Free Thought en IBM Watson: Not living up to hype as a tool to fight cancer? <span>IBM Watson: Not living up to hype as a tool to fight cancer?</span> <div class="field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-hidden field--item"><p>For nearly as long as I can remember, I've been a fan of <a href="">Jeopardy!</a> Indeed, if I'm at home at 7:30 PM on a weeknight, <a href="">Jeopardy!</a> will usually be on the television. Given that, I remember what was basically a bit of stunt programming in 2011, when <a href="">Jeopardy!</a> producers had IBM's artificial intelligence supercomputer Watson face off against two of the most winning champions in the history of the show, Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter. <a href="">Watson won</a>, leading Jenning's to add to his Final Jeopardy answer, "I, for one, welcome our new computer overlords."</p> <p>Watson's next challenge was similarly highly hyped: cancer. Since 2012, IBM has been collaborating with several cancer institutes to apply Watson's talents to cancer treatment. For instance, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center describes its <a href="">Watson Oncology</a> initiative thusly:</p> <blockquote><p> Watson Oncology is a cognitive computing system designed to support the broader oncology community of physicians as they consider treatment options with their patients. Memorial Sloan Kettering clinicians and analysts are partnering with IBM to train Watson Oncology to interpret cancer patients’ clinical information and identify individualized, evidence-based treatment options that leverage our specialists’ decades of experience and research.</p> <p>As Watson Oncology’s teacher, we are advancing our mission by creating a powerful resource that will help inform treatment decisions for those who may not have access to a specialty center like MSK. With Watson Oncology, we believe we can decrease the amount of time it takes for the latest research and evidence to influence clinical practice across the broader oncology community, help physicians synthesize available information, and improve patient care. </p></blockquote> <p>Not surprisingly, Watson's entry into cancer care and interpretation of cancer genomics was, just like its appearance on <em>Jeopardy!</em>, highly hyped, with overwhelmingly positive press coverage and little in the way of skeptical examination of what, exactly, Watson could potentially do and whether it could actually improve patient outcomes. Overall, as Watson moved into the clinical realm, you'd be hard-pressed not to think that this was a momentous development that would change cancer care forever for the better. There were plenty of headlines like "<a href="">IBM to team up with UNC, Duke hospitals to fight cancer with big data</a>" and "<a href="">The future of health care could be elementary with Watson</a>." The future looked bright.</p> <p>An article in <cite>STAT News</cite> published a couple of weeks ago week by Casey Ross and Ike Swetlitz suggests otherwise, at least so far: "<a href="">IBM pitched its Watson supercomputer as a revolution in cancer care. It’s nowhere close</a>."</p> <h2>Watson: Hype versus reality</h2> <p>In the story, <cite>STAT</cite> looked at Watson for Oncology's use, marketing, and actual performance in hospitals around the world, interviewing dozens of doctors, IBM executives, and artificial intelligence experts and concluded that IBM released a product without having fully assessed or understood the challenges in deploying it and without having published any papers demonstrating that the technology works as advertised, noting that, as a result, "its flaws are getting exposed on the front lines of care by doctors and researchers who say that the system, while promising in some respects, remains undeveloped." From my perspective, that's an understatement. Indeed, <cite>STAT</cite> observes:</p> <blockquote><p> Perhaps the most stunning overreach is in the company’s claim that Watson for Oncology, through artificial intelligence, can sift through reams of data to generate new insights and identify, as an IBM sales rep put it, “even new approaches” to cancer care. STAT found that the system doesn’t create new knowledge and is artificially intelligent only in the most rudimentary sense of the term.</p> <p>While Watson became a household name by winning the TV game show “Jeopardy!”, its programming is akin to a different game-playing machine: the Mechanical Turk, a chess-playing robot of the 1700s, which dazzled audiences but hid a secret — a human operator shielded inside.</p> <p>In the case of Watson for Oncology, those human operators are a couple dozen physicians at a single, though highly respected, U.S. hospital: Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York. Doctors there are empowered to input their own recommendations into Watson, even when the evidence supporting those recommendations is thin. </p></blockquote> <p>Another way of saying this is that Watson isn't really an artificial intelligence when it comes to cancer, but rather a very powerful computer that is very good at coming up with treatment plans based on human-inputted algorithms that it's taught. An example from a hospital in Florida is presented as an example:</p> <blockquote><p> On a recent morning, the results for a 73-year-old lung cancer patient were underwhelming: Watson recommended a chemotherapy regimen the oncologists had already flagged.</p> <p>“It’s fine,” Dr. Sujal Shah, a medical oncologist, said of Watson’s treatment suggestion while discussing the case with colleagues.</p> <p>He said later that the background information Watson provided, including medical journal articles, was helpful, giving him more confidence that using a specific chemotherapy was a sound idea. But the system did not directly help him make that decision, nor did it tell him anything he didn’t already know. </p></blockquote> <p>But it's more than that. You might have noted in the MSKCC blurb I quoted above that MSKCC is described as "Watson's teacher." That is very literally true. Indeed, the STAT story refers to Watson as "essentially Memorial Sloan Kettering in a portable box," noting that its treatment recommendations are "based entirely on the training provided by doctors, who determine what information Watson needs to devise its guidance as well as what those recommendations should be." This reliance on a single institution introduces an incredible bias. MSKCC is, of course, one of the premiere cancer centers in the world, but it's a tertiary care center. The patients seen there are not like the patients seen at most places—or, to some extent, even at my cancer center. They're different, both in the mix of race and socioeconomic status. (MSKCC tends to attract more affluent patients.) Also, the usual differences between the patient mix in a tertiary care center and a typical hospital are more pronounced, because not only is MSKCC a tertiary care center, but it's one of the premier cancer tertiary care centers in the world. There are more advanced and unusual cases, patients who have failed multiple lines of treatment and are looking for one last chance. The mix of patients, cancers, and other factors that doctors at MSKCC see might not be relevant to hospitals elsewhere in the world—or even in different parts of the US. As Pilar Ossorio, a professor of law and bioethics at University of Wisconsin Law School, points out in the article, from the cases used to train Watson, what Watson will learn is "race, gender, and class bias," basically "baking those social stratifications in" and "making the biases even less apparent and even less easy for people to recognize."</p> <p>Bias is inevitable, particularly when it is only one institution's physicians who are doing the teaching.</p> <p>It's also widely known in the oncology community that there is a "MSKCC way" of doing things that might not always agree with other centers. Yet IBM denies that reliance on a single institution to "teach" Watson injects bias, to the point where I literally laughed out loud (and was half tempted to insert an emoji indicating that) when I read a quote by Watson Health general manager Deborah DiSanzo, saying, "The bias is taken out by the sheer amount of data we have." (She is referring to patient cases and millions of articles and studies fed into Watson.) I can't help but also note that it isn't just treatment guidelines that MSKCC is providing. It's basically choosing all the medical literature whose results are inputted into Watson to help craft its recommendations. As I read the STAT article, as a clinician and scientist myself, I couldn't help but marvel that IBM is either blissfully unaware that this is a self-reinforcing system, in which one institution's doctors would tend to recommend the very literature that would support the treatment recommendations that they prefer.</p> <p>And, MSKCC being MSKCC (i.e., a bit arrogant), the doctors "training" Watson don't see the bias as a problem:</p> <blockquote><p> Doctors at Memorial Sloan Kettering acknowledged their influence on Watson. “We are not at all hesitant about inserting our bias, because I think our bias is based on the next best thing to prospective randomized trials, which is having a vast amount of experience,” said Dr. Andrew Seidman, one of the hospital’s lead trainers of Watson. “So it’s a very unapologetic bias.” </p></blockquote> <p>I laughed out loud at that quote, too. Having a "vast amount of experience" without having clinical trials upon which to base treatments can just as easily lead to continuing treatments that don't work or hanging on to beliefs that are never challenged by evidence. I'm not saying that having experience is a bad thing. Far from it! However, if that experience is not tempered by humility, bad things can happen. It's the lack of humility that I perceive here that troubles me. There are awesome cancer doctors elsewhere in the world, too, you know:</p> <blockquote><p> In Denmark, oncologists at one hospital said they have dropped the project altogether after finding that local doctors agreed with Watson in only about 33 percent of cases.</p> <p>“We had a discussion with [IBM] that they had a very limited view on the international literature, basically, putting too much stress on American studies, and too little stress on big, international, European, and other-part-of-the-world studies,” said Dr. Leif Jensen, who directs the center at Rigshospitalet in Copenhagen that contains the oncology department. </p></blockquote> <p>And:</p> <blockquote><p> Sometimes, the recommendations Watson gives diverge sharply from what doctors would say for reasons that have nothing to do with science, such as medical insurance. In a poster presented at the Global Breast Cancer Conference 2017 in South Korea, researchers reported that the treatment Watson most often recommended for breast cancer patients simply wasn’t covered by the national insurance system. </p></blockquote> <p>None of this is surprising, given that Watson is trained by American doctors at one very prestigious American cancer center.</p> <p>Then there's a rather basic but fundamental problem with Watson, and that's getting patient data entered into it. Hospitals wishing to use Watson must find a way either to interface their electronic health records with Watson or hire people to manually enter patient data into the system. Indeed, IBM representatives admitted that teaching a machine to read medical records is "a lot harder than anyone thought." (Actually, this rather reminds me of Donald Trump saying, "Who knew health care could be so complicated?" in response to the difficulty Republicans had coming up with a replacement for the Affordable Care Act.) The answer: Basically anyone who knows anything about it. Anyone who's ever tried to wrestle health care information out of a medical record, electronic or paper, into a form in a database that can be used to do retrospective or prospective studies knows how hard it is. Heck, just from my five year experience working on a statewide collaborative quality initiative in breast cancer, <em>I</em> know how hard it is, and what we were doing in our CQI was nowhere near as complex as what IBM is trying to do with Watson. For instance, we were looking at only one cancer (breast) and a subset of one state (25 institutions in Michigan), and we were not trying to derive new knowledge, but rather to look at aspects of care where the science and recommendations are clear and we could compare what our member institutions were doing to the best existing evidence-based guidelines.</p> <h2>What can Watson actually do?</h2> <p>IBM represents Watson as being able to look for patterns and derive treatment recommendations that human doctors might otherwise not be able to come up with because of our human shortcomings in reading and assessing the voluminous medical literature, but what Watson can actually do is really rather modest. That's not to say it's not valuable and won't get better with time, but the problem is that it doesn't come anywhere near the hype. I mentioned that there haven't been any peer-reviewed studies on Watson in the medical literature yet, but that doesn't mean there are no data yet. At the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) meeting this year, there were <a href="">three abstracts</a> presented reporting the results of studies using Watson in cancer care:</p> <blockquote><p> The first study carried out at the Manipal Comprehensive Cancer Centre in Bangalore, India, looked at Watson’s concordance with a multi-disciplinary tumour board used for lung, colon and rectal cancer cases. The AI achieved a concordance rate of 96% for lung, 81% for colon and 93% for rectal cancer.</p> <p>The second study compared Watson’s recommendations to those made by oncologists at Bumrungrad International Hospital in Bangkok, Thailand – this time across multiple cancer types. Its concordance rate was 83%.</p> <p>The third concordance study compared Watson’s decisions for high-risk colon cancer to a tumour board from Gachon University Gil Medical Centre in Incheon, South Korea. Its concordance rate in terms of colon cancer decisions was 73%, however, it was only 43% in gastric cancer.</p> <p>The company explained this was due to differences in treatment guidelines for the disease in South Korea, compared to where it was trained at Memorial Sloan Kettering. </p></blockquote> <p>This is mighty thin gruel after such grandiose claims for the technology. Sure, it's a very good thing that Watson agrees with evidence-based guidelines a high percentage of the time. It's not so great that its concordance with recommendations was so low for gastric cancer, but it is that lack of concordance that shows the weakness of a system so dominated by American oncologists and cancer surgeons. The reason that treatment recommendations in Asia differ so markedly from those in the US is because of differences in prevalence (which is much higher in Asia) and <a href="">even biology</a>.</p> <p>Of course, it's important that Watson be able to replicate evidence-based treatment recommendations for common cancers, but you don't need a computer to do that, much less an AI. Where Watson was hyped by IBM was for its supposed ability to "think outside the box" (if you'll excuse the term) and come up with recommendations that humans would not have thought of that would result in better outcomes for cancer patients. Even these modest results are being hyped in the form of embarrassing headlines. For instance, ASCO, touting the results of the three studies presented at its annual meeting and other results, wrote "<a href="">How Watson for Oncology Is Advancing Personalized Patient Care</a>." It read like a press release from IBM. Another article proclaimed that "<a href="">IBM’s Watson is really good at creating cancer treatment plans</a>." That's nice. So are nearly all oncologists, and it's even arguable that Watson is as good as a typical oncologist.</p> <h2>The M.D. Anderson experience</h2> <p>The M.D. Anderson Cancer Center was, along with MSKCC, one of the early adopters of Watson. Its experience with the project is another cautionary note that shows what can happen when not enough skepticism is applied to a project and how a project like Watson can turn into a massive boondoggle. This was revealed when the partnership between M.D. Anderson and IBM basically <a href="">fell apart earlier this year</a>:</p> <blockquote><p> According to a blistering audit by the University of Texas System, the cancer center grossly mismanaged its splashy program with IBM, which started back in 2012. The program aimed to teach Watson how to treat cancer patients and match them to clinical trials. Watson initially met goals and impressed center doctors, but the project hit the rocks as MD Anderson officials snubbed their own IT experts, mishandled about $62 million in funding, and failed to follow basic procedures for overseeing contracts and invoices, the audit concludes.</p> <p>IBM pulled support for the project back in September of last year. Watson is currently prohibited from being used on patients there, and the fate of MD Anderson’s partnership with IBM is in question. MD Anderson is now seeking bids from other contractors who might take IBM’s place. </p></blockquote> <p>As Matt Herper noted over at <a href=""><cite>Forbes</cite></a>:</p> <blockquote><p> Usually, companies pay research centers to do research on their products; in this case, MD Anderson paid for the privilege, although it would have apparently also owned the product. This was a “very unusual business arrangement,” says Vinay Prasad, an oncologist at Oregon Health &amp; Science University.</p> <p>According to the audit report, Chin went around normal procedures to pay for the expensive undertaking. The report notes "a consistent pattern of PwC fees set just below MD Anderson’s Board approval threshold," and its appendix seems to indicate this may have occurred with payments to IBM, too.* She also didn’t get approval from the information technology department. </p></blockquote> <p>Yes, it was <a href="">that bad</a>.</p> <h2>Hype and hubris in AI: Beyond IBM</h2> <p>It's very clear that AI will play an increasingly large role in medicine. The massive amount of genomic data being applied to "personalized medicine," or, as it's now more commonly called, "precision medicine," basically demands it because no human can sift through the terabytes and petabytes of genomic data without assistance to find patterns that can be exploited in treatment. What I do have a problem with is hype, and IBM is clearly incredibly guilty of massively hyping its Watson product before it was ready for prime time, apparently not recognizing just how difficult it would be to train Watson to align company hype with scientific reality.</p> <p>One way to think about it is to consider how machine learning works, how AI is trained to recognize patterns, come to conclusions, and make recommendations. In other words, how can a machine go beyond human-curated data and recommendations? It's incredibly difficult:</p> <blockquote><p> To understand what’s slowing the progress, you have to understand how machine-learning systems like Watson are trained. Watson “learns” by continually rejiggering its internal processing routines in order to produce the highest possible percentage of correct answers on some set of problems, such as which radiological images reveal cancer. The correct answers have to be already known, so that the system can be told when it gets something right and when it gets something wrong. The more training problems the system can chew through, the better its hit rate gets.</p> <p>That’s relatively simple when it comes to training the system to identify malignancies in x-rays. But for potentially groundbreaking puzzles that go well beyond what humans already do, like detecting the relationships between gene variations and disease, Watson has a chicken-and-egg problem: how does it train on data that no experts have already sifted through and properly organized? “If you’re teaching a self-driving car, anyone can label a tree or a sign so the system can learn to recognize it,” says Thomas Fuchs, a computational pathologist at Memorial Sloan-Kettering, a cancer center in New York. “But in a specialized domain in medicine, you might need experts trained for decades to properly label the information you feed to the computer.” </p></blockquote> <p>That's the bias introduced by relying on MSKCC physicians. It's a bias that's much worse than it needs to be because of how IBM relies on one institution and one relatively small group of physicians to train Watson, but, in fairness, it is an unavoidable bias at this stage in the development of an AI. The problem, as it all too often is, is arrogance. IBM appears to have vastly underestimated the challenge in moving beyond the training dataset (as it's often called in studies like this), for which the answers are known in advance to the computer's analysis, to the validation dataset (for which the answer is not known in advance).</p> <p>None of this is to say that AI won't eventually make a major contribution to the treatment of cancer and other diseases. Rather, it's just to say that we're nowhere near there yet. Moreover, IBM is no longer the only player in this game, as has <a href="">been noted</a>:</p> <blockquote><p> Since Watson’s “Jeopardy!” demonstration in 2011, hundreds of companies have begun developing health care products using artificial intelligence. These include countless startups, but IBM also faces stiff competition from industry titans such as Amazon, Microsoft, Google, and the Optum division of UnitedHealth Group.</p> <p>Google’s DeepMind, for example, recently displayed its own game-playing prowess, using its AlphaGo program to defeat a world champion in Go, a 3,000-year-old Chinese board game.</p> <p>DeepMind is working with hospitals in London, where it is learning to detect eye disease and speed up the process of targeting treatments for head and neck cancers, although it has run into privacy concerns.</p> <p>Meanwhile, Amazon has launched a health care lab, where it is exploring opportunities to mine data from electronic health records and potentially build a virtual doctor’s assistant.