Tuesday, January 22, 2013

So, I'm Getting an Electric Car

2013 Tesla Motors Model S

In case you're not familiar with the car, it is an American made (Fremont, Calif.) pure electric 5+2 sedan. There are several variations in battery size and performance available. The high-performance version will do 0-60 in 3.9 seconds, a quarter mile in 12.5 seconds at 111 mph and travel up to 300 miles between charges. I'm getting a mid-range version with somewhat lower performance and battery capacity.

No more petroleum products to power the car. Since my solar system will provide sufficient energy, there will be no emissions the cost per mile very low. Also, no oil changes, tune-ups, etc., just an annual checkup by Tesla. Did I say it is quiet? I had a chance to test drive one last summer in Austin, but had ridden in one the previous autumn in Fremont. 

I think they're on to something. This car is not just evolutionary, it is revolutionarySmooth, clean, quiet, powerful and good-looking to boot!

Friday, March 09, 2012

What is science?

I think this snippet from Origins, by Neil deGrasse Tyson and Donald Goldsmith, gives a good explanation of why science works so well.

Science depends on organized skepticism, that is, on continual, methodical doubting. Few of us doubt our own conclusions, so science embraces its skeptical approach by rewarding those who doubt someone else's. We may rightly call this approach unnatural; not so much because it calls for mistrusting someone else's thoughts, but because science encourages and rewards those who can demonstrate that another scientist's conclusions are just plain wrong. To other scientists, the scientist who corrects a colleague's error, or cites good reasons for seriously doubting his or her conclusions, performs a noble deed, like a Zen master who boxes the ears of a novice straying from the meditative path, although scientists correct one another more as equals than as master and student. By rewarding a scientist who spots another's errors -- a task that human nature makes much easier than discerning one's own mistakes -- scientists as a group have created an inborn system of self-correction. Scientists have collectively created our most efficient and effective tool for analyzing nature, because they seek to disprove other scientists' theories even as they support their earnest attempts to advance human knowledge. Science thus amounts to a collective pursuit, but a mutual admiration society it is not, nor was it meant to be.

Friday, June 03, 2011

Cell phones and cancer?

I think this cartoon from Calamities of Nature covers the main danger of cell phones, but basically radiation (cell phones, microwaves, etc.) below the visible range of the electromagnetic spectrum, won't cause DNA to mutate. As long as your blood is flowing, it won't even cook your brain.


The article "Cellular Telephones and Cancer: How Should Science Respond?" in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.
points out that "all known cancer-inducing agents—including radiation, certain chemicals, and a few viruses—act by breaking chemical bonds, producing mutant strands of DNA."

The article also notes that a study of nearly half a million cell phone users from 1982 thru 1995, did not support an association between the use of cell phones and tumors of the brain or salivary gland, leukemia, or other cancers.

[Edited June 11, 2011 to add information from and reference to the JNCI article.]

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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Exposing a Crackpot

As P.Z. Myers points out, Robert Lanza, MD, Scientist, Theoretician, Genius, Renegade Thinker, wants Scienceblogs.com to take down a few posts about him. The posts in question seem to be:
  1. Grandpa Simpson gets a writing gig,
  2. The dead are dead, and
  3. Dr. Robert Lanza and "biocentrism": Time to get out the paper bag again
I think more people ought to read these posts and decide for themselves whether Dr. Lanza can be categorized as a Crackpot, Kook and/or Woo-meister.

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Thursday, July 01, 2010

Unguided evolution

Some folks like to pooh-pooh evolution as "unguided," inferring that something unguided could not have produced what looks to be the product of an intelligent designer. As a simple test, the above image is useful.

At first glance, it looks like a tattoo with a barcode, something a designer could have created. In reality, however, it evolved in a quite different way on a different planet.

The whole Intelligent Design movement being thrust on us by the marketing arm of the Discovery Institute in Seattle, Washington, is a rehash of hundreds of years old arguments about how life is too complex to have come about without the help of some outside mover/shaker. What most people ignore, forget, or are unaware of, is how much time it has taken for life to reach this point. People who rely on literal translations of ancient texts, such as the Bible, think our world has only been around for 60 to 100 centuries. Science has shown, however, that the Earth is over 3.5 billion years old and that's over 35 million centuries.

