Category Archives: Science

Elon Musk and Hyperloop

For all of the engineers out there:

. . .Both for trip comfort and safety, it would be best to travel at high subsonic speeds for a 350 mile journey. For much longer journeys, such as LA to NY, it would be worth exploring super high speeds and this is probably technically feasible, but, as mentioned above, I believe the economics would probably favor a supersonic plane.


The approach that I believe would overcome the Kantrowitz limit is to mount an electric compressor fan on the nose of the pod that actively transfers high pressure air from the front to the rear of the vessel. This is like having a pump in the head of the syringe actively relieving pressure. . .


Hyperloop consists of a low pressure tube with capsules that are transported at both low and high speeds throughout the length of the tube. The capsules are supported on a cushion of air, featuring pressurized air and aerodynamic lift. The capsules are accelerated via a magnetic linear accelerator affixed at various stations on the low pressure tube with rotors contained in each capsule. Passengers may enter and exit Hyperloop at stations located either at the ends of the tube, or branches along the tube length.

Read it all.

The universe is missing light. . .

From Popular Mechanics:

Scientists explain that we are missing 80 percent of the light in the universe. Just writing that sentence felt weird. . .

As one participating scientist points out, to miss the mark by so much means what we understand about the universe is fundamentally wrong. The universe continues to be exciting, a little scary, but mostly—a mystery. . .

Read it all.

Promised objectivity, Americans receive Planned Parenthood ideology

From HLI America, part of Human Life International, a report on how the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) used information provided by the Women’s Preventive Services committee of the Institute of Medicine (IOM, part of the National Academy of Sciences) to further their political pro-abortion agenda by insisting that including contraceptives in government-mandated health care is medically necessary, when objective evidence shows that it isn’t.

Virtually all of the Women’s Preventive Services committee members are affiliated in some way with Planned Parenthood or NARAL.

From HLI America:

… But these eleven members—out of a total of sixteen—demonstrate a more than casual commitment to the furthering of the abortion lobby. In fact, according to information available from the public record, a total of $116,500 has been donated to pro-choice organizations and candidates by these committee members. What is more, public records show that not one of the sixteen committee members has financially supported a political candidate who is politically anti-abortion. Whatever one thinks of the relevant issues, one would be hard pressed to argue that this IOM committee is politically non-partisan. This committee was purportedly assembled for the very purpose of providing outside, objective, and expert advice to the policy-making HHS; as the above roll call demonstrates, however, the committee was anything but a balanced sampling of experts….

The committee held three “open information-gathering sessions” to receive expert testimony regarding the preventive services that should be mandated and funded. However, nearly all the invited speakers were known advocates of contraception and abortion on demand. In a press release, Michael O’Dea notes:

At both meetings, the invited speakers represented organizations which advocate coverage of contraception, without cost sharing of expenses. Those organizations include the Guttmacher Institute, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses, Planned Parenthood, The Kaiser Family Foundation and the Society for Family Planning.

Furthermore, there was not one representative from the Catholic health care system, despite the fact that, taken together, it constitutes the single largest provider of health care in our country. Representatives of the pro-life and pro-family organizations (who were forced to seek for themselves permission to speak) were relegated to the brief public comments portion at the end of the day.

This relegation is not insignificant, for though the use of contraception by American women during child-bearing years is nearly universal, support for publicly funded contraception is not. As indicated by a recentRasmussen poll, 46% of Americans do not support the committee’s recommendation, while only only 39% of Americans believe that contraception should be covered free of charge. This diversity in viewpoints should have been reflected both in the makeup of the committee and of the speakers invited to testify at the hearings. Instead, there was a built-in bias in support of the provision of contraception, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs….

The central claim of the report, as it is bears on Recommendation 5.5, is “that greater use of contraception within the population produces lower unintended pregnancy and abortion rates nationally” (pg. 92). In support of this claim, the report cites only two sources—one of which is a non-peer-reviewed advocacy report. This spurious source was published by the Guttmacher Institute, the former research arm of Planned Parenthood, and a strong advocate for abortion and contraception. One reason for this dearth of evidence is simple: numerous studies show that greater access to oral contraception and emergency contraception does not in fact reduce unintended pregnancies or abortion….

Read it all. (H/t Stand Firm)

The politically-inspired food pyramid

Before there was “global warming” and “climate change,” there was the government’s food pyramid:
USDA food pyramid
Too bad there was little scientific evidence to back it up:

During the same period that we cardiologists and the health care community were promoting the low-fat/don’t count calories or sugar diet, the nation experienced its epidemic of obesity and diabetes. Cause and effect? We don’t know. But it’s starting to look as if the public health establishment may be responsible for the greatest episode of epidemiological malpractice ever committed….