</p> <p>A recent report by the financial firm Jefferies said IBM is quickly losing ground to competitors. “IBM appears outgunned in the war for AI talent and will likely see increasing competition,” the firm concluded. </p></blockquote> <p><a href="">And</a>:</p> <blockquote><p> But the “cognitive computing” technologies under the Watson umbrella aren’t as unique as they once were. “In the data-science community the sense is that whatever Watson can do, you can probably get as freeware somewhere, or possibly build yourself with your own knowledge,” Claudia Perlich told Gizmodo, a professor and data scientist who worked at IBM Watson Research Center from 2004 to 2010 (at the same time Watson was being built), before becoming the chief scientist at Dstillery, a data-driven marketing firm (a field that IBM is also involved with). She believes a good data-science expert can create Watson-like platforms “with notably less financial commitment.” </p></blockquote> <p>None of this is also to say that IBM is alone in its hubris. It's not. This hubris is shared by many tech companies, particularly those working on computing and AI. For instance, last year Microsoft was <a href="">roundly (and properly) mocked</a> for its claim that it was going <a href="">to "solve cancer" in a decade</a> based on this idea:</p> <blockquote><p> The company is working at treating the disease like a computer virus, that invades and corrupts the body’s cells. Once it is able to do so, it will be able to monitor for them and even potentially reprogramme them to be healthy again, experts working for Microsoft have said.</p> <p>The company has built a “biological computation” unit that says its ultimate aim is to make cells into living computers. As such, they could be programmed and reprogrammed to treat any diseases, such as cancer. </p></blockquote> <p>And:</p> <blockquote><p> “The field of biology and the field of computation might seem like chalk and cheese,” Chris Bishop, head of Microsoft Research’s Cambridge-based lab, told Fast Company. “But the complex processes that happen in cells have some similarity to those that happen in a standard desktop computer.”</p> <p>As such, those complex processes can potentially be understood by a desktop computer, too. And those same computers could be used to understand how cells behave and to treat them. </p></blockquote> <p>Yes, there is a resemblance between cancer and computing in much the same way that counting on your fingers resembles a supercomputer. The hubris on display was unbelievable. My reaction was virtually identical to <a href="">Derek Lowe’s</a>, only more so. Indeed, he perfectly characterized the attitude of many in tech companies working on cancer as a <em>“Gosh darn it fellows, do I have to do everything myself?”</em> attitude. Yes, those of us in cancer research and who take care of cancer patients do tend to get a bit…testy…when someone waltzes onto the scene and proclaims to breathless headlines that he’s going to solve cancer in a decade because he has an insight that you stupid cancer biologists never thought of before: The cell is just a computer, and cancer is like a computer virus.</p> <p>But I digress. I only mention Microsoft to demonstrate that IBM is not alone when it comes to tech companies and hubris about cancer. In any event, I made an analogy to Donald Trump earlier in this post. I was not surprised to find this article <a href="">making a similar analogy</a>:</p> <blockquote><p> “IBM Watson is the Donald Trump of the AI industry—outlandish claims that aren’t backed by credible data,” said Oren Etzioni, CEO of the Allen Institute for AI and former computer science professor. “Everyone—journalists included—know[s] that the emperor has no clothes, but most are reluctant to say so.”</p> <p>Etzioni, who helps research and develop new AI that is similar to some Watson APIs, said he respects the technology and people who work at Watson, “But their marketing and PR has run amok—to everyone’s detriment.”</p> <p>Former employees who worked on Watson Health agree and think the way that IBM overhypes Watson for Oncology is especially detrimental. One former IBM Watson Health researcher and UX designer told Gizmodo of a time they shadowed an oncologist at a cancer center that has partnered with IBM to train Watson for Oncology. The designer claims they spoke with patients who had heard of Watson and asked when it could be used to help them with their disease. “That was actually pretty heartbreaking for me as a designer because I had seen what Watson for Oncology really is and I was very painfully aware of its limitations,” the designer said. “It felt very bad and it felt like there was real hope that had been served by IBM marketing that could not be supported by the product I know.” </p></blockquote> <p>That's part of the problem. Patients see the hype and believe it. They then want what IBM is offering, even if it is not ready for prime time. Watson Health general manager Deborah DiSanzo even said, "We’re seeing stories come in where patients are saying, 'It gave me peace of mind,'" and concluded, "That makes us feel extraordinarily good that what we’re doing is going to make a difference for patients and their physicians." Patient peace of mind is important, but not as important as actually producing a product that demonstrably improves patient outcomes.</p> <p>Again, don't get me wrong. AI is very likely to be quite important in years (more likely decades) to come in health care. Maybe one day it will lead to a real Tricorder, just like in the original <cite>Star Trek</cite> series. It's just not there yet. I suspect that Watson will not be the last medical AI effort to fail to live up to its early grandiose claims.</p> </div> <span><a title="View user profile." href="/oracknows" lang="" about="/oracknows" typeof="schema:Person" property="schema:name" datatype="">oracknows</a></span> <span>Sun, 09/17/2017 - 21:24</span> <div class="field field--name-field-blog-categories field--type-entity-reference field--label-inline"> <div class="field--label">Categories</div> <div class="field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/channel/free-thought" hreflang="en">Free Thought</a></div> </div> </div> Mon, 18 Sep 2017 01:24:17 +0000 oracknows 22625 at Comments of the Week #176: From making heavy elements to why the sky is blue <span>Comments of the Week #176: From making heavy elements to why the sky is blue</span> <div class="field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-hidden field--item"><blockquote><p>“In the media age, everybody was famous for 15 minutes. In the Wikipedia age, everybody can be an expert in five minutes. Special bonus: You can edit your own entry to make yourself seem even smarter.” ―Stephen Colbert</p></blockquote> <p>It's been another fun-and-fact-filled week here at <a href="">Starts With A Bang!</a> (And did you know <a href="">I have a wikipedia page? I do!</a> And most of the facts there are even correct!) I'm planning out the next edition of the <a href="">Starts With A Bang podcast</a>, which should cover the science that the James Webb Space Telescope will reveal starting in just over a year; yes, we're just 13 months from launch! We're also looking into starting a video series, with the financial (and idea-filled) help of our generous <a href="">Patreon supporters</a>, as well as some exciting interviews coming up in advance of the October 15th release of <a href="">Treknology</a>, which should take the world by storm! Now, let's have a look back at all our article from this past week:</p> <ul><li><a href="" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Can normal stars make heavier (and less stable) elements than iron?</a> (for Ask Ethan),</li> <li><a href="" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Five reasons why the signals from Stephen Hawking’s Breakthrough Initiative aren’t aliens</a> (for Mostly Mute Monday),</li> <li><a href="" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">The Sun’s Energy Doesn’t Come From Fusing Hydrogen Into Helium (Mostly)</a>,</li> <li><a href="" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">The Terrifying Physics Of How Wildfires Spread So Fast</a>,</li> <li><a href="" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">The Greatest Cosmic Puzzle: Astronomers Find Stars That Appear Older Than The Universe</a>,</li> <li><a href="" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Why The Sky Is Blue, According To Science</a>.</li> </ul><p>So with all the announcements out of the way, let's dive right into our <a href="">comments of the week</a>!</p> <blockquote><div style="width: 610px;display:block;margin:0 auto;"><a href="/files/startswithabang/files/2017/08/Recreacion-artistica-onda-gravitacional_101501205_1049849_1706x1280-1200x900-1200x900.jpg"><img class="size-medium wp-image-36461" src="/files/startswithabang/files/2017/08/Recreacion-artistica-onda-gravitacional_101501205_1049849_1706x1280-1200x900-1200x900-600x449.jpg" alt="The fabric of spacetime, illustrated, with ripples and deformations due to mass. A new theory must be more than identical to General Relativity; it must make novel, distinct predictions. Image credit: European Gravitational Observatory, Lionel BRET/EUROLIOS." width="600" height="449" /></a> The fabric of spacetime, illustrated, with ripples and deformations due to mass. A new theory must be more than identical to General Relativity; it must make novel, distinct predictions. Image credit: European Gravitational Observatory, Lionel BRET/EUROLIOS. </div> <p>From <a href="">Elle H.C.</a> on Einstein's opinion on the aether: "To quote Einstein:</p> <p style="padding-left: 30px;">“We may say that according to the general theory of relativity space is endowed with physical qualities; in this sense, therefore, there exists an aether. According to the general theory of relativity <b>space without aether is unthinkable</b>; for in such space there not only would be no propagation of light, but also no possibility of existence for standards of space and time (measuring-rods and clocks), nor therefore any space-time intervals in the physical sense. But this aether may not be thought of as endowed with the quality characteristic of ponderable media, as consisting of parts which may be tracked through time. The idea of motion may not be applied to it.”</p> <p>The scientific community has ruled against Einstein on this topic..."</p></blockquote> <p>It's not so much that "the scientific community" made a ruling as it is that Einstein's "unthinkable" interpretation was actually equivalent to his own interpretation. If you call the mathematical structure of "spacetime" an "aether," I can't really say anything to change your mind, but you are redefining words to make the "aether" exist. If that were the case, let me turn it around on you: what would an aether-less spacetime look like?</p> <p>The conventional thinking is that when we talk about empty space -- the "vacuum" -- we are talking about what we physically know as nothingness itself. This is what contains the entire Universe. Nothing more is required. You can certainly invent something more (or something else), but unless it has a physical difference from the predictions of nothingness itself, it doesn't have a physical meaning.</p> <blockquote><div style="width: 507px;display:block;margin:0 auto;"><a href="/files/startswithabang/files/2012/01/wavefunction.gif"><img class="size-full wp-image-18192" src="/files/startswithabang/files/2012/01/wavefunction.gif" alt="" width="497" height="377" /></a> The quantum wavefunction, and the potential for quantum tunneling through a finite barrier. Image credit: Chi LF collaboration, from John von Neumann Institut fur Computing. </div> <p>From <a href="">eric</a> on the spreading of quantum wavefunctions: "Many (I want to say ‘all’ but I’m not sure about that) wavefunctions are much larger than what we would consider the discrete particle to be. The photon is, in reality, ‘smeared out’ over a much larger area."</p></blockquote> <p>The important thing to remember is that wavefunctions are not static entities, but rather that they spread out over time! There is an uncertainty inherent to anything's position and momentum, and so that means that if you know where something is and how it's moving at any particular moment in time, even to an accuracy of Planck's constant, there is an uncertainty that grows with time and distance as far as where this particle will be in the future. So if you take the extrema of the possibilities and allow that sort of spreading, it's pretty impossible to not have some portion of the wavefunction wind up a seemingly absurd distance away.</p> <p>The only way out is to make a high-energy-enough measurement to collapse the wavefunction, which is where the "quantum zeno's paradox" comes in, and why a watched radioactive atom doesn't decay the same as one that you simply leave alone.</p> <div style="width: 610px;display:block;margin:0 auto;"><a href="/files/startswithabang/files/2015/01/1-BzjLp87PlMz-nZ2Cf6Zjfw.jpeg"><img class="size-medium wp-image-32349" src="/files/startswithabang/files/2015/01/1-BzjLp87PlMz-nZ2Cf6Zjfw-600x400.jpeg" alt="" width="600" height="400" /></a> Image credit: Delta II rocket launch, public domain, via <a href=""></a>. </div> <blockquote><p>From <a href="">Steve Blackband</a> on a book recommendation: "Highly recommend Rise of the Rocket Girls by Nathalia Holt. An easy holiday read, [focusing] on the efforts of the women ‘computers’ in the space program, much like the book by Dava Sobel called the Glass Universe [focusing] on the women who read astronomy photographic plates."</p></blockquote> <p>I haven't come across this book, so I'm very curious to learn about it! For anyone interested in the history of both the space program and the role that women in science have played, it gets good reviews from people I respect. <a href="">Pick up a copy at Amazon here</a>.</p> <blockquote><div style="width: 610px;display:block;margin:0 auto;"><a href="/files/startswithabang/files/2017/09/Nuclear_with_Cherenkov.jpg"><img class="size-medium wp-image-36607" src="/files/startswithabang/files/2017/09/Nuclear_with_Cherenkov-600x449.jpg" alt="" width="600" height="449" /></a> Reactor nuclear experimental RA-6 (Republica Argentina 6), en marcha. As long as there's the right nuclear fuel present, along with control rods and the proper type of water inside, energy can be generated with only 1/100,000th the fuel of conventional, fossil-fuel reactors. Image credit: Centro Atomico Bariloche, via Pieck Darío. </div> <p>From <a href="">Sinisa Lazarek</a> about whether Einstein is always a good authority about physics: "Well, Einstein also said: “There is not the slightest indication that nuclear energy will ever be obtainable. It would mean that the atom would have to be shattered at will.”</p> <p>Just because someone made great contribution in one area, doesn’t make him absolutely correct about everything."</p></blockquote> <p>It goes beyond that, actually. Just because someone is an expert and made a great contribution in one area doesn't mean they are correct about everything they say <em>even in that area</em>. Alan Guth was the inventor and originator of inflation, yet his original model was untenable <em>and everyone knew it</em>. Fred Hoyle made tremendous strides in uncovering the properties of the primordial light in the Universe yet would not accept that his model for departures from a blackbody spectrum did not fit the observations. Einstein was not only wrong about many aspects of quantum and nuclear physics (despite winning a Nobel for the photoelectric effect), but made many mistakes concerning relativity, including the declaration that gravitational waves were a physical impossibility.</p> <p>The idea that "one should listen to the master" is absurd; you should listen to the correct argument that is made for the correct reasons, regardless of who makes it. Einstein was wrong. <em>A lot</em>. So was pretty much every scientist in history. We must tread carefully here, and not fall for the fallacy of picking the quotes and statements that support what we want reality to be.</p> <blockquote><div style="width: 610px;display:block;margin:0 auto;"><a href="/files/startswithabang/files/2017/08/Naatriumi_reaktsioon_veega_purustab_klaasist_anuma.jpg"><img class="size-medium wp-image-36464" src="/files/startswithabang/files/2017/08/Naatriumi_reaktsioon_veega_purustab_klaasist_anuma-600x338.jpg" alt="" width="600" height="338" /></a> Placing a chunk of sodium metal in contact with water results in a violent, and often explosive, reaction. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons user Tavoromann. </div> <p>From <a href="">John</a> on whether science describes or explains: "One of the unresolved, and possibly unresolvable, tensions in Science – in the instance Physics – is whether it <b>describes</b> or <b>explains</b>. As seen above, some are firmly (even emphatically) members of the descriptive camp. I found Ethan’s “What’s the quantum reason that sodium and water react?” (05-AUG-17) a delightful example of Science’s – in that instance physical Chemistry – ability to explain."</p></blockquote> <p>I think this is an interesting topic to consider. The sodium-and-water example feels like a good explanation, rather than merely a description, because we have a deep understanding of what physics underlies it. If you ask "why do the quantum energy levels behave as they do," you're likely to come away with more of what feels like a description than an explanation, even though those quantum energy levels are what power the sodium-and-water reaction. If we have a deeper layer (or two, or more) of understanding than what you're asking about, it's easier to explain what's going on. But if you're at that deepest level that humanity has ever gone, usually it only feels descriptive.</p> <p>At that most fundamental level, I don't know that it's possible to do any better.</p> <blockquote><div style="width: 610px;display:block;margin:0 auto;"><a href="/files/startswithabang/files/2017/09/Sun_poster.svg_.jpg"><img class="size-medium wp-image-36592" src="/files/startswithabang/files/2017/09/Sun_poster.svg_-600x300.jpg" alt="" width="600" height="300" /></a> This cutaway showcases the various regions of the surface and interior of the Sun, including the core, which is where nuclear fusion occurs. Although hydrogen is converted into helium, the majority of reactions, and the majority of the energy that powers the Sun, comes from other sources. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons user Kelvinsong. </div> <p>From <a href="">Frank</a> on the brightness of the Sun's center: "All cutaway views of sun I had seen show its center as the brightest region. But I think if we could really see inside of sun almost all of it would look black. Because I think visible light is produced close to the surface. Am I right on this?"</p></blockquote> <p>You know, I was all prepared to write to you about blackbody spectra, the energy produced, how collisions between gamma-ray photons and particles in the Sun's core produce thermalization and a very hot, intense set of radiation that spans the full electromagnetic spectrum, and so on. I was prepared to show you images like this:</p> <div style="width: 610px;display:block;margin:0 auto;"><a href="/files/startswithabang/files/2012/10/BlackbodySpectrum_loglog_150dpi_en1.png"><img class="size-medium wp-image-26119" src="/files/startswithabang/files/2012/10/BlackbodySpectrum_loglog_150dpi_en1-600x435.png" alt="" width="600" height="435" /></a> The blackbody spectrum of bodies radiating at a variety of temperatures. Image credit: Wikimedia commons user Sch. </div> <p>And to tell you that being hotter meant more radiation of all wavelengths, so long as you obey that blackbody law. And then I saw, just below, that <a href="">Candice Elliot</a> has beaten me to it, providing an excellent explanation.</p> <blockquote><p>This is one of those Berkelian questions… since we can’t actually do a cut-away. However, no, the region inside of the core would still be amazingly hot and does radiate in the visible region… but that most of the energy in the core is radiating at high energies up into the gamma. So, it would still be bright in the visible. You might want to look up ‘black body radiation’. As the temperature goes up, the energy peak goes up (shorter wavelength/higher energy per photon)… but so does the amount of energy in non-peak wavelengths.</p> <p>As the energy passes from the convention zone to the surface, the volume of the mass that is available goes up so the temp goes down and at the very surface, the temp cools such that the peak is now in the visible range (of course it is! That’s because we evolved to use the peak range to see!)</p></blockquote> <p>So, good job! In short, the core of the Sun would be brighter than the core of any cooler blackbody, all other things being equal, no matter which wavelength of light you looked at. Remember, hotter objects contain more energy overall, and that affects what you "see," among a myriad of other things!</p> <blockquote><div style="width: 610px;display:block;margin:0 auto;"><a href="/files/startswithabang/files/2017/09/43b35612-df94-45f8-b45f-d0759b83f46a-large16x9_FotodelincendioforestalEagleCreekFireporTristanFortsch.jpg"><img class="size-medium wp-image-36605" src="/files/startswithabang/files/2017/09/43b35612-df94-45f8-b45f-d0759b83f46a-large16x9_FotodelincendioforestalEagleCreekFireporTristanFortsch-600x337.jpg" alt="The Eagle Creek fire has now spread to engulf over 10,000 acres, has caused the evacuations of thousands of families, and millions of dollars in property damage. The terrain itself will take decades to recover. Image credit: Tristan Fortsch/KATU-TV via AP." width="600" height="337" /></a> The Eagle Creek fire has now spread to engulf over 10,000 acres, has caused the evacuations of thousands of families, and millions of dollars in property damage. The terrain itself will take decades to recover. Image credit: Tristan Fortsch/KATU-TV via AP. </div> <p>From <a href="">Ragtag Media</a> on the cause of wildfires: "Or rather The Terrifying Actions Of Environmentalist Cause Disaster.<br /> Thank a Spotted Owl"</p></blockquote> <p>What many people on both sides of the political aisle -- including those on the far right who blame environmentalism for hampering the logging industry and those who blame the logging industry for destroying America's natural resources -- don't realize is how many strides have been made in the practice of sustainable logging over the years. All the major logging companies, like Weyerhauser (which dominates where I live), now treat lumber as a crop. You cut a portion, you replant, you let it grow, you harvest, etc. This is how it works, it's good for the environment, etc.</p> <p>However, there are a great many compelling reasons to think that we have not yet arrived at the ideal fire, wildlife, flora-and-fauna management system. For protected lands like forests, natural fires do occur. Should we clear out the underbrush? If so, by how much? Should we engage in controlled burns? Of what magnitude? These are questions still being discussed today, and they <em>should</em> still be discussed. There is much to still learn.