34 posts • joined 26 Feb 2007
Development of Higher Efficiency Nuclear Energy Processes
In December of 2005, Hannum, March and Stanford published an article in Scientific American about a proposed system for 'recycling' used uranium fuel to extract more of the energy available in the fuel. This achieves three main objectives - it extends the value of the current uranium supply, it uses the fuel up so completely that the weapons value of the ore is nil and finally, the long term storage needs for waste is significantly reduced.
It's a technical read and there are elements of the system that are in development/proposal currently. For those interested, you can find a reprint @
"Or is that the way the States is heading?"
Well, one wonders, doesn't one.
For Those Unaware
SFO is one of a very few airports in the US at which the TSA function is handled by a private contractor. From the story, it appears that the laptop was the property, and therefore the responsibility of another contractor. I don't know, and it isn't clear from the story whether the contractor that owned the laptop was hired by the TSA directly or whether they had been hired by the TSA contractor at SFO. Since the quick pass programme for travelers extends beyond just SFO, it's easier to imagine that contractor linked directly to the TSA rather than the other contractor.
Apparently, then, not only can't the TSA manage it's own, it can't manage those they hire to help them out. Of course such muddled relationships do provide the TSA with some semblance of plausible deniability when things like this happen.
While it might appear to the untrained eye that our CongressCritters™ are watching out for our privacy rights, do be a dear and keep in mind that it is an election year. Those selfsame CongressCritters™ have sold us out in favour of the motion picture industry, the recording industry, the telcos and virtually any other industry with deep pockets time and time again. They're only now posturing as champions of the the people because it behooves them to do so in the hopes that we'll all forget their past transgressions against us. Smoke and mirrors it is.
Just An Observation
Between this controversy, the man-made climate change kerfuffle, the creation/evolution dustup, Apple v Windows v Linux, Islam v Christianity v Judaism v Buddhism v atheism, conservative v liberal, communist v capitalist, anarchist v everyone and so many other tempests in their respective teapots, one thing is very clear - humans are never as dangerous as when they're armed with 'the facts'. The sooner we all recognise that we're akin to the blind men and the elephant, each limited to and by our own perceptions/beliefs, the sooner we can learn to stop acting like a troop of bonobos shrieking loudly at one another whilst arguing over a banana.
May God protect us all from the scientist, politician, preacher, salesman or soccer mommy who's got a deathgrip on 'the facts' and is going to talk about them until the rest of us accept them, move away or perish from ennui.
@@ Chris Campbell
The thing is, Chris, the legal world is divided into two basic types of law. The first is civil law which is generally concerned with contracts, relationships and property issues. The second is criminal law and is the domain of government entities under the direction of Prosecutors, District Attorneys, Attorneys General, etc.
Ms. Drew is under indictment by a criminal grand jury for criminal offences that have to do with inflicting emotional distress and ultimately leading to the young woman's death. She used MySpace fraudulently to cause harm to another person. Most noteworthy, she will likely serve time in jail should she be found guilty.
Now if MySpace wanted to pursue Ms. Drew for violating their ToS, they would have to file suit against her and work the matter through to settlement. The punishment for such an infraction would likely come in the form of a payment to MySpace by Ms. Drew.
It may seem a subtle distinction, but there's really a world of difference - criminal cases end up in jail terms, probation, or suspended sentence while civil cases end up in divorce or monetary judgments or something similar.
Chris, a quick session at Google yielded unequivocal results that Ms. Drew is charged with something other than "breaking the myspace Terms of Service". To wit:
"The indictment charges Drew in four counts -- one count for conspiracy and three counts "for accessing protected computers without authorization to obtain information to inflict emotional distress," according to a press release. The latter charge relates to the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act." from Wired Blog Network article from May 15th authored by Kim Zetter.
"Lori Drew of St Louis, Missouri was indicted on Thursday on one count of conspiracy and three counts of accessing protected computers without authorisation to obtain information to inflict emotional distress." from Sydney Morning Herald Tech Section May 16th authored by staff writers.