Check it out, and don’t forget to read Why We Get Fat, and What To Do About It by Gary Taubes.

Map-makers admit Greenland gaffe

An honest mistake or a politicization of cartography?

IT APPEARED to provide incontrovertible proof that global warming was accelerating faster than even the most doom-laden scientists had predicted.

There was considerable alarm when the word’s most authoritative atlas printed a map which showed that Greenland was rapidly turning green.

However, experts from around the globe pointed out that the cataclysmic chart had no scientific support and was contradicted by all of the most recent satellite images.

Now the Scottish map-makers responsible for the disappearance of 115,830 square miles of polar ice have admitted publicly they were wrong.

As an act of contrition, The Times Comprehensive Atlas of the World cartographers have produced a new map which restores Greenland’s ice cover….

The latest atlas, which was published in September, showed a reduction in ice cover compared with the previous edition from four years ago.

Accompanying publicity material declared the change represented “concrete evidence” of the effects of global warming, stating: “For the first time the new edition has had to erase 15 per cent of Greenland’s permanent ice cover – turning an area the size of the UK and Ireland ‘green’ and ice-free.”

Publishers HarperCollins originally stood by the accuracy of the map but have since admitted to the mistake after the blunder was exposed by scientists.

[Jethro Lennox, senior publishing editor] said: “After publication of the 13th edition of The Times Comprehensive Atlas of the World it became apparent that we had not represented the permanent ice cover in Greenland fully and clearly….

Read it all.

NatGeo: Teenage brains

Who knew? From National Geographic:

. . . Such thinking carried into the late 20th century, when researchers developed brain-imaging technology that enabled them to see the teen brain in enough detail to track both its physical development and its patterns of activity. These imaging tools offered a new way to ask the same question—What’s wrong with these kids?—and revealed an answer that surprised almost everyone. Our brains, it turned out, take much longer to develop than we had thought. This revelation suggested both a simplistic, unflattering explanation for teens’ maddening behavior—and a more complex, affirmative explanation as well.

The first full series of scans of the developing adolescent brain—a National Institutes of Health (NIH) project that studied over a hundred young people as they grew up during the 1990s—showed that our brains undergo a massive reorganization between our 12th and 25th years. The brain doesn’t actually grow very much during this period. It has already reached 90 percent of its full size by the time a person is six, and a thickening skull accounts for most head growth afterward. But as we move through adolescence, the brain undergoes extensive remodeling, resembling a network and wiring upgrade. . .

When this development proceeds normally, we get better at balancing impulse, desire, goals, self-interest, rules, ethics, and even altruism, generating behavior that is more complex and, sometimes at least, more sensible. But at times, and especially at first, the brain does this work clumsily. It’s hard to get all those new cogs to mesh. . .

The story you’re reading right now, however, tells a different scientific tale about the teen brain. Over the past five years or so, even as the work-in-progress story spread into our culture, the discipline of adolescent brain studies learned to do some more-complex thinking of its own. A few researchers began to view recent brain and genetic findings in a brighter, more flattering light, one distinctly colored by evolutionary theory. The resulting account of the adolescent brain—call it the adaptive-adolescent story—casts the teen less as a rough draft than as an exquisitely sensitive, highly adaptable creature wired almost perfectly for the job of moving from the safety of home into the complicated world outside.

This view will likely sit better with teens. More important, it sits better with biology’s most fundamental principle, that of natural selection. Selection is hell on dysfunctional traits. If adolescence is essentially a collection of them—angst, idiocy, and haste; impulsiveness, selfishness, and reckless bumbling—then how did those traits survive selection? They couldn’t—not if they were the period’s most fundamental or consequential features. . .

Check it out.


MinutePhysicscheck them out!

Wired: Our social nature. the surprising science of smiles

From Wired, an interview with Marianne LaFrance, an experimental psychologist at Yale University and author of Lip Service: Smiles in Life, Death, Trust, Lies, Work, Memory, Sex, and Politics: Are many muscles involved in smiling?

LaFrance: Two, the obicularis occuli and zygomaticus major, are the primary muscles involved in the so-called genuine smile. But the so-called mouth smile can co-occur with a number of other muscles on the face at the same time. So the mouth may be smiling but the brows could be showing anger, the eyes could be showing surprise or fear, the upper lip could be showing contempt, the nose could be showing some disgust. So the smile is interesting to those of us who study it because it’s not just one thing. It’s multiple and complicated.