</p> <p>With that said, I would hope that everyone here would be against arson. Would be against throwing fireworks into the woods when there's a burn ban. And would be against the 80% of wildfires that are caused by human negligence and/or malice. My wife and I had our lives endangered by one that was started atop Powell Butte a few years ago just outside of Portland, OR, by... a group of teenagers. We were the first to call 911 and alert them. We were out hiking and had to race back to our car and leave. We got out, but... I mean, come on. It's okay to say, "arson is bad," and to call irresponsible fire-starting exactly what it is: arson.</p> <p>At least <a href="">Alan G.</a> agrees with me:</p> <blockquote><p>"Well, it would seem prudent that the first and best line of defense is for humans to stop setting wildfires."</p> <div style="width: 610px;display:block;margin:0 auto;"><a href="/files/startswithabang/files/2013/12/treefire.png"><img class="size-medium wp-image-30186" src="/files/startswithabang/files/2013/12/treefire-600x451.png" alt="" width="600" height="451" /></a> Image credit: Andrew Walsh, aka flickr user radiofree. </div> <p>From <a href="">MobiusKlein</a> on the culture wars: "Not every science discussion needs to start with a Culture War rerun."</p></blockquote> <p>The cynical part of me wants to say, "have you been on the internet before?"</p> <p>But I think this is a good place to bring something up about forest management that's very important. A lot of people focus on the "renewing" effect that burns have, clearing out the old, dead brush and allowing the ecosystem to start over. Because of human activity, a lot of what will first grow when we have a wildfire, will be invasive species. If they take root in the early stages, they can choke out the natural habitat which would have grown there if not for the introduction of these species by human activity.</p> <p>If we want to restore the natural habitat after a wildfire occurs, in many locations (like in the Columbia Gorge), we absolutely need human intervention to properly manage the restoration. This is a big part of what the forest service does, and will be doing in the coming months after the fires are put out.</p> <blockquote><div style="width: 610px;display:block;margin:0 auto;"><a href="/files/startswithabang/files/2017/09/Oldest_star_in_solar_neighbourhood.jpg"><img class="size-medium wp-image-36597" src="/files/startswithabang/files/2017/09/Oldest_star_in_solar_neighbourhood-600x480.jpg" alt="" width="600" height="480" /></a> This is a Digitized Sky Survey image of the oldest star with a well-determined age in our galaxy. The ageing star, catalogued as HD 140283, lies over 190 light-years away. The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope was used to narrow the measurement uncertainty on the star's distance, and this helped to refine the calculation of a more precise age of 14.5 billion years (plus or minus 800 million years). Image credit: Digitized Sky Survey (DSS), STScI/AURA, Palomar/Caltech, and UKSTU/AAO. </div> <p>From <a href="">Carl</a> on how a star appears older than the age of the Universe: "Two words: stellar progeria."</p></blockquote> <p>Certainly, if the star actually does appear to be 14.5 billion years old, something must've happened to cause that "artificially large" age we ascribe to it. But what was it? For the last word of the week, <a href="">Omega Centauri</a> has an idea:</p> <blockquote><p>"What if the star originally had a brown dwarf companion, and was a bit lower in mass early on then would appear to make sense today? So say after a few billion years, it merged with its brown dwarf gaining a few percent of mass."</p></blockquote> <div style="width: 582px;display:block;margin:0 auto;"><a href="/files/startswithabang/files/2013/05/star_density.jpg"><img class="size-medium wp-image-28077" src="/files/startswithabang/files/2013/05/star_density-572x3000.jpg" alt="" width="572" height="3000" /></a> The globular cluster Messier 5, shown here in this NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image, is one of the oldest belonging to the Milky Way. The majority of its stars formed more than 12 billion years ago, but there are some unexpected newcomers on the scene, adding some vitality to this aging population. These blue stragglers resulted from mergers of smaller stars, and create larger, apparently younger ones. Image credit: ESA / Hubble &amp; NASA. </div> <p>This actually goes the wrong way; this would make a star appear <em>younger</em> than it actually is, akin to blue stragglers. What would work is for something to have stripped a bit of the mass <em>away</em> from the star. If you can have a more massive star age, burn through its fuel, and then lose some of its mass, it will evolve more quickly. Even if that's the case, the big question is <em>how</em>. Off the top of my head, my first idea is that this star began in a globular cluster or a multi-star system, was the less-massive companion in a binary (or more) system, it had some of its mass siphoned off after billions of years, and then a close gravitational interaction with another body ejected it into the galaxy, away from its former companions, where we observe it today.</p> <p>But I have no evidence for this. The Universe is like a detective story with insufficient clues. Until we catch another, similar star doing something as compelling as this, we don't know whether this explanation is possible. Regardless, we can only see the survivors in the Universe today, and infer what might have (or must have) happened in the past. The rest is why this is such a great cosmic puzzle!</p> <p>See you back here next week for more exciting stories of science and the Universe here on Starts With A Bang!</p> </div> <span><a title="View user profile." href="/startswithabang" lang="" about="/startswithabang" typeof="schema:Person" property="schema:name" datatype="">esiegel</a></span> <span>Sun, 09/10/2017 - 02:40</span> <div class="field field--name-field-blog-categories field--type-entity-reference field--label-inline"> <div class="field--label">Categories</div> <div class="field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/channel/free-thought" hreflang="en">Free Thought</a></div> </div> </div> Sun, 10 Sep 2017 06:40:29 +0000 esiegel 37096 at WorldCon 75 in Helsinki <span>WorldCon 75 in Helsinki</span> <div class="field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-hidden field--item"><p><img class="alignleft size-full wp-image-5185" src="/files/aardvarchaeology/files/2017/08/worldcon-75.png" alt="" width="250" height="250" />The 75th World Science Fiction Convention took place in Helsinki and seems to have had the second-highest attendance ever: more than 7000 people in the Messukeskus convention centre, 2000 of whom had (like myself) never attended a WorldCon before. There were 250 programme items only on the Friday between 10 am and 10 pm, so there is no way that I'll be able to tell you everything that went on. (Check out the <a href="">programme</a> here.) Instead I'll tell you the bits I enjoyed the most, plus some observations.</p> <p>The WorldCon crowd was incredibly diverse even if you disregarded the cosplayers. Men and women and trans folks, old and young, white and brown, Western and Eastern and Sikh. Two couples that caught my eye, for instance, were a skinny Japanese guy and a well-favoured black lady who wandered about hand in hand, and a Scandy couple with their baby in a buggy where both parents wore dresses and lipstick but one appeared to shave daily. And the attendees awarded N.K. Jemisin the Hugo for best novel for the second year running. The <a href="">Puppies movement</a> of 2013–16 that wanted white masculine conservative technocratic Hugo winners, not a bunch of brown-skinned women and gay people, is well and truly an ex-parrot.</p> <p>Awards that made me particularly happy (because here's where my candidates won) were <a href="">Hugos</a> for Ursula Vernon (novelette), Ursula le Guin (related work) and Lois McMaster Bujold (book series). Also, my dear friend Carolina Gómez Lagerlöf won the prestigious Big Heart award for services to fandom, joining the august ranks of for instance Robert Bloch, Andre Norton and Jack Williamson.</p> <p>The most interesting events I attended were Sonja Virta's talk about Tove Jansson's illustrations for <em>The Hobbit</em>, Karoliina Korppoo's talk about boardgames in Finland, Kevin Roche's talk about quantum computing and the Hugo prize ceremony.</p> <p>The funniest events I attended were <a href="">Lee Moyer's</a> presentation of weird and ugly book covers, Charles Stross's reading from his forthcoming Laundry novel <em>The Labyrinth Index</em> (highly satirical – it has Nyarlathotep as main inhabitant of 10 Downing St.), the panel on mistranslations and the panel on Stockholm-Helsinki ferry culture.</p> <p>My own programme items – a talk about crackpot archaeology in Scandinavia, a panel about Medieval reality vs fantasy, two Q&amp;As about archaeology in the children's room – all went super well, though the grown-up events could easily have filled much larger rooms than the ones we had been assigned.</p> <p>I also enjoyed the short film programme, the art show and the socialising. I was lucky: my talk was one of the first events at the convention, so people learned early to recognise my face and several came up to me for a chat. Two of these conversations were particularly surprising.</p> <p>1) The tall paunchy greybeard whom I didn't recognise until minutes into the conversation, when I realised that he was an old Tolkien Society buddy that I hadn't seen in a quarter century, and whom I remembered as a lanky beardless redhead.</p> <p>2) The friendly Finn who had heard only 20 minutes of my talk before he and many other floor sitters were kicked out because of the fire safety rules, and who found the talk super interesting and wanted to hear more <i>despite himself being a big believer in dowsing and several pretty far-out ideas about archaeological sites</i>.</p> <p>This was a super big, super rich and super well-organised convention. I found so much to do despite knowing nothing about the guests of honour and despite having no interest in several of the main strands of the programming (notably TV shows, comics, academic lit-crit and how to write fiction). Two years from now <a href="">the WorldCon will be in Dublin</a>, a city to which you can travel cheaply from Stockholm. I've never been to the Republic of Ireland. I'm thinking now that I'd really like to go to the con with my wife and then rent a car to spend a week at small-town B&amp;Bs around the country.</p> </div> <span><a title="View user profile." href="/author/aardvarchaeology" lang="" about="/author/aardvarchaeology" typeof="schema:Person" property="schema:name" datatype="">aardvarchaeology</a></span> <span>Wed, 08/16/2017 - 08:20</span> <div class="field field--name-field-blog-categories field--type-entity-reference field--label-inline"> <div class="field--label">Categories</div> <div class="field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/channel/free-thought" hreflang="en">Free Thought</a></div> </div> </div> Wed, 16 Aug 2017 12:20:59 +0000 aardvarchaeology 56306 at The management apologise for any inconvenience <span>The management apologise for any inconvenience</span> <div class="field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-hidden field--item"><p><a data-flickr-embed="true" href="" title="dam"><img src="" width="300" alt="dam" align="right" /></a> Some flaw in the over-eager Sb security, or more likely an intermediate layer, locked me out over the weekend, so my apologies for any delayed approvals and so on. One of which was to a reference to <a href="">Estimating economic damage from climate change in the United States</a> by Solomon Hsiang et al., Science 30 Jun 2017, Vol. 356, Issue 6345, pp. 1362-1369, DOI: 10.1126/science.aal4369. Which says:</p> <blockquote><p>Estimates of climate change damage are central to the design of climate policies. Here, we develop a flexible architecture for computing damages that integrates climate science, econometric analyses, and process models. We use this approach to construct spatially explicit, probabilistic, and empirically derived estimates of economic damage in the United States from climate change. The combined value of market and nonmarket damage across analyzed sectors—agriculture, crime, coastal storms, energy, human mortality, and labor—increases quadratically in global mean temperature, costing roughly 1.2% of gross domestic product per +1°C on average. Importantly, risk is distributed unequally across locations, generating a large transfer of value northward and westward that increases economic inequality. By the late 21st century, the poorest third of counties are projected to experience damages between 2 and 20% of county income (90% chance) under business-as-usual emissions (Representative Concentration Pathway 8.5).</p></blockquote> <p>I haven't read it yet, having just got into work... ahem. Anyway, you'll notice that the damages are broken down by area and (surprisingly, to me) a large portion is due to "mortality". The <a href="">associated discussion</a> just says <i>These results are not without caveats. Hsiang et al. appropriately focus much attention on quantifying uncertainty in the estimates. Yet <b>key parameters are fixed, including the value associated with mortality consequences</b> (which drives one-half to two-thirds of the estimated damages)</i> (my bold). The paper says <i>Rising mortality in hot locations more than offsets reductions in cool regions, so annual national mortality rates rise ∼5.4 (±0.5) deaths per 100,000 per °C (Fig. 3C). For lower GMST changes, this is driven by mortality between ages 1 and 44 and by infant mortality and ages ≥45 for larger GMST increases (fig. S13 and table S12).</i> And, yes, there is politics involved, just as there was when there was all that fuss over the IPCC valuing Brown Lives Less some while ago: <i>It is possible to use alternative approaches to valuing mortality in which the loss of lives for older and/or low-income individuals are assigned lower value than those of younger and/or high-income individuals (44), an adjustment that would alter damages differently for different levels of warming based on the age and income profile of affected individuals (e.g., fig. S13). Here, we focus on the approach legally adopted by the U.S. government for environmental cost-benefit analysis, in which the lives of all individuals are valued equally</i>. </p> <p>Actually, thinking about this while making a coffee, <i>just</i> using "the approach legally adopted by the U.S. government" and not using "the best", or at least trying alternatives, is weird.</p> <h3>Refs</h3> <p>* <a href=""></a> - <a href="">SH's joint blog</a><br /> * <a href="">The funding fallacy</a><br /> * <a href="">How Deaf Schizophrenics Hear Voices</a> - DA</p> </div> <span><a title="View user profile." href="/author/stoat" lang="" about="/author/stoat" typeof="schema:Person" property="schema:name" datatype="">stoat</a></span> <span>Tue, 07/04/2017 - 01:58</span> <div class="field field--name-field-blog-categories field--type-entity-reference field--label-inline"> <div class="field--label">Categories</div> <div class="field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/channel/free-thought" hreflang="en">Free Thought</a></div> </div> </div> Tue, 04 Jul 2017 05:58:02 +0000 stoat 53985 at Comments of the Week #162: from singularity evaporation to the loss of Earth's helium <span>Comments of the Week #162: from singularity evaporation to the loss of Earth&#039;s helium</span> <div class="field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-hidden field--item"><blockquote><p>“The ability to listen and learn is key to mastering the art of communication. If you don't use your verbal skills and networking, it will disappear rapidly.” -Rick Pitino</p></blockquote> <p>It’s been a week full of amazing and controversial stories about the Universe here at <a href="">Starts With A Bang!</a> Did you catch the fantastic live event on Wednesday at Peddler Brewing Company in Seattle: Astronomy on Tap, starring me and the incredible Sarah Tuttle? If not, <a href="">you can catch it now</a>!</p> <p></p><center> <iframe src="" width="560" height="315" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen"></iframe><p></p></center>If you're in a multimedia mood, you're in luck, because the newest (and twentieth!) <a href="">Starts With A Bang podcast</a> is now live: on <a href="">the Fate Of The Universe</a>. It took us 13.8 billion years to get to this point; learn about all the rest to come in just 20 minutes! <p></p><center> <iframe src=";auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false&amp;visual=true" width="100%" height="450" frameborder="no" scrolling="no"></iframe><p></p></center>This past week has been filled with some great stories that I hope you enjoyed, including: <ul><li><a href="" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">What happens when a black hole's singularity evaporates?</a> (for Ask Ethan),</li> <li><a href="" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">It's dimming! Astronomers jump at opportunity to solve the mystery of Tabby's star</a> (for Mostly Mute Monday),</li> <li><a href="" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Isaac Newton vs. Las Vegas: how physicists used science to beat the odds at roulette</a> (an incredible story by Paul Halpern),</li> <li><a href="" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Science busts the biggest myth ever about why bridges collapse</a>,</li> <li><a href="" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Trump's NASA budget eliminates education office, plunging America into the dark</a>, and</li> <li><a href="" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">The world is wasting our irreplaceable helium, and nobody cares</a>.</li> </ul><p>As always, I've had my chance to put what I think is important out there, but you've had plenty to say, too! Let's see what we can add to the ongoing conversation in this edition of our <a href="">comments of the week</a>!</p> <blockquote><div style="width: 610px;display:block;margin:0 auto;"><a href="/files/startswithabang/files/2017/04/prospin.jpg"><img class="size-medium wp-image-36033" src="/files/startswithabang/files/2017/04/prospin-600x503.jpg" alt="The three valence quarks of a proton contribute to its spin, but so do the gluons, sea quarks and antiquarks, and orbital angular momentum as well. Image credit: APS/Alan Stonebraker." width="600" height="503" /></a> The three valence quarks of a proton contribute to its spin, but so do the gluons, sea quarks and antiquarks, and orbital angular momentum as well. Image credit: APS/Alan Stonebraker. </div> <p>From <a href="">Elle H.C.</a> on real vs. virtual particles: "Ah well, is virtual quark still a quark?!"</p></blockquote> <p>This is a good question, but I am not 100% certain you understand what you're asking in this context. You learn to visualize the quantum vacuum as "particle/antiparticle pairs" popping in and out of existence, and that's fine. You also learn that there are "real" particles that exist if you try and scatter other particles off of them, and "virtual" particles that are useful as calculational tools to visualize the forces as exchanges of particles. But if you fire a high-energy particle into a proton at a few TeV, you will only hit a valence quark (up, up or down) about 10% of the time. The rest of the time, you hit a gluon or a "sea quark", which is a member of a particle/antiparticle pair "popping" into existence very briefly.</p> <p>These gluons and quarks are "real" in the deep-inelastic-scattering sense, which is as real as it gets. (Considering that cross sections and scattering amplitudes are the "measurables" that come out of quantum field theory.) Just because you don't last forever doesn't mean you aren't real!</p> <blockquote><div style="width: 610px;display:block;margin:0 auto;"><a href="/files/startswithabang/files/2017/05/s96_12609-1200x821.jpg"><img class="size-medium wp-image-36137" src="/files/startswithabang/files/2017/05/s96_12609-1200x821-600x411.jpg" alt="" width="600" height="411" /></a> Relic microbes revealed by a scanning electron microscope in the ALH84001 meteorite, which originated on Mars. It is unknown whether the microbes are of Martian origin or not. Image credit: NASA, 1996. </div> <p>From <a href="">eric</a> on an earthly vs. martian origin for fossils in a Mars meteorite: "Oh, just to be clear I don’t think the things we’re discovering are purely or even mainly a result of contamination. I think they’re martian."</p></blockquote> <p>I think this is terrestrial. I think the rock is from Mars and the "life" in the rock is from Earth. It's possible I'm wrong, but much, much more evidence is needed.</p> <p>I will also add that I am optimistic about the probability/possibility of life having existed on Mars in the past, but just not optimistic about the direct evidence we have for it today. Chandra Wickramasinghe disagrees with me, and I am just fine with that.</p> <blockquote><div style="width: 610px;display:block;margin:0 auto;"><a href="/files/startswithabang/files/2017/05/ngeo2145-f1.jpg"><img class="size-medium wp-image-36138" src="/files/startswithabang/files/2017/05/ngeo2145-f1-600x413.jpg" alt="Mars, along with its thin atmosphere, as photographed from the Viking orbiter in the 1970s. Image credit: NASA / Viking orbiter." width="600" height="413" /></a> Mars, along with its thin atmosphere, as photographed from the Viking orbiter in the 1970s. Image credit: NASA / Viking orbiter. </div> <p>From <a href="">Sean T</a> on the timeline for Mars exploration: "I’m not talking about reducing the risk to zero; of course that isn’t possible. I am talking about not flying completely blind. If it will take a few more years or even a few more decades, but will significantly increase the probability of success, is there not at least a reasonable argument for delaying the final human mission?"</p></blockquote> <p>I think you make a fair point on the topic of reasonable risk reduction, but I think we are still going to disagree as to what constitutes reasonable (or, perhaps, "reasonable enough") in this circumstance. We already have everything we need in order to know about the safety and short-term dangers (and many medium-term dangers) of landing humans on Mars. We understand radiation and shielding; we understand the dangers of interplanetary space; we understand long-term effects of zero gravity on human physiology; we understand how to get spacecraft to Mars; we understand the martian terrain and atmosphere. I would argue that we understand all of these things "well enough" that no additional missions are necessary to be ready for crewed exploration of Mars.