The Imaginary Cabal

Meant to share this ages ago:

Dave Roberts goes after global warming skeptics:

Consider what the Limbaugh/Morano crowd is saying about climate: not only that that the world’s scientists and scientific institutions are systematically wrong, but that they are purposefully perpetrating a deception. Virtually all the world’s governments, scientific academies, and media are either in on it or duped by it. The only ones who have pierced the veil and seen the truth are American movement conservatives, the ones who found death panels in the healthcare bill.

It’s a species of theater, repeated so often people have become inured, but if you take it seriously it’s an extraordinary charge. For one thing, if it’s true that the world’s scientists are capable of deception and collusion on this scale, a lot more than climate change is in doubt. These same institutions have told us what we know about health and disease, species and ecosystems, energy and biochemistry. If they are corrupt, we have to consider whether any of the knowledge they’ve generated is trustworthy. We could be operating our medical facilities, economies, and technologies on faulty theories. We might not know anything! Here we are hip-deep in postmodernism and it came from the right, not the left academics they hate.

(Found via The Daily Dish | By Andrew Sullivan.)

This nails a lot right to the wall, and ties into my feelings of the American Conservative shift toward pro-ignorance. To believe the things they claim to believe, they need to disregard hundreds of years of societal and scientific advancement.

The Screech of Summer

It’s finally gotten hot out here. At least, hot to me. Though I loathe the heat, it has to get fairly high out here for me to notice it. Yes, yes, there is humidity to think about, but even that doesn’t get too awful until it’s hot enough. Still, it seems my California blood just doesn’t notice the heat index until it’s finally hit 90.

The other thing I notice as the days get hot is the cicadas. I don’t remember the sound of cicadas while growing up, and I have a feeling it was just too dry for them. But how would I know? I’m not an ornithologist. Hell, I’m not even an ornithusiast.

(Pause for dramatic effect or applause.)

The first summer I came out to Minnesota, I had no idea what I was hearing. Honestly, I thought it was coming from the power lines running through the backyard. Maybe I should have called the electric company to take a look at a transformer.

Turns out it was the sound of a male cicada all along. I still have yet to see one, but there is no mistaking them when they’re out for the summer. Now, I can hardly imagine stepping outside on a hot day without that electric noise coming anonymously from the trees.

Acclimation is interesting, to say the least.

More Nuclear Debate

(Found via The Daily Dish | By Andrew Sullivan.)

This was a really great debate between the two camps of whether or not to add nuclear power to our arsenal of energy sources sans fossil fuels. The big piece wrong is that they are talking about two different sets of numbers. The pro side is talking about overall current energy needs, whereas the anti side was speaking about replacing transportation energy costs. Once you see that, it undercuts the anti side quite a bit.

Still, it is great to hear those points out. It does seem that with our knowledge, wind can and ought to be a strong power source, and solar ought to be on all suburban and rural rooftops. Hell, you can farm underneath wind turbines, so you might as well plug your tractor in and remove even more of the black energy required to generate our food.

Both points, though, miss a big step: transportation of energy. We lose tons of electricity over our power lines. Superconductors aren’t viable for mass production. Battery power keeps getting better so long as we keep wanting Internet access in our pockets. But how do you think all the electricity is going to get from 10,000 wind turbines to a town?

The first speaker was right that we can hold onto our nuclear waste materials while fourth-generation generators (waste burners, essentially) are developed further. And who wouldn’t love the idea of burning our kill-Earth-ten-times stockpile down to a simple kill-Earth-twice stockpile? That right there should be the front retort of any anti-nuclear energy argument.

So the future is nuclear for base load, wind for topping off that base and for sale (windy in one place, calm in another), and solar for the extra daytime use? Sounds reasonable for me. Now if we can either quit burning fossils for creating and moving our foods (oh yeah, and packaging them), we may do better. Plastics aren’t going anywhere, but I wouldn’t mind going back to a world of mostly wood, metal, stone, and glass.

It would help us all out if we made our food more short-range, for certain. And if I could take a train to anywhere in the region. But if we can at least kick the black energy for using our computers and lights and toasters, we’re at least going to be in a better place.

Bad at Math = Teh Suck

Chad Orzel and Neil DeGrasse Tyson nail something ridiculously important. (Watch the whole clip, and definitely read Orzel’s old post)?:

A great clip from his World Science Festival appearance the other night, especially the bit toward the end:

“One thing I think that as a nation we should be embarrassed by is that the scientists– you can do this experiment yourself, I’ve done the experiment– the scientists, by and large, know more liberal arts than the science that is known by liberal artists.”

Or you can read my longer, less funny version from a couple of years ago. Either way, it’s an important message: It should be exactly as embarrassing in educated company to say “I’m no good at math” as it would be to say “I’m no good at reading.” The fact that it isn’t– that it’s ok to laugh off innumeracy– is a major problem for us as a society.