"Drew was charged with one count of conspiracy and three counts of accessing protected computers without authorization to get information used to inflict emotional distress on the girl." from an AP story posted on CNN May 15th.
Get your facts in order before you open your mouth and we'll all be better for it, mate.
"Glad I don't live in the US...."
Well, there's a sentiment upon which we agree.
Another Reasonably Satisfied Vista User
I'm running Vista Business on a fairly high-end machine that I built last year. Except for some problems I encountered getting the ancillary settings for that Mushkin performance RAM that I just HAD to have sorted, this machine has never given me any trouble. I corresponded w/Mushkin one time and they gave me the settings I needed to fix the problems, and since then, the computer hasn't crashed once since Sept. '07.
It's a dual boot machine that I run Mandriva 2008 on as well, and I spend roughly an equal amount of time on each OS. So far, I've not had a lot of complaints about either - they both allow me to get the work that I need to do done without a lot of fuss. I share data (mp3's, video, image, .txt files, etc.) between the two OS's on a separate drive that each OS can see, so I'm generally not out of touch with my data no matter which OS I have booted. Each OS has it's setup quirks, but nothing that I haven't been able to sort out, and ultimately, the investment that I made in the hardware and software has been worthwhile for me.
I'm not in the business of suggesting to others what they should not or should do, like, or try. Though I have disagreements with Microsoft regarding their corporate style, I could say much the same for a lot of other companies (computer-related and non-computer-related) with which I deal. To me, playing the whole " I hate X" game seems like a whole lot of emotional overhead and hand-wringing for nothing.
Honestly, who cares if you hate X? It's your affair, not mine. Why subject the rest of the world to your mental masturbation as you vent your precious feeeeeeelings?
As A Resident...
...of California I'd like my governor to spend a little more time on the very real problems we have facing the state, such as our $16B deficit, our failing corrections system and uncontrolled illegal immigration.
AGW comes way down the stack of priorities, Arnie.
I'm Going Out On A Limb Here...
I'm betting this guy is a Democrat with political or quasi-political aspirations.
Paris 'cos maybe if this guy met her he'd get a life.
I Guess The Anger Management Course Didn't Take
I wonder where Naomi was coming from/going to? Perhaps she was on another mission of mercy to bring attention and favour to a certain South American pumpkin-headed tinpot wearing a red shirt.
Opening The Door To The Black Market
I found this piece interesting in a "the more things change, the more they stay the same" kind of way. Piracy of the "public" airwaves is as old as those airwaves. Since broadcasting is a technical venture, and attracts technical types, shutting down such an obvious avenue of equipment will deter only the laziest, least technical and least committed pirates.
For those pirates who are interested in a low-to-moderate power (< 100w) local FM rig, there are simply scads of old amateur and commercial transmitters available that are easily modifiable, relatively cheap and perfectly legal to purchase. More often than not, that equipment is sold used in less visible channels than a Broadcast Warehouse-type retail setting. For those pirates wanting to haunt the HF airwaves, the selection of equipment is equally broad and availability equally plentiful. For those who want to charge onto the airwaves at higher power levels, there are perhaps a few more limits, but the determined pirate will find what he needs.
If the pirates don't personally have the tech chops to unlock and modify PLL circuitry in order to change the operating frequency of a particular rig, there are plenty of people who can and will make such modifications for a small fee. Very often techs who work for manufacturers and resellers will do so because their wages are so poor as to encourage this opportunity to make some extra money. Don't even get me started on the the earlier generation of crystal-controlled equipment - a child could make the tweaks needed to get this sfuff working.
So, hurrah, Ofcom! Way to go! You've gotten a few column inches of press to justify your existence for the year. But really, now, what have you accomplished?
@ Pete @ Barry Rueger
Pete - you've nailed it with a high degree of precision. If no one else does, rest assured that I'll nominate you for a Nobel of one sort or another for a service to humanity.
Barry - kudos on pointing out the painfully obvious to some of our thicker-headed types. After all, even radioactive waste has a finite half-life - it's all dust to dust over some time scale.