</p> <div style="width: 610px;display:block;margin:0 auto;"><a href="/files/startswithabang/files/2014/01/curiosity-rover-mars-landing-touchdown.jpeg"><img class="size-medium wp-image-30299" src="/files/startswithabang/files/2014/01/curiosity-rover-mars-landing-touchdown-600x336.jpeg" alt="" width="600" height="336" /></a> The novel system that propelled curiosity to a successful landing on Mars. Image credit: NASA. </div> <p>The one thing we don't yet understand is how to land a payload as massive as once that could contain human beings and their life-sustaining materials on Mars. I do very much think more research is necessary for that, but that research is including in the preparatory plans for any and all Mars missions begin considered today. (Even, inadequately, in the case of the doomed Mars One plans.) I would rather see humanity make the attempt and fail in the 2020s and attempt and fail again in the 2030s than wait until the 2040s to even try. Not trying, to me, is the thing that shouldn't be an option. If we want to go, we have to try to go. We might not make it, but we surely won't make it if we don't venture the chance.</p> <blockquote><div style="width: 610px;display:block;margin:0 auto;"><a href="/files/startswithabang/files/2016/10/IBMresearch.jpg"><img class="size-medium wp-image-35295" src="/files/startswithabang/files/2016/10/IBMresearch-600x400.jpg" alt="IBM's Four Qubit Square Circuit, a pioneering advance in computations, could lead to computers powerful enough to simulate a Universe. Image credit: IBM research." width="600" height="400" /></a> IBM's Four Qubit Square Circuit, a pioneering advance in computations, could lead to computers powerful enough to simulate a Universe. Image credit: IBM research. </div> <p>From <a href="">Denier</a> on computing limits: "It is true that Moore’s law has to come to an end. In fact current manufacturing is already behind the curve so Moore’s law in purest terms of transistors per square inch is already dead. That said, it hasn’t stopped the increase of computing power. Right this moment you could purchase off the shelf components to assemble a single 4U server for under $30k (Supermicro 4028GR-TRT2 + 10x Nvidia GTX1080 Ti + 3TB RAM + SSD storage array) that is an order of magnitude more powerful than the IBM Watson room-sized cluster than won Jeopardy!"</p></blockquote> <p>I agree with you that things will get <em>cheaper</em>, and that by increasing the number of "computing machines" (e.g., processors, cores, parallel devices, etc.) you can have working on a problem at once, you will continue to achieve faster computers. But this, too, cannot continue <em>ad infinitum</em>. You will run into limits there, too, in terms of the number of particles that exist in your computational cluster. It might be large -- much larger than the computational power we're seeing today -- but don't expect it to continue forever. There is a fundamental limit to computational power: the particles within your computer(s) bound by the speed of light. You will never overcome that.</p> <blockquote><div style="width: 610px;display:block;margin:0 auto;"><a href="/files/startswithabang/files/2017/05/snip_20170528154903.jpg"><img class="size-medium wp-image-36193" src="/files/startswithabang/files/2017/05/snip_20170528154903-600x336.jpg" alt="" width="600" height="336" /></a> There is one more chip left, and it, too, must be destroyed. Image credit: TriStar Pictures / James Cameron. </div> <p>From <a href="">Denier</a> in response to eric, about AI and ethics: "Easy one. If an accident cannot be avoided then take the path that does the least damage to the car."</p></blockquote> <p>I will accept that as one option to consider. But do not pretend that is evident as "the answer," as the idea of a machine that values its own self-preservation is eerily reminiscent of a very particular line I remember vividly... <em>I cannot self-terminate</em>.</p> <blockquote><div style="width: 610px;display:block;margin:0 auto;"><a href="/files/startswithabang/files/2017/05/1-X8XBq20i-LepD5PlcSihjA.jpg"><img class="size-medium wp-image-36159" src="/files/startswithabang/files/2017/05/1-X8XBq20i-LepD5PlcSihjA-600x479.jpg" alt="The event horizon of a black hole is a spherical or spheroidal region from which nothing, not even light, can escape. But outside the event horizon, the black hole is predicted to emit radiation. Image credit: NASA; Jörn Wilms (Tübingen) et al.; ESA." width="600" height="479" /></a> The event horizon of a black hole is a spherical or spheroidal region from which nothing, not even light, can escape. But outside the event horizon, the black hole is predicted to emit radiation. Image credit: NASA; Jörn Wilms (Tübingen) et al.; ESA. </div> <p>From <a href="">Kasim Muflahi</a> on a black hole: "I thought that the event horizon is determined by the mass of the blackhole. To me, this means that the event horizon radius will get smaller and smaller as the mass decreases. The escape velocity will also decrease until it reaches sublight speeds; at which point a neutron star becomes visible."</p></blockquote> <p>You are partially right and then very wrong. The <em>radius</em> of the event horizon is determined by the mass of the black hole. The event horizon itself is defined by the location in space where the escape velocity equals the speed of light. So as the mass of the black hole decreases, the radius of the event horizon decreases, but the escape velocity at the event horizon is always the speed of light in vacuum: <em>c</em>.</p> <blockquote><div style="width: 610px;display:block;margin:0 auto;"><a href="/files/startswithabang/files/2017/01/Illustration_of_a_black_hole_and_its_surrounding_disk-1200x9601-1200x960-1.jpg"><img class="size-medium wp-image-35695" src="/files/startswithabang/files/2017/01/Illustration_of_a_black_hole_and_its_surrounding_disk-1200x9601-1200x960-1-600x479.jpg" alt="" width="600" height="479" /></a> While Einstein's theory makes explicit predictions for a black hole's event horizon and the spacetime just outside, quantum corrections could alter that significantly. Image credit: NASA. </div> <p>From <a href="">John</a> on Hawking radiation: "As the Hawking Radiation originates from outside of the [Black] Hole, it is not obvious to me how it could carry information from the other side of the Event Horizon."</p></blockquote> <p>Do you accept that radiation originating from outside the black hole will decrease the mass from inside the black hole? Energy and mass are two examples of information, in the sense that they are quantum properties that are conserved in a system. It is not obvious, by the way; you cannot even derive the spectrum of the radiation using standard quantum mechanics (this particle-pair analogy) in curved space. You must use the full quantum field theory calculations in order to get it. That is a calculation I did back in graduate school, and I hope you won't be disappointed when I tell you that showing and explaining the calculation itself goes well beyond the scope of this blog.</p> <blockquote><div style="width: 610px;display:block;margin:0 auto;"><a href="/files/startswithabang/files/2016/12/MergingBlackHoles_V2.jpg"><img class="size-medium wp-image-35484" src="/files/startswithabang/files/2016/12/MergingBlackHoles_V2-600x461.jpg" alt="" width="600" height="461" /></a> An artist's impression of two similar black holes that have slightly different masses. Image credit: NASA/Ames Research Center/C. Henze. </div> <p>From <a href="">Anonymous Coward</a> on the math of black hole evaporation: "It would take something like 1060 years for a solar mass black hole to shrink to that size though, and if proton decay happens, with a half-life of about 1036 years, there would be precious little ordinary matter left by that time."</p></blockquote> <p>Unfortunately, those are not good time estimates. I want you to consider a black hole of 1 solar mass and a black hole of 1.00001 solar masses. That's right: just one-thousandth of 1% difference in mass. It takes 10^67 years for a solar mass black hole to evaporate, but what does that mean? It means that after 10^66 years, it's still approximately a solar mass black hole; it's lost just a small percent of its mass. It means that after 9.99 × 10^66 years, the black hole will "finally" be down to a 0.1 solar mass black hole. If you wait until the 1 solar mass black hole evaporates -- 10^67 years -- the 1.00001 solar mass black hole will still have 10^52 years to go before it evaporates, and you will <em>not</em> have any visible-light photons coming out of it until the final few seconds.</p> <p>Also, the <em>lower</em> limit on proton decay half life is about 10^35 years. There are very good reasons to think it is infinite; don't bet on it just because it hasn't been ruled out.</p> <blockquote><div style="width: 610px;display:block;margin:0 auto;"><a href="/files/startswithabang/files/2016/12/heic1622b.jpg"><img class="size-medium wp-image-35524" src="/files/startswithabang/files/2016/12/heic1622b-600x425.jpg" alt="" width="600" height="425" /></a> This artist’s impression depicts a rapidly spinning supermassive black hole surrounded by an accretion disc. A tidally disrupted star may be responsible for the matter, and for the luminous emissions that result. Image credit: ESA/Hubble, ESO, M. Kornmesser. </div> <p>From <a href="">Robo</a> on an additional black hole question: "You said no threshold for the evaporation of a black hole but i thought that something like the Plank lenght were the threshold, if it’s true that space under this misure has no meaning…What am i not understanding about this issue?"</p></blockquote> <p>The Planck length has a particular definition, which is to say a particle of the Planck mass would have a physical size of the Planck length and it would take the Planck time for the speed of light to traverse a black hole of that size. Also, a black hole of the Planck mass has an evaporation time that's about 10^-39 seconds, which is close to the Planck time of ~10^-43 seconds. But they are not equivalent.</p> <p>Also, if gravitons are real or not doesn't really change the fact that the speed of gravity -- the speed at which the gravitational force propagates through the Universe -- is exactly equal to the speed of light in a vacuum: <em>c</em>. It is not instantaneous.</p> <blockquote><div style="width: 610px;display:block;margin:0 auto;"><a href="/files/startswithabang/files/2016/01/KIC_8462852_in_IR_and_UV.png"><img class="size-medium wp-image-34112" src="/files/startswithabang/files/2016/01/KIC_8462852_in_IR_and_UV-600x337.png" alt="" width="600" height="337" /></a> Image credit: Infrared: IPAC/NASA (2MASS), at left; Ultraviolet: STScI (GALEX), at right. </div> <p>From <a href="">Tom P.</a> as the first comment on the article about Tabby's star: "“Boyajian’s Star”, please."</p></blockquote> <p>Is it really so threatening that one of the three acceptable nicknames for the star known officially as KIC 8462852 -- the Where's The Flux? star, Tabby's star and Boyajian's star -- allows you to deduce that the discoverer of the interesting behavior is a woman who refers to herself as Tabby? This seems like it should be a non-issue, but your insistence makes me more determined than ever that "Tabby's Star" is the way this star should be referred to.</p> <blockquote><div style="width: 610px;display:block;margin:0 auto;"><a href="/files/startswithabang/files/2017/05/Its_Raining_Comets_Eta_Corvi-1200x675.jpg"><img class="size-medium wp-image-36169" src="/files/startswithabang/files/2017/05/Its_Raining_Comets_Eta_Corvi-1200x675-600x337.jpg" alt="An illustration of a storm of comets around a star near our own, called Eta Corvi. The comet scenario is one explanation for the dimming around Tabby's star, one that a high-quality astronomical spectrum should be able to validate or rule out. Image credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech." width="600" height="337" /></a> An illustration of a storm of comets around a star near our own, called Eta Corvi. The comet scenario is one explanation for the dimming around Tabby's star, one that a high-quality astronomical spectrum should be able to validate or rule out. Image credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech. </div> <p>From <a href="">Blackaddar</a> on the aliens that are coming: "While everyone is watching tabby dim, that’s when the aliens will strike!"</p></blockquote> <p>But will they be using breakthrough starshots to attack us?</p> <div style="width: 610px;display:block;margin:0 auto;"><a href="/files/startswithabang/files/2017/05/ShoeComputer-1.jpg"><img class="size-medium wp-image-36173" src="/files/startswithabang/files/2017/05/ShoeComputer-1-600x401.jpg" alt="" width="600" height="401" /></a> The infamous 'shoe computer' used to beat the casino by the Eudaemon group. Photo of The Eudaemonic Pie display at the Heinz Nixdorf Museum. Image credit: Hydro.tiger / Wikimedia Commons. </div> <blockquote><p>From <a href="">Sinisa Lazarek</a> on the shoe computer: "Eudaemons shoe computer used a legendary 6502 in 70’s.<br /> If you’re a geek and find this cool… here is a javascript emulator of 6502 ?<br /><a href="" rel="nofollow"></a>"</p></blockquote> <p>It's pretty remarkable to think that the core hardware architecture of one of the most successful gambling/cheating devices is the same as the computer hardware used to power Apple IIs, Ataris and even the original Tamagotchi pets. As <a href="">Michael Kelsey</a> points out:</p> <div style="width: 610px;display:block;margin:0 auto;"><a href="/files/startswithabang/files/2017/05/A1_3.jpg"><img class="size-medium wp-image-36194" src="/files/startswithabang/files/2017/05/A1_3-600x450.jpg" alt="" width="600" height="450" /></a> A monster version of the famous 6502 circuit board, capable of interfacing with oh so many classic devices! Image credit: Makezine. </div> <p>The original hardware version has been increased in size by a factor of 7000, and <a href="">is available from Makezine</a>. It looks pretty amazing to me!</p> <blockquote><div style="width: 610px;display:block;margin:0 auto;"><a href="/files/startswithabang/files/2017/05/rawImage.jpg"><img class="size-medium wp-image-36177" src="/files/startswithabang/files/2017/05/rawImage-600x473.jpg" alt="" width="600" height="473" /></a> A large section of the concrete roadway in the center span of the new Tacoma (Wash.) Narrows bridge hurtled into Puget Sound, Nov. 07, 1940. Image credit: Seattle Post Intelligencer, 1940. </div> <p>From <a href="">Li D</a> on resonance and flutter: "So are the sheetmetal spirals on smokestacks<br /> for resonance or flutter?<br /> Until reading this i had assumed resonance.<br /> Thanks if the author or anyone knows."</p></blockquote> <p>Although <a href="">PWInn</a> gave the answer, "the spirals are to break up any Karman vortices that can cause flutter," I'd like to speak to another thing that people have been saying: that flutter is just a form of resonance and therefore "resonance" is still the right answer. Flutter is a common word for the much more intricate phenomenon of self-excitation that occurs in the presence of the right external conditions.</p> <div style="width: 490px;display:block;margin:0 auto;"><a href="/files/startswithabang/files/2017/05/1448674592001674.gif"><img class="size-full wp-image-36195" src="/files/startswithabang/files/2017/05/1448674592001674.gif" alt="" width="480" height="320" /></a> Aerospace engineers use wind tunnels to test the effect of flutter on airplane wings. Image credit: NASA. </div> <p>The self-induced periodic impulses (rather than the externally induced phenomenon of resonance) are supplied by an external power (the wind) and the motion of the bridge is what taps the power from the wind. But the fact that the impulses are self-induced rather than externally induced makes this qualitatively and fundamentally different from resonance. The airplane model, above, is in <em>flutter</em>, not resonance, and its wings will eventually be torn off entirely due to this phenomenon. This is also why additional reinforcements -- like the kind the Brooklyn bridge was built with -- will prevent flutter. Fun stuff!</p> <blockquote><div style="width: 610px;display:block;margin:0 auto;"><a href="/files/startswithabang/files/2017/05/34005319544_926be62670_k.jpg"><img class="size-medium wp-image-36182" src="/files/startswithabang/files/2017/05/34005319544_926be62670_k-600x338.jpg" alt="Acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot discusses the proposed 2018 budget put forth by the White House during an address on the State of NASA. Image credit: Bill Ingalls/NASA." width="600" height="338" /></a> Acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot discusses the proposed 2018 budget put forth by the White House during an address on the State of NASA. Image credit: Bill Ingalls/NASA. </div> <p>From <a href="">Art Glick</a> on painting with a broad brush: "Science facts are the enemy of this administration and their ilk."</p></blockquote> <p>Although there are lots of pieces of supporting evidence that you can point to here, I prefer not to do so. Rather, you may do better treating each individual issue that comes up on the values of its own merits. Eliminating NASA's Education Office removes and worsens a large number of programs, and that is worth fighting against. But if you paint the administration as an enemy, pure and simple, how can you hope to engage with any of its supporters? How will you change anyone's mind? In short, how will you educate them if you alienate them?</p> <blockquote><p>From <a href="">In Hell's Kitchen (NYC)</a> on Forbes' availability: " has been down and out for some time now…"</p></blockquote> <p>I do not know what you're referring to, as I haven't gotten an error once from any browser or computer in many months. What are you experiencing? Also, if you absolutely cannot access it, do remember that all of my articles are available ad-free on a 1-week delay <a href="">on here</a>.</p> <blockquote><div style="width: 610px;display:block;margin:0 auto;"><a href="/files/startswithabang/files/2016/10/watch-1267418_960_720.jpg"><img class="size-medium wp-image-35254" src="/files/startswithabang/files/2016/10/watch-1267418_960_720-600x400.jpg" alt="" width="600" height="400" /></a> No matter how we change the entropy of the Universe around us, time continues to pass for all observers at the rate of one second per second. Public domain image. </div> <p>From <a href="">Denier</a> on public education: "Giving tax breaks to poor people?!? Ewww. Besides, that isn’t trickle down economics. Secondly, teachers and school administrators are already eligible for MASSIVE tax giveaways far larger than what they pay in taxes. It is called the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Program and teachers are using it to wipe out six-figure student loan debts."</p></blockquote> <p>Are they now? That would be an interesting feat, consider the program you're citing -- the PSLF program -- was <a href="">passed on September 10th, 2007</a>, and only begins to wipe out any student load debt after 120 consecutive monthly on-time payment on loans (many, but not all, of which amortize on 10 year timescales). This means you need to work in public service for at least 10 consecutive years and never be late for one payment. Assuming you do that, the first loans to be eligible for this forgiveness will not occur until later this year.</p> <p>How much debt do you think will remain for an educator after 10 years of on-time payments, versus how much they've paid in taxes over those 10 years? Again, hyperbole is fun, but where are your numbers to back up your assertions?</p> <blockquote><div style="width: 610px;display:block;margin:0 auto;"><a href="/files/startswithabang/files/2017/05/HE_plants_pipelines.gif"><img class="size-medium wp-image-36186" src="/files/startswithabang/files/2017/05/HE_plants_pipelines-600x464.gif" alt="There's an extensive network of helium plants and pipelines located above where the United States has a naturally rich store of helium, but if we don't conserve it, it will take hundreds of millions of years to replenish. Image credit: Bureau of Land Management." width="600" height="464" /></a> There's an extensive network of helium plants and pipelines located above where the United States has a naturally rich store of helium, but if we don't conserve it, it will take hundreds of millions of years to replenish. Image credit: Bureau of Land Management. </div> <p>From <a href="">Potato Planter</a> on helium conservation and a whole lot more: "We are in an unstable period of our human development. As evidence, please note that the violent conservative American who just won the congressional special election in Montana believes in creationism! We live in a world where it is possible to be a billionaire wizz in computer “science”, and a complete moron in actual science. The spottiness of modern education is appalling."</p></blockquote> <p>I think you lambast modern education unnecessarily. The issue isn't that education is appalling (although there are a whole lot of ways I'd like to see public education changed on a national level), but rather that people vote along ideological lines. A large fraction of Trump supporters that I knew in November didn't like Trump, agree with Trump or believe in Trump, but they believed that he would appoint a SCOTUS judge who was in line with their ideology, and that was enough to make them vote for someone they reviled. Someone like the body slammer or Ted Cruz or even Paul Ryan doesn't believe what they say (I don't think), but rather says what they say in order to reap the benefits of the response it elicits. That's what modern politics is. I don't know that it's ever been any better.</p> <blockquote><div style="width: 610px;display:block;margin:0 auto;"><a href="/files/startswithabang/files/2017/05/balloons-1012541_960_720.jpg"><img class="size-medium wp-image-36185" src="/files/startswithabang/files/2017/05/balloons-1012541_960_720-600x401.jpg" alt="" width="600" height="401" /></a> Helium balloons, where the vast majority of the helium inside will escape the Earth. Image credit: HilkeFromm / Pixabay. </div> <p>And finally, from <a href="">Carl</a> on using nuclear fusion to save our helium crisis: "How much Helium would we potentially create if all Earth’s electrical energy were generated using fusion?"</p></blockquote> <p>Carl, you gave a valiant attempt, but your numbers are a bit off. Let's go with the International Energy Agency's numbers: the Earth supplies approximately 158 PetaWatt-hours of energy per year (as of 2013), and that we are going to supply 100% of that energy with nuclear fusion of hydrogen into helium, producing 100% helium-4 as a result.</p> <div style="width: 492px;display:block;margin:0 auto;"><a href="/files/startswithabang/files/2017/05/Bp_world_energy_consumption_2016.gif"><img class="size-full wp-image-36196" src="/files/startswithabang/files/2017/05/Bp_world_energy_consumption_2016.gif" alt="" width="482" height="290" /></a> World energy consumption estimates, based on figures provided by BP. Image credit: Martinburo of Wikimedia Commons. </div> <p>That amount of energy is approximately 5.67 × 10^20 Joules, which is the equivalent of turning 6,300 kg (or 6.3 tons) of mass into pure energy. But nuclear fusion of hydrogen into helium is only 0.7% efficient, so it would require the production of 900,000 kg (900 tons) of helium to liberate that much energy.