Showing posts with label science. Show all posts
Showing posts with label science. Show all posts

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma Despises Retired Military Officers

“There is no one in more pursuit of publicity than a retired military officer,” Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma said about last Tuesday's climate report by a leading government-funded military research organization.

For an elected official to complain that retired military officers "pursue publicity" is a bit bizarre.

Inhofe's complaint was that the CNA Corporation Military Advisory Board found that climate change-induced drought in the Middle East and Africa is leading to conflicts over food and water and escalating longstanding regional and ethnic tensions into violent clashes. The report also found that rising sea levels are putting people and food supplies in vulnerable coastal regions like eastern India, Bangladesh and the Mekong Delta in Vietnam at risk and could lead to a new wave of refugees.

Inhofe, whose political campaigns are funded primarily by wealthy petroleum industry patrons, said of the report’s authors: “I look back wistfully at the days of the Cold War. Now you have people who are mentally imbalanced, with the ability to deploy a nuclear weapon. For anyone to say that any type of global warming is anywhere close to the threat that we have with crazy people running around with nuclear weapons, it shows how desperate they are to get the public to buy this.”

The problem for Inhofe is, that the Board does not support his view that climate change is a hoax. Inhofe knows that, because the truth has been revealed to him. We don't need no stinkin' facts!

The CNA Corporation has evolved from the Center for Naval Analysis, a group formed during World War II to develop more effective methods of countering submarines and aircraft in war at sea. The Center pioneered the application of Operations Analysis to naval warfare and achieved extraordinary results. The Center continued to apply these methods to naval problems and has accumulated nearly seventy-five years experience in the methodology. CNA's analysis is founded on data. And on facts.
Inhofe has no interest in either facts or analysis.

Rear Adm. David Titley, a co-author of the report and a meteorologist who is retired from the Navy, said political opposition would not extinguish what he called the indisputable data in the report.
“The ice doesn’t care about politics or who’s caucusing with whom, or Democrats or Republicans,” said Admiral Titley, who now directs the Center for Solutions to Weather and Climate Risk at Pennsylvania State University.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Have You Ever Visited Beringia?

I have never quite bought the conjecture that North America was populated by people walking along the "land bridge" from Asia and bringing their Clovis points with them.

Why could they not have come by Sea? In fact, that's the way the aborigines reached Australia 30,000 years ago.  My surmise is that the land bridge theory is written by landsmen. Seamen know that the most efficient way to get from one place to the other is by water.

Now, though, we have new tools for investigating our ancient past. We have, for example, DNA studies that have been able to trace the migration of certain populations across the globe as they came out of Africa and dispersed.

We have been able to trace particular DNA mutations from place to place. We also know, to a fair degree, how often mutations happen.

Another improving tool is that of linguistic analysis. Linguists can also track evolution of languages and language families as they spread, mutate, interact and evolve.

A powerful new marriage of DNA research and linguistics postulates that, instead of a bridge connecting Asia and North America, there was an area of shrub tundra between Alaska and Siberia where ancestors of both Native Americans and Siberian peoples lived in isolation for 15,000 years before migrating both Eastward and Westward as the sea level began to rise.

Here is a summary of the research that tends to support this view.

I still like the hypothesis that Native Americans came by sea.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Speaking Of Ponderous Matter

Yesterday's New York Times reported the award of the Nobel Prize in physics for the Higgs Boson, that gives mass to particles in space, or something like that. When experimenters at the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland detected the Higgs Boson, it completed the verification of the Standard Model, which is a very big thing in physics.

The article explained the function of the Higgs: "According to this model, the universe brims with energy that acts like a cosmic molasses, imbuing the particles that move through it with mass, the way a bill moving through Congress attracts riders and amendments, becoming more and more ponderous and controversial."

What most needs explaining now is the origin of the New York Times' tortured analogy. My theory is that the Times had no science writer to do the article, but because of the shutdown of the US government, there was a political reporter available - one who usually covers Congress and to whom such an analogy makes sense. Otherwise, there is no rational explanation.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Al Gore And The Internet

In the 1980's I was in the computer industry, owning a small information technology company with a very small Defense contract. We communicated with other contractors and research centers using e-mail, long before the internet. We communicated over a network developed for Defense, known as Arpanet.