The youth of today don't know or can't appreciate how people of the 1950's railed at what they called "planned obsolescence". Conservation was the rule rather than the exception
One word my friend - Thermite.
Dr Snowsil, I Presume...
Just a comment about skeptics in the debate over climate change. I think the day has passed in which some large mass of people contend that mean global temperature isn't changing. I think the debate has moved on to focus on the cause(s) of climate change - human v natural. Thank you, however, for not injecting the polemic "climate change denier" in your comment.
So Reverend Al Misled Us Again. Can I Get An A-men Brother!
One more chink in the armour of the new religion of climate change - the Most Holy Church of Doom 'n Gloom.
This little titbit is but one more example of why I don't and can't trust the computer climate models that predict umpty degrees warming in X years. The earth has a virtually limitless number of variables at play in the the climate game. Our computer models contain maybe a couple of dozen variables, and of those there are many legitimate questions about the accuracy and validity of them. All of this stands as solid testimony to the fact that our best predictions are simply guesses - guesses that have been caught up in the heat of politics and power.
Another chink the climate change armour showed up today in the Times Online at:
Apparently walking is more damaging overall to our climate than taking the car because walking makes one eat more, and food production is terribly 'ungreen' thereby causing greater damage to ol' mum earth.
Meanwhile "Reverend" Al Gore blasts away at the evil polluters day by day running more electrical through the multiple meters on his Tennessee manse than any of us reading El Rego use in several months and he flies via private jet to his next speaking engagement all the while assuring the faithful that he's buying carbon credits, which now are apparently worthless.
Mr. May certainly has a drive to excel in whatever he undertakes. Good to see that sort of thing in a public figure.
This is decidedly old news
When my father was dying from Alzheimer's five years ago I did enough research to turn up the connection between curcumin and reduced risk of Alzheimer's without much trouble and that was 2001- 2002 mind you.
For the bloke that wanted the incidence statistics go to:
There might well be more current data - I recall reading the University of California published some newer data in 2005, but don't have the URL.
Note the date on the first article - 2001 - hardly new information. This has been written about for some 5-6 years in medical press - I wonder why it's being presented as news today?
The Method To My Madness
So much of the problem with science teaching/learning is that science is hard. It requires all sorts of abstract and conceptual abilities, skills at detailed analysis and technical knowledge, traits which others have already pointed out, don't exist in everybody. So from the beginning, there are limitations on how many people will be able to benefit deeply from whatever teaching is offered.
Sadly, most people, let alone students, lack the self-discipline and motivation to approach such a daunting task when the competing interests available to them are so tempting. There are those pesky creatures of the opposite gender walking around; sports, music, cars, etc; and then of course you've got to stay up wth ur m8s on txt. Back in the days when I haunted the hallways of my local schoolhouse, there was a concerted effort to teach students the scientific method early and often. The idea was to put in place the scaffold and framework upon which scientific knowledge hangs and hopefully, in those students with the tools and interest, science learning will occur.
Oh, and a couple of comments to Paul Murray:
a) aren't most boffins bought and paid for these days? Exactly who is doing pure bias-free science now? Being smart people, said boffins aren't oblivious to the potential funding benefits that accrue to them if they politicize and commercialise their research.
b) I hear almost no one claiming that the mean global temperature isn't rising. A few dunderheaded Luddites off on the fringes might say such rot, I suppose, but in recent years the debate hasn't been about global warming, it's been about whether observed global warming results from man's activities or whether it's attributable to other causes.
Don't be afraid to dive a little deeper into the content of those articles about the topic my good man.
The next announcement...
To don my prognosticator's hat and coat for a moment, I'm confident that the next public pronouncement we'll hear about this chump is that he's got a raging substance abuse problem and it was just the drugs or alcohol talking. What with the erratic behaviour and the mounting pile of charges against him, it seems only inevitable that he'll claim that he's been whacked out on sleepers and whatnot.