</p> <p>If the USA uses 15,000,000 kg of helium per year... even nuclear fusion for the whole world won't supply even 10% of just one country's needs. Fusion isn't the answer.</p> <p>Thanks for playing, folks, and see you back here next time for more science on Starts With A Bang!</p> </div> <span><a title="View user profile." href="/startswithabang" lang="" about="/startswithabang" typeof="schema:Person" property="schema:name" datatype="">esiegel</a></span> <span>Sun, 05/28/2017 - 11:51</span> <div class="field field--name-field-blog-categories field--type-entity-reference field--label-inline"> <div class="field--label">Categories</div> <div class="field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/channel/free-thought" hreflang="en">Free Thought</a></div> </div> </div> Sun, 28 May 2017 15:51:38 +0000 esiegel 36987 at Comments of the Week #161: From the Big Crunch to cracking the Standard Model <span>Comments of the Week #161: From the Big Crunch to cracking the Standard Model</span> <div class="field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-hidden field--item"><blockquote><p>“In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing. The worst thing you can do is nothing.” -Theodore Roosevelt</p></blockquote> <p>It's been an incredible week here at <a href="">Starts With A Bang!</a> We've covered everything from the night sky's newest supernova to the possible fates of the Universe to what might be our window into the next unexplored mysteries of physics. Moreover, I'll be giving a public talk in Seattle this Wednesday, May 24th, for Astronomy On Tap, <a href="">at Peddler Brewing Company</a>! Join me if you can, and I promise you'll be left with plenty to wonder about! With that out of the way, here's what we've covered this past week:</p> <ul><li><a href="" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Can the Universe still end in a Big Crunch?</a> (for Ask Ethan),</li> <li><a href="" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">After 50 years of missions, we're finally ready to know: is there life on Mars?</a> (for Mostly Mute Monday),</li> <li><a href="" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">The odds of your unlikely existence were not infinitely small</a>,</li> <li><a href="" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Closest supernova in years brings cosmic fireworks to Earth's skies</a>,</li> <li><a href="" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">NASA's idea for a space station in lunar orbit takes humanity nowhere</a>, and</li> <li><a href="" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Nuclear physics might hold the key to cracking open the Standard Model</a>.</li> </ul><p>After a lengthy series of exchanges, I've decided to not continue the discussion on climate science, since I think everyone has made their perspectives quite clear and I don't think there's anything more to be gained. But as new topics come up, so do new discussions, and that's part of what makes this series such a wonderful source of extra science on top of everything else we've discussed this week. So let's get right into our <a href="">comments of the week</a>!</p> <div style="width: 610px;display:block;margin:0 auto;"><a href="/files/startswithabang/files/2016/10/IBMresearch.jpg"><img class="size-medium wp-image-35295" src="/files/startswithabang/files/2016/10/IBMresearch-600x400.jpg" alt="IBM's Four Qubit Square Circuit, a pioneering advance in computations, could lead to computers powerful enough to simulate a Universe. Image credit: IBM research." width="600" height="400" /></a> IBM's Four Qubit Square Circuit, a pioneering advance in computations, could lead to computers powerful enough to simulate a Universe. Image credit: IBM research. </div> <blockquote><p>From <a href="">Denier</a> on the approaching singularity: "Machines are going to become smarter than humans. It has nothing to do with society being a predictable linear system but instead draws from the reliability of Moore’s Law. It is going to happen. Your cell phone will be a smarter being than are you or me or any human who ever lived, and sooner than you think."</p></blockquote> <p>So you may not know this (or care), but I spent years working for an artificial intelligence software company. I've seen firsthand what artificial intelligence is good at and capable of, but also what its limitations are and how reliant it is on human input in order to avoid getting total nonsense out of it. You may have seen, recently, that three well-known actors took the first AI-written script for a science fiction film <a href="">and acted it out</a>. I think it does a good job of exposing what AI can and cannot do today.</p> <p></p><center> <iframe src="" width="560" height="315" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen"></iframe><p></p></center>You might think that computing power would continue to increase <em>ad infinitum</em>, but there's going to be a limit once we start encoding 0s and 1s with single particles, e.g., electrons. Currently, our solid-state drives do an incredibly efficient job with "gates" to decide whether something is a 0 or a 1, but it's still a long way away from single-particle states. <div style="width: 610px;display:block;margin:0 auto;"><a href="/files/startswithabang/files/2017/05/4-1-Flash_Drive.jpg"><img class="size-medium wp-image-36165" src="/files/startswithabang/files/2017/05/4-1-Flash_Drive-600x416.jpg" alt="" width="600" height="416" /></a> The gated channels and charged particles that determine the encoding of a 0 or 1 in current solid-state drives. Image credit: E. Siegel; to appear in Treknology. </div> <p>What about when we get there? How will Moore's law continue? We don't have a physical concept of how that's possible; we are limited by particles and the speed of light. Quantum entanglement can't beat it. But if somehow we do construct a machine that's more intelligent or capable than human beings in every regard, what will we do with it? Will we just let it make all the decisions for us? Sabine Hossenfelder weighed in on this, saying:</p> <blockquote><p>I think it's highly unlikely we'll ever let an AI decide what is "good" for us, but we'll almost certainly ask it how to best achieve what we think is "good"</p></blockquote> <p>Given how poor we are at agreeing with each other, even when presented with the same suites of evidence, I don't see the same future that you and Ray Kurzweil envision. But you never know.</p> <blockquote><div style="width: 610px;display:block;margin:0 auto;"><a href="/files/startswithabang/files/2017/05/1-uZtidGmysDAPEVvvWTihsw.jpg"><img class="size-medium wp-image-36130" src="/files/startswithabang/files/2017/05/1-uZtidGmysDAPEVvvWTihsw-600x439.jpg" alt="" width="600" height="439" /></a> Possible fates of the expanding Universe. Notice the differences of different models in the past. Image credit: The Cosmic Perspective / Jeffrey O. Bennett, Megan O. Donahue, Nicholas Schneider and Mark Voit.. </div> <p>From <a href="">John</a> on the difference between the rate of expansion and the acceleration of an individual object: "“There are two things we can measure when it comes to the Universe’s expansion: the expansion rate and the speed at which an individual galaxy appears to recede from our perspective. These are related, but they are not the same.”<br /> Good stuff! Thank you for the clearly expressed review of the differences."</p></blockquote> <p>Thanks John. If the Universe were empty, which would be the same as if it were curvature-dominated or filled of cosmic strings, the apparent recession speed of a distant galaxy would remain constant over time. As it gets more distant, for its speed to remain the same, the expansion rate (a speed-per-unit-distant) must drop. It would eventually drop to zero asymptotically, but never get there. (For the physics/dark energy buffs, its equation of state, <em>w</em>, would equal -1/3. For matter, <em>w</em> = 0, for radiation, <em>w</em> = +1/3, and for cosmological constant, <em>w </em>= -1.)</p> <blockquote><div style="width: 610px;display:block;margin:0 auto;"><a href="/files/startswithabang/files/2017/05/cosmic_time_label_300-1200x927.jpg"><img class="size-medium wp-image-36140" src="/files/startswithabang/files/2017/05/cosmic_time_label_300-1200x927-600x464.jpg" alt="" width="600" height="464" /></a> A standard cosmic timeline of our Universe's history. A series of extremely unlikely events all needed to occur in order so that you would exist. Image credit: NASA / CXC / M. Weiss. </div> <p>And from <a href="">Jonathan</a>, wanting to know a little more detail about how it all works: "Hang on! You say at one point that the expansion rate goes down, but near the end you say that current evidence overwhelmingly supports that expansion continues at the same rate forever."</p></blockquote> <p>Let's examine the possibilities for how the Universe would behave if it contained something <em>other</em> than pure emptiness. If you're tipped towards matter/radiation, your expansion rate drops to 0 more quickly and your distant galaxy speed drops; if you're tipped more towards a cosmological constant, your expansion rate drops more slowly and your distant galaxy speed rises. If you're equal to a cosmological constant, your expansion rate asymptotes to a finite value and your distant galaxy speed accelerates; if you're <em>more negative</em> than a cosmological constant, your expansion rate reaches a minimum value and then rises, and your distant galaxy speed accelerates at an accelerated rate.</p> <p>What we observe is consistent with the Universe being dominated by a cosmological constant, but it still contains appreciable fractions of matter. So the matter gets less important (and the expansion rate due to that part drops), but the dark energy portion remains constant, and that's why our expansion rate is asymptoting to a finite value: around 45-50 km/s/Mpc.</p> <div style="width: 610px;display:block;margin:0 auto;"><a href="/files/startswithabang/files/2015/05/5_Local_Galactic_Group_ELitU.png"><img class="size-medium wp-image-32915" src="/files/startswithabang/files/2015/05/5_Local_Galactic_Group_ELitU-600x600.png" alt="" width="600" height="600" /></a> Our local galactic group, which will someday merge into a single, massive elliptical galaxy. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons user Andrew Z. Colvin. </div> <blockquote><p>From <a href="">Frank</a> on the future fate of our galaxy: "I think if expansion of universe stops someday all matter would join into a single black hole (surrounded by a cloud of dark matter) in the end, because of gravity."</p></blockquote> <p>We observe this scenario in miniature: all gravitationally bound objects have done exactly this on their own small scale: overcome the expansion of the Universe. But what does that mean for these bound objects? Do they collapse down to black holes? No, and they never will entirely. Sure, there <em>are</em> black holes, and some migrate to the center of the galaxy where they become supermassive black holes. But they're only a small fraction of the mass of the galaxy, and will never become even the majority, much less "all" of the matter. Gravity is just one force, but other phenomena such as angular momentum and gravitational interactions between various masses will cause the overwhelming majority of masses to be someday ejected from the galaxy through the process of violent relaxation. It may take ~10^20 years for most masses to get ejected, but they will, including (probably) whatever's left of our Sun.</p> <div style="width: 610px;display:block;margin:0 auto;"><a href="/files/startswithabang/files/2009/11/marsberrybowl.jpg"><img class="size-full wp-image-23815" src="/files/startswithabang/files/2009/11/marsberrybowl.jpg" alt="" width="600" height="400" /></a> Martian 'blueberries' as imaged by the opportunity rover. Image credit: NASA / Mars Exploration Rover / JPL-Caltech. </div> <blockquote><p>From <a href="">eric</a> on the possibility of Martian life: "Mars’ loss of atmosphere, loss of magnetic field, oceans, change to temperature, etc…. occurred billions of years ago. IMO if some microorganism survived those disasters I think evolution over the intervening billions of years would’ve allowed adaptation to the conditions above, on, or near the surface, and we’d have easily found evidence of it ."</p></blockquote> <p>Some argue that we have found evidence for it. The hematite spheres, the methane vents in the surface, the 1-out-of-3 successful tests of the Viking lander... and some point to the microscopic (very Earth-life-like) fossils in meteorites that originated from Mars but have made their way to Earth. There is <em>evidence</em> that one can construe as pointing to either current or past life on Mars.</p> <div style="width: 610px;display:block;margin:0 auto;"><a href="/files/startswithabang/files/2017/05/s96_12609-1200x821.jpg"><img class="size-medium wp-image-36137" src="/files/startswithabang/files/2017/05/s96_12609-1200x821-600x411.jpg" alt="" width="600" height="411" /></a> Relic microbes revealed by a scanning electron microscope in the ALH84001 meteorite, which originated on Mars. It is unknown whether the microbes are of Martian origin or not. Image credit: NASA, 1996. </div> <p>But it's not overwhelming evidence, and it hasn't convinced everybody. In fact, many would argue that this is consistent with no life at any point on Mars, with the only so-called evidence coming from Earth-based contamination. In principle, we could find out immediately by sending a crewed mission to Mars with state-of-the-art equipment. But finding the evidence requires building the instruments that would perform the critical experiments, and there has been an active push against doing exactly that for a variety of (IMO) misguided reasons. I want to know, and I bet most of you do, too, no matter what the answer actually is.</p> <blockquote><div style="width: 610px;display:block;margin:0 auto;"><a href="/files/startswithabang/files/2014/01/curiosity-rover-mars-landing-touchdown.jpeg"><img class="size-medium wp-image-30299" src="/files/startswithabang/files/2014/01/curiosity-rover-mars-landing-touchdown-600x336.jpeg" alt="" width="600" height="336" /></a> The novel system that propelled curiosity to a successful landing on Mars. Image credit: NASA. </div> <p>From <a href="">Denier</a> on betting on failure: "I would caution against counting on the ExoMars Rover. So far no one but NASA has landed a functional piece of hardware on Mars. Others have tried and all have failed. Specifically the ESA has tried and never been successful. The most recent was the Schiaparelli lander late last year which was supposed to test the landing method to be used for the ExoMars Rover. It didn’t work."</p></blockquote> <p>The success rate for landing on Mars in general is still appallingly low, and the ESA, JAXA and the RSA have never yet had one successful lander between them all. But sometimes, you put a new system in place and it works brilliantly, as it did with Curiosity. I would accept your recommendation to not "count on" the ExoMars Rover, just as I'd remind everyone that space exploration of all types will always carry a risk of failure. I think this applies to crewed spaceflight as well, and while it might be a good soundbite to say, "failure is not an option," it's always a risk. One well worth taking, IMO.</p> <blockquote><div style="width: 607px;display:block;margin:0 auto;"><a href="/files/startswithabang/files/2008/04/2007-0608merger.jpg"><img class="size-full wp-image-25441" src="/files/startswithabang/files/2008/04/2007-0608merger.jpg" alt="" width="597" height="595" /></a> When spiral galaxies merge, their black holes form a pair inside the nuclear disk at the center of the greater galaxy that results. Simulation from University of Washington. </div> <p>Also from <a href="">Denier</a> on star creation (related to supernovae): "In the somewhat related topic of firing up some star creation here in the Milky War, one of the simulations Nvidia did when testing their new processor was to model the collision of Andromeda with the Milky Way."</p></blockquote> <p>What's important to remember about these simulations is that they are all limited in what they can track. You want gas, dust, heating, star formation and feedback? You have to model it as an average. You want the individual stars? You can only model about 0.1% of them as particles. You want the dark matter halo? You have to model those as well. And so if you're asking, "will the Sun be flung out of the galaxy," you can only give a statistical probability based on those simulations. (The answer, by the way, is <em>not usually.</em>) While it's fun and pretty, the conclusion they arrive at is not very robust; I wouldn't count on the Sun being ejected in any meaningful way.</p> <div style="width: 610px;display:block;margin:0 auto;"><a href="/files/startswithabang/files/2015/05/1-jef5SX3MRHZAMkKWI-XqQQ.jpeg"><img class="size-medium wp-image-32934" src="/files/startswithabang/files/2015/05/1-jef5SX3MRHZAMkKWI-XqQQ-600x750.jpeg" alt="" width="600" height="750" /></a> An illustrated view of Earth's night sky during the Milky Way/Andromeda merger. Image credit: NASA, ESA, Z. Levay and R. van der Marel (STScI), T. Hallas and A. Mellinger. </div> <p>What I would count on, though, is that this future merger would lead to an incredible burst of star formation, and that the new burst of star formation would lead to a large population of high mass stars, which would significantly increase the rate of Type II supernovae in our galaxy. And that is a sight to behold! Even if we do get ejected, we'll have a tremendous vantage point of our home galaxy, and that will be a fireworks show worth watching.</p> <blockquote><div style="width: 610px;display:block;margin:0 auto;"><a href="/files/startswithabang/files/2017/05/nasa-lunar-orbit-space-station-terrible-idea.jpg"><img class="size-medium wp-image-36151" src="/files/startswithabang/files/2017/05/nasa-lunar-orbit-space-station-terrible-idea-600x350.jpg" alt="" width="600" height="350" /></a> The Orion capsule would be one of many components on a proposed space station that orbited the Moon, but the scientific and technological payoff would be extraordinarily low. Image credit: NASA / flickr. </div> <p>From <a href="">Andrew Dodds</a> on one possible lunar strategy: "The aim should surely be for a functioning moon colony that has some productive capacity – namely the ability to make iron, aluminium, and titanium from lunar basalt, and hopefully extract volatiles from shadowed craters to make fuel."</p></blockquote> <p>I got a lot of pushback after my article here. Many claimed that a lunar orbiting station wouldn't be a mere "middleman" as I asserted, but would be an important base where lunar colonies could stop off before returning to Earth, making the whole operation more efficient, just as a port or rail hub is essential for resource transport on Earth. And while there's some validity to that, it only makes sense if you have at least one established colony first! If you want to do something that takes humanity forward, you need a tangible result, not checking off an item on an imaginary wish list. Show me the value -- and putting humans into harms way from radiation isn't it -- of a crewed lunar orbiter and then we'll talk.</p> <blockquote><div style="width: 610px;display:block;margin:0 auto;"><a href="/files/startswithabang/files/2013/05/Mars_07_1.jpeg"><img class="size-medium wp-image-28088" src="/files/startswithabang/files/2013/05/Mars_07_1-600x399.jpeg" alt="" width="600" height="399" /></a> An artistic impression of humans on the surface of Mars. Image was taken on Earth, obviously. Image credit: OeWF (Katja Zanella-Kux). </div> <p>From <a href="">eric</a> and <a href="">denier</a> on some interesting and differing viewpoints on colonization: "I think human space exploration is currently better performed under public/government systems (whose purpose is to spend money for long term, large-scale benefit) rather than private/corporate systems (whole purpose is to pay off investors on a quarterly basis). We are not yet to the point (or barely at the point) where corporate interests can realize a profit for anything beyond LEO satellite delivery." -eric<br /> "What is the point of human exploration in space? At this point what can humans learn that robotic probes can’t also learn and for far less money? Humans might be better than probes at learning how to get cancer outside the Van Allen belt, but that is about it." -denier</p></blockquote> <p>There are a number of problem-solving tasks that a human brain is far better suited for than a robot. Humans can assess situations and make inferences from a limited set of information in a way that no computer program can. Robotic missions are very, very good at performing a small set of tasks that they were designed to perform, and very bad at performing pretty much anything else. Not everyone places value on human exploration, and I think there are different and valid perspectives behind both sides of the argument. But many do value it, and if it has the potential to improve the quality of what it means to be a human for a great many individuals -- and it does -- perhaps that's worth exploring, too. (Again, not everyone will agree, but many will.) There's more at stake than just profit and/or individual points of knowledge.</p> <blockquote><div style="width: 610px;display:block;margin:0 auto;"><a href="/files/startswithabang/files/2013/04/20040824_Humans_on_Mars_END-br2.jpg"><img class="size-medium wp-image-27747" src="/files/startswithabang/files/2013/04/20040824_Humans_on_Mars_END-br2-600x337.jpg" alt="" width="600" height="337" /></a> Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech. </div> <p>From <a href="">Sean T</a> on human colonization: "...should we not find out everything it is possible to find out about a potential colonization destination before sending the humans out to make a colony? Space travel is risky, and likely always will be. Should we not reduce that risk as much as possible?"