I became aware that a technically savvy member of Congress, one of the so-called "Atari Democrats," was pressing to open up this network for public, even commercial use. This was opposed by most Arpanet users in the research business. But the Atari Democrat in question kept pressing. That person was Al Gore. He eventually got his way.

I just came across an article here that gives a more complete story of Al Gore's role.

No, Al Gore didn't discover Global Warming, either. Scientists did that. Al Gore just let the rest of us know about it and described what needs to be done.

That's what leaders do.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Is Scientific Ignorance Catching?

So Congressman Boehner declares the idea that CO2 is a carcinogen is "almost ludicrous."


Just who ever said it was a carcinogen?

To even utter such an idea as a straw man requires an inconceivable depth of ignorance.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

NOVA - Earth From Space

Just spent two illuminating hours watching a PBS video: "Earth From Space." The graphics and the explanations are spectacular and illuminating.

Not many of us have enough knowledge of the earth sciences to carry this information around in our heads. The program needs to be seen again and again.

And we all need to know what an explosion of knowledge about earth has resulted from our space programs.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Picasso's Secret

Now we know Picasso's secret. Thanks to Argonne National Laboratory and a study using high energy X-rays, we have learned that Picasso painted some of his masterpieces using house paint.

It isn't fair. We have always been told that a craftsman is known by his tools. A fine craftsman must use the best tools. And the best materials.

So how can Pablo Picasso, one of history's great artists, have made great art with ordinary house paint?

Maybe we need to alter conventional wisdom. Perhaps great craftsmen and artists are free to choose the tools and materials that work, not just the "best quality" tools.

Don't be snobbish.

Do what works.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Why Not Nuclear Energy?

Chernobyl and Three Mile Island had already pretty much brought the US nuclear power industry to a halt, when Japan had a tsunami at Fukushima. These were all bad accidents.

The truth is, though, not many lives were lost. Compare lives lost in nuclear mishaps with those lost in the coal and oil industries, gas distribution explosions, much less accidents in employment of those energy products, and nuclear looks very safe by comparison.

Neither does nuclear power spew carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and other products that will enhance global warming, sea level rise, and other expensive and destructive eventualities.

Nuclear power makes economic and public safety sense.

Still, there is vast public opposition to nuclear.

Ashutosh Jogalekar, a chemist, examines in Scientific American the five most significant reasons that liberals oppose nuclear power. He counters each reason with a rational discussion of pros and cons.

Good article, worth reading.

I mostly agree.

Jogalekar likes the liquid thorium reactor design for its improved safety. He does not mention the pebble bed reactor, which China seems to favor.

I believe the liquid thorium reactor is similar to the design used in the twin-reactor power plant of USS Triton, commanded by Captain Edward L. Beach during the first submerged circumnavigation of the globe.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Seventy Years Ago: VT Projectiles Shoot Down Japanese Dive Bomber

January 5, 1943. Task Group 67.2 (Rear Admiral Walden L. Ainsworth) bombards a Japanese airfield and installations at Munda, New Georgia, Solomons Islands. After the rest of Task Force 67 joins TG 67.2, Japanese planes attack the force, just missing light cruiser Honolulu (CL 48) and damaging New Zealand light cruiser HMNZS Achilles, 18 miles south of Cape Hunter, Guadalcanal. In the action, light cruiser Helena (CL 50) becomes the first U.S. Navy ship to use 5 inch/38 caliber Mk. 32 proximity-fuzed projectiles in combat, downing a Japanese Aichi Type 99 carrier bomber (VAL) with her second salvo

This was a major technological triumph. These 5-inch projectiles contained a tiny radio proximity device, essentially a miniature radar, which caused the projectile to explode if it came close enough to the airplane to do damage. This system, under development since mid-1940, was a vast improvement over the mechanical time fuze previously used against aircraft. It also replaced contact fuzes that had to actually hit the aircraft to explode.

To conceal the purpose of the projectiles, they were designated as "VT-Fuzed projectiles" (Variable-Time fuze).

The story of development of the proximity fuze is detailed here in an article on the Naval Historical Center web site.

The greatest challenge was to ruggedize the miniature electronic tubes used in the circuitry back in the day before transistors.