About That Internet Solution
True that streaming music over the internet is another means of fulfilling some of the desires that motivate pirate broadcasters, but it's not available in cars; it can be too broad in coverage - FM pirates tend to have a small and loyal following of locals; and it doesn't fulfill the basic craving to tinker with technology and electronics that is an essential part of pirate radio. Part of the fun is overcoming the challenges of setting up a workable rig. Another part of the appeal is outsmarting the agency authorised to police the airwaves.
Streaming digital tracks is in essence too easy and too available. Also, in the US, it's about to become too expensive, what with the bloodsuckers from the recording industry winning that last court battle on royalties.
So Much Printed; So Little Said
I've gone to the bother of reading all 61 (it was 61 at the time, anyway) responses to this tragedy.
Sadly, there were only a couple of comments that cut through the BS and the clutter. Most of the respondents want to focus on hyperbole, posturing and personal agenda-ism. Two lonely persons who discerned that this isn't about gun control, Bush, Cheney, Iraq, left, right, up, down, right, wrong - it's about a nutter who did something horribly, horribly wrong.
Sigh, I agree with the comment that some of you folks make me worry for our collective future.
Tell Us How You Really Feel...
...said somewhat sardonically, and yet at the same not without a real comment behind it.
Lads, I realise that Mr Galanter and Frank L. hold differing opinions from yours, but honestly, they were just writing to express a point of view. I'm not sure I get the whole need to be so vehement in one's rebuttal. It sounds just a tad defensive, as in "...doth protest too much, methinks."
It Depends on What the Meaning of Sex Is....
How did this study define sex? Only genital intercourse? Were any other sex-like activities counted?
For those in the memory impaired seats, the world was so graciously treated to that whole "oral-sex-isn't-really-sex" line courtesy WJ Clinton a few years back and it begs the question whether the study in question defined sex and, if so, how?
In the final analysis, however, does it come as a surprise to anyone that teens are still having sex despite the efforts to stop them? It seems as though anyone who's viewed the vids/movies/printed word that kids consume would easily understand that the subtext of sex is almost universally present and is likely to undo virtually any efforts to put that nasty ol' sexual genie back in the bottle.
Son of Correction, Twice Removed (or something similar)...
"The majority of space is remarkably consistent: vacuum. Adding more space does not necessarily add more variety."
Hate to pick the nit, but most modern astrophysicists peg the majority of our universe to be dark energy, followed by exotic dark matter. Since we don't know a whole lot about dark energy or exotic dark matter, we can not reject the idea that life forms might exist in space dominated by DE/EDM that are unique to the DE/EDM environment.
Based on our current understanding, adding space would mean adding dark energy and exotic dark matter to our universe at a 96:4 ratio to mundane dark matter and visible matter. Therefore, it is certainly not unreasonable to project that adding space to our universe might add significantly to the variety of life forms in our universe, although they would be life forms that we can't currently perceive owing, of course, to their being based on DE/EDM.
Speaking of Self-Appointed...
"Either you want to improve the world or you want to play passive aggressive, games- judgemental and superior posturing to impress the ladies with your clarity and restraint, but it strikes women, more and more, as simply patheic posturing and parroting as compensation for not having any conviction in your self generated observations..."
Speaking of tiresome isn't this rant just a bit 1980's feminist. Letting a discussion devolve into personally-driven gender issues and screed doesn't speak well of your ability to make a cogent point. I did appreciate, however, the subtle irony of your lapse into precisely those behaviours against which you rail - judgmentalism, posturing, parroting, self-generated observations. Nice touch.
The Religion of Climate
Yeesh! What claptrap.
Let me repeat this slowly for the comprehension-impaired:
Correlation does not mean causation.
There it is, simple, elegant and plain.
To restate that self-evident axiom, causal relationships can be considered a subset of correlative relationships, meaning of course, that variables can be correlated, even correlated tightly, without one of the variables having a direct causative effect on the other.