</p></blockquote> <p>No. No we shouldn't. I think we should decide on what type of risk-tolerance we're willing to take and once we get past a certain point, we should be honest about the risks as we've assessed them and then we should try and go anyway. "Failure is not an option" is hugely hampering to the enterprise of human exploration of anything, and has never been a part of our exploration efforts before. Most of Columbus' crew died. Magellan died. The first explorers to reach the south pole died. Many mountain climbers die. And yes, sadly, some astronauts have died, too. More will die, but that's not nearly as sad as those who live because they never got the chance to make the attempt. We can reduce the risk as much as is reasonable, and we will likely have arguments about that threshold, but <em>not</em> as much as possible. That's too much. If we value exploration, we need to go. We need to try.</p> <blockquote><div style="width: 610px;display:block;margin:0 auto;"><a href="/files/startswithabang/files/2017/05/latticeqcd.jpg"><img class="size-medium wp-image-36154" src="/files/startswithabang/files/2017/05/latticeqcd-600x396.jpg" alt="" width="600" height="396" /></a> Colour flux tubes produced by a configuration of four static quark-and-antiquark charges, representing calculations done in lattice QCD. Tetraquarks were predicted long before they were ever first observed. Image credit: Pedro.bicudo of Wikimedia Commons. </div> <p>And finally, from <a href="">Elle H.C.</a> on what other particle states are out there: "<i>“… there’s almost definitely an entire spectrum of these new sets of particles in existence: tetraquarks, pentaquarks, and possibly more!”<br /></i>Uh, there can be only one more, a hexaquark, when you’re colliding 2 protons with each 3 quarks."</p></blockquote> <p>So there can be <em>many</em> more, and what you're calling a "hexaquark" is not a hexaquark at all, but is rather known as a dibaryon. Six quarks (or six antiquarks) is what you have when you get, say, a deuteron. Instead, think about the fact that you only need a colorless combination. Here's how you can do it with a total number of quark/antiquark particles that equals:</p> <ul><li><strong>4:</strong> two quarks and two antiquarks. (Tetraquark.)</li> <li><strong>5</strong>: four quarks and one antiquark, or four antiquarks and one quark. (Pentaquark.)</li> <li><strong>6: </strong>six quarks or six antiquarks (dibaryon), or three quarks and three antiquarks. (The latter is a hexaquark.)</li> <li><strong>7:</strong> five quarks and two antiquarks, or five antiquarks and two quarks. (Heptaquark.)</li> <li><strong>8:</strong> four quarks and four antiquarks, or seven quarks and one antiquark/seven antiquarks and one quark. (Both are octoquarks.)</li> </ul><p>And so on. As long as you have a colorless combination, you can have these states. Whether they live long enough to be detected is still up-for-grabs, but theoretically, they are possible. As we have high-energy, exotic-quark producing factories with large numbers of quarks available, we may yet detect these states and/or infer them from their decay products. Nuclear physics isn't a "done" science just yet.</p> <p>Thanks for a great week, and looking forward to making the next one spectacular too!</p> </div> <span><a title="View user profile." href="/startswithabang" lang="" about="/startswithabang" typeof="schema:Person" property="schema:name" datatype="">esiegel</a></span> <span>Sun, 05/21/2017 - 06:27</span> <div class="field field--name-field-blog-categories field--type-entity-reference field--label-inline"> <div class="field--label">Categories</div> <div class="field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/channel/free-thought" hreflang="en">Free Thought</a></div> </div> </div> Sun, 21 May 2017 10:27:18 +0000 esiegel 36980 at Physics Blogging Round-Up: April <span>Physics Blogging Round-Up: April</span> <div class="field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-hidden field--item"><p>It's the first week of May, which means we're due to see flowers watered by all this damn rain soon, and also a recap of the various posts I wrote for Forbes during April:</p> <p>-- <a href="">Why Are There Too Many Papers In Theoretical Physics?</a>: A look at the origins of "ambulance chasing" in high-energy theory, where dozens of people jump on the slightest hint of a new effect.</p> <p>-- <a href="">A Little Luck Is Essential For Success In Science</a>: Some historical examples of physicists who succeeded thanks to a lucky break of one sort or another.</p> <p>-- <a href="">What Sorts Of Problems Are Quantum Computers Good For?</a> Prompted by news of a "quantum traveling salesman" algorithm, a look at the general shape of problems where quantum computing offers a big speed-up over the best classical approaches.</p> <p>-- <a href="">Why Do We Teach 'Physics For Poets' But Not 'Poetry For Physicists'?</a>: Some thoughts about why it is that we have students take courses in other disciplines, and how reform efforts that work too hard to appeal to non-majors might undermine the whole point of liberal education.</p> <p>-- <a href="">What Does It Mean For 'Science' To Rise And Fall?</a>: Some thoughts about cycles in the history of science as applied to particular definitions of "Science."</p> <p>A decent mix of stuff this month; some long-running obsessions popping up again, some more topical stuff. Two of these are actually very long and well-disguised subtweets, in that they spun out of thinking about kerfuffles in social media that it wouldn't be productive to write about directly.</p> <p>You may have noticed a pattern to these recaps, in that there are always five posts; that's because my contract with Forbes pays me more if I do at least five posts in a month, so I try to hit that. It also works reasonably well in terms of workflow, because that's just over one post per week, and that's a decent rate for me in terms of producing fairly consistent quality without cutting too much into my other activities. I may do a navel-gazing post later about how my blogging practices have evolved over time, though...</p> <p>Anyway, another month, another chunk of blogging. There was a bit of a dry spell in there in terms of material I could usefully write about, and now in keeping with tradition I find myself with an oversupply of blog-worthy material and an undersupply of time in which to write about it. Such is the glamorous life, etc.</p> </div> <span><a title="View user profile." href="/author/drorzel" lang="" about="/author/drorzel" typeof="schema:Person" property="schema:name" datatype="">drorzel</a></span> <span>Tue, 05/02/2017 - 02:37</span> <div class="field field--name-field-blog-categories field--type-entity-reference field--label-inline"> <div class="field--label">Categories</div> <div class="field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/channel/free-thought" hreflang="en">Free Thought</a></div> </div> </div> Tue, 02 May 2017 06:37:26 +0000 drorzel 49115 at The Galileo Gambit: Just because your quackery is rejected by the establishment does not make you Galileo or Semmelweis <span>The Galileo Gambit: Just because your quackery is rejected by the establishment does not make you Galileo or Semmelweis</span> <div class="field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-hidden field--item"><p>[<strong>Orac note:</strong> A combination of power outages, travel to Seattle, and trying to write something for my not-so-super-secret other blog conspired to leave me with nothing for this morning. So I thought I'd resurrect this old gem, which hasn't been reposted in at least four years. I actually did try to remove the dead links (this post dates back nearly 12 years in some form or another), but I probably missed a couple. I also changed the post a little, just to remove clearly outdated stuff. In the mean time, be assured that, with no more travel planned and our power restored, things should get back to normal here at the old blog, with no further (foreseen) outages. Oh, wait. I still have to troubleshoot my iMac, which was running at the time of the last outage and now won't boot properly. Damn, I hope I don't have to reformat the hard drive and start from scratch.]</p> <p>Certain recent commenters reminded me of a topic I first wrote about here on <a href="">Respectful Insolence</a>, way, way back in the deep, dark days of Blogspot and ugly web design. It's a favorite tactic used by alternative medicine aficionados (not to mention pseudoscientists, pseudohistorians, and other cranks). Purveyors of pseudoscience frequently invoke <a href="">Galileo</a> and other scientists like <a href="">Ignaz Semmelweiss</a>, who were at first rejected by the scientific orthodoxy of the time and had to fight to get their ideas accepted. The implication, of course, is that <em>their</em> ideas, whatever they may be (alternative medicine, intelligent design, Holocaust denial, psychic abilities, etc.), are on the same plane as those of Galileo or Semmelweiss. Frequently, they will add a list of famous scientists or experts who made predictions about the impossibility of something or other and were later found wrong, so much so that the statements sound ridiculous today. For example, here's a <a href="!msg/">famous list</a> that had been been making the rounds on Usenet for years even 12 years ago. Some of these quotes may in fact be urban legends (and, in fact, I'd be grateful to anyone who points out urban legends in here to me), but let's for the moment assume they are all legitimate quotes:</p> <!--more--><blockquote><span style="font-style: italic;"> many centuries after the Creation it is unlikely that anyone could find hitherto unknown lands of any value.</span> - Committee advising Ferdinand and Isabella regarding Columbus' proposal, 1486 <p><span style="font-style: italic;">I would sooner believe that two Yankee professors lied, than that stones fell from the sky.</span> - Thomas Jefferson, 1807 on hearing an eyewitness report of falling meteorites.</p> <p><span style="font-style: italic;">Drill for oil? You mean drill into the ground to try and find oil? You're crazy.</span> - Drillers who Edwin L. Drake tried to enlist to his project to drill for oil in 1859.</p> <p><span style="font-style: italic;">Louis Pasteur's theory of germs is ridiculous fiction.</span> - Pierre Pachet, Professor of Physiology at Toulouse, 1872</p> <p>[<span style="font-weight: bold;">Orac's note:</span> This one is particularly amusing to me, given that so many alternative medicine proponents <a href="">reject Pasteur's theory</a> in favor of Beauchamps. Here, they seem to want to have it both ways. They reject Pasteur when arguing against antibiotics, claiming that bacteria are not the cause of disease, or attacking vaccines as useless and harmful. However, they have no problem invoking this quote. Of course, they don't seem to realize that their use of this quote implicitly acknowledges that Pasteur's theories, although initially quite controversial, were ultimately proven correct.]</p> <p><span style="font-style: italic;">The abdomen, the chest, and the brain will forever be shut from the intrusion of the wise and humane surgeon.</span> - Sir John Eric Ericksen, British surgeon, appointed Surgeon-Extraordinary to Queen Victoria 1873.</p> <p>[<span style="font-weight: bold;">Orac's note:</span> As a surgeon, I have to point out that, at the time, this was not an entirely unreasonable statement. Operating in the abdomen was risky in the extreme, with a high rate of death from peritonitis that could approach 50% in some operations (that is, until the invention of antibiotics). In fact, I sometimes wonder how the great surgeons of 140 years ago managed to operate on <span style="font-style: italic;">anyone's</span> abdomen and have the patient actually survive the procedure. Operating in the chest was also out of the question, given the problem of reinflating the lung afterward, and certainly the brain was completely off-limits. In any case, there was no way Sir Ericksen (or anyone else) could be faulted for failing to forsee the advancements in anaesthesia, antibiotics, surgical technique, and patient care that would ultimately allow such surgery to succeed and even become routine (although one does have to point out that surgeons were already operating in the abdomen reasonably successfully at the time).]</p> <p><span style="font-style: italic;">Such startling announcements as these should be deprecated as being unworthy of science and mischievious to to its true progress.</span> - Sir William Siemens, 1880, on Edison's announcement of a sucessful light bulb.</p> <p><span style="font-style: italic;">We are probably nearing the limit of all we can know about astronomy.</span> - Simon Newcomb, astronomer, 1888</p> <p><span style="font-style: italic;">Fooling around with alternating current is just a waste of time. Nobody will use it, ever.</span> - Thomas Edison, 1889</p> <p>[<span style="font-weight: bold;">Orac's note:</span> It's well-known that <a href="">Thomas Edison</a> wanted to promote the use of direct current rather than alternating current. It was a battle of rival technologies (sometimes called the <a href="">War of Currents</a>), not unlike the war between Betamax and VHS, but on a much larger scale. Edison ultimately lost.]</p> <p><span style="font-style: italic;">The more important fundamental laws and facts of physical science have all been discovered, and these are now so firmly established that the possibility of their ever being supplanted in consequence of new discoveries is exceedingly remote.... Our future discoveries must be looked for in the sixth place of decimals.</span> - physicist Albert. A. Michelson, 1894</p> <p><span style="font-style: italic;">Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible.</span> - Lord Kelvin, president, Royal Society, 1895.</p> <p><span style="font-style: italic;">It is apparent to me that the possibilities of the aeroplane, which two or three years ago were thought to hold the solution to the [flying machine] problem, have been exhausted, and that we must turn elsewhere.</span> - Thomas Edison, 1895</p> <p><span style="font-style: italic;">The demonstration that no possible combination of known substances, known forms of machinery, and known forms of force can be united in a practicable machine by which men shall fly for long distances through the air, seems to the writer as complete as it is possible for the demonstration of any physical fact to be.</span> - astronomer S. Newcomb, 1906</p> <p><span style="font-style: italic;">Airplanes are interesting toys but of no military value.</span> - Marechal Ferdinand Foch, Professor of Strategy, Ecole Superieure de Guerre.</p> <p><span style="font-style: italic;">Caterpillar landships are idiotic and useless. Those officers and men are wasting their time and are not pulling their proper weight in the war.</span> - Fourth Lord of the British Admiralty, 1915, in regards to use of tanks in war.</p> <p><span style="font-style: italic;">Professor Goddard does not know the relation between action and reaction and the need to have something better than a vacuum against which to react. He seems to lack the basic knowledge ladled out daily in high schools.</span> - 1921 New York Times editorial about Robert Goddard's revolutionary rocket work.</p> <p>[<span style="font-weight: bold;">Orac's note:</span> Why the <span style="font-style: italic;">New York Times</span> would be considered an "expert" in rocketry such that it would be of interest to use it as an example of an "expert" making a statement that is later proven wrong, I have no idea. This quote is at best irrelevant.]</p> <p><span style="font-style: italic;">The wireless music box has no imaginable commercial value. Who would pay for a message sent to nobody in particular?</span> - David Sarnoff's associates in response to his urgings for investment in the radio in the 1920s.</p> <p><span style="font-style: italic;">"All a trick." "A Mere Mountebank." "Absolute swindler." "Doesn't know what he's about." "What's the good of it?" "What useful purpose will it serve?"</span> - Members of Britain's Royal Society, 1926, after a demonstration of television.</p> <p><span style="font-style: italic;">This foolish idea of shooting at the moon is an example of the absurd lengths to which vicious specialisation will carry scientists.</span> -A.W. Bickerton, physicist, NZ, 1926</p> <p><span style="font-style: italic;">Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?</span> - H.M. Warner, Warner Brothers, 1927.</p> <p><span style="font-style: italic;">Stocks have reached what looks like a permanently high plateau.</span> - Irving Fisher, Professor of Economics, Yale University, 1929.</p> <p>[<span style="font-weight: bold;">Orac's note:</span> Of course, we had the same sort of idiotic statements coming from "experts" during the Internet bubble of the 1990's; for example, this <a href=";s=books">book</a> predicting that the Dow would reach 36,000. How many times did we hear that the Internet "changed everything" and that the stock market had no where to go but continually up?]</p> <p><span style="font-style: italic;">There is not the slightest indication that nuclear energy will ever be obtainable. It would mean that the atom would have to be shattered at will.</span> -- Albert Einstein, 1932</p> <p><span style="font-style: italic;">The energy produced by the atom is a very poor kind of thing. Anyone who expects a source of power from the transformation of these atoms is talking moonshine.</span> - Ernst Rutherford, 1933</p> <p><span style="font-style: italic;">The whole procedure [of shooting rockets into space]...presents difficulties of so fundamental a nature, that we are forced to dismiss the notion as essentially impracticable, in spite of the author's insistent appeal to put aside prejudice and to recollect the supposed impossibility of heavier-than-air flight before it was actually accomplished.</span> Richard van der Riet Wooley, British astronomer, reviewing P.E. Cleator's <span style="font-style: italic;">Rockets in Space</span>, <span style="font-style: italic; font-weight: bold;">Nature</span>, March 14, 1936</p> <p><span style="font-style: italic;">Space travel is utter bilge!</span> -Sir Richard Van Der Riet Wolley, astronomer</p> <p><span style="font-style: italic;">I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.</span> - Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM, 1943</p> <p><span style="font-style: italic;">Computers in the future may weigh no more than 1.5 tons.</span> - <span style="font-style: italic; font-weight: bold;">Popular Mechanics</span>, forecasting the relentless march of science, 1949</p> <p>[<span style="font-weight: bold;">Orac's note:</span> Heh heh. This statement <span style="font-style: italic;">isn't</span> an incorrect prediction. Think about it. Most computers <span style="font-style: italic;">don't</span> weigh more than 1.5 tons these days, do they?]</p> <p><span style="font-style: italic;">I have traveled the length and breadth of this country and talked with the best people, and I can assure you that data processing is a fad that won't last out the year.</span> - The editor in charge of business books for Prentice Hall, 1957</p> <p><span style="font-style: italic;">Space travel is bunk.</span> -Sir Harold Spencer Jones, Astronomer Royal of Britain, 1957, two weeks before the launch of Sputnik</p> <p><span style="font-style: italic;">There is practically no chance communications space satellites will be used to provide better telephone, telegraph, television, or radio service inside the United States.</span> -T. Craven, FCC Commissioner, 1961</p> <p><span style="font-style: italic;">We don't like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out.</span> - Decca Recording Co. rejecting the Beatles, 1962.</p> <p><span style="font-style: italic;">But what... is it good for?</span> - Engineer at the Advanced Computing Systems Division of IBM, 1968, commenting on the microchip.</p> <p><span style="font-style: italic;">There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.</span> - Ken Olson, President, Chairman and Founder of Digital Equipment Corporation, 1977</p> <p><span style="font-style: italic;">The concept is interesting and well-formed, but in order to earn better than a 'C,' the idea must be feasible.</span> - A Yale University management professor in response to Fred Smith's paper proposing reliable overnight delivery service. (Smith went on to found Federal Express Corp.)</p> <p><span style="font-style: italic;">I'm just glad it'll be Clark Gable who's falling on his face and not Gary Cooper.</span> - Gary Cooper on his decision not to take the leading role in <span style="font-style: italic; font-weight: bold;">Gone With The Wind</span>.</p> <p><span style="font-style: italic;">A cookie store is a bad idea. Besides, the market research reports say America likes crispy cookies, not soft and chewy cookies like you make.</span> - Response to Debbi Fields' idea of starting Mrs. Fields' Cookies.</p> <p><span style="font-style: italic;">If I had thought about it, I wouldn't have done the experiment. The literature was full of examples that said you can't do this.</span> - Spencer Silver on the work that led to the unique adhesives for 3M "Post-It" Notepads.</p> <p><span style="font-style: italic;">So we went to Atari and said, 'Hey, we've got this amazing thing, even built with some of your parts, and what do you think about funding us? Or we'll give it to you. We just want to do it. Pay our salary, we'll come work for you.' And they said, 'No.' So then we went to Hewlett-Packard, and they said, 'Hey, we don't need you. You haven't got through college yet.'</span> - Apple Computer Inc. founder Steve Jobs on attempts to get Atari and H-P interested in his and Steve Wozniak's personal computer.</p> <p><span style="font-style: italic;">You want to have consistent and uniform muscle development across all of your muscles? It can't be done. It's just a fact of life. You just have to accept inconsistent muscle development as an unalterable condition of weight training.</span> - Response to Arthur Jones, who solved the "unsolvable" problem by inventing Nautilus.</p> <p><span style="font-style: italic;">640K ought to be enough for anybody.</span> - Bill Gates, 1981</p> <p>[<span style="font-weight: bold;">Orac's note:</span> Of course, in 1981, Gates was correct. No one really needed more than 640K in a personal computer. There wasn't much you could actually do with more than that in 1981...]</p></blockquote> <p>So, again, what's the point of alties or other pseudoscientists invoking Galileo or any of the hideously incorrect prognostications listed above? Again, obviously, this technique seeks to denigrate the experts who reject the altie's claims as not knowing what they're talking about or as close-minded, unable to have the vision that they do. It also deceptively tries to associate the quack, crank, pseudoscientist, or pseudohistorian with the theories and findings of great visionaries that went against conventional wisdom and were thus rejected by the experts of the day--and then later shown to be correct. It's a transparent ploy, about which Michael Shermer once said, "Heresy does not equal correctness."