Mark 53 Proximity Fuze

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

New Research: Velociraptor Resembles A Turkey

As you sit down tomorrow to feast on turkey, bear in mind that our holiday bird is about the same size and appearance as the Velociraptors of Jurassic Park fame.

Here's the story.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Big Science And National Security

Remember the scenes early in "2001: Space Odyssey" when the fictional troubleshooter sent to the moon encounters Russians along the way? Any contemporary update to that movie would have to encounter Chinese in space.

Why are they there and what does it mean for us? Here is a good article in today's New York Times with one answer. It need not be the only answer.

Big science is expensive. Nations will have differing priorities for their scientific endeavors, but be assured of one thing: their first priority will not be to compete in markets. It will be to gain a security advantage.

There are different ways to accomplish this. When the Space Station project became too expensive for an increasingly parsimonious America, we turned it into the International Space Station. Today, without Russian participation, we wouldn't be able to get astronauts to the station.

In the early 1990's as the Superconducting Super Collider was running into problems with Congressional appropriations, an effort was made to internationalize the project. The effort proved too little and too late.

It might be better to think "international" at the outset. Now, at the Large Hadron Collider, we are the tail instead of the dog.

Monday, June 25, 2012

More Sea Level Rise

Today's News and Observer reports the latest US Geological Survey report that sea level on the North Carolina coast is rising even faster than earlier predicted. No matter. Those brilliant scientists in the state legislature will pass a law. That'll fix it.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Sea Level

It turns out that North Carolina's legislature isn't the only one trying to prevent the sea level from rising by fiat. Virginia's right up there. Saves a lot of money on scientific and engineering studies, designs and construction. Just pass a law. Or better yet, just redact "global warming," "sea level rise," "climate change" and "subsidence" wherever they appear in state documents.

Might be a bit harder to edit the Navy's studies as they grapple with the problem of Norfolk.

Hey, we've got plenty of time to deal with it. Maybe another thirty years.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Economics Of Global Warming

Those who want to read a scholarly, dispassionate examination of the alleged controversies over global warming, may wish to read an article by the Yale economist, William D. Nordhaus in the March 22 edition of the New York Review of Books. In his article, "Why The Global Warming Skeptics Are Wrong," Nordhaus takes an economist's perspective in analyzing an article in the Wall Street Journal by sixteen scientists.

This isn't as strange as it may seem. GW skeptics often base their opposition to mitigation efforts on the alleged economic effect, as well as on statistical arguments. When you take on statistics, you are playing on an economist's home field.

I won't try to summarize Nordhaus' article, but I strongly recommend you at least take a look at his statistical graphs. Bottom line: the global warming trends of the past century track very closely with mathematical models that include greenhouse gas emissions as well as natural causes. For the past half century, the models that exclude greenhouse gas emissions do not track with actual rises in temperature.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Sustainable Policies

I was pretty astounded to read recently that the Wake County Board of Commissioners by a vote of 4-3 rejected a study they themselves had commissioned to balance growth, environment and economics. The Republican majority (one of whom is seeking election as Lieutenant Governor and another of whom is running for the 13th Congressional District) rejected the report. It made no difference that the head of the commission was Republican. Apparently the very idea of wise management of our resources is some kind of Democratic plot. You can read about it here.

This sort of foolishness grabs my attention. It is of a piece with the successful effort to prevent the Science Panel of North Carolina's Coastal Resources Commission from considering sea level rise above 22 inches.

It fits right in with those who deny climate change.

I grew up in tornado country. I don't remember anything quite like last night's tornado blitz across fifteen states. The polar ice cap is plainly melting. Some glaciers I witnessed in my youth in Alaska have disappeared.

Something is plainly happening. We need to foresee and prepare for the consequences.

We cannot dismiss the threat as one of Oriental's commissioners did to me last week by claiming that global warming was "made up" by Al Gore.

One of the things that is happening is population. In my life time, the population of the United States has more than doubled. It is now about 2.4 times what it was when I was born.

The world population is growing even faster. It was about 2.3 billion when I was born and is about 7 billion now.

A decade ago, the best estimate was that the world's population was about three times the number that could sustain a European level consumption. By now, it is probably four times as much.

We are killing the planet, and will eventually kill ourselves.

