTers tend to make many, many, many trades at the edges of things, which may lower the "average" spread without making any real difference. I'd done some reading on this a while back, and that seemed to be what was happening.

Further, I don't see how HFTers could make any real difference when the spreads are "too large". After all, if no one is willing to buy for more then 50 and no one is willing to sell for less than 51, then there will be no trades, and there isn't anything that an HFTer can do to change that. HFTing is not magic.

And, for what it's worth, I'm happy to agree that not everything that looks obnoxious is necessarily evil. But, similarly, not everything that someone claims is "market making" or otherwise "adding value" actually is so.

David Brin said...

The "spreads too large" incantation just shifts the goal posts in a series of magical, arm-waved phrases used by parasites to excuse their elbowing in between buyers and sellers to chomp and feed off the action. When the spread is small there is too little available free enthalpy (in thermo terms) to attract much economic activity. Large spreads encourage buyers and sellers to do their own damn due diligence or hire fiduciary-loyal consultants to do it for them.

David Brin said...



Dennis M Davidson said...

@donzelion Thanks for the link to William Aron’s International Whaling Commission paper. It’s a fascinating account of the various factors involved in the making of international environmental policy.

What impressed me was Aron’s assessment of information from several knowledge domains (for example: the quantitative turn in conservation biology, the political dynamics of compliance in international treaties, unforeseen consequences of legacy database measures [Blue Whale Unit], and social perceptions of ‘charismatic’ species).