</p> <p>Some call it the Galileo gambit (although in actuality Galileo is probably a bad example for pseudoscientists to use, given that he was persecuted by the Church, and not by his fellow scientists). Others call it the Semmelweis gambit. Whatever you call this particular gambit, I always like to note in response that history is indeed full of tales of the lone scientist working in spite of his peers and flying in the face of the doctrines of the day in his or her field of study. No doubt there are still a fair number of such scientists today. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending upon your point of view), the vast majority of them turn out to be utterly wrong. They disappear into the mists of history, leaving not even a footnote in the grand history of science (although they might leave behind some crappy articles in the peer-reviewed scientific literature). As Shermer so correctly put it in his book <a style="font-style: italic;" href="">Why People Believe Weird Things</a> (a book I highly recommend to anyone interested in improving his or her critical thinking skills):</p> <blockquote><p>For every Galileo shown the instruments of torture for advocating scientific truth, there are a thousand (or ten thousand) unknowns whose 'truths' never pass scientific muster with other scientists. The scientific community cannot be expected to test every fanstastic claim that comes along, especially when so many are logically inconsistent.</p></blockquote> <p>Precisely.</p> <p>For every <a href="">Galileo</a>, <a href="">Ignaz Semmelweis</a>, <a href="">Nicolaus Copernicus</a>, <a href="">Charles Darwin</a>, <a href="">Louis Pasteur</a>, etc., whose scientific ideas were either ignored, rejected, or vigorously attacked by the scientific community of his time and then later accepted, there are untold numbers of others whose ideas were either ignored or rejected initially and then were <em>never</em> accepted--and <em>never</em> will be accepted. Why? Because they were wrong! The reason the ideas of Galileo, Semmelweis, Copernicus, Darwin, Pasteur, <em>et al</em>, were ultimately accepted as correct by the scientific community is because they <em><strong>turned out to be correct</strong></em>! Their observations and ideas stood up to repeated observation and scientific experimentation by many scientists in many places over many years. The weight of data supporting their ideas was so overwhelming that eventually even the biggest skeptics could no longer stand. That's the way science works. It may be messy, and it may take longer, occasionally even decades or even longer, than we in the business might like to admit, but eventually in science the truth wins out. In fact, the best way for a scientist to become famous and successful in his or her field is to come up with evidence that strongly challenges established theories and concepts and then weave that evidence into a new theory. <a href="">Albert Einstein</a> didn't end up in the history books by simply reconfirming and recapitulating Newton's Laws. Semmelweis and Pasteur didn't wind up in the history books by confirming the concept that disease was caused by an "imbalance of humours" (although Semmelweis probably did hurt himself by refusing to publish his results for many years; his data was so compelling it remains puzzling why he did not do so). I daresay that none of the Nobel Prize winners won that prestigious award by demonstrating something that the scientific establishment already believed. No! They won it by discovering something new and important!</p> <p>Unfortunately, to most lay people who don't have a strong background in science, the scientific method, or the history of science, such trickery can sound convincing on the surface. For example, you have a quack like Hulda Clark claiming she has a cure for cancer and AIDS and then claiming that the scientific establishment can't accept it. Add a dash of paranoia about big medicine and big pharma "suppressing" her "cure," and it's a potent brew of deception. This ploy is particularly appealing to Americans, because our whole national psyche has in its core a tendency to root for the outsider, the underdog. Alties, pseudoscientists, and cranks tap into that deep-seated sympathy we tend to have for the persecuted outsider and use it to their advantage. It's the same with creationists, who use every well-deserved debunking they get as evidence that they are a "threat" to the established scientific order. The only way to combat such deceptive comparisons is to point out again and again Shermer's dictum that "heresy does not equal correctness" and try to keep the discussion on the hard evidence.</p> <p>I think it's appropriate to finish with another Michael Shermer quote:</p> <blockquote><p> They laughed at Copernicus. They laughed at the Wright brothers. Yes, well, they also laughed at the Marx Brothers. Being laughed at does not mean you are right. </p></blockquote> <p>Use it the next time an <a href="">alt med believer</a> tries to imply that the fact that the scientific establishment mocks their ideas means that they must be on to something. Except do what I do and use the Three Stooges instead of the Marx Brothers.</p> <p>Especially Curly. <em>Nyuck, nyuck, nyuck.</em></p> </div> <span><a title="View user profile." href="/oracknows" lang="" about="/oracknows" typeof="schema:Person" property="schema:name" datatype="">oracknows</a></span> <span>Mon, 03/20/2017 - 06:05</span> <div class="field field--name-field-blog-categories field--type-entity-reference field--label-inline"> <div class="field--label">Categories</div> <div class="field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/channel/free-thought" hreflang="en">Free Thought</a></div> </div> </div> Mon, 20 Mar 2017 10:05:07 +0000 oracknows 22514 at Comments of the Week #151: from lost information to the atmosphere of Mars <span>Comments of the Week #151: from lost information to the atmosphere of Mars</span> <div class="field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-hidden field--item"><blockquote><p>“A theory is a supposition which we hope to be true, a hypothesis is a supposition which we expect to be useful; fictions belong to the realm of art; if made to intrude elsewhere, they become either make-believes or mistakes.” -G. Johnstone Stoney</p></blockquote> <p>It's been another exciting week here at <a href="" target="_blank">Starts With A Bang!</a> This coming Thursday, I'll be speaking at Jacksonville University in Florida; if you're around that area come and say hello! Before we get any further, I'm pleased to announce that thanks to two very generous new Patreon donations from Ryan Schultz and Samir Kumar (shout-out!), we've now hit the next rewards tier on my Patreon campaign, meaning that we'll be commissioning the creation of the most scientifically accurate, beautifully illustrated history-of-the-Universe poster of all-time! Come <a href="">be a part of our Patreon</a> if you're not already, and get in on the rewards!</p> <p>We've also, as always, had a slew of fantastic articles come out this past week. If you've missed anything, check them all out below, including:</p> <ul><li><a href="" target="_blank">Does dark energy mean we're losing information about the Universe?</a> (for Ask Ethan),</li> <li><a href="" target="_blank">The nearest supernova of our lifetimes turns 30, and still shines</a> (for Mostly Mute Monday),</li> <li><a href="" target="_blank">Recent Claims Invalid: Emergent Gravity Might Deliver A Universe Without Dark Matter</a> (by Sabine Hossenfelder),</li> <li><a href="" target="_blank">How NASA's James Webb Space Telescope will answer astronomy's biggest questions</a> (a live-blog event),</li> <li><a href="" target="_blank">7 ways Earth would change if our Moon were destroyed</a>, and</li> <li><a href="" target="_blank">NASA's MAVEN discovers how Mars lost its atmosphere</a>.</li> </ul><p>You've had your say in the comments section, and now it's time for me to call out the ones that I have the most (or most important) things to say about them in this edition of our <a href="">comments of the week</a>!</p> <blockquote><div style="width: 610px;display:block;margin:0 auto;"><a href="/files/startswithabang/files/2017/02/nature13674-sf1.jpg"><img class="size-medium wp-image-35828" src="/files/startswithabang/files/2017/02/nature13674-sf1-600x565.jpg" alt="Outlined in light blue, giant collections of galaxies can be divided up into superclusters. But this classification doesn't make superclusters real. Image credit: The Laniakea supercluster of galaxies R. Brent Tully, Hélène Courtois, Yehuda Hoffman &amp; Daniel Pomarède, Nature 513, 71–73 (04 September 2014)." width="600" height="565" /></a> Outlined in light blue, giant collections of galaxies can be divided up into superclusters. But this classification doesn't make superclusters real. Image credit: The Laniakea supercluster of galaxies R. Brent Tully, Hélène Courtois, Yehuda Hoffman &amp; Daniel Pomarède, Nature 513, 71–73 (04 September 2014). </div> <p>From <a href="">Paul </a>on how much we still don't know: "It’s humbling to read such articles and realize how little we understand of everything that is around us……"</p></blockquote> <p>I think this is one of the most important things to recognize about science. Whenever we seek to answer a question, scientifically, it demands that we gather new data, make new observations or perform new experiments. We need additional degrees of precision and accuracy, and more information to decide on what the correct outcome/answer is. But even when we obtain them, it raises more questions. What's there at the next significant figure? Where does the current explanation break down? What's the next fundamental question to answer? And what additional puzzles arose because of the new information we have?</p> <p>Our total knowledge about everything may be fundamentally limited, but we haven't hit those limits yet. In fact, we're not even close.</p> <blockquote><div style="width: 610px;display:block;margin:0 auto;"><a href="/files/startswithabang/files/2017/02/Benjamin_West_English_born_America_-_Benjamin_Franklin_Drawing_Electricity_from_the_Sky_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg"><img class="size-medium wp-image-35824" src="/files/startswithabang/files/2017/02/Benjamin_West_English_born_America_-_Benjamin_Franklin_Drawing_Electricity_from_the_Sky_-_Google_Art_Project-600x804.jpg" alt="An artistic rendition of Benjamin Franklin drawing electricity from the sky at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Image credit: Benjamin West, c. 1816." width="600" height="804" /></a> An artistic rendition of Benjamin Franklin drawing electricity from the sky at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Image credit: Benjamin West, c. 1816. </div> <p>From <a href="">Omega Centauri</a> on Ben Franklin: "Franklin’s kite experiment is not something you should try at home. I’ve heard that people have been killed trying it. Franklin was lucky."</p></blockquote> <p>Of course you shouldn't fly a kite in a lightning storm; <a href="">Beavis and Butthead once did a whole episode about it</a>. The legend of Ben Franklin -- that he flew a kite in a lightning storm grounded by a key and some silk -- and the likely actual story, that he tied a kite to a metal cage, are vastly different.</p> <p>Don't try and attract lightning to your body, kids.</p> <blockquote><div style="width: 586px;display:block;margin:0 auto;"><a href="/files/startswithabang/files/2017/01/global-climate-drivers.png"><img class="size-full wp-image-35728" src="/files/startswithabang/files/2017/01/global-climate-drivers.png" alt="Heat-trapping emissions (greenhouse gases) far outweigh the effects of other drivers acting on Earth’s climate. Source: Hansen et al. 2005, Figure adapted by Union of Concerned Scientists." width="576" height="326" /></a> Heat-trapping emissions (greenhouse gases) far outweigh the effects of other drivers acting on Earth’s climate. Source: Hansen et al. 2005, Figure adapted by Union of Concerned Scientists. </div> <p>From <a href="">Denier </a>on climate science and climate scientists: "I laughed out loud when I read this. Of course climate scientists are real scientists and I’m blatantly trolling when I say otherwise."</p></blockquote> <p>I will always take you at your word, so that makes me a very easy target for trolling. Just FYI. My other option is to selectively ignore what you say, which isn't really my modus operandi. Recently, Tucker Carlson had Bill Nye on his program and asked him, <em>what percentage of the observed warming comes from human activity</em>. The above figure, although it's a decade old, gives the approximate answer: around 125%. The light-blocking and light-reflecting properties of other human activities -- like pollution, additional cloud cover and jet exhaust -- actually help with the warming. It's observations like this that make geoengineering even possible; there are human activities we can perform that reduce the amount of incident sunlight.</p> <p>The question is what's the optimal path forward? And this is something we can only model or simulate. There may be only one answer for orbital mechanics, but try simulating a more complex system -- like the large-scale structure of the Universe -- and each independent simulation will give you different answers in the details. Because you can't simulate something that requires more computing power than you have, so you make simplifying (and wrong) assumptions: that dark matter particles have masses of 10^9 suns; that the Universe acts like a mesh far away and individual masses act like particles up close; that the gravitational interaction "turns off" when you're too close; etc. Simulations are incredibly useful, but they are only good to the limits of the simulations.</p> <p>And yes, there are bad scientists and unethical actors anywhere you go, and climate science is no different. We're not going to get anywhere arguing over who is smarter, more gifted, etc. The point is that this is robust, reproducible science, with quantifiable errors and uncertainties that lead to an overwhelming conclusion: humans are the cause of Earth's warming and that the consequences are increasing for the planet. <a href="">Undark had an interesting piece on the assumptions</a> that the left and right makes with respect to climate science. I make assumptions #2 and #4 from the left and none of the ones on the right. Which ones are you?</p> <blockquote><div style="width: 610px;display:block;margin:0 auto;"><a href="/files/startswithabang/files/2016/11/stringy-1200x900.jpg"><img class="size-medium wp-image-35450" src="/files/startswithabang/files/2016/11/stringy-1200x900-600x450.jpg" alt="The idea that instead of 0-dimensional particles, it’s 1-dimensional strings that fundamentally make up the Universe is at the core of string theory. Image credit: flickr user Trailfan, via" width="600" height="450" /></a> The idea that instead of 0-dimensional particles, it’s 1-dimensional strings that fundamentally make up the Universe is at the core of string theory. Image credit: flickr user Trailfan, via <a href=""></a>. </div> <p>From <a href="">Naked Bunny with a Whip</a> on what string theory predicts: "I thought the biggest problem with string theory is that you can’t use it to make predictions because there are so many different solutions."</p></blockquote> <p>Let me ask you a question: what's the energy contained in empty space? This is something we've recently measured (or perhaps more accurately, inferred) thanks to the discovery of dark energy. People's intuitions told them it would be "zero" for a long time; then they tried to calculate it and got a value that was so large it would destroy the Universe in about a Planck time; then they measured it to be ~10^-120 times the size of that second number. That value is known as the vacuum expectation value (or VEV) of the vacuum.</p> <p>String theory doesn't have the same unknowns that the Standard Model does: masses, charges, quantum numbers, etc. That's all calculable. But the VEVs of each of the strings? No predictions. You can put in literally anything; they're free parameters. That's where the "so many different solutions" ideas comes in. Because you've taken a hard problem and made it even worse. That's definitely a big problem.</p> <blockquote><div style="width: 610px;display:block;margin:0 auto;"><a href="/files/startswithabang/files/2017/02/8-14-CMB-signal-inflation-1200x980.jpg"><img class="size-medium wp-image-35774" src="/files/startswithabang/files/2017/02/8-14-CMB-signal-inflation-1200x980-600x489.jpg" alt="How cosmic inflation gave rise to our observable Universe, which has evolved into stars and galaxies and other complex structure by the present. Image credit: E. Siegel, with images derived from ESA/Planck and the DoE/NASA/ NSF interagency task force on CMB research. From his book, Beyond The Galaxy." width="600" height="489" /></a> How cosmic inflation gave rise to our observable Universe, which has evolved into stars and galaxies and other complex structure by the present. Image credit: E. Siegel, with images derived from ESA/Planck and the DoE/NASA/ NSF interagency task force on CMB research. From his book, Beyond The Galaxy. </div> <p>From <a href="">Paul </a>on doubting the Big Bang: "here’s problem with the “Big Bang idea… comes from the observation of dozens of galaxies…..what about the other billion trillion zillion ????????"</p></blockquote> <p>So I wrote a <a href="">pretty well-reviewed book</a> that addresses where the Big Bang idea comes from and how it was verified in chapters 3, 4, 5 and 6. The idea of the expanding Universe <em>initially</em> came from only dozens of galaxies; that number is now in the tens of millions. (Which are the ones we have data for.) The Big Bang idea came as one of many ideas out of that observation coupled with General Relativity, and -- as <a href="">Denier says later</a> -- was verified and validated by observations of the cosmic microwave background.</p> <p>It is on <em>much</em> more solid footing than you give it credit for.</p> <blockquote><div style="width: 610px;display:block;margin:0 auto;"><a href="/files/startswithabang/files/2017/01/a3411.jpg"><img class="size-medium wp-image-35668" src="/files/startswithabang/files/2017/01/a3411-600x600.jpg" alt="Combined X-ray, Radio &amp; Optical Images of Abell 3411 and Abell 3412. Images credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/SAO/R. van Weeren et al (blue); Optical: NAOJ/Subaru (white); Radio: NCRA/TIFR/GMRT (red)." width="600" height="600" /></a> Combined X-ray, Radio &amp; Optical Images of Abell 3411 and Abell 3412. Images credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/SAO/R. van Weeren et al (blue); Optical: NAOJ/Subaru (white); Radio: NCRA/TIFR/GMRT (red). </div> <p>From <a href="">CFT </a>on dark matter: "Dark matter is a fudge factor used to prop up failing cosmological assumptions and calculations based on those assumptions..."</p></blockquote> <p>Dark matter is a "fudge factor" in the sense that anything indirectly observed is a fudge factor. You could have said the same thing of atoms, of electrons, of the quantum wavefunction or of quarks. The fact that it makes predictions that have been borne out by observations is tremendous in the scientific sense. The fact that it hasn't been detected directly is a constraint on its (unknown, by the way) cross-section with normal matter and itself, not evidence of its absence.</p> <p>Keep asking questions and learning, though. Eventually, you'll come to the dark side.</p> <div style="width: 610px;display:block;margin:0 auto;"><a href="/files/startswithabang/files/2017/02/heic1704c.jpg"><img class="size-medium wp-image-35838" src="/files/startswithabang/files/2017/02/heic1704c-600x512.jpg" alt="This multiwavelength composite shows dust (red), visible light (green), and ultra-hot gas (blue) from ALMA, Hubble and Chandra, respectively. Images credit: ALMA: ESO/NAOJ/NRAO/A. Angelich; Hubble: NASA, ESA, R. Kirshner (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation) and P. Challis (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics); Chandra: NASA/CXC/Penn State/K. Frank et al." width="600" height="512" /></a> This multiwavelength composite shows dust (red), visible light (green), and ultra-hot gas (blue) from ALMA, Hubble and Chandra, respectively. Images credit: ALMA: ESO/NAOJ/NRAO/A. Angelich; Hubble: NASA, ESA, R. Kirshner (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation) and P. Challis (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics); Chandra: NASA/CXC/Penn State/K. Frank et al. </div> <blockquote><p>Two supernova questions from <a href="">PJ</a>: "What would cause the SN to form a disk of material from the center of the star (assumed center) with ejected material symmetrically expanding along the objects axes? Why not explode in the form of a spherical apparition?"</p></blockquote> <p>Quite simply to your first question: rotation. Rapid rotation means that the equatorial material is less tightly bound to the star and easier to eject into space. We launch rockets closer to Earth's equator for that reason, and the effect is pretty small on Earth. Some stars can rotate at thousands of km/s, meaning any outward "push" preferentially pushes material out along the equatorial plane.</p> <p>The second question is a big misconception that existed among even supernova scientists until the late 1990s/early 2000s when (surprise!) simulations got good enough: supernovae aren't spherically symmetric! If you start the supernova explosion off-center even by a tiny bit -- whether type Ia or core collapse (type II) -- you get a very non-spherical explosion.</p> <p></p><center> <iframe src="" width="560" height="315" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen="allowfullscreen"></iframe><p></p></center>So the reason it's not spherical is because of rotation and the asymmetric nature of the initial conditions of the explosion. That's the simplified version, at any rate. As our simulations improve -- and possibly with better observations/resolution/luck (by being in close proximity to a future supernova) -- we'll learn more. <blockquote><div style="width: 610px;display:block;margin:0 auto;"><a href="/files/startswithabang/files/2017/02/10232924695_9657f702a3_b.jpg"><img class="size-medium wp-image-35843" src="/files/startswithabang/files/2017/02/10232924695_9657f702a3_b-600x401.jpg" alt="If gravity itself isn't a fundamental force, but rather an emergent ones, many of the mysteries of space and time may have a different solution than the ones we're presently seeking. Image credit: Zoltán Vörös of flickr." width="600" height="401" /></a> If gravity itself isn't a fundamental force, but rather an emergent ones, many of the mysteries of space and time may have a different solution than the ones we're presently seeking. Image credit: Zoltán Vörös of flickr. </div> <p>From <a href="">Axil </a>on emergent gravity: "The growing acceptance of Erik Verlinde’s work..."