Can we keep this future from happening? I don't know. But we won't improve our chances by refusing to study and plan. It's what rational humans do. As presidential candidate Ross Perot once observed, "The difference between human beings and rabbits is that we can think and reason." Let's prove him right.

Friday, February 24, 2012

The Real Science Of Heads In The Sand

A couple of years ago a graduate student telephoned, wanting to interview me. It turns out she was doing research on planning approaches in North Carolina coastal communities concerning anticipated sea level rise.

I had to tell her that in Oriental we had done no planning at all, save for the decisions by individual homeowners to raise their houses to the standards required by Pamlico County.

I wasn't personally worried, since my house hadn't been flooded during Isabel. Wrong! I should have been. The house was flooded by Irene and suffered significant damage. I will now have to raise it about three feet to meet county standards.

But wait. The Science Panel of North Carolina's Coastal Resources Commission has determined that a rise of 1 meter (39 inches) is the most likely scenario by 2100. I can tell you from experience that three inches in a house (difference between 36 inches and 39 inches) can wreak havoc.

There's more. Other states have concluded a sea level rise between 3 and 4 feet is the minimum expectation by 2100. It depends on how much of the Greenland and Antarctic icecaps melt by then.

But not to worry. Our local lobbying organization for 20 coastal counties, in part supported by tax money from Pamlico County, and aided by our appointed representatives to the Coastal Resources Commission, successfully kept the Emergency Management division from reporting on the effect of a one-meter rise.

Justification: "we insist on REAL science." Presumably "real science" consists of waiting until we get seriously flooded and collecting the data. "We don't need no stinkin' analysis." Read all about it in yesterday's News and Observer in an article by a real scientist with no known connection to real estate developers.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Scientific Method

"First you guess. Don't laugh, this is the most important step. Then you compute the consequences. Compare the consequences to experience. If it disagrees with experience, the guess is wrong. In that simple statement is the key to science. It doesn't matter how beautiful your guess is or how smart you are or what your name is. If it disagrees with experience, it's wrong. That's all there is to it."
-- Richard Feynman, on how to discover a new law of physics

I would call it a "conjecture" rather than a guess, but Feynman is right that it is the most important step in discovery. Some inaccurately call the conjecture a "theory." For a theory, there needs to be some data. I think that's what Feynman means by "experience."

Friday, November 18, 2011

But Officer, I wasn't Much Over The Speed Limit

Two months ago, scientists reported that a packet of neutrinos (don't ask) traveled 450 miles from the high energy physics laboratory (CERN) near Geneva to the Italian laboratory at Gran Sasso, faster than the speed of light.

The experiment has been somewhat improved and tried again, with the same results. The packet of neutrinos traveled the 450 miles and arrived 62 nanoseconds before a beam of light would have arrived. How fast is that?

Admiral Grace Hopper, a pioneer computer scientist, used a visual aid in her lectures to show students how long a nanosecond is - that is, how far would a pulse of light travel in a nanosecond. She would hold up a length of copper wire 11.8 inches long. That's a nanosecond.

So the neutrinos exceeded the speed limit by about 62 feet.

Not much, but enough to shake up the world of high energy physics.

CERN is using their new Large Hadron Collider, completed in 2008 - 2009, for high energy experiments. The LHC is about a third of the energy level of the United States' Superconducting Super Collider (SSC) near Waxahatchie, Texas, which was cancelled by Congress in 1993 as it neared completion. Had SSC been completed, it seems likely that the new discovery might have occurred a decade earlier in the United States rather than in Switzerland.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Momentous Events

This Friday, April 29, 2011, two momentous events taking place an ocean apart will probably dominate television.

Early that morning east coast time, the world will be treated to the spectacle of the royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton.

That afternoon, we will see the final launch of space shuttle Endeavor, commanded by Captain Mark Kelly, husband of Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, who was shot in the head last January by an attempted assassin. Congresswoman Giffords is expected to attend the launching. Oh, by the way, so will President Obama.

By far the most momentous of those events will be the presence of Congresswoman Giffords at the launch of Endeavor.

My guess is that the largest TV audience will be that of the wedding.

A question for the bean counters among us: which event cost their nations the most - the wedding or the space launch?

I have no idea.