Read the comments on this post…

This is actually a point I had never really thought about, and even I’m guilty of it. Of course in my family the line was closer to, “Oh, I could do any Algebra or Trig, but hit the wall at Calculus.” And of course, my family is an odd duck. I’m going to go ahead and claim I am not one of those liberal artsy folks who chuckle about being bad at math. But I’ve never called anyone out for laughing at being bad at math. Maybe it didn’t come up as much, because I grew up within music circles and music and math have a very strong relationship.

Back to their point: Orzel and Tyson are precisely right. Math should be a function like literacy. And it’s not even complex math. Arithmetic and basic Algebra should be proudly ingrained in all American brains. We don’t all need to be calculators. My wife regularly comments about how quickly I can multiply through things, but I attribute that to being quickly able to tear down problems (23 x 5 is actually (20×5)+(3×5) in my head) and having being the loot roller for more Dungeons & Dragons games than anyone else I know.

These guys don’t expect that either. They expect that it doesn’t matter what speed you can figure out a problem, they care that you can figure out the problem at all. Tyson properly goes into this with science as well. Organic Chemistry? Nuts to that. Asking how exactly something works, where it comes from, what are its limitations? Reasonable. Even if you can’t understand the specifics, you should at least be able to cut through the bullshit and see if the claim someone is making could actually be valid.

Actually, that ties into what I try to explain to my son. He’s following what advertisements are and it’s easy to see him get tripped up. He’s a knowledge hound, a precise knowledge hound, and I love him endlessly for it. So when some commercial makes a claim that its product does some amazing feat, I have to methodically walk him back and explain that ads, while not fully lying (usually), are shiny exaggerations of what something is actually capable of.

My favorite example: a box of Kix cereal. Right on the front, it claims to be a good source of Calcium and Vitamin D. Know what milk is chock-full of? Calcium and Vitamin D. So what does the Kix give you? Briefly crunchy filler. And yes, it tastes good and is easy to snack on so we still give it to the kids anyway.

To wrap up, I again agree: if someone makes the claim of being ‘bad at math’ and proud of it, remind them that it’s not okay to be illiterate in the basics of our civilization. We depend on it. I know I’m not touching on the fact math is probably not taught in the ways to reach all learners, but that’s a separate fault. I am sick of people being proud of being ignorant.

My dad is a brilliant man, double mastered in science and engineering. Knows something about everything. He’s why I’m abnormally adept at so much. But he’s a bad speller. He got screwed by an experimental method of teaching phonetics when he was a kid. He’s not proud, it’s just something he has to cope with. Doesn’t mean he can’t string a clear paragraph together or talk to someone about music or literature. So even if you’re bad at math, that’s no excuse for not being able to calculate my change at a coffee shop.

Let’s Go Nuclear, But Start Small

Here is a grand idea from Professor Bainbridge about how to get nuclear power going again in the US.

The Navy already operates dozens of small nuclear reactors in aircraft carriers and submarines, with an outstanding record of safety and reliability. They have an established training program that churns out nuclear-capable officers.

By analogy to the Army Corps of Engineering, we could create a Navy Corps of Nuclear Engineering. It would build and operate dozens of small nuclear power plants around the country.

To address security concerns, the first plants would be built on military bases, where the garrison can provide security. Licensing costs would be cut because the government would own and operate the plants.

The proposal should not offend small government sensibilities. Nuclear power is rife with market failures (and government failures). Huge research and development costs associated with traditional large scale nuclear power plants may be beyond the ability of private firms to finance. In addition, we know that private firms tend to underproduce the sort of basic R&D necessary to develop new generations of power plants. But the Navy already spends money to develop new naval reactors, which presumably could be scaled up at reasonable costs. Since the Navy need not worry about earning market competitive rates of return on its investment in R&D, moreover, there’s no economic disincentive to conducting that sort of R&D in the Navy.

(Found via The Daily Dish | By Andrew Sullivan.)

I thought this was great. Small power plants at military sites means the technology gets used, they don’t use fossil fuels, our defense not only stays off the grid but can now offset some costs by selling leftover power to the grid.

Now all we have to do is upgrade the damn grid.

The Rite of Spring…

The novel illumination geometry that accompanies equinox lowers the sun’s angle to the ring plane, significantly darkens the rings, and causes out-of-plane structures to look anomalously bright and to cast shadows across the rings. These scenes are possible only during the few months before and after Saturn’s equinox which occurs only once in about 15 Earth years. Also at equinox, the shadows of the planet’s expansive rings are compressed into a single, narrow band cast onto the planet as seen in this mosaic.

I have been following an RSS feed for NASA’s Image Of The Day (link to feed in right column) for a while now. I don’t have as much interest in the stuff dealing with the shuttle or general equipment. But frequently, there are stunning pictures from our probes and telescopes of the objects in our heavens.

The picture above is my desktop picture. I like the humbling reminders of my insignificance in the universe, as well as the reminder that there is a greater universe beyond my own life. Perspective is a healthy thing to regularly inject in one’s existence.