If something as complex and beautiful as the image above can happen in the virtual blink of an eye, is it so hard to imagine that nature's sculptor (evolution) built life as we know it from the building blocks of DNA, given such vast amounts of time?

Some may try to make a distinction of the micro- macro- evolution variety. However, as David Eller points out in an article on the subject, "... macroevolution is merely the accumulation of microevolutionary changes."

The ironic thing about intelligent designers -- of the human variety -- is that they are also responsible for the collateral damage they cause. Let's hope that we do not ultimately extinguish our own species because we ignored or underestimated the potential collateral damage of things like our contribution to global warming.

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Sunday, June 13, 2010

God's purpose

I heard a Christian ask the question "What purpose did God have in mind for all that petroleum buried in the Gulf of Mexico? There must be a reason."

That got me to wondering what the Intelligent Designerists would say to that. Did the Intelligent Designer put all that crude down there so BP could turn it loose in the ocean? Did the big guy need that oil to lubricate the bearings the Earth spins on? Did the IDer need it so he could invent oil companies?

Do all minerals have a purpose?

Is the DI listening? Inquiring minds want to know.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Are you a denialist?

From the epilogue of a New Scientist article "Living in denial: Why sensible people reject the truth" (well worth reading), comes this list:

How to be a denialist

Martin McKee, an epidemiologist at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine who also studies denial, has identified six tactics that all denialist movements use. "I'm not suggesting there is a manual somewhere, but one can see these elements, to varying degrees, in many settings," he says (The European Journal of Public Health, vol 19, p 2).

  • 1. Allege that there's a conspiracy. Claim that scientific consensus has arisen through collusion rather than the accumulation of evidence.
  • 2. Use fake experts to support your story. "Denial always starts with a cadre of pseudo-experts with some credentials that create a facade of credibility," says Seth Kalichman of the University of Connecticut.
  • 3. Cherry-pick the evidence: trumpet whatever appears to support your case and ignore or rubbish the rest. Carry on trotting out supportive evidence even after it has been discredited.
  • 4. Create impossible standards for your opponents. Claim that the existing evidence is not good enough and demand more. If your opponent comes up with evidence you have demanded, move the goalposts.
  • 5. Use logical fallacies. Hitler opposed smoking, so anti-smoking measures are Nazi. Deliberately misrepresent the scientific consensus and then knock down your straw man.
  • 6. Manufacture doubt. Falsely portray scientists as so divided that basing policy on their advice would be premature. Insist "both sides" must be heard and cry censorship when "dissenting" arguments or experts are rejected.

We've seen most of these in the proponents of anti-AIDS, anti-vax, anti-agw, anti-evolutionism, and many other movements. As the article sums up,

Denialism has already killed. AIDS denial has killed an estimated 330,000 South Africans. Tobacco denial delayed action to prevent smoking-related deaths. Vaccine denial has given a new lease of life to killer diseases like measles and polio. Meanwhile, climate change denial delays action to prevent warming. The backlash against efforts to fight the flu pandemic could discourage preparations for the next, potentially a more deadly one.

If science is the best way to understand the world and its dangers, and acting on that understanding requires popular support, then denial movements threaten us all.

The article also sheds some light on why some instigators of denialist movements are doing what they do:

Kalichman, however, feels that everyday reasoning alone is not enough to make someone a denialist. "There is some fragility in their thinking that draws them to believe people who are easily exposed as frauds," he says. "Most of us don't believe what they say, even if we want to. Understanding why some do may help us find solutions."

He believes the instigators of denialist movements have more serious psychological problems than most of their followers. "They display all the features of paranoid personality disorder", he says, including anger, intolerance of criticism, and what psychiatrists call a grandiose sense of their own importance. "Ultimately, their denialism is a mental health problem. That is why these movements all have the same features, especially the underlying conspiracy theory."

If you are a denialist, you may need psychological help.

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