To illustrate, one can say that virtually 100% of humans who are addicted to heroin have used dairy products. That amounts to a correlation so close to 1 as to be indistinguishable from 1. And yet, despite the strong correlation, there is little evidence to support the hypothesis that dairy product use causes heroin addiction. Indeed, there are bodies of knowledge that support genetic, behavioural, and socio-economic causes of said addiction.
Brain case size and temperature might indeed share a causal relationship, but nothing presented in this synopsis would remotely support that hypothesis. What controls did the researchers use to isolate the effects of temperature change from the potential impacts other variables had on the outcome of brain case capacity?
Until there is something a bit more definite to report, this appears to be just one more instance of the result of speculative research finding its way into the ideological and polemic debate on climate.
Did some dimbulb in the communication department at the University of Albany make the connection that anything related to climate makes for "hot press"? Or is it a matter that some bored science reporter for some unamed pub has seized on this item as a means for fulfilling this week's quota of column inches? Or could it be a matter of some editor under pressure from his publisher to drive sales by ramping up the hype on climate change decided to publish the story?
Whatever the case may be, it sure isn't science.
re: More of an innovation really.....
Hey - we Americans don't lay claim to this looney (and yes for those who make the connection between the inventor and the coin of his realm, this is an intentional pun). He hails from the fair province of Ontario in the Great White North.
And by the way, Troy has the market cornered in bear safe wearables - there's precious little competition in the sector.
re: about time by jon
"...Will it change Government policy? Doubtful..."
If one is of a speculative nature, one can easily imagine that the drugs distribution businesses (read drugs cartels and organised crime) have a hand in maintaining the illegal status of their products. Were it not for the illegality of the goods in which they deal, they'd be sitting on warehouses filled to bursting with potions worth a mere fraction of the billions they are worth as illegal goods. The last I read, the illegal drugs business is globally worth nearly 80bn pounds - that sort of cash has a life of it's own and the people who stand to benefit from that money will take whatever steps are necessary to perpetuate the flow of money. While you can easily see the politicos, law enforcement agents and zealots who speak out about the ills of drug abuse, there is likely an equal, if not larger number of drugs trade figures working invisibly to make sure that society doesn't get too soft on the drugs trade - it's bad for business.
The manufacture, distribution and sale of illegal drugs has been a boon to most governments because it provides ample justification to ratchet up budgets for interdiction, enforcement, prosecution, punishment and treatment of those poor souls who use drugs. It's fair to say that it would be cheaper for most governments, national down to local, to simply purchase drugs for all the folks who want to use than it is to fund all of the bureaucracy that accompanies keeping them illegal and punishable. For them, illegal drugs means more taxes, more police, more prisons, more judges, more seizures of property, more technology, and we all know that more is better, right?
To Mark and Tom - come on lads - inject a spot of common sense into this discussion. Not to say that the drugs you cite aren't harmful in their own right - they are - but honestly, even if they were available at the corner shop, it's their impact on one's ability to perform the activities of daily living that's the real reason they're not used as widely or frequently as alcohol or tobacco. Few of us have the ability to work, participate in social activities, care for our abode, maintain relationships with friends and family and contribute to the community all the while using heroin, ecstasy or methamphetamine.
Both alcohol and tobacco are special cases precisely because they CAN be used in almost any context or situation and therefore both are prone to frequent and chronic overuse. The man or woman who consumes a pack of fags a day, or a half-dozen pints a day certainly wouldn't be able to use most other drugs at the same rate, simply because the other drugs to which your comparing them are far more potent at a single dose level than are alcohol and tobacco. I think it's well established that the real danger associated with both alcohol and tobacco is their long-term use, not the immediate effect on your ability to perform. Although I wouldn't want to give short shrift to the proven ability of alcohol to cloud judgment and impair reactions thereby causing people to do any number of truly and stupendously stupid things like drive, fight and attempt physical feats well beyond their capacity.
...and yet again...
The devil is in the details (as it always is), or should I say the devil's in the methodology in this instance.