Even the temporal pattern is important. Genuine smiles tend to come on the face relatively languidly and go off the face in the same kind of way. Fake smiles often seem to snap on the face and snap off. . .

In the late 1800s Charles Darwin published his famous book The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals. He devoted some time to smiling, but was more interested in other facial expressions. His colleague across the channel, Guillaume-Benjamin Duchenne, was doing experiments where he would zap single muscles on the face with electricity and then look at the changes. His primary distinction was between smiles that came from the soul, non-deliberate smiles, and the ones put there consciously. That’s why people who study smiles call the spontaneous smile the Duchenne smile . . .

Check it out.

Math can predict insurgent attacks, physicist says

Anyone ever watch Numbers? I think this physicist has:

[Neil Johnson, a physicist at the University of Miami] and his research team gathered publicly available data on military fatalities in Afghanistan and Iraq. On a graph, the numbers created a distinct, upward curve.

He says it wasn’t just a coincidence; those numbers follow a specific mathematical pattern. In this case, the pattern translates into an equation you can punch into a handheld calculator, says Johnson.

It works like this:. . .

Check it out.

The two-minus-one pregnancy


Dr. Richard Berkowitz, a perinatologist at Columbia University Medical Center who was an early practitioner of pregnancy reduction, says: “The overwhelming majority of women carrying twins are going to be able to deliver two healthy babies.” Though Berkowitz insists that there is no clear medical benefit to reducing below twins, he will do it at a patient’s request. “In a society where women can terminate a single pregnancy for any reason — financial, social, emotional — if we have a way to reduce a twin pregnancy with very little risk, isn’t it legitimate to offer that service to women with twins who want to reduce to a singleton?”

But I thought we wanted abortion to be rare. . . /sarc

And what keeps coming into my mind is this line from the Salve Regina:

To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve;
to thee do we send up our sighs,
mourning and weeping in this valley of tears.

Yes, yes we do.

Science: Punching a hole in time

From Science:

A robber breaks into a bank safe and returns home, where he activates a device that conceals his earlier burglary, making it look like he never entered the bank in the first place. Such a “time cloak” is still a long way from reality, but researchers have now made an important first step, demonstrating a cloaking device that can hide for a fraction of a second an event that occurs at a specific point in time. . .

As one set of wavelengths races ahead of the other set, a gap opens in the beam. Then, after the light has passed the spot where the hidden event will occur, the experimenters [Alexander Gaeta, Moti Fridman and colleagues at Cornell University] reverse the process. They run the light through a fiber in which the wavelengths that had been sped up are slowed down and those that had been slowed down are sped up, so the gap closes. They then use a second “time lens” to undo the frequency shifting.

The researchers report online this month at that they have hidden an event that lasted 15 trillionths of a second—not nearly long enough to conceal the actions of a safe cracker. However, their experiment has the ability to hide events lasting up to 110 billionths of a second, and time gaps lasting about 100 times longer should be easily achieved, the team notes.

Check it all out. And thanks to emergent futures.

“6 Lies about the human body you learned in kindergarten”

From the guys at

When we reach the age of two, we start to have a few questions about our bodies. At first they’re simple. ‘Will that toy fit into the wet hole in the middle of my face?’ But as we mature, the questions become more complex and too numerous for any reasonable human being to answer. It’s no coincidence that around this time, your parents ship you off to school where someone is payed to give you answers.

Unfortunately, many of the answers you get there are lies that seem specifically designed to make the world around you seem boring. Because how else are they going to get you to stop asking so many damn questions? For instance, you probably still believe …

Check it out.

Australian night sky: time lapse

From Wired Science:

Ocean Sky from Alex Cherney on Vimeo.

It took Alex Cherney of Victoria, Australia a year to compile the 30 hours of exposure. In May, Cherney took the overall prize at the STARMUS astrophotography competition for this video.

Mead: The failure of Al Gore, part three

First read part one and part two of Al Gore’s political climate saga.

From Walter Russell Mead, part three:

My interest in the decay of the former vice president’s public position is partly because — like Jimmy Carter — he has had such an active post-Washington career.  Not even Ronald Reagan won an Oscar, and Reagan (though he deserved it) never got a Nobel.  Gore’s signature issue, the climate, is a major one, and Al Gore has been at the center of the most important movement of international civil society since the Nuclear Freeze movement of the 1980s.

