Most positive news stories about generating electricity from nuclear fusion mention fusion powers the sun. The implication being nuclear fusion is simple, clean and healthy. Unlike nuclear fission, which is what existing nuclear reactors use. Nuclear fission produces radioactive waste, and the reactors have a risk of meltdown. Not good. But fusion has its skeptics too. Negative fusion stories always quote some version of “Fusion Power is 20 years in the future – and always will be.” I first heard that line in the early 1980’s in college. I had a part time student job working for a grad student in the physics department, who was doing fusion/plasma research. My role? Hours and hours of time spent cleaning and prepping the very large cellophane/oil capacitors that powered plasma generation. Basically a dishwasher.
Last year I wrote a couple of posts supportive of Gary Taubes’ book Why We Get Fat. I’m still a believer so wanted to do an update. Though I’ve tried to be careful in noting below where Taubes’ view differs from the scientific consensus.
While most of my posts are about technology, at heart this is a futurist blog. Futurism is “the attempt to systematically explore predictions and possibilities about the future and how they can emerge from the present, whether that of human society in particular or of life on Earth in general.” And to be clear my focus is on what’s going to happen in the next two, five, ten or twenty years. Not the distant future. So if you come for the tech, consider staying for the societal implications. Not surprisingly, my post with the most pageviews is about near term technology: voice interaction becoming the God Particle of mobile. But also in the top five is why there aren’t any space aliens. A topic worth more consideration than you may expect. Call this approach realistic, near term futurism. Extrapolate what we know today. But under no circumstances cheat by bending the technology or science. Science is awesome enough already.
On the left, Peter Sellers from the classic cold war satire “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb“. On the right, a side order of bacon. Here’s how I learned to love them both.
Support is roughly split for hydraulic fracking, the process of extracting shale gas using chemically treated pressurized water. A recent United States poll shows 45% support, 41% don’t support, and the rest don’t know what it is. But of course that same poll shows fracking support is highly polarized, with Republicans supporting 71%/20% and Democrats against 22%/60%. Since environmental beliefs are tightly tied to identity politics in the US, it’s hard to change anyone’s mind. But one way to think about this is not to argue fracking is good. Obviously it’s not. Instead, start by acknowledging that energy generation is inherently dangerous. So let’s ask is how fracking compares to its clear alternative. Coal. And compared to fracking, coal is pure evil.
Genetically Modified (GM) crops are slowly gaining traction against “frankenfood” opposition. I think this is great. Though if you hate GM crops, of course you’re unhappy. Similar to global warming, people tend to hold quasi-religious beliefs about GM crops. So realistically this (partisan) post won’t change anyone’s mind. But if you are on the fence or haven’t been paying attention, it’s worth reviewing where things stand.
Last week’s post on Atheism as a sacred belief showed how atheists can be as dogmatic as anyone. The central insight is anything we care passionately about can become sacralized, and immune to reason. Even atheism. Since I’m a ra-ra science fan, science works that way for me. For example I love this “it works bitches” xkcd comic, and related t-shirt pictured above (only $19.99!). Not surprisingly, I can’t help but feel science denialism is a kind of sacrilege. I’ve already done a post on how science denialism does NOT exclusively come from the right. But this time wanted to dig a bit deeper, exploring the pitfalls of having a deep faith in science, as well as listing common anti-science beliefs.
This is part 2 of a two part series. Part 1 is here.
In last week’s post we contrasted the “energy in/energy out” model of getting fat with the “wrong kinds of food” model. This framing comes from Gary Taubes’ book Why We Get Fat. Again, be warned I’m a fan of Taubes and his book. With that said, in this post I wanted to cover Taubes’ core arguments, but then contrast it with where the scientific consensus on obesity appears to stand.
This is part 1 of a two part series. Part 2 is here.
Why do we get fat? The prevailing model is energy balance, pictured above on the left. When people eat more than they burn off, they get fat. All calories are the same. Just do the math. In contrast, on the right is a picture of various kinds of food. In this model, people get fat because they eat the wrong kinds of food, like sugar. All calories are not the same because the body responds differently to different kinds of food. Now to be up front, I’m a big fan of science writer Gary Taubes and his book Why We Get Fat, where he argues high carb intake is to blame for obesity. But low carbohydrate diets are controversial, so instead of tackling this head on let’s step back and see why the energy balance model on the left is flawed.
I was going to post about consciousness and free will, but while writing got caught up in digressions on scientific materialism. So rather than fight it, this week will be about scientific materialism.