The single biggest factor in my remaining skeptical of this alleged groundswell of opinion is that I read too many public proclamations being made by organisations such as the United Nations, that cite an overwhelming majority of climate experts who agree that the upward change in mean global temperature is due to mankind. I find this misleading because:
1) there is no central registry of "climate experts" of which I'm aware, and if there is, I'd like to know who is responsible for the creation and maintenance of that list and the criteria upon which it is based. In order to have a majority, let alone an overwhelming majority, both sides in the discussion need to establish a mutually acceptable list of experts whose opinion we'll all accept;
2) in these broad pronouncements, there is no effort to reproduce the research, and thereby repudiate the science, of the primary investigators;
3) there is no attempt to attach weighting to the absolute value of each of the individual studies. To the contrary, there appears to be an underlying assumption that all research is of equal probative value;
4) far too many of the primary research efforts use correlative statistical methods, which as you must surely know, carry the least weight because of their inability to attach the element of causality;
5) there is no evidence that the bodies making these pronouncements have performed any statistical manipulations to exclude, or at the very least, minimise the impact of duplication of data, the funding source issue that you've correctly cited, or the impact of "me-too"-ism, a well-documented phenomenon to which any group of humans is susceptible.
In short, if I was sitting on your doctoral thesis committee and you handed in a report similar to the recent UN white paper on mean global temperature rise, I'd send you back to answer at least the few points that I've raised here, if not more, before I'd hear your defence of your thesis. My comment to you would be that what you'd put forth so far isn't particularly persuasive without stronger evidentiary material and analysis.
Now, onto the subject of whether the current trends are the result of these longer-term oscillations in mean global temperature that you refer to as "natural factors". I think you're missing the point on this. Many of the skeptics, scientist and non-scientist alike, believe that the current observations are in fact due to the "natural factors" of the planet. These "natural factors" fall into three general domains - that due to living things, such as trees, mankind, cows etc; that due to geological forces, such as volcanoes, plate tectonics, variations in mean planetary albedo etc; and that due to exoplanetary forces, such as orbital variations, mean solar output and galactic movement, etc. That has been the evidence on the table throughout this whole discussion.
This is a significant point - it's just not that these "natural factors" can cause change in mean global temperature, it's that they do cause change in mean global temperature. What the skeptics are waiting to hear is definitive proof that the activities of mankind are unequivocally causing the results that we're observing. The burden of proof, here, is on those who suggest that the causes of planetary warming are different from what has been identified through years of prior research, not on those who believe that 3+ Bn years of evidence represents persuasive proof.
When you speak of making political decisions, you're really talking about socio-economic decisions that have the power to stultify the progress of mankind and to my way of thinking, decisions of that magnitude ought not be rendered on incomplete, inaccurate or misleading information. Because of their impact they deserve to be made on facts, not speculation.
And yet, then again...
"...smacks rather of an organised group whose aim is to counter the effects of the global warming consensus. Might such a group exist? It might. It might be funded by Exxon-Mobile...."
In other words, a global conspiracy of oil barons is attempting to despoil a consensus among those who notoriously fail to reach consensus, namely scientists? Further, when scientists eventually do fall into a consensus, often those consensus opinions have historically been wrong - steady-state universe; biological demise of the dinosaurs are but just a few of the more recent consensus opinions to fall into disrepute.
"...commentators - especially on the sceptical side - insist we know too little about how these work. Which means, in short, that we have NO EVIDENCE that natural causes are currently operating..."
But we do have evidence - credible evidence from ice cores, tree rings, fossil evidence, geological evidence. Evidence isn't the problem here - it's how all the evidence connects. What we don't possess is a broad overarching view of what all of the evidence means within the context of all of the other evidence.
"I am open to the suggestion that the search for funds distorts the direction of scientific research, as I am to the possibility that the nuclear fuel industry has a vested interest in promoting the global warming agenda - and yes, I remember the great K2 fiasco (which I never believed in). However, to suggest that the whole global warming movement is little more than a scientists' scam, as some have done, amounts to a vast conspiracy theory."