The serial rise and fall of these vacuous civil society movements and the peculiar grip they exercise over the minds of some otherwise intelligent people is an important subject: why do so many people who want to help solve global problems waste so much time and money and, sometimes, do so much harm?  Is there some way to harness that energy and idealism to causes and strategies that might do more good?  What does the repeated rise and fall of clueless but well educated and well placed enthusiasts teach us about the state of our civilization and the human condition?  Are there ways we could nip these Malthusian panics and idealistic feeding frenzies in the bud?  Is there some way we could teach future generations to be a little smarter about politics and power so that the 21st century, which is going to have plenty of serious problems, might spend less time chasing mares’ nests?

More than that, the former vice president’s troubles don’t just reflect his personal ideas and limits.  Gore’s errors are exemplary: by studying where he goes wrong we can see how a substantial section of our ruling elite has lost its way. . .

Al Gore is rooted in two distinct but related American traditions: genteel Southern liberalism and the Northeastern establishment.  . .

Unfortunately, Gore’s life has coincided with declining public interest in the kind of elite liberal leadership he was trained to provide.  The shift of the white South away from the Democratic Party is sometimes portrayed as simple white flight from a Democratic Party that was embracing Black voters.  This is a part of what happened; what also happened was that as Southern whites were gradually becoming better educated and more urban, they were no longer interested in the two types of leadership the Democrats traditionally offered: Atticus Finch and George Wallace.  Neither the gentry progressive nor the race-baiting demagogue spoke to the white South very clearly anymore and the rise of the Republican Party in the South brought new kinds of discourse and new kinds of politics to a South that had less and less room for the Gores.

Beyond the South, the idea of better governance through specially trained and impartial experts has been losing favor from one end of the United States to the other.  In 1911, only a handful of Americans had a college education.  Southern sharecroppers and northern mill workers had little education and little leisure time for politics.  Today growing numbers of Americans resent and reject the tutelage of well meaning elites — and they view with suspicion the claims of ‘experts’ to be dispassionate and disinterested custodians of the public good.  They don’t see civil servants as unselfish and apolitical experts who can be trusted to regulate and rule; they see them as a lobby like any other, a special interest more interested in preserving fat pensions and easy working conditions — and at foisting their own ideological hobby horses and preferences on the public at large. . .

Mead: The failure of Al Gore, part two

Don’t forget to check out this first.

From Walter Russell Mead:

Gore’s failures are not just about leadership.  The strategic vision he crafted for the global green movement has comprehensively failed.  That is no accident; the entire green policy vision was so poorly conceived, so carelessly constructed, so unbalanced and so rife with contradictions that it could only thrive among activists and enthusiasts.  Once the political power of the climate movement, aided by an indulgent and largely unquestioning press, had pushed the climate agenda into the realm of serious politics, failure was inevitable.  The only question was whether the comprehensive green meltdown would occur before or after the movement achieved its core political goal of a comprehensive and binding global agreement on greenhouse gasses.

That question has now been answered; the movement failed before it got its treaty, and while the media and the establishment have still generally failed to analyze these developments and draw the consequences, the global climate movement has become the kind of embarrassment intellectuals like to ignore.  .  .

The green plan is a plan for a global constitution because the treaty will regulate economic production in every country on earth.  This is a deeply intrusive concept; China, Nigeria, Myanmar, Iran and Vietnam will have to monitor and report on every factory, every farm, every truck and car, every generator and power plant in their territory.  Many states do not now have and possibly never will have the ability to do this in a transparent and effective way.  Many others will cheat, either for economic advantage or for reasons of national security.  Many states do not want their own citizens to have this knowledge, much less the officials of hostile foreign powers.

Moreover, there will have to be sanctions.  After all, what happens if a country violates its treaty commitments?  If nothing happens, the entire treaty system collapses of its own weight.  But to work, enforcement will have to mean penalties greater than the advantages from cheating.  Who will monitor output around the world, assess performance against commitments, levy penalties and fines — and then enforce those decisions when they are made?

There are no real answers to these questions and can be none. . .

Mr. Gore’s work up to and including his latest Rolling Stone essay has taken a demagogic rather than intellectual approach.  His method of arguing is to trumpet the science of climate change and to make ad hominem arguments against its opponents.  The science is clear, it is settled, and the opposition against it is funded by people with an economic stake in denial.  I am right about the science and my opponents are a bunch of evil opportunists in it only for the money.

That is Mr. Gore’s position, and it is his entire position.  He says nothing about the feasibility of the proposed GGCT or its cost effectiveness.  That, presumably, we must take on faith.  There is nothing to discuss about policy.  It is essentially the cry of Chicken Little: “The sky is falling and we must run and tell the king.”