</p></blockquote> <p>STOP. You do not pass go. You do not collect $200. There is no growing acceptance of Verlinde's work, period. Verlinde's work is work in its infancy: it is the beginning of science. In two particular ways, it makes some predictions. One of those predictions was claimed to be falsified; that claim was incorrect. That is what the article states. That is what the article is about. There is no growing acceptance of his work or his ideas. It merely has not been ruled out yet.</p> <blockquote><div style="width: 610px;display:block;margin:0 auto;"><a href="/files/startswithabang/files/2017/02/eso1217b.jpg"><img class="size-medium wp-image-35842" src="/files/startswithabang/files/2017/02/eso1217b-600x381.jpg" alt="The dark matter halo around galaxies could be explained, in principle, by a new type of entropy that's affected by the normal, baryonic matter present in space. Image credit: ESO / L. Calçada." width="600" height="381" /></a> The dark matter halo around galaxies could be explained, in principle, by a new type of entropy that's affected by the normal, baryonic matter present in space. Image credit: ESO / L. Calçada. </div> <p>From <a href="">Anonymous Coward</a> on Verlinde's work and the true challenge: "Welp, seems that there’s still no word on whether it’s actually going to work for the ultimate test of any dark matter alternative: galaxy cluster and cosmological scales."</p></blockquote> <p>This is a big deal. You see, on galactic scales, it's relatively easy to modify gravity (or modify <em>something</em>) and reproduce the observed behavior. But on larger scales, dark matter is the only thing that works. So what about large-scale clustering? Well, it hasn't gotten as much attention, but as entropy changes (grows) over time, the emergent gravity phenomenon that acts like dark matter should grow. Meaning that observations of distant galaxies and clusters and filaments should show less evidence for dark matter, with the first galaxies showing practically none at all.</p> <p>I believe that if this were put to the test, Verlinde's theory (or at least one of his equations) would be falsified. But no one is taking this approach yet, and I am kind of busy.</p> <blockquote><div style="width: 610px;display:block;margin:0 auto;"><a href="/files/startswithabang/files/2017/02/16865135741_2353176727_k-1200x819.jpg"><img class="size-medium wp-image-35846" src="/files/startswithabang/files/2017/02/16865135741_2353176727_k-1200x819-600x409.jpg" alt="An artist's conception (2015) of what the James Webb Space Telescope will look like when complete and successfully deployed. Note the five-layer sunshield protecting the telescope from the heat of the Sun. Image credit: Northrop Grumman." width="600" height="409" /></a> An artist's conception (2015) of what the James Webb Space Telescope will look like when complete and successfully deployed. Note the five-layer sunshield protecting the telescope from the heat of the Sun. Image credit: Northrop Grumman. </div> <p>From <a href="">MandoZink </a>on JWST, its launch and what it means: "I have been waiting so eagerly for this launch event, complete with all of the magnificent things it would reveal. I was expecting this would be an unbelievable shift in my view of the universe.</p> <p>Unfortunately I will not be here. I am laying in my new temporary hospital bed here at home, as cancer eats away at my body, with probably only a week or two to live.<br /> —————————-<br /> Ethan, your explanations of the workings of the universe have been absolutely delightful. I cannot say how much this website has meant to me. Really!</p> <p>I also want to thank you for the kind sentiments you expressed to me in the past when I was enduring totally unnecessary legal troubles. It was genuinely an uplift to receive your understanding comments."</p></blockquote> <p>My usual approach here is useless. I am happy I've been able to add a little bit of joy and wonder into your life, but sad that your journey is coming to an end. If you've got perhaps a few weeks left, feel free to privately (at startswithabang at gmail dot com, the same place Ask Ethan submissions go) send me the address of where you'll be and I'll send you a little something. If you want to speculate as to what the next great breakthroughs of James Webb (or WFIRST, in the 2020s) might bring, <a href="" target="_blank">here was the best I could come up with</a>.</p> <blockquote><div style="width: 610px;display:block;margin:0 auto;"><a href="/files/startswithabang/files/2017/02/Clementine.jpg"><img class="size-medium wp-image-35857" src="/files/startswithabang/files/2017/02/Clementine-600x331.jpg" alt="The near and far sides of the Moon, as reconstructed with imagery from NASA's Clementine mission. Image credit: NASA / Clementine Mission / Lunar &amp; Planetary Institute / USRA." width="600" height="331" /></a> The near and far sides of the Moon, as reconstructed with imagery from NASA's Clementine mission. Image credit: NASA / Clementine Mission / Lunar &amp; Planetary Institute / USRA. </div> <p>From <a href="">Nerd </a>on destroying the Moon: "Hmmm…. what could possibly destroy our moon?"</p></blockquote> <p>An asteroid made of antimatter. A large enough (e.g., moon-sized) impactor. The death star. Princess Celestia. Or, as <a href="">Michael Kelsey</a> suggested, Chairface Chippendale.</p> <p>You never know.</p> <div style="width: 610px;display:block;margin:0 auto;"><a href="/files/startswithabang/files/2017/02/virgo_sc-1940x1777.jpg"><img class="size-medium wp-image-35829" src="/files/startswithabang/files/2017/02/virgo_sc-1940x1777-600x490.jpg" alt="A large collection of many thousands of galaxies makes up our nearby neighborhood within 100,000,000 light years. It's dominated by the Virgo Cluster, but many other mass collections abound. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons user Andrew Z. Colvin." width="600" height="490" /></a> A large collection of many thousands of galaxies makes up our nearby neighborhood within 100,000,000 light years. It's dominated by the Virgo Cluster, but many other mass collections abound. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons user Andrew Z. Colvin. </div> <blockquote><p>And finally, from <a href="">Gab </a>on the idea of a cosmic supercluster: "When I think of cluster I think something bunched together, I think some parts might move away, but generally its a clump or cluster. It still exists/ed."</p></blockquote> <p>You know, before dark energy, it made a lot of sense to call these huge collections of galaxies in space "superclusters." We said that we, ourselves, lived on the outskirts of the Virgo Cluster. Why? Because, in a decelerating Universe with overdensities of the magnitude these objects have, we would someday see ourselves fall into Virgo, and wind up bound together with the rest of the Virgo Cluster galaxies. We'd also see these clusters merge together -- often along the dark matter filaments -- into a true, bound supercluster.</p> <p>Dark energy now means that we are not a part of Virgo; we are part of our local group and that will remain forever isolated from not only Virgo, but from all the nearby groups like the Leo group, the M81 group and even the Maffei group. But it also means that of all the "superclusters" we've drawn circles around, none of them are real structures. All of them will wind up forever unbound. That's why there's no such thing. At least, not according to a reasonable definition of structure.</p> <p>Thanks for a great past week, and looking forward so very much to the coming one!</p> </div> <span><a title="View user profile." href="/startswithabang" lang="" about="/startswithabang" typeof="schema:Person" property="schema:name" datatype="">esiegel</a></span> <span>Sun, 03/05/2017 - 05:36</span> <div class="field field--name-field-blog-categories field--type-entity-reference field--label-inline"> <div class="field--label">Categories</div> <div class="field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/channel/free-thought" hreflang="en">Free Thought</a></div> </div> </div> Sun, 05 Mar 2017 10:36:09 +0000 esiegel 36904 at Reading Around Trump Induced Depression <span>Reading Around Trump Induced Depression</span> <div class="field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-hidden field--item"><p>This is not a time to be distracted, to turn away from politics, to eschew activism. In fact, if you are an American Citizen, you have to look back at your life and recognize that you screwed up, in two ways. First, whatever time you spent agitating and activating and acting out, turns out, was not enough. You needed to spend something like 10% more time on that. Second, whatever decisions you made as to exactly what sort of activism you would do on a given day were likely flawed. Instead of yammering about Bernie after the primary you should have been going after Trump. At the beginning of the primary process, you should have gone with the insurgent, Bernie, instead of the tried and true, Hillary. Whatever. I'm not here to tell you what you did wrong exactly, because I'll be damned if I know. But I know, and you know, that you did something wrong. </p> <p>How do I know that? Because of this: </p> <p></p><h1>Donald Trump Inauguration </h1> <p></p><h3>Schedule of Inaugural Events (Eastern Time)</h3> <p><strong>January 20th, 2017</strong></p> <p>8:30 a.m. ET: Trumps attend service at St. John's Church<br /> 9:40 a.m. ET: President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama welcome Trumps to White House<br /> 9:45 a.m. ET: Obamas host a coffee and tea reception for the Trumps.<br /> 10:30 a.m. ET: Trumps, Obamas leave White House for U.S. Capitol<br /> 11:30 a.m. ET: Swearing-in ceremony<br /> 12:30 p.m. ET: The Obamas depart by helicopter<br /> 12:54 p.m. ET: President's Room signing ceremony<br /> 1:08 p.m. ET: Luncheon<br /> 2:35 p.m. ET: Review of the troops<br /> 3 p.m. ET: Inaugural Parade<br /> 7 p.m. ET and thereafter for four years: Inaugural Bawl</p> <p>See? If this election had been a landslide, then our collective yammering, protesting, messaging, teaching, communication, etc. would be part of an insurgency, a hopeful revolution, a determined evolution, or something. But what actually happened is this: We were making progress, we were turning many things around, changing things for the better, then suddenly along came this big log tied to a rope suspended from on high and it plowed right through us. An enormous, ugly, political pendulum that we thought was going in one direction had turned, and plowed through us like a bowling ball through nine pins. </p> <p>But only just barely. </p> <p>A while back I had been conversing for weeks with a bunch of activists, serious activists, people with their hands on the activism levers of power, serious serious people. They had been so thrown off by the outcome of the Democratic Primary that they spent huge amounts of effort making sure that a totally insignificant document, the DNC Platform, included their pet projects, and thereafter following through on that, that they simply put nearly zero effort into working against Trump. Had these remarkable and important individuals not walked away from the process at he crucial moment, they would have been the deciding factor in this election and Trump would not have been elected president. That's my story, and it is one of dozens around the country, many of you will identify them in your own lives if you look. People were distracted, misled, or simply wrong, about this or that aspect of the election. Collectively, all of this added up to a slim victory. But it matters not how slim that victory was, because the Republican Party is 100% in charge in the White House, in both houses of Congress, and in many state chambers and state houses around the country.</p> <p>Climate scientists model future climate change using a number of different model configurations, but the initial input to those models are based on various scenarios of how quickly we change our energy policies and related behaviors. With a Trump presidency and a GOP Congress, that process just got easier, because the two or three more optimistic staring assumptions can be ignored for several years. Think of the computing time that will save! </p> <p>That was a very long way of saying that you can not distract yourself from the task of saving civilization over the next few years.</p> <p></p><h2>How to survive a Trump presidency starting now</h2> <p>But, during that time, you can spend a bit of time doing something that will make you feel better, maybe energized, maybe even self educated in an area that gives perspective or some other help to your psyche.</p> <p>I've been asking around, to see what people are doing, and here, I'll put some of the book suggestions and other ideas people have made. I expect more suggestions to come in soon, and I'll add them to the lists. </p> <p></p><h3>Watch the West Wing</h3><br /> One idea, often mentioned, is to watch <a target="_blank" href=";camp=1789&amp;creative=9325&amp;creativeASIN=B000HC2LI0&amp;linkCode=as2&amp;tag=grlasbl0a-20&amp;linkId=ce9414267ab20a3e0b36b60a19a6d9ac">The West Wing</a><img src="//;l=am2&amp;o=1&amp;a=B000HC2LI0" width="1" height="1" border="0" alt="" style="border:none !important; margin:0px !important;" />, as an example of a better time and place. If you do that (and I suspect for many this would be a re-watch) I suggest you consider listening to <a href="">The West Wing Weekly Podcast</a>, co-hosed by Joshua Malina ahd Hrishikesh Hirway. Josh is Will Bailey from the West Wing (he currently stars in Scandal, another excellently distracting White House related show!). The podcast tracks the West Wing episode by episode, with occasional variations in that pattern. One of the best things about it are the interviews with various individuals involved with the show. Also, over time, Malina and Hirway develop a working methodology of the West Wing, including terminology, morphological and categorial functions, etc. This gives the weekly review and discussion an interesting and evolving texture. Since they are currently well into Season Two, you can start now and listen to the podcasts on your own schedule. If you catch up to them, you'll have to start waiting for Wednesdays, when the podcast is released. <p></p><h3>Read interesting history</h3> <p>One thing I've decided to do is to read some interesting history. It turns out that a lot of other people are doing something similar. Here is a list of what people have suggested so far:</p> <li><a target="_blank" href=";camp=1789&amp;creative=9325&amp;creativeASIN=0816082200&amp;linkCode=as2&amp;tag=grlasbl0a-20&amp;linkId=e84a2e77320c16e2a007f59e1b55457a">History of American Presidential Elections, 1789-2008, Fourth Edition, 3-Volume Set (Facts on File Library of American History)</a><img src="//;l=am2&amp;o=1&amp;a=0816082200" width="1" height="1" border="0" alt="" style="border:none !important; margin:0px !important;" />. This link is to a fairly expensive product, but note that it is several books. I'll bet you can get the various volumes cheap and used, if you get them one at a time, or just go to the library. </li> <li><a target="_blank" href=";camp=1789&amp;creative=9325&amp;creativeASIN=0345548639&amp;linkCode=as2&amp;tag=grlasbl0a-20&amp;linkId=22e4dba9292ecd58f35182cf79858fec">The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill: Defender of the Realm, 1940-1965</a><img src="//;l=am2&amp;o=1&amp;a=0345548639" width="1" height="1" border="0" alt="" style="border:none !important; margin:0px !important;" /></li> <li><a target="_blank" href=";camp=1789&amp;creative=9325&amp;creativeASIN=0743270754&amp;linkCode=as2&amp;tag=grlasbl0a-20&amp;linkId=f6d9be5c1938ebf16f4356d45525a978">Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln</a><img src="//;l=am2&amp;o=1&amp;a=0743270754" width="1" height="1" border="0" alt="" style="border:none !important; margin:0px !important;" /></li> <li><a target="_blank" href=";camp=1789&amp;creative=9325&amp;creativeASIN=0195392434&amp;linkCode=as2&amp;tag=grlasbl0a-20&amp;linkId=f54196fbdd302b337ab9455c3ee397c1">What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848 (Oxford History of the United States)</a><img src="//;l=am2&amp;o=1&amp;a=0195392434" width="1" height="1" border="0" alt="" style="border:none !important; margin:0px !important;" /></li> <li><a target="_blank" href=";camp=1789&amp;creative=9325&amp;creativeASIN=0743299647&amp;linkCode=as2&amp;tag=grlasbl0a-20&amp;linkId=69de3dcc4711ca39ffd37cb48d8b19a3">Lincoln at Cooper Union: The Speech That Made Abraham Lincoln President</a><img src="//;l=am2&amp;o=1&amp;a=0743299647" width="1" height="1" border="0" alt="" style="border:none !important; margin:0px !important;" /></li> <li><a target="_blank" href=";camp=1789&amp;creative=9325&amp;creativeASIN=0440508274&amp;linkCode=as2&amp;tag=grlasbl0a-20&amp;linkId=e02e25e0045298288934794e7b4263ff">How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci: Seven Steps to Genius Every Day</a><img src="//;l=am2&amp;o=1&amp;a=0440508274" width="1" height="1" border="0" alt="" style="border:none !important; margin:0px !important;" /></li> <li><a target="_blank" href=";camp=1789&amp;creative=9325&amp;creativeASIN=B00WKO1MO2&amp;linkCode=as2&amp;tag=grlasbl0a-20&amp;linkId=22e7f7a7e98f7f0676a5e91dd83e353e">America in the King Years (3 Book Series)</a><img src="//;l=am2&amp;o=1&amp;a=B00WKO1MO2" width="1" height="1" border="0" alt="" style="border:none !important; margin:0px !important;" /></li> <p></p><h3>Read interesting fiction</h3> <li><a target="_blank" href=";camp=1789&amp;creative=9325&amp;creativeASIN=0061119067&amp;linkCode=as2&amp;tag=grlasbl0a-20&amp;linkId=0b9cdf0115215f9beb61f9949b862429">The Complete Wreck (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Books 1-13)</a><img src="//;l=am2&amp;o=1&amp;a=0061119067" width="1" height="1" border="0" alt="" style="border:none !important; margin:0px !important;" /></li> <li><a target="_blank" href=";camp=1789&amp;creative=9325&amp;creativeASIN=0143115006&amp;linkCode=as2&amp;tag=grlasbl0a-20&amp;linkId=c9034618b389067f33675f32984fe80e">People of the Book: A Novel</a><img src="//;l=am2&amp;o=1&amp;a=0143115006" width="1" height="1" border="0" alt="" style="border:none !important; margin:0px !important;" /></li> <p></p><h3>Watch or listen to something interesting</h3> <li><a target="_blank" href=";camp=1789&amp;creative=9325&amp;creativeASIN=B0135P6PZA&amp;linkCode=as2&amp;tag=grlasbl0a-20&amp;linkId=403c25803ed14f5f2300cf084ec11882">Hamilton</a><img src="//;l=am2&amp;o=1&amp;a=B0135P6PZA" width="1" height="1" border="0" alt="" style="border:none !important; margin:0px !important;" /></li> <li><a target="_blank" href=";camp=1789&amp;creative=9325&amp;creativeASIN=B00R1MMO3G&amp;linkCode=as2&amp;tag=grlasbl0a-20&amp;linkId=83585efd095df4697b7802bc2e67b04f">Black Mirror - Series 1-2 and Special [DVD]</a><img src="//;l=am2&amp;o=1&amp;a=B00R1MMO3G" width="1" height="1" border="0" alt="" style="border:none !important; margin:0px !important;" /></li> <li><a target="_blank" href=";camp=1789&amp;creative=9325&amp;creativeASIN=B005CGI4O6&amp;linkCode=as2&amp;tag=grlasbl0a-20&amp;linkId=8c6aab844eb87e915aa3433c4e18d949">Roots</a><img src="//;l=am2&amp;o=1&amp;a=B005CGI4O6" width="1" height="1" border="0" alt="" style="border:none !important; margin:0px !important;" /></li> <li><a href="">Hardcore History Podcast</a></li> <p></p><h3>Read current non fiction about how messed up everything is</h3> <li><a target="_blank" href=";camp=1789&amp;creative=9325&amp;creativeASIN=0307947904&amp;linkCode=as2&amp;tag=grlasbl0a-20&amp;linkId=9c22cb499cce217b2ce1b18d0c305973">Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right</a><img src="//;l=am2&amp;o=1&amp;a=0307947904" width="1" height="1" border="0" alt="" style="border:none !important; margin:0px !important;" /></li> <li><a target="_blank" href=";camp=1789&amp;creative=9325&amp;creativeASIN=0399592466&amp;linkCode=as2&amp;tag=grlasbl0a-20&amp;linkId=43f0171f3c257b13884822b579c712d1">Insane Clown President: Dispatches from the 2016 Circus</a><img src="//;l=am2&amp;o=1&amp;a=0399592466" width="1" height="1" border="0" alt="" style="border:none !important; margin:0px !important;" /></li> <li><a target="_blank" href=";camp=1789&amp;creative=9325&amp;creativeASIN=1571313532&amp;linkCode=as2&amp;tag=grlasbl0a-20&amp;linkId=7050b6b0278d3085d17f29e4a9924610">The War on Science: Who's Waging It, Why It Matters, What We Can Do About It</a><img src="//;l=am2&amp;o=1&amp;a=1571313532" width="1" height="1" border="0" alt="" style="border:none !important; margin:0px !important;" /></li> <li><a target="_blank" href=";camp=1789&amp;creative=9325&amp;creativeASIN=B01K5HWFNM&amp;linkCode=as2&amp;tag=grlasbl0a-20&amp;linkId=04b68a8ba59225db4f2c576787bb8cd4">Sherlock: Series Four</a><img src="//;l=am2&amp;o=1&amp;a=B01K5HWFNM" width="1" height="1" border="0" alt="" style="border:none !important; margin:0px !important;" /></li> <li><a target="_blank" href=";camp=1789&amp;creative=9325&amp;creativeASIN=1510723323&amp;linkCode=as2&amp;tag=grlasbl0a-20&amp;linkId=a80b2a97cd5582f2e81b5ca0cd65c455">The Plot to Hack America: How Putin’s Cyberspies and WikiLeaks Tried to Steal the 2016 Election</a><img src="//;l=am2&amp;o=1&amp;a=1510723323" width="1" height="1" border="0" alt="" style="border:none !important; margin:0px !important;" /></li> <li><a target="_blank" href=";camp=1789&amp;creative=9325&amp;creativeASIN=0307460991&amp;linkCode=as2&amp;tag=grlasbl0a-20&amp;linkId=4d0654730a3972ca5d8826218164bd93">Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power</a><img src="//;l=am2&amp;o=1&amp;a=0307460991" width="1" height="1" border="0" alt="" style="border:none !important; margin:0px !important;" /></li> <li><a target="_blank" href=";camp=1789&amp;creative=9325&amp;creativeASIN=0871406888&amp;linkCode=as2&amp;tag=grlasbl0a-20&amp;linkId=d35c4cd212a2c797fa99d852f7d97607">Invisible Armies: An Epic History of Guerrilla Warfare from Ancient Times to the Present</a><img src="//;l=am2&amp;o=1&amp;a=0871406888" width="1" height="1" border="0" alt="" style="border:none !important; margin:0px !important;" /></li> <p></p><h3>Drinking suggestions</h3> <li>Talisker Storm </li><li> </li></div> <span><a title="View user profile." href="/author/gregladen" lang="" about="/author/gregladen" typeof="schema:Person" property="schema:name" datatype="">gregladen</a></span> <span>Fri, 01/20/2017 - 03:33</span> <div class="field field--name-field-blog-categories field--type-entity-reference field--label-inline"> <div class="field--label">Categories</div> <div class="field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/channel/free-thought" hreflang="en">Free Thought</a></div> </div> </div> Fri, 20 Jan 2017 08:33:40 +0000 gregladen 34237 at