Hold on, I''m confused here - conspiracy theories are OK when they work for you as in your first paragraph, but not when they work against you as in the paragraph above? Rather than to rely on rhetoric and polemics to further the debate, I think the prudent course is to continue developing a better understanding of how what we know all fits together.
"My mental resources are limited, as is the world I live in, but I would opt for cautious action on the assumption that we are causing damage to our environment over sceptical inaction, which merely seems to be self-serving."
I think you can see that there are people and organisations who hold vested positions on both sides of this debate, and who therefore are self-serving. Ultimately, I think we have to let the facts lead the way and make decisions that are driven by solid science, rather than ones that are driven by a religious-like zeal to dominate the marketplace of free ideas..
A couple of points...
...given that many of the cyclic systemic changes involved in creating/causing mean global temperature increases occur over time scales that far exceed the ability of any human or generation of humans to fully comprehend, can we predictably say what will result from any groups of actions that we humans undertake? I think not.
...given that ice core evidence as well as geo-archaeologic evidence point to both slow climactic 'drift' as well as dramatic local and regional shifts in climate of 10's of degrees F, can we state without equivocation whether we're in a slow change cycle or a rapid change cycle? I think not
...given that European records from the late 1200's to mid 1800's indicate a significant lowering of average temperatures in spite of the deforestation and burning of wood and coal, what exactly can we conclude about the correlation of CO2 and temperature? Very little, I think.
...given that well over 95% of the species that have ever lived on earth are extinct, largely from an inability to adapt to change (climate, competition, food source, etc), isn't it a bit anthropomorphically arrogant to think that the same won't happen to us? I think so.
Being human, we are hopelessly bound to the temporal, dimensional, spatial and perceptual myopia that comes with being human. In spite of our proficiency at gathering and analysing, we're still unable to effectively grasp those large, long-lasting and far-reaching aspects of our universe that impact us.
While we should continue striving to learn, understand, analyse and theorise, we should also recognise our limitations - just because we can't know all the answers doesn't mean we shouldn't try. But this is the very first time in the recorded history of mankind that we're contemplating intentional environmental change on a global scale. Hurray for us - we're starting to think REALLY BIG! But all caution to us, for it's the first time we're intentionally attempting to change systems that are this large and about which we have more questions than answers.
My original premise, as I recall, was not that we shouldn't change our ways and actions, but that we shouldn't stray from a structured method of thinking that has brought us farther ahead than any past species of which we're aware. And that takes me back to my original posting title - Mourning the Death of the Scientific Method.
Whatever is going on right now with respect to the "debate" on mean global temperature increase, it isn't science. It's a mixture of science, pseudo-science, hucksterism, politics, religion, showmanship, self-promotion and flim-flam. That's a combination to which I'm loathe to entrust my future and the futures of my children and grandchildren. Give me some solid science that can produce irrefutable and repeatable results, and I'm there with you - but when there are holes in the science that's being presented big enough to drive the bus of evolutionary change through, I'll pass, thanks.
Mourning the Death of The Scientific Method
What irks me most concerning the debate about global warming is the lack of clarity that occurs when lay people proffer opinions as a de facto substitute for a methodology of structured inquiry that has quite literally brought mankind out of the caves and forests, into a much more sophisticated style of life.
The heart of the scientific method is as follows:
1. Observe some aspect of the universe.
2. Invent a tentative description, called a hypothesis, that is consistent with what you have observed.
3. Use the hypothesis to make predictions.
4. Test those predictions by experiments or further observations and modify the hypothesis in the light of your results.
5. Repeat steps 3 and 4 until there are no discrepancies between theory and experiment and/or observation.
Where we've gotten sidetracked in this whole debate is at the point of sorting out the discrepancies. We're talking about an observed phenomenon (global warming) that by itself is deceptively simple and straightforward, but which is one outcome of a highly complex and interactive set of variables. There are three major groups of variables - vivocentric variables (man-made and bovine CO2 production, arboreal O2 production and bacteriologic nitrogen fixing are all good examples here); geocentric variables (volcanic eruptions, seasonal albedo variablity and plate tectonics are good examples here); and finally, exoplanetary variables (perturbations in Earth's orbit and mean solar output are good examples of these variables).