Thus speaketh Al Gore: the world is burning down and so you must immediately follow my plan for fixing what’s wrong.  He does not discuss whether his plan is feasible; to anyone who objects to the ponderous, unwieldy Rube Goldberg style green treaty agenda, Gore simply bellows:  “What’s the matter you soul-dead, hired flack of the evil oil companies, don’t you believe in Science?”. . .

Mead: The failure of Al Gore, part one

Between Walter Russell Mead and Victor Davis Hanson, I’m beginning to think there’s definitely something intellectually stimulating about having three names. And Mead isn’t even a “conservative” – but he is logical and observant, and that leads to this very thorough article on Al Gore – read it all:

. . .Gore has the Midas touch in reverse; objects of great value (Nobel prizes, Oscars) turn dull and leaden at his touch.  Few celebrity cause leaders have had more or better publicity than Gore has had for his climate advocacy.  Hailed by the world press, lionized by the entertainment community and the Global Assemblage of the Great and the Good as incarnated in the Nobel Peace Prize committee, he has nevertheless seen the movement he led flounder from one inglorious defeat to the next.  The most recent, failed global climate meeting passed almost unnoticed last week in Bonn; the world has turned its eyes away from the expiring anguish of the Copenhagen agenda.

The state of the global green movement is shambolic.  The Kyoto Protocol is withering on the vine; it will almost certainly die with no successor in place.  There is no chance of cap and trade legislation in the US under Obama, and even the EPA’s regulatory authority over carbon dioxide is under threat.  Brazil is debating a forestry law that critics charge will open the floodgates to a new round of deforestation in the Amazon.  China is taking the green lobby head on, suspending a multibillion dollar Airbus order to protest EU carbon cutting plans.

It is hard to think of any recent failure in international politics this comprehensive, this swift, this humiliating. Two years ago almost every head of state in the world was engaged with Al Gore’s issue; today the abolition of nuclear weapons looks like a more hopeful cause than the drafting of an effective international treaty that will curb carbon emissions even a little bit. . .

You can be a leading environmentalist and fail to pay all of your taxes. You can be a leading environmentalist and be unkind to your aged mother. You can be a leading environmentalist and squeeze the toothpaste tube from the middle, park in the handicapped spots at the mall or scribble angry marginal notes in library books.

But you cannot be a leading environmentalist who hopes to lead the general public into a long and difficult struggle for sacrifice and fundamental change if your own conduct is so flagrantly inconsistent with the green gospel you profess.  If the heart of your message is that the peril of climate change is so imminent and so overwhelming that the entire political and social system of the world must change, now, you cannot fly on private jets.  You cannot own multiple mansions.  You cannot even become enormously rich investing in companies that will profit if the policies you advocate are put into place.

It is not enough to buy carbon offsets (aka “indulgences”) with your vast wealth, not enough to power your luxurious mansions with exotic low impact energy sources the average person could not afford, not enough to argue that you only needed the jet so that you could promote your earth-saving film.

You are asking billions of people, the overwhelming majority of whom lack many of the basic life amenities you take for granted, people who can’t afford Whole Foods environmentalism, to slash their meager living standards. You may well be right, and those changes may be necessary — the more shame on you that with your superior insight and knowledge you refuse to live a modest life. There’s a gospel hymn some people in Tennessee still sing that makes the point: “You can’t be a beacon if your light don’t shine.”. . .

Blessed Easter

White azaleas (copyright 2011, Anne Guérard Coletta)
From the Easter Vigil homily of Benedict XVI:

If man were merely a random product of evolution in some place on the margins of the universe, then his life would make no sense or might even be a chance of nature. But no, Reason is there at the beginning: creative, divine Reason. And because it is Reason, it also created freedom; and because freedom can be abused, there also exist forces harmful to creation. Hence a thick black line, so to speak, has been drawn across the structure of the universe and across the nature of man. But despite this contradiction, creation itself remains good, life remains good, because at the beginning is good Reason, God’s creative love. Hence the world can be saved. Hence we can and must place ourselves on the side of reason, freedom and love – on the side of God who loves us so much that he suffered for us, that from his death there might emerge a new, definitive and healed life. …

Check it out.

And from the Urbi et Orbi Message of Benedict XVI:

The resurrection of Christ is not the fruit of speculation or mystical experience: it is an event which, while it surpasses history, nevertheless happens at a precise moment in history and leaves an indelible mark upon it. The light which dazzled the guards keeping watch over Jesus’ tomb has traversed time and space. It is a different kind of light, a divine light, that has rent asunder the darkness of death and has brought to the world the splendour of God, the splendour of Truth and Goodness. …

Check it out.