The problem I have with global warming rhetoric is that it puts the cart squarely ahead of the horse. The truth is that we have yet to produce a comprehensive theory that accounts for all of the variables. This is not particularly surprising because I'm not sure that we can even identify all of the variables involved in determining climate. But, nonetheless, in our anthropocentrist style, we seem all too content to stop at the point of blaming ourselves. This in spite of the fact that our current explanations fail to adequately explain the reality of previous climate changes. I'm referring, of course, to the climactic variability that has occurred over the 99.9999 +% of the planet's history during which mankind didn't exist.
That is a very important point - before we go willy-nilly suggesting solutions, isn't it reasonable to thoroughly understand the full nature of the problem? In the worst case, taking action based on incomplete or inaccurate theories could well have unintended and far-reaching consequences that are negative in some other way. I was taught as a lad that the point of the scientific method was to get definite, provable and repeatable results, and then take action. Much in the same vein as medicine's first rule: primum non nocere - do no harm, we need to understand what we're doing, not just act.
Many of the "compelling evidence" pieces cited in popular articles are based on computer generated predictions of mean global temperature change that are based on a few variables (few relative to the total number of variables). There is no proof that they are the key variables, and there is no evidence presented that the interactions between them have been correctly modeled. As anyone who has done a bit of 'what-if' modeling can attest, one can produce a huge number of outcomes given incremental changes to each of the variables. I suppose that if given free access to a supercomputer, I could come up with some pretty graphic presentations of the globe heating up and cooling down as well as the next chap. To the extent that I'm better educated than the average person, it might serve as persuasive evidence to others that it's "the answer" - but then again it might just be pretty pictures that I got from one of my millions of 'what-if' simulations.
I think most of us have seen studies that purport to "prove" a point using correlation as the key argument in their proof - hemlines and the stock market is a commonly cited example. The weakness inherent in this methodology, however, is that it fails to unequivocally establish a causal link - it merely establishes a statistical link. Much of what is passing for science is thinly disguised correlative work that neither proves or disproves anything. If you think that correlative works constitute adequate proof, then explain for us the causal link between NYSE changes and hemlines, please.
It's a shame that this issue has become politicised and emotionalised to the degree that it's become a market sector unto itself with a life all it's own - just ask Mr. Gore about the ways he's profited from beating the global warming drum; just ask the owners of all those media outlets, whether print, electronic or web, about the myriad ways they've profited by bleating about global warming. It's unfortunate for us all that our scientists, both pro and con, have been hijacked by the politicians and media around them to such a degree that we no longer have scientific dialogue and discourse over global warming, in their places we've accepted screed and hate-mongering.
There's nothing rational or sensible about the current state of affairs. I don't know what the final outcome of the current observed trend toward higher mean global temperatures will be, but I do know that standing on opposite sides of a picket line shouting expletives at one another isn't doing a damn thing to advance our understanding of and ability to deal with climate change. Dealing with climate change is the real heart of the issue here - we do know that the planet has been significantly warmer, and significantly cooler than it is today. It's safe to assume that the real constant in the history of climate is not its stability, but its variability. Therefore, it's also safe to assume that our future survival depends on understanding the whole climate model, not just parts of it. Whatever the outcome of the current trend, it is evident that we need to use our proven scientific method of analysis and discovery to keep ourselves alive into the future - not the loud "sky is falling" vs "head in the sand" debate.
I think I see some synergy here...
Fact 1: Strenuous exercise adds additional CO2 burden to the atmosphere.
Fact 2: Exercise is associated with longer life.
Hypothesis: If an individual does not exercise (s)he will benefit the planet immediately by not contributing excess CO2, but will also provide a delayed benefit by dying earlier and thereby taking fewer total breaths than they would had they lived longer
Sounds like a win-win to me.
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